Ranking the Open NFL Head Coaching Jobs
The NFL offseason is here and with that comes hope for (almost) every team.
And for fans in dire need of some hope for their flailing franchise — who isn’t? — hiring a new coach who will breath new life into the organization is the first step.
We’ve seen how a new coach can radically transform an organization in a short span. Look at how Browns coach Kevin Stefanski completely changed Cleveland’s culture and now they’re one of the most dangerous teams in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, getting the right head coach in the building is harder than it sounds. The seven NFL teams with openings can attest to that.
But which of those seven jobs is the best of the bunch? We’ve ranked every NFL head-coaching opening from worst to best below.
7. Philadelphia Eagles
You know that really good looking person you unfollowed on Instagram and when you happen to creep on them a few years later, they came crashing back down to Earth? That’s what the Eagles job is like.
A once-attractive opening is now the least desirable job on the market. Why is a team that’s in the extremely winnable NFC East the worst job on the market? Let’s take a look.
With a roster bloated with aging veterans, the Eagles are currently more than $51 million over next year’s cap floor of $176 million, according to Over the Cap. This Philadelphia team will undoubtedly look a lot different next year after they shed the salaries of multiple veterans. In fact, the Eagles next coach will have to be ready for a multiyear rebuild in the City of Brotherly Love.
The new man in charge will also have to repair a broken locker room. The veterans who do remain on the roster will be hard to win over after benching Jalen Hurts to lose their Week 17 game against Washington in what we can only assume was an owner demand. Dealing with a meddlesome owner, who reportedly wanted to dictate which assistant coaches Doug Pederson could hire, is another big red flag when it comes to the Eagles job.
And we haven’t even mentioned the quarterback controversy between an unhappy face of the franchise who has a cap hit of more than $34 million and Hurts. Both of these guys might not be the answer, and picking at No. 6 overall means they’ll probably miss out on the big three of Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Justin Fields.
If Hurts and Carson Wentz fail to develop, then this could be an even longer rebuild.
Prediction: Joe Brady
6. Detroit Lions
While the Eagles job is bad, the Lions job isn’t much better.
The Lions have a roster simply devoid of much talent, especially on defense. Detroit will need to completely remake their defensive side after acquiring players who fit Matt Patricia’s man-to-man defense that spectacularly crashed and burned.
On the offensive side, the Lions need to add weapons. With Kenny Golladay a free agent, the only real threat in the passing game is emerging tight end T.J. Hockenson. Expect Golladay to return on the franchise tag or a new contract, but the Lions still need one or two more pass catchers — along with help along the offensive line — if they want to give Matthew Stafford another shot at the playoffs.
That’s another issue that the Lions coach will have to deal with. What to do with Stafford? There have been rumors that the soon-to-be 33-year-old passer will want out of Detroit, which would make this job even less desirable. Stafford is still incredibly talented, but he might not want to be part of another rebuild.
The Lions aren’t exactly a coveted free-agent destination and they have just $11.7 million in cap space heading into the offseason with Golladay’s deal looming.
Prediction: Doug Pederson
5. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are another team with a big question at quarterback moving forward. Franchise passer Matt Ryan will turn 36 and he’s coming off a good-but-not great season. With a cap hit of more than $40 million, he’s probably not going anywhere this offseason, but Atlanta needs to think about his replacement this offseason. With the No. 4 overall pick in their pocket, the Falcons might not get a better chance to draft their quarterback of the future than this year.
Atlanta, who cleaned house this offseason, could want a fresh start as well. As of now, the Falcons aren’t planning on rebuilding which makes this job pretty attractive with Ryan under center and Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley at receiver. The defense obviously needs some work, but they came on strong at times last season and they should be able to free up some cap space by getting rid of underperformers such as Dante Fowler.
However, the Falcons are more than $24 million over the cap which could make the new general manager want to start the rebuilding process earlier than expected.
Prediction: Eric Bienemy
4. Houston Texans
The Texans are an absolute disaster.
After years of failed trades and poor team management, Bill O’Brien was finally fired in the offseason — yet things have gotten even worse in H-Town. Owner Cal McNair is apparently under the spell of Jack Easterby, a power-hungry charlatan who masquerades as a culture coach.
He first won the power struggle over O’Brien and then, even after a media tour that sullied his name, he took control over the Texans’ general manager hire. As others have pointed out, Easterby is the Littlefinger of the Texans’ organization.
But as Easterby’s powers grow, the forces against him do as well.
Deshaun Watson is reportedly “extremely unhappy” with Easterby’s power play and wants him out. Texans legends, including the notoriously quiet Andre Johnson, have spoken out against him.
So, yeah, things aren’t going great in Houston. But as long as Watson is the team’s quarterback, it’s still a highly attractive job.
As long as Houston doesn’t stupidly sell Watson, they’ve got their franchise QB entering his prime, a dominant left tackle in Laremy Tunsil and some weapons on offense. Despite not having the team’s first- or second-round pick this year, which clearly hurts, the Texans aren’t in that bad of shape. Although they will have to shed salary as they’re $17 million over the cap.
The Texans can cry about how they mismanaged their star passer on a rookie contract or pick up the pieces and make the most of it. It’s a lot easier with Watson under center.
Prediction: Brian Daboll
3. New York Jets
I wrote about why the Jets would be Lawrence’s best (realistic) landing spot and everything I said applies to the coaching vacancy as well.
Here were the bullet points to why it’s a pretty sweet gig.
- Adam Gase is gone. Duh. That’s why they’re hiring a coach.
- They have a stud left tackle. It’s true. Mekhi Becton is an absolute monster and would be a top 10 pick if the 2020 NFL Draft was redone today.
- Their rookie class looks legit. Becton along with Denzel Mims and Ashtyn Davis all look like legit NFL starters. That’s a great sign for this year’s class because…
- They have five picks in the first three rounds
- The Jets also have the third-most cap space in the NFL at more than $70 million.
With a young, up-and-coming roster, plenty of cap space and draft picks, the Jets opening is much more attractive than it’s been in recent years.
Prediction: Robert Saleh
UPDATE: The Jets have hired Saleh to be the team's head coach.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
While some might consider the Jaguars opening to be the best on the market, it comes up just short in our rankings.
The Jags job has a lot going for it. They own the No. 1 pick who will surely be Trevor Lawrence, the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck; they have the most cap space in the NFL ($73M+) and they have young talent at nearly every position.
So why isn’t it No. 1?
The biggest buyer beware is ownership. Shad Khan seems like a dedicated owner who is willing to spend top dollar to be successful in the NFL, but he’s still way too involved in the football operations. Khan insists that he has the final say over the roster, which should scare off a lot of the top coaching candidates despite all the pros we just listed.
In a normal year, this would be the top opening but there is one better.
Prediction: Urban Meyer
1. Los Angeles Chargers
Once an afterthought as the second most popular team in Los Angeles, the Chargers have become the most attractive opening this offseason for a prospective head coach.
While they don’t own the No. 1 pick and the rights to draft Lawrence, they have their own franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert, who is the likely rookie of the year and will be just 23. Having the No. 1 pick is nice, but the Jags will hope that Lawrence can match what Herbert just did in his first campaign. There’s little doubt that Lawrence will be great, but it’s always better to take the sure thing. And we saw that in Herbert this past season.
The Chargers also have a roster ready to compete despite finishing the season at a disappointing 7-9. The defense is loaded at every level with Joey Bosa and a hopefully healthy Derwin James at safety. And the offense is a competent offensive line away from being scary.
The Bolts also have nearly $30 million in cap space to play with along with the most valuable thing in the NFL today: a franchise quarterback on a rookie contract.
General manager Tom Telesco has proven to be one of the better drafters in the NFL, but he’s struggled to find the right coach. He now has the best opening on the market and every candidate would be wise to circle this job as their top spot.
Prediction: Arthur Smith
Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration