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Destination Jobs: Ranking the Head Coach Vacancies

The NFL season has just three weeks left in it. Can you believe it? When the season started I really didn’t think we would get here. The wild card round of the playoffs are over, which also means teams are done firing their head coaches. It’s pretty rare to make it to the divisional and still fire the head coach.

That means there are currently four jobs left to fill at the writing of this article. This one might be just a bit late as three of the teams have hired their next leader (the Jacksonville Jaguars hiring Urban Meyer, the Atlanta Falcons hiring Arthur Smith and the New York Jets hiring Robert Saleh) but there is still enough for a little ranking.

Taking into account roster, cap space and general organizational competency, this will be a ranking of the most attractive head coaching jobs to the least. 

1. Los Angeles Chargers

It is rare to see a job this attractive open up. The Chargers might not have a fan base yet, but they have a good roster. Unless a massive regression comes and this year was a complete fluke, the Chargers have the most important piece of any team, a franchise QB. Justin Herbert had arguably the best rookie QB season of all time, and he’s a ROOKIE. Which means he is on the rookie wage scale, which has been the formula for most of the last few Super Bowl teams. Once you have to pay the QB the roster suffers immensely. The new head coach of the Chargers won’t have that problem for four more years. Not only that, but the roster has other top pieces. 

Roster

Keenan Allen is at worst a top 15 wide receiver in the league, Hunter Henry is a solid tight end and when healthy Austin Ekeler is a fantastic weapon out of the backfield. The defense has excellent playmakers as well. Derwin James has suffered unfortunate injuries, but the last time we saw him he was one of the best safeties in the NFL. Joey Bosa, who needed just 12 games to make his third pro bowl in five years and Melvin Ingram are a great pass rush duo if they avoid injury. Casey Hayward Jr. had a down year, and he’s getting up there in age, but if he can bounce back and form a duo with Chris Harris Jr. (who also needs to stay healthy) the secondary group could be one of the best in the NFL.

Of course, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The Chargers team need a lot of players to stay up that have poor histories of doing so. In addition, a second wide receiver to take pressure off of Allen would be helpful. Allen had twice as many catches as the next Chargers WR, which was Mike Williams. Finally, the offensive line is the biggest weakness. They were a bad unit last year, and even this year despite adding Bryan Bulaga (who again, got hurt) they were bad again. The offensive line is the one spot that needs major fixing. But the team knows this as well, and one weak position group isn’t too hard to fix.

Draft and Cap Space

The Chargers finished a respectable 7-9, especially since they had a rookie QB. However this does mean they pick outside the top ten, settling in at 13. That’s not bad at all. WR Jaylen Waddle from Alabama is a speedster that would pair great with Allen. A number of linemen could also grade out around there. Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood and Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw are top tackles that could be available. The Chargers are also doing well in cap room. According to Spotrac they currently have the 11th most cap space at 22 million, which is eight million more than the number 12 team. They have by far the most of the remaining head coach-less teams. 

Organization

As far as organizations go, the Chargers aren’t amazing. Dean Spanos is not a popular guy, and the fan base is tiny (because of Spanos). They were also relatively quick to can previous coach Anthony Lynn, who delivered a fantastic 2018 campaign, and exceeded expectations this year. Not saying Lynn should have been kept, but the leash could be rather short out there. GM Tom Telesco is entering year eight with the Chargers and has a rather shaky record himself. He seems to either strike absolute gold on draft picks (Herbert, James, Bosa) or hit no one at all (Jerry Tillery, D.J. Fluker, Manti Te’o, etc). Still, the insane positives about the job outweigh the negatives. This is far and away the best job opening in the NFL. The Charger’s new head coach is walking into a dream situation.

There is a gigantic drop off after the Chargers job. Honestly these next three jobs are pretty similar in awfulness, and will probably cause a lot of disagreement. Any one of them could be 2-4 for a number of reasons. But here we go.

2. Detroit Lions

The Lions are in a weird spot. Keep trying to squeeze what’s left out of Matthew Stafford, or try and trade him and start a full rebuild? Any head coach will need to carefully evaluate where the franchise is headed. If they keep Matthew Stafford however, this job looks pretty decent. Stafford is a franchise QB, and though his best years may be behind him he can still do the job. The roster has a lot of holes, but it isn’t unworkable. Is it fixable in the time Stafford has left though? 

Roster

The offense is not so bad. The skill positions in particular are a good bunch. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. are a top half of the league duo and T.J. Hockenson was a pro-bowler in just his second year in the NFL. Rookie RB D’Andre Swift also came up big late in the season, and may finally give the Lions the running game they’ve been searching for. Then again I feel like we’ve heard that song and dance before. The offensive line is also a pretty good unit. PFF has the Lions line ranked 13th in the NFL, and the line is rather young. Frank Ragnow and Taylor Decker form a solid young core under 30 that can anchor the line for a while. 

Defensively the Lions are terrible, especially against the pass. They gave up a league worst 32.4 points per game. They surrendered the most passing AND rushing touchdowns, so it’s not like they are even good against the run either. Jeffrey Okudah, the number three overall pick last year was one of the worst corners in the league before going out with an injury. Okudah has immense potential and was a rookie, but it’s not an ideal start by any means. The rest of the defense is okay to bad. Everson Griffen stands out, but who else? A new head coach has a lot of work to do with this group on defense.

Draft and Cap Space

The Lions are under the cap, a massive difference from the other two teams remaining on this list. It’s not a lot (just three million), but at least they aren’t deep in the negatives. The Lions own the seventh pick in the draft, not a bad spot to be by any means. Not too many of the teams ahead of them are projected to go defense, which is the Lions biggest need, so one of the top defensive prospects should fall to them.

Micah Parsons of Penn State is one of the best linebacking prospects in awhile and could shore up a rough front seven. They could also add Miami pass rusher Gregory Rousseau or Michigan’s Kwity Paye if they want to put more emphasis on the trenches. Finally, Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II could form a deadly CB duo with Okudah if they both fulfill their potential, turning a league worst secondary into a strength quickly. 

Organization

The Lions did a complete overhaul, firing GM Bob Quinn and bringing in Ram’s director of college scouting Brad Holmes. This will be Holmes first job outside of the Rams, and his first run at a position of this magnitude. The Rams draft record has been solid under Holmes so that’s promising. But the Lions haven’t been a model of success. They’ve made the playoffs just three times in the past ten years, and haven’t been there since 2016.

The Lions are almost notorious at this point for wasting careers of great players. Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson both retired early and don’t like the organization to this day. Still, there are worse organizations to play for and the Fords don’t usually make a mess of themselves in the news for football related reasons. Overall, the Lions have a high draft pick and a solid QB and offense. That’s not the worst thing to walk into. 

3. Philadelphia Eagles

There is potential on this team. First, if the goal is simply to make the playoffs the Eagles do play in one of the worst divisions of all time, and there’s not a ton of clear answers for any of those franchises. However the QB question is the most present for the Eagles than any of the other teams on this list, and the new Eagles head coach will have to navigate a tricky QB battle.

The Eagles have a ton of cash committed to Carson Wentz and we have no idea what he is anymore. He has two seasons on literally completely opposite ends of the spectrum. In 2017 he was an MVP front runner before his injury. In 2020 Wentz was the worst QB in the league until his benching. If Wentz can regain 2017 form this job suddenly looks good. Or if Jalen Hurts is actually legit this the team can turn quickly from their 4-11-1 form. On the other hand if Wentz cannot be fixed and Hurts isn’t the answer this team will be in the cellar for a while.

Roster

The Eagles roster has some heavy holes, but also some strengths. The Eagles are great in the trenches. The offensive line WHEN HEALTHY is actually very good. Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson are all pro-bowlers. Health and retirement do hang above the head of these guys, but if they play they are one of the best right sides in football. Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard also give the crucial left tackle spot potential. Mailata was a revelation this year and Dillard is a first round pick that has shown flashes when he has been able to play.

On the defensive side, the line has always been the strength of the Eagles. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Javon Hargrave etc, the list goes on and on for the Birds. They are talented and deep at this spot, which makes sense with how heavily they invested into it. 

The rest of the roster has question marks. Running back is fine, Miles Sanders and Boston Scott hold down the position, and Dallas Goedert is a great young tight end. But the wide receiver room is a mess. Despite spending two high picks in the last two drafts on wide receivers, there are problems. J.J. Arcega Whiteside is a bust, plain and simple. The jury is still out on Reagor, but it was a disappointing season when compared to the other rookies in his year. The rest of the room is either old, leaving or just okay. The secondary is also a work in progress. Darius Slay was good (but not unbeatable) last year, as was Rodney McLeod. Outside of them it’s not pretty. Linebacker is never a position the Eagles focus on, and it often shows.

Draft and Cap Space

Let’s start with the bad news. The Eagles have no cap room. Scratch that, they are so far negative into cap room it’s hard to believe. Spotrac currently has them 63 million dollars over the cap for 2021. GM Howie Roseman is famous for kicking contracts down the road, and with the cap shrinking the chickens have come to roost. Even if they can continue to restructure contracts and shed some weight (possibly Wentz, which would free them up after 2021) there’s no way to make this a good situation.

The draft is much better. They infamously tanked for the pick they own now, and purely from a draft standpoint it was a good choice. Six allows for much more freedom than nine would. They are near guaranteed one of the two top wide receivers in Jamarr Chase or Devonta Smith if they want them. Top defensive talent will also be there (most of the teams above them are taking offensive players) so Parsons or Surtain could fill a big need.

Organization

The Eagles organization has taken a few hits recently, but over the years has been one of the better franchises in the league. Owner Jeffrey Lurie has had little to no negative press and genuinely seems to care about how the team does. Roseman was praised as one of the best GMs in the league after the 2017 Super Bowl, but that goodwill has faded of late. However there are some warning signs for a new potential head coach. Lurie and Roseman seem very close, so if the battle comes down to the GM or the coach the GM will most likely take precedence.

Second, the Eagles are not patient if things go down quick. Andy Reid was one of the best coaches in the league for a decade and was given the boot after an 8-8 and 4-12 season. Chip Kelly went 10-6 twice, then got fired in the middle of his first losing season. Doug Pederson won a Super Bowl in 2017 and got fired the first time he didn’t make the playoffs since then. The job heavily depends on what you think of the Eagle’s QB situation. If the potential head coach thinks he can make one of the two work, it’s actually pretty satisfactory. If not, the Eagles won’t be ready for a couple years and a new guy might not last that long.

4. Houston Texans

We come now to the worst job in the NFL. One that a head coach will need to be extremely wary of. The Texans have one amazing asset in Deshaun Watson, one of the best QBs in the league and he is young to boot. That alone could have catapulted them to number two on this list. The problem is that the franchise QB could want out. It’s no secret that Watson has been pretty displeased with how a lot of things have gone down in Houston. From trading DeAndre Hopkins away or not being consulted in the GM hiring, Watson has been unhappy. Without Watson, this job is a disaster.

Roster

The offense becomes passable because of Watson. To be fair, the receivers aren’t bad. Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks are a good duo, but both struggle with health. They did manage to stay healthy this year, but who knows if that’ll ever happen again. Outside of them it drops off a cliff. David Johnson is fine but hardly gets you excited. The same can be said about the tight end group as a whole. Serviceable at best but not really something you can call a strength. The offensive line is bad outside of Laremy Tunsil, and they paid an absolute premium for him.

The defense is even worse. They were 27th in the league in points per game, and were horrendous against the run especially, giving up the most yards and the third most touchdowns. They had the least amount of interceptions and turnovers in general in the league. Besides J.J. Watt one really struggles to name a productive member of the defense, and who knows how much longer he wants in.

Draft and Cap Space

Despite how bleak the roster looks, it’s actually the best part of the Texans organization, which is saying something. The Texans “earned” the third overall pick in this year’s draft by finishing a disappointing 4-12 (one year after they were a couple quarters away from making the Super Bowl). Unfortunately they don’t get to keep that pick, having traded it for Tunsil. So they cannot even reload a troubled roster with a top pick which they could desperately use. They don’t even have their second round pick from the same trade. The cap situation is not better. It’s not surprising that a team that was trying to go for a Super Bowl is cash strapped and the Texans are not an exception. They are 26th in the league, clocking in at 21 million over the cap. 

Organization

A franchise that puts themselves in this hole is not a good one. Thankfully they have fired their ill-advised Coach/GM combo in Bill O’Brien. They are once again trying to dip into the Patriots tree by taking their director of player personnel as their GM in Nick Caseiro, but so far taking people from the Patriots hasn’t worked out for the Texans. Their executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby is also from the Patriots and he is becoming one of the most discussed front office personnel for all the wrong reasons.

Former wide receiver’s Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins have both spoken out against Easterby on twitter recently. Another Texans player compared Easterby to Game of Throne’s Littlefinger, not a good thing in context. This franchise is problematic, rife with problems all throughout the organization. They don’t have top draft picks, cap space or a workable roster. Their only saving grace might soon demand out like another one of Houston’s stars. If I’m a head coach candidate, I’m staying far away.

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