As the NFL goes through its annual search for head coaching replacements, it's worth a reminder that not all jobs are equal. With that in mind, here's a ranking of the current five openings.
Positives – Owner Stan Kroenke has money to spend; quarterback Sam Bradford is young and talented; and the team possesses the No. 2 overall pick in April's NFL draft, lots of salary-cap space, and a solid left tackle (Rodger Saffold) and solid defensive end (Chris Long). Also, the lack of a general manager right now means the coach could have a lot of say in personnel.
Negatives – Kroenke doesn't have a sustained track record of winning in sports (the Colorado Avalanche won a Stanley Cup in his first year of ownership, but the team was at its peak at the time and has declined since; the Denver Nuggets have no history of consistency under Kroenke); Bradford regressed in 2011; the wide receiver position is a wasteland; and right tackle Jason Smith (the No. 2 overall pick in 2009) has been a bust. Lack of a GM right now means coach could have too much power.
Outlook – Without question, the Rams are a mess, but things could turn around faster in St. Louis than other teams. Having a quarterback and an owner with deep pockets are two great places to start. Furthermore, if Bradford doesn't work out, his failure would not be put on the shoulders of the new coach. This is a job that could have more security even if Bradford fails. But if tight end Lance Kendricks is the player many people think he can be and the Rams can get a couple of wide receivers (Vincent Jackson would be a coup), the offense could get better in a hurry. The defense needs help in the secondary, but that's where having the No. 2 overall pick could help. If the Rams can find a trade partner for one of the top quarterbacks in the draft (likely Robert Griffin III), they could flip him for a boatload of picks and some instant help on both sides of the ball.
[ Yahoo! Sports Radio: Jason Cole on Rams' interest in Jeff Fisher]
Positives – Owner Clark Hunt has a long history with the team and learned sound principles from his father Lamar; general manager Scott Pioli is smart and very driven; quarterback Matt Cassel is a solid player; defensive coordinator (if he's not promoted from interim to head coach) Romeo Crennel is excellent; and there's a nice collection of potential standouts (if not stars) in safety Eric Berry, running back Jamaal Charles, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, linebacker Derrick Johnson, tight end Tony Moeaki and cornerback Brandon Flowers.
Negatives – Hunt hasn't spent a lot of money on free agents since taking over the team; the jury is still out on whether Cassel is good enough; Pioli can be overbearing; defensive end Tyson Jackson (the No. 3 overall pick in 2009) has been a bust; and Bowe and fellow wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin have serious diva qualities.
Outlook – The Chiefs were devastated by injuries this season (Berry, Charles and Moeaki all basically missed the entire season and Cassel missed seven games), but still managed to 7-9. Sure, there was dissension between Pioli and former coach Todd Haley, but that's because the two fiery men made for a bad combo. The team was 10-6 in 2010 and won the AFC West, a division that remains for the taking, particularly with San Diego keeping Norv Turner as head coach. Bottom line, this is a good team. If Cassel gets better, it could be a great team.
Positives – Owners Brian and Joel Glazer generally leave the football staff alone; general manager Mark Dominik is very bright and doesn't micromanage; quarterback Josh Freeman has shown great presence and potential in the past; the team has a lot of salary-cap room; and there is a solid nucleus of players in wide receiver Mike Williams, tight end Kellen Winslow and guard Davin Joseph.
Negatives – The Glazers haven't shown a strong history of spending on free agents; this team is loaded with guys who are emotionally immature, starting with uber-gifted cornerback Aqib Talib; the running back position is ordinary despite the talk about LeGarrette Blount; and both the offensive and defensive lines are terribly inconsistent.
Outlook – The Bucs let their modicum of success in 2010 (a 10-6 finish) get to their heads as they regressed badly to a 4-12 season. The worst problem is that the players essentially quit in the final four games, allowing an average of 41 points per game as part of a 10-game losing streak that cost Raheem Morris his job. Morris' greatest failing is that he was too close to his players. They liked him, but they didn't appear to respect him. Worse, they didn't realize what was going to happen when they didn't play hard for him. Bet a fair amount of money that the next coach will be a serious disciplinarian. There will be some tears among the Buccaneers during the offseason program.
Positives – New owner Shahid Khan has a lot of energy and wants to win ASAP; GM Gene Smith has brought in a decent group of offensive and defensive linemen; running back Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the best in the league; and the team has a good prospect at quarterback in 2011 first-round pick Blaine Gabbert.
Negatives – The market is small, making it hard to generate a lot of local revenue for short-term spending on free agents; there are constant rumors that the team is going to move despite what Khan and so many others say publicly; the wide receiver position doesn't have a legitimate No. 1 or 2 threat (Mike Thomas is maybe a good No. 3); there's not much in the way of team speed; and the secondary is mediocre, at best.
Outlook – So much of the future for the Jaguars will turn on the development of Gabbert, who had a mediocre rookie season. Gabbert was pulled once late in the season and finished completing only 50.8 percent of his passes for the season. A lot of that can be blamed on the lack of receiver talent, but some of it is on Gabbert, who needs to improve his accuracy, particularly when he gets out of the pocket. Gabbert is very smart and has a quick release, but he needs to get a lot more polish to his game.
Positives – Stephen Ross is one of the wealthiest owners in the NFL and desperately wants to win; Miami is a very attractive place for free agents; wide receiver Brandon Marshall is a perennial Pro Bowler; running back Reggie Bush made huge strides as a runner this season; and there are some good parts on defense, such as cornerback Vontae Davis, linebacker Karlos Dansby and defensive end Cameron Wake.
Negatives – Ross has not shown the ability to manage, dropping the ball on the potential hiring of Jim Harbaugh last year and then creating an odd front office that includes GM Jeff Ireland and Carl Peterson in a yet-to-be-named role (likely as team president), and the quarterback position has been a mess for 12 years.
[ Playoffs: 'Phins get upper hand in Jeff Fisher sweepstakes ]
Outlook – The Curse of Marino has plagued the Dolphins since the day former coach Dave Wannstedt forced him out after the 1999 season. The Dolphins have gone through quarterbacks faster than Kim Kardashian went through Kris Humphries. With the No. 8 or 9 pick (it will be determined after a coin flip with Carolina), the Dolphins are in a tough spot if they want to trade up for someone in the draft and might be forced to spend a lot on a free agent such as Matt Flynn. Worse, despite what sources close to Jeff Fisher think, the front office situation with Ireland and Peterson is problematic. Peterson has a dominating personality and fancies himself a football man, which was his first love. Lots of people wonder how those two will co-exist long-term, a situation that could put the coach in the middle of an ugly catfight.
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