Not all NFL head-coaching jobs are the same. Yes, there are only 32 of these things, and they tend to go fast and have little job security. But other than that, they are precious opportunities that are hard to pass up.
Still, some of the six current head-coaching vacancies (could there be any from the playoff teams?) are tougher sells than others. And one is head and shoulders better than the others.
There are a lot of ways to determine whether a head-coaching situation is good or not and a lot of pros and cons with each. So we decided to rank those jobs, one through six, from an attractiveness standpoint for a prospective head coach both next season and long term:
1. Denver Broncos — There’s little doubt this could be an instant winner for whoever follows Gary Kubiak as head coach. The defense, with some reinforcements up the middle, should be elite again. There are two standout receivers and two quarterbacks in Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch with starting experience and some intrigue. (You could do worse than them.)
Plus, general manager John Elway is as aggressive as they come, always trying to find whatever edge he can to build a winning team every season. That part can’t be understated. So while there might be some aging parts and gaping holes — such as the offensive line — there also is a will and a way to get it done. The only reason Kubiak is stepping down is for his own welfare, otherwise he might have stayed another five or more years.
The Broncos could be back in the title mix in short order coming off a 9-7 season, even with a rugged division with what appears to be a tough 2017 schedule. This is as good a head-coaching opening as there is, but there also will be high expectations with it as Elway once let John Fox go after a lot of wins.
Still, this is pretty much a dream opening, the likes of which seldom become available.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars — They will pick in the top five of the NFL draft for the sixth straight season, and they’ve added pieces through free agency, so talent is not the issue here. This is not your typical 3-13 roster. The biggest concerns lie in one of those top-five picks, QB Blake Bortles, and the overall discipline of the team.
After Gus Bradley was fired, GM Dave Caldwell made it clear the team wants to build around Bortles, even coming off a miserable season. Perhaps some of his struggles and regression following a promising second season can be explained by the fact that he reportedly played hurt.
Jaguars QB Blake Bortles played more than half season with separated shoulder. Won't need surgery. https://t.co/2si4BbvAno
— Michael DiRocco (@ESPNdirocco) January 2, 2017
So it appears the new head coach must be prepared to work with Bortles and get him back on track before he can think about heading in a new direction at quarterback. There are offensive weapons around him to make that happen, but Bortles might need to be stripped down and built back up from mechanics and confidence standpoints.
Still, with a patient owner, low expectations, a weaker division, a strong talent base and, heck, even Florida’s attractive income tax laws, this is an intriguing job. This fits more of a hard-line coach to come in and whip all that young talent into shape because this was an undisciplined team on so many levels the past few seasons, especially in 2016.
3. San Diego Chargers — How long will they be in San Diego? The state of the franchise is unsettled at best, and moving to Los Angeles (or wherever) certainly would change a new coach’s plans for implementing his system while the team is less than solidified.
It appears that Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates will play at least one more season, giving this opening a good win-now possibility, even in the loaded AFC West. Rivers is not coming off his best season but is tough and has played in several different systems, so you can’t beat that from a transition standpoint. He’s as strong a quarterback as a new head coach could want.
There’s also a young nucleus of talent, including Joey Bosa, Melvin Gordon (if he can stay healthy), Melvin Ingram, Hunter Henry, Jatavis Brown and Jason Verrett, who was one of 18 players the Chargers had land on injured reserve this season.
4. Los Angeles Rams — Let’s start with the positives. Team owner Stan Kroenke has invested everything in a first-rate stadium that will open in a few years that could be a mecca for free agents in a formerly untapped market. You can argue whether L.A. will never be a true football town, but look what Pete Carroll did to a once-dormant USC program and the Hollywood glitz that came along with the resurgence. Kroenke won’t hesitate to spend on a new coach and on better players and resources, so money should be no issue.
But the assets are limited with a lean roster, a diminished draft till and a quarterback in Jared Goff whom the franchise has put all its eggs into. Basically, whoever takes this job will have to work with Goff for at least the next two years and likely beyond — and hey, that could be a good thing in time — so that coach-QB relationship will be crucial.
This is one of the least-skilled offenses in the NFL, and that’s even with running back Todd Gurley, who is coming off a miserable second season following a thrilling rookie campaign less than a year removed from ACL surgery.
The unsettled state of the front office is a concern, too, although it’s possible and perhaps likely that the next head coach could have some say over personnel and also the shaping of the personnel department.
This is an intriguing job to say the least but one that will come with challenges and require patience.
5. San Francisco 49ers — There’s a mess to clean up in the Bay Area, and the Niners are now looking for their fourth head coach in four years. The divorce with Jim Harbaugh was ugly, and the one-year experiments with Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly were massive failures for varying reasons. The chemistry between the front office, scouting and the coaching staff now has been a mess for years, and it appears there will be almost a clean sweep.
The fact that they need a general manager too might not be a horrible thing, as the new GM could handpick a new coach and start to forge a relationship that can work in cohesion. Although the allure of building a staff from the ground up appeals to a lot of people around the league, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of work to do.
The talent base is nearly barren with only a few pieces on defense worth investing in and no long-term answers at quarterback. The team is expected to move on from Colin Kaepernick and might have to invest the No. 2 overall pick in one in what could be a less-than-stellar year to find a QB in the draft.
But as outwardly unattractive a job as it might appear to be, CEO Jed York can be muscled around on football decisions — former GM Trent Baalke showed that with almost full autonomy on football matters — with the right strong-armed personnel man in charge. There is a ton of work to do, but also a ton of salary cap space and the right environment to win over a city and an owner who is desperate for some positive press (or a “culture change,” a term he used some variation of 12 times in his Monday meeting with the media).
Beyond that, it’s a historically significant franchise with a gorgeous new stadium in what soon could be a one-team region if the Oakland Raiders skate. There’s something to be said for that, even with all the infighting and ugliness that has built up since the team made a Super Bowl less than five years ago.
6. Buffalo Bills — The situation is bad right now. Seeking their sixth head coach since 2009, the Bills don’t have a ton to offer a prospective candidate.
Owners Terry and Kim Pegula have not yet shown they can run an NFL team, with talk of them going behind the coaches’ backs and the way they handled the Tyrod Taylor benching. President Russ Brandon is not publicly accountable for his decisions. GM Doug Whaley is now about to make his third head-coaching hire (although who knows what his future is with the team), claims to have not known anything about Taylor’s benching or Rex Ryan being fired and has stacked up some unimpressive draft hauls. Whaley was allowed to squirm for 40 minutes in front of the media Monday, offering few answers and even a more clouded view of what the heck is going on in Buffalo.
What a dysfunctional mess. Would you want this job?
Although the Pegulas have a good reputation among other owners and local businesspeople in the Buffalo area, they have built up plenty of suspicion of meddling in the team’s football matters from coaches and personnel folks inside the NFL. The last Bills head coach to get four years was Marv Levy, which is revealing.
Trying to win in Buffalo — even as rabid and loyal a fan base as there is — with an outdated stadium and limited outside allure is going to be very tough to pull off in the short term. To be fair, there were similar questions and worries with the Miami Dolphins’ job not long ago, and new head coach Adam Gase has done good work in short order, so it’s far from unachievable.
Additionally, with Taylor possibly gone for salary reasons (he’s due more than $30 million next season), there’s no clear solution at quarterback otherwise — unless you think that either EJ Manuel or Cardale Jones have talent. Most league personnel evaluators do not view either as starting material for 2017. The roster is talented but also aged in many spots, in that awkward limbo of being built to win yesterday but likely having to rebuild with a mismatched collection of talent.
The Bills might be forced to promote interim head coach Anthony Lynn this year, as few veteran coaches not named Tom Coughlin might roundly avoid that job because of the fear of the situation they’d be walking into.
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