Ranking the NFL head coach openings: which team is the best available job?
The start of the new year also signals fresh starts for six NFL teams, as the annual coaching carousel has already been set in motion. The New York Giants were the first to fire their head coach, with Indianapolis, Oakland, Chicago and Detroit following suit after the conclusion of Week 17. The retirement of Bruce Arians adds Arizona to the mix, and there’s always the possibility that more jobs could come open.
For now, let’s focus on these six. There’s no lack of rumors in regards to who may be the next head coach for any of these teams, especially when it comes to the big name that’s already been attached to the job that leads off this list.
When it comes to ranking these jobs in terms of appeal, this list takes into consideration everything from current roster, available cap space, biggest holes, and other factors.
1. Oakland Raiders (6-10, 3rd in AFC West)
It may seem like cheating given the rumors that are swirling around this job already, but whether Oakland gets Jon Gruden to step away from the broadcast booth to return to the sideline or not, the Raiders are the most appealing job on the market. This is a team that won 10 games and went to the playoffs in 2016 only to see that record flip this season. There were numerous close losses (four by six points or fewer) and some other bad breaks and unlucky bounces along the way.
But the appeal with the Oakland job starts with All-Pro defensive end/linebacker Khalil Mack anchoring one side of the ball and the Pro Bowl duo of quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Amari Cooper serving as the foundation of the other. The Raiders don’t have a lot of cap space (estimated $25 million) to work with to address other holes, but they don’t have many key free agents on the horizon either. The new head coach also will have either the ninth or 10th pick in the draft and has a new stadium in Las Vegas to look forward to. Unlike some of the other divisions, the AFC West doesn’t appear to have a clear-cut dominant team right now, so it’s no stretch for Gruden, or whoever ends up the next head coach, to lead the Silver and Black back to the playoffs in 2018.
2. Detroit (9-7, 2nd in NFC North)
The Lions just missed the playoffs and considering four of their seven losses were by no more than a touchdown, this appears to be a team that may not be far off from a return to the postseason. The offense is in great shape with QB Matthew Stafford, WRs Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr., and TE Eric Ebron the primary weapons and should get a big boost with the healthy return of left tackle Taylor Decker. The running game needs work and some key defensive pieces are pending free agents (namely Ezekiel Ansah and Tahir Whitehead), but the new head coach will have about $60 million in cap space to work with. The NFC North is a tough division with Minnesota and Green Bay to contend with, but Detroit went 3-1 against them this season. With the right moves, these Lions could roar once more in 2018.
3. Indianapolis (4-12, 3rd in AFC South)
For the Colts, the No. 1 factor going for them also is the No. 1 question mark – Andrew Luck. If his shoulder is finally completely healthy and he’s able to shake off the rust quickly, the new head coach immediately inherits a franchise quarterback. If Luck’s (above, right) health continues to be an issue, then it puts on even more pressure on the rest of the roster, which already has plenty of holes.
The good news to that end is not only is there plenty of cap space (estimated $90 million) to work with, there also are some other pieces already in place. And don’t forget that Indianapolis will pick third in the draft, which can be used to address one of the biggest holes (please fix the offensive line!), or potentially trade to acquire even more picks. There’s no doubt this team is far from a finished product, but it’s also one that could take a significant step forward in 2018, provided the Colts get their Luck back.
4. Chicago (5-11, last in NFC North)
There’s not a lot of separation when it comes to the final three openings, but the Bears get the nod over the Giants and Cardinals because there’s more certainty at the most important position. Mitchell Trubisky is very much a work in progress, but the hope is that the next head coach/offensive coordinator will be able to help him develop into a franchise quarterback. The offense also boasts a nice running back combo in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen and there are a few building blocks on defense as well.
Chicago was devastated by injuries even before the season started, so improved health could be a huge factor in 2018. Wide receiver and defensive playmakers are big needs, however, and hopefully one can be filled with the eighth overall pick. There’s also about $50 million in estimated cap space that the new coach will have at his disposal as he works with general manager Ryan Pace to rebuild the Bears.
5. New York Giants (3-13, 4th in NFC East)
Everything that could go wrong did for the Giants this season, resulting in the dismissal of head coach Ben McAdoo after leading New York to 11 wins and the playoffs in 2016. Eli Manning’s future with the team became the dominating storyline by the end of this season and it’s a question that must be answered by new general manager Dave Gettleman and whoever he hires as head coach.
The Giants have All-Pros in wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and safety Landon Collins, as well as the presence of Jason-Pierre Paul and Olivier Vernon along the defensive line, and a budding Pro Bowler in tight end Evan Engram. However, the offensive line needs a complete overhaul, production from the running game has been an ongoing problem, and linebacker continues to be a position of need on defense.
New York picks second in the draft, which only adds to the intrigue surrounding the QB question, and currently is looking at a modest amount of cap space (estimated $27 million) to makeover the roster. The QB conundrum and general uncertainty in regards to the roster are the main reasons why the Giants job slips in this list, particularly when you consider that both Philadelphia and Dallas are set (and considerably younger) at that position.
6. Arizona (8-8, 3rd in NFC West)
One thing’s for sure when it comes to the Cardinals – they will look different next season. Bruce Arians retired as the winningest head coach (50-32-1, including playoffs) and was shortly followed by quarterback Carson Palmer. While Palmer’s decision will save the team in the long run (he was scheduled to count $20.6 million against the salary cap in 2018), it highlights the most pressing question the next head coach will have to answer. Every quarterback on the roster right now (Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert, Matt Barkley) is a pending free agent.
Yes, David Johnson’s injury was a huge factor in Arizona’s struggles this season, but the All-Pro running back’s return coupled with the presence of Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones on the roster doesn’t change the fact that this is a team that needs to get younger and develop new standouts at numerous positions. The Cardinals also need to shore up their offensive line, a task that could be more challenging because of the number of key free agents they have combined with limited (estimated $22 million) cap space.
Between the Los Angeles Rams’ breakthrough and the late surge by the Jimmy Garoppolo-led San Francisco 49ers, not to mention the fact that the Seattle Seahawks aren’t going away, the next head coach for Arizona could be facing a tough task as it relates to turning the Cardinals into contenders in the NFC West once again.