Ranking NFL head coaching openings from best to worst: AFC West openings intriguing for different reasons
Are you ready for another round of the NFL coaching carousel? Playoff football is fun too, but it’s just as entertaining to follow coaching searches as several NFL teams begin the process of interviewing and hiring their next leaders. Will Brian Daboll or Eric Bieniemy land jobs this time around? Who is going to be this year’s risky hire? It’s going to be fun to see how it all shakes out.
The other facet of NFL coaching searches are the jobs themselves. If you were a hot commodity, where would you want to coach? You have players, quarterbacks, cap space, ownership — so many things to take into consideration. Below, we will attempt to rank all of the head coach openings from first to worst.
It may not even be fair to call this a “head coach opening” since Rich Bisaccia is currently crushing it as the interim coach. He led this team to four straight wins to end the season, including the incredible, 35-32 Sunday night showdown against the Los Angeles Chargers that almost ended in a tie. Bisaccia is going to get an interview, and if he defeats the Cincinnati Bengals come Saturday, who knows what will happen?
Seemingly every offseason we have a discussion about Derek Carr and his future, but he’s coming off a campaign in which he threw for a career-high 4,804 yards. As we have seen recently, Josh Jacobs is a pretty good back when you want to feature him, and then Vegas also has a dominant slot receiver in Hunter Renfrow and one of the best tight ends in the NFL in Darren Waller. As for the defense, there’s some work to do on that side of the ball, but you have to be impressed with how this unit played at times down the stretch. If you can hit on a few draft picks in your first season, things could turn around fast. Expect the Raiders to draft better as well, as CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reports that owner Mark Davis is “very likely” to be making a change at general manager.
There’s another reason I have the Raiders as the No. 1 open job in the NFL. This next head coach has a chance to be the face of the NFL in Vegas. The Raiders just wrapped up their first full season with fans present in their shiny new stadium, and this franchise is looking for something positive to feed off of in one of the most fun cities in America. You could be that coach, you could be that leader. That’s enticing.
The Broncos have an incredibly talented roster. All they are missing is a quarterback. Now, it’s true that the quarterback position is the trickiest to figure out — the Broncos haven’t had a good one since Peyton Manning in 2015 — but that’s all you have to do for this franchise to be in the playoff mix. Denver has a young and talented wide receiving corps, a young offensive line, a formidable defensive front when the linebacking corps is healthy and a future NFL star cornerback in Patrick Surtain II to go along with safety Justin Simmons.
Apart from the quarterback question, the Broncos are going through an ownership transfer/sale, but hopefully that’s something that’s decided relatively soon. Battling Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert a total of four games a year isn’t a fun prospect, but if the Broncos get a franchise quarterback, they should be ready to compete.
The Dolphins are expected to have the most cap space in the NFL this offseason, but I have questions about this opening. Not many expected Brian Flores to be fired on Monday, but reports indicate he was on the losing end of a power struggle with general manager Chris Grier. The 40-year-old is expected to be a popular participant of the coaching carousel, which may indicate that the Dolphins made the wrong move in parting ways with him. Then again, Adam Beasley of Pro Football Network reported Flores was “incredibly difficult to work with,” and that his relationships with those in the building were non-existent at times. Whether Grier or Flores was in the wrong, I’m walking into my hypothetical interview with questions of my own to ask.
The jury is still out on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. While he showed improvement in Year 2, he again missed time due to injury and there were still moments where the offense fell flat. At the very least you have to admit that a quarterback change could be down the line. Miami does have an absolute stud in Jaylen Waddle and a defense that could be one of the best in the league. Plus, who doesn’t want to live in South Florida?
Do the Bears or the Minnesota Vikings have the more intriguing job opening? Like all of these openings, Chicago has its pros and cons. Those cons certainly stood out watching George McCaskey’s press conference on Monday. Local journalists were literally power ranking the most embarrassing moments from the afternoon.
Apart from ownership, the Bears have a quarterback in Justin Fields, which is exciting. The Ohio State product has tremendous upside as a dual-threat gunslinger, but just needs some leadership and protection. Chicago doesn’t have a first-round pick this offseason, but it does have cap space. Plenty of work needs to be done on the roster, but this is a solid opportunity with a young quarterback already in place.
5. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings finally made the decision to part ways with Mike Zimmer after 20 seasons. OK, that may be an exaggeration, but it says something about the Wilfs that they give their head coaches a chance. That’s something you should see as valuable when it feels like the leash on new head coaches is getting tighter and tighter every year.
It’s a good thing ownership appears patient, because the Vikings may be facing a solid rebuild. The defense needs major upgrades and they are very strapped for cash. Additionally, Kirk Cousins is entering the final year of his contract and is due $35 million in base salary, per Spotrac, so you’ll have to be ready to present a plan for that position. I’m not as scared of the NFC North as I was a few years ago since it appears Aaron Rodgers could be on his way out as soon as this offseason. The Vikings never lost more than nine games in a season under Zimmer, so it’s not like they were ever one of the worst teams in the NFL. You have some pieces to work with in stars like Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook, but will have to be smart about how you handle the draft and free agency — especially in this first offseason.
The G-Men are projected to be well over the 2022 salary cap, needing to trim something in the ballpark of $16 million just to be in the clear. They’ve also quickly become a model of big-market despair, missing the postseason nine times in the last 10 seasons while churning through six different head coaches, including interims. The division, while often the subject of ridicule, is also no slouch, with the Cowboys and Eagles both entering the playoffs this year. In short, this isn’t really close to a desirable destination.
Even so, it’s New York! And no legitimate NFL coaching candidate would completely balk at the opportunity to revive the Giants brand. There’s also the fact that, while the Giants don’t necessarily have a long-term QB, they also aren’t unnecessarily tied to a bad one, with Daniel Jones entering a contract year on an inexpensive deal. Couple that with Patrick Graham’s at least serviceable defense and a pair of top-10 draft picks, and maybe you’ve got the ammunition for a two-year turnaround. Things can’t be much worse than they were under Judge … and Pat Shurmur … and Ben McAdoo … and …
The Jaguars have a franchise quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, plenty of cap space and the No. 1 overall pick. That’s great, but this organization’s problems go further than money and draft picks. With all due respect, the Jaguars have been the laughing stock of the NFL for years. Fans even held a “clown out” this past Sunday to make fun of the organization for planning to retain general manager Trent Baalke. A plane flying a banner reading #KlownTown was reportedly seen above the stadium. During a stadium trivia segment, one fan even said “D.) Fire Baalke” much to the delight of everyone in attendance.
CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco says the entire organization needs to be structured differently, the whole culture needs to change. The new head coach not only will have to rebuild the franchise on the field, he’s going to have to do it off the field as well.
The fact that Houston’s 4-13 record was surprising (in a good way) tells you everything you need to know about the state of the team. That relative success was not enough to save David Culley, who was let go after just one season. That does not reflect well on the organization and could make it harder for general manager Nick Caserio to attract a top candidate. That being said, it is expected that the team will pursue Brian Flores, who is familiar with Caserio from their time with the Patriots.
Houston has an ongoing conundrum in Deshaun Watson, who was inactive all year. The offense has minimal weapons to build upon but might have something in quarterback Davis Mills. The Texans have some promising young players on defense (specifically Jonathan Greenard and Kamu Grugier-Hill), but they’ll have to add considerably more talent during the offseason.
The positives of this job include the fact that the Texans hold the No. 3 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. They also play in a division that is devoid of elite quarterback play. The division also includes the Jaguars, another team that in search of a head coach.