Nearly one-third of the National Football League is searching for a new head coach and the calendar is set to turn to February. These are wild times across the league. With nine (it IS still nine, right? I didn’t miss another opening that came about overnight?!) teams searching for new leadership, we haven’t seen a hiring cycle with this kind of manpower on the move in quite some time.
Coaching hirings are, of course, a two-way street. The teams must sell themselves to the coaches just as much as the coaches need to sell themselves to the teams. And, if the league’s history is any indication, anywhere from half to two-thirds of these openings will be back on the market again in four years' time.
The NFL: Not For Long.
Chicago, Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Miami, Minnesota, New Orleans, and New York (Giants) all entered the day on Thursday with vacancies on deck. It was reported by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero this morning that the Broncos are locked and loaded—they’ve hired Packers OC Nathaniel Hackett. But seemingly a few teams are waiting for a few key decisions.
Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has seen his pendulum swing between being the betting favorite in New York and Miami for the better part of a week. The whispers of a big, splashy hire out in Sin City (hello, Jim Harbaugh or Josh McDaniels?) would presumably have a lot of strings to pull. Hell, even the Jacksonville job, which appeared to be open and shut with Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, is not yet closed.
Each one of these job openings provides unique benefits and, alternatively, unique challenges. But how do they stack up against one another? We’ve collected a series of criteria, both objective and subjective in nature. The objective is to identify which job offers the most appeal to a potential head coaching candidate (their own scheme preferences aside). I would like to be abundantly clear: this is not a complete, all-encompassing snapshot of every variable a coach would be invested in or care about. But it is a pretty significant start.
So while we await the NFL’s mass leadership shift to formally get underway, let’s take a look at all nine vacancies of 2022 and the merits of each team in the following eight categories:
- Salary cap spending power
- 2022 NFL Draft capital
- 3-year winning pedigree
- Remaining Offensive Personnel
- Defensive Personnel
- Strength of Division
In each category, teams will be scored with the inverse of their rankings—first place gets nine points, last place gets one point. And at the end of the line, we’ll add up all the points across all eight categories to see how these jobs stack up against one another.
SALARY CAP SPENDING POWER
The ability to overhaul a roster or, alternatively, bring in a big fish (such as a grizzled, bearded veteran quarterback from the NFC North) via trade is going to be impacted heavily with a team’s room against the cap. Not having to shred the current roster or lose talent to position for the offseason is a huge plus as a coach steps into the starting blocks. How do this year’s vacancies stack up?
Here is the current 2022 salary cap space for each team according to our friends at Over The Cap:
- Miami Dolphins ($69,342,252) - 9 points
- Jacksonville Jaguars ($59,641,380) - 8 points
- Denver Broncos (41,291,194) - 7 points
- Chicago Bears ($30,155,208) - 6 points
- Las Vegas Raiders ($27,435,443) - 5 points
- Houston Texans (17,376,167) - 4 points
- New York Giants (-7,065,420) - 3 points
- Minnesota Vikings (-12,987,444) - 2 points
- New Orleans Saints (-$74,251,841) - 1 point
Surprise! Death, taxes, and the Saints facing a massive undertaking in contract restructures and potentially even trading away talent in order to get under the cap. This has been the Saints’ way of business for several seasons now and it is slowly but surely becoming time to pay the piper. If the Saints end up deciding to go back to square one, they can find some inspiration from the team sitting at No. 1—the Dolphins very much spent the better part of the past decade attacking the offseason in a similar manner; restructuring contracts one year after they were signed in order to have room to make a splash and hope it was enough to close the gap and put them over the top. But Miami’s new leadership, put in place in 2019, has done at least this part right—they’ve gotten younger and they’ve structured their contracts with an eye toward maintaining a lot of long-term cap flexibility.
The rest of the field between is various shades of gray, with most teams having the flexibility to open up more than enough room to breathe and efficiently operate this offseason. Even Minnesota, a team clearly in transition, could manage to get under the cap with just one move—trading QB Kirk Cousins or restructuring Danielle Hunter’s $18M roster bonus.
2022 NFL DRAFT CAPITAL
Building through the NFL draft is a more appealing pathway for a team devoid of talent and facing a multi-year rebuild. The prospect of a head coach taking on such a build can at times be daunting, given the expectation to perform quickly. That is, of course, unless you’re sitting in the shoes of the Giants.
Here are the current rankings for all nine job vacancies in terms of their 2022 NFL Draft capital, as scored by our friends at Tankathon and the NFL draft trade value chart sum of all their current scheduled selections:
- New York Giants (4,332.7 points) - 9 points
- Jacksonville Jaguars (4,273.4 points) - 8 points
- Houston Texans (3,248.6 points) - 7 points
- Denver Broncos (2,600.9 points) - 6 points
- Minnesota Vikings (1,917.4 points) - 5 points
- New Orleans Saints (1,550.2 points) - 4 points
- Las Vegas Raiders (1,414.8 points) - 3 points
- Miami Dolphins (1,275 points) - 2 points
- Chicago Bears (827.6 points) - 1 point
The dynamics of the Justin Fields trade from last spring are all over these standings. Chicago traded away a future top-10 pick to get to No. 11 overall last year to acquire Fields and now the Giants are reaping the benefits with the most draft capital of any franchise needing a head coach. And while Chicago does check in with the least, it may not be a bad thing when you consider they already have a young quarterback to develop on the roster.
Two additional teams of interest to me in this regard? The Broncos and Texans. If the Broncos make a big splash for Aaron Rodgers this offseason, we could quickly see them tumble down these standings (not that they would mind, I’m sure). The Texans, on the other hand, could find themselves rapidly climbing to the top spot if the team finds a trade partner for QB Deshaun Watson this offseason.
THREE-YEAR WINNING PEDIGREE
For most of these teams, winning has been hard to come by. But how often a team has won is an important piece of the puzzle, given that it will paint a picture of the kind of expectations a coach could be walking into or how easy it will be for a coach to change the culture within the locker room. But not all of these teams have vacancies for failed expectations on the field.
Sean Payton retired, Jon Gruden was dismissed midseason with the Raiders sitting at 3-2, and Brian Flores secured winning seasons in consecutive years for the Dolphins for the first time in 20 years. Those are three of your top-four winning programs over the last three years among teams searching for a coach.
1. New Orleans Saints (34-15) - 9 points
T-2. Las Vegas Raiders (25-24) - 7.5 points
T-2. Minnesota Vikings (25-24) - 7.5 points
4. Miami Dolphins (24-25) - 6 points
5. Chicago Bears (22-27) - 5 points
6. Denver Broncos (19-30) - 4 points
7. Houston Texans (18-31) - 3 points
8. New York Giants (14-35) - 2 points
9. Jacksonville Jaguars (10-39) - 1 point
These teams combined have six playoff appearances between them over the last three seasons and three wins: Las Vegas this year (lost to Cincinnati in the wild-card round), New Orleans and Chicago in 2021 (New Orleans won a head-to-head matchup between the two before losing to eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay), and Houston, Minnesota, and New Orleans in 2020 (Minnesota defeated New Orleans head to head and Houston defeated Buffalo in the wild-card round before conceding 41 straight points to Kansas City in a 51-31 loss).
Getting these ships turned around will require varying degrees of upheaval. Jacksonville, for example, sported a 20-game losing streak over the past two seasons. That is a far cry from the Saints’ 15 losses over the last three years combined.
I did quarterbacks a little differently from the rest of the categories for scoring purposes. This is a tale of the haves and the have-nots (and we don’t think so’s but we aren’t sure just yet). Scoring for quarterbacks is pretty simple. Do you have a quality starter at the position? If you do, great. You get 10 points. If you don’t? Sorry to say you get just one point. And if you’re in possession of a replacement-level starter or a young quarterback with a murky future and at the very least a little bit of hope, you get five points and are in the middle (also known as purgatory but I digress).
- Las Vegas Raiders (Derek Carr) - 10 points
- Minnesota Vikings (Kirk Cousins) - 10 points
Look, I’m sure we’re all well aware that these two players aren’t perfect. I’m not saying these are Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen-caliber quarterbacks. But these quarterbacks are capable of playing winning football and offering ample production in the passing game. They’re highly experienced and highly productive. Carr has tossed for more than 4,000 yards in four consecutive seasons and appeared poised for the best year of his career in the first half of the season.
Cousins? He’s tossed for 68 touchdowns to just 20 interceptions over the last two years with an average of 8.3 AY/A and a passer rating of 104.
There are teams that would kill for this kind of quarterback production despite their warts and imperfections.
- New Orleans Saints (Taysom Hill) - 1 point
- Denver Broncos (Drew Lock) - 1 point
It’s a pity, really. After years of insisting that Taysom Hill was, indeed, a legitimate quarterback (don’t think I forgot about all those ‘Steve Young’ comparisons), Payton bowed out before we got to see it. Maybe he meant Tampa Bay-edition Steve Young? Hill, through five starts at quarterback in 2021, posted more interceptions (5) than touchdown passes (4) and logged a sub-60% completion percentage.
And for New Orleans, it gets worse. The only other quarterbacks under contract right now are Ian Book and Blake Bortles (on a futures deal). Needless to say, the Saints are a “have-not” at quarterback. And at more than $70M in the red against the cap, getting Jameis Winston re-signed will not be an easy task.
The Broncos also have their true starter off the roster as an expired contract in Teddy Bridgewater, leaving Lock as the only quarterback under contract at this point in time. We now have a three-year sample size for Lock, and that features an 8-13 record (including 0-3 this season) and a sub-60% completion percentage in more than 700 attempts.
The good news for Denver is there’s no reason why the team can’t aggressively pursue an upgrade. They have a good amount of cap space, a top-10 draft selection, and, as we’ll get to momentarily, a bunch of talent elsewhere.
THE SHADES OF GRAY
- Jacksonville Jaguars (Trevor Lawrence) - 5 points
- Chicago Bears (Justin Fields) - 5 points
- Miami Dolphins (Tua Tagovailoa) - 5 points
- Houston Texans (Davis Mills) - 5 points
- New York Giants (Daniel Jones) - 5 points
I listed these players in my level of excitement to see what their future holds. Lawrence and Fields are top-tier athletes with high-level arms—they just so happened to play in crumbling circumstances this past season. Urban Meyer clearly wasn’t made for NFL life, and neither was Chicago’s offensive line in 2021.
The Dolphins and Tagovailoa embraced RPOs at an unsustainably high rate in 2021 to make due, but if they can improve his offensive line and get a damn running game, he could be a stable option at the position. Certainly not the heir to Marino that Dolphins fans were promised, however; he’ll have limitations.
Mills and Houston are interesting (remember, Deshaun Watson is by all accounts out the door, so the Texans are in a bit of limbo for not getting credit for his presence at quarterback but also not having any assets they could get via trade in-hand). By all accounts, Mills overperformed in a bad environment.
Then there’s Danny Dimes, who is trending in the wrong direction but didn’t have the luxury of a run game or viable offensive line in front of him for 2021. Can we please, for the love of God, get the negative plays under control? Jones has been sacked on 7.6% of his dropbacks and saw his season cut short with injury.
We’ve reached the halfway point of this exercise and the standings are as follows:
- Las Vegas Raiders - 25.5 points
- Minnesota Vikings - 24.5 points
- Jacksonville Jaguars - 22.0 points
- Miami Dolphins - 22.0 points
- Houston Texans - 19.0 points
- New York Giants - 19.0 points
- Denver Broncos - 18.0 points
- Chicago Bears - 17.0 points
- New Orleans Saints - 15.0 points
The impact of the quarterback situations is clear and obvious. But there’s still a lotta ballgame left.
REMAINING OFFENSIVE TALENT
The quarterback position aside, how do these offensive units stack up? The challenge here is accounting for talent that is guaranteed and under contract. And, of course, this is more of a subjective exercise as compared to most of the other tasks. Here’s how I would currently stack the nucleus of offensive talent under contract for each of these teams:
- Minnesota Vikings - 9 points
- Denver Broncos - 8 points
- New Orleans Saints - 7 points
- Las Vegas Raiders - 6 points
- Miami Dolphins - 5 points
- Jacksonville Jaguars - 4 points
- Chicago Bears - 3 points
- New York Giants - 2 points
- Houston Texans - 1 point
Minnesota gets the top nod for having several elite weapons in Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson, plus the presence of Adam Theilen and bookend tackles in Brian O’Neill and rookie Christian Darrisaw. TE Tyler Conklin is the most notable expiring contract on this side of the ball.
Denver’s offensive depth chart is loaded with potential: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, Javonte Williams, and Tim Patrick; you kidding me? Their line play features quality players in Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, and a quality young rookie in Quinn Meinerz.
The Saints have two of the top elite weapons in Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, but Thomas’ availability and his uncertainty with the team did hurt them a bit in my eyes as well. The Saints deserve credit for the presence of Ryan Ramczyk, the best right tackle in football in my opinion, but having Terron Armstead as an expiring contract also hurt them along with their lack of depth at wide receiver.
The Raiders have an elite option too in TE Darren Waller, plus RB Josh Jacobs and LT Kolton Miller are plus starters at their respective positions as well. I’d be remiss to not mention WR Hunter Renfrow as a royal pain in the ass for opponents each week, too. This team needs an overhaul on the line, however.
Miami may be a bit of a surprise to see check in this high on the list given their offensive production but they do have fair pass-catchers in rookie star Jaylen Waddle and DeVante Parker. Guard Robert Hunt was one of the best offensive linemen in football in the second half of 2021 after settling in at right guard this season—and this team could get another nucleus piece back if they’re able to retain TE Mike Gesicki this offseason.
Jacksonville has a number of quality skill players at their disposal courtesy of RBs James Robinson and Travis Etienne (both hurt, which is not great). Add in WRs Laviska Shenault and Marvin Jones Jr., who are underutilized relative to their potential, and there’s at least some upward mobility with this group. Three of Jacksonville’s starting OL (Cam Robinson, Andrew Norwell, and A.J. Cann) are expiring contracts, which hurts their standing.
Chicago boasts a star receiver in Allen Robinson, but they don’t get credit for him because he played this year on the franchise tag and is not currently under contract. That leaves RB David Montgomery, TE Cole Kmet, WR Darnell Mooney, and IOL Cody Whitehair as the major standouts on offense. Starting OL Jason Peters, James Daniels, and Germain Ifedi are expiring contracts.
The Giants enjoyed a strong second season from LT Andrew Thomas, but that’s about where the buck stops for the rest of the offense. Saquon Barkley has struggled greatly with both health and performance the last two seasons and the team faces a difficult financial decision there (if you still believe in his potential). WR Kenny Golladay signed for $18M APY and was a total flop. TE Evan Engram is an expiring contract. Hopefully rookie WR Kadarius Toney can harness his bright flashes to give this unit another layer.
Houston wide receiver Brandin Cooks is a rose amongst thorns in Houston. Fellow WR Nico Collins popped a bit on tape and the team does have a standout offensive lineman in Laremy Tunsil, but he didn’t perform anywhere near expectations for a $22M APY player in 2021.
The slog through the roster evaluations continues on the other side of the football. Here’s how I would currently stack the nucleus of defensive talent under contract for each of these teams:
- New Orleans Saints - 9 points
- Miami Dolphins - 8 points
- Denver Broncos - 7 points
- Las Vegas Raiders - 6 points
- Chicago Bears - 5 points
- Minnesota Vikings - 4 points
- Jacksonville Jaguars - 3 points
- New York Giants - 2 points
- Houston Texans - 1 point
The Saints have a TON of high-level talent under contract. Malcolm Jenkins, Marshon Lattimore, and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the secondary alone; Demario Davis and rookie Pete Werner at linebacker; Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, and David Onyemata on the line. If this team can find a way to get SAF Marcus Williams back under contract? Lord have mercy.
The Dolphins’ offensive rebuild since 2019 hasn’t been a rousing success, but the defensive nucleus is very strong. DE Emmanuel Ogbah is an expiring contract, but this team has two top-flight corners in Byron Jones and Xavien Howard on the books, DT Christian Wilkins took a major step forward in 2021, LB Jerome Baker showed ample versatility in playing both WILL and 3-4 OLB, and FS Jevon Holland was one of the best safeties in football as a rookie. Don’t forget defensive linemen Raekwon Davis (nose tackle) and Zach Seiler (odd front end), too.
Denver has high-level talent in FS Justin Simmons, a top player at his position in the league. They also boast a promising rookie in the secondary via Patrick Surtain II and a ferocious pass rusher in Bradley Chubb. But starting linebackers A.J. Johnson and Josey Jewell are expiring contracts. So, too, are cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Kyle Fuller. There’s potential for a lot of turnover from this group.
Las Vegas gets the nod here for their elite pass rush duo of Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue. Rookies Tre’Von Moehrig and Nate Hobbs played very well this season for the Raiders, too. I would be remiss to leave out CB Casey Hayward’s name, as well. The interior line has potential for a lot of turnover.
Chicago has one hell of a pass rush duo too in Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, but the regression of players like Eddie Goldman and Eddie Jackson are problematic. While CB Jaylon Johnson took a step forward, the team will need another corner. LB Roquan Smith will need to be more consistent against the run moving forward.
Minnesota’s nucleus is aging a bit with Eric Kendricks (29 years old) and Harrison Smith (32 years old) still serving starring roles on the unit. Danielle Hunter is the best of the bunch when healthy, but he missed 10 games this past season after missing 2020. Anthony Barr and Patrick Peterson are both expiring contracts and are not guaranteed to return given the Vikings’ salary cap situation.
New York enjoys some versatility on the back end via Xavier McKinney and Logan Ryan, but Jabrill Peppers is coming off the books. Adoree’ Jackson and James Bradberry are a quality duo of corners and the team did get some quality line play from Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence in the middle.
Jacksonville boasts a truly elite weapon in Josh Allen. And that is, itself, enough to prop them above the Texans. Jacksonville has some young talent and the hope is a better staff can return those players to prominence. LB Myles Jack needs to bounce back, but he’s a very physically-gifted talent.
Houston, in the past 18 months, has bid farewell to all the known commodities on defense. J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus are gone. The unit’s best player, Justin Reid, is an expiring contract. The team should be excited about the growth shown from DE Jonathan Greenard, however.
This assessment may be the most subjective of all. We’re accounting for ownership groups and stability with said teams, prior behavioral patterns from decision-makers at the top of each team’s respective food chain, and program prestige as a potential (marginal) selling point.
- New Orleans Saints - 9 points
- Minnesota Vikings - 8 points
- Denver Broncos - 7 points
- Las Vegas Raiders - 6 points
- New York Giants - 5 points
- Miami Dolphins - 4 points
- Chicago Bears - 3 points
- Jacksonville Jaguars - 2 points
- Houston Texans - 1 point
The Saints boast one of the winningest franchises of the last 15 years. They’ve brought home a Lombardi Trophy and their 204 wins are the sixth most in the NFL over that stretch of time—10 more than the next team hiring a coach in 2022.
Minnesota lacks program prestige with no Super Bowls on their resume, but the Wilf family has done very well for themselves as owners. The team built a world-class stadium in 2016 and the Vikings are one of the more stable teams on this list—letting go of GM Rick Spielman after 15 years together (the last decade of which he was the general manager). Former HC Mike Zimmer got eight years to try to get it right. That counts for something.
Denver may be facing a sale of the team in the near future, which could uproot some of the known dynamics of the team. But executive John Elway is well respected and the Broncos are one of the league’s most prestigious franchises. Denver is the ninth-winningest franchise since 2000 with 194 wins and won a Super Bowl in the past decade with Peyton Manning at the helm.
The rest of this group is a murky mess. There are significant warts with all of them. The Raiders like to swing big for the fences for better or for worse. Miami’s office politics seemingly pop up with every regime since owner Stephen Ross took control of the team in 2009. The Giants have fired three straight coaches after just two seasons on the job. Virginia McCaskey and the board of directors in Chicago are apparently wrestling a sale (and a move of the team out of downtown Chicago). Shad Khan has struggled with hiring and will be strapping his new head coach with what is almost assuredly a lame-duck general manager in Trent Baalke. And we ALL have heard about the dynamics of ownership in Houston with Cal McNair and the influence of Jack Easterby.
You could stack teams 4-8 in nearly any order and I don’t know that I’d have a compelling reason to argue with you. As I said, quite subjective!
STRENGTH OF DIVISION
“Congratulations! You’re now an NFL head coach. Now we need you to go out and beat these teams every year.”
Surely it matters just a bit, right? This one isn’t scored from 9 to 1 on a points scale either. Instead, I ranked the divisions in terms of difficulty (subjectively) and gave those rankings a corresponding point total as well; the harder the division, the fewer points you receive. How do the divisions stack up in terms of difficulty? Here’s how I ranked them:
- NFC West - 1 point
- AFC West - 2 points
- AFC North - 3 points
- AFC East - 4 points
- NFC North - 5 points
- NFC South - 6 points
- NFC East - 7 points
- AFC South - 8 points
Which resulted in the following standings among open head coach vacancies:
T-1. Jacksonville Jaguars - 8 points
T-1. Houston Texans - 8 points
3. New York Giants - 7 points
4. New Orleans Saints - 6 points
T-5. Minnesota Vikings - 5 points
T-5. Chicago Bears- 5 points
7. Miami Dolphins - 4 points
T-8. Denver Broncos - 2 points
T-8. Las Vegas Raiders - 2 points
The Jaguars and Texans have the luxury of hiring in a division that hosts one another. Plus, the Indianapolis Colts, while fearsome on the ground, appear to be treading water at the quarterback position and the Tennessee Titans may have found the glass ceiling that QB Ryan Tannehill places over the team.
The Giants play in a division where there’s constant turnover in the standings. Dallas appears to be on the rocks with HC Mike McCarthy, the Eagles overachieved to make the postseason and showed their true colors as a rebuilding team against Tampa Bay, and Washington appears to be a complex mess themselves despite quality offensive talent.
New Orleans has a favorable long-term view. The Buccaneers are on the end of a win-now window, Carolina is spinning their wheels, and Atlanta’s roster needs a dramatic overhaul and lacks a long-term option at quarterback.
Minnesota and Chicago are bracing for a changing of the guard as Green Bay appears ready to bid farewell to Aaron Rodgers. I’m sure their relief will be immense.
The Dolphins have to worry about both Josh Allen and Bill Belichick, which is not ideal. But if you’d like a silver lining, Belichick is one of the oldest coaches in football and who knows how long he’ll stick around.
The Broncos and Raiders? Good luck finding a silver lining about young star quarterbacks in Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes occupying 25% of your annual schedule.
And so we’ve completed our journey through eight separate variables that could (and should) impact the hiring process for the NFL franchises looking to fill a vacancy this offseason—or for the sake of the Broncos, franchises who have hired a new coach this offseason. And through all eight categories, here are how the jobs stack up as these teams currently stand.
- Minnesota Vikings - 50.5 points
- New Orleans Saints - 46.0 points
- Las Vegas Raiders - 45.5 points
- Miami Dolphins - 43.0 points
- Denver Broncos - 42.0 points
- Jacksonville Jaguars - 38.0 points
- New York Giants - 36.0 points
- Chicago Bears - 33.0 points
- Houston Texans - 30.0 points
Again, this is not necessarily an all-encompassing view. And it lacks the context of a team’s offseason plan. The Broncos, for example, trading picks for Rodgers would dramatically change their outlook and upgrade the job exponentially—we’ll leave those conversations for when that comes to pass. I hope you enjoyed this subjective snapshot at the 2022 NFL head coaching openings.