Whilst the league’s elite focus on the playoffs, those less well off are trying to figure out what to do next to turn their fortunes around. Six head coach vacancies dominated the headlines since the regular season ended, and we asked five of our writers to rank these vacancies in order of preference:
1) Denver: Probably the pick of the litter. No team is better at stopping aerial attacks (sorry, Seahawks), so that’s a heck of a building block. You’ve got to be able to develop a QB to make this work, though, and that’s no easy task when the protection isn’t great and offensive linemen are going to be overvalued in free agency and the draft because of the Cowboys’ success. A deceptively tough job, but still very appealing.
2) San Diego: Well, this is a tough one. There’s plenty of unfulfilled promise on the roster, and the D looks tantalising as Bosa develops. Unfortunately, the prospect of 16 de facto road games in the event of the presumptive relocation to LA – and will Philip Rivers go up the Interstate with them? – greatly reduce the appeal. Still an interesting enough job that Dean Spanos shouldn’t have to settle for a vanilla choice, but that doesn’t mean he won’t make one anyway.
3) San Francisco: This will appeal to certain coaches a lot more than others. It’s a full-on rebuild, with a roster that might just be as bad as Cleveland’s and were only denied the top pick because the Rams managed to play even worse than them twice. You’d better be prepared for a bunch of losses and a bunch of criticism, but with a complete blank slate and even a new GM, it’s got its own unique appeal. I think Jed York’s meddling is a big problem that should put off the best candidates, probably more than the roster does.
4) Los Angeles I want no part of any organisation that mortgaged their future for Jared Goff.
5) Jacksonville: Do you really want to have your future tied to the diligence of Blake Bortles? No? Didn’t think so.
6) Buffalo: This looks like Anthony Lynn’s job anyway, and I don’t think it’s appealing at all. There’s very obvious GM meddling from how the Tyrod Taylor situation was handled, Sammy Watkins is having another foot surgery, and the other cornerstone of the offense is a sure-to-decline-soon LeSean McCoy. I do not see this going well for whoever takes the post.
1) Denver: When it’s a retirement instead of a firing, that’s usually an omen of a good situation. Last year’s Super Bowl champions have a fearsome defense, led by professional quarterback hitman Von Miller. The offense has serious talent too. Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and C.J. Anderson headline at the skill positions, and a pair of talented young quarterbacks in Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch await.
2) Los Angeles: Jeff Fisher’s comedy of errors led to an in-season firing, and when you look at what he wasn’t doing with a talented team, you can see why. Jared Goff was the number one overall pick back in April for a reason, and the offense also boasts Todd Gurley, the surprisingly effective Kenny Britt, and the ace up the sleeve in Tavon Austin. The defense is one of the best in the NFL. With serious playmakers on all levels, Aaron Donald is the star attraction.
3) Jacksonville: Blake Bortles might have been a broken mess in 2016, but if his mechanics can be amended, he has the potential to recover his impressive 2015 form. On defense, Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack are the young pretenders, with recent free agent signing Malik Jackson anchoring the defensive line.
4) San Diego: after the Broncos, the Chargers offer the closest a team with a vacancy could get to the Super Bowl. Decimated by injuries in 2016, Philip Rivers could lead a fully strengthened Chargers team with players like Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead to the Super Bowl- however, the team fall due to Rivers’ impending retirement. Once he’s gone, the Chargers could struggle significantly.
5) San Francisco: There’s absolutely nothing to talk about on the offensive side of the ball here, bar Joe Staley at left tackle. The defense, for all its faults, does contain some pieces. Navorro Bowman is one of the NFL’s premier inside linebackers, and Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, and Aaron Lynch make up a young combination of defensive line and pass rush.
6) Buffalo: In terms of talent, the Bills do rank ahead of the 49ers. LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins (when healthy), Stephon Gilmore, and Ronald Darby are all greatly capable. However, with an ownership so easily persuaded into firing their Head Coach, this team would be bottom of the list for me.
1) Denver: Cut and dry the best vacancy on the market. You have a really strong nucleus of players on both sides of the ball and playmakers you can build around for the immediate and long-term future. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are a great receiving duo while CJ Anderson offers you that all-around package at running back. Really, on offense, you’re just a quarterback away from having a strong unit and you may have that guy on the roster in Paxton Lynch. John Elway is arguably one of the best general manager’s in the game and him and his staff have done a great job evaluating talent in recent years so the chance to work with him is an opportunity well worth taking. It’s a strong division, sure, but the Broncos are a quarterback away from being right back in the mix.
2) San Diego: Biggest selling point for this team is Phil Rivers. Yes, he’s getting up there in years but you have a legit Top-10 calibre NFL quarterback for the next few years at least. This team was competitive in 2016 despite again succumbing to a slew of injuries, most notably to Keenan Allen who remains one of the best young receivers in the game. The defense needs work but can come together in one offseason. Ultimately, Rivers gives you a chance to win now and early success as a Head Coach can buy you years down the line when times get tough. See: Mike Tomlin.
3) Jacksonville: Might be seen as a bit controversial but I think the Jags are closer than people might think to having at least a division contender. Owner Shahid Khan gave Gus Bradley several years to build his young team and develop them. Unfortunately, he was unable to covert that into wins but it’s proof that Khan is willing to give you time to build a project. Whether you believe in Blake Bortles or not, you have a young QB you can get behind on a cheapish deal, while also possessing high draft picks to try and find your guy if you want to move on. There’s great young talent on both sides of the ball in Jalen Ramsey and Allen Robinson amongst others. If you can hit big in the 2017 draft, this team could be in the AFC South race in Year 1.
4) LA Rams: Jeff Fisher, some might say, underachieved given the roster and draft picks he had at his disposal during his tenure with the Rams. He mortgaged the immediate future for Jared Goff who didn’t look great in his rookie year, but with the right offensive mind mentoring him, he could develop into a great starter – the unknown is always dangerous yet prosperous. You have real blue chip talents in Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald you can build around but the key is sorting that offense out. An offensive-minded coach with the right acquisitions might be able to build a team that can do better than 7-9.
5) San Francisco: Your best opportunity for a full scale rebuild. The Niners are devoid of talent on both sides of the ball, but have a ton of cap room to work with in free agency if you want to go down that route and are blessed with a high draft pick in April. The prospective HC-GM combo that come into SF will need to be allowed to do their own thing and have owner Jed York take a real step back from football operations. York’s interference has been toxic for the Niners in recent seasons and they just need to go back to square one and start over. It won’t be a quick fix, looking at a 2-3 year job to get this team into competitive shape but as a HC looking to make their name in the league, turning the Niners around could be the opportunity they’re looking for.
6) Buffalo: Again might be controversial, but Bills situation really is quite toxic. You don’t know if the organisation will decide to take up Tyrod Taylor’s €27m option which would leave you with/without a quarterback heading into the draft and then you really are quite hamstrung. Is there talent? Yes. Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy are two legit game changers on offense while Stephon Gilmore and that defense are capable of being considerably better than league average with the right coaching. The biggest question mark remains with GM Doug Whaley and his role *really* is. His long-term future really isn’t stable at all and if he’s gone after Year 1, a new GM could come in and want their own HC. It’s a poisoned chalice.
1) San Diego: I don’t care if they’re moving, this is the most complete roster of any of the teams with Head Coach vacancies. They have the best young defensive player in Joey Bosa, a potential hall of fame QB in Phil Rivers, and talent scattered around the roster such as Keenan Allen. Melvin Gordon and Melvin Ingram. This is an attractive job, as this team could contend next year
2) Denver: If someone takes this job, they inherit the 2nd best defence in the League, and they get to work under a general manager who really knows what he is doing. This vacancy would be top, but their offence is chronic, and if Gary Kubiak could get nothing out of it, then many others will also struggle. The high fan expectations could also be a worry for younger coaches
3) Jacksonville: I like this job because I feel the roster as a whole is only going to get better, as it is young. The likes of Jalen Ramsey, Allen Robinson and Telvin Smith are legit building blocks, and this vacancy is a good one because of this.
4) San Francisco: This job is great because for the next couple of years, there are very few expectations that will be placed on the Head Coach. This allows a coach to be creative and to think outside the box without the fear of losing their job. There is also a lot of cap room, so an incoming coach would feasibly be able to identify targets for the General Manager, and there is good money there to be able to get them in
5) Buffalo: This job concerns me because I don’t see a ceiling higher than an 8-8 finish for this roster. The defence has some nice pieces, but due to Rex Ryan’s scheme, there is a weird combination of 4-3 and 3-4 players, which makes it difficult to organise this group. The offence has some good players, but the QB is a massive question mark and the offensive line was chronic in 2016.
6) Los Angeles: I don’t know why anyone would take this job when they could feasibly wait another year and get a more attractive one. The Rams have the worst skill position players in the League, the worst run blocking o line in the League, and a defence which despite the talent, is vastly underwhelming. You also have to work for Stan Kroenke, who is one of the most useless owners in all of sport.