The 2020 edition of the NFL Black Monday purge was quick and predictable. As has become tradition, owners and general managers used the day after the conclusion of the regular season to announce regime changes. The New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Los Angeles Chargers fired their head coaches.
That raised the number of NFL teams looking for head coaches to six. Some candidates are already being rated as more attractive than others. The Tennessee Titans’ Arthur Smith reportedly is on the interview wish list of all six teams, and fellow offensive coordinators Eric Bieniemy (Kansas City Chiefs) and Brian Daboll (Buffalo Bills) get mentioned frequently.
However, not all jobs are created equal. Expect any coach with a pulse to pick up the phone on the first ring when the Chargers call. On the other hand, the Houston Texans will be leaving quite a few voicemail messages.
Here’s how the vacancies rank in terms of attractiveness:
1. Los Angeles Chargers
There is no more important position in team sports than quarterback, and the Los Angeles Chargers have a good one in Justin Herbert, who completed two-thirds of his attempts for 4,336 yards and 31 touchdowns as a rookie. With receiver Keenan Allen, averaging 101 catches over the past four years, locked in through 2024, the Chargers have something to build upon on offense.
With 47.5 sacks and 240 tackles in 63 games, defensive end Joey Bosa is an attractive anchor on the other side of the ball.
The Chargers will be drafting 13th next April and have a full complement of picks. About the only downside is the prospect of losing to Patrick Mahomes twice a year for at least the next couple of years.
You’ll hear Brian Daboll’s name mentioned for this opening repeatedly over the coming days.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
The prospect of taking Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence No. 1 overall should be enticing to any candidate, but the new coach is going to want to be sure he is on the same page with the incoming general manager. Quarterback Gardner Minshew has shown a lot in 20 starts over his first two seasons, and trading him gets the Jaguars a couple of decent draft picks.
But Jacksonville already possesses four of the first 45 picks and 11 selections overall. Coupled with the most cap space, according to Spotrac.com, the Jaguars can fix a lot of problems in one fell swoop.
3. New York Jets
The clock is ticking on a decision over what to do with quarterback Sam Darnold, and having apparently lost the shot at Trevor Lawrence makes the decision even more difficult for general manager Joe Douglas. The incoming coach is going to want to know the plan, but even Douglas might not know until after the NFL Scouting Combine and pro-day workouts.
The new coach can expect a very short honeymoon with the tabloid columnists, but the Jets have three of the first 34 draft picks and a boatload of cap space rivaling the Jacksonville Jaguars. That will make up for the distractions.
The Jets have posted one winning record in a decade dominated by anemic showings on offense. This doesn’t feel like a vacancy to be filled by a defensive coordinator.
4. Atlanta Falcons
Once the top three vacancies are filled, the Atlanta Falcons coaching job qualifies as the least-dirty shirt in the hamper. The Falcons weren’t as bad as their 2020 record suggests. However, the Falcons have to hire a general manager, and the new brain trust inherits an unmovable Matt Ryan contract that makes digging out salary-cap jail – they’re $32 million over the cap at the moment – seemingly impossible.
On the plus side, Ryan looks to be functional heading into his 14th season, so the Falcons might be able to squeeze two years out of him and then free up cap space. But is a new coach, probably working on a four-year contract, going to be enthusiastic at the prospect of starting over in 2023? If they draft Ryan’s heir at No. 4 this spring, the Falcons will have only five other selections (and no free-agent help) to tackle their remaining issues.
5. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions have nothing to offer their incoming coach. There’s just about nothing in the cash register to offer free agents, and Detroit has only five draft picks in April. While there are fans clamoring for relief by trading Matthew Stafford, how much can the Lions expect in return for a guy who has been battered thoroughly for 12 seasons and hasn’t moved the needle much on the win-loss record?
In any event, Detroit will be moving on from Stafford in two seasons at the most, so it becomes another scenario in which the coach might be starting over in 2023.
Arguably the biggest concern for someone taking this job is ownership’s commitment to winning. Not counting interims, they’ve had 10 coaches and one playoff victory since the middle of the Reagan administration. Those coaches couldn’t all have been clunkers.
6. Houston Texans
What’s not to dislike about the Houston Texans’ predicament? Ownership has had no demonstrable experience constructing a successful front office, the Miami Dolphins own the club’s first two picks in the 2021 draft, and the Texans are projected to be on the wrong side of the salary cap by $21 million.
Normally, the presence of a quality quarterback like DeShaun Watson would make the coaching job more attractive. But all of the other factors are too much to overcome in the first two years. Big-name coordinators in successful environments should think long and hard at the prospect of taking on this rebuild without a five-year contract.