As of Tuesday evening, the NFL has a new parlor game: Where will Chip Kelly land next? If it’s back to college for him, I’m not sure what job that will lead to. But here are our best seven guesses at where in the NFL he might re-surface if someone tosses him the keys to their franchise, if not their personnel department. Remember, Kelly did win 18 of his first 28 games in Philadelphia, winning the NFC East in his first season. He followed that up by going 7–12 in his final 19 games with the Eagles, but his overall 26–21 regular-season record still passes for big success in some downtrodden NFL locales.
1. Tennessee: Only two words of explanation needed: Marcus Mariota. Not to mention that you’re following the Ken Whisenhunt (3–20) and Mike Mularkey (2–6) coaching tenures, which isn’t the heaviest lift. And the Titans will likely have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft to trade or keep to themselves, so there’s that enticement.
2. Cleveland: The Browns wanted Kelly desperately in early 2013 and lost out to Philadelphia. Not sure Kelly would be any more interested in the bedraggled Browns than he was (or wasn't) the first time, but they’d probably give him more personnel power than any other NFL franchise would even consider at this point. And nobody ever accused Johnny Manziel of not being a mobile quarterback.
3. San Francisco: This would require the 49ers giving up on Jim Tomsula after one disastrous season as head coach, and the San Francisco brain trust of Jed York and Trent Baalke don’t seem inclined to eat that crow. But what if they thought they could salvage the franchise’s investment in its lost-in-space quarterback, Colin Kaepernick? And bringing Kelly back to the West Coast would also change the narrative for the 49ers in their dismal post-Harbaugh era. Kelly working together with Baalke on personnel decisions might make for a combustible dynamic, but San Francisco is looking at Philadelphia’s 6–9 record this year with envy.
4. Miami: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross loves to swing for the fences in his coaching hires, before always being forced to settle for his second or third or fourth choice. And maybe Ross will see Kelly as someone who can help make a franchise quarterback out of Ryan Tannehill, since Miami’s paying him franchise-level money anyway. I don’t see the fit being great between Kelly and Dolphins VP of football operations Mike Tannenbaum, but if Ross tells Tannenbaum to control the personnel side, and Kelly agrees to the coaching-GM division of power, it might work. The Dolphins still are trying to re-invigorate their fan base and sell some sizzle. Hiring Kelly would certainly go over better than Joe Philbin did.
5. Buffalo: Bills owner Terry Pegula went for the big defensive reputation with the Rex Ryan hire last off-season, and that didn’t work. So, should the Bills choose to give up Rex after his first season, why not swing the pendulum the other way and go after Kelly? The Chipster could definitely run his offense with Tyrod Taylor, the most athletic quarterback in the league, who also happens to be a darn accurate passer. Again, the Bills fan base is starved for a winner, and wouldn’t look down its nose at Kelly, who put up a pair of 10-win seasons in Philadelphia. In Buffalo, the last time the team won 10 or more games in a season, it was the 1990's.
6. San Diego/Los Angeles: If the Chargers move to L.A. as expected, they’re going to need a big-name head coach if they hope to move the needle in that huge market that has been happily devoid of NFL action for 21 seasons. Kelly could give the entire organization a spark and perhaps make the Chargers relevant again after missing the playoffs two seasons in a row. If Kelly could make use of Nick Foles at quarterback, he’ll figure out how to make something work with the pocket passer that is Philip Rivers.
7. Indianapolis: If Jim Irsay can’t get his top coaching choices this off-season, might he turn to Kelly in an attempt to maximize Andrew Luck’s prime with an offensive-minded head coach? It’s not the most ridiculous notion. Luck isn’t strictly a pocket passer as we’ve learned, and he can move pretty well when he’s fleeing defenders. Maybe too well, as the Colts learned this season with injuries derailing his season. Kelly certainly remembers what Luck can do from their days together in the Pac-12. It's admittedly a long-shot scenario, but what coach might not want a shot at seeing if Luck has a couple Super Bowl wins in him?