Black Monday, once a time for nail biting and social-media refreshing, has morphed into a postmortem. Since most head-coach firings have already occurred, the more prevalent news concerns who is interviewing where and when. The who is where things get murky.
Kyle Shanahan and Josh McDaniels have been the most buzzed-about names likely to make the jump to a NFL head coaching position for months. While Shanahan seems to be a quarterback whisperer of sorts and McDaniels has clearly been integral to the master stratagem in New England, neither is a sure thing to be immediately successful.
Daniels had a tumultuous run at Denver’s helm that included trading Peyton Hillis for Brady Quinn, running Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall out of town, drafting Tim Tebow in the first round and spying on a 49ers’ practice. Of course the now 40-year old has reinvented his image through the Patriots’ improved offensive line, a remarkably strategic running game and hitching himself to arguably the greatest quarterback of all time.
Shanahan has reimagined the West Coast offense to great success over the past six years, but that’s no guarantee he will succeed in the oft-underrated jump from offensive implementer to senior manager. Adam Gase’s great success in year one in Miami is certainly a positive sign for Shanahan.
These two are the crème de la crème of this class, as non-transformational as it may be. As they examine their next move, here is a look at the wide-ranging desirability of the current openings, ironically starting with the one place McDaniels probably isn’t welcome.
1. Denver Broncos
Positives: As Chris Burke noted yesterday, this is the gold-standard opening. One year removed from a Super Bowl title, the top-notch defense is still largely in tact, headed up by genius coordinator Wade Phillips. John Elway is a no-nonsense general manager who is ready to pivot at any moment despite conventional wisdom, and the Broncos, which narrowly missed the playoffs at 9–7, clearly have the most ready-to-win-now situation of any opening.
Negatives: Elway is steering the ship in Denver, and the new coach may feel a bit straight-jacketed. The current quarterback situation is fine but not ideal; Siemian is serviceable and Lynch may be a major project. Assuming Derek Carr returns to full health next year, the AFC West will again be one of the NFL’s strongest divisions.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Positives: The Jaguars have one of the most intriguing young rosters in football with several superstars already in place. Rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey lived up to the hype, Allen Robinson continues to be a formidable force on offense and Jacksonville’s big free agent signing Malik Jackson lived up to his hefty price tag. Plus, Jacksonville is currently a top-five team when it comes to available cap space. This is a downtrodden organization that is approaching ten years without a winning season. In other words, the expectations are looooow.
Negatives: As mentioned, Jacksonville is rooted in a culture of losing. Righting the ship will take more than another spot player or two; the franchise needs a mental overhaul. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that GM David Caldwell still believes Blake Bortles to be a franchise quarterback. That could be an issue for a new coach who doesn’t agree. Oh, and get ready to play one home game a year in London.
3. Los Angeles Rams
Positives: Despite recent woes, the Rams are building for the future, starting with Jared Goff. The quarterback looked raw in his first year in the NFL, but it would be quite intriguing to see what an offensive mastermind can do with him. Los Angeles has other, more established pieces in place—all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald is poised for a contract extension this year and running back Todd Gurley showed some semblance of his splashy rookie season. On top of that, the city of Los Angeles is gearing up for a gazillion dollar complex/amusement park to house the Rams in 2019. Southern California comes with a great quality of living. Replacing Jeff Fisher isn’t exactly a tall task, and the Rams fan base, long frustrated with Fisher, should embrace the new coach.
Negatives: Despite Gurley’s talent and promise, the new coach will inherit the NFL’s worst offense, and on top of that, the Rams’ 2017 draft class should be miniscule thanks to the picks lost in the trade up to get Goff—Los Angeles doesn’t even have a first rounder this year. Goff remains the $100 million question. Did the franchise set itself back for a quarterback not suited to the pro game? And will Fisher’s replacement survive long enough to find out?
4. San Diego Chargers
Positives: Who wouldn’t want to start a new gig with Philip Rivers under center and Rookie of the Year candidate Joey Bosa, has already proven to be a force, on defense. Quite frankly, the Chargers’ talent level is hard to gauge given that their injury list read like a Dostoyevsky novel this season. With the uncertain roster makeup and team’s pending move to LA, this can truly feel like a reset for whomever lands the gig.
Negatives: The Chargers have the same issue as Denver in that the AFC West houses two legitimate contenders (and the Broncos could easily be a third). Relocation would be tricky, as the team would likely have to work out of some rinky-dink facility while awaiting a new stadium to be built. The Chargers fanbase is already rather miniscule and it’s not like Los Angeles is dripping with throwback fans ready to re-embrace their long lost franchise. In other words, who’s going to show up on Sundays?
5. Buffalo Bills
Positives: The Bills have a few bright spots on its roster, starting with LeSean McCoy and Lorenzo Alexander, who had a sack in each of the Bills’ first seven games. Buffalos come off a 7–9 record, which is nothing to scoff at. While Rex Ryan’s philosophy didn’t work, the new coach should get some leash to change the culture. An AFC East won’t exactly seem eminent, but Tom Brady’s going to retire at some point, right?
Negatives: As Greg Bedard wrote in his Black Monday preview, Bills owner Terry Pegula seems to have no clue what he’s doing. Tyrod Taylor can be both promising and frustrating, but will need a very intricate system to find consistent success. The Bills come off a 7-9 campaign which sounds respectable until you read the fine print and realize every win was against a non-playoff team (minus a win over the Brady-less Pats in Week 4). Finally, have you been to Buffalo during the winter?
6. San Francisco 49ers
Positives: Despite deep roster changes, the running game, anchored by Carlos Hyde and left tackle Joe Staley, is one of the best in football. And San Francisco is arguably the most beautiful city in the country. That’s it.
Negatives: How much time do you have? The lack of stability (three head coaches fired in three years) is startling. The owner is known entirely for leaks and personality conflicts. The roster situation is mostly dire, starting at quarterback—but unfortunately, there isn’t a sure-thing quarterback to be picked in the 2017 draft. The new coach hopefully likes things quiet because his new team will be playing in a half-empty stadium. This is a teardown and start form scratch situation so don’t expect to sniff the postseason any time soon, or have an ounce of stability.