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Ranking the NFL’s Eight Head Coaching Vacancies

Eight vacant coaching jobs. Six categories by which to rate them. One composite score to rule them all.

Back when Zac Taylor took the Bengals’ head coaching job, it looked like a coaching death wish. In 2019, no one was projecting Louisiana State as a national title contender. Mock drafts had Tua Tagovailoa as the clear-cut choice for the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft. Joe Burrow was an afterthought, nevermind a franchise savior. But Taylor took the job because he liked Cincinnati. His family fell in love with the place. The rest, you kind of figure out.

At the time, he was on the right hip of Sean McVay, arguably the best place to be for a prospective NFL head coach. The longer he remained in Los Angeles, the brighter his star would become and the wider breadth of choices he would have for a big job down the line. He knew that. His agents knew that. Still, replacing the institution who was Marvin Lewis, and inheriting a threadbare roster with a dwindling fan base (at least in terms of season ticket sales) was the call. It was a labor of love.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and Taylor popped into Mount Lookout Tavern in Cincinnati to deliver the city a game ball for its first playoff win in decades. Life has a way of working out sometimes.

This is a long way of saying that, when it comes to ranking the best head coach openings, it’s truly an individual experience. There is no right answer. Some coaches want a quiet place and a long runway to build a culture. Some coaches want a win-now roster. Some coaches want to be part of a nu-Patriots black site. So in an effort to create a more objective process, I’m going to score each of the following categories from 1-10—quarterback situation, roster strength, ownership, quality of living, cap situation and fan base—and use that composite to rank the jobs as I see fit. We’ll give a little bit of insight about each category along the way.

Jan. 15, 2022 -- Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis before the wild-card playoff game against the Bengals.

Raiders owner Mark Davis wasn't expecting to be riding the coaching carousel this offseason, but his team's vacancy should be attractive to prospective coaches.

1. Raiders

Score: 7.6
Quarterback situation: 7
Roster strength: 7
Ownership: 6
Quality of living: 8
Cap situation: 8
Fan base: 10

This tracks with what one coaching insider said during the early reporting process for my December candidates list. Objectively, Las Vegas is among the best jobs, if not the best job. The Vegas suburbs have a presence on most of your Best Places to Live lists and the team has an established quarterback, some talented middle-round picks that don’t squash your cap, a fiercely loyal fan base that backed Jon Gruden despite three years of no playoff appearances and a friendly salary cap situation. While it would make sense for the team to hang on to Rich Bisaccia after his inspiring playoff run, Mark Davis will complete his due diligence and may open the process up. The AFC West is competitive, but as Vegas showed, even in a year where the Chiefs were dominant and the Chargers arose as a legitimate foil, they could thrash their way to a wild-card spot.

2. Vikings

Score: 7
Quarterback situation: 8
Roster strength: 8
Ownership: 8
Quality of living: 8
Cap situation: 2
Fan base: 8

If I’m a coach, this is probably the job I’m angling for, assuming all goes well with the general manager hire. While your cap is tricky, you have a veteran quarterback who can win you games right away. The No. 6 or No. 7 seed was never out of the question during the Mike Zimmer era and wouldn’t be now, assuming the new coach can make some defensive Band-Aid maneuvers and find a few prime-aged defensive stopgaps. Minnesota is a lovely state full of wonderful people, the ownership there has shown patience with prior head coaches compared to other owners and you inherit one of the best wide receiver tandems in the sport. There is nothing wrong with winning fast.

3. Jaguars

Score: 6.7
Quarterback situation: 9
Roster strength: 4
Ownership: 6
Quality of living: 7
Cap situation: 10
Fan base: 4

This job is a tricky one. We knocked the ownership category down one point because, at least as of now, the new coach is inheriting Trent Baalke as general manager. That said, a new coach walks in and gets to be the Hallmark Movie husband after the incompetent, destructive boyfriend. You can save Trevor Lawrence, you can pick the best defensive player in the draft, you can probably compete for the division in a year or two and you can spend the weekends eating fish on the beach. There are worse ways to make a living.

4. Dolphins

Score: 6.6
Quarterback situation: 5
Roster strength: 6
Ownership: 4
Quality of living: 9
Cap situation: 9
Fan base: 7

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Baked into Miami’s ownership score is what seems to be a favored general manager who can win a power struggle. This is always an intimidating prospect for a coach who may be taking their first job unaccustomed to the flow of office politics. Until we can come to a middle ground on the Brian Flores firing, though, one would imagine this is a difficult place to walk into feeling completely secure. On the bright side, the Dolphins are going to be a blank slate of sorts next year, with a boatload of salary cap space and room to patch together a competitive roster. It’s a beautiful place to live with a friendly tax situation and a loyal fan base steeped in tradition. In visiting with Dolphins fans during the Flores era, one got the sense that they hang on through the thin times. If you can survive the Tua Tagovailoa decision-making process, or even bring with you an offensive coordinator who can get the best out of him, you’ll have a long and rewarding career in Miami. If you are supposed to be the Tua guy that Brian Flores never was, it’s going to be a quick ride around southern Florida. 

ORR: Flores Firing Signals Bigger Issues With the Dolphins

5. Bears

Score: 6.5
Quarterback situation: 6
Roster strength: 5
Ownership: 7
Quality of living: 7
Cap situation: 6
Fan base: 8

This is where my list got a little wonky. If I were offered the Bears’ and Broncos’ jobs, for example, I’m taking the Broncos job. But for reasons we’ll explain shortly, our composite score gets a little skewed. I think there is a massive attraction to turning this historic franchise around. I think, while Bears ownership gets knocked, they are old-school and patient enough. The fan base is full of diehards and, while the media market is difficult, it is a terrific place to win. The quarterback situation is a great unknown, but with a new coach and GM, they will get the kind of space to make their own evaluation of Justin Fields.

6. Broncos

Score: 6.3
Quarterback situation: 2
Roster strength: 6
Ownership: 5*
Quality of living: 10
Cap situation: 7
Fan base: 8

We don’t know the Broncos’ long-term ownership situation. Right now? It’s fine. They could eventually sell to an involved, pushy billionaire. They could sell to a Jay-Z led group. We don’t know, and while this probably won’t factor into a coach’s ultimate decision making, not knowing who is going to sign your checks in a few years might be hard to stomach. That said, Denver is one of the best places to live in the country. The facility is nestled among breathtaking mountain views. The fans are loyal and their defensive roster is very, very good. Like all coaches, though, you wonder who the quarterback will be, and whether you’ll get a shot to work there until the franchise passer arrives.

ORR: Vic Fangio Is Out for Many Reasons Beyond His Control

New York Giants co-owner John Mara

New York Giants owner John Mara has overseen an operation that's fired three consecutive coaches after just two seasons, but more stability ahead appears likely.

7. Giants

Score: 5.6
Quarterback situation: 5
Roster strength: 3
Ownership: 9
Quality of living: 8
Cap situation: 1
Fan base: 6

As I can attest, living in New Jersey is great. Winning in New York and New Jersey is wonderful (my softball team once placed third in our local town league). The problem is that it all comes at a cost. This market tears coaches down like old wallpapered kitchens. The fan base spends the day waiting in line on talk radio to complain about everything, pitch trade proposals for any player who has had any modicum of success or strangle any promising rookies with the vice grip obsession of an over-involved grandmother. Tom Coughlin was eventually booted after two Super Bowls. Rex Ryan was booted after two straight AFC title games. Across all major sports teams, it seems hard to last very long. Income taxes are high. With the Giants, specifically, Dave Gettleman left them in the throes of roster and cap hell. The middle class of this roster is nonexistent. They’ll need emergency maneuvers to come into 2022 under the cap with their new draft picks. And … you don’t know what Daniel Jones is going to become. There are plenty of coaches who like him around the league. But … how does it all fit together? You have: one solid offensive line anchor, a running back feeling the weight of the world who hasn’t gotten some of his field vision issues coached out of him, an expensive wide receiver, some okay defensive line talent and one or two good veteran members of the secondary. The good? While the Mara family gets knocked plenty in the public space, they are diligent, patient, old-school folks who will almost certainly be patient with this next hire. They are also riding shotgun to their first legitimate outside GM hire in franchise history. It might be a good time to be a Giant.

ORR: Joe Judge Quickly Burned Through His Benefit of the Doubt

8. Texans

Score: 4.3
Quarterback situation: 2
Roster strength: 4
Ownership: 2
Quality of living: 7
Cap situation: 6
Fan base: 5

I’m a bit surprised that coaches not in Houston’s insular Patriot circle are going through with the interview process after the team unceremoniously dismissed David Culley. It would seem this is indicative of how they view people, as interchangeable weather mats used to take a beating for a time before being ultimately discarded. In sticking with our policy to not discuss the Deshaun Watson situation until a case is adjudicated or a thorough investigation is complete, your QB option is the promising but green Davis Mills. We have written about Texans ownership here

More NFL Coverage:

Fits for Giants', Raiders', Bears' and Broncos' Jobs
Business of Football: How Fired Coaches’ Contracts Work
Joe Burrow Is Proving to be a Franchise-Altering Quarterback
NFL Wild-Card Takeaways: Cowboys Arrive—and Leave—an Unprepared Team