Analysis

Ranking NFL head coach openings: Which jobs are most enticing?

A quick glance at this season's playoff field gives a pretty good idea of why there is such volatility in NFL coaching offices. Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni had his team in the tournament in Year 1. Zac Taylor, in just his third season, took the Cincinnati Bengals from the basement of the league to Championship Sunday.

Whether inducing a dramatic turnaround or a substantial boost, such upgrades are the stuff owners' dreams are made of at this time of year. The Jacksonville Jaguars' debacle with Urban Meyer is the looming cautionary tale for this hiring cycle -- owners should beware of falling in love with star candidates without doing a thorough search (looking at you, too, Raiders).

After several years of dispiriting results, a very close eye is being kept on opportunities for coaches of color. Nothing about this is particularly new. Last year, just two of the seven open head jobs went to minority candidates: the Jets' Robert Saleh and the Texans' David Culley, the latter of whom was fired after just one season at the helm. There are many people, in teams and at the highest levels of the NFL, making good-faith efforts and engineering systems to get more minority coaches in the pipeline, to provide lists of vetted candidates, to get them in front of decision-makers, to slow down the hiring process to encourage broader searches and more interviews. Several big-name minority candidates should be seriously considered for multiple jobs -- people like Eric Bieniemy, Byron Leftwich, Todd Bowles, Leslie Frazier, Jerod Mayo and more.

All of it, though, comes down to decisions by ownership, where the real change must take place. Last year saw progress on general manager hires, three of which went to minority candidates. The NFL has another chance to get it right this year.

Here are the jobs they'll be hiring for, with the things that make them attractive ... and the stuff that will make candidates queasy.

THE OPEN JOBS

Rank
1
Las Vegas Raiders
2021 record: 10-7

UPDATE: The Las Vegas Raiders have hired Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler as the franchise's next head coach and GM, respectively, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Mike Garafolo and Tom Pelissero. The 45-year-old McDaniels, who has 21 seasons of NFL coaching experience, has served as the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator since 2012 and was previously the head coach of the Denver Broncos from 2009 to 2010. Ziegler also arrives from New England, where he spent the previous nine seasons in the team's scouting department. In his lone year as director of player personnel, he helped the franchise select several prominent contributors in the 2021 draft, including quarterback Mac Jones (No. 15 overall), defensive tackle Christian Barmore (No. 38) and running back Rhamondre Stevenson (No. 120).


One thing the Raiders learned in the wake of the early-season resignation of Jon Gruden: They have a resilient team, which earned a playoff berth after an incredible finish in Week 18. Interim coach Rich Bisaccia deserves serious consideration just for navigating so much drama and trauma. The success also speaks well of the talent level despite some questionable recent draft decisions, and that will make this an attractive job.


The Raiders have the best quarterback situation of any of the available jobs with Derek Carr under center. A big question is who will fill the vacancy at general manager now that Mike Mayock has been fired, but the Raiders remain one of the most popular franchises in football, with a fantastic new stadium and a devoted fan base.

Rank
2
Denver Broncos
2021 record: 7-10

UPDATE: The Denver Broncos are finalizing a deal with Nathaniel Hackett to become the 18th head coach in franchise history, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. The 42-year-old has served as the Green Bay Packers' offensive coordinator for the last three seasons. He previously worked in the same capacity for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2016-18) and Buffalo Bills (2013-14).


The big problem that plagued Vic Fangio with the Broncos is one that will shape the search for his successor: Denver hasn't rostered a reliable quarterback since Peyton Manning won the Super Bowl and retired six years ago. The next coach will be the Broncos' fourth since that title was won, and they haven't been to the playoffs since. There is a bigger uncertainty on the horizon, too: The Broncos could have a new owner by the time next season starts. That could give pause to candidates who have other options.


But the Broncos job has plenty of upside. There is a core group of young players, led by Patrick Surtain II and Javonte Williams, to build around. Denver has a stout defense and talented players at the skill positions. There is cap space. There are extra draft picks. And this is one of the NFL's greatest football towns. A quick turnaround is possible, especially because the offseason focus will be on finally fixing the quarterback position. All of that will make this one of the most attractive jobs available.

Rank
3
Jacksonville Jaguars
2021 record: 3-14

When you have the first overall draft pick for the second year in a row, it says something about the talent level of a team. Still, the Jaguars have plenty going for them in the search. Trevor Lawrence had a rough rookie year but is still considered a gem of a prospect. There are some young pieces. The Jags are flush with cap space. There is that first overall pick. And Shad Khan is a generous and supportive owner who is constructing a state-of-the-art team facility.


Now, the issues. The Jaguars need to rebuild the defense and offensive line. The next coach will have to rid the place of the stench of failure left behind by the Urban Meyer experiment. And Khan's decision to retain general manager Trent Baalke will likely limit the candidate pool. There is a lot of work to be done in Jacksonville and it seems likely the Jaguars will target a coach from the offensive side of the ball who can develop Lawrence.

Rank
4
Miami Dolphins
2021 record: 9-8

Quite surprising for this job to come up. Brian Flores lost a power struggle after just three seasons despite turning around a moribund team, finishing with a winning record the last two years and sweeping the Patriots this season. He cycled through coordinators, though, and did not handle the Tua Tagovailoa situation that deftly. That said, Flores was also believed to be a big reason why Deshaun Watson wanted to be traded to the Dolphins. Whoever gets hired inherits some young talent and an enormous decision about Tagovailoa -- as well as whatever becomes of Watson, and whether he even wants to join the Dolphins now that Flores is gone. If Miami still ends up getting Watson, the team becomes an immediate force in the AFC, but such an acquisition could have significant fallout, depending on how the quarterback's legal situation plays out.


It's also worth wondering: What is owner Stephen Ross looking for in a coach, considering he allowed general manager Chris Grier to stay while sending Flores packing?

Rank
5
Chicago Bears
2021 record: 6-11

UPDATE: The Chicago Bears have hired Matt Eberflus to become the franchise's next head coach, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday. The 51-year-old has served as the Indianapolis Colts' defensive coordinator the past four seasons. He previously spent seven years with the Dallas Cowboys, serving as the team's linebackers coach (2011-17) and also its passing game coordinator (2016-17).


A 6-11 campaign sealed the fate of head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace, both of whom were relieved of their duties. Now, the Bears -- who selected Chiefs executive of player personnel Ryan Poles as their next GM -- will presumably target an offensive-minded coach who believes Justin Fields can be a high-level starting quarterback. There are some issues here. Work needs to be done to shore up the offensive line, defense and receiving corps. The Bears do not currently have a first-round draft pick this year.


But there is cap space. And the Bears are a legendary team with patient owners and an ardent fan base that would go wild with a return to glory. And if Aaron Rodgers should leave the Packers and the NFC North in the offseason, this division would be wide open for a new champ.

Rank
6
Minnesota Vikings
2021 record: 8-9

Minnesota's not a bad team, but after a second straight sub-.500 season, the Vikings cleared house by firing head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman. Zimmer just completed his eighth season in Minnesota, while Spielman had been with the franchise going back to 2006, so it's a brand new day for the Vikings. Minnesota filled the GM spot with Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who spent the last two seasons as Cleveland's vice president of football operations. Now Adofo-Mensah will join the search for a coach.


Players like Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson -- plus patient, stable ownership -- will make this job enticing. The big question for a new coach: What does he think of Kirk Cousins? The 33-year-old is better than the quarterbacks on most of the other teams on this list, but he has an expensive contract and the Vikings have been to the playoffs just once in his four seasons -- that makes his future with Minnesota uncertain. The Vikings invested a load of guaranteed money in their defense last offseason and it underperformed, which means it will likely have to be retooled. And Minnesota is among the teams with the least amount of cap space.

Rank
7
New York Giants
2021 record: 4-13

UPDATE: The Giants have hired Brian Daboll as their new head coach, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Friday. The 46-year-old has served as the Buffalo Bills' offensive coordinator for the past four seasons. He previously worked in the same capacity with the Kansas City Chiefs (2012), Miami Dolphins (2011) and Cleveland Browns (2009-2010) and has won five Super Bowls with the New England Patriots during two stints as an offensive assistant.


Midway through this past season, it seemed nearly certain Joe Judge would return, even when it became clear general manager Dave Gettleman was on his way to retirement. The Giants did not want to dismiss a third coach in a row after just two years. But ultimately, they did just that, firing Judge.


The G-Men were embarrassed in the last six games of the season, losing all six by a combined tally of 163-56, scoring an average of 9.3 points per game, and Judge had to address his own status down the stretch. 


The next coach has a lot to sort through. Does he believe in Daniel Jones? Saquon Barkley? Got any ideas about the offensive line? All of that with a new general manager, who will have two top-10 draft picks but a less-than-ideal cap situation to work with. The Giants have long been viewed as one of the gold-standard franchises in the NFL, but they are at their lowest point since the pre-Parcells days of the 1970s. What kind of coach do they need? A home run hire. 

Rank
8
New Orleans Saints
2021 record: 9-8

One of the most stunning openings in years, with Sean Payton deciding to step away. The shoes to fill here are gigantic. Payton is not just a Super Bowl winner and one of the game's best offensive minds, but his fingerprints are all over every facet of the franchise.


The Saints, though, have an obvious internal candidate in defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, a former Raiders head coach who has been outstanding in New Orleans. His defense is one of the things going for this job, but otherwise, this is not one of the best jobs available. Part of what wore on Payton last year is one of the big question marks that surrounds this opening: Who is the quarterback? And what becomes of wide receiver Michael Thomas? The Saints have a lot of work to do to rehab their offense, and whoever takes over for Payton will also have to navigate one of the league's worst salary cap situations. The job becomes somewhat more attractive if Tom Brady retires, which would leave the NFC South wide open for the taking. But Payton's departure marks the end of an era in New Orleans, and it feels like a rebuild could be on the horizon.

Rank
9
Houston Texans
2021 record: 4-13

David Culley was given a virtually bare cupboard and outperformed expectations. His firing suggests that he was never more than a lame duck, and that's a blight on the franchise.


The new coach will take over a team that appears to be set to trade the franchise quarterback who didn't want to be there. If/when we receive more clarity on his legal issues, Deshaun Watson is expected to draw a load of picks that will be the foundation of the rebuild, but it is a long climb up with very real questions about ownership. This will be Cal McNair's second head coach hire in as many years and any candidate will have to wonder about who has McNair's ear. The presence of Nick Caserio as general manager means Josh McDaniels' name is going to circulate around this job, but it's the least desirable opening of this cycle.

THE POTENTIAL SURPRISE

Seattle Seahawks
2021 record: 7-10

Could Pete Carroll go? NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported it would only be if he and other members of team brass are not on the same page about the team's plans.


If Carroll does go -- and Russell Wilson stays, as Garafolo reported -- this would be a coveted landing spot. This is the first losing season in a decade in Seattle and part of it can be attributed to Wilson's finger injury. The presence of a Super Bowl-winning superstar quarterback should attract the interest of every top candidate. Predicting what team chairwoman Jody Allen has planned, though, is difficult. She took over the team upon the death of her brother, Paul Allen, in 2018, so this would be her first coaching search.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter.

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