1) Denver Broncos
Strengths: Ummm, the Broncos won the Super Bowl last year, so there is little debate about their overall roster talent. Add on the fact that they have arguably the best overall defensive unit in the league with arguably the best overall player in the league featured on that defense and you’ve got an extremely desirable job that any potential head coach to want. Obviously a lot of Denver’s success starts at the top with what is considered one of the league’s best front offices, ownership groups, scouting departments, etc.. Lastly, the Broncos have several crucial playmakers on the offensive side of the ball as well that any offensive-minded coach would be very pleased to have on their team.
Weaknesses: Well start with the offensive line and running game. Especially after CJ Anderson went down, the Broncos were among the worst rushing teams in the NFL this season. Trevor Siemian was a fine desperation option at quarterback this year, but it’s highly doubtful that the team will continue to rely solely on the former Northwestern man to be the starter. With Paxton Lynch entering his second year, the team will look to add an aging veteran to can lead the club in the short term until Lynch is ready. Oh, who could that be, Tony Romo??? Either way, a below average running game and need for a more experienced QB are the two glaring weaknesses for the Broncos going into the offseason.
Final Thought: Clearly, the Super Bowl defending Broncos vacancy is the best potential job in the business. Logic would suggest they’ll try and land an offensive-minded coach that will not tinker with their tremendous defense. Add on Romo and draft a few offensive lineman and you’ve got a recipe for instant success. However, the only potential downfall would be with a roster this excellent the first year coach must win immediately or become an instant hot seat candidate next season.
Leading Candidates: The irony is that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would be the perfect fit here, but it’s highly unlikely the same team would hire the same coach twice. I suppose the same could be said for the Broncos former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy whom went to a division rival and was also fired this year by the Chargers. Another fun name to throw out there that will likely not happen is the New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton. After firing most of his defensive assistants early this week, it would seem that the Saints plan on retaining him and his offensive staff. Realistically the two coaches with the best chance to land the gig are Atlanta’s offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who is the son to the Broncos most famous former coach, and the Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub. Just for fun I predict they land Baby Shanahan.
2) Jacksonville Jaguars
Strengths: Whatever coach takes over this job will be adopting an underachieving defense that is loaded with a plethora of undeveloped talent. In fact many critics proclaimed the last two drafts by the Jaguars as two of the best in the NFL by any team, so there is little debate that the Jaguars should at least improve defensively in the coming years once these players get up to NFL speed. Secondly, the Jaguars are the most forgiving franchise in the NFL with a decade straight of losing and many lottery picks in those years. You’d think that the next coach would also have a fairly long leash considering how long they gave Gus Bradley to turn things around. Lastly, they play in the worst division in the NFL, so a quick turnaround is always possible.
Weaknesses: The most obvious weakness is the quarterback position in which Blake Bortles was absolutely terrible this season. Throwing motion issues, decision-making breakdowns, just bad quarterback play doomed the team from the start of the season. Add on a poor running game, terrible offensive line, and you have an offense that minus a few wide receivers could potentially be gutted out this offseason. In addition, although the Jags ownership group has done a fantastic job of getting the community’s support and building a franchise that helps support the city, owner Shahid Khan has done little to prove that he has any clue how to run a successful football team on the gridiron. This is a franchise stuck in a rut that plays one game in London every season and it’s often hard to turn around a tradition of losing.
Final Thought: Although they’ve had one of the worst overall records in the NFL over the last five seasons, the Jacksonville Jaguars do have potential to climb out of the NFL draft lottery pick hole they’ve been stuck in. They could go two directions. The more obvious approach would be to bring in another defensive-minded coach that could inspire this young defense into becoming the unit they’re often projected to be in the preseason. The second approach would be to bring in a QB-minded coach to save Bortles young career.
Leading Candidates: Lots of rumors have circulated claiming the Jaguars desire a time machine, so they can go back in time and not fire Tom Coughlin. However, hiring Coughlin now would make him one of the oldest coaches in the league if not thee oldest and considering he would have the youngest roster in the league I don’t see this playing out well. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith seems like the best candidate as he has roots in Jacksonville, has successful head coaching experience, has worked wonders with the young Bucs D-unit this season, and seems like a real “player’s coach” which a young team needs. Lastly, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could be a great option as well considering his experience working with an excellent quarterback. Final pick, Mike Smith seems like the best fit.
3) San Diego Chargers
Strengths: It’s a pretty nice situation when a new head coach can step in and have Phillip Rivers as his signal caller and Antonio Gates as one of his offensive leaders. Although a bit long in the tooth, Rivers has at least a few solid seasons left in the tank before he hangs up the cleats; whereas this will likely be Gates final season. Add on the fact that the Chargers had one of the most improved rushers in 2016 (Melvin Gordon) and you have a dual threat offensive that was missing several critical pieces of the puzzle (Woodhead and Allen to name a few) that will return in 2017 along with several emerging talents (Henry, T. Williams). This is a nice situation for any potential coach. Lastly, with the Chargers job you get a defensive trending in the right direction with a promising young defensive end in Joey Bosa. All things considered, the Chargers possess a competitive roster that just blew a lot of close games this season.
Weaknesses: The biggest glaring weakness for the Chargers is the indecision of the ownership group. Historically bad in the front office and with management decisions, the Chargers do not have a definitive home in 2017 with some rumors linking them to Los Angeles and others suggesting they will stay in San Diego. Either way this is a sensitive issue for a franchise moving forward and that could directly affect their output next season. Perhaps even more importantly, the Chargers play in a very challenging AFC West Division that boasts three other teams that could be considered in the top ten of the power rankings to start off next season (Broncos, Raiders, Chiefs), so whoever takes over the head coach role will have six tough match-ups to win every year.
Final Thought: The Chargers have hired two consecutive offensive gurus and both have failed to improve the team as a whole. This time around they seem destined to hire a defensive-minded coach that can utilize their talented young core of defenders led by Bosa and Ingram. Adding on the obvious conflict that this is a team with an uncertain destination in 2017 and you need a player’s coach that will remain steadfast and be prepared to overcome any conflicts that will be prone to arise this uncertain offseason.
Leading Candidates: The San Diego Chargers have narrowed down their coaching search to five or six candidates and none of them are offensive minded coaches. Starting this weekend they will interview New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on Saturday and then will travel to Kansas City to conduct an interview with Chiefs special-teams coordinator Dave Toub on Sunday. The Chargers also confirmed that they have already talked to Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mike Smith. In the near future, the Chargers also plan to discuss the job with Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, and Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. Out of all of these names, Mike Smith is the only one with prior NFL head coaching experience that would be the most desirable, but he seems primed to go to Jacksonville. Some rumors state that the Broncos may prefer Taub to any other coaching candidate, so I predict the Chargers land New England’s newest mad scientist in Patricia over McDermott and the rest of the D coordinators.
4) San Francisco 49ers
Strengths: Ironically, the 49ers biggest strength is the fact that they are a complete tear down job and start from scratch operation. With vacancies at both head coach and general manager, the next coach of the 49ers will have the privilege of a fresh start with a general manager that obviously will be a co-existing with them in hopefully what is a supportive relationship for each newly appointed person. With the second pick in the draft, the 49ers will also have the opportunity to go a lot of different directions in the draft and hopefully secure 2 or 3 franchise players with those high picks in each round. Lastly, the 49ers have a solid running game with Carlos Hyde in the backfield, so they do have at least one quality area to build on heading into next season.
Weaknesses: Well the biggest problem with the 49ers is their owner Jed York who has pretty much taken a golden franchise and turned them into a festering turd. After three coaches in as many years, the 49ers will be paying their former head coaches roughly $50 million to not coach (assuming non of these former contracts are voided). Firing Chip Kelly after just one season was rather bizarre considering the tremendous lack of talent Chip had to work with. The good news is that the public eye is aware of how terrible York is at being an owner, so hopefully the owner now takes his foot off the gas and steps aside and allows the football people to actually rebuild this organization; however, the 49ers have arguably more roster needs than any other professional football team starting with the quarterback position and ending with one of the worst run defenses this season in league history. It’s amazing how terrible this defensive unit has become so quickly. Also considering that their only star player is also coming off his second devastating injury in the last three years doesn’t bolster hope. This is a team years away from competing the NFC West which should continue to be dominated by the Seattle Seahawks; however, it’s not a terrible coaching job considering everybody should be aware of this.
Final Thought: If the 49ers hope to rediscover the Bill Walsh era of dominance they enjoyed in the 1980s then they will need to begin drafting well and actually commit to a coach for the long term. They need a coach-GM combo that can mesh together from the start, so it’s likely that the man that lands the GM position will pair with the head coach from their last destination. I’d expect the 49ers to go under the radar with their selection considering that A) they are not a highly desired job and B) they need a patient coach that will slowly rebuild the roster C) they need to change their image by slowing things down.
Leading Candidates: Considering the 49ers want to pair off a GM with a similar situated coach this makes the leading candidate the Carolina Panthers Sean McDermott as he’s a name that keeps coming up along with the Panthers assistant GM Brandon Beane. Obviously the Panthers have enjoyed a lot of success prior to this season and typically new GMs are former assistants with successful franchises as Beane has been with the Panthers. The 49ers have also interviewed Seattle Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable along with their co-directors of player personnel Trent Kirchner and Scott Fitterer which of course is also a similar approach to the Panthers interviews. Lastly, there were some rumors suggesting that the wanted interim Buffalo Bills head coach Anthony Lynn; however, the Rooney Rule candidate allegedly plans on turning down the job if offered. Lets say McDermott takes the job this offseason.
5) Los Angeles Rams
Strengths: Every preseason the Rams are ranked as a top five fantasy defense and under Jeff Fisher’s regime just about every year they severely disappointed their fantasy owners. Either the experts are simply over-ranking them every year or the Fish was simply not getting the most out of the unit. Lets hope for the latter considering the Rams do in fact have one of the game’s best front four on the defensive line and a highly underrated middle linebacker in Alec Ogletree. Along with a great D-line, the Rams also have one of the most talented feature backs in the game in fantasy bust Todd Gurley. Any coach that takes over this team will be salivating at the thought of pounding the rock with this baby beast at least 350 times next year. Lastly, the Rams are a “hot” destination meaning that they have the new stadium coming in two seasons and the dream destination location for free agents. With the right coach and the right pitch, they can quickly turn around their dismal franchise.
Weaknesses: The most obvious problem with the Rams is their first overall pick Jared Goff. Whoever takes over this job is aware of the fact that they must support and invest in the growth of the former Cal quarterback’s NFL future. This would be considered to be a huge risk to any established coach considering Goff looked like anything but an established quarterback last season. In addition, the Rams brass seems to have a win now approach that just doesn’t seem realistic. Perhaps it was just Jeff Fisher talking out his ass on Hard Knocks, but the fact that they were speaking of the Super Bowl in preseason was completely asinine. Is the organization pressured by the easily bored California fan base to produce an entertaining product and are they too shortsighted to realize that this is a three or four year rebuilding job? Either way having only a single pick in the first 100 of the NFL Draft will not help matters this offseason.
Final Thought: The Rams seem obsessed with the idea of landing an already established big name head coach that will get the fan base excited about some Los Angeles Rams football. The biggest problem with this approach is that there are few huge name coaches available right now that don’t have a ton of cobwebs. The second question is which side of the ball should they focus on more: offense or defense. At the end of the day, the Rams need a coach that will help them not look foolish for trading several high draft picks to land Goff.
Leading Candidates: The Rams have voiced that they want a big name coach to pump up the fan base and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach John Gruden is one such name that comes up frequently. Would he be willing to step outside the broadcaster’s booth to take on a project like Goff? I’d think that would include a record deal if he did. Same goes for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan or Sean Payton in New Orleans. They’re just not realistic options. It’s much more logical that the Rams go the same route as all of these other vacancies and hire one of the coveted coordinators this offseason. If that’s the case they’ll likely need to choose between Patricia, McDaniels, and Shanahan. I think McDaniels gets this job considering Shanahan could be in Denver and he’s the perfect fit as the Rams need a QB guru and that’s McDaniels reputation.
6) Buffalo Bills
Strengths: The Bills have had arguably the best running game in the league in the last two seasons since trading for Shady McCoy. Anybody that drafted McCoy in fantasy this season received an excellent return on the former Eagle’s value. Of course this is party due to the Bills having one of the better offensive lines in the league led by our dear friend Ritchie Incognito. Also add on the fact that the Bills have one of the best potential wide receivers in the league in Sammy Watkins and that’s a nice start for any offensive minded coach looking to land a head coaching gig this offseason. Lastly, the Bills have competed for the postseason each season although they’ve missed the mark and fizzled out at the end of the year, so the overall roster is somewhat ready to compete on day one of the new coach’s tenure.
Weaknesses: The most obvious one is the quarterback situation in which the Bills seem eager to pull the plug on Tyrod Taylor. Without a super high draft pick, this will likely force them to either trade up in the draft or to sign a semi-competent signal caller through free agency which is never ideal for any coach (especially considering Taylor is part of the reason their run game is so effective). This is also a team that has underachieved on defense recently and will likely need to add several players through the draft especially in a very poor secondary. Perhaps most important, whoever takes this job will need to coexist with current General Manager Doug Whaley which is not ideal considering Whaley should be on his last legs as he prepares to hire his third coach during his tenure. This should scare away most legitimate candidates alone. Also considering they just fired a coach with decent short-term results means this is a franchise not willing to settle for third place in their division which is tough considering New England owns the AFC East. All-in-all the Bills deserve last place in vacancies considering their new ownership group seems lost so far in their short existence and they seem unrealistic about where they are as a franchise.
Final Thought: After the high profile hiring of Rex Ryan, the Bills will likely go against the grain this time around and hire a coach with coordinating experience that doesn’t attract the unwanted media attention and handles situations internally. They will also realistically hire an under the radar candidate considering most of the bigger name applicants will not desire this challenging coaching situation with a franchise that continues to get things wrong. Realistically, the Bills will hire internally because of all of these issues.
Leading Candidates: With the top rushing attack this year, it seems like a no brainer that the first coach hired this offseason will be the Buffalo Bills own interim head coach Anthony Lynn. Lynn took over the coordinating duties halfway through the year and the team excelled under his playing calling. He’s was also the team’s running backs coach (one of their few productive areas this season) and well liked in the locker room by the star players which were very critical of Rex Ryan after his firing. We could go into more detail about the other coaches that will be considered for the position (including the Comeback’s own Frank Reich), but it seems like a lock that Lynn will be the Bills head coach next season.