1. Green Bay Packers
Pros: Most head coaching opportunities involve taking over a losing team with a poor quarterback situation. The Packers are coming off of back-to-back losing seasons, but they also come with a built in franchise quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and it’s not every day (or even every year) that you get the opportunity to coach a future Hall of Fame quarterback. The rest of the roster needs some serious help, but Rodgers has shown in the past he can mask flaws and take teams with issues to the post-season. Like we’ve seen with the recent revival of Drew Brees and the Saints, all it takes is one good off-season for you to go from out of the playoffs to Super Bowl front runners when you have a franchise quarterback.
Cons: The one drawback of having Aaron Rodgers is the high expectations. A new coach will be expected to come in and win right away. There’s also the issue of Rodgers’ age and injury history. Rodgers will be in his age 36 season in 2019 and, while we’ve seen Hall of Fame quarterbacks play well into their late 30s in recent years, Rodgers has taken more punishment than most and his down year (by his standards) in 2018 could be the start of his decline. If that’s the case, the new coach will likely be blamed for a drop-off that would have happened without him.
2. Cleveland Browns
Pros: I almost put the Browns #1 on this list. Getting to coach a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers is a rarity, but, given the trajectory of their careers, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Baker Mayfield was better than Rodgers 2-3 years down the road and the Browns’ job comes with less pressure to win immediately. Despite that lack of pressure to win immediately, the Browns easily could. They went 5-3 in games after letting go of Hue Jackson mid-season, with their 3 losses coming to teams that qualified for the post-season, and, with one of the youngest rosters in the league, they should keep getting better into 2019. While whoever gets the Packers job may be blamed for a decline that would have happened without him, whoever gets the Browns job may be credited with a breakout that would have happened without him.
Cons: The one obvious con in Cleveland is ownership, as Jimmy Haslam is known as one of the worst owners to work for in the NFL. He’s already fired 4 head coaches since buying the team in 2012 and, while these aren’t the same old Browns, it’s possible Haslam will have sky high expectations for the next coach and grow impatient with him too quickly.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
Pros: There’s a big drop-off after the first two jobs, but there’s a lot to like about the opening in Cincinnati. The Bengals started 4-1 before their season was ruined by injuries and, for all of the drawbacks that come with owner Mike Brown, he’s also a fiercely loyal person who is unlikely to fire his head coach at the first sign of trouble, after keeping Marvin Lewis for 16 seasons. The Bengals have a solid quarterback and, with better injury luck, could easily be back in playoff contention in 2019.
Cons: As nice as it would be to work for an owner that gives his coaches as many second chances as Mike Brown does, there’s also little indication that Brown is concerned with winning a Super Bowl, preferring to run a team that’s good enough to compete without being overly expensive. The Bengals are never serious players in free agency and often let their own homegrown talent walk if they won’t accept less than market value. If job security is your concern, it’s hard to do better than Cincinnati, but if you actually want a shot at winning a Super Bowl, this might not be the place for you.
4. New York Jets
Pros: Where the Jets rank as a head coaching opportunity is dependent on what you think of Sam Darnold. If you believe Darnold can be a franchise quarterback long-term, then the Jets are a team on the rise with a young franchise quarterback, some solid surrounding parts, and all the cap room in the world to go out and get upgrades. If you don’t believe Darnold can be a franchise quarterback, well then this isn’t the job for you, as any new head coach will be tied to the long-term success of Darnold and will be let go if he doesn’t develop as expected. Most head coaching candidates prefer to go somewhere where they can pick their own guy at quarterback, but Darnold was the 3rd pick in the draft in 2018 and certainly flashed upside as a rookie, especially down the stretch, so he should have many fans among head coaching candidates.
Cons: I basically already said this, but if you don’t want to be tied to Sam Darnold for the next 2-3 years, this isn’t the job for you because the Jets are committed to Darnold. If you’d prefer a job where you have some say in who the quarterback is going to be, the Broncos, Dolphins, or even Buccaneers are more appealing. This is also still an overall thin roster and it’s not a great off-season to have a ton of cap space.
5. Denver Broncos
Pros: Not only does this job give you the opportunity to potentially pick the next quarterback, but they also have a talented veteran roster that has largely underachieved under Vance Joseph over the past two seasons. If this team can solve the quarterback situation, they should find themselves right back in the post-season.
Cons: The reason this isn’t higher is because, even though the Broncos may be looking for a new quarterback, it’s unclear where they’re going to find an immediate upgrade over incumbent starter Case Keenum. Keenum isn’t great or anything, but 7 million of his 2019 salary is already guaranteed and this is a terrible draft for quarterbacks, especially picking where the Broncos are at 9th overall, behind quarterback needy teams in the Giants (6th) and Jaguars (7th). Veteran options will likely include Nick Foles, Teddy Bridgewater, and Joe Flacco, but none of those quarterbacks are exciting enough to justify paying both them and Keenum for 2019. It might not be until 2020 that the Broncos’ new coach actually gets to pick a quarterback.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pros: The Miami job offers more of an opportunity to pick the quarterback, but that job also has other issues with it, which I’ll get into later. Whoever coaches the Buccaneers will likely be tied to Jameis Winston for at least one more season, for lack of a better option, but Winston is on a very short leash and, unlike other jobs working with young quarterbacks, the new head coach would likely not be blamed for Winston failing to develop, as he’s already failed to develop in 4 years in the league. On the other hand, if Winston does finally have a breakout year in his 5th season in the league, this is a team that could be competitive right away, assuming they are able to add a couple pieces on defense.
Cons: That defense is a big con, as the Buccaneers ranked 30th in first down rate allowed in 2018 and led the league with 53 offensive touchdowns allowed. They have some nice pieces on defense and could improve significantly with better health and coaching, but, even if the Buccaneers solve the quarterback situation, it’s hard to get into the post-season with a defense that ranks among the worst in the league.
7. Miami Dolphins
Pros: The only real benefit that comes with this job is the opportunity to help pick a quarterback, with Ryan Tannehill seemingly on the outs. That’s not a huge benefit this year though, with the Dolphins picking 13th in a weak quarterback class. The Dolphins will likely have to settle for a veteran like Nick Foles or Joe Flacco if they want to move on from Tannehill.
Cons: Though the Dolphins were in playoff contention late in the season, their dominance in one score games (7-0) is unsustainable and is highly unlikely to continue without Adam Gase, who remarkably was 20-5 in one score games in 3 seasons with the Dolphins. Despite that, Gase was still fired for some reason, the 3rd coach owner Stephen Ross has fired since 2011. Add in the fact that they have one of the worst rosters in the league and little cap space to use to improve it and this is definitely an unattractive opening.
8. Arizona Cardinals
Pros: Having the #1 pick is nice, but there isn’t a franchise quarterback worth taking #1 this year and the Cardinals aren’t in the market for a quarterback anyway, after taking Josh Rosen in the first round last year. Even without an elite quarterback prospect in the draft class, the Cardinals may be able to trade down for more picks, which they need to fill out a shallow roster, but they need more than just some good draft picks and have very little cap space to play with. The top end talent is there (David Johnson, Patrick Peterson, Chandler Jones), but they have needs at close to every position.
Cons: If you’re looking for a job where you’re going to be tied for 2-3 years to a quarterback that is coming off a horrendous rookie season in which he got worse as the season went on, with arguably the league’s worst roster around him, then this is the job for you. If not, then any of the other 7 openings are more attractive. But then again, beggars can’t be choosers and a great coach can make it work even in a tough situation. The Cardinals now are in a similar spot to where the Rams were in 2016 when Sean McVay took over, only they didn’t even have a first round pick. Things can change quickly in the NFL with the right coaching.