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Ranking NFL coaching vacancies: What's the top job?


After a dizzying initial 36 hours after the season, we thought things had quieted down Wednesday. Then we learned Sean Payton was staying in New Orleans and Lovie Smith was out in Tampa. There are seven job openings, with interviews having started in earnest across the league. Lions coach Jim Caldwell's future also remains uncertain, but that will stay true until the team hires a general manager -- that could take weeks.

In the meantime, let's evaluate which available job is the most attractive.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The firing of Lovie Smith late Wednesday night was the stunner of the coaching change season. It also opens up the best job on the market. Sure, the Glazer family are not necessarily easy to work for. They fired Jon Gruden after a winning season. They only gave Smith and former Bucs coach Greg Schiano two seasons apiece on the job. The next coach of the Bucs will be their fifth head coach in the last nine seasons.

The Bucs rank first on our list because a promising young quarterback trumps all. Jameis Winston showed every tool as a rookie, and should be the team's first true franchise quarterback in the team's history. There is also young prime talent like Mike Evans, Lavonte David, and Gerald McCoy to build around. General manager Jason Licht is well respected and is coming off a good 2015 draft. This appeared to be a team on the rise, which is why this vacancy is so surprising.

2. Tennessee Titans: This is also purely a bet on a promising young quarterback. The Titans have a new ownership structure, and the front office is to be determined. There has been significant instability in the franchise over the last five years, and the roster doesn't have a lot of areas you can identify as "strengths." And yet they have Marcus Mariota and the top pick in the 2016 draft.

Mariota's rookie season, following his college pedigree, makes him a strong bet to be a true franchise quarterback. His ceiling is hard to determine, and yet his "floor" as a player looks very high. The game was not too fast for Mariota as a rookie. He displayed excellent smarts, accuracy and footwork. He has a chance to be great, and that's a chance that any offense-friendly coach like Josh McDaniels or Hue Jackson should jump at.

Jon Gruden often talks about how Brett Favre's presence in Green Bay paid for a lot of house extensions, garages and vacations for the coaches who worked for him. That's what a franchise quarterback can do. There is no such thing as a sure thing, yet this is the only job available other than in Tampa with a young golden ticket. After winning five games over the last two years combined, the expectations are low. Media scrutiny is almost non-existent. It's worth a shot.

3. New York Giants: It's no surprise that McDaniels' reported preference for possible landing spots started with Tennessee and New York. While the Giants don't have a young franchise quarterback, they do have an above average starter in Eli Manning who should be around for a few years propped up by the best young receiver in football -- Odell Beckham. The ownership group, spearheaded by John Mara, could not have a better reputation league-wide, and that includes among coaches. Patriots coach Bill Belichick still reveres the family and they have showed enviable patience when making coaching moves over the years.

With that said, there are big challenges to the gig. General manager Jerry Reese is still in place. He's done a poor job over the last five years in talent acquisition. The Giants are under .500 since 2009 for a reason, and it's not Tom Coughlin. The cupboard is bare on defense and the spotlight will be unforgiving in New York. It's a boom or bust job.

4. Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles have more overall talent than their NFC East rivals in New York, but the quarterback situation is murkier. There is also an open question about how Chip Kelly's talent acquisitions will fit into a new system. Still, we were tempted to put the Eagles ahead of the Giants because the roster is stocked better at every level of offense and defense.

Owner Jeffrey Lurie has a good reputation and the Eagles have been a winning organization throughout his tenure. Howie Roseman, who is running the personnel department again, has been at odds with the previous two head coaches and still remains. That's a bit of a red flag. Patience will be at a premium here. Chip Kelly got the boot despite a winning record through three seasons.

5. Miami Dolphins: The roster in Miami also has plusses. You can build around Ndamukong Suh, Mike Pouncey, Jarvis Landry, Cameron Wake, and Reshad Jones. But Ryan Tannehill will be working with his fourth offensive coordinator and the Dolphins can opt out of his contract after next season. He might be just good enough to get you beat most weeks and finish 7-9 each season.

Miami ultimately doesn't rank higher because of owner Stephen Ross' track record since he took over the team. Mike Tannenbaum and new general manager Chris Grier are the latest front office combination Ross has tried and nothing has stuck since 2009. This job has been a perpetual hot seat season talking point. Then again ... no income tax!

6. Cleveland Browns: We're not willing to disparage the Browns' creative approach to putting together their front office until we see it in action for a few years. Put it this way: Conventional thinking has landed the team guys like Mike Holmgren and Pat Shurmur, so why not try something different?

With that said, owner Jimmy Haslam has admitted to dealing with a steep learning curve since taking over the team. The roster is lackluster on both sides of the ball and there is no quarterback in sight. This is basically a full rebuild with a fanbase that will be skeptical of this new-wave front office setup. Will Haslam have the patience to see it through if the team struggles early like they did under Joe Banner and Ray Farmer?

7. San Francisco 49ers: After the 2014 season, the 49ers fired a coach with one of the most successful initial coaching runs in NFL history because of a battle of egos. After the 2015 season, they fired their hand-picked in-house candidate that had been in the organization for nine years. They fired him after one season and winning five games with a bottom-five NFL roster. This is not a coach-friendly situation.

Owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke have to prove they can put together a successful team without Jim Harbaugh. The organization seems to overrate its own roster, which is a red flag. Self-scouting is vital. The quarterback situation could be perilous, with Colin Kaepernick's future very much up in the air. The expectations will be high, but the degree of difficulty will be too because of NFC West rivals Seattle and Arizona.


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