Best NFL coaching vacancy? Atlanta Falcons job tops the board

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly we move from the annual spate of firings to the game of speculating about who's going to be hired and which are the best jobs available.

When making such evaluations, it's worth remembering there are just 32 of these head-coaching jobs out there. I once heard someone say each and every NFL head-coaching gig is just right: If it were any worse, you wouldn't take it; if it were any better, there wouldn't be an opening. The best job, in short, is any one that is available.

Having said that, some good jobs are better than others. There is a pecking order when it comes to overall desirability, and in this quarterback-driven league, the stability and upside at that position remains one of the best criteria for assessing a job's promise.

1) Atlanta Falcons

Judging by which team has the best QB, Atlanta's clearly the top job -- Matt Ryan is the finest quarterback among those whose teams are hiring head coaches. He has a career completion rate of 64 percent and a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Although free agency will affect the profile of this offense, the skill positions are abundant with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas, Devin Hester and Devonta Freeman.

The downside to this job is the defense. It's devoid of talent, which somehow got the head coach (Mike Smith) -- as opposed to the general manager (Thomas Dimitroff) --  fired. But alas, my coaching bias is showing ... Beyond the cornerbacks, who show potential, Kroy Biermann might be Atlanta's best defensive player, and I'm not sure he could start for another team in the NFL. Not to mention, he's set to be a free agent this offseason.

This would lead you to believe the Falcons will bring in a defensive-minded coach, but I don't know how that will make much of a difference until they channel more resources toward this side of the ball. I have worked with Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin, Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine, and I'll tell you something: Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan are as good a pair of defensive coaches as have ever coached in this game. It's going to take more than a coaching change to get this team back on track.

2) Oakland Raiders

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Listing the Raiders' opening as second-best will surprise a lot of people. But if you follow the QB-centric mindset detailed above, Derek Carr offers plenty of promise. He just showed, in Year 1, that the pro game is not too big for him. Carr completed close to 60 percent of his passes and piled up 21 touchdown throws (against 12 interceptions) with little to no talent around him.

The Raiders have a ton of cap room -- and after more than a decade of incompetence, expectations are at a bare minimum in Oakland.

3) San Francisco 49ers

At face value, this is the best job available. This is the first time in the last four seasons that the team won't be playing in the NFC title game -- a stellar run that also included a Super Bowl appearance. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has shown flashes of brilliance and possesses one of the smoothest throwing motions I've ever seen. Defensively, they are fast and stout. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is a potential candidate to take over the head job, but even if he doesn't, he could stay on and keep the defensive system intact.

The downside is that CEO Jed York made it clear that the expectation, even in Year 1, is to be in the Super Bowl. There will be no honeymoon. The new coach will be compared to Jim Harbaugh at every turn. And that's the difference between Nos. 2 and 3 on this list: 8-8 could get you Coach of the Year in Oakland but earn you a dismissal in San Francisco.

4) New York Jets

This team has a great deal of potential, with a solid front seven defensively. But the quarterback position is sketchy at best. Geno Smith showed some flashes down the stretch, but the second-year pro hasn't exhibited much consistency yet.

The Jets have plenty of cap room and are in a division that features largely uneven quarterback play -- other than that of Tom Brady, of course, but he can't play forever.

5) Chicago Bears

This ranking likely will raise some eyebrows, but I guess it comes down to what you think of Jay Cutler. Deep in offensive talent, the Bears still were weirdly ineffective for much of the season.

And despite the offensive riches -- Chicago might boast the best skill-position group in the NFL -- the defense completely lacks difference makers. Honestly, the new coach probably has to start from scratch on that side of the ball.

6) Buffalo Bills

For the sake of efficiency, I could simply copy and paste the above description of the New York Jets here. The Bills have an exceptional front seven (maybe the best in the NFL) and a questionable quarterback situation. Of course, even Geno Smith's future looks bright compared to EJ Manuel's. In the wake of Kyle Orton's retirement, Buffalo will -- or, at least, should -- be once again starting over at the position that has seen 14 starters since Jim Kelly's final season.

It gets worse. While the other teams on this list each have a top-15 pick or better in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Bills don't have a first-round choice at all, having shipped it to the Browns as part of last May's Sammy Watkins trade. And it's not like Buffalo is the easiest place to convince the league's top free agents to move to, not compared to Atlanta, San Francisco, New York City and Chicago.


This group of coaching vacancies is more promising than last year's collection, as it offers more at the game's most important position. That said, the only sure thing -- the only quarterback who comes risk-free -- is Matt Ryan in Atlanta. The coach who lands the Falcons job will be a step ahead of his coaching-carousel brethren.

Follow Brian Billick on Twitter @coachbillick.

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