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Cowboys, Chargers offer most ideal potential coach openings


Black Friday has already come and gone, but Black Monday is still ahead of us.

The NFL's regular-season schedule concludes on Sunday, Dec. 30. The following day, several head coaches will likely lose their jobs. In some years, there is very little turnover in the head-coaching ranks, while other years feature a flurry of changes. This year looks like it could be a very busy one, with plenty of shakeups on the horizon.

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Nobody knows for sure which jobs will open up, but there has been plenty of discussion about possible changes around the NFL. With that in mind, I thought this would be a good time to examine which potential head-coaching openings would be the most attractive. I approached this ranking process almost exclusively from a personnel standpoint. I believe the status of the quarterback position will have a major impact on which jobs are the most desirable to potential coaching candidates.

Here is how I'd rank the most attractive potential head-coaching vacancies, along with two wild-card openings that would throw a wrench in the works (current coaches are listed in parentheses):

1) Dallas Cowboys (Jason Garrett)

This is easily the most desirable potential job opening. Owner Jerry Jones has taken a lot of heat from Cowboys fans, but he's actually built a very talented roster. Tony Romo has turned the ball over more than usual this season, but he is still a high-level NFL quarterback. There's young talent at several key positions, including left tackle, cornerback, inside linebacker and wide receiver. Also, future Hall of Famers DeMarcus Ware (linebacker) and Jason Witten (tight end) remain among the NFL's top players at their respective positions.

Likelihood that the job will be available: Possible.

2) San Diego Chargers (Norv Turner)

It wasn't that long ago that the Chargers' roster was widely considered the most talented in the NFL. That is no longer the case; several key players have aged out of their prime, while others have departed via free agency. However, this is still an attractive job. Philip Rivers has made a few horrible decisions this season, but he's still a capable starting quarterback who is also just 30 years old. With some upgrades to the offensive line and at receiver, Rivers could reclaim a spot among the top 10 signal-callers. The defense has some good young pieces, meanwhile, and the AFC West is home to just one high-level team (the Denver Broncos).

Likelihood that the job will be available: Probable.

3) Carolina Panthers (Ron Rivera)

Charlotte, N.C., is a beautiful place to live, but the real attractiveness of this job revolves around the ultra-talented Cam Newton. Newton has gone through some rocky moments in his second NFL season, but there is no denying his immense upside. This team also has quality depth at running back, linebacker and defensive end. The Panthers could easily contend for a playoff berth in 2013.

Likelihood that the job will be available: Possible.

4) Cleveland Browns (Pat Shurmur)

If the Browns had a proven quarterback, they would be ranked even higher on this list. Brandon Weeden has shown some positive signs during his rookie season, but the jury is still out on whether or not he's the long-term solution. The defense, however, is set up to be very good for a long time. Defensive tackles Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor form one of the top interior pairs in the NFL. Cornerback Joe Haden is an elite player, and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is an excellent leader. The offense has one of the NFL's elite left tackles (Joe Thomas), a young stud of a running back (Trent Richardson) and a few receivers with upside. New owner Jimmy Haslam has drawn rave reviews since he purchased the team earlier this season.

Likelihood that the job will be available: Probable.

5) Arizona Cardinals (Ken Whisenhunt)

The Cardinals haven't been able to overcome the injury to starting quarterback Kevin Kolb, and their offensive line has struggled mightily. However, there are several dynamic playmakers on this roster, making this a desirable job. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald, linebacker Daryl Washington and cornerback Patrick Peterson are each among the most talented players in the NFL at their respective positions. Defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett are also elite players. If the quarterback position can be upgraded in the offseason (perhaps by adding Alex Smith), and if a couple of high draft picks are spent on solidifying the offensive line, this team could be fixed very quickly.

Likelihood that the job will be available: Possible.

6) Buffalo Bills (Chan Gailey)

Bills general manager Buddy Nix recently went public with his desire to find a long-term solution at the quarterback position. Ryan Fitzpatrick has played better this season, but he is still too erratic at times. The offense, however, does have a lot of solid pieces in place, and the Bills boast quality depth at running back and receiver. The offensive line has a solid interior and a talented young left tackle in Cordy Glenn. The defensive line, which boasts a lot of talent, has started to come along during the second half of the season. The secondary features one of the NFL's top safeties in Jairus Byrd. Playing in the AFC East with the New England Patriots is a drawback, but Tom Brady isn't going to be around forever.

Likelihood that the job will be available: Possible.

7) Philadelphia Eagles (Andy Reid)

The Eagles have a lot of talented young players, but the quarterback position is very unsettled. Michael Vick will likely play elsewhere in 2013, and I'm not sold on rookie Nick Foles' ability to start in the NFL. Running back LeSean McCoy would be an outstanding building block for the offense, but the line needs to be upgraded during the offseason. On the defensive side of the ball, the front seven includes a couple of young, explosive players, but the secondary needs major retooling. Whoever takes this job will need to instill a sense of toughness that has been missing over the past few years.

Likelihood that the job will be available: Probable.

8) Tennessee Titans (Mike Munchak)

Second-year quarterback Jake Locker has a lot of physical tools, but he's still extremely raw and needs to get more playing time under his belt. The offense has a few solid pieces to build around, including running back Chris Johnson, receiver Kendall Wright and tight end Jared Cook. The defense features an athletic linebacker unit, but the D-line must be upgraded. I struggled when trying to decide whether this position or the job in Kansas City would be more attractive; ultimately, I gave the Titans the edge because of Locker's potential.

Likelihood that the job will be available: Possible.

9) Kansas City Chiefs (Romeo Crennel)

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The Chiefs' nightmare season caught me off guard; their roster is much better than their 1-10 record would indicate, even with their quarterback issues. Kansas City has dynamic athletes at the offensive skill positions, and the defense features an outstanding pair of edge pass rushers. Both the offensive and defensive lines are serviceable, and the secondary features two young, Pro Bowl-caliber players. The quarterback position does need to be addressed as soon as possible, though.

Likelihood that the job will be available: Probable.

10) New York Jets (Rex Ryan)

Some might be surprised to see this job ranked so low, considering that this team played in back-to-back AFC title games not too long ago. However, there are a lot of problems with the Jets' roster. Mark Sanchez hasn't progressed at quarterback, and there is a dearth of playmakers at the offensive skill positions. The defense does boast the league's top cornerback in Darrelle Revis, along with a few promising young linemen, but the linebacker corps is uninspiring.

Likelihood that the job will be available: Possible.

11) Jacksonville Jaguars (Mike Mularkey)

This is another team with an unsettled quarterback situation. Former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert did not impress before landing on injured reserve. His replacement, Chad Henne, has played surprisingly well, but he doesn't have many believers around the league. When healthy, Maurice Jones-Drew is an outstanding running back, and the young receiver duo of Cecil Shorts III and Justin Blackmon looks promising. But this team needs a heavy infusion of playmaking talent on the defensive side of the ball. The constant chatter about relocating the team is also a major distraction, and could deter potential candidates from wanting this job, should it open up.

Likelihood that the job will be available: Possible.


New Orleans Saints (Sean Payton)

Given that Payton's contract situation beyond the 2012 season is up in the air, there is at least an outside chance he could leave the Saints for another head-coaching gig. If that were to happen, this job would jump right to the top of the list. Drew Brees is one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks, and he has an outstanding supporting cast on offense. The defense needs to be upgraded, but the presence of an elite passer makes this a premium job.

Likelihood that the job will be available: Not likely.

Chicago Bears (Lovie Smith)

Smith has done an excellent job leading the Bears to the top of the NFC North, but his contract does expire following this season. I highly doubt the Bears would let him get away, but if that were to happen, this would also be a highly sought-after gig. Jay Cutler has his quirks, but he's an extremely talented quarterback. The defense is older, but some emerging young players are waiting in the wings.

Likelihood that the job will be available: Not likely.

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

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