The day after the NFL regular season ends is always one of the starkest in professional sports -- the 12 teams heading to the playoffs are delighted, all others are miserable and, this year, a quarter of the league's clubs upended their franchise by firing their head coach.
This was an especially troubling Monday in the NFL: Of the eight coaches who got the boot this season, five of them are African-American, leaving just three minority head coaches (Ron Rivera of the Panthers, Mike Tomlin of the Steelers and Anthony Lynn of the Chargers). That deals a huge blow to the league's diversity efforts. Cyrus Mehri, who commissioned the 2002 report that was the catalyst for the creation of the Rooney Rule, has been worried for weeks about what this hiring cycle will look like, especially with the expectation that many teams will be looking for coaches from the offensive side of the game, and perhaps from the college ranks, both famously poor pipelines for minority candidates.
With 25 percent of the league in the market for a head coach, it might be instructive to remember what happened the last time there were this many openings. That was 2013, and in that cycle, two college coaches were hired (Chip Kelly to Philadelphia from Oregon, Doug Marrone to Buffalo from Syracuse), in addition to one from the Canadian Football League (Marc Trestman to Chicago). Of that trio, Kelly lasted the longest, spending three seasons with the Eagles. Only one, Marrone, is still in the NFL, but he's now hanging on in Jacksonville.
After such an exhilarating regular season, there is a sense that the NFL is experiencing a renaissance. Offenses exploded early, powered by the next wave of young stars, and then powerhouse defenses reemerged late. This, then, is a propitious time to make the most important hire in the franchise hierarchy, particularly because so many of the teams looking for coaches have young quarterbacks.
That is both good and bad if you are a candidate. Of the 11 coaches whose teams selected a quarterback in the first round since 2016, five lasted one year or less after the pick (not including Gary Kubiak, who resigned from his post with the Broncos). Of those five, four came from the defensive side of the game (John Fox, Jeff Fisher, Todd Bowles, Steve Wilks). So, if you're hired, rent -- don't buy.
Here's a look at the openings, ranked based on my view of their attractiveness.
1) Cleveland Browns: When was the last time the Browns were the most attractive job? They have Baker Mayfield, a load of other young talent from all those high draft picks (Pro Bowlers Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward among them), a proven general manager in John Dorsey and a wildly loyal fan base in a wide-open division. The big question for candidates will be what to do about offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, who worked wonders with Mayfield in the second half of the season (presuming Kitchens himself doesn't get the job).
2) Green Bay Packers: Think Aaron Rodgers is tough to work with? That's a nice problem to have. It's a short-term league anyway, so who wouldn't covet working with one of the greatest quarterbacks in history for the next few years?
3) New York Jets:Sam Darnold! The third overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft! $100 million in cap space! J-E-T-S! Sure, there are questions about general manager Mike Maccagnan and the considerable holes on the roster, but for the first time in ages, the Jets should be an attractive destination. One more thing: Tom Brady can't play forever.
4) Arizona Cardinals:Josh Rosen, Chandler Jones and David Johnson make this job alluring. Plus, the club holds the first overall draft pick in 2019. (Hi, Nick Bosa?) The downside: The NFC West is a brutal division.
5) Cincinnati Bengals: Well, you know you'll enjoy job stability. Marvin Lewis was the second-longest tenured coach in the league, despite not winning a playoff game in his 16 seasons at the helm. That may be the No. 1 selling point of this job, where the new coach will have to determine if he can make something of Andy Dalton. Still, the AFC North will be up for grabs next year.
6) Denver Broncos: One of the gold-standard franchises in the NFL has fallen on hard times. What to do with Case Keenum? Can John Elway find a quarterback for real this time? The expectations here are staggeringly high, but the failure to identify the next franchise quarterback has hamstrung a team that still features Von Miller. Plus, the potential future family fight for ownership of the franchise creates looming instability that could hover for years.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: If you believe in Jameis Winston, this is a decent job, because there is other talent on the roster. And the Bucs hold the fifth overall draft pick. But do you believe in Winston, on the field and off? And in general manager Jason Licht, who is about to hire his second head coach?
8) Miami Dolphins: What is there to recommend this job? There is no quarterback, assuming Ryan Tannehill goes, and the rest of the roster has few blue-chippers. Even owner Stephen Ross admits this is a rebuild, and the constant piecemeal do-overs in the front office don't help the sense of instability that permeates this team.