The 2023 NFL coaching carousel has kicked off, with teams already interviewing top candidates before the season has even finished. There are some really intriguing jobs open this time around, but each comes with its challenges. What follows is a ranking of the league's head coaching vacancies from most desirable to least.
1. Houston Texans
Houston has been a pit of dysfunction for the better part of a decade, but there is real opportunity here. General manager Nick Caserio finally appears to have a free hand to craft a roster the way he wants and there's some upside in that department. The Texans enter the offseason with more than $41 million in cap space, plus the potential to create more with a few cuts, trades or restructures. Then there's the draft capital, which is what really separates this situation.
The Texans will have 11 picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, including the second and 12th overall picks, plus No. 33, No. 65 and No. 73. The Texans own those additional first- and third-round picks thanks to the Deshaun Watson trade (they will also have additional first- and fourth-rounders next year). The second pick could allow Houston to take the first quarterback off the board and set a new direction for the franchise. When taken in total, those five picks in the top 73 will give a new coach the chance to put his stamp on the organization.
On top of that, the Texans have some solid young talent with cornerback Derek Stingley, running back Dameon Pierce and safety Jalen Pitre. Add them to Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil and there are some really nice building blocks in place. Yes, this is a rebuild, but it's a pretty nice foundation to start from.
2. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have a lot of young talent on their roster, they're just in need of two things: a quarterback and a coach. They are one of the youngest teams in the NFL and play in the NFC South, which is an eminently winnable division. General manager Scott Fitterer seems to be willing to work with coaches instead of drawing a hard line between the coaching and personnel departments. He really tried to make it work with Matt Rhule but that just wasn't happening.
Brian Burns is the Panthers' biggest star and the 24-year-old defensive end will start the Pro Bowl this year. Meanwhile, cornerback Jaycee Horn and defensive tackle Derrick Brown have elite upside. On offense, receiver D.J. Moore and tackle Taylor Morton can both be excellent. The Panthers enter the offseason $5 million over the cap for 2023, but Moore and Morton could restructure their deals, as could guard Austin Corbett. Linebacker Shaq Thompson leads the candidates to be cut if he doesn't rework his deal.
Carolina owns the ninth pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and has an additional second-rounder thanks to the Christian McCaffrey trade. When you factor all that in and consider the Panthers actually played some good football in 2022 this becomes an increasingly attractive job. That's probably why Sean Payton has shown interest and Tom Brady has been linked with a move to Carolina.
3. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts have felt a quarterback away from contention for years now and that still stands heading into 2023. While the offensive line needs a lot of work, Indianapolis is certainly in the market to take a quarterback with the fourth pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The AFC South is a winnable division and the roster is pretty solid across the board.
The issue with this job, as always, is owner Jim Irsay's meddling. If he backed off and let the football people run the organization, it would be easy to attract a top coach to this position. As it stands, many candidates probably don't want that headache. This is the same guy who brought in a TV analyst with no experience as his head coach in the middle of the 2022 season and was certain it would work. It didn't.
The Colts own their top three picks in the draft and are projected to have around $20 million in cap space, plus cutting Matt Ryan would save $17.2 million. Indianapolis also has a solid foundation built around guard Quentin Nelson, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, running back Jonathan Taylor, receiver Michael Pittman and cornerback Stephon Gilmore -- who was excellent in 2023. There's a lot to work with here.
4. Denver Broncos
Before the 2022 season, the Broncos looked like the best job on this list. Now? Man, it was hard to keep them out of last place. The trade for Russell Wilson and the horrible contract Denver gave him is looking like one of the worst trade/sign combinations in sports history. The only way Denver turns things around is if a new coach can fix Wilson. If he can, there's upside here.
First off, the Broncos are owned by Rob Walton, who is worth nearly $60 billion. He'll invest in the franchise. Second, despite Wilson's contract, the team has about $13 million in cap space for 2023, and the are opportunities to add more with cuts and restructures. Wilson should be the first one approached to rework his insane deal. The Broncos' defense is already really good, led by Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Surtain II. Jerry Jeudy is a budding star at receiver, but the offensive line is a mess and needs to be reworked. The team would have the fifth pick in the 2023 draft but they sent it to Seattle in the Wilson deal, along with their second-round pick. They do own the 29th pick after trading Bradley Chubb to Miami, and have two third-rounders.
The Broncos have a great brand and tradition. A coach who thinks he can turn around Wilson should jump on this job. That said, marrying yourself to a team in the AFC West is a dangerous proposition. Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert aren't going anywhere for a long time. It will be a tough place to win without a massive turnaround at quarterback.
5. Arizona Cardinals
In the end, this was always the answer for last place. Kyler Murray has MVP upside but can't find any consistency, and rumors of attitude problems haven't helped the situation. Everything will be fresh in Arizona with a new faces at general manager and head coach. Maybe that can help turn things around. That shift can start with the third pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and about $16 million in cap space.
There are some serious problems on the roster. The Cardinals fielded the oldest offensive unit in the NFL in 2022. DeAndre Hopkins' cap number in 2023 is $30.75 million, so he's a candidate to be traded or have his contract reworked. Cutting receiver Robbie Anderson would save Arizona $12 million, so that's a no-brainer as well. New general manager Monti Ossenfort has his work cut out for him.
It will be hard for the Cardinals to turn this roster over fast given how many older players it has. They have to absolutely nail the 2023 draft to put a charge into the team. And whoever takes this job has to been completely confident he can harness Murray's talent and fix what ails him.