Ranking the Open NFL Head Coach Positions

Liam McKeone
Recently-relieved coaches Pat Shurmur and Jason Garrett
Recently-relieved coaches Pat Shurmur and Jason Garrett / Tom Pennington/Getty Images
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The NFL's Black Monday has come and gone. After the dust settled, five head coach positions opened up around the league, and one has already been occupied by Ron Rivera in Washington. The situations for a prospective head coach range from very good to not terribly ideal. What follows is a ranking of the available landing spots by how attractive they are from an outside perspective, taking into account everything from the state of the roster to who the new head man would be answering to.

1. Dallas Cowboys

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys
Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys / Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

From a talent perspective, there's no job better than the one in Dallas. They have the pieces for both an elite run and pass game, with Dak Prescott establishing himself as a high-end starter this year, while Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper continued their run of excellence over the last two years-- not to mention the offensive line and emerging WR2 Michael Gallup. Defensively there are some holes, but Leighton Vander Esch and DeMarcus Lawrence aren't terrible pieces to build around. It's also the damn Dallas Cowboys, the biggest brand in the biggest sport in America.

The caveat, as it always has been and always will be with this franchise, is Jerry Jones. The dual owner/GM does not appear to be the easiest man to work with, especially for coaches that prefer to have a significant say in how the roster is constructed. The sky-high expectations as a result of the talent on the roster (and the money Jones put into it) would also mean a rather short leash for whoever takes the gig. But if a potential coach can come to terms with the demanding Jones, it's hard to find a more appealing opportunity.

2. New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants / Steven Ryan/Getty Images

The Giants aren't anywhere close to a finished product, but the pieces for a competitive team appear to be there. Daniel Jones has shown enough to believe he could be, at worst, an average starter in the NFL, and Saquon Barkley is already a star. Darius Slayton and Evan Engram are good pieces offensively. The defense still needs a makeover, but the Giants have draft capital and cap space to do so in the space of one or two years. The Maras are hands-off owners who are willing to give their new hires a longer leash than many across the NFL.

But while Jones has looked good, he's anything but a sure bet to become a star. Barkely spent a large part of this year hurt, and the poor play of the offensive line despite a combination of high draft picks and pricey free agents plays a large part in both of those things. There's a lot of work to be done here, but whoever takes the job will be given enough time to make his mark-- an important factor.

3. Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals / Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

All potential candidates for this position are certainly aware that they may be entering the real-world version of the Defense Against the Dark Arts position from Harry Potter, what with the constant turnover and all that. But this is, on paper, a well-constructed roster. The offensive line needs a major renovation, but the team has a franchise quarterback, a pair of extraordinarily talented wideouts, one of the best young running backs in the game, and a few blue-chip defensive talents that need the right mind to put it all together.

On the flip side, the clashing of personalities within the locker room appears to have been a major issue this season. Whoever the new coach will be has to be able to manage egos as well as they can gameplan. It's a job with nearly as high expectations as the Cowboys gig, but without the benefits that come with coaching the Cowboys. It's also about as taboo as a job can get in the NFL. But the reward of being the man who put it all together for Cleveland would be sky-high.

4. Carolina Panthers

Dallas Cowboys v Carolina Panthers
Dallas Cowboys v Carolina Panthers / Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The attractiveness of this job will vary greatly depending on what management plans to do with Cam Newton. If they keep him around and Newton recovers to even 75 percent of what he was back in the 2018 season, the Panthers have a ready-made offense that could become one of the best in the league in short order. Christian McCaffrey was so good he was making waves in the MVP conversation until two-thirds of the way through the year, while D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel emerged as legitimate options at receiver. On the other side of the ball, their linebacking core remains one of the better the league has to offer, and Brian Burns is very intriguing going forward.

It's hard to say how working with David Tepper is, considering he's only owned the team for two years now. But the Panthers are far from a perfect team, and the secondary in particular needs a lot of help. A foot injury for a player like Newton is awfully concerning, and McCaffrey's workload can't be this heavy if they want him to stick around in the league for a long time. And if they don't keep Newton, a replacement is not waiting in the wings after Kyle Allen fell back to earth and Will Grier didn't show anything in his few starts. It's a bit of a tumultuous situation, but whoever gets brought in will be Tepper's guy, and will get a good amount of time to make his mark.

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