At least the Jacksonville Jaguars recognize the difficulty of replacing a head coach in the NFL.
No team suffered a more demoralizing season than the Jaguars. They went from playing in the AFC Championship game to finishing 5-11, have no quarterback plan for the future following an awful season from Blake Bortles, and saw their high-priced defense struggle unexpectedly. Nevertheless, ownership is sticking with Doug Marrone, knowing that the pool of replacement head coaches this season is as weak as it’s been in recent memory.
The constant churn of six to seven new head coaches each season has left the market thin. Owners are looking for the next Sean McVay or Doug Pederson or Matt Nagy, the bright offensive head coach who can call plays and develop quarterbacks. But with roughly 14 offensive head coaches who call their plays already in the league, those candidates are harder to find. Some owners will look to the college ranks, and might find some willing candidates given the increase in NFL coaching salaries of late.
Black Monday has arrived, and the changes have begun. Let’s rank the open head-coaching positions, from best to worst, while looking at the top candidates for each job.
1. Green Bay Packers
Top candidates: Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald, former Colts and Lions Coach Jim Caldwell, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur.
The main attraction with this job is linking up with Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is a quarterback who can take a team to a Super Bowl. Despite this year’s disappointing season, his game hasn’t declined. He still has incredible arm strength. His knee injury slowed him down early in the season, but he fought through the pain and had a good season in which he didn’t turn over the ball. You have to figure the Packers will be looking to hire an offensive coach who can work with Rodgers and capitalize on his talent.
2. Cleveland Browns
Top candidates: Former Packers Coach Mike McCarthy, Josh McDaniels, Rams quarterback coach Zac Taylor, Ravens Coach John Harbaugh (in a trade), former Cardinals Coach Bruce Ariens.
The incredible rookie season of Baker Mayfield makes this a good job. The Browns surprised everyone by going 7-8-1 and thanks to Mayfield, the Browns are relevant. A good offseason could make them a playoff contender next year. They have built a good core of young players on defense. Their offensive line is decent. If they can add a quality receiver, there will be enough good players around Mayfield to create a good offense. As much as the Browns have changed coaches over the years, the coach who gets this job gets the best Browns team.
3. New York Jets
Top candidates: Mike McCarthy, former Dolphins Coach Adam Gase, Zac Taylor, Eric Bieniemy, Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell, Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, Jim Caldwell
What makes this job attractive is working with a talented young quarterback in Sam Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick this year. McCarthy might opt for other jobs because he might not want to be in the spotlight of the Big Apple, but others would love the opportunity. The past couple of drafts have made the defense better. The work has to be done on offense. The Jets have major weaknesses at wide receiver and in the backfield, but the front office can focus on fixing that in the offseason.
4. Denver Broncos
Top candidates: John Harbaugh (in a trade), Matt LaFleur, Eric Bieniemy, Zac Taylor, former Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Munchak
John Harbaugh makes the most sense here, but it would have to happen if Harbaugh wants out of Baltimore and John Elway can work out a trade. Harbaugh would be the perfect fit in Denver. He can hire Gary Kubiak as the offensive coordinator and give Elway what he wants as an overall leader of the team. It might cost a second-round choice, but the trade would be worth it – but Baltimore would have to be willing to go for the trade, following the team’s run to the playoffs.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Top candidates: Mike McCarthy, New Orleans Saints tight ends coach Dan Campbell, Pete Carmichael, Josh McDaniels, Eric Bieniemy, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Cowboys defensive coordinator Kris Richard
To take this job, you have to believe in quarterback Jameis Winston. The decision by Oregon’s Justin Herbert to return to school leaves the draft without a top quarterback prospect, so teams like Tampa Bay that are looking to fix the quarterback position are likely better served to wait until 2020 to select one. Like most teams on this list, the Bucs will be looking for an offensive head coach, but if the top offensive coaches are gone, they will have to look to defense.
6. Arizona Cardinals
Top candidates: Mike McCarthy, Eric Bieniemy, Adam Gase, Pete Carmichael, Matt LaFleur, Zac Taylor, Jim Caldwell
McCarthy would be the natural fit, but it sounds as though he might just sit out the 2019 season. To get McCarthy, the Cardinals might have to give him authority to bring in the players. This isn’t a bad job. There is talent on defense. Josh Rosen has the chance to be a decent quarterback. The Cardinals have the No. 1 overall pick. The biggest challenge is rebuilding the offensive line.
7. Miami Dolphins
Top candidates: John Harbaugh in a trade, Josh McDaniels, Jim Caldwell, Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh, Matt LaFleur, Mike McCarthy
One of the problems with this job is so much talent has been chased away. Losing Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh, Jay Ajayi, Mike Pouncey and others over the past year lessens the value of this job. Owner Stephen Ross said he would not pursue Jim Harbaugh this year, but he has to think about it. Ross should have hired Harbaugh years ago. Ross is a big Michigan supporter and the thought was he would stay with Gase one more year and go after Harbaugh in 2020. Whoever takes this job has to decide if Ryan Tannehill is the franchise quarterback. Gase would not have made the change at quarterback, because he believed in Tannehill. The next coach might have a different opinion.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
Top candidates: Former Broncos Coach Vance Joseph, Browns offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, Kris Richard, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Jim Schwartz, Mike Munchak
This is probably the least attractive job. Bengals ownership likes to hire coaches whom they know, which is why Joseph should have a decent chance of getting the job. Before he left for the Miami Dolphins as defensive coordinator, Joseph was told he would be considered as Lewis’s replacement if Lewis retired. The Bengals are the one team that wouldn’t be married to the idea of only hiring an offensive head coach.
KEYS TO THE WILD-CARD GAMES
Colts at Texans: This matchup might have been the worst nightmare for the Texans, as the Colts are a tough matchup. Andrew Luck is playing at an MVP level. The Colts defense is getting better. What the Texans can’t do is fall behind by 10 to 14 points in the second quarter, which is what happened to them a couple of weeks ago in a loss at Indianapolis. Because of the Texans’ problems on the offensive line, they are put in a tough spot if they ask Deshaun Watson to drop back 40 times a game and bring the team back from two or more scores – they are much better when playing close or with the lead, so they can run the ball.
Seahawks at Cowboys: The Seahawks are a dangerous team to face because of their ability to run the football and have Russell Wilson make big plays in the fourth quarter. But in the time since the Seahawks beat the Cowboys early in the season, Dallas has developed a defense that is one of the best in the league, with playmakers at every level. Plus, coordinator Kris Richard knows Seattle well, because he used to be the coordinator there.
Chargers at Ravens: Baltimore stunned the Chargers a couple of weeks ago with an upset win. Now it gets the Chargers at home, but the second matchup might be tougher for the Ravens. To win, they’ll have to manage a low-scoring game that features Lamar Jackson winning on the ground and not with his arm. For the Chargers, they need to provide good pass protection for Philip Rivers and not get forced into mistakes by Baltimore’s aggressive blitzing scheme.
Eagles at Bears: The good news for the Eagles is that they edged out the Vikings for the No. 6 seed, but the bad news is Nick Foles couldn’t finish the win over Washington because of a chest injury. Foles was optimistic about his chances of playing after the game, and it was reported Monday that his ribs are only bruised, but he’ll still be facing the Bears’ elite defense, which is led by Khalil Mack. Philadelphia will have to find a way to block him, and give time to Foles, if it is to pull off the upset.