With the exception of a select few, Black Monday is a day that every NFL head coach dreads. It’s a time for teams to make a change and usher in a new era, ridding themselves of past failures. Black Monday, however, was non-existent this year. That’s because teams didn’t wait until then to make alterations to the coaching staff.
Three head coaches were fired in-season while two more were fired Sunday after their respective seasons ended. Gary Kubiak made the sixth opening after he stepped down due to health concerns.
The Bills, Jaguars, Rams, Chargers, 49ers and Broncos are all looking for new head coaches to lead their teams to the promised land, and each comes with both attractive assets and downsides. We ranked every current vacancy in the NFL in order from terrible to a once-in-a-decade opportunity.
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San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are seeking their fourth coach in as many years, which should prove just how terrible of a job this is. Jed York is a highly criticized owner, and rightly so, while the 49ers will also be looking for a new GM. The fact that they need to hire a GM isn’t exactly a bad thing, though. The next head coach should be able to work closely with him, thus allowing for a formidable coach-GM relationship that wasn’t exactly easy to have with Trent Baalke.
As far as the roster goes, it’s not good. It’s terrible, actually. The 49ers don’t have a quarterback, their receiving corps is the worst in the league and the run defense couldn’t stop anyone this season. The depth chart needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, beginning with the upcoming draft. At least they have the second overall pick and a good shot at landing one of the top quarterbacks in an underwhelming class.
It’s staggering to see how far the 49ers have fallen since the Jim Harbaugh era ended, but they don’t have time to look back on what could have been.
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If the 49ers didn’t have the worst roster in football, Buffalo would be the worst coaching vacancy. The Bills are an atrocious situation, and it was abundantly evident in GM Doug Whaley’s press conference on Monday. He said he had no hand in hiring or firing Rex Ryan, saying he doesn’t know why he was let go. That in its own right is concerning, and should be for any coach considering this opening.
To make matters worse, the Bills have almost no clue who will be their quarterback in 2017. Tyrod Taylor has an option that will guarantee him more than $30 million, so they’re not likely to pick that up. EJ Manuel is a free agent, so he’s probably gone. That leaves … Cardale Jones, a soon-to-be second-year pro with great potential and even larger question marks.
What does make this job attractive, though, is the foundation of players outside of the quarterback position. Sammy Watkins, LeSean McCoy, Ronald Darby and Marcell Dareus are all players to build around, and that’s what the Bills have to do. Priority No. 1 is finding a quarterback, though, and that won’t be easy to do this upcoming offseason.
Oh, and the Patriots play in the AFC East, so there’s that, too.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers have been to the playoffs just once in the past seven years and haven’t won the AFC West since 2009 – the final year of their four-year stretch of division titles. They’re miles away from that time when they were once successful, but it’s still a good job to be had. Philip Rivers is a Pro Bowl quarterback, Melvin Gordon looks like a top-10 back in the NFL and Keenan Allen, when healthy, is a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
On defense, there’s also a solid cast of playmakers. Joey Bosa has already emerged as one of the premier defensive ends in the game today, Casey Hayward led the league in interceptions and Jason Verrett will be back healthy in 2017. Of course, pieces need to be added on both the offensive line and at safety to start, but the foundation is there.
The Chargers have been consistent in hiring offensive-minded coaches lately, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Rivers is the backbone of this franchise, so why not set him up for success? However, the defense is the bigger question mark here. With San Diego holding the seventh pick in the draft, finding a stud defender is absolutely possible, giving the next head coach another piece to build around.
The fact that the Chargers could move to Los Angeles should attract some suitors, too.
Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald, Tavon Austin. Those are just some of the names the Rams have on the roster for years to come, and it’s why Los Angeles is such a good job. What hurts the allure of the Rams’ vacancy is the fact that they don’t have a first-round pick in 2017 and also gave up their third-rounder this year to land Goff in the 2016 draft.
With that said, having a stable of playmakers like Goff, Austin and Gurley on offense makes that burden a little easier to bear. The Rams have a solid defense headed by Donald, Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron, with Trumaine Johnson also a candidate to return.
The biggest draw of the Rams’ opening is owner Stan Kroenke’s willingness to spend. He’ll dig into his pockets to rebuild this franchise from the ground up, especially with the team now in LA. Les Snead is a decent GM with a good eye for talent, but there’s no question a coach can help the franchise in that regard. The Rams need an offensive mind who can develop a quarterback – unlike Jeff Fisher.
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The Jaguars are actually much more talented than their record indicates. Sure, Blake Bortles has regressed in 2016, but Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and T.J. Yeldon are playmakers on offense, while Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Dante Fowler Jr. have the potential to be cornerstone defenders.
The attractiveness of this job comes in the form of the youth Jacksonville has. Most of its best players are young and still on rookie contracts, which makes for good flexibility cap-wise. They’re expected to have more than $67 million in cap space next season, meaning the front office can do everything it can to help the incoming coach.
There’s a reason Jacksonville was picked among potential surprises for 2016, and it’s because the roster is littered with talent. The Jaguars just need a coach to maximize their potential and turn them into contenders. That shouldn’t be too difficult, considering how terrible the AFC South is each year.
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Denver’s head coaching job didn’t open up due to futility or repeated mistakes. It’s available because of unfortunate circumstances facing Gary Kubiak, who’s retiring from coaching due to health issues. As a result, the man Denver hires for the job will be stepping into a terrific situation.
The Broncos have two capable, young quarterbacks in Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, a Super Bowl-caliber defense, and two of the best cornerbacks in the NFL locked up through 2019. Oh, and a guy named Von Miller is under contract through 2021. There isn’t much more a coach could ask for when stepping into a new situation, besides maybe a Pro Bowl quarterback.
It’s not often a team has a head coaching vacancy after winning the Super Bowl just two seasons prior. That’s a testament to how attractive this job is for all of those viable candidates out there. This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for a future head coach, and John Elway will be certain to pick the right man for the job.