National Football League
Ranking four NFL head-coaching openings, from most to least desirable
National Football League

Ranking four NFL head-coaching openings, from most to least desirable

Updated Jan. 26, 2024 1:13 p.m. ET

The list of candidates riding the head-coaching carousel this offseason seems unprecedented. It's an all-star cast with a who's who list of names. Teams could hire an all-time great coach like Bill Belichick or Pete Carroll. There are experienced coaches available like Mike Vrabel, Ron Rivera and Dan Quinn.

Even Jim Harbaugh, the current NCAA champion, was in the pool until the Los Angeles Chargers hired him on Wednesday night.

In most years, coaches like that would have their pick of available jobs.

But this year, which job would a top coach pick?


There are currently four head coaching vacancies remaining, with the Atlanta Falcons, the Carolina Panthers, the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Commanders. Here's a look at how attractive (or unattractive) each of them are, in the order they were ranked by the FOX Sports NFL staff:

1. (tie) Atlanta Falcons: They've been exactly 7-10 for three years in a row, but if a new coach can also bring in a new quarterback, it's easy to see the Falcons as a playoff team in 2024. The overall talent level — everywhere but QB — might be right there with the best of this year's vacancies.

Arthur Smith couldn't take advantage of it, but Atlanta has used top-10 picks three years in a row on skill-position players — tight end Kyle Pitts, receiver Drake London and running back Bijan Robinson. They've kept together a solid offensive line led by guard Chris Lindstrom, and they have one of the best safeties in the game in Jessie Bates. Losing defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen to the Jaguars is bad, but a new coach should have a defense in the top half of the league, if not the top 10.

Add in a very winnable division — the NFC South had the fewest wins of any division in 2023 — and a favorable third-place schedule and it should be a job that candidates see as easy to turn around, even this fall. —Greg Auman

[Editor's note: Atlanta hired Raheem Morris as head coach on Jan. 25]

Bill Belichick to the Falcons after Patriots exit?

1. (tie) Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks finished 9-8 for a second straight season but missed the playoffs because the defense struggled to defend the run during the second half of the year. Afterward, the Seahawks parted ways with the most successful coach in franchise history in Pete Carroll. With a top-notch facility, a strong organizational foundation and an owner in Jody Allen committed to winning, the Seahawks offer an attractive head coaching job. Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn seems like a no-brainer because of his tie to Carroll if the Seahawks want to bring in a like-minded coach.

However, Seattle general manager John Schneider cut his teeth in Green Bay under mentors Ron Wolf and Ted Tompson, where they leaned on offensive-minded coaches like Mike Holmgren, Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy. Schneider might want to continue in the same vein in Seattle, bringing in an offensive guru that he doesn’t have to worry about losing to another team for their head coaching vacancy. Whatever the decision, for the first time in his NFL career, Schneider is running the show, and it should be interesting to see if he can get things turned around in Seattle, starting with his first head coaching hire. —Eric D. Williams

Did Seahawks make the right move moving Pete Carroll to an advisor?

3. Washington Commanders: A year ago this would've been the job everyone wanted to avoid, because nobody wanted to work for the controversial, penny-pinching Dan Snyder. But after the $6.05 billion sale of the franchise to Josh Harris, the entire image of this franchise has changed. It's still a work in progress, but Harris has promised to upgrade the facilities, build a new stadium, and change the terrible atmosphere around the franchise as quickly as he can.

The tools are in place to build something on the field too. They just hired a new general manager in Adam Peters, one of the architects of the San Francisco 49ers' current run of success. A new coach can choose between a promising young quarterback in Sam Howell or a quarterback of his own that he chooses with the No. 2 pick in the draft. They have a few decent players — like defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, receiver Terry McLaurin and running back Brian Robinson — but perhaps more importantly they have an estimated $73.6 million in salary cap space. According to, that's the most in the league.

The feeling in Washington is that with the right coach, their turnaround can happen quickly. And there's a belief around the NFL that this is no longer a dead-end job. —Ralph Vacchiano

4. Carolina Panthers: This has to be at the bottom of the list. Carolina was 2-15 despite playing in the worst division in the NFL. Bryce Young, even as a No. 1 overall pick, was a question mark all season, unable to elevate an underwhelming amount of skill-position talent around him. Carolina would have the No. 1 overall pick this year, but they gave it up in the package sent to the Bears to grab last year's top pick to use on Young.

Then there's David Tepper as owner, having fired three coaches at midseason in his six years as owner, moving on from Frank Reich after only 11 games. So Carolina has the perception of a job someone will take because there's only 32 NFL head coaching jobs in the world, but not for many reasons beyond that. They have to find a way, either in making a compelling case or just writing a compelling check, to land a candidate who had other offers and likes their opportunity, but that doesn't seem easy. —Auman

[Editor's note: Carolina hired Dave Canales as head coach on Jan. 25]

This story was compiled by:

NFC South reporter Greg Auman (@gregauman)
NFC West reporter Eric D. Williams (@eric_d_williams)
NFC East reporter Ralph Vacchiano (@RalphVacchiano)


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