Black Monday cost seven head coaches their jobs, and it's not where they're headed next that interests me as much as it is what they left behind. Basically, I want to know where the most attractive head-coach openings are and why, and here's what I came up with:
1. Chicago Bears: These guys are 10-6, for crying out loud, so what's not to like? The Bears just missed on the playoffs, and that puts them at or near the top of attractive jobs. The good news is that you have an experienced quarterback. The bad news is that it's tempestuous Jay Cutler. You can win with the guy, but when does someone address that sieve of an offensive line in front of him? The Bears were good enough to make it to this year's playoffs ... except they didn't. But they're not far away. They have playmakers on an aging defense that forced a league-high 44 takeaways and scored nine times, a star receiver in Brandon Marshall and a solid back in Matt Forte. What they don't have is an offensive line to protect Cutler, and it affected his play. Nevertheless, Cutler is talented and experienced. Plus, he's proven he can win. The NFC North is a difficult division to navigate, which tempers the attractiveness of this opening, but you have playmakers on both sides of the ball and a GM I trust in Phil Emery. That counts for a lot.
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2. San Diego Chargers: The Chargers not only have a franchise quarterback, they have a franchise quarterback who won playoff games. Philip Rivers is the cornerstone of the club, and that's not a bad way to start. You can win with Rivers; you just have to protect him and give him weapons. Once upon a time, the Chargers did ... and there were few teams that were better. But they're in need of a makeover with a porous offensive line that couldn't protect the quarterback and an offensive cast that could use more playmakers, including a running back to supplant or complement Ryan Mathews. But that's why they have a draft. San Diego has a core of good young players, most of them on defense, and is not a reclamation project ... not with an established quarterback in place. The Chargers don't have the abundance of talent they did in 2006, but they have enough to move forward, they have Rivers and they have a home in the league's weakest division, the AFC West.
3. Cleveland Browns: So Cleveland is working on a string of five straight years with 11 or more losses. Big deal. The Browns aren't as far removed from turning the corner as you might think, primarily because GM Tom Heckert did a decent job of drafting. The problem is that he may not have drafted the right quarterback, with the jury out on Brandon Weeden. Nevertheless, I believe I can get by with him if I must, even though I might want to upgrade the position. I always start at quarterback when gauging a team's attractiveness, and I'll be honest: I don't know that you can win with Weeden. He simply doesn't make enough big plays and makes too many mistakes. So that's a downer. But I do know I can win with a defense that forced 29 turnovers and has a front seven that attacks the pocket. Only the Browns didn't win, and that's because there wasn't enough production out of the quarterback. The good news is that there are young playmakers on offense, with running back Trent Richardson the most notable, so the Browns have a head start there. Still, the question comes back to quarterback, and you don't go far if you don't solve that position.
4. Kansas City Chiefs: Here's what I like about these guys: There's a lot of talent in a lot of places, with five players named to this year's Pro Bowl. Plus, they operate in the AFC West, where only one team had a winning record. But here's what I don't: There's no established quarterback I trust, the best wide receiver can't wait to get out of town and the offensive line might lose left tackle Brandon Albert. In short, this place is a mess. The Chiefs have the first pick of the draft, so they get the first choice of available quarterbacks. Only one problem: There's no quarterback worth taking with the first pick, so that's a problem. Still, San Diego found Drew Brees at the top of the 2001 draft, and there's always the chance the Chiefs could find their next starter there. They're not going to win with Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn, so quarterback is a priority. Kansas City won in 2010 with Cassel, but those Chiefs made no mistakes. These Chiefs do, with Kansas City committing a league-worst 37 turnovers. Whoever comes in here inherits a team with young talent, no quarterback and little discipline -- and that can be fixed.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Let's start with the positives: You can win with this defense, and you can play golf here in February. Now let's move on to what's wrong: Most of the offense. There's a bona fide All-Pro at wide receiver, but nobody to get him the ball. The Cardinals have been waiting for the next Kurt Warner since he retired and they're still standing in line. They tried four quarterbacks this season, none with much success; their running backs are injuries waiting to happen; and their offensive line stinks. That's a tall order for the next head coach, but it's not the only concern here. The ownership isn't exactly one of the league's best, and that's being kind. The Cardinals had an outstanding coach in Ken Whisenhunt, but after raising the Titanic, even he found it difficult to win here. Losing is more the rule than the exception, and while the expected hiring of Steve Keim as the next GM should help I'd be wary. Still, the Cards proved the second half of last season and the first four games of 2012 that you can get by with this defense, and that's a start.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles have experienced and talented players. That's not the problem. This is: There's a lot of overpaid, underachieving talent in a city where the pressure to win is enormous. This place isn't as attractive as it appears because major questions exist, starting at quarterback. You can't keep Michael Vick under his current contract, nor do you want to keep him, period. He's injury prone and he commits too many mistakes. Plus, he's a descending player. So now the question: Is Nick Foles the answer? He might've been for coach Andy Reid, but the Eagles' next coach didn't draft him ... and may not have conviction in him. Foles was inconsistent as a starter and won only once. You have promising young players in DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy, plus tackle Jason Peters returns from an Achilles injury. But you still might have to overhaul the offensive and defensive lines, find new safeties and junk cornerbacks who never lived up to reputations. Then there are those 75 turnovers in the past 32 games. This club needs discipline and an overhaul, which means it looks more like a teardown waiting to happen.
7. Buffalo Bills: I'll tell you why I knock this club down: 1) Because it's been 13 years since these guys have been to the playoffs; 2) because you can't win with Ryan Fitzpatrick and 3) because the GM who thought you could is still there. I know, I know, Buddy Nix promises to draft a quarterback high next year, but he's the guy who passed on Andy Dalton because he had conviction in Fitzpatrick. It's not that Fitzpatrick's not decent. He is ... as a backup. So he must be replaced. The Bills have talent on defense where they invested money in Mario Williams and Mark Anderson and spent four of their past five first-round draft picks, but that defense was disappointing in a season where it was supposed to be the backbone of the club. There's talent on offense, too, where C.J. Spiller is one of the league's most electrifying performers, but there's always a shortage of, well, something ... and that shortage starts at quarterback. There are reasons to like this place: The expectations are low, there are pockets of talent and, outside of New England, there's room to maneuver within the division. But the Bills seem to have lost their way, and until or unless they solve the most important position I don't see them moving forward.