Ranking NFL coaching vacancies: Baker Mayfield makes Browns best available open job right now
Breaking down every single one of the eight coaching vacancies
There are now eight NFL coaching vacancies after an extremely busy Black Monday -- all told a quarter of the league fired their head coaches this season, with six more jobs opening up after the conclusions of the 2018 NFL season.
Ranking NFL coaching vacancies is a difficult task, because there's so much that goes into each one. For me, the quarterback is paramount. But a willingness to win at the upper levels of the franchise and a cohesive vision is important as well.
I've got every job opening broken down below. Feel free to yell at me on Twitter @WillBrinson if you agree or disagree with the list (or just feel like yelling) and listen to myself and Sean Wagner-McGough break down all the openings and rank them on the latest edition of the Pick Six Podcast (it's our daily NFL show, subscribe right here) below.
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The No. 1 thing to look at for a prospective NFL job is the quarterback situation. And it's hard to find a better QB spot than Cleveland, outside of maybe Kansas City. Baker Mayfield already looks like a franchise quarterback, having set the rookie record for touchdowns in just 14.5 games of action. Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson owned the record before Mayfield broke it in a close effort to take down the Ravens and really create havoc in the AFC North playoff race. Ownership is a concern here, but John Dorsey is a strong GM to work for and in a stable spot. Nick Chubb, Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers and Denzel Ward are just some of the young talent on this roster. The division is tough but the Steelers aren't guaranteed to be a behemoth beyond the next few years. The Ravens have Lamar Jackson but that's just a fun rivalry. The Bengals looks like they could be wandering in the wilderness for a while. The Browns have been a disaster since returning to the NFL in 1999, but this is a premiere job now.
Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Rodgers. The opportunity to coach the most physically gifted quarterback in NFL history has come around for just the second time ever and the first time it happened, when the Packers hired Mike McCarthy in 2006, no one knew what Rodgers would ultimately be. The only reason this job is lower than the Browns? Rodgers' age and expectations. The window to win a Super Bowl is short: you need to make it happen in the next three (?) or four (??) years realistically. And that makes it tough. If the next coach struggles out of the gate, the shareholders might start to get unruly. There's other talent on this roster, including a host of young defensive backs, a top-tier wideout in Davante Adams and a cohesive offensive line. But put the Packers roster up against Cleveland's and I think you would take the Browns for the long haul.
The gap between Mayfield and Sam Darnold might not be this wide, but the difference in the roster is probably there right now. Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams are studs on the defensive side of the ball, but there's not a ton surrounding Darnold right now. Mike Maccagnan has done a solid job as GM, but his job security isn't nearly as locked in as either of the two guys running the above teams. If the Jets are bad over the next two years, there could be a reboot coming. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady still exist in the AFC East. There is a ton of cap space to work with here, though, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Jets go big this offseason in an attempt to maximize the window they have with Darnold on a rookie deal.
Arizona and New York are pretty similar jobs. Young quarterback locked in on a cheap deal surrounded by minimal talent on offense -- Josh Rosen isn't being put in the class of Darnold and Mayfield but he flashed at times last year. It's possible the Cardinals could follow the Bears/Rams blueprint from the last few years and get back to prominence quickly. David Johnson and Christian Kirk are nice weapons on offense. Larry Fitzgerald is a question mark with retirement looming. Defensively this was a top-half team for much of the year before they just sort of fell apart. Getting back to a scheme that maximizes the personnel would go a long way towards improving the defense's performance next year. Steve Keim is a good GM but has to feel some heat with how the Steve Wilks experiment panned out. The new coach is getting the best player in the draft, or at least the first player taken. It'll be interesting to see if the Cards try and go young and offensive for Rosen or if they err on the side of caution and go for someone familiar like Todd Bowles.
Who is going to own this team in 12 months? John Elway is running things and should be in charge for a while now, but is that definitely good? Elway's struggled to find a quarterback for Denver outside of landing Peyton Manning in free agency. Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemien and Case Keenum haven't shown the upside to take this team over the top, at least not without an elite defense. Bradley Chubb and Von Miller is an incredible pass-rushing duo, but there's been attrition on that side of the ball the last few years since the Super Bowl victory. Signing up to play in the same division as Patrick Mahomes doesn't feel like a fun job. Denver is a blue blood job, I suppose, but this could become a pressure cooker pretty quickly and there's no surefire solution at quarterback on the horizon.
The Bucs have rather quietly churned through four coaches -- Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith and Dirk Koetter -- since firing Jon Gruden at the end of the 2008 season. This is a tough spot because Jameis Winston is a former No. 1 pick attached to current GM Jason Licht but he only has one year left on his contract. Whoever takes over in Tampa will be expected to work with Jameis and figure out whether Jameis can be the future at the position, but only has one year of reasonable cost left, with Winston's fifth-year option in play for 2019. Mike Evans is a stud wide receiver and Chris Godwin could have a big breakout next year. Defensively there are some high draft picks and bigger name guys in place, but there's a lot of work to be done to improve. You could easily talk me into preferring Miami to this job if you wanted to, but I think you can win faster in Tampa and I trust Licht more to be aggressive in the offseason and add talent.
Perpetual purgatory here. The Dolphins are 72-88 with one playoff appearance since their last divisional title in 2008. The AFC East is hard, man. Firing Adam Gase after three years with a 10-win season for a team that has been terrible since Dan Marino left feels very premature. The Dolphins can save $13 million in cap space if they cut Ryan Tannehill this year, but might be willing to wait one more season given the lack of QB talent in the draft. There's some offensive line talent here, as well as some interesting skill-position guys (Kenny Stills, Kenyon Drake for example) and some potential studs on defense (Minkah Fitzpatrick, Xavien Howard). Being tied to Chris Grier, the GM who was just given the keys to the roster, is a plus because of the timing but I'm pretty sure Gase squeezed a lot more juice out of this orange than people realized. The division features two young potential franchise quarterbacks (Darnold, Josh Allen) and a pair of division-winning cyborgs (Tom Brady, Bill Belichick) who just won't go away.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
Easily the bottom gig, but primarily because of circumstances. The division is tough. Andy Dalton is ... there? A.J. Green is a stud, but he's aging. Same with Geno Atkins. No one knows what will happen with these defensive players now that Marvin Lewis is gone. Joe Mixon and William Jackson are young budding stars. John Ross can still breakout, dammit! Maybe I'm just ranking this job here because the specter of Hue Jackson lingers and I expect him to get the job. I'm dead serious about that. This is a better roster than the Dolphins and there's a quarterback in place, but if the Bengals WANT HUE JACKSON I can't be on board with this as a good job even though Cincy allowed Marvin Lewis to coach there for 16 years. Stability should count for something. If they publicly renounced Hue I might even move this job up to number six.
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