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Ranking NFL head-coach openings: Saints job shockingly opens up, Raiders remain top dog

Matt Johnson

The coaching carousel is active once more with NFL head-coach opening across the league as teams clean house with the hope of turning things around next season. While every job is an opportunity and serving as a head coach is a chance no one would pass on, some jobs are better than others.

There are a variety of factors that influence how the NFL head-coach openings are ranked. Most importantly is the quarterback position with coaching candidates prioritizing teams that have a long-term starter. But cap space, draft picks, location and ownership will all play an important role in determining which teams land the top NFL coaching candidates.

Let’s examine the best NFL head-coach openings avaialble this offseason.

Best NFL head-coach openings in 2022

1. Las Vegas Raiders

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Las Vegas Raiders
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The lone playoff team on this list, the Las Vegas Raiders will conduct a coaching search after they are eliminated from the playoffs. Rich Bisaccia will have a shot at keeping the job, but owner Mark Davis can almost certainly find a bigger name.

Derek Carr (98.4 passer rating 71-31 TD-INT ratio since 2019) is a quarterback a quality head coach can win with and he’s demonstrated tremendous on-field leadership. Surrounding Carr, the Raiders’ offense features Josh Jacobs, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow. An offensive-minded coach can easily make things work with that group. Now factor in the location, with free agents wanting to come to Las Vegas, plenty of cap space and the Raiders’ draft picks. Any hire will need to have some personality to fit in with Las Vegas, but the pieces are in place to win immediately.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars have a broad range in the rankings for NFL head-coach openings. Some view this as the worst vacancy in the NFL and there’s sound logic behind it. When multiple head coaches finish the year last in the NFL standings with the franchise getting the first pick in consecutive NFL Drafts, that says something about the organization. It also doesn’t help that Trent Baalke, who no one else in the NFL wants to work with, remains in the Jaguars’ front office.

With that acknowledged, there are extremely attractive elements to this job. While Trevor Lawrence struggled in his rookie season, nothing suggests it’s a work ethic or attitude issue and the talent isn’t questioned. A coach with a background in developing quarterbacks and tailoring an offense to fit his QB1’s strength will want to work with Lawrence.

But that’s not the only factor that will generate interest. The Jaguars are projected to have more than $50 million in cap space this offseason and Florida doesn’t have an income tax. Skill players on offense will sign with Jacksonville to be in a Lawrence-led offense while making tons of money. On the defensive side, Josh Allen and the No. 1 pick (Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux) can form a dangerous pass-rush combo. If that’s not enough, owner Shad Khan has displayed patience for coaches as long as they don’t violate NFL rules repeatedly.

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3. Denver Broncos

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Two factors prevent the Denver Broncos from being atop the list. First, there is uncertainty at the ownership level. While a sale is expected this year and Peyton Manning could get involved, there are no guarantees. While it’s only a small issue, potential coaching candidates will rightfully feel a little hesitant about joining a franchise in flux. Of course, the instability at quarterback is the bigger problem.

Denver first attempted to solve it by drafting Drew Lock, a quarterback handpicked by John Elway, which backfired. The Broncos also passed on Justin Fields in the 2021 NFL Drafted and settled for Teddy Bridgewater. It’s these decisions that played a significant role in Vic Fangio delivering three losing seasons. While the Broncos could easily address the issue this spring, there will be a lot of competition for the best quarterbacks.

Taking quarterback out of the evaluation, this becomes No. 1 among NFL head-coach openings. Javonte Williams, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and Noah Fant give Denver one of the best offensive skill groups in the NFL. The Broncos are also projected to have $37 million in cap space this spring, which could strengthen the defense.

The Broncos don’t have to narrow their focus on an offensive-minded coach, they can go in any direction. If the right hire is made and this team upgrades at quarterback, we’re looking at one of the best AFC teams in 2022.

4. Chicago Bears

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
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We’ll start with the positives. Justin Fields showed flashes of being a franchise-caliber quarterback in his rookie season, displaying the type of talent that makes him the focal point of a great offense. Even more importantly, he made strides as a passer and adjusted to defenses as the season went on. Chicago’s offense also features running back David Montgomery and promising receiver Darnell Mooney. That’s not enough, but $30-plus million in cap space allows the Bears to bring in a top receiver or offensive lineman.

Now, for the bad. Chicago doesn’t have a 2022 first-round pick and while that cost can be justified if Fields delivers on his potential, it’s still a negative. This also isn’t a spot where a new coach can win right away as the Green Bay Packers own the NFC North and the Bears haven’t won a playoff game since 2010.

The right head coach can unlock Fields’ talent, creating an exciting offense that a passionate fan base will fall in love with. But there’s plenty of work to be done in Chicago and NFL teams are being less patient with coaches these days.

5. New Orleans Saints

NFL: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

After 16 seasons in the Bayou, the legendary Sean Payton has called it quits. In shocking news, Payton has informed the Saints he’s stepping away from his role.

Thus, starts a major changing of the landscape in New Orleans less than a calendar year after future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees retired.

This comes after the Saints’ first non-playoff season since all the way back in 2016 and will force general manager Mickey Loomis to chart a new path forward. With that said, the Saints are still a pretty darn attractive destination for potential head coach candidates. That includes current offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.

New Orleans boasts a nice amount of talent on both sides of the ball, including star running back Alvin Kamara and a great offensive line. Defensively, Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore lead a group that ranked fourth in the NFL in points against this past season. With a ton of recent success and an attractive host city, the Saints will be a nice potential landing spot.

6. Minnesota Vikings

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings will be a fascinating team to watch this offseason. Firing both head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman indicates there’s at least a possibility of a small rebuild. If that’s the case, a Kirk Cousins trade becomes inevitable and that leaves a new coach starting fresh with either a rookie quarterback from a shaky 2022 NFL Draft class, Kellen Mond or a stop-gap solution until the 2023 draft class arrives.

Minnesota could hire an experienced head coach, like Brian Flores, and stick by Cousins at quarterback. The right leader and in-game coach could turn things around quickly for a team that lost a lot of one-score games this year. But there’s a problem. The Vikings are already over the 2022 salary cap and there are some pressing needs on the roster. If Minnesota just barely misses the playoffs, Cousins walks in free agency and then a true rebuild likely begins.

There’s a lot of appeal in coaching an offense with Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. But facing Aaron Rodgers twice a year, overcoming spending limitations and a flawed quarterback counters some of that.

7. New York Giants

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

One might figure that the Giants existing in the nation’s largest media market might be a great draw. That’s until we realize this team has put up five consecutive losing seasons while boasting a combined 22-59 record during that span.

With Daniel Jones struggling, the Giants lack a true franchise quarterback. They just fired head coach Joe Judge after two seasons and saw general manager David Gettleman retire. In short, these Giants are an absolute mess.

On the other hand, New York does have two first-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft (both slated to be in the top eight). A young head coach starting anew with a respected general manager could make this a draw. Having some control over player personnel would also loom large.

8. Miami Dolphins

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

When a head coach is fired and many around the NFL are baffled by the decision, that raises red flags for potential candidates. Granted, many around the league are used to team owner Stephen Ross making bad decisions. It’s because of Ross and concerns about Tua Tagovailoa that the Miami Dolphins are at the bottom of the list.

Flores was no longer sold on Tagovailoa after two seasons, believing he held the Dolphins back from reaching their potential. Based on how the second-year quarterback performed, shying away from deep passes and playing ultra-conservative football, Flores is likely right. But Ross chose Tagovailoa and that’s a major warning sign for potential coaches.

The right quarterback whispered, paired with an upgraded offensive line, could help Tagovailoa improve in 2022. But even in that scenario, Ross hangs over this franchise. Because of his desire to have significant input on crucial football decisions and a history of bad management, this is the least desirable job out there. The truth is, the Dolphins might have been better off keeping Flores and trading Tagovailoa.

9. Houston Texans

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Houston Texans
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

What an absolute dumpster fire the Texans have become under owner Cal McNair. They boast the least-talented roster in the NFL and are without star quarterback Deshaun Watson. Despite this, David Culley was able to keep this team somewhat competitive during an otherwise lost 2021 season. His reward? Being used as the full guy and tossed out like trash after just one season.

Qualified head coach candidates are going to want to take a step back when considering interviewing with the Texans. Most thought that the issues were led by former head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien before he was fired late in the 2020 season.

That’s obviously not the case. The problems in Houston are wide spread, and start right at the top. This is the least-attractive NFL head coach opening in eons. Period!