NFL News & Analysis

Power ranking the NFL head coaching vacancies

Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) talks in a huddle during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

• Broncos with Russell Wilson provide attractive job: Yes, Wilson didn't look like himself in 2022, but Denver is a talented team overall with an established quarterback who could return to form.

• Texans' come in at No. 3 with second overall pick: Houston missed out on the top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but the team is still in position to upgrade at quarterback.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins

There are five NFL head coach jobs open after the 2022 regular season, and their respective teams are busy conducting interviews in a thorough search to fill them. By definition, if a team has fired its coach, things have not gone well, but the five vacancies span a pretty wide spectrum of attractiveness to any prospective candidate.

Let’s rank them in order of desirability for a head coach.

1. Denver Broncos

Theoretically, the best available job is also possibly a poisoned chalice. One of the biggest determining factors in whether a job is attractive to a new head coach is what the quarterback situation looks like. Denver has Russell Wilson — one of the best quarterbacks of the past decade — only the version we saw of him last season didn’t look near the same player.

Wilson posted a 66.2 PFF grade in his first year in Denver, ranking 26th in the NFL. That put him behind players like rookie Kenny Pickett and fell almost 10 grading points lower than his previous career-worst mark. Considering Wilson's unique play style and age (34 years old), a new coach has to be very confident in their game plan to recapture Wilson’s old magic and turn things around. 

Denver still has an impressive array of talent, much of which was injured in 2022, and their defense was one of the best in football this year. The pieces are there for this team to contend quickly as long as the Wilson Express can be put back on the rails.

As an added benefit, the Broncos are also now owned by the Walton family, meaning their ownership is the richest in the NFL by an order of magnitude. This has obvious personal financial benefits to any new coach but also opens up the possibility that they will be prepared to outspend other teams in areas that aren’t restricted by a salary cap to gain an edge — for example, the broader coaching and support staff.

2. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts don’t have any quarterback to speak of — all three they used this season were various shades of disastrous — but they have the next best thing: a high draft pick to select one.

The Colts currently sit with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft thanks to interim head coach Jeff Saturday’s seven-game losing streak to end the season. They also caught a break with the division rival Houston Texans taking themselves out of the No. 1 overall spot, opening up the potential of a trade for that selection with Chicago.

Owner Jim Irsay showed immense frustration this season and has been on the veteran quarterback carousel for a few years now, likely giving him all the motivation he needs to sanction an aggressive move in the draft if the Colts fall in love with any of the quarterbacks available.

As much as things fell apart this season, general manager Chris Ballard has made a lot of good moves in his time with the Colts as a personnel guy. Any new coach should have reasonable confidence that they can rebuild the overall talent level of the roster around a new quarterback.

3. Houston Texans

Any new coach signing on to the Texans project needs to be convinced of the stability of what’s already in place. Like Indianapolis, Houston doesn't have a quarterback but is positioned to draft one. The franchise is much further behind when it comes to the overall quality of the roster, and there were very unexpected rumors that general manager Nick Caserio’s job was not safe after the regular season, putting him firmly on the hot seat heading into next year.

The last thing any new head coach wants is his general manager getting fired one year into his tenure — whether or not he gets fired along with him — because it just blows up everything that was being built.

There are a few pieces in place, such as elite left tackle Laremy Tunsil, but the Texans need to improve the talent level of the roster with several significant moves for this team to be competitive. They are the furthest away from competitiveness of any of the available jobs, so long-term security is key to this opening's attractiveness.

4. Carolina Panthers

Carolina looked hopeless at one point in the season, but Steve Wilks did an excellent job as interim head coach — and deserves serious consideration for the full-time position — but the Panthers are in a very tough spot at the most important position in the game.

Baker Mayfield was a disaster for them at quarterback in an offense that was barely functional. His 52.2 PFF grade during his time in Carolina was more than 10 grading points lower than his previous career worst, which came last season in Cleveland when he had a torn shoulder to explain it. The Panthers ended up releasing him and falling back on Sam Darnold, who had previously failed as a trade acquisition.

Darnold showed just enough potential to suck some back into the idea that he could finally become the player he was supposed to be, but relying on it going forward feels like madness given the number of previous false dawns in his career.

The issue the Panthers have is available alternatives. Matt Corral, a rookie third-round pick in 2022, missed all season with an injury and can’t be expected to contribute anything, and the team picks only at No. 9 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft

Maybe that will be enough to get them a rookie they are comfortable with, or maybe they will have to be the team that rolls the dice on the likes of Derek Carr as a reclamation project via trade.

Whatever path the Panthers take, it feels like their standing at the most important position will be a potential weakness.

5. Arizona Cardinals

On the surface, the Cardinals are in a good position relative to some other teams. They have Kyler Murray — a former No. 1 overall draft pick — at quarterback, and he has already shown elite play in stretches and earned himself a big-money second contract.

They are also a year removed from the playoffs and a sequence of improving seasons under Kliff Kingsbury.

The problem is all of that fell apart in a matter of weeks and Kingsbury was fired a year into a huge contract extension. That’s just bad process on the face of it, and there is enough chatter about how diligently Murray handles his role at quarterback to make any prospective new coach nervous.

Similar to Russell Wilson, Murray’s stature means he has to play the game in a unique way; he can’t just be plugged into any offense and expected to run it the same way as taller quarterbacks who have a vastly different view of the field on any given dropback. Murray needs an offense built around his unique skill set, and he needs to be the leader that he is being paid to be.

If a coach convinces themselves that he is, in fact, that guy, then this job opening is significantly more attractive than it initially appears.

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