I was going to write this post Monday night to have it run on Tuesday morning, but when I sat down to begin tapping out the words, there had been no official resolution to the Indianapolis head coaching situation. Word throughout the afternoon was that Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was meeting with management in Indianapolis, and most of us assumed that it was to figure out exactly how to execute his termination. So I waited until it was official. Thankfully, I waited.
At about 10:00 p.m. Central Time, the Colts reversed field and announced a press conference in which they would be unveiling a four year contract extension for Chuck Pagano. Yes, Pagano went from "dead man walking" to "toast of the town" in just a few meetings on a Monday afternoon. I don't know what he said, but I need him with me when I negotiate my next contract.
And in what felt like one of those late night infomercials if you're a fan of other teams in the AFC South (WAIT! THERE'S MORE!), we all received the best gift we could possibly receive — the dysfunction that defined the last year in Indianapolis would live on! General Manager and resident buffoon Ryan Grigson is also getting a contract extension!
AMEN! HALLELUJAH!! It's a GREAT DAY to be anyone but Andrew Luck!!!
So with that, there remain only six head coaching positions open in the NFL, for now. The only one aside from these that is on shaky ground or that could open up is the New Orleans job, as clearly the Saints are shopping Sean Payton (and the two years remaining on his deal) around to cities to which Payton might be amenable to moving.
For now, here's how I would rank the six openings, in reverse order:
6. CLEVELAND BROWNS (3-13)
Draft slot: 2nd overall
DVOA: 30th overall (Off 27, Def 29, ST 15)
2016 Cap Space: $15,638,984
PROS: It's hard to find much to like about a job where the franchise has made one playoff appearance since returning to the league in 1999, and a place where quarterbacks go to die. I suppose having the second pick will allow a coach who likes Jared Goff or Paxton Lynch to take one of them (and allow them to die). Aside from that, Joe Thomas is a fantastic veteran leader, if he stays. Also, the fans, somewhat amazingly, still care deeply about this team. That's about it.
CONS: Where do we begin? First, you have to figure out what to do with this guy....
Then, you head into the season knowing that you have an owner with the patience of a toddler with a soiled diaper. You will be the fourth head coach in five years. Also, you'll be required to live in Cleveland. Hey look, there's a reason why the internet makes videos like this one about the Browns...
5. MIAMI DOLPHINS (6-10)
Draft slot: 8th overall
DVOA: 29th overall (Off 22, Def 25, ST 24)
2016 Cap Space: ($6,948,113)
PROS: Well, I suppose South Beach is nice. Also, you have one of the top five defensive forces in the league locked into a long-term deal in Ndamukong Suh. If you're an offensive guru, maybe, just MAYBE you can get something out of Ryan Tannehill. For your sake, you'd better.
CONS: Until Tom Brady and Bill Belichick both either retire or die, you're likely playing for a wild card spot every season. Also, the same defensive force you have under a long term deal is also a HUGE pain in the ass. Plus, the chances of getting Ryan Tannehill to play anywhere close to the level of the money he's getting is becoming more remote each season. Finally, on the list of things to do on weekends in the Miami area, your games currently rank 3,217th. Oh wait, also, you have literally no cap space right now. Chances are, you're gonna be cutting guys just to make cap. Good day, sir!
4. PHILADELPHIA (7-9)
Draft slot: 10th overall
DVOA: 22nd overall (Off 26, Def 17, ST 10)
2016 Cap Space: $16,128,900
PROS: Really, really passionate (possibly homicidal) fan base who give you a great home field advantage when things are gong well. Also, if you have people skills somewhere above those of a turnip, you'll feel like a breath of fresh air compared to the guy you're replacing.
CONS: You're going to have to undo a lot of what Chip Kelly has done, or just put a system in place that takes advantage of the pieces he signed. Like, you know, putting a quarterback under center and handing the ball off to DeMarco Murray at a normal backfield depth. This division is also harder than it looks on the surface, if Tony Romo comes back healthy next season.
3. SAN FRANCISCO (5-11)
Draft slot: 7th overall
DVOA: 32nd overall (Off 28, Def 27, ST 27)
2016 Cap Space: $38,420,332
PROS: Oodles of salary cap space and the seventh overall pick offer a chance for a makeover. Granted, it's a makeover that may take a couple years, but you should be able to draft the quarterback you want, if you want a quarterback. Also, you are bound to seem like the most charismatic person on earth walking around the building after following this guy as head coach....
CONS: The roster has been decimated by retirement and underperformance. Also, you might have to start Blaine Gabbert for a season, which is not good for anyone's longevity, as a head coach or human being. You're also working for one of the biggest clown shows at the ownership and general manager levels in the entire league. They ran off Jim Harbaugh, and promoted Jim Tomsula, which means that, in a weird way, you should feel terrible about yourself if they choose you.
2. NEW YORK GIANTS (6-10)
Draft slot: 13th overall
DVOA: 20th overall (Off 19, Def 30, ST 2)
2016 Cap Space: $34,307,100
PROS: Steady, solid, respected ownership. Veteran, accomplished quarterback already in place with playmakers to throw the ball to. It's a team that would have won the division if they could hold fourth quarter leads. The closest of all the teams on this list to competing for a playoff spot. Tons of cap space, too.
CONS: Eli Manning's contract really locks you in and attaches you to him, which is fine if he's playing well. But he's in his mid-30's and has as many bad days as good days, at this point. The defense is a mess, and its best player has three working fingers on his right hand. Forever.
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1. TENNESSEE (3-13)
Draft slot: 1st overall
DVOA: 31st overall (Off 32, Def 23, ST 28)
2016 Cap Space: $19,635,479
PROS: You have a franchise quarterback who just finished a solid (when healthy) rookie year, the first overall pick in the draft to get him protection and/or weapons, and you'll be playing in a division where every other team is dealing with some degree of major dysfunction — Indy and their coach/GM dynamic, Houston and their QB situation, and Jacksonville merely being the Jags. You are virtually guaranteed to be better than any of the guys the Titans have hired since Jeff Fisher left, and you may even be better than Jeff Fisher, who is the king of the 8-8 season.
CONS: No recent success to build on, the place is in need of a major culture shift. Also, Mariota's ability to stay healthy is a huge variable going forward. He's a dynamite player, who may have to adjust his style to stay on the field. There are almost no playmakers on this team right now for Mariota to hand or throw the ball to. Tight end Delanie Walker was their leading receiver in 2015. End of subject.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.