Sean Pendergast

Black Monday Analysis: Ranking the NFL Head Coach Openings

Baker Mayfield makes the Browns job a really good opening.
Baker Mayfield makes the Browns job a really good opening. Photo by Eric Sauseda
For 12 teams, the 2018 NFL season rolls on into the postseason. The playoffs are here, and for the third time in four seasons, the Houston Texans are a part of it. Fun times! However, across the other 20 franchises in the league, decisions are being made on how to move forward in order to become one of the teams still playing in early January, and if everything breaks right, hoisting a Lombardi Trophy in early February.

For some of those postseason non-qualifiers, it means patience with the head coach, patience with the general manager, and adhering to some semblance of a building process. However, typically for about a quarter of the league, it means a change in on-field leadership, and sure enough the axes came down in full force yesterday. Six head coaches were fired on Monday, a half dozen added to the openings already created in Green Bay and Cleveland earlier in the regular season.

So, as teams begin their searches for the next head man, and knowing that more guillotines could still come slicing down this week (Atlanta, maybe?), let's rank the eight current vacancies, and let's do so based on the single most important element to a head coach's longevity — the presence of a franchise quarterback. Some of these eight openings have found their guy, some of them still need to find their guy. Some are positioned better than others to do so, based on draft position and salary cap situations.

So let's stack them up....

8. MIAMI DOLPHINS (7-9, Adam Gase)
CURRENT QB: Ryan Tannehill
QB CONTRACT SITUATION (Spotrac): In 2019, Tannehill represents a $26.6 million cap hit, with a $13.4 million dead money hit if they release or trade him
 $20.0 million (26th)
2019 NFL DRAFT SLOT: 13th overall
I'd be somewhat surprised if the Dolphins continued to try to ride Ryan Tannehill. He can't stay healthy, and when he is healthy, he's just not very good. The roster overall here is kind of a mess, too, with very little cap space, and a team that probably overachieved just to get to 7-9 last season. I didn't think Tase did a terrible job, honestly. If you take this job, you're the fourth head coach this decade, and you have no quarterback solution in a year where the QB draft class seems down compared to previous seasons.

7. CINCINNATI BENGALS (6-10, Marvin Lewis)
CURRENT QB: Andy Dalton
QB CONTRACT SITUATION (Spotrac): Dalton has no dead money or guaranteed money left on his deal. The Bengals can plot seamlessly, if they choose
 $54.2 million (10th)
2019 NFL DRAFT SLOT: 11th overall
Well, I guess the good news here is, if you get hired, you should get 16 seasons, at least, to try to win a playoff game (what up, Marvin Lewis?). The Bengals have probably maxed out what they can do with Andy Dalton, and ejecting from him costs nothing. The reason it's rated this low? It's the freaking Bengals.

6. DENVER BRONCOS (6-10, Vance Joseph)
CURRENT QB: Case Keenum
QB CONTRACT SITUATION (Spotrac): Keenum would represent a $21 million cap hit in 2019, and it would cost $10 million in cap space to eject from his deal.
 $44.6 million (12th)
2019 NFL DRAFT SLOT: 9th overall
I think there's little to no chance a new head coach comes in and has Case Keenum eating up over $20 million in cap space to be this team's quarterback, but maybe they use him as a veteran bridge (with a little contract re-work) to drafting a guy. The problem for the Broncos is twofold — like other QB-hungry teams, this is not a great QB draft, and secondly, John Elway has not exactly distinguished himself in evaluating young talent (Paxton Lynch, anyone?) the last few years.

5. ARIZONA CARDINALS (3-13, Steve Wilks)
CURRENT QB: Josh Rosen
QB CONTRACT SITUATION (Spotrac): Heading into Year Two of his four year (plus fifth year option) of his rookie deal
2019 SALARY CAP SPACE (Rank): $70.0 million (6th)
2019 NFL DRAFT SLOT: 1st overall
The quality of this gig is almost entirely based on how a head coach feels about Rosen. Having the first overall pick (and picking first in every round) should bring a good building block. I think this, like the Jets and Browns, needs to be an innovative, offensive head coach. Wilks was a disaster.

4. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (5-11, Dirk Koetter)
CURRENT QB: Jameis Winston
QB CONTRACT SITUATION (Spotrac): $20.9M fifth year option
$15.1 million (29th)
2019 NFL DRAFT SLOT: 5th overall
I still think there may be something there with Jameis Winston, so it comes down to the question "Does a head coach believe he can rehab Winston, on and off the field, to where he lives up to the glimpses we've seen of No. 1 overall pick potential?" The good news is he's going to be on a one year deal, so you can eject and find a guy in 2020, if you show yourself to be a logical leader of men, at least, in 2019.

3. NEW YORK JETS (4-12, Todd Bowles)
CURRENT QB: Sam Darnold
QB CONTRACT SITUATION (Spotrac): Heading into Year Two of his four year (plus fifth year option) of his rookie deal
 $106.6 million (2nd)
2019 NFL DRAFT SLOT: 3rd overall
Sam Darnold started to play better football in the second half of the season, and appears to have the makings of a quarterback who can become the best QB in this division once Tom Brady decides to hang it up (sometime in the 2030s, probably). The Jets have a top three pick to get Darnold a weapon or a left tackle, and a ton of cap space.

2. GREEN BAY PACKERS (6-9-1, Mike McCarthy/Joe Philbin interim)
CURRENT QB: Aaron Rodgers
QB CONTRACT SITUATION (Spotrac): Rodgers just signed a four year extension (over $30 million per year), and his cap hit doesn't exceed his dead money hit until after the 2020 season.
 $37.6 million (17th)
2019 NFL DRAFT SLOT: 12th overall
This one is tricky. On the one hand, you have the most talented quarterback of this generation, still with some juice, under center. On the other hand, he is 35 years old, I'm not sure how much of that juice is left, and you're contractually married to him until he's 38. The overall roster is also as bad as it's been during Rodgers' era as QB. Still, you have Rodgers, and with a good draft and some savvy moves, you might be able to steal a few deep playoff runs early on in your tenure.

1. CLEVELAND BROWNS (7-8-1, Hue Jackson/Gregg Williams interim)
Baker Mayfield
QB CONTRACT SITUATION (Spotrac): Heading into Year Two of his four year (plus fifth year option) of his rookie deal
$80.6 million (4th)
17th overall
This one is pretty easy — tons of draft equity, tons of cap space, Baker Mayfield on a rookie contract, a hot finish to 2018 (5-2 in final seven games), and a rabid fan base. Ownership seems to have figured out they need to leave the team building to the adults. This is the best job opening.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast