NFL head coaching vacancies, ranked: Jaguars, Chargers jockey for best available gig

Not all jobs are created equal.

As of Black Monday, the number of open head-coaching jobs across the NFL sat at six: the Jaguars, Jets, Lions, Texans, Falcons and Chargers will all be looking for new bosses come the 2021 season. The Eagles opened up their head coaching job a little bit later, firing Doug Pederson two weeks after Black Monday.

So which job is the best?

Truth is, there are no out-and-out bad open gigs in the NFL this offseason, which is good for prospective coaches. The bad news is that not all jobs are the best jobs: Personnel, draft status and picks, salary cap and front office situations all factor in to what makes a job appealing.

Take the Texans, for example: There are plenty of coaches around the league who would love to work with a talent like Deshaun Watson. But their cap situation and draft stock is less than impressive. It all requires context.

So, with interviews currently being conducted and requested by the six aforementioned franchises, here’s how the jobs break down:

All cap numbers projected via Spotrac.

7. Philadelphia Eagles

General manager: Howie Roseman
Projected cap space: ~$74,000,000
2021 NFL Draft picks: Seven

The Eagles surprisingly pulled the trigger on Doug Pederson two weeks after Black Monday, canning the Super Bowl-winning coach and turning the page on the Pederson era altogether.

Whoever is walking into the head-coaching gig with the Eagles is going to be in for a rough go: The team has a tough cap situation to navigate and has to put together a better defense. 

But more than anything, the new head coach is going to have to figure out what to do at the quarterback position: With this move potentially signaling the Eagles hitching their wagon to Carson Wentz, what becomes of Jalen Hurts? Do they move on from both? Who knows? Not a great situation to walk into, and by far the worst of any on the list.

6. Detroit Lions

General manager: Vacant
Projected cap space: ~$40,000,000
2021 NFL Draft picks: Five

The Lions are in a tricky spot as an organization: Matthew Stafford is reaching the back 9 of his career, they’ve got a nice chunk of cap space to work with and some key free agents to re-sign entering the offseason.

Stafford is the biggest question for the Lions heading into 2021: Will Detroit move on? Will they keep him around? Some would argue that Stafford’s best football is behind him, and should there be suitors for him, they could trade him or cut ties and endure a pretty hefty dead-cap number. 

The Lions have the No. 7 overall pick in the 2021 draft and could target any number of needs depending on that Stafford situation. The next head coach (and GM) is going to have his hands full trying to decide whether they’re coming or going in an NFC North that could go either way, too, in the coming years.

The Lions have more questions than answers, and while they have some key cogs in the machine, it’s probably the least appealing job on the market.

5. Atlanta Falcons

General manager: Vacant
Projected cap space: negative ~$24,000,000
2021 NFL Draft picks: 10

Matt Ryan is aging, but Atlanta may still be prepared to win right now, slipping them just slightly ahead of the Lions. The argument could be made for one or the other in the bottom spot, though.

The Falcons had a tendency of blowing games early in the season, and they did some good things under interim coach Raheem Morris, but not enough good things — ultimately finishing with a 4-12 record and looking like generally the same team they were under Dan Quinn earlier in the year.

Where the Falcons and the Lions differ, though, is draft position: The Lions finished with the No. 7 pick as opposed to the Falcons’ No. 4 pick, giving Atlanta a potential look at a QB early and giving a new head coach an option should Ryan not make the team in 2021 (he’ll make the team, though. Just look at the contract).

So the Falcons, loaded with some Day 3 NFL Draft picks, could be a contender sooner rather than later. But much like Detroit, the decision rests in the arm of the quarterback.

4. Houston Texans

General manager: Vacant
Projected cap space: negative ~$16,000,000
2021 NFL Draft picks: Eight

Unlike the Lions and Falcons, Houston doesn’t have a quarterback problem — but there are plenty of others to work through.

There’s no denying that Deshaun Watson has ascended to the top echelon of NFL quarterbacks, but the next head coach is going to have to wait a year for a first and second-round draft pick, which were sent to Miami in exchange for offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil. 

That said, Watson is an intriguing enough player given his standing as a top-five quarterback in the league right now, giving the next head coach a chance to build around everything else on the team. They’re just going to have their hands full trying to work without the premier, young, moldable talent from the draft. With some cap issues, they could move on from guys such as JJ Watt to alleviate the issue. Still, they can win now if the correct, precise moves are made to help complement Watson and fix everything else on the fly.

3. New York Jets 

General manager: Joe Douglas
Projected cap space: ~$68,000,000
2021 NFL Draft picks: Nine

An abundance of draft capital, the second-best cap situation in the league, a well-respected GM and a shot at a quarterback in the 2021 draft (Justin Fields?) all make the job more attractive than Twitter may have you believe. Also, with four first-round picks in the next two years, a new head coach will definitely have lots of young talent to help mold in the coming years.

The Jets are almost assuredly moving on from quarterback Sam Darnold, who was both a victim of circumstance and underachiever during his three years with New York, but a coach will have an opportunity to either try to fix Darnold (unlikely) or have his choice of QB2 in the 2021 draft.

The Jets are entering Phase 2 of their total rebuild, and the Darnold question is at the forefront. The issue with the Jets, though, is the offensive talent: A less-than-good O-line and questionable secondary are both key areas of improvement in the coming seasons. The ample amounts of draft capital and cap space could definitely help alleviate that and help shape the Jets of the future in the head coach’s vision.

2. Los Angeles Chargers

General manager: Tom Telesco
Projected cap space: ~$29,000,000
2021 NFL Draft picks: Eight

Somewhat shockingly, the Chargers are in a good spot as an organization: Justin Herbert looks to be a superstar in the making, the defense is above average, they have some cap space wiggle room and don’t have a lot of work to do to reinforce certain areas of the squad in 2021.

LA finished the season with four straight wins and lost a ton of close games in 2021 — seven of their nine losses came with one possession — and Anthony Lynn’s game and clock management skills left something to be desired. That won’t fly in 2021 with Herbert under center and a team that seems ready to compete.

Don’t be surprised if the Chargers turn it around quickly. The Chargers are a team that’s built to win now, and if Herbert continues to ascend in 2021 they’ll be ready to win now. They have plenty of offensive weaponry (Keenan Allen and Mike Williams lead the WR corps), and a secondary that, when healthy, is among the best in the league. They have some questions with the offensive line to hammer out, which will certainly be addressed this offseason as LA tries to protect its QB.

With the signal caller in place and the talent there, too, it is imperative for the Chargers to get this head-coaching hire right — and the list of interested suitors to work with Herbert and GM Tom Telesco will be long.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

General manager: Vacant
Projected cap space: ~$81,000,000
2021 NFL Draft picks: 10

The best available gig might not be available for long.

Urban Meyer is rumored to be the frontrunner for the Jags’ opening, leaving Jacksonville in a weird spot with coaching interviews: Meyer has reportedly told those around him that he believes the job is his for the taking, meaning that others need not apply.

While the rumored choice of Meyer is debatable, what’s not is how attractive the Jacksonville job is: The team has a Brinks truck fleet worth of cap space, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft (presumably to be used for quarterback Trevor Lawrence) and star players at various positions. An essentially blank slate for the incoming coach will be a dream — as long as ownership stays out of the way.

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