NFL Head Coach Openings: Ranking Five Current Landing Spots

Russell Wilson's Broncos are among the most intriguing


January 11

“Black Monday” in the NFL is behind us, and while it’s no certainty there will be just five head coaching openings this offseason, there’s enough to digest.

Longtime New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, specifically, seems to be one of the hottest candidates on the market. At least three of the five teams with openings — Broncos, Cardinals, Texans — have asked permission to speak with Payton, according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport. But Payton certainly won’t be alone. San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans figures to be a sought after first-time candidate while even Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh has been included in speculation.

Anyway, we’ve ranked the open positions from worst to first based on a number of criteria including draft picks, financial flexibly, ownership and current rosters.

Check it out:

5. Arizona Cardinals
Estimated cap space available, per Spotrac: $21.9 million
It feels like the Cardinals are entering a full-fledged rebuild. Arizona’s general manager stepped down and Kliff Kingsbury was fired. Kyler Murray, perhaps the only true franchise quarterback among teams that currently have an opening, is set to miss a majority of the 2023-23 season after tearing his ACL in mid-December. There are questions with Murray, too. Among them, will he be the same dual-threat signal-caller after tearing his ACL? Also, might Murray seek a trade if the Cardinals move on from All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins? Arizona reportedly is planning to trade Hopkins this offseason. We’ve also seen immaturity from Murray in the past. Arizona, which possesses the No. 3 overall pick, has its own draft assets along with finances to entice a coach, who could have more control considering the GM opening. But the Cardinals, in a NFC West seemingly controlled by the San Francisco 49ers and budding Seattle Seahawks group, might offer more questions than others.

4. Houston Texans
Estimated cap space available, per Spotrac: $41.8 million
Recently an organization of dysfunction, Houston could serve as an enticing option for a first-year head coach given the potential for a quick rebuild with the amount of draft capital. With the Deshaun Watson shadow dissipating, the Texans have five of the draft’s top 74 picks including Nos. 2, 12 and 34. If all goes well, Houston should be able to a get franchise quarterback and two impactful players with those selections. The Texans also have the most cap space of any team on this list. However, the temperament of owner Cal McNair — the Texans have fired two coaches in two years — might cause some to proceed wit caution. And besides a few players like cornerback Derek Stingley and running back Dameon Pierce, the Texans roster offers a lot to be desired.

3. Indianapolis Colts
Estimated cap space available, per Spotrac: $20.2 million
The Colts largely underwhelmed this season after entering the campaign favored to win the AFC South and make the playoffs. Instead, the post-Andrew Luck quarterback carousel in Indianapolis picked up and spit out Matt Ryan, the latest veteran signal-caller to look incapable. The limbo of general manager Chris Ballard is another aspect which makes this tricky. On the plus side, while the Colts have a major quarterback question to answer moving forward, there remains some optimism for Indianapolis. The Colts play in a division without a dominant team and still have plenty of talent including running back Jonathan Taylor, multi-time All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, linebacker Shaquille Leonard, All-Pro pass rusher DeForest Buckner and others. It’s arguably the best roster of any team with an opening. Additionally, the Colts have the No. 4 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft and all future first- and second-round picks through at least 2026. They also have a fair amount of Jim Irsay’s money to spend to offseason.

2. Carolina Panthers
Estimated cap space available, per Spotrac: $-5 million
Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks helped this look like a job with much more potential during the second half of the 2022 campaign, and it ultimately might land Wilks a contract. The Panthers have some legitimate studs on defense — cornerback Jaycee Horn, defensive tackle Derrick Brown, defensive end Brian Burns, linebacker Shaq Thompson, etc. — along with a true WR1 in D.J. Moore and other pieces. The Panthers don’t have as much money as others on this list, but might be a quarterback away with the No. 9 pick in the NFL Draft. They have three picks in the first two rounds this summer after trading Christian McCaffrey. Another unquestionable benefit for any new coach is that Carolina also might enter a wide-open NFC South as Tom Brady could leave Tampa Bay, along with rebuilds in New Orleans and Atlanta. The ability to win games right away is the easiest way for a new hire to stick around.

1. Denver Broncos
Estimated cap space available, per Spotrac: $10.3 million
Undoubtedly the biggest concern with this job is the contract of quarterback Russell Wilson. Denver gave Wilson some $245 million last offseason only for the signal-caller to be among the team’s biggest issues during the 2022-23 campaign. And the Broncos gave up their first- and second-rounders in 2023 to land Wilson, though got a first-rounder for Bradley Chubb. But if Wilson can rebound with an offensive-minded head coach, someone who gets him back to where he was, this is a far better situation. After all, the Broncos recently were purchased by the Walter-Penner ownership group, which now is the wealthiest group of owners in the league. They also have a ton of talent on the roster with Patrick Surtain II, Justin Simmons and Randy Gregory highlighting the defense along with Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Javonte Williams helping the Wilson-led offense. The AFC West will continue to feature two of the best quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, but it certainly didn’t live up to the hype from this past offseason. That’s a good thing for a new Broncos coach.

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