Black Monday in the NFL is over, and four head coaching positions have become available. While more vacancies could develop over the next week or so, it appears the market is set going into 2015.
With Rex Ryan, Mike Smith, Jim Harbaugh and Marc Trestman fired by the New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears, respectively, some of the flagship franchises in professional football are going to be conducting high-profile interviews. Throw in the Oakland Raiders, who fired Dennis Allen in October, and some marquee jobs are on the board. The process will likely take a week or two for these jobs to be filled, with organizations pouring over lists of potential replacements.
Which job is the best to take for a head-coaching hopeful? Which is the worst? Let’s break it down, from worst to best:
5. Oakland Raiders
This has been a black hole for coaches since Jon Gruden was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the 2002 season. Since then, eight men have been head coach and none for longer than 44 games. The Raiders have a promising young quarterback in Derek Carr and a stud linebacker in Khalil Mack, but that’s it.
For a coach to accept a position with Oakland, it is going to be a young coordinator wanting his first crack at it or a desperate old coach wanting one more chance. It’s not likely a top candidate would tie his reputation to the Raiders, a team that has failed to notch a winning record since 2002.
4. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons have terrific receivers and a solid quarterback, so there is a base to build around in that sense. Unfortunately, the roster is pretty bare everywhere else. The offensive line remains a question mark and the defense is horrific, ranking dead last in total yards allowed. Atlanta is not going to be an overnight fix, even with a strong offseason.
Still, the largest problem is general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Dimitroff was thought by many to be on the hot seat along with Smith this year. What happens if Atlanta goes 6-10 again in 2015? Does Dimitroff get fired? If he does, that means a new general manager and often, that means a new head coach. This has potential to be a one-and-done situation.
3. Chicago Bears
Chicago is a great city and the Bears have plenty of tradition. Offensively, Chicago has ample talent but a massive problem looming in quarterback Jay Cutler. Do the Bears somehow unload Cutler in the offseason via trade and start fresh, or does the new coach have to hope for the best with the former Vanderbilt star?
The defense is also a full-blown mess, with very little talent beyond Willie Young and Kyle Fuller. Chicago needs to rebuild that entire side of the ball and shuffle the offensive line, something that seems an issue every year.
2. New York Jets
This is not a terrible roster, despite its 4-12 record. Obviously, the huge issue is quarterback, where the answer is not on the team. Can the Jets convince the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Tennessee Titans to trade draft slots with them and take Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston? It would cost a ton, but it is the best hope of finding a signal-caller.
New York has ample cap space, projected to have just under $41 million, per Over The Cap. With that money, the Jets can attack weaknesses is the secondary and along the offensive line. If a quarterback can be found, New York is set up for a quick turnaround.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Despite having to fill Harbaugh’s considerably large shoes, the 49ers offer a terrific spot. It is rare when a team that has gone to the conference championship game three times in the previous four years has an opening, especially when the roster is still rife with talent. San Francisco is also a first-class organization and weather-wise, the Bay Area is tough to beat.
Whoever gets this job walks into a team loaded with stars like NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, and a young quarterback in Colin Kaepernick. The only downside is the lack of cap space and age in some position groups, but it’s a tremendous opportunity.