Eric Edholm: Ranking the 6 head-coaching vacancies
My criteria for best head-coaching jobs might be a little different than others. Like Bill Parcells, I am not super worried if the talent is a bit bare on the roster. Quarterback obviously is a major consideration. But you can build a good pool of players quicker than you think, assuming the salary cap is not in disastrous shape. These are the criteria that the Josh McDaniels and Pat Shurmurs of the NFL, candidates with multiple head-coaching interviews, will be considering carefully.
The biggest attractiveness factors for me are the franchise’s owner and how patient and hands-off they are; a team’s willingness to spend money, and not just on players; the franchise tradition and fan support; how progressive the franchise is and how solid the foundation is, even in non-football respects; and — this might be as important as any of them — a personnel department and general manager who share a similar team-building vision as the head coach (which obviously varies by candidate).
With that said, here are the most attractive jobs in my view, in reverse order:
6. Arizona Cardinals
Carson Palmer has retired, there’s no QB under contract for next season and the team is picking 15th in Round 1 — not exactly ideal for landing his successor. They might have to go the veteran QB route to buoy things. Larry Fitzgerald could be the next to go. There’s a strong talent base on defense, plus RB David Johnson (who needs a new contract), so the cupboard isn’t bare by any means, but this roster is old and very much in need of some turnover. Additionally, the Bidwill family isn’t always regarded as the most progressive or aggressive ownership group in football, even though landing Bruce Arians and GM Steve Keim were strong moves.
5. Chicago Bears
Without the team trading for QB Mitch Trubisky, this job ranks lower. Sure, it has strong support in the city and a tradition among the best in football. There are expansion plans at the facility and a weight room that ranks among the best. The owner, Virginia McCaskey, is hands-off. But there are worries about the power structure below the owner, and GM Ryan Pace — even with a contract extension — must continue proving he can build a roster. This is the fourth-best team in the division until further notice. There’s ample work to be done.
4. New York Giants
The tradition of the franchise is excellent, and the bones of the organization are in good shape. New GM Dave Gettleman comes in with a lot to prove after some strong moves but also some missteps in Carolina. There’s also the question of Eli Manning and his future with the team, as well as with some locker-room issues that must be worked out before the team can progress. But there’s a high pick that might land a potential successor to Manning, and there remains good talent on the roster. It’s a good job, but John Mara and Steve Tisch’s once-strong reputations took a bit of a hit from the time Tom Coughlin left through when the Ben McAdoo mess unfolded.
3. Oakland Raiders
There are reasons to hedge here … and there’s also a reason Jon Gruden would consider leaving the booth for this gig. Derek Carr might have struggled in 2017, but he could be special again. The prospect of Las Vegas in a few years is scary but potentially game-changing, too. Mark Davis might not be the league’s steadiest owner, but someone such as Gruden could manipulate him properly. There’s a strong tradition and fan base, even with the looming move. Sure, this is a financially shaky franchise, but there’s also talent to win in time. No state taxes in Nevada is a sneaky-good perk and a potential recruiting chip for free agents.
2. Indianapolis Colts
I debated this one hard. With a healthy Andrew Luck, they could be first. If Luck is damaged goods, it might be closer to the bottom. But GM Chris Ballard is a gem, we believe, and has the right vision and mentality to oversee a full rebuild. The foundation with a good 2017 draft haul seems to display that. Ballard also made smart free-agent additions last year and they have a mountain of cap space — more than $80 million projected. Ownership is a big question, as Jim Irsay has been a bit erratic, even if some suggest that Carlie Irsay-Gordon is becoming the point person there quietly. We’ll bet on a healthy Luck and sign off on this job.
1. Detroit Lions
They have a franchise QB, an apparently smart and progressive GM in Bob Quinn and good bones — an excellent stadium and solid facility. The talent on the roster is not bad at all, Matthew Stafford won’t turn 30 until next month, and there’s plenty of cap room to do the work that’s needed. This team has made the postseason twice in the past four years, just missed it this season, and though it’s a tough division, the Lions could win right away next season with a few adjustments. Jim Caldwell wasn’t fired for not winning games. He was let go for not winning big games.