It's going to be another big year for the NFL's annual coaching carousel. There are already three jobs currently held by interim head coaches. There could be as many as seven more job openings by the time Black Monday bleeds into next Tuesday.
This being the NFL, many of those jobs will go to the league's usual underwhelming list of names. The great football meritocracy rolls on! But this list isn't concerned with finding the next crop of Jeff Fishers and Ken Whisenhunts. What we're trying to accomplish here is a look at which job openings are the most desirable based on a handful of factors like whether or not the team has an established quarterback, the cap situation and ownership.
Ownership is really the biggest factor here. Most of the teams on list feature owners with various faults that translate to how their team is run on a day-to-day basis. In some cases, like New Orleans or Tennessee, the uncertainty of the ownership situation could give a potential candidate pause. In the worst cases, like Cleveland or San Francisco, the guy is going to have a deal with a rash billionaire who lacks football sense as much as they do patience.
1. New York Giants
2016 cap space: $36.3 million
Ownership situation: Solid
This looks like a dream job compared to the rest of the list. Eli Manning isn't getting any younger, but there's a Super Bowl-winning starting quarterback in place, and a star wide receiver still on his rookie deal. Other parts of the roster need work, but with that kind of cap space, there's flexibility to make some moves in the offseason.
Whether or not general manager Jerry Reese goes depends on which report you read last. Big Blue would be a nice landing place for a new GM, too. As long as the coach and GM can get along, they've got supportive ownership, which is more than you can say for the rest of the teams on this list. Oh, and the division looks wide open for 2016 and beyond.
The only downside is a fickle media market, especially now that the Jets don't have dysfunction spilling out from the cracks in the locker room walls to distract the tabloids.
2. Tennessee Titans
2016 cap space: $19.9 million
Ownership situation: In flux
It's not often a new head coach arrives to find a franchise quarterback in the second year of his rookie deal, at least one with his knees relatively intact. Besides Marcus Mariota, the Titans have a decent nucleus of talent on the roster, none of whom are scheduled to be free agents next year, but there are a lot of holes in the roster around that handful of blue-chip players. They have the cap room to add key piece or two and shore up the depth chart. Releasing safety Michael Griffin could add another $6.5 million to the pile. The Titans are expected to replace GM Ruston Webster, and the right GM/coach combo could put this team on the fast track to relevancy.
A franchise quarterback, cap space, most likely the first overall pick in the draft, it sounds like the perfect situation to land in for any head coach. What could undermine all that is the team's ownership situation. If the heirs to Bud Adams don't sell, a factionalized group could leave the team could still be directionless at the highest levels. A new owner may very well sweep in to buy the team in 2016, but there's no guarantee the new boss would be any better (remember when Jimmy Haslam was just the man the Browns needed?).
3. Detroit Lions
2016 cap space: $19.4 million
Ownership situation: Bad ass
Martha Ford isn't going to suffer fools. So if the Lions do replace Jim Caldwell the new coach will have a brand new football operations staff to work with, one that knows that they're going to be held accountable for their work.
Deals for Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson account for more than 30 percent of the cap. However, Stafford's deal isn't any more burdensome than the typical quarterback contract and it's too soon to start thinking about making Megatron a cap casualty. As long as they don't hire a coach who puts his system above everything rather than work with the players he has.
It's not a quick turnaround. The Lions are a year or two away from matching up with the Packers or even the Vikings, but thanks to a more committed owner and the pieces that are in place, Detroit wouldn't be a bad place to be a head coach.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
2016 cap space: $17.7 million
Ownership situation: Fine
The good news is that it'd be hard to have fans, players and everyone else inside the organization as pissed off at you as they were at Chip Kelly. The bad news is you have to clean up a real mess that Chip Kelly the general manager left here.
Having Howie Roseman back on top of the power structure helps. He did a pretty good job of taking care of the Eagles' cap in the wake of that 2011 "Dream Team" fiasco. Maybe Roseman and the new GM can rework some of the bulky contracts, starting with the disastrous Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray deals, to free up some more space to take care of needs on the offensive line, all over the defense, etc. Oh, there's also the little matter of finding a quarterback. Mark Sanchez is still under contract for 2016, but ... re-signing Sam Bradford wouldn't be especially advisable either.
5. San Diego Chargers
2016 cap space: $30.6 million
Ownership situation: Distracted
Have you always wanted to live in Los Angeles? Well then, have we got a job for you! The Chargers' relocation isn't a done deal yet, but it's probably more certain than Mike McCoy keeping his job. Philip Rivers apparently made peace enough with it all to sign a contract extension in the preseason, so at least the new guy doesn't have to go looking for a quarterback. The Chargers also figure to get some natural improvement just because their injury luck isn't likely to be as devastating as it was this year.
There's plenty of cap space to chase big fish in March. However, about $12 million of that total is coming from offensive stalwarts Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates, both free agents after this season. Those two won't be easy to replace, but it's probably time.
The Spanos boys once employed Norv Turner for six seasons, and they've been notoriously slow to drop the ax on mediocre coaching. A new guy might see an advantage in their patience. Then again, a move to Los Angeles might bring much higher expectations.
6. New Orleans Saints
2016 cap space: -$5.8 million
Ownership situation: Distracted
Another likely job opening, another franchise suffering from a leadership vacuum. Notice a trend here? Fortunately for the next guy, as Sean Payton's tenure can attest, ownership doesn't meddle in the day-to-day work of building and running a football team. But there is A LOT of work to do.
The first question, the biggest one that has to be answered, is what to do about Drew Brees. His contract eats up 20 percent of the cap next season, and he'll be 37. Cut him and his $30 million cap hit becomes $10 million in dead money, but life without a quarterback is rough and there still won't be enough money to bring in a stopgap player or two for other spots on the roster. Brees' deal isn't even the most burdensome contract on the books (that honor goes to safety Jairus Byrd, who would cost more to release than keep next season). They can nickel and dime their way to more cap space by cutting some dead weight like Dannell Ellerbe and C.J. Spiller, but there just aren't any shortcuts to rebuilding this team.
7. Indianapolis Colts
2016 cap space: $18.5 million
Ownership situation: Woozy
Like any 7-8 team, the roster needs work, but it's not terrible. They have two of the most important cornerstones for building a winner: A franchise quarterback and a top wide receiver. But the top offseason priority will be getting an extension for Andrew Luck, who's in the fifth-year option of his rookie deal. That's not going to be cheap and will bleed into decisions about whether or not they keep scheduled free agents like Coby Fleener or Adam Vinatieri.
They could free up nearly $12 million in cap space by releasing a pair of free agent disappointments, Andre Johnson and Trent Cole. Whether or not that can happen depends largely on Ryan Grigson's fate with the team.
The current general manager is the Colts' biggest problem. Luck's play hid the results of bad drafts, terrible trades and costly free agent acquisitions until this season. Worse, we learned last week, thanks to a well-timed news dump from someone in Chuck Pagano's camp, that Grigson meddles where he shouldn't, reportedly even insisting that the team play Trent Richardson just to save face.
If Jim Irsay doesn't get rid of Grigson, it's hard to think the roster is going to get fixed. Worse, any struggles on the field are going to land whoever takes this job in the same position that Pagano's in now right in the crosshairs of the general manager and an owner who's basically the NFL's version of the Affluenza Teen.
8. Miami Dolphins
2016 cap space: -$6.4 million
Ownership situation: Absentee
Whoever they hire better think highly of Ryan Tannehill, because they're going to be stuck with him for at least one more season. Tannehill divides armchair analysts and football minds alike, but it's still a better QB situation than a lot of other places in the NFL.
The cap situation is rough. Some house cleaning -- starting with players like Brent Grimes, Dion Jordan and Greg Jennings -- can provide some immediate relief. But the Dolphins aren't, or shouldn't, be doing much free agent shopping in 2016 anyway.
Owner Stephen Ross fired Joe Philbin via phone earlier this season and seems to be one of the least engaged owners in the entire league. That effectively makes the Dolphins Mike Tannenbaum's team, which also makes those rumors about Chuck Pagano and Sean Payton as potential coaches seem overly optimistic. There's also the little matter of trying to unseat the Patriots from their role as perennial division leader.
9. San Francisco 49ers
2016 cap space: $39.2 million
Ownership situation: Over-involved
I don't know, it's going to be hard to fill Jim Tomsula's duct-taped shoes. Winning a lot of games didn't actually work out very well for the guy before Tomsula, and GM Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York chose loyalty over experience, competence and anything else that you'd generally look for in a head coach. So probably not a great place to work, as the 49ers' last coaching search proved.
As for roster building, cap space isn't a problem. That's good because the team has a lot of holes to fill thanks to last summer's rash of retirements. You've also got a quarterback on the roster, Colin Kaepernick, but it doesn't sound like he'll be there after March. The 49ers will at least get a high draft pick that could be used for a quarterback.
10. Cleveland Browns
2016 cap space: $16 million
Ownership situation: Meddlesome and angry
If Mike Pettine gets the boot -- and all signs are still pointing toward that happening -- Jimmy Haslam will be hiring the Browns' fourth head coach since he bought the team in 2012. That's almost as many coaches as starting quarterbacks, almost.
The quarterback question tops the list for the next coach and/or general manager, too. Johnny Manziel has improved, without much help from an offense thin on quality players. More than anything, he needs an organization with the patience to develop him, something he's not apt to get from the Browns. Ownership seems more committed to Manziel than the current coaching staff, but Haslam isn't just going to idle through the ups and downs that come with developing talent at the position.
The next general manager has an even bigger job cleaning up the mess made by Ray Farmer (assuming Farmer gets 86'd as well). A series of misses with early draft picks and free agent moves like signing Dwayne Bowe left the Browns in the status quo among the league's worst teams. They need help all over the roster. There's no quick turnaround, but good luck explaining that to a trigger-happy owner.
If he can stand to stick around, the Browns might as well keep Pettine because they'll have a hard time finding anyone better given the no-win situation there.
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SB Nation presents: A timeline of the Browns' dysfunctional Week 17