Disclaimer: I’ve included the Dallas Cowboys vacancy on the list with the anticipation of it being added to the list of head coach openings.
This is a playoff worthy roster, especially on offense, which is good enough (on paper) to win a championship. America’s Team has a top tier wide receiver and elite running back in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott.
Whilst opinion is divided on Dak Prescott, he has shown significant growth and certainly established himself as a franchise quarterback who can win games. The offense is powered by a dominant line which creates those running lanes for the hard nosed Elliott whilst also excelling in pass protection.
An abundance of resources. Owner Jerry Jones is desperate for another Lombardi Trophy. That means he’s going to throw everything he’s got at this roster. The Cowboys already have league leading facilities and Jones will be willing to pay the big bucks to keep his Millennial Triplets around.
Having said that, Jones is one of the more ‘involved’ owners in the league, and that’s putting it kindly. He’s constantly involved in team affairs and as evidenced on Amazon Prime’s ‘All or Nothing’, will sit in on coaching meetings. That’s unlikely to appeal to a head strong and veteran coaching candidate. Having said that, could he be willing to take more of a hands off approach given how that has clearly backfired when it came to Jason Garrett?
The defense is going to need some retooling. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith comprise an elite and youthful linebacking tandem. However team sack leader Robert Quinn (11.5 sacks this season) and the team’s best defensive back, Byron Jones, are both free agents this offseason though funds for them are likely to be taken up by extensions for Cooper and Prescott. Picking at 17th overall in the draft, the top prospects at those two positions are likely to be gone, though the franchise has plenty of draft resources to dedicate to the defensive side of the ball.
A forward thinking and patient new team owner who is willing to invest. David Tepper is the latest addition to the pantheon of NFL franchise owners and has shown he’s not a trigger happy, impatient suit during his time in the league so far. He gave ex head coach Ron Rivera another year in charge after a disappointing first season for Tepper resulted in the team missing out on the playoffs. He’s also investing in the team by building new training facilities. That might seem a given, but in a league built on parity, coaches will seek any edge they can.
A core of some of the best young players in the league. Running back Christian McCaffrey has already proven himself as one of the most dynamic players in the league with 1,387 rushing yards this year to go with 1,005 receiving yards. Oh and not forgetting his 19 total touchdowns. He’s joined on offense by receiver D.J. Moore who put up 1,175 receiving yards in his second season in the league. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is amongst the league’s best and is helped non defense by safety Eric Reid and outside linebacker Shaq Thompson. Between them those three accumulated over 370 tackles last season. Pass rusher Brian Burns put up 7.5 sacks in an impressive rookie season and will be expected to build on that in his sophomore year.
Uncertainty at the quarterback position. Questions continue to swirl around Cam Newton’s future with the franchise. Does his continuing shoulder issues mean the team moves on from him? If they do, how do they replace the most notable signal caller in franchise history who helped lead his team to Super Bowl 50 in 2015?
Kyle Allen has shown he is an effective backup but not a longtime starter and whilst the Panthers hold the seventh overall pick in the draft, they sit behind Miami and the Los Angeles Chargers who could choose to address their own issues under center. If Cincinnati takes Joe Burrow first overall, that means Carolina could be left selecting from the second tier of college passers as Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert could have gone to the east and west coast teams sitting just above the Panthers.
The talent level on the roster. Whilst this year’s Browns have been a disaster, there is no disputing the talent available, especially at the skill positions. Wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr are amongst the very best at their position and running back Nick Chubb ranked second in the league in rush yards with 1,494 this past season. That’s despite a woeful offensive line and the addition of Kareem Hunt who is really an every down back.
On defense, there are playmakers at every level, from pass rusher Myles Garrett (10 sacks in a season curtailed by suspension) through linebacker Joe Schobert (133 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 fumbles and 4 interceptions) to defensive back Denzel Ward (2 interceptions and lowest completion percentage allowed in the league per Pro Football Focus).
The locker room. This roster is stacked with big personalities who need managing, whether it be OBJ or quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Browns disciplinary issues showed up this year in the preponderance of penalties committed under former head coach Freddie Kitchens. That was most glaringly demonstrated in the infamous brawl in which Garrett and Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph were the primary actors. Despite this, players like Beckham and Mayfield want to win above all. They might be celebrities and notorious for their media comments but they are committed to winning championships. A coach with a strong emphasis on discipline could be the glue to hold this combustible roster together.
Ownership. Can the Haslams stick to a plan? A few years back they seemed committed to the analytics driven, Moneyball approach of Brown and Paul DePodesta. That gave way after a couple of seasons to John Dorsey who worked quickly and aggressively to reshape the roster. Then last year they hired a rookie head coach only to jettison him after a year. not only that but they’ve now fired Dorsey. What’s the long term plan here? That could make head coaching candidates nervous. Will they be given enough time to see the job through?
Daniel Snyder might be getting it? The franchise owner has finally moved on from team president Bruce Allen who has been the subject of many a fan’s ire over the past few years. Allen was seen as having far too much control over a front office for a guy who had made numerous missteps in running the team, including mismanaging the Trent Williams saga last season and reportedly drafting quarterback Dwayne Haskins against the wishes of the then head coach Jay Gruden last offseason. His removal and the expected reorganisation of one of the more dysfunctional front offices in the league helps make this a much more appealing job for candidates.
The defensive line. Let’s face it, the Bengals aren’t going to take Chase Young at number one, which means the player who many see as the most talented in the draft should fall into Washington’s lap at the second overall pick. He can help form a trio of Ohio State Buckeyes to build around alongside Haskins and wideout Terry McLaurin. This is already a talented defensive line with Jonathan Allen (6 sacks), Matt Ioaniddis (8.5 sacks) and rookie Montez Sweat (7 sacks). Young, who broke Ohio State’s single season sack record this season, could make this unit unstoppable. That would really help the franchise against the rushing attacks of the Giants, Cowboys and Eagles.
Daniel Snyder. The removal of Bruce Allen may have given much cause for optimism amongst Washington’s fanbase but it was the owner who allowed him to stay in that role for so long despite poor results. The team has cycled through both losing seasons and head coaches since Snyder bought the team. Is he likely to make better decisions for this organisation moving forward? Recent history suggests not.
Is Dwayne Haskins a franchise QB? Early returns on last offseason’s first round pick haven’t been overwhelmingly positive. He’s averaged a completion percentage of 58.6% over 7 starts with an average completion of 6.7 yards and a 7:7 touchdown to interception ratio. However in divisional games against the Eagles and Giants in weeks 15 and 16, there were some positive signs of growth: 67.9% and 80% completion percentage; 9.3 and 8.9 average to go with 4 total TDs and 0 interceptions.
Haskins defenders’ will point to a dearth of receiving options outside of McLaurin, as well as the loss of his blindside protector Williams. Others might argue his stats against the Eagles and Giants aren’t surprising given the relative weakness of those franchises defensive secondaries. It will be up to any prospective candidate to decide how to maximise the former Buckeye’s potential.
(Usually) patient ownership. The Mara family aren’t known for cycling through head coaches like they’re the Cleveland Browns, but lately they’ve moved on from both Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur after two seasons apiece. It seems more than likely, therefore, that the franchise will stick with its next head coach for a prolonged period of time as long as there is a modicum of progress. Quite frankly it would be difficult to do worse than what the organisation has been through in recent years.
A modicum of talent on the roster. Daniel Jones has shown an ability to win games for this franchise, silencing somewhat the doubters who wrote him off as a bust as soon as he’d been drafted. He put up an impressive 24:12 touchdown to interception ratio and 61.9% completion percentage during his rookie year. That’s pretty decent for his first year in the league, especially without a truly dominant number one receiver and a sieve of an offensive line.
Saquon Barkley found it difficult to rack up yards as well making Jones’ feat more impressive. Fifth round pick Darius Slayton emerged this year with over 700 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns, which the front office will be pleased with given the late round pick used to draft him. On defense Markus Golden put up double digit sacks whilst Dexter Lawrence solidified the inside of the line.
What’s the plan? Many league observers are puzzled by the Giants plan for moving the franchise forward. General manager Dave Gettleman trades away franchise favourite Odell Beckham Jr last offseason and then used a first rounder to draft a run plugger on the defensive line in Lawrence despite having shipped a similar player in Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison out of town to Detroit last season. There are question marks throughout the roster, from the offensive line (a continuing problem) to a secondary reliant on young players making a leap forward.
The New York market. This is a franchise starved of success. The New York papers will not be kind and forgiving. Giants fans and the media in the Big Apple expect success, especially after so many seasons in which the team has fell short of expectations. That requires a personality capable of handling the media glare. That won’t put many candidates off but it may be a consideration for president John Mara and chairman Steve Tisch.