A total of six NFL teams will be looking for new head coaches this offseason, and there are plenty of interesting candidates to choose from. There are proven veterans such as Marvin Lewis and Jim Caldwell who know how to turn franchises around, while there are also offensive wunderkinds who could end up securing a huge promotion, such as Joe Brady of the Carolina Panthers. Then there are the favorites, who are almost guaranteed to find a head coaching job this offseason, including the likes of Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
While there are dozens of coaching candidates who will get chances to wow their potential future employers during interviews, which prospects are considered the best replacements for each team? Which assistant coaches are topping these six teams’ big boards? Below, we will take a shot at identifying each team’s top three coaching candidates.
Many believe the Texans job is the least attractive one on the market. Houston has some issues with cap space (-$17,739,400 according to Over The Cap), but more importantly, they don’t have any first- or second-round picks! It’s hard to rebuild a team without high draft picks, and even harder if you don’t have the cap space to splurge in free agency. So, who should the Texans be targeting as their next head coach? An offensive-minded prospect to help Deshaun Watson continue to develop? A defensive-minded coach to help fix a sorry unit that allowed a league-high 160.3 rushing yards per game in 2020? On top of these issues, is it better to hire someone who has had success in establishing a culture, or taking a flier on a young candidate who could end up becoming the best coach in franchise history?
Top candidates: 1. Brian Daboll 2. Jim Caldwell 3. Joe Brady
The Falcons are in a better situation with their 2021 draft picks than the Texans, but in a worse spot when it comes to cap space. Over The Cap has them at -$24,394,641, which is the third-worst cap situation in the league. They also have an aging quarterback in Matt Ryan, who has a dead-cap hit of nearly $50 million next season that makes him virtually impossible to trade. This is going to be an important hire for the Falcons, as they need someone who can be flexible with the kind of roster they inherit in 2021, but also keep an eye on the future. They need to have a clear plan when it comes to ushering in a new era of Falcons football.
Top candidates: 1. Eric Bieniemy 2. Robert Saleh 3. Raheem Morris
The main question when it comes to the Lions is what to do with quarterback Matthew Stafford. He is signed through 2022, but it’s possible Detroit could embrace a full rebuild and look for a new signal-caller this offseason. Apart from that, this coach has to have an idea of how to fix the Lions defense, which was statistically the worst in the league this season. While hiring a defensive-minded head coach didn’t work last time, it’s possible they could try again. I like Saleh in this spot because the 49ers defense was fifth in yards allowed per game this year, and ranked second last year when they made it to Super Bowl LIV. Plus, with how animated he gets on the sideline, he just looks like a coach that can establish a successful culture.
Top candidates: 1. Robert Saleh 2. Eric Bieniemy 3. Marvin Lewis
That No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft isn’t looking so bad ever since Justin Fields dropped 385 passing yards and six touchdowns on the Clemson Tigers last week, but it’s also possible the team decides to move forward with Sam Darnold under center. The Jets netted some draft picks thanks to the Jamal Adams trade and also have the second-most cap space. I would guess that the Jets look to hire an offensive-minded coach, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they buy into a defensive-minded prospect who is clear and articulate with the kind of culture he wants to implement like a Matt Eberflus or Saleh. Dare I say the Jets have somewhat of a pretty attractive job opening right now?
Top candidates: 1. Eric Bieniemy 2. Matt Eberflus 3. Arthur Smith
It doesn’t matter if the Jaguars go with a coach who is known for their defense or offense, they are likely going to draft former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick. There is a candidate who could shake up mock drafts, however, and that’s former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. Recent reports indicate Jacksonville is interested in him, and if this does come to fruition, one has to wonder if he would take Fields out of Ohio State over Lawrence. Unlikely, but not impossible. Considering his connections to the state of Florida from his time leading the Gators to two national championships in the early 2000s, it makes sense North Florida would be an intriguing landing spot for Meyer. Additionally, the Jaguars enter this offseason with the most cap space in the NFL.
Top candidates: 1. Urban Meyer 2. Robert Saleh 3. Eric Bieniemy
I have to admit I was a bit surprised that the Chargers decided to part ways with Anthony Lynn, especially considering that he had to deal with so many injuries over the past few years. But, the bottom line is that this Chargers job is now available, and boy is it an attractive one. We learned that they have their quarterback of the future in Justin Herbert, who has talented receivers on the outside to throw to such as Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. The Chargers also have an impressive defense when they are at full health, as Joey Bosa, Derwin James and Kenneth Murray all have star potential. On Tuesday, Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reported that the Chargers have interest in Meyer, so you have to imagine he would be No. 1 on their coaching big board.