Ranking the NFL Coaching Vacancies

This past weekend I was tinkering with some ways in which I would rank teams in the NFL in terms f being desirable for a new coach/front office. This is still a bit of a work in progress but with head coaching vacancies front and center in the NFL world I thought it was a good time to post on it. The criteria by which I am ranking a team is as follows:

1. Wins
2. 2017 Cap Space
3. 2017 Cap Flexibility
4. Potential Turnover
5. Age
6. Homegrown Contributors
7. Return on Investment

Initially I was going to rank each team 1-32 but with some of the numbers so close I basically broke teams into tiers with the best teams getting a score of 10, the next grouping a 9.3, and so on all the way down to 0. These do not include qualitative factors like ownership, media/fan expectations, having a “good” quarterback, etc…

The reason I selected these factors are because it tells me a little about the roster as currently set up, the ability to change the roster as a coach/GM sees fit without much damage, what is the window of the roster, and if the team has been drafting decently and at least spending somewhat reasonable for the product on the field. FWIW using these rankings put the most desirable jobs overall as the Chiefs, Falcons, Raiders, Seahawks, Packers, and Steelers. None of those teams are perfect but they are above the norms in 4 or 5 categories. So here are how I ranked the vacant positions.

1. Jaguars

Jacksonville is probably not high on anyone’s list of jobs because the team has historically been terrible and very little they have done has worked. So why the high rankings? Their current roster construction is still incredibly flexible which is where they really stand out. They rank 5th in the NFL in projected cap room with over $64 million and if they wanted to just start over could create over $50 million more by cutting every player whose cap charge exceeds his dead money charge, which ranks 8th in the NFL. They are also incredibly young with the average age of their contributors being under 27, second in the NFL, and 65% of their homegrown guys are playing in at least 45% of the snaps. So this job has a great deal of flexibility that comes with the roster to go in a number of different directions as well as a number of young players who can perhaps be salvaged by better coaching.

The negatives with the job come from two areas. One is that they have a decent amount of potential turnover, about 20% of their contributors. That doesn’t worry me that much unless I felt that the GM was married to these players and going to force them back. The second is that the Jaguars spending in free agency has been poor which is probably a negative for a coach as clearly the front office has done a poor job targeting talent. The Jaguars spent more money on players not playing at least 45% of the snaps than anyone in the NFL and 4th most on a per player basis. So there needs to be some changes there besides just the coaching, IMO.

2. Broncos

Most people would rank this as the best job and for instant gratification that is certainly the case. They have a talented roster that was the best team to not make the playoffs, but they only ranked 18th overall with this system. Why so low? The basic reasons deal with age and roster construction. They are tied for 10th oldest with their returning average age next year at 28 and they are below average in cap room and flexibility due to some of those big contracts they have signed in recent years with big guarantees. They also rank 20th in the NFL in terms of featuring home grown talent. Though I didn’t rank the teams cap room long term it is worth noting that the Broncos rank near the bottom of the NFL for the next few seasons. So I think the fear here is that the Broncos have some potential to get older and not be able to replenish those holes as easily as other teams. Some of these numbers probably would have been better but they were not in a position to keep some of their free agents last year. Though the circumstances are different as to why that’s the case it’s a bit like where the Ravens were a few years ago when they began to feel a pinch and had to let some guys walk.

On the bright side there is very little turnover this year so they can come back with the same roster in 2017 without compromising their cap and they are clearly a very good team. They should not have to worry about losing any big free agents for a few years either.

3. 49ers

A lot of what is enticing about San Francisco is their cap space, which is gigantic, and the fact that they do have some younger players on the team. I’d question if that young talent is very good, but given the poor coaching the last two years I would be pretty certain that some people think that there is some salvageable talent there. If not you can try to make over the roster via free agency while filling other holes in the draft. The 49ers do have above average expected turnover though in their case I’m not sure that’s a negative since there is no real pressing need to re-sign anyone to compromise your future.

Obviously they have had a poor return on investment with just two wins and anyway you slice that you have overpaid for your roster, but unlike Jacksonville they have not gone crazy spending everywhere simply deciding not to spend wherever possible. There are a great deal of similarities between SF and the Browns, so anyone that thinks the Browns are worth a gamble should feel the same way about the 49ers.

4. Rams

The Rams have one thing going for them and that’s basically their age. This is the youngest group of core talent in the NFL at a shade over 26 years old and that is reflected in the fact that over 85% of their top contributors are homegrown, third to only the Packers and Cowboys. Both of those should be considered positives unless a coach strongly believes in free agency in which case the Rams would not seem to be the destination. They are above average in cap room so they should have space to re-sign players they want to keep.

Outside of that there isn’t a great deal to like. The team was terrible last year and doesn’t even have their draft pick. Their cap flexibility is below average as is their potential roster turnover. While with the 49ers that turnover isn’t a big deal I’d be more worried that the Rams would look to use their cap room on some of these players and that has not been a winning formula. In terms of money spent per win they clearly have fallen short in recent years. This is probably good fit for someone who comes from a system like Green Bay, Cincinnati or Pittsburgh than other organizations.

5. Chargers

My guess is some people have this opening higher because of Philip Rivers but one player does not make a job great and even though this is a team that should have won more games if they had better coaching that window has been shutting for some time. The only positive to this team is the lack of turnover that a new coach would need to deal with. They and Seattle are tied for least turnover in the NFL with just 4.5% of their top contributors headed for free agency.

That’s the only category they rank well in though. They rank 26th in projected cap space,18th in cap flexibility, 18th in age, and 21st in homegrown contributors. So they haven’t really spent wisely or drafted wisely in some time. I wouldn’t see this as a great combination for anyone unless they think that highly of Rivers and think that if the games were more meaningful the mistakes would subside.

6. Bills

I have the Bills ranked 31st in the NFL, ahead of only New Orleans. There is not one good characteristic among these criteria when it comes to the Bills. They ranked 18th in wins, 24th in cap space, 20th in cap flexibility, 23rd in age of contributors, 28th in potential turnover, 31st in homegrown contributors, and 22nd in money spent per win. It’s hard to see a shining light with this team. They haven’t drafted well, have spent poorly on free agents, and are somewhat locked in with this current roster.

The only reason someone would choose this job over another is if they felt that the team imploded down the stretch because of the rumors about their head coach being fired and the teams desire to bench Tyrod Taylorm who was the second best player on the Bills offense, because of his contract. Outside of that this seems to be the prime location for promotion of a coordinator already on the team or the hiring of someone who has either never been able to get a job coaching despite many attempts or been unable to get back into the game after a prior stint as head coach.