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Currently, there are six openings for head coaches in the NFL. There were a few that had already happened (Raiders and Jags), a few that made sense (Bears, Broncos, Vikings), and even a huge surprise (Dolphins). I’m going to do my best to project who takes over these teams for the 2022 season. I am going to take into account ownership, roster makeup, star players, and history.
The worst kept secret all season: Matt Nagy getting fired. For whatever reason, the Bears have never fired a coach mid-season, and they didn’t want to change that this year. Nagy has been a disaster since the beginning. Don’t forget, he and now fellow unemployed GM Ryan Pace chose Mitch Trubisky over Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in 2017. For what it’s worth, the three undrafted QBs from 2017 (PJ Walker, Taysom Hill, Nick Mullens) might be better than Trubisky, and have all started and played more games than Trubisky since Week 8 of the 2020 season.
Okay, enough of the shredding on the Bears. Let’s look at the good things that might attract a coach. Justin Fields is a young, promising talent. He didn’t have a great rookie year, but in the right system, he could be Lamar Jackson-esque. He should at least be able to replicate Jalen Hurts production. They have a good young RB in David Montgomery who will be in a contract year, and a backup who performed impressively in Khalil Herbert. Tarik Cohen is still under contract through 2023 too. The rest of the offense needs some work. Allen Robinson totally disappeared this season. Darnell Mooney looked good at times, but he’s not a #1 WR. The O-Line needs a lot of work. When 39-year-old Jason Peters is your best lineman, you have a problem.
Defensively, this team has a lot of promise. It’s not quite the old Bears defense, but they’re not far off. Khalil Mack will be back and healthy. Roquan Smith is a stud. Robert Quinn has turned his career around recently, and Danny Trevathan should return from injury. Eddie Jackson is a very good safety. Akiem Hicks, Tashaun Gipson, and Alec Ogletree are free agents. The secondary could use some help, but overall, this is a good group.
Who gets the job?
- Jim Harbaugh – If he wants to make the jump back into the NFL, he should have his pick of where he wants to go. Why not the team with the talented young QB, solid defense, and the team that picked him 26th overall in 1987? Harbaugh would make this team leaps and bounds better. I think the Bears are a proud franchise, and they have been living in mediocrity for the better part of the last decade. Jim Harbaugh would make a statement that they are ready to right to take back the NFC North.
- Josh McDaniels – For reasons similar to Harbaugh, McDaniels brings his Belichick pedigree along with him, despite being a failure in Denver all those years ago. He has just shown that he can coach up a young QB in Mac Jones and that he wasn’t a product of a Tom Brady-led offense. McDaniels also was rumored to be enamored with Fields during the draft process that ultimately landed him Jones.
- Darkhorse: Keep an eye on Brian Flores here.
The Broncos and the Jags might be two of the least desirable jobs this offseason. There are rumors that ownership might be changing before the beginning of the 2022 season. The QB position is a mess. The defense should have been better than it played at times.
Offensively, there are plenty of weapons. Cortland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and Tim Patrick are easily one of the best WR trio in the NFL. Javonte Williams looks like he’s the real deal. The O-line is mediocre and will need some work. Melvin Gordon and Teddy Bridgewater are free agents. Noah Fant is a budding talent. There have been rumors that the Broncos would be interested in trading for Russell Wilson, but the Seahawks have said they’re not moving him. The Broncos haven’t had a legit QB option since Peyton Manning retired.
Defensively, this unit leaves a lot to be desired outside of Bradley Chubb, Pat Surtain II and Justin Simmons. Kareem Jackson and Kyle Fuller are free agents. The secondary is going to need a lot of work if both of those players leave.
This is the only opening that has an unknown at QB for 2022. This job is going to take someone that has a good grasp on building a future and work with still new GM George Paton to craft a winning team in the crowded and talented AFC West.
Who gets the job?
- Dan Quinn – No one has turned themselves around as quickly as Dan Quinn. The once dejected HC of the Falcons fell apart after losing the “28-3” Superbowl. He was able to turn the Cowboys defense around and help them achieve status as one of the best in the league. Quinn would bring the structure and stability needed to a franchise that has started to fade into oblivion recently.
- Nathaniel Hackett – Get your tinfoil hat ready. What better way to coax Aaron Rodgers away from Green Bay than by signing his OC? It was no secret that Rodgers asked to be traded to the Broncos last offseason, so the interest is there. Assuming Rodgers doesn’t retire, he may be looking to follow in Manning’s footsteps and see if he can bring a title to Denver before sailing into the sunset. He might be the best bet to get a Rodgers to Sutton-Patrick-Jeudy offensive unit.
- Darkhorse: Another opportunity for Brian Flores here.
The biggest surprise of the offseason (so far) came when the Dolphins fired Brian Flores after back-to-back winning seasons and going 24-25 in his 3-year tenure. He took the team from nothing to something; he surely will be able to get another opportunity elsewhere. Don’t be surprised if he takes a deal to be a DC for one year and bounces back next year also.
The Dolphins offense has a lot of hope. Tua is a young QB that some people don’t have a lot of faith in, but he tends to just win games regardless. Jaylen Waddle is already a stud, Devante Parker is underrated and Mike Gesicki has shown flashes of greatness, although he will be entering free agency.
No surprise, but defensive-minded Flores had this unit playing very well. Up front, they are a force with Adam Butler, Christian Wilkins, and Raekwon Davis. The secondary has played well with Bryon Jones, Xavien Howard, and Eric Rowe. The linebackers have overachieved, but the line and secondary helps make up for their lack of talent.
This team isn’t losing any major free agents, and is set in a good spot moving forward. The O-line could use some work, and the RB room could use a boost, but this is a desirable job despite the competition in the AFC East.
Who gets the job?
- Jim Caldwell – Rumors out of Miami are saying that there was tension between Flores and GM Chris Grier, so it sounds like Grier doesn’t want someone with a strong personality. That’s not a knock on Caldwell at all, but he’s not the type of coach that needs control of every aspect of the roster building process. He’s a phenomenal coach that I’m surprised never got another chance after being one of the few coaches to have any kind of success with the Lions franchise. He has the kind of steady personality that could really benefit a young team.
- Brian Daboll – I wanted to go with Doug Pederson here, but he got fired from Philly for the same reason Flores just got fired from Miami. I think Daboll has the potential to step in and help Tua take the next step toward being a franchise QB. He has had success everywhere he’s gone and has worked with Belichick and Saban. He helped Josh Allen rid himself of his turnover problems and could potentially do the same with Tua.
- Darkhorse: Eric Bienemy
They just selected Trevor Lawrence #1 overall last year and have the #1 pick this year. This team needs a lot of work still, and there are questions around what kind of operation is being run by Shad Khan after his fanbase just showed up to Week 18 dressed like clowns.
On offense you have Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne should be back and healthy to team with James Robinson. Marvin Jones looked good at the end of the season and Laviska Shenault has shown flashes at times. Add the return of DJ Chark and the skills players look very good for next year. Both the LT and LG are set to be free agents, so a major rebuild on the O-line might be coming.
Defensively, there’s not a lot to love. Malcom Brown is inconsistent. Myles Jack never became what people thought he would in 2016. Josh Allen has shown flashes, but also tends to disappear at times. Would someone like Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux help this defense? Absolutely. But they’re also going to need a lot of help in the secondary.
In a way, this is an enticing job because of Lawrence and another first overall pick. But it’s tough to look past the questions of ownership. Just ask Jets fans whether or not the owner matters.
Who gets the job?
- Byron Leftwich – what a great story; former Jags QB comes back to be the head coach. It’s more than that however. Leftwich has had plenty of success with Tampa, and might be ready to take the leap. I’m a little weary of pairing a young QB with a young HC; I think there typically needs to be experience on at least one of those ends, but Shad Khan does love a good story. Remember, this is the same guy that hired Urban Meyer.
- Jim Caldwell – for the same reason I listed above with the Dolphins, I think Caldwell would be a great coach for Lawrence and help him grow into his potential, while also providing the stability that this team desperately needs from the HC position after the year it just had.
- Darkhorse: Darrell Bevell
Easily the most desired job of all currently available. What coach wouldn’t want to walk in and take over a playoff team? You have a franchise QB in Derek Carr, stud RB in Josh Jacobs, superstar TE Darren Waller, dependable WR Hunter Renfrow and a good, not great, O-line.
The defense has playmakers in Maxx Crosby, Clelin Ferrell, Yannick Ngakoue, Denzel Perryman, Casey Hayward Jr, and Jonathan Abram. The only full-time starter up for free agency is Hayward, and he is 33 years old.
There should be no lack of interest by all available coaching candidates to fill this position. It should be a tough one for Mike Mayock.
Who gets the job?
- Jim Harbaugh – The best coaching candidate fills the best coaching vacancy. What’s not to love? With Harbaugh at the helm, this team becomes a formidable opponent in the crowded AFC West. We know the Raiders aren’t afraid to back up the truck for their HCs either. So why not?
- Josh McDaniels – Probably the second-best HC prospect on the market. This could finally be the year McDaniels leaves the Belichick nest after flirting with so many teams over the last couple of years. Can Hunter Renfrow throw the ball? We’ll definitely find out if McDaniels gets his trickery going in Vegas.
- Darkhorse: Brian Flores has the same hard-nosed attitude as Gruden and could turn this defense into a top notch unit in the NFL.
This one is interesting because the Vikings totally cleared house with their coach and GM. They also have some decisions to make moving forward especially in regards to Kirk Cousins entering the final year of his deal earning $45m this season. The Vikings aren’t necessarily in a bad spot talent wise – they have Thielen, Cook, and Jefferson under contract for through at least 2024, so the offense should be okay. They also have tackles Brian O’Neill and Christian Darrisaw locked up for the next few years.
The defense is in decent shape, but will need some retooling. Anthony Barr, Patrick Peterson, Sheldon Richardson, and Xavier Woods are all free agents. The Vikings are in a tough spot because they are currently already over the cap by $7.3m for 2022 with only 47 players under contract, so there will need to be some significant maneuvering with the roster.
I’m not sure which direction the Vikings might want to go in with this one, and I think it all depends on who the GM is that gets hired first. They just fired a defensive minded coach in Zimmer who had spent the last 8 years at the helm. Might they want to follow the trend in the NFL and look for a young offensive mind? Or do they want someone to come in and clean up the defense and allow the offense to continue its production with its talented skill player core? It seems like they tend to always go for the Bud Grant-style stoic hard-nosed guy, whether it has been Zimmer, Leslie Frazier, Brad Childress, Mike Tice, or Dennis Green.
Who gets the job?
- Brian Flores – When Flores took over the Dolphins they were ranked at or near the bottom of the league in most categories. This year they ranked somewhere between 14-18th in most defensive stats. I think he would be looking at a similar turnaround in Minnesota and if he can find a good OC, this team would be riding high going into next year. Yes, this Vikings team went 8-9, but they lost five games by 4pts or less.
- Kellen Moore – Like I said above, I’m not sure which way the Vikings might want to go, so here is my idea for the offensive side of the ball. Moore is a brilliant young offensive mind that was so good, he was kept by offensive “guru” Mike McCarthy as a holdover from the Jason Garrett regime. I think that says a lot. It also says a lot that McCarthy eventually turned over play calling duties to Moore. This kid has a chance to be very successful if he takes over this offense.
- Darkhorse: Doug Peterson