New York’s coaching gig was an intriguing one, but among the seven coaching vacancies that opened up this season, it may not have been the best overall in terms of setting up its next coach for success. The other teams offer their own challenges, but depending on the state of the franchise — salary cap flexibility, draft capital available, key players in crucial positions and future outlook — some of the other openings look more lucrative heading into the 2021 season.
Here are the teams with a head coach opening entering the 2020 offseason, listed from most to least enticing based on those factors.
1. Los Angeles Chargers
Record in 2020: 7-9
Draft picks in 2021: Eight, including the No. 13 overall pick
Cap space in 2021: $29.1 million (ninth most per Over the Cap)
The Chargers finished the season on a four-game winning streak, sliding them down to the No. 13 overall pick in the upcoming draft, but they have many desirable components on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Quarterback Justin Herbert, the No. 6 pick of 2020, finished one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history after setting single-season rookie records for touchdown passes (31), total touchdowns (36), completions (396) and games with multiple touchdown passes (10). Wideout Keenan Allen, newly inked to a four-year, $80 million contract extension, led the team in targets (147), receptions (100) and receiving yards (992).
Defensively, three-time Pro Bowl end Joey Bosa provides a solid building block on the line. Bosa was credited with 61 total pressures on the quarterback (sacks, hits and hurries) and ended up ranked as the fourth-best edge rusher of 2020 per the game charters at Pro Football Focus. He was also the league’s 10th-best run stopper (21 stops over 195 snaps, 11 percent).
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Record in 2020: 1-15
Draft picks in 2021: 11, including the No. 1 overall pick and the Rams’ first-round pick (Jalen Ramsey)
Cap space in 2021: $73.2 million (first)
Urban Meyer’s new team has 11 draft picks, including four in the first two rounds, and an abundance of cap space. Those draft picks include the No. 1 overall pick, which will probably be used on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The quarterback of the future, in turn, will have running back James Robinson and wide receiver D.J. Chark to rely on as the team works to build the offense from the ground up.
Robinson carried the ball 240 times as a rookie this year, producing 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns. He added 49 catches for 344 yards and three touchdowns out of the backfield. Among running backs, only Kareem Hunt and David Montgomery (18) forced more missed tackles than Robinson (17) on receptions in 2020. Chark saw a dip in receptions, yards and touchdowns, but not all of it was his fault. His target share dropped from 21 to 16 percent year over year. When he was targeted, Chark caught a career-high 83 percent of catchable passes thrown his way.
On defense, edge rusher Josh Allen, the seventh overall selection in the 2019 draft, has promise. He recorded 10½ sacks, 11 tackles for losses, 23 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles in 16 games played in 2019 but suited up for just eight games in 2020. K’Lavon Chaisson, a first-round selection in 2020, failed to live up to his potential in his pro debut, producing 29 total pressures and the lowest grade among edge rushers from his draft class by Pro Football Focus. Perhaps both can blossom under a new head coach. Linebackers Myles Jack (ninth best at the position per PFF) and Joe Schobert (29th) and rookie cornerback C.J. Henderson (sixth-best corner from his draft class per PFF) are also solid building blocks.
3. New York Jets
Record in 2020: 2-14
Draft picks in 2021: Nine, including the No. 2 and No. 23 (from Seattle) overall picks
Cap space in 2021: $70.7 million (third)
According to Football Outsiders, the Jets were the worst team of 2020 after adjusting their efficiency on both sides of the ball for strength of schedule. On offense the team ranked last or second-to-last in points per drive, touchdown rate, plays per drive, yards produced per drive, rate of drives forced to go three-and-out, red-zone efficiency and goal-to-go efficiency in 2020. On defense New York ranked in the bottom third of the league in points allowed per drive, three-and-out rate, passer rating allowed and pressure rate.
There are some building blocks for the future. Left tackle Mekhi Becton, a first-round selection in 2020, was ranked as the third-best offensive lineman of his draft class, per Pro Football Focus. Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams was rated as the 10th best interior lineman after producing seven sacks, eight hits, 23 hurries and three batted passes last year. Linebacker C.J. Mosley opted out of the 2020 season because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, but in 2018 he was voted to his fourth Pro Bowl. He played just two games in 2019 after signing a five-year, $85 million deal with the Jets.
4. Detroit Lions
Record in 2020: 5-11
Draft picks in 2021: Four, including the No. 7 overall pick
Cap space in 2021: $11.7 million (18th)
Detroit’s offense returns a stout line led by Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow and tackle Taylor Decker, a dependable red-zone target in tight end T.J. Hockenson and a dynamic playmaker in running back D’Andre Swift. Matthew Stafford, the 12th-best quarterback of 2020 per Pro Football Focus, is also under contract for the next two years. However, five of Detroit’s wide receivers — Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Mohamed Sanu, Kenny Golladay and Jamal Agnew — are free agents.
The defense also needs a major upgrade. The Lions finished last or next to last in points allowed per drive, red-zone defense, goal-to-go defense, three-and-out percentage, rushing touchdowns allowed, yards allowed per pass attempt and opponent passer rating allowed. It could get worse if unrestricted free agent Romeo Okwara, the ninth-best pass rusher of 2020 per Pro Football Focus, is wooed by another club. Either way, a defensive overhaul with less than $12 million in cap space is going to be difficult to pull off.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Record in 2020: 4-11-1
Draft picks in 2021: Seven, including the No. 6 overall pick
Cap space in 2021: minus-$51.7 million (31st)
The Eagles have a major problem at quarterback. Carson Wentz signed a four-year, $128 million contract extension in 2019 and regressed mightily this season, dropping his completion rate to a career-low 57 percent, which resulted in a league-high 15 interceptions thrown. And that was only in 12 games before he was benched for rookie Jalen Hurts. Hurts, meanwhile, managed a below-average passer rating (77.2) in his four starts. As a whole the Eagles averaged a league-low 6.2 yards per attempt in 2020. They will need one of their passers to step up and take control of the starting job.
The offensive line didn’t help. Philadelphia allowed the second-worst sack rate last season after adjusting for strength of schedule, per Football Outsiders. Perhaps the returns of guard Brandon Brooks (missed 2020 after tearing his Achilles’ in June) and tackle Lane Johnson (limited to seven games after an ankle injury) will help, but the negative cap situation the team finds itself in next season will certainly limit how much that unit can improve in free agency. Philadelphia does have seven draft picks, including the No. 6 overall choice, and could earn several more compensatory picks, which are useful.
6. Atlanta Falcons
Record in 2020: 4-12
Draft picks in 2021: Six, including the No. 4 overall pick
Cap space in 2021: minus-$24.4 million (30th)
Quarterback Matt Ryan is coming off his second consecutive season with a declining completion rate and his third season suffering 41 or more sacks, a concerning number for a passer who will be 36 years old next season. Star wide out Julio Jones is solid when on the field, but he was limited to nine games in 2020 due to injury.
The two of them count for $40.9 million and $23.1 million, respectively, against the cap next year with dead-money figures of $49.9 million and $38.6 million, making them near impossible to move or cut this offseason. Their contracts also help push Atlanta $24.4 million over the cap with only 31 players (of 53) under contract in 2021, leaving them with little flexibility to improve the other trouble spots on the roster: the defense and the void on offense created by Todd Gurley II’s free agency.
The market for running backs has deflated in recent years, but the more pressing concern is improving the defense. The Falcons allowed 2.4 points per drive last season (22nd) and forced opponents to go three-and-out just 26 percent of the time (23rd). The secondary was a cause for the subpar performance. Cornerbacks A.J. Terrell (T-71st out of 78 qualified players at the position), Isaiah Oliver (73rd) and Kendall Sheffield (78) ranked at the bottom of the position for yards allowed per cover snap and finished with a combined 14 touchdowns allowed with one interception.
7. Houston Texans
Record in 2020: 4-12
Draft picks in 2021: Eight but none in the first or second round
Cap space in 2021: minus-$17.9 million (26th)
Quarterback Deshaun Watson is reportedly “extremely unhappy” with the hiring of General Manager Nick Caserio after being told he would be involved in the hiring process for the team’s new GM but ultimately wasn’t. Watson threw for a league-high 4,823 yards with 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions, giving him the second-highest passer rating (112.4) behind Aaron Rodgers.
If Watson can be brought back into the fold, there are still major obstacles back to football relevancy. Running back David Johnson managed a lackluster 1,005 yards from scrimmage last year, ultimately ranking him 51st out of 63 qualified rushers per Pro Football Focus. And that includes giving Johnson credit for catching 33 of 46 targets for 314 yards and two touchdowns. Keeping him on the roster for 2021 would result in a $12 million cap hit for a team that is expected to be nearly $18 million over the cap next year. Plus, the Texans need to re-sign deep threat Will Fuller V, who is serving a six-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs and will miss Week 1 next season.
And finally, the franchise doesn’t have a first- or second-round pick in the 2021 draft.