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NFL coaching vacancies: Ranking all five openings from best to worst – USA TODAY

As of (“Black”) Monday afternoon, the number of vacant NFL head coaching jobs had grown, the Arizona Cardinals terminating Kliff Kingsbury and the Houston Texans dismissing Lovie Smith with the 2022 regular season complete. 
Recent history suggests the number of open jobs will grow from five* – even if further changes take time to materialize. 
(*Of the league’s 32 clubs, 24 have switched head coaches at least once since the 2018 offseason. Ten HC jobs changed hands last year, though not all were created by a firing. Sean Payton and Bruce Arians stepped aside well after Black Monday last year. The Los Angeles Rams’ Sean McVay could be in that category soon.)
“You don’t want to rush into any sort of decision,” he said Monday regarding his future.
“There’s a lot of emotion right after the season. There’s a lot of layers to this. There’s a lot of people that it does affect that I don’t take lightly and want to be mindful of and so I’m going to take the next couple days to really be able to kind of reflect.”
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But, for now, let’s assess how attractive, from most to least, the current vacancies are:
Quarterback situation: Say what you want about Kyler Murray, but he’s the only bona fide franchise QB looking for his next boss. Of course that new boss – he almost certainly won’t be the “same as the old boss” – likely won’t have the multi-talented, two-time Pro Bowler for a healthy chunk of the 2023 season as Murray recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Yet maybe that’s a silver lining. Murray’s temper tantrums and flashes of immaturity have been on display all too often since he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2019, when Kingsbury also arrived in the “Valley of the Sun.” It might even be beneficial for Murray to softly launch into whatever culture the next coach establishes while he rehabs and learns the next playbook – also an opportunity to prove his much maligned study habits are up to snuff. (That will also make the selection of next season’s interim QB vital.) Murray, 25, has issues to iron out … but assuming owner Michael Bidwill heavily considers that while arranging the next marriage, Murray also has the talent – already verified – to make this team a winner.
Roster: Bit of a mess, but an old team is about to purge quite a few veterans into the free agent market, including OL Justin Pugh and Kelvin Beachum and WR A.J. Green. DE J.J. Watt’s retirement creates another opportunity … and void. DeAndre Hopkins is among the league’s elite wideouts – when he’s available – and tough RB James Conner has found the end zone 26 times during his two seasons in Arizona. S Budda Baker and DL Zach Allen, assuming he’s retained given his rookie deal is up, project as defensive linchpins, while recent first-rounders Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins need to quickly get to that level.
Salary cap: The next coach and general manager – Steve Keim also stepped down Monday for health reasons – should have more than $30 million to lure free agents. If the team moves on from players like veteran WR Robbie Anderson, that will create further flexibility.
2023 draft: A 4-13 record means the Cardinals will be picking early in most rounds, including third overall – which should net a premium position player since they theoretically won’t be in the quarterback market. That selection could also create a trade market for quarterback-starved teams and potentially bring the additional selections needed to fill the holes on this roster – defense at large an obvious issue.
Outlook: Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, but inheriting a high-ceiling quarterback, significant cap room and a valuable quiver of draft capital should make this a fairly compelling opportunity – though also a situation where Bidwill shouldn’t expect a lengthy rebuild.
Quarterback situation: Uhhh … Baker Mayfield is long gone, while Sam Darnold and PJ Walker have expiring contracts. Matt Corral missed his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury and has appreciable upside … but he didn’t drop into the third round of the 2022 draft for no reason. This team has explored several options and will likely continue investigating all avenues to stabilize a position that’s been in flux since Cam Newton’s (first) departure.
Roster: There’s talent here, in decent abundance and sufficient enough to create a sense of optimism. LT Ickey Ekwonu, CB Jaycee Horn, DT Derrick Brown and DE Brian Burns are on rookie contracts – Burns does need an extension – and man football’s premier non-QB positions. WR DJ Moore, 25, is a highly capable weapon who could be a cornerstone or trade bait. RT Taylor Moton, G Austin Corbett, S Jeremy Chinn, CB Donte Jackson and LB Shaq Thompson are solid.
Salary cap: Tight, currently about $1 million available. GM Scott Fitterer will surely be freeing up some room but isn’t likely to be a major player in free agency.
2023 draft: Fitterer frittered valuable picks on the likes of Darnold, CB C.J. Henderson and others. However, Fitterer replenished his stock in October, trading former All-Pro RB Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers for a package of picks – including a second-, third- and fourth-rounder in the 2023 draft, where the Panthers are also scheduled to choose ninth and 40th overall.
Outlook: Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder – right? – and this team showed fight under interim coach Steve Wilks, their 6-6 finish nearly enabling Carolina to overtake the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the NFC South crown. And given the division seems eminently winnable in the immediate future, that could be quite an enticement to the next coach, not to mention the deep pockets of owner David Tepper … though it remains to be seen if he’ll fork over another seven-year, $62 million contract, as he did for Matt Rhule. Tepper remarked after firing Rhule in October, “We have to build a culture of winning,” so this could be another post where the next coach doesn’t get a long leash.
Quarterback situation: The ballyhooed trade for Russell Wilson last March was supposed to be the panacea for a team that had been without a true sheriff under center since Peyton Manning retired following a triumph in Super Bowl 50. The Broncos fan base thought its recent stretch of misery was about to turn to bliss. Now? Wilson looms as a potentially far more serious problem than the likes of other post-Manning successors like Teddy Bridgewater, Joe Flacco, Case Keenum, Drew Lock, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian … among others.
Wilson has looked every bit his 34 years, the former Ironman missing a pair of starts due to injuries while posting some of the worst numbers – 60.5% completion rate, 16 TD passes, 16/11 TD-to-INT ratio, 84.4 passer rating – of his 11-year career. A player who hadn’t experienced a losing NFL season before going 6-8 in 2021 – his final year with the Seattle Seahawks – was on the wrong end of 11 of his 15 starts this year.
Of further concern, Wilson was sacked a league-most 55 times. And while his offensive line in Seattle was the subject of frequent criticism, 2022 was a reminder of Wilson’s penchant to hold on to the ball too long while highlighting a newfound concern of fitting a player who long thrived while freelancing for the Seahawks into the structure of a different offensive scheme. He lorded over the league’s lowest scoring offense – 16.9 points per game – this season with Denver the only squad in the past 10 seasons to score fewer than 17 points in 11 of its games. 
And it hasn’t been pretty to watch, Wilson too often unable to flash the deep ball he leveraged so successfully in Seattle while regularly rendering as a square peg in a round hole schematically. Denver fans even left games early when the score was still close. And Wilson’s reputation for struggling to mesh with a locker room has resurfaced as the losses have mounted. The QB issues don’t end there, either …
Roster: FS Justin Simmons, CB Patrick Surtain II and WRs Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton appear to be mainstays. So, too, could be LT Garett Bolles (broken leg) and RB Javonte Williams (torn knee ligaments) if they’re able to play effectively in 2023. And despite a lack of name players in the defensive front seven, particularly after the trade of OLB Bradley Chubb, the Broncos fielded a seventh-ranked defense under rookie coordinator Ejiro Evero. Still, GM George Paton needs to reload the pass rush, must fortify the trenches on both sides of the ball and likely needs a fallback if Williams’ recovery stalls.
Salary cap: As currently constructed, Denver is projected to have roughly $14 million in cap space in 2023, relatively little for a team with obvious personnel shortcomings. A big reason they’ll be restricted in free agency … is Wilson. He agreed to a five-year, $245 million extension before the season that effectively tethers him to the team for the foreseeable future and rendered former coach Nathaniel Hackett the tidier scapegoat for 2022. Releasing Wilson would incur a $107 million dead cap charge and even a trade would accelerate $82 million into Denver’s 2023 budget. Both “options” are non-starters. For all intents and purposes, the Broncos are stuck with Wilson through at least the 2024 season and will have to get financially creative to retool around him.
2023 draft: The Wilson deal stripped Denver of its first- and second-round picks in 2022 as well as this year’s Round 1 and 2 choices. And the Seahawks look especially brilliant given Wilson’s replacement, Geno Smith, blossomed into a Pro Bowler. Seattle currently stands to select fifth and 38th overall with the Broncos’ organic picks due to their dreadful season. However, Paton managed some damage control, dealing Chubb to the Miami Dolphins before the trade deadline and recouping a first-round spot in 2023, albeit one – initially property of the San Francisco 49ers – that will land much further down the board. Denver is scheduled to choose twice in the third round. 
Outlook: Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder – right? right? The Broncos face a litany of known issues, another being their residence in the unforgiving AFC West – a division ruled since 2016 by Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, a group that’s beaten Denver in their last 15 meetings. The Los Angeles Chargers also project as a rising power thanks to budding superstar QB Justin Herbert. 
But there are also significant X-factors at play. The upcoming coaching search will be the first under the Walton-Penner Family Ownership – its fortune built by Walmart. Penner, who inherited Hackett, will lead the effort to replace him but has no NFL track record and has signaled a willingness to be aggressive while casting a wide net. The next few weeks should be fascinating. The Broncos were widely projected to at least be playoff contenders in 2022, so it’s not like the next coach is walking into an empty stable. And yet Wilson presents an interesting dilemma as the centerpiece of a team that will likely be expected to return to relevance immediately. Let’s ride.
Quarterback situation: It’s a virtual certainty that 2023 will bring Indy its sixth different starting quarterback in a six-season span. It’s also clear owner Jim Irsay wants that QB carousel to stop spinning. 
Roster: There are multiple All-Pros here, including G Quenton Nelson, RB Jonathan Taylor, DL DeForest Buckner, LB Shaquille Leonard and CBs Kenny Moore and Stephon Gilmore. Most of them also dealt with serious injuries in 2022. The defense is in decent shape and should only improve if the offense – especially the O-line and the guy it protects – returns to an acceptable performance level.
Salary cap: Indy has roughly $17 million to play with, though GM Chris Ballard historically prefers to draft, develop and re-sign his own players while waiting until the second and third wave of free agency to find bargains. In the event he goes shopping for another quarterback, he’d probably need at least that cushion to absorb a weighty contract. Releasing QB Matt Ryan wouldn’t create appreciable room given the $18 million dead cap hit that would incur.
2023 draft: Good news here. The Colts are scheduled to select fourth overall, their highest pick since they took QB Andrew Luck with the No. 1 choice in 2012. It also helps, as of now anyway, that Indy is behind the Chicago Bears (No. 1) and Cardinals (No. 3), two teams that seem set under center. That could mean Indy gets a shot at Alabama QB Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud or Kentucky’s Will Levis, assuming they don’t go down the veteran path again.
Outlook: Owner Jim Irsay is demanding and seems hellbent on getting his franchise back in the league’s upper tier 16 years after Indianapolis won its only Super Bowl. The Colts never got past the AFC title round under Luck, whose stunning retirement in 2019 set the organization back years. Ballard hasn’t solved the QB Rubik’s Cube, but he’s been a shrewd purveyor of talent otherwise. And given the state of affairs in the AFC South, this team could literally be one player – the guy who throws the ball – away from contention.
Quarterback situation: Davis Mills has started 26 games the past two seasons – under unenviable circumstances following the Deshaun Watson saga that brought this organization to its knees – and shown some flashes. But is he one of the top 32 passers in the league (probably not) or a high-end backup (more likely)? It’s not like he’s been working with the Greatest Show on Turf but that doesn’t excuse a league-high 15 INTs. Journeymen Kyle Allen and Jeff Driskel are poised to journey back into free agency.
Roster: The cupboard is hardly barren, especially on offense. LT Laremy Tunsil and WRs Nico Collins and Brandin Cooks are nice pieces – assuming they’re healthy and invested. RB Dameon Pierce probably would have led all 2022 rookies in rushing yards (939) had he not missed four games. CB Derek Stingley Jr., G Kenyon Green, S Jalen Pitre and WR John Metchie were all taken in the first two rounds of the 2022 draft … and, with the exception of Metchie – he missed the season battling leukemia – played like rookies. But this could develop into a decent nucleus quickly.
Salary cap: GM Nick Caserio has constantly churned this roster the past two years looking for depth and/or diamonds in the rough. This year, he’ll have nearly $47 million in cap space – currently in the league’s upper quartile – to make more significant additions … though it remains to be seen how desirable a free agent destination H-Town is given the organizational dysfunction in recent years.
2023 draft: A three-win season and the Watson trade to the Cleveland Browns mean Caserio will have five of the draft’s top 74 picks, including Nos. 2, 12 and 34 overall. That ought mean a potential franchise quarterback and two 2023 impact starters.
Outlook: This job certainly has its temptations. The Texans are also about to turn to their fifth coach since the start of the 2019 season and are only now beginning to emerge from the Watson quagmire and a slew of debilitating deals made by former coach/GM Bill O’Brien. Again, winning quickly in the AFC South isn’t the hugest hurdle … but anyone taking on this undertaking should do so with eyes wide open.
(Salary cap figures courtesy overthecap.com.)
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Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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