The first NFL training camp practices are next week. By month’s end, all 32 teams should be back at work. That includes the seven with new NFL head coaches — all sitting in the big chair for the first time (at least on a non-interim basis).
Some have playoff expectations. Others will spend the year developing highly regarded quarterbacks.
And then there is at least one simply trying to keep the dumpster from catching fire.
No one knows for sure how it will work out. So instead of ranking the coach, let’s rank the situation into which they’ve walked.
Ranking new NFL head coach landing spots | 1-3
We start at the top with the best landing spots for new NFL head coaches.
1) Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers
While he’s probably the most anonymous of this septet, Staley also faces the highest expectations.
The Chargers’ betting win total is 9. And deservedly so. Los Angeles has a ready-made offense with a quarterback coming off the best season by a rookie in league history.
Justin Herbert set a slew of rookie passing records in 2020, including touchdowns (31) and completions (396). Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, and Mike Williams return to an offense that added tackle Rashawn Slater in Round 1.
But the team’s 2021 fortunes probably depend on Staley improving a defense that ranked 23rd in scoring (26.6 per game) and 15th in yards per play allowed (5.5) last year.
And Aaron Donald, the three-time defensive player of the year and Staley’s signature piece during his time as Rams defensive coordinator, is not walking through that door.
2) Urban Meyer, Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence, and the Jaguars’ ability to take him first overall in April, is probably the only reason Meyer came out of retirement.
His collegiate coaching legacy, while far from pristine, is secure. He’s a three-time national champion who helped resurrect two of the nation’s marquee programs.
But will that success translate to the pros?
There will be an adjustment period, for sure. But no one expects the Jaguars, with 15 rookies including Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne, defensive back Tyson Campbell, and offensive tackle Walker Little, to win this year.
Major issues remain on a defense that surrendered 30.8 points per game last year, second-most in football. Newcomers Shaquill Griffin and Rayshawn Jenkins should help, but only so much.
3) Robert Saleh, New York Jets
When’s the last time there was genuine optimism and excitement in Jets nation? We can’t remember much of any since New York’s back-to-back runs to the AFC Championship Game.
But landing the hottest coach on the market plus a potential franchise quarterback in a span of four months will juice even the most jaded fan base.
Saleh, who previously ran the 49ers’ defense, was on the radar of basically every team with an opening this cycle. Saleh said in his introductory news conference that he chose the Jets because it felt like home.
That home needs major renovations, of course, after 57 losses in the past five seasons.
Saleh and new boss Joe Douglas decided the first big move was to give up on Sam Darnold, drafting Zach Wilson second overall to replace him.
The talent cupboard is otherwise pretty bare, but the Jets do have a path to success. Next year, they have an estimated $81 million in cap space plus five top-100 picks, including two in both the first and second rounds.
Ranking new NFL head coach landing spots | 4-7
Which new NFL head coaches are in less fortunate situations?
4) Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia Eagles
Doug Pederson learned that not even delivering Philadelphia its first championship in nearly six decades makes you invincible in that town.
Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman canned him just three years later, and it wasn’t just because of the team’s 4-11-1 record. It was also because the organization lost confidence Pederson could fix the offense, specifically Carson Wentz and an ugly quarterback situation.
Enter Sirianni, who was Indianapolis’ offensive coordinator from 2018-2020 and ranked in the top 10 in scoring in two of the past three years.
The Eagles still have major concerns at quarterback (Jalen Hurts is their projected starter), but that could soon change. They’re closely monitoring the Deshaun Watson situation and are positioned well to trade for him should his legal issues resolve. But if not, the Eagles will likely have three first-round picks next spring to address the position.
They will need to hit on those picks, however. The Eagles are on track to have less than $20 million in cap space next spring. Of course, they could end up with more by moving on from franchise stalwart Fletcher Cox.
One early warning sign — there are already parts of the locker room questioning Sirianni’s leadership abilities, according to NFL Network’s Michael Robinson. Sirianni might need to win over those skeptics to ensure he makes it to that all-important 2022 offseason.
5) Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions
There are two significant advantages to coaching the Lions in 2021:
Detroit is set up for an exciting 2022 offseason.
With four winning seasons in 20 years and zero playoff wins since 1991, the expectations literally could not be lower.
Enter Campbell, who was wildly popular in the locker room when he served as the Dolphins’ interim coach for the final 12 games of the 2015 season.
The Lions are probably going to be bad this year. They traded away Matthew Stafford and his replacement, Jared Goff, has very little help.
But brighter days are ahead. The Lions have five picks in the first three rounds in 2022 and the Rams’ first-rounders in each of the next two years.
Almost makes one excited enough to bite off a kneecap.
6) Arthur Smith, Atlanta Falcons
How? You ask.
Shouldn’t a team with Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, and Kyle Pitts on offense and front-seven pieces Grady Jarrett, Dante Fowler, and Deion Jones on defense be at least competitive?
Sure. But with the defending champion Buccaneers in the division, the Falcons’ only real hope for a playoff run is as a Wild Card. And if they fall short of that, 2022 could be absolutely brutal.
The Falcons have just a few hundred thousand dollars in projected salary cap space next year, a function of a completely crippling quarterback situation. Ryan is set to count a staggering $49 million against the cap in 2022. And the Falcons would save just $8 million by cutting him.
And all of that would almost be palatable had the Falcons taken a quarterback fourth overall in April’s draft.
They did not.
And with a not-completely-awful roster, there’s no guarantee the Falcons will be in position to draft one next spring.
Put it all together and Smith probably needs a winning season this year, or 2022 will be very hairy for his job security.
7) David Culley, Houston Texans
Culley might be a spectacular coach. He also might never have a chance to prove it.
Most of the league saw the Texans’ opening as a dead-end opportunity.
The reasons are many, but all have the same root cause — a culture so toxic that it prompted Deshaun Watson (pre-sexual misconduct scandal) to demand a trade.
Vegas predicts the Texans will go 5-12, but frankly, that seems overly ambitious.
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