NFL: Possible head coach vacancies for 2021

Dan Quinn

The Houston Texans were the first to pull the plug on their head coach this season after an 0-4 start. There are a handful of other head coaches that seem to be on the hot seat. Dan Quinn of Atlanta, Doug Marrone of Jacksonville, Matt Patricia of Detroit, and Adam Gase of New York (Jets) are all considered to be in danger of losing their jobs during or after the season. 

Just like a college graduate searching for a job in corporate America, head coaching candidates have standards for certain criteria related to the new job. Here we will compare the situations in Houston, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Detroit, and New York for future head coaches. Future draft capital (early rounds), future salary cap, personnel assets, and liabilities will all be analyzed in each situation.

For all salary cap information, I used Over The Cap to compare the future salary cap outlook for each team. In his article, Jason Fitzgerald explains his system for calculating average positions for each team.

Projected 2021 Cap Space

“.. first was calculate teams true cap space in 2020 to determine the cap carryover since that plays a big role in a team’s future cap position. To do that I processed the June 1 cuts, processed the rumored retirements, and added in all of our draft pick projections and replaced a $610K salary for each of those moves. I then subtracted $3.9M from each team to account for in-season spending which is around the minimum I would expect teams to need to move from offseason to in-season accounting. For 2021 I used our effective cap space column, added the calculated carryover and then processed the retirements from above and added in our cap estimates for all of the 2020 draft picks who are not yet signed…”

Max 2021 Cap Space Based on Cuts

“…added another adjustment to the criteria above by just cutting every non-QB on the roster that would save at least $500,000 in net cap room. 2020 draft picks were excluded from cuts if they qualified. While obviously nobody is cutting everyone, they can I always consider this a good way to see how much the roster is filled with sunk costs…”

Max 2021 Cap Space Based on Restructures

“… As a rough estimate here I calculated the max cap savings that could be found if a player converted all his base salary and roster bonuses into a signing bonus and prorated it over the term of his contract. While teams can, and often do, use voidable contract years I didn’t max them out unless a player had void years already in his contract. This was then added to the cap space from factor 1…”

Potential 2021 Free Agents

“… For this I am not going to do any kind of projected salaries and instead just did a basic ranking system of UFAs. If you play at least 75% of the snaps last year you score a 3, over 50% is a 2, and over 30% a 1.

There are players under that who also score contracts but since we are in the offseason with rosters so large I didn’t give those players a score as generally those under 30% are the ones that take longer to find a new home and a good portion of these players will be cut. I then assigned a multiplier based on position (QB for example was a 3x, WR 2x, RB just a 1) and a reduction on age (0.7X if over 30). I did not include RFAs in this or any tenders in the above factors either. I then summed up the scores to just give a general ranking of the free agent classes.

This overestimates the value of some players (Jameis Winston for instance will be a backup this year as will Jacoby Brissett) but for a rough guide this is reasonable enough. While I am not ranking the impact on cap room directly here it’s safe to say that the teams with a higher number will likely use up more on their own players either this summer or next offseason than teams with few considerations… “


Atlanta Falcons – Dan Quinn

Estimated Cap Space: ($3.867 million)

Max Cap with Cuts: $24.408 million

Max Cap with Restructures: $48.507 million

Free Agent Score: 17.5

Average Rank: 23.5 

The Falcons are tightly strapped in terms of financial flexibility for the future. They are currently projected to be over the 2021 salary cap with limited options. They cannot create as much cap room as other teams via cuts or restructures as they are bottom three in both categories of future cap space created.

Highlighting future free agents, the Falcons are relatively inelastic. They do not have a large percentage of snaps leaving this offseason. Overall, Atlanta is in the bottom-most tier in terms of future cap situation. Although there is a sliver of wiggle room due to the low-impact group of 2021 free agents.

Atlanta’s draft capital is untouched in the 2021 draft, giving future head coaches the flexibility to maneuver the draft picks in any way they see fit. The Falcons have a decent amount of untradeable assets that can be used as future building blocks. Grady Jarret, Marlon Davison, Deion Jones, AJ Terrell, and Kendall Sheffield can all attract future head coaches as potential high-level contributors on defense. 

Offensively, there are a few discrepancies. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Jake Matthews can be seen as key pieces in an offense or tradeable assets. If the head coach chooses to follow the method used in Green Bay, Ryan will be retained until his heir has proven he is ready. Matthews is unlikely to be traded away as solid left-tackle play in the NFL is rare. Calvin Ridley and Chris Lindstrom are considered key future contributors in a new offense, establishing themselves as essentially untradeable.

I refuse to let this go, but in an overreaction piece and a tradeable veterans piece, I defended the idea of trading Julio Jones. Be sure to check those out for more in-depth reasoning behind trading the franchise’s best player of all time. In short, moving Julio will garner an immense amount of draft capital while simultaneously relieving the Falcons of one of their largest contracts. It would not be met without resentment from fans and Arthur Blank but could be the forward thrust needed to kickstart this team.

Atlanta has the only quarterback of the bunch with Super Bowl experience and the most valuable tradeable asset too. A head coach who wants to develop ‘his’ guy at quarterback could see the Falcons as the perfect situation to sit behind a former MVP. Financially, this might be the worst situation, but if a few contracts are restructured or traded, it suddenly gets sunny.


Houston Texans – Vacant

Estimated Cap Space: $29.598 million

Max Cap with Cuts: $96.512 million

Max Cap with Restructures: $73.873 million

Free Agent Score: 25

Average Rank: 18.75 

The Houston Texans are the only team in this article to begin publicly searching for a new head coach. Financially, the Texans are better off than the Falcons but still find themselves in the bottom tier. Houston can create the most amount of cap space by cutting players. Their free-agent score is higher than the Falcons, which means they have more snaps than Atlanta set to be free agents after this season. Financially, the Texans are in a slightly more favorable position than the Falcons but are still overall unfavorable under the entire scope of the NFL.

What makes Houston an undesirable landing spot is their lack of draft capital. In the new head coach’s first draft, he will be without a first and second-round pick. Miami holds Houston’s first two selections due to the Laremy Tunsil trade. Deshaun Watson and Laremy Tunsil are this team’s only untradeable pieces. Both are young stars, but both have enormous contracts, making them hard to move. Brandin Cooks, David Johnson, JJ Watt, and Whitney Mercilus are all high-value trade candidates. Trading these players away would net several high-value draft picks and eliminate four of their eight highest cap hits this year.

The most compelling reason to convince a candidate Houston is right is that the quarterback and left tackle of the future are currently on the roster and signed long-term. Houston has more cap space flexibility than Atlanta but has less draft capital. Different people value different things, Houston could be the perfect fit for a candidate who does not care what the rest of the roster looks like so long a young franchise quarterback is there.


New York Jets – Adam Gase

Estimated Cap Space: $63.792 million

Max Cap with Cuts: $124.144 million

Max Cap with Restructures: $93.292 million

Free Agent Score: 38.7

Average Rank: 14.75

The New York Jets find themselves in a particularly interesting situation. Adam Gase has shown to be zero help in the development of Sam Darnold, while still losing games. Financially, the Jets are in better standing with the salary cap than most of the league. In this situation, the entire roster could be gutted if need be. The Jets have one of the highest percentages of snaps to keep or replace in 2021 free agency. That could be seen as a positive for a new head coach who wants to construct their own roster. The Jets are in a better financial situation than both Houston and Atlanta due to their lack of guaranteed money on the books.

The best part of the Jets job is the future draft capital. From the trade with Seattle for Jamaal Adams, New York netted a first and third-round pick in the 2021 draft and a first-round pick in the 2022 draft. But this also left the cupboard bare, so to speak, there are few tradeable pieces left on the team.

The Jets have CJ Mosley and Le’ Veon Bell to attempt to trade. The reason these two are unlikely to be traded is due to their current contracts. The Jets are allocating an absurd amount of future capital to these two players; no team is likely to give up draft capital and pay their contracts. What could be interesting is if the new head coach feels Sam Darnold is not who he was drafted to be. Trading Darnold would be much easier than Bell and Mosley and would restock an already loaded 2021 and 2022 draft.

Quinnen Williams and Mekhi Becton are the two building blocks on this team and should not be traded away. Sam Darnold can either be kept seeing his potential in the new system or traded in hopes of selecting their franchise quarterback in the upcoming draft. A candidate looking to start with an almost blank canvas would prioritize the Jets over the Texans and Falcons because cutting players in New York will create the most cap space.


Detroit Lions – Matt Patricia

Estimated Cap Space: $53.222 million

Max Cap with Cuts: $77.025 million

Max Cap with Restructures: $95.04 million

Free Agent Score: 35.85

Average Rank: 19.25

The Detroit Lions find themselves in the same tier as the Houston Texans, referring to their salary cap situation. However, the Lions can create the most amount of cap space by restructuring current contracts. The Texans, on the other hand, can create the most by cutting players. The Detroit situation with Matt Stafford is also similar to the one in Atlanta with Matt Ryan. The new head coach would have the option to select his ‘guy’ to sit behind Matthew Stafford or trade away the veteran quarterback. Depending on that decision, the resulting transactions would vary.

Like the Falcons, the Lions have all of their future draft picks. Even though it might be hard to move some of these players due to their contracts, here is a list of tradeable pieces. Trey Flowers, Desmond Trufant, and Jamie Collins are all expensive veterans who could net a nice return. Kenny Golladay, TJ Hockenson, Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Jeff Okudah, and Justin Coleman should be viewed as untouchables. They are all future building blocks of this team.

The Detroit Lions situation is a blend of the previous scenarios discussed. Similar to Atlanta’s by way of veteran quarterback situation and draft capital. It’s also akin to Houston’s due to the current and future money allocated. A candidate interested in a roster that only needs minor tweaks would be interested in Detroit. That is, if said candidate has a plan for Matt Stafford.


Jacksonville Jaguars – Doug Marrone

Estimated Cap Space: $97.321 million

Max Cap with Cuts: $130.501 million

Max Cap with Restructures: $119.688 million

Free Agent Score: 42.75

Average Rank: 9.75

The fake Jacksonville Jaguar job opening is the most attractive in my eyes. Beginning with their future salary-cap situation, they have completely purged their roster. This enables them to sign or extend anyone they want next year. They have immense cap space and the potential to create even more than most of the league. Jacksonville is also one of the teams with the most to retain in free agency. If they wanted to clean house, it would be quite easy.

Draft capital wise, they have some of the most in the league. They have an extra first, second, and fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft by way of the Jalen Ramsey and Yannick Ngakoue trades. The offensive and defensive lines are littered with future building blocks that should be untradeable. Cam Robinson, Andrew Norwell, Jawaan Taylor, Josh Allen, and K’Lavon Chaisson should all be considered exempt from potential trades.

Gardner Minshew is a tricky situation similar to Sam Darnold’s. The only difference is the sunk cost is much higher. Jacksonville would be easier to separate from their quarterback. Minshew could garner some trade interest, but I would not count on it. For the sake of argument, we will consider him not worthy of a trade,

Jacksonville is ideal for a candidate who wants to build the entire franchise in his vision. Jacksonville has the excess draft capital and financial flexibility to attract a top coaching candidate. The said coach can discuss with the front office to determine Minshew’s future and how to move forward.

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