Week 18 is the end of the line for 18 of the NFL's 32 teams. The Monday that follows usually draws an end to several coaching tenures, too. We've already seen the Broncos, Colts and Panthers fire their head coaches this season, and it would be no surprise if we saw several other jobs come open soon. There's no excitement or joy in seeing coaches get fired, but it's the business of the NFL.
Those openings create opportunities for new coaches to come in and revitalize organizations, so let's look at how appealing those various situations might be in 2023 and beyond. If you were a coach and could take any of the opportunities likely to come open, which team would you prefer? And which one would you want to avoid?
When I wrote this piece last year, I suggested the Vikings were the most appealing opportunity of the bunch. A year later, that looks pretty prescient. Just behind them in second were the Broncos, a prediction that should erase most of the prior goodwill. Here, we're just evaluating the pros and cons of each potential opening and what each situation would offer a coach, not projecting what a coach will do in that new role.
I'll rank them from worst to first, starting with an organization mired in a mess entirely of its own making:
Pros: Core of young talent (pre-2022), high draft pick
Cons: Ownership interference, missing quarterback, core of young talent (now)
A year ago, the Colts looked like one of the league's most stable and steady opportunities. The 2021 season ended in ignominious fashion, but coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard had built Indy into a perennial playoff contender, even while swapping out quarterbacks each season in their efforts to replace Andrew Luck. Veteran Matt Ryan was a short-term option, but team owner Jim Irsay had been an extremely patient owner, and the Colts had an exciting core of young talent at other positions.
Then, this season happened. Irsay benched Ryan, fired offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, pushed Reich out the door and hired ESPN analyst Jeff Saturday as interim coach. The Colts already have cycled through Ryan, Sam Ehlinger and Nick Foles at QB, none of whom have hinted at being a viable solution in 2023. Their Week 1 starting quarterback isn't on the team, and it's fair to wonder whether a new coach will be the one who gets to make the final decision about who the franchise imports under center this offseason.
What has flown under the radar is how disappointing this season has been for Indy's core of stars. Running back Jonathan Taylor was ruled out for the season after suffering his second high ankle sprain in December, ending a disappointing third season. Shaquille Leonard, the team's top defender, played just 74 defensive snaps while dealing with a concussion and two back surgeries. Superstar guard Quenton Nelson had a disappointing season, and center Ryan Kelly hasn't been the possible franchise player we saw in 2020. Wideout Michael Pittman Jr., saddled with yet another rotating cast of quarterbacks, is averaging just 9.5 yards per reception.
For whatever concerns the Colts have at quarterback, the struggles and injury absences those players have dealt with should be the most concerning to a new coach. Indy does not typically spend much in free agency under Ballard, so it need its homegrown talent to develop and play at a high level. If the cupboard beyond quarterback isn't full and the team needs to dive into a deeper rebuild, this job gets even less appealing.