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Head Coach Hiring Grades

The dust has finally settled with the head coach hirings as each team has its staff in place. This sets up some good projections to what schemes each team will run, what type of players they may target in the draft and which free agents may gravitate to one of these rebuilding squads to reunite with their old coaches. Below, we give a few thoughts and some final grades for the teams who have found their head coach and believe they’ll be on the right track to contention.

Denver Broncos Head coach: Sean Payton: B-

Offensive Coordinator: Joe Lombardi Defensive Coordinator: Vance Joseph

As we mentioned in the head coaching predictions article, the Broncos needed a veteran head coach who could put the pieces back together after a disastrous season. Enter Sean Payton. He came at a significant price, $18 million a year along with the 29th overall pick in the 2023 and a 2024 second-round pick, but he’s the most appropriate candidate who can change the Broncos culture and get Russell Wilson back on track.

Vance Joseph returns to Denver after a 4-year run with the Arizona Cardinals. He inherited a terrible defense but turned it around quickly as they were above average in most defensive categories in both 2020 and 2021 before the wheels came off in 2022. Joe Lombardi reunites with Sean Payton as he was a mainstay on several of Payton’s Saints teams. Between two unsuccessful stints with the Lions (2014-15) and with the Chargers (2021-2022), we’re not expecting him to make waves with the Broncos and he’ll mostly help implement what Payton wants to do.

The coordinators were fine hires, the price tag was steep, but at the end of the day the Broncos made this Sean Payton deal with eyes to the future. They are stuck with Russell Wilson for at least another year or two, but the five-year deal should give Payton plenty of time to build his ideal team with Wilson at the helm or a new quarterback in the near future.

— Sam

Houston Texas

Head coach: DeMeco Ryans: A-

Offensive Coordinator: Bobby Slowik Defensive Coordinator: Matt Burke

With all of the terrible happenings, decisions, and poor results both on and off the field, the Texans came away with the best head coaching candidate of the cycle. DeMeco Ryans returns to the franchise where he was a defensive star and a pro bowl player. Ryans was notorious for his infectious energy, unique defensive schemes and getting the most out of several lesser-known players who found their way to the 49ers later in the draft or via free agency.

Bobby Slowik will be a first-time offensive coordinator. While he does come with extensive experience on both the defensive and offensive side of the ball under Kyle Shanahan, we expect some bumpy moments as he brings a rookie quarterback and introduces several new Texans players to the Shanahan style of offense. Matt Burke brings 19 years of coaching experience, however a lone stint as a defensive coordinator with the Dolphins (2017-18) was less than impressive. However, the Texans badly need help with their font seven and adjusting to Ryan’s defensive system which should play to Burke’s strengths as a coach.

No one expected it, but the top head coaching candidate chose to go to the Texans who have a bevy of draft picks and cap space in 2023 and 2024. There should be some concerns about the lack of head coach and play-calling experience for Slowik, but this was a home run hire for the Texans who are in a great spot to find their Quarterback of the future and build the defense.

— Sam

Carolina Panthers

Head coach: Frank Reich: A

Offensive Coordinator: Thomas Brown Defensive Coordinator: Ejiro Evero

So we discussed previously how the Panthers were an extremely attractive landing spot for a head coach because they had a number of stars on the roster, a high draft pick and a team owner willing to spend to build a winner. Frank Reich finished his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts on a sour note in 2021 but going 40-33-1 with the rotating carousel at Quarterback was impressive. Not only does he bring good pedigree and extensive experience with developing young quarterbacks, but the A grade for this hire lies with the coaching assistants and coordinators he’ll bring to the Panthers in 2023.

Let’s start with Evero, who was a hot name as this head coaching cycle for his amazing work with the Broncos defense the last couple of years. He decided to leave the Broncos after Payton was hired, however he’s clearly a head coach in waiting. He’ll bring a 3-4 defense to a team that has plenty of star power on it and is well equipped to have success in an underwhelming NFC South. Thomas Brown will be a first-time offensive coordinator, but he also received a head coach interview this cycle because of his leadership qualities and how he relates to players. He spent three years with the Los Angeles Rams where he wore several hats as a running backs, tight ends and assistant head coach. He’ll work closely with Frank Reich and new quarterbacks coach Josh McCown in what will be a very talented offensive coaching staff who will likely develop their young QB of the future via the draft.

The Panthers found themselves a quality head coach, one of the deepest coaching staffs in the NFL with several head coaches in waiting and they’ll be in good shape to contend for the NFC South title as early as 2023. There’s a lot to like about the Panthers moving forward and whichever quarterback they end up with will have a great staff and team to work with.

— Sam

Arizona Cardinals Head coach: Jonathan Gannon: B-

Offensive Coordinator: Drew Petzing Defensive Coordinator: Nick Rallis

The Cardinals are finished with Kliff Kingsbury and, frankly, Kingsbury is probably glad to be out of that situation judging by how much he enjoyed his job as seen on the in-season version of Hard Knocks. The Cardinals hired Gannon away from the Eagles, who had a stellar year all around. Of the two coordinators available on that Eagles staff, I'd rather have the offensive one, Shane Steichen, who ended up as the new head coach for the Colts. While Philly's defense was very good this season, they weren't dominant. Only the Giants gave up more points to opponents just within the NFC East. It would have been a lot more intriguing to see what Steichen could have cooked up with Kyler Murray, James Conner and the passing attack.

Still, the Cardinals have some pieces on defense that Gannon should be able to optimize. It looks like the offense will be left in the hands of new coordinator Drew Petzing, who, while he has 10 years of coaching experience, doesn't really have a calling card yet. It's likely his biggest success has come in guiding the Cleveland Browns tight ends in 2021. He'll have some talent at that position in Arizona as the Cardinals have Zach Ertz and second-year player Trey McBride, who won the Mackey Award in 2021 for college's best tight end.

Defensively, look for the Cardinals to strive to resemble the Eagles with Rallis, Philly's linebackers coach last season, joining Gannon. Zaven Collins has shown ability but guidance from a coaches who reached the Super Bowl could help put his game back on track.

— Cat

Indianapolis Colts Head coach: Shane Steichen: B+

Offensive Coordinator: Jim Bob Cooter Defensive Coordinator: Gus Bradley

Just look at how well the Eagles offense performed this past season and you'll know why Steichen has a job as a head coach. He'll need to add a quarterback to guide the offense which has nice pieces in Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman already in place. Though Jim Bob Cooter is the offensive coordinator, Steichen will call plays for the Colts as he did an amazing job for the Eagles in that same role.

Finding a quarterback for this team, which had a tremendous amount of pro bowlers on its squad just two seasons ago, will be of utmost importance. If they don't land one of the top four in the draft, things could get hairy. Cooter should play a big role in helping guide whomever the Colts draft as he had a hand in how well Trevor Lawrence developed in Jacksonville over the past season.

Gus Bradley was retained as defensive coordinator for a side that struggled mightily at times. The worst of those times being the blown 33-0 lead suffered against the Vikings in the largest comeback in NFL history last December. The 39-36 overtime loss was the lowlight of the year for a team that seemingly had a lot of good things going for it heading into the season. The defense wasn't all bad, though, but that side of the ball lost faith that its offense could score any points. If the offense heads in the right direction, the defense won't have to shoulder all the heavy lifting.

— Cat

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