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NFL Draft

Texans or Falcons: Which Head Coaching Job Is Better?

  • The Draft Network
  • October 12, 2020
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Following Sunday’s loss to divisional rival Carolina Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons made the choice to move on from their head coach Dan Quinn and their general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

The Falcons were 2-13 in the first five games of the last three seasons. They started 1-4 in both 2018 and 2019, and started this season 0-5. According to playoff statistics dating back to 2009, a 1-4 start gives you just a 13% chance to make the postseason, where 0-5 brings your odds all the way down to zero. Making a trend of starting each season that far behind the 8-ball is a quick way to get you out of an organization, and that’s exactly what happened in Atlanta.

But the Falcons aren’t the only team that now has a head coach opening. The Houston Texans were the first to fire their head coach when they let Bill O’Brien go last week. Since O’Brien was also the acting general manager, they were in the same spot as the Falcons are now with both decision-making chairs now open.

You’re going to read plenty of articles highlighting potential head coaching candidates to fill these two roles. In fact, if you want to read one specifically about the Falcons situation, I already have one for you. But the fact of the matter is you’re going to read a lot of repeat candidates for not just these two spots, but also any that come up in the future between now and next season. On average, six or seven head coaching positions become available every year.

So, instead of listing off the same candidates for potential hires in both Houston and Atlanta, I decided to put each situation side by side to compare which may be a more alluring opening to some of the top candidates. Some of these jobs will have better connections to certain candidates than others, but I decided to look at each situation through three categories: roster makeup, salary cap outlook, and future draft picks.

Roster Makeup

Let’s start with Houston. Deshaun Watson. Okay, great. Moving on to Atlanta. 

I’m kidding. There is more to like about Houston’s current depth chart than just Watson, but that is by far the biggest component. Watson signed a four-year, $160 million extension this offseason, which has the franchise quarterback locked into the quarterback spot in Houston until 2026. Around him, they have a strong left tackle in Laremy Tunsil, but the rest of the offensive line has yet to match that level. They also have speed on offense with Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, and Brandin Cooks at receiver. But after O’Brien shipped off DeAndre Hopkins for just a second-round pick, that room doesn’t look as strong.

On the defensive side of the ball, J.J. Watt is still the main attraction in Houston, though he is getting up there in age. Whitney Mercilus and Zach Cunningham are fine players in the box, while Justin Reid is becoming an impact safety on the back end, but there are some holes in that secondary, too.

As for Atlanta, they have the former MVP Matt Ryan still at quarterback. His contract and the dead cap it holds means the 35-year old will be around for at least a few more years. Jake Matthews and Alex Mack are the core offensive line pieces, but Mack is a free agent this offseason. The Falcons have a great receiver room with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. So if offensive weapons are a determining factor, they’ll win that category.

On defense... yikes. Outside of defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, not a single player on Atlanta’s defense has a Pro Football Focus grade above 70. Linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal are fine players, but both haven’t had the best start to 2020, and the holes around them are glaring in production. As for the rest of the defensive line, there hasn’t been much of a pass-rush presence at all beyond Jarrett, as is evident by the Falcons having only seven sacks on the season.

As of this moment, I would say the Texans have the more desirable roster. Though there are certainly areas that need help, they have two of the most important positions in quarterback and left tackle signed for a long time and are currently playing at a relatively young age. In Atlanta, their two best players, Jones and Ryan, are on the wrong side of 30. Considering some of a rebuild will be necessary, that’s not ideal.

Salary Cap Outlook

Right now, the Houston Texans are right around the middle of the pack with the 17th most cap space in the NFL at $8 million. The Falcons, on the other hand, have the second least amount of cap space in the league at just $2.4 million.

As for who is up this summer, the Texans are looking at wide receivers Stills and Fuller as their potential biggest signings. Cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves and Gareon Conley are both up as well, but they won’t be breaking the bank in Houston, if they’re even back at all. As for flexibility, the biggest contract on the books right now, Watt, has no guaranteed money tied to it and the Texans can move on from his $15 million at any time. They can almost do the same with running back David Johnson, who is on the books for $10 million but can be cut this offseason to save $8 million.

In Atlanta, things aren’t as clean.

Not only do they not have as much free cap space, but they also have Takk McKinnley, Neal, Mack, Todd Gurley, Charles Harris, and Damontae Kazee up this offseason. As for flexibility, they can’t even think about moving on from their biggest cap contracts of Matt Ryan or Julio Jones for at least another two seasons, and will have to sign Ridley in the next few years. They also can’t move on from a front-loaded Dante Fowler Jr. contract without at least a $15 million dead cap penalty until 2022. Safety Ricardo Allen can be cut and the team can save about $5 million in cap space, but really, the Falcons aren’t that flexible without some cap magic.

I once again have to give this category to Houston.

Future Draft Picks

Don’t worry, Falcons fans, this is your time to shine.

Let’s look at Atlanta’s draft situation first. As of right now, the Falcons are slated to have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Such a high pick will either garner them a chance to take a franchise difference-making player, or trade the pick or a king’s ransom—especially since the top of the quarterback class is strong this year. They also have all of their scheduled picks moving forward except for their seventh-rounder this year—2022 and 2023 have not been touched. 

As for Houston, well, let’s just say you likely won’t be building through the draft this upcoming April.

For the Texans, they would currently have the No. 7 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but they traded that pick to the Miami Dolphins as part of the Tunsil deal. As for their second-round pick, yeah, they don’t have that either as part of the Tunsil deal. They have an extra fourth and an extra sixth-round pick in this year’s draft, but missing those top two picks hurts. As for 2022, the only change is an extra fourth-rounder as part of the Cooks deal.

This one is not even close. Atlanta gives you the best chance to improve the roster with top young talent.

So, overall, the Texans have their young franchise quarterback and young franchise left tackle, they have a better roster overall, and they have more flexible cap space. If you ask me, that trumps Atlanta having better picks to use in this upcoming draft. You can also throw in divisional outlook and notice the AFC South seems to be more up for grabs than the NFC South.

Both of these franchises are starting the rebuilding phase. Both have their pros and cons, but it appears Houston would be the better gig right now.

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