The head coaching hiring cycle officially came to a close on Tuesday with the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals plucking coordinators Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon out of Philadelphia. Now, all five vacancies have been filled and there's a wide array of coaching talent being stretched across the NFL. Some of these teams opted for veteran minds, while three clubs are trying their luck with first-time head coaches.
So, which teams made the right hire? That question likely needs years to marinate before we get a true answer. That said, let's take a look at each head coaching hire and hand out our grades.
Denver Broncos: Sean Payton
Previous role: Saints head coach (2013-2021)
Replacing: Nathaniel Hackett (2022)
Denver needed to swing for the fences to help unravel their tumultuous season in 2022 and did just that by acquiring Sean Payton in a rare coaching trade with the Saints. The only reason why this gets an "A" instead of an "A+" is due to the price tag attached to getting Payton as the Broncos needed to send New Orleans their 2023 first-rounder (No. 30 overall) and a 2024 second. Denver also received a 2024 third along with Payton. That said, if Payton can change the culture at Mile High and help Russell Wilson rekindle the elite play we once saw out of him in Seattle, this will be a worthwhile investment by the Broncos. Bringing Payton on as the head coach gives the Broncos the best chance of fixing Wilson, who they are attached to through at least the 2025 season. Because of Wilson's contract, you couldn't wipe the slate clean, so a veteran coach with an offensive mind was needed. Payton fits that exact bill.
Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Gannon
Previous role: Eagles defensive coordinator (2021-2022)
Replacing: Kliff Kingsbury (2019-2022)
In a vacuum, Gannon is a great defensive mind that led one of the best units in the NFL last season. The Eagles defense ranked No. 6 in the NFL in DVOA and Gannon deploying his array of pass rushers was a big reason why. With the Cardinals ranking 24th in the NFL in DVOA on that side of the ball and allowing 26.4 points per game (second-most in the NFL), Gannon's arrival is a welcome sight. That major question that is still to be determined, however, is the offense. Gannon will now need to find the right offensive coordinator who helps cater things around Kyler Murray. Browns quarterbacks coach Drew Petzing is a leading candidate, per Cleveland.com. No matter who gets hired for that spot, they along with Gannon need to have a cohesive relationship with Murray, who the team signed to a massive contract extension last offseason. Part of Arizona's undoing a year ago was the souring relationship between Murray and former head coach Kliff Kingsbury, so the chemistry between Gannon and his new QB could be the linchpin that determines if this hire is a successful one or not.
Indianapolis Colts: Shane Steichen
Previous role: Eagles offensive coordinator (2021-2022)
Replacing: Frank Reich (2018-2022), Jeff Saturday (interim)
First and foremost, he's not Jeff Saturday, so the Colts will be getting someone with extensive experience as a coach in the NFL. The arrival of Steichen is fascinating because it may tell us what Indianapolis is thinking in terms of how it wants to approach identifying its vacant quarterback position. Steichen, who is now the youngest head coach in the franchise's history, has experience not only developing young quarterbacks but developing them to an elite level. He was on hand as the OC in Los Angeles when Justin Herbert burst onto the scene and helped him throw for 4,336 yards and 31 touchdowns during his rookie season in 2020. More recently in Philly, Steichen also helped Jalen Hurts develop into a runner-up for NFL MVP. So, if the Colts do decide to draft a quarterback with their No. 4 overall pick, they now have a coach equipped with the skills to help him make that transition to the NFL a bit easier.
Carolina Panthers: Frank Reich
Previous role: Colts head coach (2018-2022)
Replacing: Matt Rhule (2020-2022), Steve Wilks (interim)
In my mind, Steve Wilks did enough to have the interim tag taken off and hired as Carolina's next head coach but, independent of that, the hire of Frank Reich is a good one. Reich got a raw deal in Indianapolis. He was second fiddle after Josh McDaniels left the organization at the alter and needed to scramble to assemble a staff, and then Andrew Luck retired. That sent Reich down a road of veteran quarterbacks rotating in and out during his tenure. Even with all that turmoil at the game's most important position, he largely kept Indy afloat with a 40-33-1 record. He is capable of leading a winning program, but finding the right quarterback is imperative. Maybe they could be a landing spot for Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo, or maybe Reich is content with going young after what he just endured in Indy? Regardless, Reich has shown us that he can stay above .500 with subpar QB play, but he'll need to pair himself with someone with a higher ceiling than an aging Matt Ryan or broken down Carson Wentz for the Panthers to truly turn things around.
Houston Texans: DeMeco Ryans
Previous role: 49ers defensive coordinator (2021-2022)
Replacing: Lovie Smith (2022)
After back-to-back years where the Houston Texans hired someone who most around the NFL assumed had a short shelf life, they've finally brought someone in where it feels like they actually put down roots. Outside of Payton, DeMeco Ryans was the top candidate this hiring cycle, and for good reason. He just helped lead one of the best defenses in the NFL in San Francisco and has widely been tapped as the next great coach to come out of the Shanahan tree. Ryans, who was drafted by the Texans in 2006 and spent the first six years of his playing career in Houston, has a blank slate to work with, which can be looked at as a great opportunity to build the proper foundation of a winner. The Texans have the No. 2 and No. 12 pick in the NFL Draft this year and could use one of those selections on a young quarterback to mold the franchise around. The organization also has the sixth-most amount of cap space this offseason, so there's also the capital for Ryans and GM Nick Caserio to continue building the roster. Armed with those assets and experience as both a coach and player in the NFL, Ryans is as set up as you'd hope to be to begin a head coaching tenure.