The Jacksonville Jaguars are unlikely to become immediate contenders under new head coach Gus Bradley.
If there is one constant among all 32 NFL teams and their fans each offseason, it’s optimism.
While many NFL teams are expected to improve this season, not every team can. Some teams will make big steps forward from pretender to contender in 2013, and some of the league’s struggling franchises will remain cellar-dwellers in the upcoming year.
For some NFL teams, the most important goal shouldn’t necessarily be rising to contention in 2013, but putting themselves in position to do so in 2014 and beyond.
The following five teams were all among the NFL’s 10 worst teams last season. While each of them has made significant efforts to improve this offseason, they likely remain at least one year away from being serious contenders.
Although each of these teams has the potential to improve from their disappointing 2012 seasons, they should all be thinking ahead to 2014.
For each of these teams, the long-term potential for success is much more promising than the short-term potential will be in 2013. Additionally, they have all made moves this offseason that have indicated a focus on longer-term goals above immediate improvement.
Carson Palmer is a short-term quarterback upgrade, but not the franchise quarterback the Cardinals need to contend in the NFC West.
The Arizona Cardinals should be better than they were during the final 12 games of last season, in which they won just one game. Even so, it’s hard to see them finishing anywhere but fourth in the NFC West this season.
The Arizona Cardinals have a new coach and quarterback, but their quarterback upgrade is only slight with the addition of Carson Palmer. While Palmer is a better option over John Skelton and Ryan Lindley under center, he hasn’t been a top quarterback since 2007 and isn’t the franchise quarterback the Cardinals need to contend in the division.
If the Cardinals were going to make a surprise splash in 2013, they needed to upgrade at quarterback and add defensive playmakers. While the team made some important additions at linebacker and cornerback, it remains subpar in its pass rush and at the safety position.
Drafting Jonathan Cooper with the No. 7 overall pick also indicates that the Cardinals are thinking more long-term than short-term. While Cooper could end up being an All-Pro guard and possibly even the best player in the 2013 draft class, the selection of a guard does not add the game-changer the Cardinals needed to make an immediate turnaround.
Ultimately, the Cardinals need to find a franchise quarterback to become NFC contenders again. They may have viewed Palmer as the best short-term option for 2013 due to a weak quarterback draft class, but they should plan to look beyond Palmer in 2014 and draft a quarterback in the early rounds.
In a division that includes the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, one of the NFL’s hottest rising teams in the Seattle Seahawks and a young, up-and-coming St. Louis Rams team, the Cardinals appear set to remain the division’s bottom-feeder in 2013. The rebuilding process to regain their footing in the division should continue into the 2014 offseason.
EJ Manuel is a talented quarterback but is unlikely to be a big winner as a rookie.
With a new head coach in Doug Marrone, new quarterbacks on the roster and a talented crop of players on both sides of the ball, Buffalo Bills fans have reason to be excited about their team’s prospects for the future. That said, the transition to being a winning team is unlikely to be immediate.
While EJ Manuel was a first-round pick in this year’s draft, he is unlikely to follow in the footsteps of the three rookie quarterbacks who led their teams to the playoffs last season. Manuel has the physical tools to be a very good franchise quarterback, but his game is considerably more raw than that of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III or even Russell Wilson coming out of college last season.
The addition of Manuel brings definite hope to the Bills for 2014 and beyond, but the quarterback situation continues to look concerning for 2013. Manuel is likely to have his share of rookie struggles should he start, while veteran free-agent addition Kevin Kolb may be a decent stopgap quarterback option but is unlikely to be a significant upgrade over Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Bills have some significant areas of concern at other positions as well. Outside of wideout Steve Johnson, the Bills have a lack of proven receiving threats on their offense. They are also weak at the left guard position and do not have a premier pass-rusher opposite Mario Williams.
The Bills appear to be headed in the right direction, but they aren’t ready yet to challenge the New England Patriots in the AFC East. With a year for Manuel and much of the team’s other young talent to develop and mesh, the Bills could contend for a playoff berth come 2014.
One area where the Bills are certainly already looking ahead to next offseason is the contract situation of free safety Jairus Byrd. Byrd is currently franchise-tagged by the Bills but remained unsigned as of Saturday night.
The deadline to sign franchise-tagged players to long-term deals is Monday, and a deal with Byrd is unlikely to happen, according to WGR’s Joe Buscaglia. Byrd could end up holding out for part or all of the 2013 season if he chooses not to sign his franchise tender, but the bigger concern for the Bills going forward is securing the status of one of their key defensive playmakers.
If the Bills end up having to replace Byrd next offseason, it will be one more area of still-necessary rebuilding in addition to addressing the team’s pass rush and left guard situations.
Blaine Gabbert will likely start at quarterback for the Jaguars in 2013, but he may not in 2014.
It made sense for the Jacksonville Jaguars to give third-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert one more shot to prove himself as a franchise quarterback in 2013. With no quarterback worth selecting at the No. 2 overall pick, the Jaguars instead selected offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, arguably the top prospect in the 2013 draft class.
Drafting Joeckel, however, wasn’t conducive to an immediate turnaround in Jacksonville. While the team will have one of the NFL’s best offensive tackle duos with Eugene Monroe and Joeckel, it lacks the impact players needed on both sides of the ball to become a serious playoff contender.
The Jaguars have a solid group of offensive playmakers that includes running back Maurice Jones-Drew and wide receivers Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon.
Blackmon, however, is suspended for the first four games of the season, and those weapons aren’t going to take the Jaguars offense very far unless Gabbert improves significantly this season.
Defensively, the Jaguars are expected to improve under new head coach Gus Bradley, who led one of the NFL’s best defenses as the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator last season. That said, their defensive personnel has no proven stars and will continue to need reinforcements next offseason.
In an AFC South division that includes two of the NFL’s hottest teams in the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts, the Jaguars remain at least one year away from becoming a serious challenger. Looking ahead to the 2014 offseason, the Jaguars should be considering a change at quarterback and targeting playmakers for their defense.
If Gabbert continues to struggle in 2013, the Jaguars will likely have a high draft choice in the 2014 draft and will likely use that pick to select one of the draft class' top quarterbacks.
That said, the Jaguars will also have to continue reinforcing their defensive personnel at all three levels for Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich to have the success in Jacksonville that Bradley had with Seattle.
The New York Jets will likely be building around Geno Smith in 2014, but he may not bring immediate results in 2013.
With an unstable quarterback situation, a team has little chance of contending for a playoff spot. The New York Jets have less stability at quarterback than any other team in the NFL.
Rookie second-round pick Geno Smith is the Jets’ future at quarterback, but don’t expect him to be the next Andrew Luck, RG3 or Russell Wilson as a rookie.
Jets quarterbacks coach David Lee told the Star-Ledger that Smith has struggled to learn the Jets’ West Coast offense. Smith also struggled with his footwork and accuracy under pressure at West Virginia and is likely to continue to struggle as a rookie if he is thrust into action immediately.
Starting Smith immediately isn’t a great option, but neither is the other option of starting Mark Sanchez. Sanchez is coming off an abysmal season in which he completed just 54.3 percent of his passes and finished the season with a 13-to-18 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
The Jets don’t have a great amount of offensive talent around their quarterbacks either. The Jets have an unproven stable of running backs, a limited group of receiving weapons and an unstable situation at guard.
There are also holes to fill on the Jets defense. The Jets are counting on Quinton Coples and/or Antwan Barnes to generate more pressure as an edge-rushing outside linebacker, while the Jets are moving forward without star cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason.
The Jets brought back Rex Ryan for his fifth season as New York Jets head coach, but if they expect to Ryan to take them back to the playoffs like he did in 2009 and 2010, they should stay committed to him past 2013.
The Jets added two potential stars to their defense with first-round picks Dee Milliner and Sheldon Richardson, while Smith has the talent to be a very good quarterback. But the results of those selections are unlikely to come immediately.
What the Jets do next offseason will depend largely upon which players step up this season. Tight end and safety already look like positions of need, but other needs will be determined based upon whether players such as running back Chris Ivory, rookie guard Brian Winters and Coples/Barnes can emerge in 2013.
Reggie McKenzie's aggressive rebuilding effort in Oakland should continue in 2014.
In his second offseason as Oakland Raiders general manager, Reggie McKenzie continued his aggressive effort to reconstruct the team.
McKenzie released many players brought in by former owner/general manager Al Davis, including defensive back Michael Huff, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. Between 10 draft picks and a bevy of free-agent additions, the Oakland Raiders lineup won’t look much like the one they had last year.
In time, disposing of many bad contracts over the past couple seasons while rebuilding the roster should bring the Raiders back to relevancy. They are unlikely to see immediate results in 2013, as it will take time for the team’s young players for develop and for its new additions to mesh as a team.
Offensively, the Raiders have an uncertain quarterback situation. They traded for Matt Flynn to be the team’s starting quarterback, but he has only two career NFL starts. He will receive competition from third-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor and rookie Tyler Wilson in training camp.
The toughest transition for the Raiders in 2013, however, could be on the defensive side of the ball.
The Raiders’ defensive lineup will be comprised almost completely of new players, with defensive end Lamarr Houston and safety Tyvon Branch being the only returning players locked into the lineup. That lineup will be comprised largely of mid-level free-agent signings who will have their work cut out for them in bringing the Raiders back from ranking 28th last season in scoring defense.
With so many new players on the 2013 roster, the Raiders will have to make determinations in 2013 of which players should remain in their long-term plans as they go forward to the 2014 offseason.
That process will be made even tougher because many of the team’s best players—including Houston, running back Darren McFadden and left tackle Jared Veldheer—will be slated for unrestricted free agency.
The Raiders should place a continued emphasis on adding playmakers on both sides of the ball next offseason. They will likely move forward with either Flynn or Wilson as their quarterback in 2014 but need to add more talent around their quarterback to become a winning team once again.
Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.