NFL Teams Headed in the Wrong Direction in 2016
There’s a lot to be said for equal time, so we're going from the most improved teams in the league this offseason to five clubs that figure to disappoint in 2016.
Be it massive free-agent losses, questionable salary-cap decisions and/or muddled situations at various positions, these franchises appear to be in trouble. While the NFL draft offers some relief, relying on a lot of unproven players to contribute immediately is probably not wise.
Add in the fact that each of these teams is in a division where the competition has upped its game significantly or is already very formidable, and the chances of success decrease even more.
Still, each of these organizations can take solace in the fact that it shouldn’t take long to reverse its fortunes in this league.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
2015 Win-Loss Record: 7-9
It was an offseason of addition by subtraction in the City of Brotherly Love.
There was the firing of controversial head coach Chip Kelly (actually released with one game remaining in 2015). Then there were the trades that sent some of his handpicked talent (Byron Maxwell, DeMarco Murray and Kiko Alonso) elsewhere for draft choices. The Philadelphia Eagles also gave up their share of draft picks to move up to No. 2 in this year’s selection process in Chicago.
And there still seems to be an air of uncertainty surrounding this team, especially when it comes to the quarterback position. The Birds took North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz with their first-round choice, apparently much to the chagrin of 2015 14-game starter Sam Bradford.
The onetime Rams’ signal-caller inked a lucrative two-year deal with Philadelphia this offseason, but it’s safe to say that wasn’t much of a long-term commitment by the organization. Don’t forget that new head coach Doug Pederson brought quarterback Chase Daniel over from Kansas City.
You could argue (and win) that the team’s best offseason move was the hiring of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. But do the Eagles have the right personnel to do what the coach wants to do on this side of the football? Schwartz’s last stop was Orchard Park, and former Buffalo Bills such as linebacker Nigel Bradham and cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks followed him to Philadelphia.
That helps in terms of learning the system, but does the club have the right bodies to get the job done? Keep in mind that the Eagles ranked 30th in total defense and gave up the most rushing yards in the league in 2015.
With an unsettling situation at quarterback and a new approach on the other side of the football, these less-than-peaceful Eagles give one an uneasy feeling these days.
4. Atlanta Falcons
2015 Win-Loss Record: 8-8
At the very least, the Atlanta Falcons can lay claim to being No. 1 in something in 2016.
According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the franchise was the first team to get all of its draft choices under contract this year.
The first of the Falcons' six selections was University of Florida safety Keanu Neal, the 17th overall pick in the draft. But it was general manager Thomas Dimitroff who went on the defensive when it came to validating the choice. In a recent interview with Rick Kamla and John Michaels of 92.9 The Game in Atlanta, he took exception with those who didn’t have Neal as high on their draft boards as others.
More significantly in terms of the defense, have the Falcons made any progress when it comes to fixing the pass rush? The club totaled an NFL-worst 19 sacks in 2015, bad news when facing a steady dose of quarterbacks Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston. Atlanta was 1-5 versus their NFC South rivals this past season.
But Dimitroff had an answer for this as well, per Ledbetter: “We know what we are doing with our pass rush.”
The jury is certainly still out on that subject, unless Vic Beasley rebounds from a disappointing rookie season (team-high four sacks) and free-agent addition/defensive end Derrick Shelby comes up big.
Meanwhile, the Falcons offense didn’t strike a lot of fear in opponents in 2015. The team averaged a disappointing 16.1 points per game during its 3-8 finish, less than half (32.4 average) than it did during head coach Dan Quinn’s 5-0 start with the club. And with the exception of signing wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to replace Roddy White, the Falcons did not add a lot of firepower.
Don’t be surprised if this team picks up where it fell off in 2015 after its promising start.
3. Cleveland Browns
2015 Win-Loss Record: 3-13
It was a record-tying haul for the Cleveland Browns in the 2016 draft. The only other time a franchise selected 14 players in a seven-round draft (which began in 1994) was 1997, when the Miami Dolphins relied on the guidance of head coach Jimmy Johnson to revamp their roster.
Obviously, all of these new faces don’t necessarily guarantee success. Tom Reed of Cleveland.com pointed out that this franchise has had its struggles when it comes to drafting players—an understatement if there has ever been one.
Of course, this is yet another new Browns’ hierarchy under vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and head coach Hue Jackson. Patience must be exercised…again.
Even if all the newcomers pan out—and that includes renovation project Robert Griffin III under center—this is a team that lost nearly all the good players it already had. The offensive line will be minus three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack and highly reliable right tackle Mitchell Schwartz thanks to free agency.
Defensively, inside linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Donte Whitner were given pink slips, while former Pro Bowl free safety Tashaun Gipson inked a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. And while the team just added five pass-catchers in the draft, losing wideout Travis Benjamin to free agency was yet another big blow.
Is it possible that a team that won only three games in 2015 could be worse the following season? These Browns are about to test that theory.
2. Denver Broncos
2015 Win-Loss Record: 12-4 (won Super Bowl 50)
There has been plenty of discussion about the Denver Broncos' quarterback situation.
But what about the entire team in general?
The defending Super Bowl champions took their share of hits this offseason at other areas as well. Take the offensive line, which lost left tackle Ryan Harris and left guard Evan Mathis to free agency and released right guard Louis Vasquez.
The league’s top-ranked defense in 2015 will now be minus inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, defensive end Malik Jackson and reserve safeties David Bruton and Omar Bolden.
All of these losses, combined with the upheaval at quarterback via the retirement of Peyton Manning and the free-agent defection of 2015 seven-game starter Brock Osweiler, makes for quite an overhaul. General manager John Elway dealt for seven-year pro Mark Sanchez and then traded up for Paxton Lynch in the first round of April’s draft.
So what is the feeling around the league when it comes to these refurbished Broncos? Will we see the champs in Houston for Super Bowl LI?
“Me telling you they are not going to repeat is not a huge deal,” an NFL coach told Mike Sando of ESPN. “I am telling you it is going to be a complete strain."
“No. They will win maybe 10 games, and they will get beat in the playoffs as soon as they have to throw the ball to win,” were the words of a “veteran coordinator,” per Sando.
With the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders (both of whom won at Denver this past season) hot on their tails, the Broncos will be hard-pressed to win a sixth consecutive AFC West title. Being super again seems light-years away.
1. San Francisco 49ers
2015 Win-Loss Record: 5-11
There appears to be some optimism surrounding the San Francisco 49ers.
But looks can be…well, you know the rest.
Trent Baalke and Chip Kelly made 11 picks in last month’s NFL draft, and it appears the head coach is pretty pleased with the club's acquisitions.
“It’s really early in its infancy,” said Kelly to Cam Inman of the Mercury News in reference to the team’s selections. “I’ve been really impressed with how the group we have right now works. … I’m excited about what direction we’re headed in.”
Despite the words of encouragement from the franchise’s new sideline leader, we are still talking about a club with a lot of unsettled issues.
Will Blaine Gabbert supplant Colin Kaepernick at quarterback for the entire season? Does Baalke have any intent on bringing back veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, the Niners’ leading pass-catcher each of the past three seasons? Can rookie guard Joshua Garnett make an immediate impact on an offensive line ranked 30th in the league in terms of blocking for the run in 2015, per Pro Football Focus?
That’s a lot of questions for a club that won only five games this past fall. It’s safe to say that last season’s team felt the effects of massive free-agent losses and retirements on both sides of the football. The 2015 49ers finished last in the NFL in scoring, while the club fell to 29th in total defense—one year after surrendering the fifth-fewest yards in the league.
Despite the presence of savvy performers such as left tackle Joe Staley and inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman, it’s start-over time for a San Francisco team hurting in so many areas.
Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics come from Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com. All player ratings courtesy of Pro Football Focus. All 2016 free-agent and salary-cap information, contract terms and 2016 transactions are courtesy of Spotrac. Depth charts via Ourlads.