Rebuilding Plans for NFL Teams That Need an Overhaul
As the weather becomes colder, so do the attitudes toward certain teams' futures. The winds of change are swirling, and multiple NFL franchises will undergo overhauls in attempts to adjust their courses.
Significant turnover occurs every offseason. Ten teams have fired a head coach, general manager or both since the start of the calendar year.
Many more organizations will look different two months from now. The Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all going in the wrong direction. Their issues must be addressed or they're unlikely to experience success anytime soon.
Here are rebuilding plans for those six squads to avoid continuing the cycle of suck.
Teams on the Edge
Significant organizational change isn't necessary for some teams, but a few tweaks will be necessary to keep them competitive beyond the current campaign.
The Arizona Cardinals entered this season as the NFL's oldest team, per the Philly Voice's Jimmy Kempski. They've gotten even older with the additions of Alex Boone and Adrian Peterson. The next step is preparing for life without Peterson, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald. General manager Steve Keim will need to allocate premium assets to replace the team's veterans, particularly at quarterback, where Palmer's decline has already begun.
The Baltimore Ravens have been beset by injuries, and the absences of multiple key contributors exposed roster inefficiencies. Joe Flacco isn't elite and can't carry the offense. The offensive line and wide receiver corps need to be retooled. Breakout running back Alex Collins is a free agent after the season, and a contract extension should be forthcoming. The Ravens are still competitive at 4-5, but general manager Ozzie Newsome must rebuild the overall talent base.
In Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers' absence behind center started a Packers tailspin after a 4-1 start. Rodgers' return will mean a lot next season. However, his injury only magnifies the fact Green Bay is a poor defensive squad. Coordinator Dom Capers has been in place since 2009, and the Packers haven't finished better than 15th overall in total defense since 2012, when they were 11th. A fresh play-caller and new scheme are in order.
Adam Gase's status as the league's wunderkind head coach has been usurped by Sean McVay. Gase's Miami Dolphins regressed in Year 2, especially on offense, where they rank 31st overall. Gase isn't in danger of losing his job, but an offensive reset is necessary since quarterback (sans injured signal-caller Ryan Tannehill), offensive line and running backs continue to disappoint.
Finally, the Washington Redskins are in a difficult position. The franchise and Kirk Cousins haven't come to a long-term agreement, and placing the franchise tag on the quarterback for a third straight year is cost prohibitive. A contingency plan must be enacted to remain competitive. The team is 4-5 with Cousins, but it would be much worse without him.
Point Differential: minus-44
Current Draft Slotting: 10th overall
- Step 1: Fire John Fox
The master of the turnaround hasn't worked his magic in the Windy City. John Fox turned both the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos into playoff teams by his second season. The same can't be said for the Chicago Bears, who are now 12-29 overall during his tenure. The Bears aren't any closer to digging themselves out of the NFC North basement than they were when Fox took over, and Sunday's embarrassing 23-16 loss to the Brett Hundley-led Green Bay Packers signaled the end.
- Step 2: Hire Offensive-minded Head Coach
The Bears built a run-first offense around first-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Generally speaking, this is the optimal approach, considering the Bears' talented backfield of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Although, this tends to hide Trubisky instead of accentuating his play. Sean McVay and Bill O'Brien provided blueprints for how to build around young quarterbacks by tailoring the offense to their skill sets. The same needs to be done in Chicago.
- Step 3: Overhaul Wide Receiver Corps
Chicago's wide receiver corps should look drastically different in 2018. Cameron Meredith, Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, Tre McBride and the recently acquired Dontrelle Inman are free agents after this season. First-round disappointment Kevin White is a candidate to be released after another season-ending injury. General manager Ryan Pace may re-sign one or two of those names, but a heavy emphasis must be placed on upgrading this position to help the franchise's young signal-caller.
- What Comes Next?
After making a strong play to acquire Trubisky, the hard part is out of the way. The Bears have their franchise quarterback in place, and this should be viewed as a positive for head coaching candidates and potential free agents. The defense already ranks ninth overall—and the Bears should consider retaining coordinator Vic Fangio—which makes this a potential quick turnaround for a head coach with the right approach.
Point Differential: minus-33
Current Draft Slotting: fifth overall
- Step 1: Move Beyond Marvin Lewis
Eventually, all coaches lose their voice within a locker room. Marvin Lewis is the NFL's second-longest tenured head coach after taking over the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003. Yet he's never won anything of consequence. Yes, Lewis pulled the franchise out of Bungles territory, but his teams haven't advanced in the postseason. Now, the squad isn't even playoff-caliber. After making the postseason for five straight seasons, Cincinnati is 9-15-1 since the beginning of 2016. A fresh approach is needed in the worst way.
- Step 2: Culture Change
For years, particularly early in Lewis' tenure, the Bengals were a running joke based on how many of their players got into trouble off the field. This lessened in recent years, yet the group still has those who aren't considered model citizens. Vontaze Burfict's is considered the league's dirtiest player. Adam Jones isn't viewed in a positive light, either. These type of talents are no longer needed, especially if the Bengals aren't winning on a consistent basis.
- Step 3: Tackle Offensive Line
An offensive tackle rotation comprised of Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher and Andre Smith isn't working. The organization made a grave mistake when it allowed veteran blindside protector Andrew Whitworth to walk in free agency. The Bengals wanted to see what they had in three high-round draft picks, and it's not pretty.
- What Comes Next?
Multiple moves need to be made to supplement a talented roster. The Bengals can position themselves well based on how they handle A.J. McCarron's contract situation. The team's backup quarterback is scheduled to be a restricted free agent, but he's filed a grievance to be considered unrestricted. McCarron will draw interest around the league if his botched trade at the deadline is any indication. By placing a high-round tender on McCarron, the Bengals could add another valuable asset to address a different problem area.
Point Differential: minus-97
Current Draft Slotting: first overall
- Step 1: Organizational Restructure
The Cleveland Browns are in a perpetual state of rebuilding because the franchise's issues begin at the highest level. Jimmy Haslam built a board-room approach where each of the department heads reports directly to the owner. The approach has facilitated unrest. An established hierarchy should help create syngery and a filtering, top-down philosophy needed to finally get the organization on the same page.
- Step 2: Fire Hue Jackson
Patience was needed the moment Cleveland's leadership group decided the roster required a strip-it-to-the-studs rebuild. However, only one victory since Hue Jackson took over as head coach isn't good enough. No one would blame Haslam for making yet another change based on the team's recent ineptitude. But the issues run deeper with a coaching staff complaining through the media, thus creating a divide within the organization.
"(The) coaching staff feels that the front office is undercutting them by not acquiring the talent they need to win and not putting in matching effort to do so," AM1340's Benjamin Allbright reported (via SB Nation's Chris Pokorny).
- Step 3: Quarterback Overrides Everything
The Browns became a laughing stock based on their inability to secure a franchise quarterback. The organization's recent decisions to bypass Carson Wentz and then Deshaun Watson a year later only adds to the negative perception. Cleveland will be in a position this offseason to acquire a top-shelf signal-caller, either through free agency or the draft, since the franchise has over $100 million to spend and five picks in the first two rounds.
- What Comes Next?
Aside from quarterback, Cleveland needs to address multiple problem areas found on the roster. The NFL's youngest team must acquire a few competent veterans to help expedite its maturation. Talent at the skill positions will be necessary to place around whatever signal-caller the team deems worthy of building around next season. The right coach and added talent can make any roster look better. Just ask the Los Angeles Rams.
Point Differential: minus-101
Current Draft Slotting: fourth overall
- Step 1: Determine What's Wrong with Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck's health is the single-most-important factor in whatever direction the Indianapolis Colts go. What started off as an offseason surgery with the franchise quarterback expected to start the season has turned into a catastrophe and a lost season. Luck is now on injured reserve and in Europe seeking treatment on his injured shoulder, per ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Mike Wells. The offseason will be about finding the right rehabilitation plan to get the 2012 No. 1 overall pick back on the field. Until then, the franchise can't even consider trading Jacoby Brissett, who has turned into a solid starting option.
- Step 2: Fire Chuck Pagano
For all of the reasons many could state as to why Pagano should be relieved of his duties, this is the best one: General manager Chris Ballard deserves an opportunity to hire a head coach who aligns with his organizational philosophy. Ballard was saddled with Pagano this season because owner Jim Irsay decided not to undertake a clean sweep of both the front office and coaching staff. Former general manager Ryan Grigson took the blame for two straight 8-8 campaigns. Pagano will be the fall man after this year's inevitable sub-.500 performance.
- Step 3: Fix Offensive Line
This problem started under Grigson's supervision and still needs to be addressed. Indianapolis ranks dead last, having surrendered 39 sacks. The organization has used multiple draft picks to address its starting front, but they haven't helped. Firing Pagano's staff will bring in a new offensive line coach. Drafting a top prospect and adding a solid veteran in free agency should help, too.
- What Comes Next?
Everything falls back to Luck's status, because the rest of roster is talent-deficient. In fact, it's one of the league's worst. The next step is getting a firm grasp on the quarterback's 2018 status to determine the correct offseason approach. Brissett becomes a tradeable asset if the Colts are comfortable with Luck's current recovery plan. Or, the franchise may even consider the possibility of moving its top signal-caller if it isn't pleased with his long-term prognosis.
New York Giants
Point Differential: minus-88
Current Draft Slotting: third overall
- Step 1: Clean House
Head coach Ben McAdoo receives the bulk of the blame for the New York Giants' ills—and the team has regressed in his second season—but the franchise's woeful draft track record is every bit to blame. Aside from Odell Beckham Jr. and Landon Collins, general manager Jerry Reese failed to select a difference-maker at any position over the last seven drafts. Instead, he invested top-10 picks in two projects, Ereck Flowers and Eli Apple. Considering the franchise is now firmly situated in the top-five for the next draft, Reese shouldn't be the one making the pick and McAdoo isn't the person to develop elite talent.
- Step 2: Remove Blindside Blinders
Flowers isn't an NFL left tackle. The 23-year-old blocker committed to a new workout regimen this offseason, and he's improved. But he's still not consistent enough. Instead, the Giants can create a ripple effect throughout the entire offense by addressing left tackle and moving Flowers to another spot. If a left tackle is reliable, the quarterback is far more comfortable in the pocket. Plus, protections can be slid in the opposite direction. Better protection allows receivers to get open and creates time for the ball to be delivered. Flowers' growing pains have hampered the Giants for too long.
- Step 3: Draft Eli Manning's Replacement
Whoever takes over as general manager has an opportunity to build a future without Eli Manning in mind. Manning tied his brother, Peyton, Sunday with his 208th consecutive start. His durability has never been in question, but the 36-year-old's level of play has been a point of contention. Manning has one more year on his contract before the Giants can go in another direction. New York drafted Davis Webb in the third round this year, but his presence shouldn't deter the team from acquiring an elite talent. No better time than now to secure the franchise's long-term plans by selecting a top quarterback prospect.
- What Comes Next?
The Giants went from a preseason NFC East favorite to the NFL's second-worst team (only better than the winless Cleveland Browns). The Mara family isn't one to make rash decisions, but it's time to reconsider every option, because the roster's current construction is a failure. Veterans like Brandon Marshall and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie aren't needed. A new front office and coaching staff can jettison those talents and bring in others who fit their philosophy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Point Differential: minus-35
Current Draft Slotting: ninth overall
- Step 1: Extend Jameis Winston
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers don't have a choice in this matter. The NFL is made up of haves and have-nots. This is based on whether a team has a legitimate starting quarterback. Jameis Winston enters the first window to sign a contract extension this offseason. He certainly won't come cheap—a $100-plus million deal is in his future—but the franchise is already heavily invested in the 2015 No. 1 overall pick, even if his play plateaued this season.
- Step 2: Support Dirk Koetter
The second step goes hand-in-hand with the first. Dirk Koetter became the Buccaneers head coach because of his relationship with Winston. After serving a season as the team's offensive coordinator, Tampa Bay management promoted Koetter to replace Lovie Smith. Initial returns were promising, but the Bucs have floundered in his second campaign. However, this doesn't mean Koetter needs to be fired. Placing a quarterback in a new system often slows his growth. Koetter should be allowed another year of development with his quarterback to see hows Winston fares.
- Step 3: Different Defensive Direction
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith can serve as the staff's scapegoat if necessary. The unit hasn't built upon last year's second-half success. The Buccaneers rank 27th overall in total defense and surrender 376.3 yards per game. Free-agent acquisitions Chris Baker and T.J. Ward haven't been used effectively, and the group ranks among the league's worst with only 14 sacks. Smith isn't getting the most of his talent.
- What Comes Next?
Winston isn't the franchise's only high-profile free agent. Ward and cornerback Brent Grimes can walk after this season. Tight end Cameron Brate is a restricted free agent, too. Plus, the staff must find ways to maximize the talents of former high draft picks Donovan Smith and Vernon Hargreaves, who struggled at points this season.