How to Fix the NFL's Worst Teams
Every NFL fan dreams of someday becoming the general manager of their favorite team. Some of us act out the changes we would make by playing Madden or by creating dynasties in fantasy football. For those of us who write for a living, we get to daydream about taking over as general manager and mock up the changes for you to read.
That's what I'm doing today.
Imagine that the bottom 10 teams in the NFL all had an opening at general manager. This is the proposal I would make of the offseason moves for each team in order to win the job.
Now, let's remember, not all of these moves are likely to happen. This isn't a prediction of what the offseason will look like, but rather what I would do as GM of each team. It's slightly impractical but a whole lot of fun.
1. Cleveland Browns
Current Record: 0-7
The Browns roster is constructed from a mix of philosophies due to the team's poor performance over the last decade. One mainstay is left tackle Joe Thomas, with another being surprise breakout wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. Pryor is one to build around on offense, while Thomas is turning 32 years old in December and is a potential trade piece.
The defense has young talent and potential; Nate Orchard, Emmanuel Ogbah, Danny Shelton and Carl Nassib are playing big roles already. Bolstering the defense with smart drafting—not overspending—is how to best rebuild the Browns.
Free agency will only get you so far, and smart teams use it to reward their players and spot-fill holes with value. The Browns have plenty of cap space but should avoid the inevitable overpaying that it would take to lure free agents to the NFL's worst franchise.
The draft must be focused around the quarterback position. The Browns have the luxury of two first-round picks and two second-round picks this year after draft-day trades last year. With the first overall pick, quarterback is the biggest need no matter how many quarterbacks the Browns roll out onto the field this season. Finding a franchise-caliber passer is a must.
Head coach Hue Jackson has done an impressive job with a young, hungry roster that is playing hard despite not putting wins on the board. Jackson's job should not be in jeopardy.
Blue-Chip Players (considered a top-10 player at their respective positions): WR Terrelle Pryor, T Joe Thomas
Available Cap Space (projected): $57 million
- Franchise-tag WR Terrelle Pryor ($15 million)
- Sign CB Stephon Gilmore (five years, $65 million)
- Sign RT Menelik Watson (three years, $18 million)
Round 1, Pick 1: QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
Round 1, Pick 26 (from Philadelphia): S Justin Evans, Texas A&M
Round 2, Pick 1: EDGE Carl Lawson, Auburn
Round 2, Pick 10 (from Tennessee): C/G Ethan Pocic, LSU
Round 3, Pick 1: LB Anthony Walker, Northwestern
Round 4, Pick 1: CB Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma
Round 5, Pick 1: RB Corey Clement, Wisconsin
Round 5, Pick 32 (from New England): OL Jon Heck, North Carolina
Round 6, Pick 1: TE Pharaoh Brown, Oregon
2. San Francisco 49ers
Current Record: 1-6
Taking over as general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, my first move would be to remove Chip Kelly and his entire coaching staff.
Kelly's offense didn't work after the first season in Philadelphia, and once again it's being proved that his defenses cannot keep up with the quick turnover a bad offense presents them. Kelly, Jim O'Neil and the whole crew can relocate to Eugene, Oregon.
Replacing Kelly, the 49ers need a smart, strong head coach with the credibility to convince the old Jim Harbaugh players he knows what's going on. Josh McDaniels is the coach I would break the bank for.
McDaniels learned from his mistakes in Denver and has orchestrated one of the NFL's best offenses in New England—even without Tom Brady under center. As offensive coordinator, McDaniels would bring Brian Daboll from the Patriots staff (currently tight ends coach) to assist in running the offense.
As defensive coordinator, former Patriot Mike Vrabel—who interviewed for the job last summer, according to to the Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows—would be the pick. Transitioning to a 4-3 defense, something Vrabel has played in and coached, would be the first priority given the presence of defensive tackles Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner alongside defensive end Aaron Lynch.
As for rebuilding this horrible roster, it has to begin and end with the draft no matter how much money the 49ers have under the cap. Recruiting free agents is all fine and good, but the temptation to empty the bank on high-caliber players never works. Look at Jacksonville as a prime example of that. Good teams win through the draft, and McDaniels knows that.
The 49ers are projected to be around $38 million under the cap before any roster moves, so there will be some spending, but to get this team back to greatness the path must be three to five years of good drafting to build the foundation on both sides of the ball. As you'll see below, my path wouldn't be throwing money and draft picks at a quarterback (at least early on) but instead investing heavily in defensive players with upside and offensive players who can contribute immediately.
Blue-Chip Players: T Joe Staley
Available Cap Space (projected after cuts): $67 million
- Cut LB Ahmad Brooks (cap savings of $8 million)
- QB Colin Kaepernick opt-out (cap savings of $15 million)
- Trade Torrey Smith (cap savings of $6 million) to Philadelphia for conditional sixth-round draft pick
- Sign WR Alshon Jeffery (five years, $70 million)
- Sign CB A.J. Bouye (four years, $25 million)
- Sign RT Sebastian Vollmer (four years, $16 million)
- Sign SLB John Simon (four years, $30 million)
- Re-sign QB Christian Ponder (two years, $2 million)
Round 1, Pick 2: DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Round 2, Pick 2: Trade to New England Patriots for QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Round 3, Pick 2: WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Round 4, Pick 2: LB Kendell Beckwith, LSU
Round 5, Pick 2: T Avery Gennesy, Texas A&M
Round 5, Pick 20 (from Washington): DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
Round 6, Pick 2: NT D.J. Jones, Ole Miss
Round 6, Pick 28 (from Denver): T Cole Croston, Iowa
Round 7, Pick 1 (from Cleveland): RB De'Veon Smith, Michigan
Round 7, Pick 2: QB Cooper Rush, Central Michigan
3. Chicago Bears
Current Record: 1-6
The Bears are an odd team to currently be 1-6 and drafting at No. 3 overall. Even if you factor in the injuries, the roster is better than the win total. Because of a solid stable of young talent, the job in Chicago could be a little easier than those in Cleveland and San Francisco.
The first order of business is deciding what to do with quarterback Jay Cutler. By releasing him, the Bears would save $16 million off the 2017 cap. That's an easy decision. Cutler is gone. In his place, the team would re-sign Brian Hoyer and look to draft a quarterback early in the first round.
With salary-cap space already on the books and the room created by moving Cutler, the Bears can be aggressive in adding impact players to the defense through free agency. Without playmakers on the defense now, Vic Fangio is limited in what he can do. Putting Calais Campbell at 5-technique and Eric Berry at strong safety would give the unit leadership and impact at key positions.
The coaching staff in Chicago is good enough to win. The foundation on the offensive line and at linebacker is good enough to foster the kind of environment John Fox wants as head coach. A few misses in the draft and free agency are hurting, but getting healthy is automatically worth a few wins in 2017.
Blue-Chip Players: G Kyle Long, G Josh Sitton, C Cody Whitehair
Available Cap Space (projected): $43 milllion
- Re-sign QB Brian Hoyer (one year, $5 million)
- Sign SS Eric Berry (five years, $41 million)
- Sign DE Calais Campbell (four years, $30 million)
Round 1, Pick 3: QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Round 2, Pick 3: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC
Round 3, Pick 3: CB Cam Sutton, Tennessee
Round 4, Pick 3: OLB Vince Biegel, Wisconsin
Round 4, Pick 17 (from Buffalo): DL Carlos Watkins, Clemson
Round 5, Pick 3: T Chad Wheeler, USC
Round 7, Pick 3: CB Jalen Myrick, Minnesota
4. Carolina Panthers
Current Record: 1-5
The Panthers dominated the NFC en route to a Super Bowl matchup against the Denver Broncos last season. No one expected the team would be drafting in the top five one year later.
The core is good in Carolina. Cam Newton is a star and has dynamic weapons in Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess and Greg Olsen. The defense is led by the league's best inside linebacker—Luke Kuechly—and the coaching staff is rock solid. The reason for the downfall this year? Betting on bargain-basement players at offensive tackle and cornerback. A change in philosophy is needed, but an influx of young talent at tackle, defensive end and cornerback is a must.
A massive overhaul isn't needed, but an offseason of smart spending and drafting is.
Blue-Chip Players: QB Cam Newton, WR Kelvin Benjamin, TE Greg Olsen, C Ryan Kalil, LB Luke Kuechly
Available Cap Space (projected): $35 million
- Franchise-tag DT Kawann Short ($16 million)
- Sign DE Jason Pierre-Paul (five years, $50 million)
Round 1, Pick 4: CB Quincy Wilson, Florida
Round 2, Pick 4: DE DeMarcus Walker, Florida State
Round 3, Pick 4: T Roderick Johnson, Florida State
Round 4, Pick 4: T Taylor Moton, Western Michigan
Round 5, Pick 4: RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
Round 6, Pick 4: SS Tony Conner, Ole Miss
Round 7, Pick 1 (from Cleveland): C Deyshawn Bond, Cincinnati
5. New York Jets
Current Record: 2-5
The most important thing for the New York Jets right now is patience—with the head coach, the front office and the core young players on the roster.
The Jets have two blue-chip players on the defensive line, an up-and-comer at linebacker in Darron Lee and a stable of wide receivers that is as good as any in the league outside of Pittsburgh. Finding the right quarterback will be a must for the front office—especially with Geno Smith a free agent and Ryan Fitzpatrick expected to be gone in 2017—but Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg are developing for the future.
Loading up the roster with young talent is crucial. The next two seasons in New York might not be successful in terms of wins and losses, but it could set the table for a team that is built through solid drafts if the Jets can get back-to-back top-five picks.
The temptation to sign a quarterback—whether it's Kirk Cousins or Cutler or any other released starter—should be avoided. Bad quarterbacks are on the market for a reason. Sit, be patient and develop the talent that's there.
Blue-Chip Players: DL Leonard Williams, DL Muhammad Wilkerson
Available Cap Space (projected after cuts and re-negotiations): $8 million
- Release CB Darrelle Revis (cap savings of $9 million)
- Release QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (no cap savings)
- Renegotiate T Ryan Clady, LB David Harris, WR Eric Decker
- Trade DL Sheldon Richardson to Oakland Raiders for Round 2 selection
Round 1, Pick 5: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
Round 2, Pick 5: EDGE Charles Harris, Missouri
Round 2, Pick 27 (from Oakland): CB Desmond King, Iowa
Round 3, Pick 5: CB Tre'Davious White, LSU
Round 5, Pick 5: C Tyler Orlosky, West Virginia
Round 6, Pick 5: TE Josiah Price, Michigan State
Round 7, Pick 5: FS Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma
6. New Orleans Saints
Current Record: 2-4
The Saints, when healthy, have a high-octane offense with a Hall of Fame quarterback, a blue-chip left tackle and high-flying wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas to open things up all over the field. Defensively, the Saints are a mess, but that's in part due to injuries (Sheldon Rankins, Delvin Breaux) and a scheme change midway through the 2015 season.
Coming in to fix the Saints roster, the first priority is finding a successor to Brees at quarterback. That might not be a Round 1 need, depending who is on the board, but it is the biggest question mark when looking at the long-term health of the roster.
Second, the Saints have to find a pass rush. Rankins will help when healthy, but pressure off the edge is poor opposite Cameron Jordan. The flexibility is there for the defensive line to be very multiple in the alignment and looks presented, but adding a defensive end early would be a big boost.
Blue-Chip Players: QB Drew Brees, T Terron Armstead, C Max Unger, DE Cameron Jordan
Available Cap Space (projected): $13 million
None due to the current and future salary-cap health of the roster.
Round 1, Pick 6: DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama
Round 2, Pick 6: QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Round 3, Pick 6: CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
Round 4, Pick 6: CB Channing Stribling, Michigan
Round 6, Pick 6: RB Elijah Hood, North Carolina
Round 7, Pick 6: DE Lewis Neal, LSU
7. Jacksonville Jaguars
Current Record: 2-4
Last offseason saw the Jacksonville Jaguars spend big in free agency and once again select in the top five picks of the draft. Unfortunately, the new additions are once again falling short for a team annually selected to be a breakout ballclub. The first order of business in Jacksonville is hiring a coaching staff that can develop the youth on the roster before they all leave in free agency.
After hiring a defensive coach last time around, the Jaguars will want to look for an offensive mind who can install a scheme and a development approach that will help Blake Bortles. No one is better at matching a scheme to the roster than Kyle Shanahan, currently offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons.
Shanahan has no defensive pedigree, though, and will need to bring in a veteran hand to run that side of the ball. Mike Pettine was in an unwinnable situation with the Cleveland Browns as head coach but would be an instant upgrade for the Jaguars' defensive coordinator position. Pettine was also Shanahan's head coach when the two were together in Cleveland, so there is familiarity.
When addressing the roster, it's easy to look at both sides of the ball and be excited about the potential. The biggest need for the Jags now is development and maintaining a healthy salary cap after spending big in 2016 and with so many core young players coming up for free agency soon.
Blue-Chip Players: None
Available Cap Space (projected): $16 million
None due to the current and future salary-cap health of the roster.
Round 1, Pick 7: LB Reuben Foster, Alabama
Round 2, Pick 7: T Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin
Round 3, Pick 7: WR John Ross, Washington
Round 4, Pick 7: G Johnny Caspers, Stanford
Round 5, Pick 7: CB Cole Luke, Notre Dame
Round 6, Pick 7: QB Davis Webb, California
Round 7, Pick 7: RB Matthew Dayes, North Carolina State
8. Miami Dolphins
Current Record: 3-4
Should the Miami Dolphins move on from quarterback Ryan Tannehill? That's the biggest question on everyone's mind right now, and the answer is to give it one more year.
Tannehill is on what amounts to a year-to-year deal right now. If he struggles again in 2017, the team can release him and be free of his contract and move on in a loaded quarterback class in the 2018 draft.
With the quarterback position settled, for now, what's next in Miami? Giving Adam Gase more weapons on both sides of the ball. The Dolphins are old and expensive up front on defense, and finding more impact players there and in the secondary will be crucial to compete in the AFC East.
One of the big obstacles for Miami is restocking the roster without much cap space and without a third- or fourth-round draft pick after trades in last year's class.
Blue-Chip Players: C Mike Pouncey, DL Ndamukong Suh
Available Cap Space (projected after cuts): $29.5 million
- Release DE Cameron Wake (cap savings of $4 million)
- Release DE Mario Williams (cap savings of $8.5 million)
- Re-sign WR Kenny Stills (five years, $35 million)
- Re-sign LB Kiko Alonso (three years, $12 million)
- Sign DE William Gholston (five years, $55 million)
Round 1, Pick 8: CB/S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Round 2, Pick 8: DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford
Round 5, Pick 8: TE George Kittle, Iowa
Round 6, Pick 8: QB Brady Gustafson, Montana
Round 7, Pick 8: Kyle Kalis, Michigan
9. Los Angeles Rams
Current Record: 3-4
The Los Angles Rams are hovering around .500, naturally with Jeff Fisher as head coach, but the promising aspect of the situation is that this roster is pretty good.
The Rams have a No. 1 pick at quarterback, with Jared Goff being groomed for the future, and a top-five NFL running back in Todd Gurley. The team needs more from developing tackle Greg Robinson, and it probably overpaid Tavon Austin, but there are pieces to work with on offense.
Defensively, the Rams are set with Aaron Donald entrenched as the league's best pass-rushing defensive tackle and strong foundation pieces in Michael Brockers, Alec Ogletree, Trumaine Johnson, T.J. McDonald and the still-dangerous Robert Quinn at defensive end.
Consistency will go a long way in helping this team. There are upgrades needed on the offensive line, and they could use another cornerback, but the Rams are one of the league's easier turnarounds if Goff becomes the quarterback he appears to be.
Blue-Chip Players: RB Todd Gurley, DT Aaron Donald
Available Cap Space (projected): $40 million
- Re-sign CB Trumaine Johnson (four years, $53 million)
- Re-sign SS T.J. McDonald (four years, $22 million)
- Sign G Larry Warford (four years, $20 million)
Round 2, Pick 9: DE Dawuane Smoot, Illinois
Round 4, Pick 9: WR Zay Jones, East Carolina
Round 5, Pick 9: CB Damontae Kazee, San Diego State
Round 6, Pick 9: OLB Brandon Bell, Penn State
Round 7, Pick 9: T Andreas Knappe, UConn
10. Tennessee Titans
Current Record: 3-4
The Tennessee Titans opted for what looked like complacency and continuity in the 2016 hiring cycle when new general manager Jon Robinson promoted interim head coach Mike Mularkey to the full-time job. It was likely a move to ensure rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota had a familiar face as he transitioned to his second NFL season. Now, though, Mularkey has proved (again) that he's not head coach material and is better off as an offensive coordinator.
Cleaning house in the coaching staff comes up first in Tennessee.
Teryl Austin interviewed for a ton of jobs in the 2016 offseason and is in line for a head coaching job soon. Now is his time. Given his background as defensive coordinator in Detroit, the Titans would need a smart, strong offensive mind to take over that side of the ball for Austin while he focuses on the larger roster and handling the defense. The perfect name for that role is Doug Marrone, who in this scenario was let go in Jacksonville with that overhaul.
Marrone was head coach of the Buffalo Bills for two seasons, and he's on my short list of potential head coaching candidates for next season. Should he need another year or two before the league asks him back to a top job, there are worse gigs than working with Mariota and this offensive line for a few seasons.
Blue-Chip Players: T Taylor Lewan, DL Jurrell Casey
Available Cap Space (projected): $30 million
- Re-sign G Chance Warmack (four years, $28 million)
- Re-sign WR Kendall Wright (five years, $35 million)
Round 1, Pick 9 (from Los Angeles): S Jamal Adams, LSU
Round 1, Pick 10: CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State
Round 3, Pick 9 (from Los Angeles): DE Devonte Fields, Louisville
Round 3, Pick 10: LB Haason Reddick, Temple
Round 4, Pick 10: CB Kevin King, Washington
Round 5, Pick 10: QB C.J. Beathard, Iowa
Round 7, Pick 10: SS Nathan Gerry, Nebraska
Salary-cap information courtesy of Spotrac.