Rebuilding Plans for NFL Teams That Need an Overhaul
Rebuild. Reload. Reboot. NFL organizations can spin it however they like, but the sentiment remains the same: Their teams aren't good enough.
Hope is fleeting, especially when a franchise's postseason pipe-dream has faded by the season's midway point. Then, everything becomes about building toward the future.
Many things can lead to a disappointing performance. Identifying those issues is vital for healthy growth.
For a few teams, a complete top-to-bottom overhaul will be necessary. Others may only need a few tweaks. In either case, the franchise's construction isn't working.
Six teams have two or fewer victories. Each of those is already preparing its long-term plans. We've included four teams with only three wins since they have the longest odds of making the playoffs, according to Odds Shark.
Franchises can quickly turn around their fortunes with the right decisions. Three- of four-year rebuilds are a thing of the past. But drastic moves are necessary to shock the system.
Every floundering team wants to be the next Los Angeles Rams. What does it take to get there, though? Plenty.
Offseason retirements precipitated an earlier-than-expected rebuild for the Arizona Cardinals. The double-whammy of losing head coach Bruce Arians and veteran quarterback Carson Palmer took last year's 8-8 squad and made it one of the league's worst.
But the rebuilding process has already started—which is a good thing. The Cardinals are taking their lumps while trying to adjust their roster to fit head coach Steve Wilks' philosophy.
The biggest hurdle has already been cleared, as rookie quarterback Josh Rosen is in the lineup. Entire offseasons are built around acquiring a franchise-caliber signal-caller. Step one is complete. Everything else needs to be addressed.
No. 1 Goal: Protect Josh Rosen
Rosen is the least mobile of the five quarterbacks selected in this year's first round. The fact that he's playing behind the league's worst offensive line only magnifies the issue. Obviously, injuries played a role, as center A.Q. Shipley suffered a torn ACL in August. Plus, the group's most talented blocker, Mike Iupati, could be a free agent after this year. Left tackle D.J. Humphries may be the only salvageable piece. Otherwise, an overhaul may be required.
No. 2 Goal: Replace Larry Fitzgerald
A team can never truly replace a future of Hall of Famer, and Larry Fitzgerald might decide to return for another year. His presence in the lineup is inconsequential, though. Rookie Christian Kirk has flashed talent. Beyond those two, the Cardinals have next to nothing in their receiving corps.
No. 3 Goal: Figure Out How to Use Available Talent
Maybe the most disappointing aspect of the Cardinals' season has been the staff's inability to utilize two previous first-round picks, Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick. Neither defender has been put in a position to succeed and both have often played backup roles.
The Buffalo Bills' handling of the quarterback position has been a disaster from day one.
The organization traded Tyrod Taylor after it made the playoffs and drafted Josh Allen with the seventh overall pick. Nathan Peterman opened the season as the starter before the team benched him for Allen. The rookie suffered an elbow injury. The Bills then started veteran Derek Anderson, who suffered a concussion, and went with Peterman again.
All the while, not one of these signal-callers has had any talent around him to ease the burden.
The sad part is Buffalo continues to waste an exceptional defense.
No. 1 Goal: All Eyes on Josh Allen
Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Rosen have all flashed tremendous potential through the season's first half. Allen's performance through six appearances has been inconsistent at best. The rookie's completed only 54 percent of his passes with a woeful two-to-five touchdown-to-interception ratio. A concerted effort is needed to develop his natural gifts. This can be done in the offseason by building an understanding of what he's seeing pre- and post-snap while catering the system to his skill set.
No. 2 Goal: Rebuild the Trenches
The 21 sacks Allen took before he injured his elbow Oct. 14 is unacceptable. The ability to protect a quarterback separates good teams from bad ones. Some of the blame does fall on Allen for extending plays, but the Bills lost three of their starting five linemen this past offseason and failed to adequately replace them.
No. 3 Goal: Find Offensive Weapons
To place the Bills' offensive woes into context, the team's leading receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, ranks 84th overall with 302 yards. Chris Ivory tops the team with 280 rushing yards—which qualifies for 41st.
Mercifully, the Hue Jackson era is complete. The Cleveland Browns had to fire their head coach in the middle of the season to stem growing organizational dysfunction.
Yet, this may be the league's most enticing opening, since it features two franchise cornerstones in quarterback Baker Mayfield and defensive end Myles Garrett, $81.3 million in available salary-cap space and a league-leading 11 picks (including a potential top-10 selection) in the 2019 NFL draft.
All of these factors provide owner Jimmy Haslam and general manager John Dorsey with an edge going into the offseason.
No. 1 Goal: Hire a Competent Coaching Staff
Haslam has cycled through four full-time head coaches since he took over as owner in 2012. This hiring process should have less to do with name recognition and far more to do with the right fit in leadership. The Browns desperately need a staff capable of molding its schemes to the available talent. A head coach who can quickly build a rapport with Mayfield and fashion a system around his skill set is ideal.
No. 2 Goal: Build around Baker Mayfield
After finding the right coach to develop this year's No. 1 overall pick, the Browns must surround him with a strong foundation along the offensive front and enough weapons to maximize his potential. The team's offensive tackles—Desmond Harrison and Chris Hubbard—are arguably the league's worst duo, while the receivers have struggled to create separation and chunk plays.
No. 3 Goal: Acquire Defensive Line Depth
Two major issues are present along the defensive front. First, Garrett (91.2%) and 1-technique Larry Ogunjobi (88.6%) are playing too many snaps. Second, the unit lacks a 3-technique who can consistently collapse the pocket.
John Elway's tenure as the Denver Broncos general manager and president of football options has been filled with poor decisions.
The same franchise that played in Super Bowl 50 two-and-a-half years ago is now a middling squad that faces major decisions. How each is handled has the potential to significantly shift the team's approach.
An 8-17 record over the last season-and-a-half simply isn't good enough, and Elway has to address a situation he let fester.
No. 1 Goal: Revisit Vance Joseph's Standing
Elway considered firing Vance Joseph after the latter served only one season as the Broncos head coach, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Instead, he gave Joseph another chance in 2018.
"At this point, we're going to stay the course," Elway said Monday during his appearance on Orange & Blue 760 (via the Denver Post's Ryan O'Halloran). "I'm much more encouraged this year than last year because guys are still playing hard and [we] are in the games."
Denver needs to win more after a 3-6 start. Otherwise, Elway might not be as considerate this offseason.
No. 2 Goal: Establish a Long-Term QB Plan
Case Keenum isn't a franchise quarterback. However, he's signed for one more year. The next step is finding and developing a successor. Elway hasn't exactly been stellar in this area with the Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly failures. The general manager needs to get it right on his fourth try.
No. 3 Goal: Fortify the Defensive Front
The Broncos are soft along their defensive interior. The team ranks 27th against the run and allows 131.6 rushing yards per game. Domata Peko and Zach Kerr are impending free agents and shouldn't be re-signed. Plus, the team can release Derek Wolfe and save $8.5 million.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are nowhere near as good as they think they are.
After they reached last season's AFC Championship Game, the Jaguars entered the year as a supposed Super Bowl contender even though the roster clearly had holes—especially on offense.
Yes, Jacksonville remains one of the league's more talented teams. Talent only goes so far, though. The Jaguars' identity needs to drastically change despite the team's previous success.
No. 1 Goal: Move Beyond Blake Bortles
The Jaguars made a mistake the second they signed Blake Bortles to a three-year, $54 million contract extension in February. The deal doesn't provide much flexibility next year but becomes far more manageable in 2020. Even so, the Jaguars can still save $4.5 million by releasing him after this season. It may be well worth eating $16.5 million in dead cap space to improve at the game's most important position. Bortles isn't in the top 15 in completion percentage, passing yardage, yards per attempt, touchdowns or quarterback rating. He isn't a good quarterback; he's not even an average one.
No. 2 Goal: Change Offensive Approach
The NFL is a wide-open, pass-first league, and the Jags haven't realized it. Bortles' presence forces Jacksonville to be conservative, but an offense built upon a physical ground-and-pound scheme is archaic. As Leonard Fournette nursed a hamstring injury, the front office acquired yet another power back in Carlos Hyde, though.
No. 3 Goal: Send a Message on D
Complacency can be an issue. The Jaguars are still excellent on defense, ranking second overall. But they're not as good as they were a year ago. The secondary is still great, but management can shake up the defense by releasing or trading someone—Malik Jackson, for example—after an underwhelming campaign.
New York Giants
The New York Giants messed up by placing their faith in a 37-year-old immobile quarterback (Eli Manning) and a retread head coach (Pat Shurmur), who said the signal-caller still had "years" left as a starter.
We won't rehash whether the Giants made a mistake by passing on a top quarterback prospect with the No. 2 pick. Saquon Barkley has been sensational and is the front-runner for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Barkley and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. provide a great starting point now that the Giants hit rock bottom.
No. 1 Goal: Find a New Franchise QB
The Giants will be the most desperate team to acquire a franchise quarterback this offseason. Manning's era has run its course. New York is positioned to draft his heir apparent, as the team currently owns the No. 2 pick. Oregon's Justin Herbert is generally viewed as the top QB prospect, assuming the junior declares.
No. 2 Goal: Attack the O-line
A trend is forming among those teams already mentioned that have young quarterbacks: To succeed, you have to have a solid foundation on the O-line. The Giants' attempts to fix their front failed this year. Left tackle Nate Solder isn't worthy of his four-year, $62 million contract. Ereck Flowers didn't even make it through an entire year at right tackle. Center Jon Halapio is on injured reserve with a broken ankle. Rookie left guard Will Hernandez is the lone bright spot.
No. 3 Goal: Prioritize the Pass Rush
Maybe trading Jason Pierre-Paul to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March wasn't the best idea. The Giants rank 31st with only 10 sacks. Rookies B.J. Hill and Lorenzo Carter lead the way with two each.
New York Jets
The New York Jets are excited about the upcoming offseason, even if they're experiencing growing pains. The team has a tremendous amount of available cash for 2019.
"This is an offseason we feel really good about," general manager Mike Maccagnan said, per NJ.com's Darryl Slater. "We've done a lot of work already, and we're going to do a lot more work on the pro free agency."
The 2018 campaign hasn't been wasted, though. Darnold has gained experience and teammates Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Darron Lee and Robby Anderson have improved. They form a solid core.
No. 1 Goal: Change Coaches
All of the excitement about what the Jets can do shouldn't overshadow what they must do. Todd Bowles' time is running short. A 13-28 record over the last two-plus seasons can't be justified. As long as the organization plans to go big this offseason, it might as well start with a new head coach.
No. 2 Goal: Make It Rain
The Jets are projected to have a whopping $106.6 million in cap space. Of course, some of that will be spent on retaining the team's talent. But New York is positioned to make lucrative offers to the best available free agents. There's no reason to hold back after it's torn everything down and created so much financial flexibility.
No. 3 Goal: Attack Weak Spots
All that money won't spend itself. Maccagnan said the front office is already putting in work on evaluating players. The Jets don't have a stable offensive front. The wide receiver corps is below-average. The offense lacks a true featured back. New York's pass rush isn't consistent, either.
There's a difference between a franchise that's trying a tear-it-down approach and one that's burning itself to the ground. The Oakland Raiders fit the latter description.
Nothing the team has done this year has worked, starting with Jon Gruden's hiring. The franchise's mistakes are well-known, and things reached a point where the only solution was restarting.
Doubling down with the head coach and reversing course in a couple other instances are the only way the Raiders will become competitive again.
No. 1 Goal: Give Jon Gruden the Reins
Didn't the Raiders already do this when the head coach signed a reported 10-year, $100 million contract? Sort of. Gruden is the driving force behind everything the team does, good or bad. But he's not the only voice with influence. General manager Reggie McKenzie is still a part of the decision-making process. Clearly, owner Mark Davis favors his coach. There's no reason to foster any potential discord. McKenzie should be removed. While Gruden's hire was a mistake, the investment dictates an all-or-nothing approach with him leading the way.
No. 2 Goal: Eschew the Old Guard
A George Allen-esque approach failed miserably. The NFL is a young man's game. Derrick Johnson (35 years old), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (32) and Bruce Irvin (31) didn't make it through the season. Reggie Nelson, Frostee Rucker, Leon Hall, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin and Clinton McDonald will all be over 30 and free agents after this year. Let them all go.
No. 3 Goal: Try to Replace Khalil Mack
The Raiders will forever be buried for trading 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack. However, the organization does have three first-round picks in the 2019 draft thanks to its wheeling and dealing. Somewhere, the Raiders must find a pass rush, since their measly seven sacks represent the league's lowest total.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are positioned well to become very competitive soon. They just need to get healthy.
A team simply can't overcome the loss of its franchise quarterback, feature back and starting free safety to season-ending injuries. But Jimmy Garoppolo, Jerick McKinnon and Adrian Colbert will be back next year.
Meanwhile, head coach Kyle Shanahan continues his mastery of the offensive playbook by keeping the 49ers in games.
All of the expectations heaped upon the 49ers as a preseason playoff darling can be transferred to the following campaign. The organization can even add more pieces between now and then.
No. 1 Goal: X Marks the Spot
Shanahan and general manager John Lynch's vision wasn't quite complete even before the aforementioned injuries. An X-receiver in the head coach's scheme will go a long way. Shanahan once worked with top targets like Andre Johnson and Julio Jones. Now, tight end George Kittle leads San Francisco with 41 receptions for 692 yards.
No. 2 Goal: Figure Out the Defensive Front
The 49ers used three consecutive first-round picks on defensive linemen. DeForest Buckner is a force. Solomon Thomas hasn't been used correctly. Arik Armstead doesn't fit anywhere. Yet, the organization decided to pick up the fifth-year option on Armstead's rookie contract—which is $9 million. Moving him this offseason may be impossible. As a result, the 49ers must better define each individual role while adding more to the pass rush.
No. 3 Goal: Address Cornerback
The cornerback spot opposite Richard Sherman remains a sticking point since Ahkello Witherspoon hasn't progressed after his promising rookie campaign. Jimmie Ward is almost certainly gone after this year's $8.5 million payout. K'Waun Williams, meanwhile, is best covering the slot. The 30-year-old Sherman won't be around forever, either.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are now two years removed from showing legitimate promise. In Dirk Koetter's first year, the team finished 9-7 yet still missed the playoffs. Tampa Bay last tasted the postseason in 2007.
Something isn't right, and the Buccaneers aren't on the correct path.
Now is the time to blow it all up and pave the way for a fresh start. Of course, some will argue a 3-6 record doesn't entail a complete rebuild. Yes, it does when the team is clearly the division's worst—which the Bucs are behind the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons.
No. 1 Goal: A Complete Overhaul
General manager Jason Licht has now overseen two head failed coaching hires. Koetter is 8-16 since the start of the 2017 campaign, and the team hasn't progressed. The defense, in particular, has been awful. The fact neither Licht nor Koetter found a way to address that side of the ball is an indictment of both. A top-to-bottom house cleaning is needed.
No. 2 Goal: Let Jameis Winston Go
Jameis Winston isn't a franchise quarterback; he's a turnover machine. Sure, flashes of brilliance can be seen, but his inability to protect the football is problematic. The 2015 first overall pick threw two or more interceptions in five straight contests before being benched. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't the answer, either, but the 35-year-old veteran can serve as a short-term bridge.
No. 3 Goal: Add Defensive Pieces at All Three Levels
Tampa Bay ranks 29th overall in total defense. On the surface, that would seem like an improvement after it finished dead last a year ago. However, the Bucs are surrendering 36.1 more yards per game. All three levels require improvement, especially the pass defense.