Rebuilding Plans for NFL Teams That Need an Overhaul
The halfway point of an NFL season marks a good time to identify teams that need to turn an eye toward the future.
Eight or so games is more than enough of a sample size to identify teams that aren't good enough to contend. The silver lining? Rebuilding may beat being stuck in near-.500 purgatory.
Franchises in need of an overhaul seem easier than ever to identify this year—so it goes when eight teams have two or fewer victories. The lack of parity isn't just sour injury luck or tough schedules. Their performance compared to the rest of the league makes it clear their plans have gone awry.
Below, we'll list the qualifying teams and identify some system-shocking moves that could help spur an immediate turnaround as opposed to a long-term rebuild.
It was obvious from the start the Miami Dolphins were going to pop up on rebuilding lists. The team brought on new head coach Brian Flores and then proceeded to sell premium talent such as Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Good on the Dolphins front office for having a plan, at least. Rather than hoard talent, the front office moved it for long-term assets to fuel the rebuild.
This is one of the longer rebuilds on paper. But there are a few immediate moves Miami can make to swing the pendulum in the other direction.
No. 1 Goal: Find a QB
Nothing moves without a franchise passer. The Dolphins have found this out the hard way. The team made the half-measure move of trading for Josh Rosen, but it seemed half-hearted from the start. He's appeared in five games, hardly completing 50 percent of his passes with one touchdown and five interceptions. Otherwise, the team has sputtered along with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fixing this before anything else means taking a rookie QB early in the draft. While this is a brutal situation for a rookie to enter, the right high-upside player who can elevate his teammates might be able to mask the many problems around him.
No. 2 Goal: Draft Well
Sounds simple—but it isn't. Just ask the Dolphins, who've had an iffy first-round draft record since grabbing Ryan Tannehill in 2012. The team has traded away two of the four players it's drafted in the first round since 2016. Miami enters the 2020 draft with double-digit picks, including three in the first round, so overhauling the roster's talent base with good value can go a long way toward making an extensive rebuild a quick one.
No. 3 Goal: Evaluate Brian Flores
Is Brian Flores really the right guy? Were the Dolphins upfront about what he was getting into? It's hard to say whether the team can stick with a guy if he only wins a single game, regardless of the circumstances. Whether the culture he's instilling is better than making a switch is something the front office will need to take a hard look at.
New York Jets
The New York Jets started the 2019 campaign poorly as Sam Darnold suffered an unfortunate illness, and things have spiraled out of control from there.
A year ago, the Jets likely appeared on similar lists with a bullet point of "spend big." They did, on players like Le'Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley, only to stumble to a 1-7 mark capped by one of the worst losses in franchise history to winless Miami.
While the talent level has risen, the Jets aren't close to done with the rebuild.
No. 1 Goal: Show Adam Gase the Door
Adam Gase was an odd hire coming off a poor tenure in Miami. Now he's been fully exposed as overwhelmed, regardless of injuries and other factors. A shift in the front office hasn't helped produce results around Gase and his underperforming team. The Jets need a shift at head coach, perhaps going all-in with an offensive-minded coach to assist Darnold.
No. 2 Goal: Carve Off the Fat
The Jets shipped off Leonard Williams at the deadline, but plenty of speculation surrounding the team suggested it could do even more. Would the $50 million-plus on Bell get moved? What about big upcoming extensions like Jamal Adams? If the plan is a long-term rebuild, flipping big cap eaters for draft picks makes sense.
No. 3 Goal: Fix the Offensive Line
In the five games he's played, Darnold has suffered 18 sacks. The line up front is a mess because of the roster-building approach. The Jets last drafted a lineman in the first round in 2006, and since 2010, they've picked three linemen in the first three rounds. Time to fix that for Darnold's sake.
Expectations have come crashing down in Cleveland for the two-win Browns. The coaching staff looks in over its head, Baker Mayfield has undergone a gross regression and big additions like Odell Beckham Jr. have caused more headaches than permissible for the lack of production.
Luckily for the Browns, the front office has shown a willingness to get aggressive when it comes to improving the roster. There is an interesting talent base in place too.
All the Browns need is smart priorities.
No. 1 Goal: Fire Freddie Kitchens
It was a mistake. Those happen. Throwing everything at Freddie Kitchens simply because Mayfield looked good last year after Hue Jackson left was a gaffe. It's a correctable one, but it's borderline silly the Kitchens era has already looked worse than the Jackson one. The play-calling, in-game strategy and performance suggest this roster needs a new head coach to take control—preferably a veteran who knows what he's doing.
No. 2 Goal: Rebuild the Offensive Line
The 23 sacks suffered by Mayfield aren't all on him. Play-calling hasn't helped, but neither has the talent up front. Left tackle Greg Robinson was benched, and the Browns were consistently mentioned in Trent Williams rumors near the trade deadline. Cleveland got flashy with guys like Beckham but didn't focus on the trenches enough.
No. 3 Goal: Boost the Front Seven
The Browns rank among the three teams allowing the most yards to opposing rushing attacks on average and cough up north of 25 points per game. While some of this can be attributed to injury, the next obvious step is investing in more run-stopping talent in the heart of the defense and at linebacker to make life easier on the secondary.
The Cincinnati Bengals made a massive change for a conservative front office this offseason, switching from Marvin Lewis to Zac Taylor at head coach.
The result has been an 0-8 start, even out-tanking Miami. The team hit the halfway point and decided to bench longtime starter Andy Dalton for rookie Ryan Finley. But with the drove of issues across the board, from the coaching staff down to most spots on the roster, it has become clear the Bengals are one of the NFL's biggest rebuilders.
No. 1 Goal: Find the Next Franchise Passer
Dalton is as good as gone, even if the front office finds a way to justify keeping him in town for the final year of his contract next season. Finley, a fourth-round pick, doesn't figure to show enough to steer any franchise away from a top passer with a potential top-two pick, even in Cincinnati. His surrounding environment and arm limitations should ensure the Bengals will seek their next franchise passer at the top of the draft.
No. 2 Goal: Start Over in the Trenches
The Bengals could use new starters in the offensive trenches besides left tackle. First-round project Jonah Williams figures to start on the left edge next season once he's healthy. But the rest of the line has been below average or worse. Cordy Glenn, a left tackle who was supposed to start at left guard, had a preseason concussion and is now in a spat with the team over it. 2018 first-round pick Billy Price has busted and can't win the job at center. The right side is backup material.
Conservative franchise or not, the situation calls for dramatic moves via any avenue, or a rookie passer's career might not stand a chance.
No. 3 Goal: Reevaluate Zac Taylor
Can the Bengals justify keeping Taylor around if he fails to win a game? What's the threshold? One win? Two? The all-too-loyal front office kept Lewis for 16 years, but that included a successful post-Carson Palmer reboot and multiple playoff trips. Have some of the in-over-their-heads moments for this coaching staff created an unsalvageable situation?
New York Giants
The New York Giants dragged their feet on transitioning from Eli Manning to Daniel Jones. It has cost them in a two-win campaign where the victories (Tampa Bay and Washington) aren't impressive.
The Giants have interesting pieces like Jones and Saquon Barkley, but this is still largely a rebuild. Pat Shurmur only won five games a year ago and might be lucky to hit that mark again.
No. 1 Goal: Take the Offensive Line Seriously
The Giants haven't. Like the rest of the roster, the approach in the offensive trenches was filled with half-measures trying to walk the tightrope between contending and rebuilding. That produced smart moves like drafting Will Hernandez but odd ones such as signing Nate Solder. Giants passers have suffered 28 sacks, and the line has largely stifled what should otherwise be a well-performing offense. It's time to spend big assets there.
No. 2 Goal: Bring Back Key Pieces
The Giants made a trade deadline move for Leonard Williams and need to keep him in town as part of a youth movement up front. Markus Golden is another valuable pending free agent who needs to stick and help form the nucleus of a defense that needs help across all levels.
No. 3 Goal: Address All Levels of the Defense
Remember when Giants playoff runs were spurred in part by an unstoppable pass rush? The Giants need to rediscover that by any means necessary. In addition, inside linebacker is hurting, and the secondary hasn't recovered from the loss of safety Landon Collins.
The Washington Redskins got a head start on all other rebuilders by firing Jay Gruden and handing things over to interim coach Bill Callahan.
Viewed another way, the Redskins are slower than all other rebuilders because Gruden shouldn't have entered the season as coach.
Either way, the direction here is clear—rebuild. With quarterback potentially not a need, the Redskins can get to focusing on other problems, of which there are many.
No. 1 Goal: Ride Dwayne Haskins
Since Callahan has taken over, he's flirted with the idea of starting first-round pick Dwayne Haskins the rest of the way. Haskins has looked overwhelmed in spots while throwing no scores and four picks. But with another full offseason of work at the pro level, it has to be all-in on Haskins after spending assets to pump up the roster around him.
No. 2 Goal: Find the Right Coach
Are the first two goals interchangeable? Absolutely. The right coach has to get in the door and make sure the big investment in Haskins pays off. It seems the old-school Callahan isn't the guy, so the task at hand is deciding whether a risk like a Sean McVay understudy or an established name is the right choice.
No. 3 Goal: Trade Trent Williams
The Trent Williams saga needs to end. Not only does it point an accusatory finger at a Redskins team that is constantly among the NFL's most injured squads, but it also robs Haskins of one of the league's top left tackles. Why the Redskins haven't moved Williams to gain any rebuilding fuel is a mystery, but it needs to happen.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bruce Arians era hasn't revived Jameis Winston or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In fact, the arrival of Arians might signal a stark regression, which likely isn't what the front office had in mind when grabbing a veteran coach.
The Buccaneers have won two games, both unexpectedly. So it goes for a team with a few explosive players but plenty of holes and a lack of production from a first-round investment (linebacker Devin White) who has only appeared in five games.
No. 1 Goal: End the Jameis Winston Era
It is finally over. Arians might be a quarterback guru, but the long dropbacks and questionable decision-making from Winston have ended an era. Winston has completed less than 60 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while taking 30 sacks. At this rate, the Buccaneers should be in a position to draft a top passer, which needs to happen. With any luck, they pick a guy who can elevate the middling roster.
No. 2 Goal: Start Over Along the Offensive Line
The aforementioned sack number is a big problem. Besides Ali Marpet, the line is in shambles, and the Buccaneers didn't seem to think it wise to use a single draft pick on the offensive trenches in April. That, in part, failed Winston, and it will fail the next passer regardless of offensive weapons or the head coach.
No. 3 Goal: Invest in the Running Game
Yes, this sounds a little silly in today's NFL. But the Buccaneers have a pair of outstanding wideouts and could be bringing along a rookie passer. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are an incredible duo, yet the ground game in Tampa Bay only averages 3.8 yards per carry. Some of this is the fault of the O-line, but Ronald Jones II has also disappointed, and the team has struggled to find a quality running back.
Regression continues for the Atlanta Falcons in dramatic fashion this year under head coach Dan Quinn.
The front office seemed to hope going all-in with offensive linemen early in the draft would spur a turnaround for the Matt Ryan-led offense. Instead, the Falcons have won just one game even though Ryan has completed more than 70 percent of his passes, and the defense hasn't been able to withstand injuries.
Ryan is going nowhere, so it's clear an overhaul is the only option.
No. 1 Goal: Fire Dan Quinn
The Super Bowl run was magical. The rest leaves a whole lot to be desired. Quinn had 21 wins over two seasons while the Falcons were considered contenders, but the wheels have fallen all the way off. A Band-Aid in the form of adding more talent to the roster doesn't seem like it will work. The results suggest players aren't buying in and that the coaching approach, from Quinn and coordinators alike, isn't working.
No. 2 Goal: Add Pass-Rushers
The Falcons have seven sacks. Seven. Retaining Grady Jarrett was a great move given his skill set, but the rest is a shame. In theory, the Falcons should be putting up big numbers and then letting a stout pass rush go to work while teams scramble to keep up. Instead, it's clear pass rush is the top roster priority.
No. 3 Goal: Get Innovative Again
The Falcons' trade of Mohamed Sanu offloaded salary and brought back a second-round pick. Now do it again. Maybe this means shedding big contracts like the one that belongs to Devonta Freeman. Maybe it means packaging picks and moving up in the draft. Something has to give because the Falcons have loads of cap space invested in a small group of players.