The 1 Move These NFL Teams Need to Make to Become 2020 Contenders
Some teams just seem close to NFL contention.
It's an unfortunate status in the short term as the playoffs approach. Some squads are good but clearly miss that one thing that will help them contend with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers of the league.
Whether it's a change in coaching, a key personnel acquisition or something more, the following franchises are this close to becoming threats for playoff runs.
That isn't to suggest some of these teams couldn't surprise us this year. But shoring up these gaps will work wonders for their 2020 fortunes. Here's the one necessary move for would-be contenders.
Cleveland Browns: Pay Up for Trent Williams
It's easy to point the finger at Freddie Kitchens after the Cleveland Browns' disappointing campaign. And while the first-year head coach has seemed to be over his head at times, even a good game plan would get derailed by the offensive line.
Second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield has massively regressed for a few reasons, chief among them a bad line that has coughed up 34 sacks.
Things have been bad on the left edge in particular. The team reportedly tried to trade for Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams, per Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, and Greg Robinson struggled and lost his starting spot at one point. Robinson has a 66.2 grade at Pro Football Focus.
If Washington is open to trading Williams after the 2019 campaign, the Browns should go after him once again—solid left tackles don't typically hit the open market anymore. Paying whatever it takes to acquire a player of Williams' caliber would reinforce a struggling unit and readjust Mayfield's development track, whether Kitchens is calling plays for the long term or not.
Dallas Cowboys: Fire Jason Garrett
The Dallas Cowboys have underwhelmed, which isn't an acceptable development in Jerry Jones' world.
But the team owner has made it clear he won't fire head coach Jason Garrett during the season because it could dash the team's chances at the Super Bowl.
"I wouldn't make a change and give us a chance to do what I want to dream about doing—I wouldn't do that for love or money,” Jones said, according to USA Today's Jori Epstein. "It would give us zero chance if we didn't have him."
The problem is that the terrible NFC East is the only reason the Cowboys have a shot at the playoffs. They're .500, have gone 3-4 since their Week 8 bye and lost three of their last four. They coughed up 26 points in a defeat to the Buffalo Bills in Week 13, and then they lost to the .500 Chicago Bears before beating a middling Los Angeles Rams team.
They have too much talent on the field—including quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Amari Cooper—to lose in such a manner. Four of Dallas' seven wins have come against bad divisional rivals, and that's not going to cut it in the playoffs.
The Cowboys need a culture change. Getting rid of Garrett and bringing in a new coaching staff is the way to go this offseason.
Chicago Bears: Woo a Starting-Caliber Veteran QB
The Chicago Bears' struggles aren't all due to Mitchell Trubisky, but the team can't keep trying to win in spite of his erratic play.
And erratic is Trubisky in a nutshell. Through 13 games, the third-year quarterback has completed 63.4 percent of his passes with just 17 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Despite the backing of a defense that allows only 18.1 points per game (third-fewest in the NFL), he's managed just five multi-touchdown games and had five showings in which he failed to hit the 200-yard mark.
That's not going to cut it in an NFC North in which the 7-7 Bears look up to a pair of contenders, both of whom have 10-plus wins in 2019. Chicago had losses to bad teams like the Los Angeles Chargers (5-9), and it barely defeated the Detroit Lions and New York Giants (won by a margin of nine points combined). Trubisky had just nine passing yards against the division rival Minnesota Vikings.
The Bears will have a chance to get a capable veteran in the offseason. Maybe they trade for someone like Andy Dalton. Or perhaps they open the checkbook for a potential free agent like Teddy Bridgewater or even Philip Rivers. At this point, there isn't much shame in throwing up the white flag on the Trubisky investment.
Oakland Raiders: Go After Another Star WR
The Oakland Raiders clearly aren't afraid to take a risk on a top-flight wide receiver.
And it might just work...eventually.
The Antonio Brown gamble didn't, and it's still hurting the team. The 6-8 Raiders have looked competitive at times, but we'd be remiss not to mention their 3-6 record since the Week 6 bye. Each of those victories came against teams with no more than five wins.
Part of the problem is the offense. The unit is getting a monster season from rookie running back Josh Jacobs (1,150 rushing yards, seven touchdowns), and quarterback Derek Carr has completed 70 percent of his passes. Only two wideouts, however, are among the team's top seven receiving leaders. None has hit the 600-yard mark, and tight end Darren Waller leads the Raiders in that category.
Oakland's need for a No. 1 wideout seems obvious. Guys like A.J. Green, Amari Cooper and Emmanuel Sanders will be free agents this offseason, for starters, so it seems like a good time for the squad to make an upgrade.
Los Angeles Rams: Revamp the Offensive Line
Given the torrid play of the offensive line in front of Jared Goff, it's hard to determine whether the NFL has just figured out head coach Sean McVay and the 8-6 Los Angeles Rams.
The fourth-year quarterback has only thrown 17 touchdowns against 15 interceptions, but he's been hurried 40 times with 42 hits and 21 sacks.
Guard Austin Corbett (acquired in October) has a 52.6 grade at PFF. Center Austin Blythe has a 46.2. Guard David Edwards has a 56.5, and tackle Rob Havenstein has allowed five sacks with a 50.9 rating.
This is only one grading mechanism to illustrate how the Rams have a serious issue in the trenches. And while the issues are broader than a single position, sometimes installing a massive upgrade creates a positive ripple effect. Landing a Brandon Scherff in free agency, for example, could help boost the flanking center and tackle positions.
The Rams can't make a meaningful evaluation of the offense or Goff and figure out how to fix things until the line gets a boost from a free agent or a rookie, if not a combination of the two.