NFL Teams Headed in the Wrong Direction in 2020
The optimism of draft season fades, and reality sets in for some NFL teams.
A handful simply aren't headed in the right direction. Granted, "right" can mean different things to different front offices. When the Miami Dolphins were clearly tanking last year, it was the wrong direction in the short term, but those at the controls were hopeful it was the right move long-term.
With the emphasis on winning games in 2020, some teams just aren't making good moves. Whether it's intentional or not, key losses, a head-scratching approach to acquiring personnel and muted projections leave some teams looking at a slog of a rough season.
These are the few teams that stick out as heading in the wrong direction.
Be honest—this one was easy to see coming when the Jacksonville Jaguars decided to throw nearly $90 million at Nick Foles an offseason ago.
The move reeked of desperation at the time. Foles didn't have a good track record in the regular season, and it was a gross overpay. He ended up getting outplayed and eventually replaced by Gardner Minshew II, a sixth-round pick.
Jacksonville was able to get out from under the Foles contract this offseason. But that's been the theme—shedding.
After winning just six games and moving disgruntled Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey midseason, the front office chose to retain head coach Doug Marrone yet again and trade defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback A.J. Bouye prior to the start of free agency. It presumably still wants to dump running back Leonard Fournette, and franchise-tagged edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue doesn't seem long for the team after getting into a public spat with Jaguars co-owner Tony Khan.
Jacksonville's draft wasn't terrible, for what it's worth. But cornerback CJ Henderson (ninth overall pick) and edge-rusher K'Lavon Chaisson (20th overall) are merely remedies for losses of current stars who never felt like a priority to begin with. Evidently, neither was a quarterback, as Jacksonville only invested a sixth-round pick in Oregon State's Jake Luton. So it's the Minshew-or-bust train.
Besides one blip in 2017, Jacksonville hasn't hovered above .500 since 2007. It feels like the front office has orchestrated another underwhelming outcome rather than a revival this offseason.
New England Patriots
Losing Tom Brady hurts.
But this is the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick—it merely felt like a matter of time before they pulled off a wicked move to make it all work and remain in contention.
Belichick and Co. to date haven't done much to fix the problem under center, which just so happens to be the most important position on the field. Rumors of Brady's demise were greatly exaggerated, as even last year he threw for 4,000-plus yards and 24 touchdowns with eight picks while having nothing resembling a running game and only one wideout who broke the 400-yard mark.
Unless there is a shocker of a late move in an unorthodox offseason, the Patriots will hinge all hope on Jarrett Stidham, a 2019 fourth-rounder with four career attempts—one of them an interception.
It's a very un-Patriots-like situation. New England spent most of the offseason losing other notables like linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins Sr. and slapping the franchise tag on guard Joe Thuney while currently only sitting on roughly $2 million in cap space.
The NFL revolves around the quarterback spot. Belichick's first three picks in the draft were defenders before doubling up on tight end and a kicker. It all adds up to what could be a very long season while the team tries to figure out if it has anything at all in Stidham.
The Houston Texans are the most predictable team on lists like this for the foreseeable future.
Bill O'Brien trading DeAndre Hopkins is the first thing that comes to mind, of course. The Texans saw fit to move a top-10 wideout in his prime for less than a first-round pick in return, as well as David Johnson on a massive contract. The immediate, odd Hopkins replacement was Randall Cobb on a three-year, $27 million deal.
This came on the heels of the Texans' decision to cough up two first-round picks for offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. Also tucked in here for the odd stretch by the front office was shipping away Jadeveon Clowney. While protecting Deshaun Watson is priority No. 1 in Houston, turning right around and letting go of his top weapon in a widely panned deal didn't make a ton of sense.
Houston then hit the draft with just five selections, the first coming at No. 40, and took defenders with three of the five picks. It wasn't until the Texans' final pick in the fifth round that they selected wide receiver Isaiah Coulter out of Rhode Island.
Look, the Texans have still won double-digit games in each of the last two seasons. But removing a perennial All-Pro in Hopkins and adding an over-the-hill running back, plus an underwhelming Brandin Cooks after a sub-600-yard season, might mean even tougher sledding.
In the backdrop to all this is Watson's contract situation. Extension talks will dominate the headlines with one year left on his rookie deal beyond 2020. If things get worse this season as projected, the downward trend could pick up some serious momentum.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers were one of the offseason's biggest winners a year ago when they unexpectedly got aggressive in free agency and added both Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith.
Said aggression played a big part in the Packers' jump from six to 13 wins under the guidance of first-year head coach Matt LaFleur.
But the approach seemed to be an outlier of sorts. This offseason, the Packers watched as notable free agents like offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and linebacker Blake Martinez leave via free agency. The front office then turned around and drafted quarterback Jordan Love No. 26 overall in a shocker.
Grooming a first-round rookie behind Aaron Rodgers, who turns 37 in December, isn't the worst idea in a vacuum. But it came at the expense of adding more help for Rodgers, a theme that continued over the course of seven rounds and nine selections—none of which addressed a barren wideout room. The front office saw no issues with taking second-round running back AJ Dillon or spending a third-round pick on an H-back type of player in Josiah Deguara.
With approximately $11 million in cap space, Green Bay now has a potentially distracting dynamic at quarterback and a general strategy that seems more about life after Rodgers than helping Rodgers. The Packers were one game removed from the Super Bowl a season ago, yet this feels like improper team building while in a position of luxury given the lack of motivation to address problem areas. So it wouldn't be a surprise to see a notable regression next year.