NFL Teams Who Need to Enter Rebuild Mode After Disappointing 2020 Starts
The decision to rebuild is never easy.
There are no fast rebuilds in a results-driven league like the NFL, which usually means years of less than ideal marks in the win column as a team stockpiles talent to fit the coaching staff's vision.
This year, two head coaches have already been dismissed—Bill O'Brien from the Houston Texans and Dan Quinn from the Atlanta Falcons—and several teams are performing far below expectations. The harsh reality is that it's time for certain teams to turn an eye to the future.
This doesn't mean these squads should tank in the process. And obvious rebuilders like the New York Jets are omitted.
Below are teams that need to admit it's time to punch the reset button (or hit it again because it jammed the first time).
The Atlanta Falcons got the ball rolling on a rebuild by firing Quinn.
One could argue the move came too late, as Quinn had a paltry 43-42 record and ran the Falcons to 0-5 before his dismissal. But it would be easy to look at Atlanta's top-heavy roster and envision the organization trying to avoid a rebuild.
That will make a rebuild all the more painful.
Matt Ryan is 35. Julio Jones is 31. Looking ahead to 2021, they will take up roughly 36 percent of the team's cap space, and the Falcons have a negative projected cap balance of more than $25 million next year.
In the long term, the Falcons might benefit from clearing the books a bit—with four other players other than Ryan and Jones taking up at least 7 percent of the cap each—and installing a rookie passer to learn from Ryan.
Realistically, the Falcons won't be digging themselves out of their 1-5 hole, with their sole victory over a similarly 1-5 Minnesota Vikings squad and every team in the NFC South with already at least three wins.
The Texans let go of O'Brien after an 0-4 start and some head-scratching decisions in his role as general manager. He finished with a 52-48 record as Houston's head coach.
Now the Texans have to dig out of the hole constructed by O'Brien, and it won't be easy. The team traded DeAndre Hopkins and has big cap hits for running back David Johnson ($11.2 million in 2020), Brandin Cooks ($8.0 million) and Randall Cobb ($6.1 million).
That trio represents three of the team's nine cap hits of at least $9 million in 2021, contributing heavily to a negative projected cap balance of $12.1 million.
The Texans still aren't giving Deshaun Watson the protection he needs, with the signal-caller being sacked the fourth-most times leaguewide. And the defensive centerpiece is 31-year-old J.J. Watt, who has played more than eight games in a season just once over the last four years.
With the 2020 campaign lost as the Texans sit at the bottom of the AFC South, the organization needs to pick a direction with a new head coach and potentially get active on the trade market in an effort to start righting the ship.
The Cincinnati Bengals hired Zac Taylor after 16 years of Marvin Lewis and didn't overturn their roster much, resulting in last year's 2-14 effort.
Fast forward to now after a spending spree in free agency and the drafting of Joe Burrow, and...things don't look much better at 1-4-1, bringing Taylor's record to 3-18-1.
At this point, the Bengals haven't shown the ability to win close games or win consistently, and things have started to get concerning from a locker room standpoint, with Tyler Dragon of the Cincinnati Enquirer reporting players like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are frustrated with their smaller roles in the defense.
There's a debate about whether the Bengals should start over with a fresh coaching staff or give Taylor more time. He hasn't even had his new roster at full strength—big-money add Trae Waynes has been on the shelf with a torn pectoral muscle, for example—but there's a small window to develop Burrow the prospect.
The Bengals are probably better off fully embracing the rebuild and finding a way to unload Atkins and Dunlap, if not the franchise-tagged A.J. Green. All three constitute the team's three-highest cap hits this year, and both defenders sit in the top five in 2021 too.
The Detroit Lions feel like they'll soon be looking for a new head coach.
Franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford and Co. stumbled out of the gates to a 2-3 start, which isn't a ringing endorsement for Matt Patricia, owner of a 11-25-1 record over two-plus seasons in the Motor City. For context, his predecessor, Jim Caldwell, went 36-28 before his dismissal.
Defense is once again an inexplicable problem. The Lions allowed the second-most yards per game (400.4) last year under a coach who specializes on that side of the ball. Through five games, Detroit is in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed per contest (379) and points allowed per game (28.6), and the defensive unit has recorded the third-fewest sacks (six).
Stafford is now 32 years old and has only completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 1,240 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions over five games.
This isn't to suggest the Lions throw in the towel on Stafford, but it might be smart for the organization to start thinking about the long term and start by punching the reset button on the coaching staff.
It's blow-it-up time for the Vikings in the NFC North.
The front office might agree. On Thursday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the Vikings are sending edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens after acquiring him via a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars in August.
The Vikings are 1-5 with a minus-37 point differential and in a division with two teams possessing at least four wins. Franchise passer Kirk Cousins, who has a $21 million cap hit this season, has thrown 11 touchdowns and a league-high 10 interceptions. Last season, he only had six in 444 pass attempts. He only reached the double-digit mark in 606 attempts in 2018.
It's hardly all on Cousins, though. The line play has been bad, the offense seems to miss wide receiver Stefon Diggs and the defense ranks bottom-five in average yards allowed (413.7) and points allowed (32.0) per game.
Ngakoue wasn't going to be a cap hit next year, but Minnesota is projected to be in the red. Cousins has a $41 million dead-cap number, and core pieces like Adam Thielen and star safety Anthony Harris are 29 or older. It's time for a roster refresh after this flop to start 2020.
The Dallas Cowboys banked on the idea that a new head coach could get them into contention with the roster as constructed.
Mike McCarthy is off to a 2-4 start instead, with serious offensive problems and a historically bad defense leading the way. He only has a laughably bad NFC East to thank for his team's second-place standing despite the minus-45 point differential.
The problems were apparent before Dak Prescott went down with a season-ending injury. The offensive line has been an injury-riddled mess, and Ezekiel Elliott—who signed six-year, $90 million contract prior to last season—has already fumbled four times.
The defense endured tough losses this offseason, including cornerback Byron Jones (who left in free agency), and is on pace to allow an NFL-record 581 points.
There's no easy fix after the Cowboys spent big to keep key players like Elliott and Amari Cooper, two of the seven names who account for a $9.8 million cap hit or higher next season. And Dallas still needs to figure out what it's going to do with Prescott.
Thanks to the NFC East, Dallas might remain in the playoff conversation all season. But it might be best to start over with so many things broken.