Rebuilding Plans for NFL Teams That Need an Overhaul in 2021
Some NFL executives must accept the reality of their team's shortcomings to break the cycle of mediocrity or put a halt to a downward trend in the standings. Although a rebuild can take a couple of years before fans see tangible results, it's a necessary approach toward progress.
A few teams must start with a quarterback search. With a top-10 pick, front offices can take a long look at blue-chip prospects who could declare for the 2021 draft. Other club executives may have the financial resources to invest in proven commodities on the free-agent market.
A few general managers failed to build a solid supporting cast around their franchise quarterbacks. Perhaps the signal-caller need a stronger offensive line, a complementary ground attack or a stingier defense to help close out games.
Whatever the case, any squad with an array of staff and roster question marks can fix these issues during the offseason. We'll lay out a list of key objectives for teams in need of significant changes, from head-coaching hires to additions or subtractions on both sides of the ball.
New York Jets
The New York Jets are likely headed in a new direction under general manager Joe Douglas, who took over for Mike Maccagnan in June 2019.
Douglas didn't draft quarterback Sam Darnold, who's mostly struggled through three seasons. He's recorded 39 touchdown passes and 34 interceptions with a 59.7 percent completion rate. The Jets general manager joined the organization with head coach Adam Gase already in place. Gang Green is 7-18 on the Gase's watch.
Expect the Jets to part ways with Gase and rebuild the team with a head coach of Douglas' choice.
Objective No. 1: Allow GM Joe Douglas to Pick His HC
Although Douglas said he believes Gase is the "right coach" for the Jets, that's a hard sell if the club finishes the season with one or two wins.
Furthermore, under Gase, the Jets recorded the second-fewest points and ranked 32nd in total yards in 2019. This season, Gang Green stood at or near the bottom of several offensive categories going into Week 9.
Aside from Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who will likely make his rounds in head-coaching interviews, Tennessee Titans play-caller Arthur Smith should land on the Jets' list of candidates as well. He's led two top-10 scoring offenses and helped revive quarterback Ryan Tannehill's career. The 32-year-old signal-caller won the 2019 Comeback Player of the Year honor.
Smith hasn't generated comparable buzz to Bieniemy, but he could garner interest because of his offensive prowess.
Objective No. 2: Choose a Top QB, Trade Sam Darnold
If the Jets go into the offseason with the No. 1 overall pick, they would have a major decision at quarterback with Darnold under contract for at least another year and the possibility of selecting Clemson's Trevor Lawrence.
With the opportunity to select Lawrence and deal Darnold for more draft capital, Douglas can kick the Jets' rebuild into overdrive. The Clemson product would provide optimism for the franchise's future, and the team can cut its losses with an unproven signal-caller.
Objective No. 3: Overhaul the Secondary
During the summer, the Jets traded star safety Jamal Adams to the Seattle Seahawks, which left a huge void in the secondary. Brian Poole, Pierre Desir, Marcus Maye and Bradley McDougald, whom the team acquired in the Adams trade, will become free agents in the offseason.
With several of their defensive backs set to hit the free-agent market, the Jets can acquire a mix of veteran and high-end rookie talent to strengthen the pass defense. They should attempt to lure starting-caliber safeties such as Anthony Harris and Justin Simmons with big-money contracts.
The Jets have four 2021 draft picks within the top 65. Gang Green could use its second first-round selection on a top cornerback such as Ohio State's Shaun Wade or wait until Day 2 to select Paulson Adebo out of Stanford. The latter has eight interceptions since 2018.
After a surprising upset victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the season opener, the Jacksonville Jaguars went nowhere fast, losing seven consecutive games. We'll likely see the organization wipe the front office and coaching staff slates clean in the offseason.
Since the Jaguars' 2017 run to the AFC Championship Game, they've gone 12-28 under head coach Doug Marrone. Now 1-7, the franchise needs a reset at critical positions.
Objective No. 1: Hire an Innovative HC
The Jaguars should go all-in on a pursuit to hire one of the top head-coaching candidates among the offensive coordinators, which would include Eric Bieniemy, Byron Leftwich and Josh McDaniels. Jacksonville can entice them with the opportunity to make the choice at quarterback in the upcoming draft.
The Jaguars have to compete with Deshaun Watson and Ryan Tannehill within the AFC South, so offensively, they'll need to keep pace in matchups against division rivals. With a bright young mind calling the shots, Jacksonville can find its way back into playoff contention in a short time span.
Objective No. 2: Establish Long-Term Plan at QB
Right now, the New York Jets and Jaguars project as squads in the running for the No. 1 overall pick. Even if Gang Green holds the top spot and takes Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville can choose Ohio State's Justin Fields—if he declares for the draft—or Trey Lance, who opted out of North Dakota State's 2020 term to prepare for the pros.
Winless since the opener, with rookie sixth-rounder Jake Luton under center, the Jaguars seem well on their way to a top-three pick. Gardner Minshew II has a strained ligament and multiple fractures in his thumb. He's out for an undetermined amount of time.
Next year, Jacksonville can start the season with Minshew or go with a promising rookie in Week 1. Whether it's Lawrence, Fields or Lance, the Jaguars would have a bright outlook.
Objective No. 3: Draft a Top CB
The Jaguars started their rebuild last offseason, selecting cornerback CJ Henderson and edge-rusher K'Lavon Chaisson in the first round of the 2020 draft. Both young defenders can play major roles in the team's long-term plan to build a playoff contender.
With Josh Allen and Chaisson on the edge for years to come, the Jaguars should shore up the secondary with a pair of young cornerbacks to shut down passing attacks. Jacksonville has two 2021 first-round picks thanks to its trade with the Los Angeles Rams that involved Jalen Ramsey.
After the Jaguars pick a quarterback, they can select a rising cornerback prospect such as Georgia's Eric Stokes, who has three interceptions and four pass breakups this season. The club's 28th-ranked pass defense needs more help.
With a pair of pass-rushers up front and a strong cornerback tandem on the back end, we could see Jacksonville's defense reemerge as one of the stingiest units in the league.
Washington Football Team
The Washington Football Team fields a solid defense that ranks 11th in points allowed and surrenders the fifth-fewest yards. The group also applies relentless pocket pressure with the fourth-most sacks (27).
However, Washington must revamp its offense starting with the quarterback position, across the offensive line and on the perimeter. The unit ranks 30th in scoring and total yards.
The coaching staff demoted 2019 first-rounder Dwayne Haskins. He's a backup for Alex Smith, who took over for Kyle Allen on Sunday.
Allen will miss the remainder of the season with a dislocated ankle. Per Spotrac, he'll become an exclusive rights free agent in the spring, which means the team can re-sign him on a one-year tender. Although Alex Smith made an impressive comeback from several leg surgeries to play most of the team's Week 9 game, he's not the future at 36 years old.
Objective No. 1: Open Up QB Search, Inquire About Sam Darnold
If the New York Jets (0-9) land the first overall pick, general manager Joe Douglas may consider offers for quarterback Sam Darnold with Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) and Justin Fields (Ohio State) drawing all the buzz on the college scene.
Remember, Douglas didn't draft Darnold in 2018. He would have the opportunity to start fresh with a signal-caller of his choice. In that scenario, Gang Green would probably offer its young quarterback for players and/or draft capital.
With a few more wins, Washington may miss out on the chance to draft Fields or North Dakota State's Trey Lance. If so, the front office can focus on Darnold, who's only 23 years old and still has the potential to develop into a solid starter.
Washington should start with an offer of a second- and fifth-round pick for Darnold. If the Jets send him elsewhere, BYU's Zach Wilson could be a draft option. He's thrown 21 touchdown passes and two interceptions during his program's 8-0 start this season.
Objective No. 2: Strengthen Left Side of the Offensive Line
Washington needs a stronger offensive line to protect its future franchise quarterback. The club ranks 28th in pass protection, per Football Outsiders. Left tackle Geron Christian Sr. has allowed six sacks, per Pro Football Focus.
At left guard, Wes Martin lost his starting job to Wes Schweitzer after rookie fourth-rounder Saahdiq Charles went on injured reserve with a dislocated kneecap. While Schweitzer could hold the position for this season, he has yet to prove himself as the long-term answer on the interior.
Washington should have the financial capital to add mid-tier veteran competition for the starting spot, perhaps Lane Taylor or Jon Feliciano off the free-agent market.
If the front office acquires Darnold, Oregon's Penei Sewell and Alabama's Alex Leatherwood stand out as probable options to shore up the perimeter of the offensive line.
Objective No. 3: Bolster Pass-Catching Group
Wide receiver Terry McLaurin cannot carry the pass-catching group alone. Thus far, he's been effective, hauling in 108 passes for 1,611 yards and 10 touchdowns in 22 games, but the passing attack needs a complementary playmaker on the outside.
Among the team's wideouts, Dontrelle Inman ranks second in receptions (17) while Cam Sims ranks second in yards (171). The latter only has seven catches.
In the second round of the 2021 draft, USC's Amon-Ra St. Brown could be available. The junior receiver ranked second on the team in yards (1,042) last season. He's not a speedy threat but runs a detailed route tree with great ball-tracking skills.
New England Patriots
Unless offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels accepts a head coaching job elsewhere, the New England Patriots don't have to worry about the front office or their staff. Head coach Bill Belichick will continue to run the show until further notice.
However, the Patriots must overhaul an aging defensive line with several expiring contracts and establish an offensive identity. New England went into Week 10 with the 28th-ranked scoring offense.
Objective No. 1: Sort Through Incoming Class of QBs
Cam Newton has struggled through the first half of the 2020 season. Although he's still a threat on the ground, the 31-year-old signal-caller hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since Week 3 with just two in total.
Even if Newton finishes the season on a strong note, the Patriots should conduct an in-depth assessment of the incoming quarterback class. Their draft placement will determine who's available. As of right now, Zach Wilson (BYU) and Kyle Trask (Florida) could land in the mid-first-round range.
If the Patriots select a quarterback in the opening round, he would likely compete with Jarrett Stidham for a starting role, barring a veteran addition in free agency or Newton's return as a bridge-gap option.
Objective No. 2: Draft Multiple WRs
2021 represents a contract year for Julian Edelman at 35 years old. N'Keal Harry hasn't flashed since the Patriots selected him with the No. 32 overall pick in the 2019 draft. He's hauled in just 31 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns in 13 contests. Jakobi Meyers, who caught 12 passes for 169 yards Monday, has been one of the few offensive bright spots. New England's wideout group needs more juice.
Similar to the 2020 draft class, the 2021 group could feature plenty of high-potential wide receivers. The Patriots may find quality talent in Rounds 2 and 3. If the front office wants an astute route-runner, Ohio State's Chris Olave seems like a good fit. If Jaylen Waddle's season-ending ankle injury causes him to drop, he's a possible early-second-round option because of his speed.
Objective No. 3: Add Young Talent Along the Defensive Line
Along the defensive line, Lawrence Guy, John Simon, Deatrich Wise Jr., Adam Butler and Derek Rivers will become free agents in the spring. The first three players listed have been on the field for more than half of the snaps this season.
Simon and Guy are 30 years old, so the Patriots should add more young talent to the trenches on defense. Larry Ogunjobi, a defensive tackle with 12 career sacks, could provide pocket pressure on the interior. As an alternative free-agent option, Dalvin Tomlinson would serve as a building block for the run defense, which ranks 25th leaguewide.
The Houston Texans relieved Bill O'Brien of his general managerial and head-coaching duties after an 0-4 start, signaling a change for the future.
Despite O'Brien's recent success, winning division titles in each of the last two years, his roster moves seemed to put the Texans in a rut. Once the team started slow with a struggling offense, he took the brunt of the blame and rightfully so.
The new front-office executive will have a star quarterback without picks in the first two rounds of the 2021 draft, which calls for some crafty moves during free agency.
Objective No. 1: Hire an Offensive-Oriented HC
In September, the Texans signed quarterback Deshaun Watson to a four-year, $177 million extension. As the franchise centerpiece, the organization must optimize the talent of its biggest investment.
The Texans should be one of many teams in line to interview Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. New England Patriots play-caller Josh McDaniels and Tampa Bay Buccaneers OC Byron Leftwich also belong on the team's short list of head-coaching candidates.
If the Texans prefer someone with experience, McDaniels stands out as the obvious choice, though he went 11-17 in a two-year stint with the Denver Broncos. Perhaps the Patriots offensive coordinator would have better results working alongside a polished two-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
Objective No. 2: Cut Big Contracts
In addition to signing Watson, left tackle Laremy Tunsil and inside linebacker Zach Cunningham to top-dollar extensions, the Texans acquired a couple of bloated salaries.
O'Brien traded for running back David Johnson and wideout Brandin Cooks. Their contracts carry 2021 cap hits of $9 million and $12 million, respectively. The Texans can release both players and save $18.9 million, per Over the Cap.
Although solid through eight outings, Johnson hasn't recaptured his 2016 All-Pro form. He's averaging 4.8 yards per touch, his second-lowest career rate. With wideout Randall Cobb's three-year deal holding $12.3 million in dead money for 2021, the Texans should cut Cooks and use that money to re-sign Will Fuller V, who's averaging a career-high 73.8 receiving yards per game.
Objective No. 3: Put J.J. Watt on Trade Block, Add Low-Cost Defensive Lineman in Free Agency
After suiting up for every game between the 2011 and 2015 campaigns, defensive end J.J. Watt has played one full season thereafter. He's missed at least eight contests in three of the last four terms.
Houston cannot rely on Watt to spearhead the pass rush anymore. The 31-year-old has one year left on his contract. With just four sacks through eight games, he's solid but not the same player who earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
At this point in his career, Watt isn't interested in a rebuild situation. He wants to compete for a title. If the Texans shed contracts and go young, the 10th-year veteran would likely welcome a move elsewhere.
Houston can attempt to trade Watt for draft picks and then fill his position with a Day 2 rookie talent or a low-cost free-agent acquisition on a one-year deal. Denico Autry or DeMarcus Walker could become solid short-term rentals through a transition period for the defensive line.
The Atlanta Falcons' overhaul has to start with the people paid to make the big decisions. The team relieved Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn of their duties, leaving vacancies for general manager and head coach. The franchise doesn't have a plan for the future in place.
Once the Falcons fill those roles, the organization should build around quarterback Matt Ryan, who's under contract through the 2023 season. He's not the issue in Atlanta, but the All-Pro signal-caller is going into his age 35-term and needs help in areas other than the wide receiver position.
Objective No. 1: Hire a Head Coach-General Manager Tandem
The Falcons dismissed Dimitroff and Quinn after an 0-5 start. Since then, Atlanta has won three of four games. Perhaps the players needed to hear a new voice in the locker room and on the sideline. Interim head coach Raheem Morris should stand first in line for a job if the club continues to rattle off victories.
Morris has three years of head-coaching experience with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers between the 2009 and 2011 campaigns, going 10-6 in his second term. He's qualified to handle a full-time role given the Falcons' recent turnaround. If Morris earns the promotion, he should have a voice in who takes over the general manager position.
Objective No. 2: Retool and Reenergize the Ground Attack
Running backs Todd Gurley and Brian Hill have expiring contracts. Instead of re-signing either of the veterans, the new regime should look for cheaper options in the 2021 draft, especially with Ryan and Julio Jones on costly long-term deals.
The Falcons can probably select one of the big names such as Travis Etienne, Chuba Hubbard or Najee Harris within the first two rounds, but the refocus on the ground attack has multiple layers.
With fresh legs in the backfield, the coaching staff needs to maximize production on the ground, which hasn't been offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's strong suit. In his second stint as the team's play-caller, his rushing offenses have ranked 30th and 20th in yards for the 2019 campaign and through the first nine weeks of the 2020 term, respectively.
Objective No. 3: Draft a Pass-Rusher
Takkarist McKinley wanted out of Atlanta. Via Twitter, he criticized the team for allegedly turning down trade offers for him over the last two seasons. Jason Butt of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution disputed those claims. The Falcons released him Monday.
Atlanta needs a quality starting edge-rusher opposite Dante Fowler Jr. The defense ranks 24th in sacks.
Typically, solid running backs remain available on Day 2 of the draft, which would allow Atlanta to snag a top edge-rusher such as Joseph Ossai (Texas) in the first round. The Falcons may have a slight chance at Miami's Gregory Rousseau, a potential top-10 pick.
After consecutive winning seasons between 2016 and 2017 under former head coach Jim Caldwell, the Detroit Lions went in a new direction with Matt Patricia, which hasn’t panned out in their favor.
Patricia, a former defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, hasn't finished a season with a Lions scoring defense ranked higher than 16th. The unit currently sits at 28th.
At 3-5, Detroit is headed for another disappointing campaign.
Objective No. 1: Fire Head Coach Matt Patricia
As head coach for the Lions, Patricia has a 12-27-1 record. Owner Martha Ford gave him and general manager Bob Quinn a warning at the end of last season. She wanted to see a playoff contender in 2020. After a 34-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, Detroit fell to last place in the NFC North.
Patricia hasn't shown any signs of leading the Lions in the right direction through two-and-half seasons. With Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers still performing at a high level, Detroit should list San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh atop its list of head-coaching candidates. Over the past two years, his defenses have ranked top-10 in scoring and yards allowed.
Objective No. 2: Revamp All Three Levels of the Defense
The Lions defense features several players with Patriots ties to Patricia. Trey Flowers, Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins and Duron Harmon all fit into that category.
Harmon will hit the 2021 free-agent market. Detroit should place the remaining players with a connection to Patricia on the trade block and allow the new staff to revamp the defense. Impending free agent Marcus Williams has 12 interceptions in four seasons. He could replace Harmon's ball production on the back end.
The Lions defense underachieved and needs an overhaul, though rookie cornerback Jeff Okudah, the No. 3 overall pick from the 2020 draft, has the man coverage skills to become a premier boundary defender. He's a potential roster cornerstone even in a new system.
In April, Detroit should target Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, who opted out of the 2020 season. He's a potential centerpiece for a transitioning defense. The versatile 6'3", 245-pounder recorded 109 tackles, 14 for loss, five sacks and five pass breakups in 2019.
As an alternative first-round option, Wake Forest's Carlos Basham Jr. can develop into a game-wrecker on the defensive line. He's recorded 35 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks in four collegiate terms.
Objective No. 3: Maintain a Strong Supporting Cast Around QB Matthew Stafford
Detroit only has two wide receivers on the books beyond the 2020 term, Quintez Cephus and Geronimo Allison.
With quarterback Matthew Stafford still in his prime years, the Lions should maintain a veteran group at wide receiver for immediate results.
Kenny Golladay can retain his role as the team's No. 1 wideout. The front office can take a look at an athletic quick-twitch pass-catcher on Day 2 of the draft to complement him in the passing game. Oklahoma State's Tylan Wallace would fit that role. He has 35 receptions for 583 yards and four touchdowns this season.
The Lions already have dual-threat running back D'Andre Swift and a budding tight end in T.J. Hockenson. In 2021, Detroit could field one of the most explosive offenses with its collection of talent on that side of the ball.
NFL draft picks and order provided by Tankathon.
Player contract details provided by Over The Cap unless otherwise noted.