NFL Teams That Should Blow It Up This Offseason
Rebuilding is a reality of life in the NFL.
At any given time, teams sit in varying stages of contention based on roster construction, cap balance and how it comes together around a coaching staff. Being a contender seems to hinge on having a talented passer on a rookie contract, enabling the front office to spend big elsewhere.
Championship windows open and close at varying speeds. Teams that can gauge this and act accordingly tend to have shorter downswing periods. This offseason, franchises in brutal salary-cap spots with questions at quarterback are likely candidates to put up the white flag. They also tend to reside in divisions with one or more competitors on serious contention upswings.
These teams should get ahead of the curve and blow it up this offseason.
The Philadelphia Eagles can't afford to stop now.
Trading Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts created a historic $33.8 million dead-cap hit for 2021, slotting the Eagles 31st in cap space at $40.5 million in the red.
The Eagles imploded in 2020 with a 4-11-1 record in an NFC East that sent a seven-win team to the playoffs. Head coach Doug Pederson is gone, and the rest of the division figures to take a leap. Washington could stay in playoff contention, and Dallas gets Dak Prescott back, barring a mishap with the star quarterback's contract.
The Eagles, meanwhile, have one of the 12 oldest rosters in the NFL and a plethora of moves ahead to get back in the black. Possibilities include cutting Derek Barnett ($10.1 million in cap savings) and Marquise Goodwin ($4.5 million), as well as figuring out extensions and restructures that push cap hits to later years.
But getting out of the red by delaying cap hits to future seasons still creates issues. The Eagles have the sixth pick but might be out of range for the top passers, and Jalen Hurts is a question mark, so it might be better to rip off the Band-Aid rather than peel it off slowly by trying to contend in 2021.
New Orleans Saints
March has arrived, and the New Orleans Saints still don't have an answer from quarterback Drew Brees, who has a $12.2 million cap hit in 2021 with $22.7 million in dead money.
The Saints sit last in cap space at $66.4 million in the red and have the oldest average age of any roster (27.5) with 58 players under contract. Even worse, the front office has routinely skirted cap issues by shoving them to later years in the hopes of winning a Super Bowl with Brees.
Now might be the time to eat some of those issues and start fresh with Brees (seemingly) set to retire. The team has to get younger and save cash, so cuts like Kwon Alexander ($13.2 million in savings) and Ryan Ramczyk ($11.1 million) should be on the table. Ditto for trying to wiggle out of Taysom Hill's $16.2 million cap hit.
The Saints pick 28th in the draft, so the best bet at remaining afloat might be re-signing Jameis Winston in the hopes he can get something positive out of the surrounding pieces. But in an NFC South with the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it might be advisable to lie low, clear cap issues and think about reopening the window once Tom Brady is out of the division.
It's time for the Houston Texans to throw in the towel.
Deshaun Watson won't budge on his trade request, something the star quarterback affirmed when he met with new head coach David Culley last week, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano.
Losing a top-10 passer in his prime isn't ideal, but neither was sticking with head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien for too long, trading DeAndre Hopkins and not involving Watson in hiring GM and head coach replacements, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported.
The silver lining is what Watson might fetch in a trade, with multiple first-round picks presumably on the table. If the front office made overtures to a team like the New York Jets, the No. 2 pick would be in play.
The Texans don't promise to look competitive anyway, not after a 4-12 season. The offensive line is still a mess (50 sacks), the wideout room suffered a setback with the Hopkins deal, and the defense wasn't much better, allowing 29 points per game, the sixth-worst mark in the league. Stockpiling picks while the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts duke it out for playoff spots might be the best move to right the ship over the long term.
This may be a good time for the Atlanta Falcons to punch the reset button.
The Falcons are $15.9 million in the red, sitting 28th in total cap space, and have the seventh-oldest roster in the league with 39 players signed.
A few players amplify those numbers. Quarterback Matt Ryan is going on 36 years old and has a $40.9 million cap hit in 2021. Julio Jones is 32 with a $23.1 million cap hit. But this win-now core produced seven, seven and four wins over the last three seasons as the front office held on to Dan Quinn as head coach until the middle of last season.
Talented offensive mind Arthur Smith is the new head coach, and with the team set to pick fourth overall in the draft, it may be wise to grab a premium quarterback prospect. Along with savvy roster moves such as extensions and restructures, that can get the team out of the red and on the path to cap normalcy.
Drafting a passer at No. 4 doesn't have to mean trading Ryan, but revamping the roster otherwise to prepare for big spending around a rookie contract in 2022 should be the target. The Falcons finished last in the NFC South last year while two division rivals won double-digit games, and one of those won the Super Bowl and isn't making any major changes.
Whether that happens is hard to say. The 39-year-old holds a $41.3 million cap hit in 2021, and a $15 million roster bonus triggers two days into the new league year. He struggled a season ago, averaging 6.3 yards per attempt with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
The Steelers are $7.3 million in the red with no clear path to re-signing free agents like Bud Dupree, James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster in addition to making things work with Big Ben. It's hard to say whether the future Hall of Famer was dealing with nagging issues or if Father Time has caught up, but the latter would be devastating for the team.
After winning 12 games against an easy schedule, the Steelers only pick 24th in the draft. Similar to teams like New Orleans, years of pushing back cap consequences and late-round draft picks leave little wiggle room for instant reloads that produce contention.
The Steelers might be better off hitting the reset button, especially since the AFC North looks brutal with Baltimore and Cleveland as contenders and Cincinnati on the upswing with Joe Burrow.