There are many factors that go into the vibes surrounding the overall stock of an NFL team during the offseason from both a long-term and short-term perspective; you can be a franchise that has no chance of posting a winning record this year, but at the same time have a stock surrounding the team that is growing, just as you can have a team that is considered to be in the top half of the league with a stock that is declining.
Whether it’s the free agency agent and draft acquisitions, the team chemistry, the winning timeline, or the front office decision-making, it all impacts how you look at an organization and its potential futures.
These are the teams who are officially in decline, are merely treading, or are ascending.
Deshaun Watson in limbo. No more JJ Watt or Will Fuller. First-year head coach.
The organization and PR is a tire fire that is self-destructing with every move. They had no financial capital or a first-round pick. Do I continue?
The quarterback plan is an aged Big Ben in his “one last ride” season, they have no offensive line, and the succession plan, as of now, is either Dwayne Haskins or Mason Rudolph. Enough said.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers wants to set the front office ablaze and has his life with his fiancee in Hawaii. Head Coach Matt Lafleur might currently be in the fetal position.
The roster hasn’t necessarily changed, and despite being considered a contender due to the team’s stability this decade, the Seahawks appear to be on the downswing. Russell Wilson was INCREDIBLY unhappy with coaching and his protection, they had the fewest draft picks, and every other team in their loaded division seemed to get better. There are very weird vibes surrounding this team that was the cream of the crop for a while.
With the loss of Offensive Coordinator Arthur Smith, Tannehill will be in a new system, Derrick Henry is always dominant but continues to have miles on those legs, and they lost Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith.
They made an effort to improve their defensive personnel, which was atrocious, but it might not keep up if they don’t put up those offensive numbers with Smith calling the plays.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is officially gone, and while Sean Payton is 8-1 without him over the past two seasons, Taysom Hill the gadget-quarterback and Jameis Winston, the league leader in turnovers since 2014 despite not getting drafted until 2015 and not even starting a game last year, don’t feel like a great succession plan… Michael Thomas is also coming off one of his worst years. Alvin Kamara may get 30 screen passes a game.
Isn’t there already just a feeling of bad juju surrounding the team with the disconnect of the front office and new coach Nick Sirianni with the weird opening press conference, the “rock paper scissors” talent evaluation, and the rejected fistbump between Jeff Lurie and Howie Roseman when they made a draft pick? The last memory we have of the Eagles is when they tanked the last game of the year against the Giants to get a better draft pick, and the veteran players were furious.
They’ll finally be past the Carson Wentz drama as they’re running this season with Jalen Hurts. Still, unless he makes massive improvements this season, it feels like a bit of a stop-gap until they’re in a position to take one of the best quarterbacks available next year with all of their draft capital.
Mike Zimmer literally said last year that this was the worst defensive unit he had ever coached. They may have made some personnel moves in the offseason to address it, but the issue lies more in Kirk Cousins, who hasn’t been bad by any means, but the vibes around him are telling. You’ve got Justin Jefferson coming out with brutally honest quotes about him not having as much swag as Joe Burrow; he loves and worked out with Kellen Mond, the quarterback they drafted in the third round, and they reportedly tried to trade up to take Justin Fields in the draft. That doesn’t exactly scream out “confidence.”
You can go back and forth regarding the Falcons because with a new coach in Arthur Smith and the addition of Kyle Pitts; they seem like they could be electric on paper! But alas, they have the black cloud of Julio Jones saying he’s “out of there” on national television and claiming Matt Ryan has lost his zing on his deep ball swirling over the entire franchise.
Just as everything looked like it could be potentially positive, another Atlanta team has it plucked from their grasp.
Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden is a ticking time bomb waiting to admit that he hates having Derek Carr as his quarterback, and the longer he waits, the worse the team is, even if Carr is a serviceable starter. They make the most head-scratching draft picks of any franchise since Mike Mayock and Gruden took over; they’ve never had a winning season during that stretch, they gutted the offensive line, and the entire AFC West got better except for them. Viva Las Vegas!
One could argue that they could potentially be ascending- they’ll have a year under their belt in the Matt Rhule/Joe Brady era, and their incredibly young roster from last year, including the seven defensive rookies they drafted, will have another year of experience. Still, they feel like they took a half-measure by taking a flyer on a Sam Darnold redemption campaign. He’s only 23 and was held captive by Adam Gase in New York, but there’s no telling if his awful campaign there was a product of his circumstance or if he really does just stink.
Their GM Dave Tepper is aggressively hungry for a superstar quarterback, reportedly being in on Deshaun Watson before his allegations became public, so unless Darnold doesn’t bust through the ceiling looking like the franchise quarterback many thought he would be out of USC, they could just use this year to improve the roster until they take that $54 million in cap space available next year and pursue a star.
They have the most complete roster in the NFL that needs a quarterback. It’s incredible how dominant their defense looks on paper with the additions of Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, and Patrick Surtain II, but then on the other side of the ball, the driver of that roster, Ferrari, is someone without a license, either Teddy Bridgewater or Drew Lock. Von Miller and every Denver resident are just going to have to continue to pray that Aaron Rodgers becomes more and more flustered in Green Bay and wants to go out west with his actress fiancee.
We’ve been applauding the Colts for being wise with their money in free agency and essentially not spending on anyone, just nailing all of their draft picks to win despite Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement in 2019. Still, it’s gotten to the point where the lack of aggression to make moves that could help this team contend now is just concerning. Sure, they went out and traded for Carson Wentz in hopes to revive what he had with Frank Reich in Philadelphia pre-injury, but they’re going to have $83 million in cap room next year, and Wentz could benefit with his adjustment by having more weapons on his side. It’s just soft rather than conservative now.
Another year, another offseason of waiting for the Ravens to go out and get a top-tier receiving threat for Lamar Jackson. And they still might- Julio Jones is still out there, but hoping the Sammy Watkins signing is a hit, and Rashod Bateman is a stud rookie from the very beginning feels like putting a band-aid over a hole in a boat and calling it a day. Lamar was an excellent thrower in college who passed for over 9,000 yards in 34 starts.
He may have a connection with Hollywood Brown, but Brown is just an undersized slot deep ball threat; he needs a “go-up-and-get-it” target as a security blanket, so he doesn’t have to run for his life every time his targets are all covered. The Ravens didn’t get worse, but they should have made the moves to get better now that we’re past year 3 of their offense getting figured out.
New England Patriots
It doesn’t matter that they spent an NFL-record $159.6 million guaranteed money in free agency this year; not only were many of those contracts overpays given the adjusted market afterward, but they brought back Cam Newton, who threw 8 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and at least 100 grounders as if the receivers were Red Sox shortstops, but they drafted Mac Jones at 15th, the fifth quarterback taken in the draft.
They didn’t move up for him or anything, so it doesn’t appear that he was a “must-have.” Jones could end up working out since he was so successful in the Alabama system, but the Patriots just appear desperate to field a team that can stand with their divisional opponents after emptying their wallets.
The Cowboys have already done all their spending- Dak, Zeke, Amari Cooper, Jaylon Smith, Demarcus Lawrence, and Zack Martin are all on the books for HEFTY contracts. They’ll be over $19 million in the red next year and have one of the worst defenses in the league, so it’s not like they can go out and get a Von Miller or anyone of that caliber any time soon. They’re just stuck hoping that rookie linebacker Micah Parsons will be incredible, Dan Quinn isn’t as incompetent as a defensive coordinator as he was a head coach in Atlanta, and that Dak comes back healthy from a nasty ankle break so that he can score enough points to carry the team and combat all of the points they’ll be giving up.
Obviously, going from Matthew Stafford to Jared Goff is a decline at that position, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the organization itself is declining as a whole- we’ll certainly see if Dan Campbell is actually a smart head coach despite coming off as just a metalhead. Still, the Lions self-evaluated and brought in a whole new coaching staff, had one of the most highly-regarded NFL drafts by bolstering their lines, and will continue to get even younger throughout this rebuild.
Even if Jared Goff looks like pre-McVay Goff and has no one to throw to the outside of TJ Hockenson, the Lions have set themselves up well for the future that they’ll be solid if they were to plug in a rookie franchise quarterback.
New York Giants
You can just refer to the Giants’ recent Tweet with a picture of Daniel Jones with the caption: “Year 3. *hourglass emoji*” Hourglass is right. Time is running out on Daniel Jones, the turnover machine. They were steady last year in a terrible division when their defense got hot down the stretch, but even with Saquon back and Kenny Golladay in the building, if Jones is as uninspiring as he has been these first two seasons, they look primed to look in a different direction for a quarterback. We’re all anticipating the moment they kick Danny Dimes to the curb.
Even with Urban Meyer making the most questionable coaching and personnel decisions possible and bringing in the media circus to town with Tim Tebow tickets, it’s not that hard to be on the rise from a 1-15 season! The Trevor Lawrence rebuild is upon us!
New York Jets
Adam Gase is out! Robert Saleh and Zach Wilson are in! That’s it. That’s all it took.
The Bears went from being one of the most embarrassing, depressing franchises ready to get 2021 over with as soon as possible to being overjoyed and optimistic after Justin Fields somehow fell to them. That doesn’t mean Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace aren’t still on a seat as hot as the sun’s corona, but that could easily give them a little longer of a shelf life if Fields ends up winning some more games, and they certainly are more inspired than starting Andy Dalton all year.
With Joe Burrow claiming he’s “all systems go” after that brutal ACL injury, if he comes back looking like he was playing to start the year, they’ll have an improved roster after they drafted his favorite college target Ja’Marr Chase, improved their offensive line, and brought in defensive pieces like Trey Hendrickson and Mike Hilton. They’re by no means ready to contend now, but an improved team will give Burrow a year to rehab and continue to adjust to the pace of the league.
Washington Football Team
They ascended to the prestigious mountaintop last season known as winning the NFC East in 2020 at a whopping 7-9 record with the third-worst offense in the entire league, but they peaked at the right time at the end of the year, and they got even better this offseason! They have a top 5 defense in the NFL that is young and cheap. If Fitzpatrick doesn’t suddenly fall off at age 38, he and Curtis Samuel will be an improvement on the offensive side until they get their franchise guy, and Ron Rivera will continue to build his culture there in his second year.
The vibes are much better in Washington due to their over-performance, and they look poised to be set up for a soft rebuild to eventually be one of the classes of the NFC down the line with their roster construction. Just don’t tell Dan Snyder that so he doesn’t have the opportunity to ruin it.
The Cardinals are building a team of 2014 Pro Bowlers if they get Larry Fitzgerald back for another year after they signed JJ Watt and AJ Green in the offseason. They showed a lot of progress last year and barely missed the playoffs, but Kyler Murray appeared to be playing a little banged up down the stretch. They’ve gotten better every year in the Kliff Kingsbury era, but there’s a concern his play-calling could be what’s holding them back from being one of the most explosive teams in football; he’ll be feeling the pressure to be aggressive in order to save his job, which could be what they need to move on from being so conservative. Kyler will be an electric player under any coach, and their acquisitions this offseason show that they want to compete now, even in their loaded division.
Los Angeles Chargers
Anthony Lynn no longer has any opportunities to mismanage the clock! The worst special teams unit, maybe in the history of the NFL, may have been fixed! The Chargers are likely one of the teams that could potentially make a huge leap this year- Herbert will be in year two, Brandon Staley will get his shot as a head coach after being the best defensive coordinator in football with the Rams, the offensive line was addressed in free agency, and the draft and they’ll get some returners back from injury, such as Derwin James. They might not be on Kansas City’s level yet, but if Herbert’s year one was for real, they’re going to be scary for a long time.
The Dolphins somehow won 10 games last year and missed the playoffs. They’ll be out for blood this year. Brian Flores has made it an attractive destination by turning the team around so quickly, so they’ll be set up for the long-term under him. This year, Tua will have a year under his belt from recovering from his terrible leg injury at Alabama, they had 4 top-50 draft picks and signed Will Fuller, and they’ll still be in the top 5 in cap space next year.
Tua wasn’t exactly impressive last year, but Miami is so well set up that if it turns out he isn’t the guy for the job, they can still be competitive this year after building around him and look for his replacement next season if it fails.
Los Angeles Rams
They replaced Jared Goff with Matthew Stafford. That’s it. That’s what could make them Super Bowl contenders.
San Francisco 49ers
Last year was just a year from Hell where they had Pro Bowlers injured, a rotation of backup quarterbacks, and was removed from their home stadium because of COVID restrictions. All of that will be in the past as their playmakers will return, and their only perceived weakness, Jimmy G at quarterback, could be fixed with their quarterback of the future since they went all-in on trading up for Trey Lance at #3. Kyle Shanahan’s only winning season they made the Super Bowl when things didn’t fall off the rails- they’re all in and know they can compete.
Josh Allen finally came into his own last year. Brian Daboll stuck around as the OC rather than leaving for a head coaching job, and they’re essentially just running it back with their roster that made the AFC Championship last year. They’ll merely get better with age.
The Browns went from being an underperforming laughing stock during the Freddie Kitchens era to maybe the most complete roster in football just by getting a competent coach in the building. Andrew Berry has completely turned the outlook of the team around by the players he’s brought in on value contracts and his success drafting players- that makes this team not only loaded but gives them the capability to make even more moves or extend their playmakers and be dominant for a long time. They got their first playoff win since 1994 and even hung in with the Chiefs in the next round.
Baker finally looked like what we all thought he would be, so we’ll see if that continues in year two under Kevin Stefanski as he looks to try and earn that contract extension, but this is a team that looked like a contender and is adding John Johnson III, Jadeveon Clowney, Troy Hill, and will get Grant Delpit, Greedy Williams, and Odell Beckham Jr. back from injury if he isn’t traded. The AFC will be a bloodbath with the Bills and the Chiefs, but the Browns got significantly better.
Kansas City Chiefs
What was the reason the Chiefs lost the Super Bowl last year? Their offensive line. What did they do this offseason? They signed Joe Thuney, Kyle Long, traded for Orlando Brown, drafted two linemen, and have two opt-outs, Lucas Niang and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, returning. Something tells me Patrick Mahomes will have a little bit more time to throw a 60-yard bomb to Tyreek Hill this year on their revenge tour.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
They may have just won the Super Bowl and did nothing but bring back the exact same roster by re-signing all of their free agents, but doing this somehow makes them ascend even more because they all want to be there, they all want to run it back, and they all have bought in on a 43-year-old quarterback. That is scary.
Featured Image: Ben Margot/AP