In 2014, Sports Illustrated declared the Houston Astros, losers of 111 games in 2013, “your 2013 World Series Champions” on a cover with then 24 year-old George Springer on the cover. The Astros had lost over 100 games for 3 consecutive seasons, but because of their accumulation of top prospects through all of the losing (and a little bit of help from trash cans along the way…), the cover somehow correctly predicted it. They called their shot on a team losing with a plan, and it was absolutely correct in the most legendary way possible.
The NFL is a league of parity, where everything can change in the matter of a single season, but factors such as age, organizational stability, coaching, and finances all play a part in how teams will look in the long-term. So, all those factors considered, we’re going to play fortune-teller and predict the power rankings of the entire league 5 years from now. This will evaluate who has the brightest future in the long-run.
What will the league look like in 2026?
- Los Angeles Chargers
You have to buy into the Justin Herbert hype. In 5 years, he’ll have just entered his prime on what we can assume is a massive extension, they have one of the youngest current rosters in the league, meaning the playmakers will be getting into their prime years as well near the end of their deals, and they’ve proven to be an organization that drafts and builds well through free agency. It’ll be a destination location in LA for their available cap with the gorgeous stadium and young stud quarterback (and the best uni’s in sports, too…). The only variable is having a new head coach, Brandon Staley, but with how organized he seems to be as a former quarterback and the best defensive coordinator in the league with the Rams last year, the Chargers will be the powerhouse.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
As long as Patrick Mahomes is in the NFL, the Chiefs are going to be at the top with his 10-year extension he signed. The Chiefs have built an empire around him, but the only reason they’re not #1 is that they’re in “win now” mode; Travis Kelce would be 36 and we don’t know how long Andy Reid will be doing this at 63 having gotten the Super Bowl monkey off of his back.
3. Cleveland Browns
I promise I’m not trying to jinx maybe the most-cursed franchise in the NFL. They’ve become one of the smartest organizations in football with their GM Andrew Berry constructing that roster; he doesn’t seem to have missed yet. They draft and trade well to get the most value, they hired Kevin Stefanski who looks like a miracle-worker of a coach, and the playmakers they have locked up will be entering the primes of their career and will have only gotten better. The biggest debate they’re faced with is whether or not Baker is worth the massive extension, but if he plays like last year under Stefanski, he’ll get the money and is capable of taking them to heights Browns fans have always dreamed about.
4. San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Shanahan has turned any quarterback into an offensive factory. If Trey Lance is as good as San Francisco seems to think he is, he’ll have only turned 26, which is wild to think about. They also will still have Kittle catching passes from him, Trent Williams blocking for him, and likely a defensive line reaching their peak assuming they extend Bosa and Kinlaw. The organization has built the team well through the draft value, so if Lance works out as a prospect, they’ll be able to make up the capital they lost in order to trade up and get him.
5. Baltimore Ravens
One of the most stable teams in the AFC, Lamar Jackson will only be 29!! Even if he decides to run less by then, let’s all hope John Harbaugh can get him some receiving help and his offensive versatility is taken to another level with their passing attack. They’ve certainly got an older defense, but they seem to draft defensive hits every single year. As long as their core around Lamar remains the same, the Ravens will remain another AFC powerhouse.
6. Buffalo Bills
Coach Sean McDermott has done a tremendous job of developing and doing more with less since he became their coach in 2017, and now he gets to do more with MORE now that Josh Allen took the leap that he did last year as an MVP candidate and they have Stefon Diggs through 2024. The only issues that could come about are that the core of their lines like Mitch Morse and Dion Dawkins will be in the twilight of their careers by then, and Brian Daboll will almost certainly be a head coach by then, too- he’s been critical to their success. You’re putting a lot of faith in that they can build around Allen, but they’ve proven they can thus far. Generally all of Allen’s flaws before his breakout were IQ-related given his physical traits, so he should only continue to improve.
7. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins have gone from getting outscored by 34 points a game the first quarter of 2019 and being called the worst team ever to now being considered one of the smartest franchises in the league after Brian Flores came in and established his culture. They allocated their resources wisely in their rebuild by creating a dominant defense and receiving a ton of valued draft capital, and now they’ve chosen to build around Tua, who was unimpressive in his debut after his injury, but at his peak at Alabama was considered one of the best quarterbacks in recent college football history. Tua is the big question mark for the direction of the team, who went 10-6 last year even with his subpar performance, but even if he isn’t the guy they thought he would be, Flores has proven to be an adaptor- anyone will be able to step in and succeed with the Dolphins. They have a young core locked up for the foreseeable future, have managed their cap space responsibly, and are just beginning to have a strong south beach brand under Flores that will make it an attractive place to play.
8. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are the MOST “win now” team in the league by far. They’ve traded almost all of their valuable draft capital to get Matthew Stafford and Jalen Ramsey in the building, and they want to capitalize on their ceiling in the short-term. They’re going to be cash-strapped and lacking draft picks for the next few years, but they still have Stafford, Ramsey, Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd, and Robert Woods locked up for a few years. In five years, these guys’ better days will be dwindling: Stafford will be 38, Donald 35, Woods 34, Floyd, 33, and Ramsey 31, but Sean McVay has proven himself to be an adaptor who is curious about new ways to win each year. He’s managed to have continuous success despite pretty much all of his coordinators getting hired as head coaches and replaced each season in the same way that Nick Saban has to do the same thing at Alabama. McVay is only two years older than his quarterback, and I suspect he’ll build an empire in LA.
9. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are a team to believe in the same way that the Dolphins are. Matt Rhule took the ingredients he was given in his new kitchen during his first season last year, which included spending every draft pick on their defense, an injured Christian McCaffrey, and a mediocre Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, and they remained competitive throughout the year even in their losses. It was an incredibly impressive coaching debut, and now they have Sam Darnold at the offensive helm to try and revitalize his career after being left for dead with Adam Gase and the Jets. Even if Darnold plays this year and doesn’t impress, the owner David Tepper has been innovative and outspoken about their aggressiveness- he wants to build a winner; they were reportedly in on trading for Stafford and Deshaun Watson, so a high-caliber move isn’t out of the question over the next few seasons. OC Joe Brady will absolutely be getting a head coaching job eventually, so his absence may hurt down the line, but Carolina is the 2nd-youngest team in the league and had a very quick rebuild from the Cam-Rivera era.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence has been the most obvious #1 overall pick since Andrew Luck in 2012 and has been since his freshman year of college. He very well could be the next face of the league that could carry Jacksonville for decades. However, he is going to be coached by Urban Meyer, quite possibly the most-controversial college coach in years who tends to leave when things go south. So far, Meyer has hired Chris Doyle, a strength coach who had been accused of racial disparities at Iowa who later resigned after the blowback, used a first-round pick to draft Travis Etienne as a “third down back”, and brought back his old pal Tim Tebow as a tight end. Nothing can be said thus far considering he’s never coached an NFL game before, but all of these decisions are not inspiring to start his career. Everything else outside of Meyer, from Lawrence, to the forward-thinking owner, to the young and talented roster, and the large amount of cap space, still make the Jags a team that will have confidence in the future.
11. Washington Football Team
The Washington Football Team made the postseason last year with one of the most anemic offenses you’ve ever seen- that’s how good their rebuilt young defensive core is. Chase Young won Defensive Rookie of the Year and they had one of the scariest front sevens in the league. They seem to have a lot going there way now after being one of the most incompetent, embarrassing franchises in all of sports after they decided to change their name, they hired Jason Wright as the first ever black team president, and they brought in Ron Rivera to establish an team-first culture. The issue in the long-term here is that as long as Dan Snyder is in control of the team, things that can go wrong, DO go wrong. We’re not sure how long Rivera will be coaching as he battles cancer, and there’s no telling who their quarterback will be years from now with Ryan Fitzpatrick playing at 38, but the rest of the team is so young and promising that it would be easy for a superstar or rookie quarterback to slide in, fill that position, and complete the team to make them the class of the NFC East years from now. They’ll have the money and draft capital that they’ve used responsibly thus far- if the culture changes for the better like it has been, they’ll continue to rise.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
There are very few organizations with better stability than the Pittsburgh Steelers. This may seem like the twilight year for the team since Big Ben looked like an old man with a noodle arm last year and he’s coming back for one last ride, but they seem to evaluate talent in the draft better than anyone else every year, they’ve allocated their finances responsibly in free agency, and they’ve only had 3 total coaches since 1969. Assuming Mike Tomlin stays given he’s young, he’s been extended, and he’s built the program he has, he’s proven he can win under any circumstances: he’s never had a losing season, he’s changed his schemes with the rosters he’s been given, and he somehow was a miracle-worker managing the egos of Ben, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell all in the same locker room at some point. He’s a proven winner, and when Ben finally does retire and the new era in Pittsburgh begins when they get to spend the most cap space of any team in 2023, we should have full confidence that the Steelers will still be winning no matter who the quarterback is.
13. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have previously never given anyone a reason to be confident in their organization. They don’t have a GM, the Brown family ownership has run the team like a mom and pop business unsuccessfully, and have really never had a winning or inspiring culture to the point where Carson Palmer threatened retirement. Joe Burrow may have changed that dynamic a bit- they could have easily drafted him more protection on the o-line, but they got him his guy: Ja’Marr Chase, his favorite college target whom he lobbied for the team to get. Burrow showed so much promise during his rookie year before his injury that one can only hope that they feel the pressure to make the right decisions by him. The issue is that they’ve been mediocre as a franchise, we know nothing about their head coach, Zac Taylor, who may be on the hot seat, and Burrow’s major injury is going to be a question mark despite how awesome he looked last year. They’re certainly in the midst of their rebuild, but they’ve got their quarterback. It’s up to them to develop a defense and take advantage of the young offensive side of the ball that will be reaching their peak years down the line.
14. Detroit Lions
We have absolutely no idea how good Dan Campbell will be as a head coach with full-control other than we know he will be playing heavy metal at every practice for the duration of his contract, but don’t look now everyone: the cursed Detroit Lions have reasons to be optimistic in this rebuild. Campbell brought in two good hires to be assistants in Anthony Lynn and Duce Staley, and they finally fired GM Bob Quinn and hired Brad Holmes, the man responsible for taking Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Cooper Kupp, and Jared Goff with the Rams. Stafford may be gone, and Goff certainly isn’t an upgrade, but he can be a place-holder for the time being to establish a culture and rebuild the rest of the roster until they can plug-in a franchise guy. They were widely-considered to have had one of the best drafts this year, the majority of their key players are on the books for the next 4-5 years, and they got good draft value in return from their “tanking” trades. The Lions have been one of the most miserable franchises in the history of sports, and they’ll continue to lose in the short-term most-likely, but if they can develop players and bring skill players into the building, they have a relatively bright future ahead.
15. Chicago Bears
The Bears are a confusing team in the long-term. They’re starting a new era with the Justin Fields draft pick, who has given Chicago the most hope at quarterback since Russell Wilson said he wouldn’t mind playing there, but they’re also in a grizzled, tenured period that could be undergoing changes. GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy could BOTH be out of the door by the end of the year. The Fields pick was essentially their hail mary to save their jobs, and it still might not be enough. Then, from a team standpoint, when Fields will be entering his prime if he turns out to be the franchise guy, Khalil Mack will be 35, Robert Quinn will be 36, Eddie Jackson will be 33, and Akiem Hicks will be 36. Their defensive core that makes up the team will all be gone. They’ve done well at drafting and free agency thus far outside of managing the quarterback situation, but if Nagy and Pace both end up canned, a transitional period during the development of Fields could have them stuck in the middle.
16. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are certainly entering a new era- they’re another team with a brand new head coach and GM combo, Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot, and Fontenot’s first big responsibility to clean up their mess was being forced into trading the franchise’s best player, Julio Jones. But even without Julio and Matt Ryan entering his age-36 season, there are reasons to be excited about Atlanta’s future. They took Kyle Pitts at #4, who has practically already been enshrined into the Hall of Fame, they have a relatively young roster, and by 2024, they’ll only have 10 contracts on their books- that gives a lot of leeway for them to evaluate their players and rebuild through their draft selections. A lot of their future comes down to the glowing reviews that Arthur Smith has gotten as a hire for the offensive mastery he worked in Tennessee; one would assume that this may be Ryan’s last season in Atlanta, giving Smith the opportunity to select and mentor a protege QB successor that will inherit Pitts and Calvin Ridley. Fontenot worked wonders with his talent evaluation in New Orleans- if he gets a quarterback that Arthur Smith loves to replace Ryan and gets even more draft capital, the Falcons will be able to turn their future around and move on quickly.
17. Arizona Cardinals
Outside of Kyler Murray, Haason Reddick, and Budda Baker, the Cardinals have been one of the worst drafting teams in the NFL. On top of that, you have head coach Kliff Kingsbury entering year three on one of the hottest seats in the NFL due to underwhelming us through two years. They have the third-oldest roster in the league- JJ Watt, AJ Green, Chandler Jones, and Larry Fitzgerald will all be long gone by then, and DeAndre Hopkins will be 34. With a roster as old as they are that has proven to have no skill at player development and could have a new coach down the line, they could be nothing more than a middling team. However, Kyler Murray has proven to be the real deal and could potentially be an MVP. They’ve got the quarterback down after missing on Josh Rosen. That could still put them in the top half of the league, but the surrounding pieces are without a doubt going to be blurry.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With Brady assembling all of the veterans that want to win a ring with him, it’s no secret the books have one of the oldest rosters in football. We would have never guessed that he would be playing this long, and here we are, but I think it’s safe to say 5 years from now he’ll have hung it up. Even though Bruce Arians is one of the most-beloved coaches in the league, when Brady’s gone, the primary reason veterans are attracted to playing in Tampa will be too. However, they’ll have Mike Evans, Shaq Barrett, Devin White, Tristan Wirfs, and Antoine Winfield Jr. locked up for the foreseeable future because of how well Jason Licht has been at drafting! Assuming he continues to draft as well as he has, they’ll continue to accumulate young talent through the draft (they even took Kyle Trask to learn under Brady) and Arians will continue to coach, as he said in an interview that he’s not tied to Tom. They’ll lose key players out of age alone, but Tampa has enough youth accumulated to learn from those elders that they’re set up perfectly to usher the right person in at quarterback with winning surrounding talent.
19. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts have been the most frugal contender in sports. They’ve placed more value on their talent development they’ve done well selecting throughout the Chris Ballard era, and rather than spend big in free agency, the plan is to in all likelihood extend their guys down the line, like Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, or Kenny Moore. It’s admirable, and they’re all proven talents, but their refusal to spend and make big moves to win now is starting to become a weakness. Carson Wentz was their big “splash” this offseason, and there is absolutely no telling what he’ll look like back with Frank Reich, and he’ll be on their books at over $20 million each year until 2024. If he isn’t the guy over the next few seasons, they’ll be stuck trying to develop a new team leader with a roster that is built to win. However, the Colts have proven to be such a stable, smart organization ever since Reich and Ballard have taken over the reins, from drafting well, adapting and managing talent at the highest level, and winning without even spending, that the Colts will still be in the picture even years down the line.
20. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings have a much younger roster than you would think- third-youngest in the league, opening up the door to evaluate their talent and really build organizational stability over the next few years. Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, and Danielle Hunter are all signed up in the long-term as well, so they’ll be able to field a competitive roster for years to come. Ignoring Laquon Treadwell back in 2016, Minnesota has even been one of the best drafting teams in the NFL since 2012. They’ll be able to rebuild, but there are two massive elephants in the room looming over the franchise: the first is Kirk Cousins. He’s a massive contract on the books until 2023 that has inspired no confidence from his team to the point where they wanted to trade up for Justin Fields and drafted Kellen Mond in the third round this year. Mond could be an adequate successor, but he ultimately was a third round pick that felt like a half-measure; they could have to eventually blow it all up. The other is head coach Mike Zimmer. Zimmer is not only rumored to have a seat that’s getting a little warm, but he’s 65 and sounded as miserable as he’s ever been coaching that defense last year. That could mean changing their entire defensive scheme when he leaves. The Vikings are going to put their faith into continuing to have success drafting and that the Kirk Cousins situation eventually gets figured out.
21. New York Jets
For the last decade, the Jets have spent the 2nd-most money in free agency. The last time the Jets made the playoffs was 2010. There are things the Jets have going their way now- Adam Gase is no longer ruining EVERYTHING! New head coach Robert Saleh was a highly-regarded, culture-setting hire this offseason that looks to be a players’ coach and defensive guru and start the new era off to brighter times. They’re even moving on from Sam Darnold- Zach Wilson was taken at #2, which was a big swing after he really only broke out last year with one superb year at BYU. We’re also entering year 3 of the Joe Douglas period at GM, and he’s drafted relatively well (Quinnen Williams, Mekhi Becton, Denzel Mims) and has had to make some big decisions like the Darnold trade and the Leonard Williams trade. Douglas will have plenty of work to do- the Jets will be in the top 5 in cap space for the next several years, so his decision-making is going to define this team that is already the 5th-youngest roster. Their major contracts are all guys age 29 and under, so they’ll have time to develop and decide if they want to re-sign, but there are so many pieces in motion, from the new head coach, to the gamble on Wilson, to franchise just plain not having any earned credibility, that a lot needs to go right. Of course, we have no idea how much of the institutional failure had to do with how inexcusably awful Adam Gase was..
22. New Orleans Saints
We’re officially entering the Drew Brees-less era of the Saints in New Orleans, and while Sean Payton deserves all the credit in the world for winning in dire quarterback situations the times where he was injured, the Saints are going to be searching for answers down the line. They’ll have Jameis and Taysom Hill this year, but are either of them really a long-term solution? They’ve done a masterful job of playing cap space gymnastics to continue to acquire talent despite having practically no money, but it could easily catch up to them- they’ll be in the bottom-10 in cap space available, including being in the red next year, and a lot of their major contracts are older players who will still be on the books until up to 2024, such as DeMario Davis (age 32), Cam Jordan (age 31), and Malcolm Jenkins (age 33). In 5 years, Kamara will be 30, Michael Thomas will be 33 and could’ve been so flustered he forced his way out by then, and Sean Payton will be 62- who knows if he’ll want a change of scenery by then after being with the Saints for 15 years now. The Saints have been one of the most-consistent, well-run franchises in sports in the front office for a decade now, and they can draft well to address their aging team, but they’re going to be tested moving on from the quarterback who saved them.
23. New York Giants
GM Dave Gettleman has done a lot of questionable things, but, to his credit, he’s built a solid young defense! Leonard Williams, James Bradberry, and Blake Martinez all performed well and are signed for the next few seasons entering their primes. The issue is that he hasn’t been able to figure out value in his drafts- like taking a quarterback no one else was in on in Daniel Jones rather than trading back, and taking Saquon Barkley at #2, which, even as Barkley is the talent that he is, running backs are a luxury item. Ultimately, he’s an inconsistent evaluator, which is a red flag when Daniel Jones hasn’t proven anything and is approaching extension time. Unless Jones makes some significant leap this year in season 2 of being coached under Joe Judge, they could easily be stuck in no-man’s-land with a winning roster trying to scramble to find a replacement face of the franchise. They’re also relatively cash-strapped until 2024, so Dave Gettleman at the forefront with the responsibility to create a winner isn’t something to bank on.
24. Denver Broncos
The Broncos had one of the most productive offseasons this year- bolstering their defense by signing Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Justin Simmons, and Kareem Jackson. They’re also headlining the news recently because Aaron Rodgers AND Deshaun Watson both reportedly want to play there given they have the money and assets to make it happen and they have a complete roster outside of QB (sorry, Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock). We don’t know anything about the Watson situation, but if Rodgers ends up in Denver, the MVP is 37, and we don’t know how much he’s got left in the tank- he could be a Tom Brady situation or a Peyton Manning situation. The Broncos really only have youth in their skill position players and Bradley Chubb- the talent that they have is in their prime and needs to win now. They’ll have some room to pursue free agents and sign expiring contracts for the next few years as they age out with their cap space, but the Broncos won’t amount to anything of significance until they finally figure out their quarterback situation that has been a rotating nightmare since Peyton retired after their Super Bowl. George Paton is entering his first season as the Denver GM, but during his tenure in Minnesota he didn’t exactly have a great track record with evaluating QB’s, drafting Christian Ponder and signing Josh Freeman and… Kirk Cousins. On top of that, the head coach Vic Fangio is 62 with a 12-20 record and was much more successful as a coordinator, so who knows how long he’ll even be there. There just isn’t enough long-term stability for this great Broncos team now to have faith in their future, especially in a division with the Chiefs and Chargers, who look to be set up for years to come.
25. Green Bay Packers
The marble pillars of Lambeau that have been stable for decades now seem to be crackling at the bases.. Aaron Rodgers wants to pack his bags and is just off in a fairytale with his fiancee in Hawaii, the players and coaches look scared for their lives if he doesn’t show up, and Jordan Love, the replacement they traded up to draft last year who was their third-stringer and didn’t even suit up, has reportedly been struggling at their mini camp thus far. The team that was a play or two away from going to the Super Bowl last year is scrambling to fill the holes in the bottom of their boat in the ocean. Things could get bleak VERY quick for a franchise that has been able to transition from Hall of Fame quarterback to Hall of Fame quarterback. To the Packers’ credit, though, they still have significant talent for whoever ends up throwing the ball for the foreseeable future- David Bakhtiari and Aaron Jones are locked up on offense, and they have a very strong, developing defense that they’ve built (considering they’ve never drafted weapons for Aaron), but this is a team built around RODGERS. If he’s not there, and Jordan Love isn’t a viable successor, this could shake up their long-term future just as much as the short-term. The dysfunction and lack of player consideration we’ve seen in Green Bay, a team without a direct “face” as an owner, is not a good look for free agents considering to play there, and the Pack don’t even have a lot of cap space going forward that would be an incentive past that. Sure, LaFleur has a 28-8 record since entering the league, but how much of his success has to do with Aaron? We’ll find out. The historical class of the organization is the only thing giving this team any sort of confidence at all at the moment.
26. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are working on finding their long-term plan right now. Running it back with Jalen Hurts for a full season will give them the chance to see if he’ll be the guy for the next few years, which he could be as a 22-year-old who was a Heisman candidate in college, but they’re going with a new coach who came out swinging with an egregious opening press conference, there seems to be a massive rift between Howie Roseman and the ownership, and they’ve been nothing but mediocre at drafting the last few seasons, which isn’t great when you need to rebuild with younger and cheaper contracts. Given that they may be on track to eventually just blow it all up, from a potential Roseman departure to figuring out Hurts and coach Sirianni, their bright future could be a while from now.
27. Seattle Seahawks
We saw the Legion of Boom era end in Seattle but their success as a team has been sustained through Russell Wilson’s rise year by year, but with tension high now between him and the franchise and their time running out, this all seems to be leading up to a potential fall from grace. Even if the two sides come to a compromise, 5 years from now Wilson will be 37 and Pete Carroll, the oldest coach in the NFL, will be 75 that September and likely out of coaching. Bobby Wagner, the only defining force on the defensive side from their glory days, will be 35 that year as well. Everything that they built there that has defined the team for more than a decade will be gone. They had the fewest amount of draft picks last season because they traded for Jamal Adams, who is holding out to get PAID, and outside of DK Metcalf, they’ve been one of the worst-drafting NFL teams since their legendary 2012 class. They’ve gotten the majority of their talent through trades, free agency, and Pete Carroll’s “player first” coaching development, which would be gone in this case and difficult to replicate down the line when he does need to be replaced. They’ll always be contending with prime Russell Wilson, but those two Super Bowls feel like ages ago, and there’s not much hope in a post-Wilson world.
28. Dallas Cowboys
Want to know a billionaire’s nightmare? Take a look at the Cowboys’ salary cap situation for the next few years. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot, Amari Cooper, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, La’el Collins, Jaylon Smith, and DeMarcus Lawrence are all making 8-figure salaries per season, and all are on the books until at least 2024. That’s essentially your entire team. What we see from this roster is what we’ll see for the long-term since they locked up all of their guys, which isn’t exactly encouraging when Dak is coming off a major injury, Zeke consistently looks out of shape or constantly fumbles, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin can’t stay healthy and are both 30, and Jaylon Smith is underperforming. Jerry Jones has run the team like a mom and pop business, extending all of his players to establish stars and holding on to coaches for too long, so their only hope is that the cheap rookie contracts they draft over the next few seasons pan out and they can somehow create a defense. Mike McCarthy didn’t exactly blow Jerry away last year, so who knows how long he’ll last in Dallas given Jerry is getting old and wants one last ring, but they’re paying a lot of money to players who will need to live up to it deep into their careers.
29. New England Patriots
The best sports dynasty arguably of all-time has lasted for two decades now. We saw the post-Tom Brady Patriots for the first time since the empire began, and it was nothing but Cam Newton ground balls and Damien Harris dump-offs in a lackluster 7-9 season, so Bill Belichick went all-in on free agency this year by spending big, something he’s never done before. It sort of feels like a “push all my chips to the middle of the table” move for Belichick, who is 69, has nothing left to prove, and might not want to usher in a new young face of the franchise. I’m sure the organization will have his influence all over it even after he leaves, but as the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins all have been shaping their teams to be prepared for the long-term, the Patriots could so easily fall off for a while. They drafted Mac Jones to potentially take Cam Newton’s spot, and he received the most skepticism out of any quarterback in his class as an immobile player who benefitted from the best college roster maybe ever in one season. They have the 4th-oldest roster in the NFL, and while they’ll have money to work with in free agency for the next few years, Belichick has been in control of the roster. And if Belichick is out after 5 years, if you’re a free agent, isn’t he the only reason you were coming to New England in the first place now that Brady is gone? To learn from his winning culture? If OC Josh McDaniels is his successor in waiting, consistency in the building may be one thing, but the last time he was a head coach he went 11-17 in Denver and was fired with a videotaping scandal. Without Brady is one thing, but without Belichick as well, the Patriots are no longer the Patriots.
30. Tennessee Titans
The Titans are riding high right now after getting maybe the best receiver of the last decade in Julio, but they might have a solid 2-3 years left before everything could go VERY south VERY fast. Derrick Henry is what makes the team go, and every year we wait for him to fall off because of his workload in a play style where he takes an absolute beating; he’s proved us wrong every year, but in 5 years he’ll be 32 and if he proves us wrong then, he’s officially an alien. Tannehill is sneaky old at 32 now, same as Julio, so they’ll both be gone too. The only playmakers they’ll probably still have by then will be Bud Dupree and Kevin Byard because of their major contracts and AJ Brown should he get his extension. We’re going to see how much of their success has been due to Arthur Smith now that he has a head coaching job, so the offense could be taking a step back, and their defense was one of the worst in the league last year. Tennessee also will be cap-strapped going forward, in the bottom 11 for the next 3 seasons. They’re going to get lucky drafting cheap youth A LOT, and we’re fresh off of them drafting Isaiah Wilson in the first round, who played three snaps after getting COVID twice, arrested, charged with a felony, and then released. Mike Vrabel has been impressive with a 29-19 record, but this Titans team feels like it has no avenue to adapt in the long-term.
31. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have a bright new shiny stadium in one of the greatest tourism cities on Earth, and that’s about all it’s had going for it. Jon Gruden has been 19-29 with them in his first three years, and they have him committed to be their coach for the next 7 years for $70 million. He and GM Mike Mayock have been considered the worst at drafting and evaluating talent/value, so much so to the point where the Raiders Twitter had to put out a Tweet defending their 1st round selection this year, and PFF has graded the Raiders as the worst-drafting team since 2010. They clearly don’t have an affinity for Derek Carr and would love to be in the running for a big name star, but Carr just came out and said he would retire from football if he were ever traded, as if he’s an unaware clingy girlfriend. His contract does expire in 2022 and they’ll be in the top 6 in cap space for the next several years, but this organization has proven it spends money irresponsibly, doesn’t know how to evaluate talent, and will be in a division with Kansas City, Denver, and the Chargers: three of the strongest teams in the AFC. They have one winning season since 2003. A seismic change would need to happen for the Raiders to have any sort of hope going forward.
What else is there to say? They’re the oldest team in the NFL with a quarterback who may never suit up for them again and they’re being run by Jack Easterby, who was merely a team chaplain until he manipulated his way to the top. They’ve been fleeced in pretty much every trade they’ve been forced to make and the leader in their locker room, JJ Watt, agreed on terms to jump the sinking ship. Their new head coach, David Culley, is being thrown into the lions’ den in his first job with the amount of dysfunction going on, essentially set up to fail, and their solution at quarterback for the time being is either Tyrod Taylor or Davis Mills, the third round pick. It doesn’t matter if Mills turns out to be a competent starter- their status of a team who has been run over by a bus over and over again all relates to the top of the food chain in their organization, and who knows how long it will take to mediate that.