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How do the NFL‘s worst teams turn things around? The best people to ask are those who live and breathe it.
Teams like the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts are currently a blueprint for how to change the direction of a franchise on the fly. They didn’t tear the rosters down to the studs in order to rebuild, but instead they made moves through free agency and the draft that allowed for a rapid improvement.
Fans of the 49ers, Cardinals, Raiders and other teams drafting in the top 10 will be watching with hopeful eyes to see if they can make similar moves. We asked NFL insiders how to best fix the league’s worst clubs. Here’s how they’d do it.
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“They have the quarterback and some pieces at running back and wide receiver, but I’m not sold on the coach or the general manager to keep things going in the right direction.” – NFC area scout
The Cardinals do have a quarterback in Josh Rosen, but he’s not a mover in the pocket, and they sorely need an offensive line upgrade. They also must surround him with more talent as Larry Fitzgerald moves toward retirement. Upgrading opposite Christian Kirk and adding a playmaking tight end would be huge.
The defense has solid building blocks that set the Cardinals up well for a best-player-available-type selection in the top three picks of the first round. If they’re slotted at No. 1 overall, defensive end Nick Bosa (Ohio State) can be a difference-maker opposite Chandler Jones.
Determining if head coach Steve Wilks is the right man to lead the team is a harder determination until the talent level of the roster rises. That puts significant pressure on general manager Steve Keim to acquire talent.
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“With three first-rounders and a high pick in the second and third round, they’d better come out of here with five starters. We’ll see if [Jon] Gruden knows what he’s doing or not, but I can tell you we’re all skeptical.” – AFC pro personnel director
Landing five starters out of one draft class would put the Oakland Raiders on par with the 2017 New Orleans Saints draft class that helped turn that roster into one of the NFL’s most dangerous. If Gruden and his new personnel director, whomever that may be, can properly value talent, they will be in business.
The first step is finding a pass rush. The Raiders are the NFL’s worst when it comes to pressuring the quarterback, which lines up well if Nick Bosa is on the board when the team drafts. Otherwise, this is a heavy class of defensive front four prospects, and the team could be excited by LB Josh Allen (Kentucky) or DL Quinnen Williams (Alabama) as early Round 1 picks.
With two other selections coming from Dallas (Amari Cooper) and Chicago (Khalil Mack) late in the round, the Raiders can look to beef up the wide receiver corps and address the middle of the defense at linebacker or safety to fix an awful secondary.
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“They figured it out at quarterback, the safety is a star, and they have a boatload of cash, but there isn’t much more here to be excited about. They need to add guys who can play right now.” – NFL team president
There’s more here than just a quarterback and safety to be excited about, but our insider friend is right that the New York Jets need to add a serious amount of talent in a hurry. The main issue is that most expect a head coaching change and maybe some turnover in the front office, which adds a level of difficulty in projecting the fixes.
Sam Darnold and Jamal Adams are the pieces to build around, and with $80 million in salary cap space, they can spend freely to add impacts at edge-rusher and a skill player. The team also needs to hit in the first round and draft a blue-chip building block at either offensive tackle or edge-rusher.
At No. 3 overall, the Jets are out of the Nick Bosa sweepstakes, which could mean paying a free-agent rusher (like Frank Clark or Dante Fowler) and drafting the best player available.
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“This year was more about bad luck than anything. They’re not the Rams or anything, but this is a playoff contender if Jimmy doesn’t get hurt.”
Will the return of Jimmy Garoppolo and an early pick in the draft turn the 49ers around? It could if the rest of the team can stay healthy and left tackle Joe Staley decides to return for at least another season. To win, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch need to find a blue-chip pass-rusher and upgrade the offense.
Nick Bosa would be the dream selection in Round 1 to fix the outside rush needs, but Kentucky’s Josh Allen is a nice consolation prize if the team doesn’t pay for a rusher in free agency. Should they go the route of buying a defensive end, trading back in the round would give the 49ers added draft capital and more flexibility to tap into the cornerback class and perhaps add a playmaking wide receiver early in Round 2.
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“Looks like it’s time to start over. No quarterback, running back is always hurt, defense is getting old or combusting. They’d better hit in this draft.” – AFC personnel director
While harsh, the above is true. The Jaguars threw everything they had into a Blake Bortles-led team and now are coming apart at the seams. One season after a conference championship run, the Jaguars are drafting in the top five.
Drafting a quarterback is the easy answer, but if there isn’t a quarterback worthy of a top-five selection, the Jaguars will be looking at veteran options (Joe Flacco) or potentially reaching for a passer. The hope of everyone in Jacksonville is that QB Justin Herbert (Oregon) and/or QB Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) declare.
With quarterback solved, the Jags have to address what’s happening on defense. Star cornerback Jalen Ramsey is clearly upset about something and must be reined in. The pass rush will likely be retooled with younger players, too. But the biggest need after quarterback is at wide receiver, where too many free-agent departures have cost the team playmakers.
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“What the hell happened to them this year? It really doesn’t make sense, but I’d start with adding to that pass rush.” – NFC area scout
What did happen to the Falcons this year? The team has a quarterback, tons of skill players, a solid offensive line and a defense with playmakers. But the team is currently slated to draft at No. 6 overall. This could be a blessing in disguise if the Falcons are able to add a top-tier defender to shore up the line.
Michigan’s Rashan Gary and Houston’s Ed Oliver both fit the bill as athletic interior pass-rushers who could be available in the top 10 picks. If the front office goes away from the defensive line—an area they love to spend draft picks on—a cornerback like Greedy Williams (LSU) could be a nice addition to a secondary that’s still talented but could use a young playmaker.
More than any team in the top 10, the Falcons look like one that could be a relatively quick fix with some good luck on the injury front and a solid 2019 draft class.
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“They might just be adjusting to a new coach [Matt Patricia] but a lot of the problems start with a lack of pass rush. Fix that and this looks like a different team.” – NFC North assistant coach
Pass rush. Pass rush. Pass rush.
The Lions are actually in good shape at many key positions (quarterback, left tackle, defensive tackle) but desperately need an outside pass rush to make the job of the secondary easier and to get after the talented quarterbacks in the NFC North.
If a defensive end can be found in Round 1, the Lions can circle back in the rest of the draft and fill a pressing need at tight end in a very deep class of pass-catchers. Getting after the opposing quarterback and giving their own quarterback some help—that’s where the Lions’ offseason plan has to start.
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“They’re never going to figure it out until they get the balls to cut Eli. As long as he’s holding them back, they ain’t winning again.” – NFC pro scout
Eli Manning has played well as of late, but continuing to kick the can down the road instead of owning that a move is needed at quarterback won’t help the Giants. The team has one of the best collections of skill players in the entire NFL, but the offensive line is incredibly weak, and the defense is average. There aren’t enough draft picks to fix this mess in one offseason.
The key needs, outside of quarterback, are at offensive tackle and the defensive line, which does match up well with the 2019 draft’s strengths. Jonah Williams (Alabama), Rashan Gary (Michigan) or Josh Allen (Kentucky) would all be great fits at the No. 8 overall pick and fill immediate needs.
If the front office is set on Manning as the starter with no competition in 2019, addressing needs on the lines is the way to go.
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“I don’t envy them. Gotta figure out if Jameis [Winston] is worth keeping around and then try to fix all the other problems. Plus you’re probably starting over at head coach and general manager. It feels like a clusterf–k.” – AFC personnel director
Deciding what to do at general manager, head coach and quarterback is the holy trinity of offseason question marks. The Buccaneers have no identity, with the top three people in the organization all uncertain to return in 2019. Up first is a decision on general manager Jason Licht, then head coach Dirk Koetter, and finally on Winston.
If all three are gone, the Bucs will be favorites to select a quarterback in Round 1. That means Justin Herbert or Dwayne Haskins. If Winston is back, fixing the offensive line (Jonah Williams or Yodny Cajuste) or adding a pass-rusher (Clelin Ferrell, Jachai Polite) would be the top needs.
With one of the worst defenses in the NFL, no matter what happens at quarterback, the Buccaneers must fix the pass rush and the secondary.
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“They’re ahead of where I thought they’d be, but that [offensive] line is bad, and they really need skill players. The rebuild is still two years away.” – AFC area scout
Quarterback Josh Allen has provided a spark to the Buffalo Bills, but the goal for the 2019 offseason will be giving him protection and weapons. Offensive tackle Jonah Williams (Alabama) could be a plug-and-play starter in the first round if he’s on the board. The team could also look to bolster the pass rush first and address the offense in subsequent rounds.
The biggest hole outside of tackle is at wide receiver. There isn’t a top-10 talent on my board, which means waiting until Round 2 to snag a big target like N’Keal Harry (Arizona State) or D.K. Metcalf (Ole Miss) to pair up with Allen.
General manager Brandon Beane has done an admirable job in his limited time, but this is one of the more intensive rebuilding projects of any team out there.