Rebuilding never ends in the NFL


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On the surface, rebuilding sounds like a straightforward strategy for a rundown NFL franchise: hire new management, cut the payroll, recruit some young people, and come back as a contender in a year or two.

Every Jets or Giants fan knows that it is seldom that easy. There’s a lot more to rebuilding a soccer team than following the directions on the side of the box. NFL rebuilding projects go through seven different phases, each with their own rules, rituals, and potential pitfalls. One wrong move can keep a franchise trapped for decades.

Phase 1: rejection

The first step is to admit that it is necessary. That can take several years, as NFL franchises often delude themselves that the defense that led them to wildcard fame in 2017 is still effective despite 31 points per game, or that their legendary quarterback’s shoulder isn’t like a rusty hinge creaks when he tries a screen pass.

The Giants denied it at the end of Eli Manning’s career. The Pittsburgh Steelers are now in the same spot with Ben Roethlisberger. The New England Patriots deny it, but no one has the guts to confront Bill Belichick. And all communications with the Houston Texans were cut months ago, so the worst is safe to say.

Phase 2: transition

A real remodel would start with hiring a new general manager and head coach at the same time to look for a franchise quarterback. Unfortunately, a more typical remodel begins with a new general manager waiting a year before choosing their head coach, who spends a year “evaluating” a lame quarterback who is replaced by a rookie whose early career struggles cost the coach his or her own His successor spent a year sandbagging the general manager so he could hire an ally. The result is a self-sustaining cyclone of conflicting leadership agendas. For evidence of the impact this has on a team, see Jets: Ford Late Administration Through Last Sunday.

Phase 3: preparation

A franchise needs room for the salary cap and additional draft picks to revamp its list.

The Philadelphia Eagles entered phase three in February when they traded quarterback Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts. The Eagles will spend this year eating ramen noodles as they pay off over $ 57 million in outstanding debt, but several first-round picks over the next year could be worth the sacrifice.

Cap-relief transactions have become so common that fans of teams that are constantly rebuilding themselves often fight for them instead of wins as a coping mechanism. We just lost 42-6, but we traded the linebacker on the $ 30 million contract for a pick for the sixth round in 2024. Let’s throw a tailgate party!

Phase 4: cultural change

The cultural change begins with the baroque table football ceremony. If the incoming head coach finds such a table in the locker room, it will be removed to signal that it is time to seriously win. When there isn’t a foosball table, one is installed to signal the time has come to treat players like men. At some franchises, the equipment manager who moves the foosball table has greater job security than the owner’s son.

The cultural change also requires the invocation of mantras such as “aggressiveness” and “accountability” by the new regime. Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell even said at his introductory press conference that he would like his players to “bite off a kneecap,” but there is no evidence that NFL culture change ceremonies involve real cannibalism. Or any meaningful change in culture.

Stage 5: False Hope

The Giants nearly reached the playoffs last year when the entire NFC East fell into bitter failure and shame. The jets went 10-6 in 2015 thanks to journeyman with career years. The Jacksonville Jaguars made the playoffs in the 2017 season and almost went up in flames like a vampire entering church. False hope is faking recovery teams that they are a player away from the Super Bowl and that that player is somehow Nick Foles.

False hope is easy to distinguish from actual improvement: it is almost always based on narrow victories under changeable circumstances against weak opponents. Unfortunately, coaches and executives who benefit from a short burst of success have nothing to gain from honest self-assessment. Therefore, false hope inevitably leads to …

Phase 6: allegations

The Miami Dolphins hired coach Brian Flores in 2019 (phase two). They traded veterans for additional first-round picks (phase three). Flores spent his first year establishing a winning culture by telling his players to be “tough, smart and aggressive” because no one else had thought of it (stage four). The Dolphins won 10-6 in 2020, with multiple wins against weak opponents like the Jets and the Jaguars (stage five).

The dolphins are now 1-5. Recent drafts have been disappointing, sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been sluggish at best, and Flores has already gone through several offensive coordinators. History tells us that Flores and General Manager Chris Grier attack their subordinates, then Tagovailoa and then each other in a frenzy of villainy that makes Game of Thrones look like Paw Patrol if the dolphins don’t get better quickly . “

The Cleveland Browns staged the kind of coup the Dolphins berthed roughly every 18 months for the entire 21st berth.

Phase 7: rinse and repeat

The Giants will roll every day until the end of the Dave Gettleman / Joe Judge era. Lions are rebuilding on the rubble of failed rebuilds. The Jaguars started with Urban Meyer in 2021 and will likely start in 2022 with a head coach who is acting less like a Will Ferrell character. The jets are the jets are the jets.

Unfortunately, the most likely end result of an NFL rebuilding cycle is different. Fans of teams in trouble should expect another round of coach changes, liquidation sales of veterans and repositioned table footballers.

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