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Which rebuilding franchise is in best position to compete for Super Bowl eventually?

Syndication: Florida Times-Union Garry Smits/Florida Times-Union via Imagn Content Services, LLC

It is the offseason, so please allow me to veer a little off course today. This article doesn’t have much to do with the LA Rams, instead I want to put it to the TST community to share their opinion on a broader NFL question: If you were to bet on one rebuilding franchise being in the best position to succeed as a perennial Super Bowl contender in the near future, which team would you pick?

I also don’t know if there will be any comments like this, but sometimes people consider it a “diss” to point out some blatantly obvious and agreeable statements about a team, such as “They aren’t very good.” Saying that the Jaguars and Jets have been historically bad franchises should not be considered controversial.

Conversely, it is surely possible that any franchise, including the Rams, could be thwarted instantaneously. Neither the Broncos or Eagles have posted a 10-win season since their respective Super Bowl wins and the Patriots dynasty was apparently only one player away from mediocrity.

But to be fair, these teams are rebuilding:

Jacksonville Jaguars

Head coach: Urban Meyer, first year

2020: 1-15

Last playoff appearance and win: 2017

NFL Draft, first three rounds: 1, 25, 33, 45, 65

2021 additions: WR Marvin Jones, CB Shaquill Griffin, S Rayshawn Jenkins, DT Roy Robertson-Harris, WR Jamal Agnew, RB Carlos Hyde, WR Phillip Dorsett

They’re probably the franchise that has the most unaffiliated fans right now who are pulling for their success because of a) underdog mentality and b) Trevor Lawrence+Urban Meyer. It’ll be fascinating to see how this team develops in 2021 with Lawrence, but let’s put our rational caps on for a moment: It’s the Jaguars.

More bluntly, it’s the ability for Lawrence to live up to his immense hype vs the longstanding reputation of the Jaguars to find a way to fail.

Jacksonville was outscored by 186 points last year, their third-worst point differential in franchise history, behind the 2012-2013 seasons when Chad Henne was the most productive quarterback on the team. The Jaguars lack the type of starting talent that would start on most teams, especially on defense, and we shouldn’t expect the eight or nine rookies in their early 20s to be saviors immediately. Including Lawrence.

However, Jacksonville has kept together a veteran offensive line and signed Marvin Jones in an effort to give Lawrence the best supporting cast that they could offer him and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Jaguars win five or six games next season. Could they contend for an AFC playoff run in 2022?

New York Jets

Head coach: Robert Saleh, first year

2020: 2-14

Last playoff appearance and win: 2010

NFL Draft, first three rounds: 2, 23, 34, 66, 86

2021 additions: DE Carl Lawson, WR Corey Davis, WR Keelan Doss, LB Jarrad Davis, G Dan Feeney, S LaMarcus Joyner, TE Tyler Kroft

Sam Darnold, Zach Wilson, or Justin Fields? This is the apparent question that Jets fans are debating and while there is a right answer, nobody knows what it is. Or what the Jets could actually get for trading Darnold, though I imagine it isn’t going to be as enticing as some expect. Maybe only a day three pick, but New York’s probably going to clear space if they draft a quarterback.

If the Jets elect to stick with Darnold, then they’d almost certainly trade down and could acquire an additional first round pick, depending on the ensuing draft fall. It’s all about reloading the roster as much as possible in the draft in 2021 and 2022 with an expectation to start competing in 2022 and more realistically, 2023.

But the Jets also signed veterans like Carl Lawson, Corey Davis, and new starting safety LaMarcus Joyner as a way to show some improvement next season. They still look like a team set to win between three and five games, to me.

Houston Texans

Head coach: David Culley, first year

2020: 4-12

Last playoff appearance and win: 2019

NFL Draft, first three rounds: 67

2021 additions: OT Marcus Cannon, WR Andre Roberts, RB Mark Ingram, QB Tyrod Taylor, RB Phillip Lindsay, LB Jordan Jenkins, LB Shaq Lawson, CB Desmond King, TE Ryan Izzo

The Texans have to be the least desirable franchise to be associated with in the NFL right now, and that’s a considerable title given that we’ve already gone over the Jaguars and Jets. (You can be upset with me for saying this, but it is still true that Joe Namath is the most recent quarterback on either of those teams to reach a Super Bowl. Or the Texans I guess, for that matter.)

Houston dealt their first and second round picks for Laremy Tunsil, and that amounted to 3 and 35 this year. (Plus a first rounder in 2020.) Culley could wind up as a fine head coach, and I’d love to see it happen since so many have dismissed the hire, but for the purposes of this article it would be fair to say that he could be the most anonymous head coach in the league right now.

But most importantly, the one player who could give the Texans hope of a Super Bowl run is also adamant that he’ll never play for the team again. The team has only ever said that they won’t trade Deshaun Watson, but they’re dismantling the roster as if they will. I don’t want to sway opinion here, but when I reviewed their roster and considered that Watson also might not be on it, the first question I had was “Is there somewhere I can bet on the first team to go 0-17?”

However, I also wonder if the AFC South could be trending downward and find itself as the “NFC East of 2021.”

Detroit Lions

Head coach: Dan Campbell, first year

Last playoff appearance and win: 2016, 1991

2020: 5-11

NFL Draft, first three rounds: 7, 41, 72, 101

2021 additions: QB Jared Goff, WR Breshad Perriman, WR Tyrell Williams, TE Josh Hill, RB Jamaal Williams, DL Michael Brockers, QB Tim Boyle, DE Charles Harris

With extra first round picks in 2022 and 2023 because of the Matthew Stafford trade, the Lions are all set to crash in 2021 for a high draft pick next year. Jared Goff is set to have a much worse supporting cast in Detroit than what he had with the Rams and we know where that got him.

And the Lions defense was much worse than the offense last season.

Either Houston or Detroit appear to be the safest bets as worst teams in the NFL next season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t like what they’re building more than some other franchises. The Lions could even do something most wouldn’t expect: trade down from seven this year and add another 2022 first rounder to the rebuilding project. Frankly, if they aren’t enamored with whoever the fourth-best quarterback will be, they can probably sell that pick to the highest bidder out of the teams that are enamored. And there could be a lot of those, given the draft positions of the 49ers, Patriots, Football Team, and Bears.

Cincinnati Bengals

Head coach: Zac Taylor, third year

Last playoff appearance and win: 2015, 1990

2020: 4-11-1

NFL Draft, first three rounds: 5, 38, 69

2021 additions: DE Trey Hendrickson, CB Mike Hilton, CB Chidobe Awuzie, OT Riley Reiff, DT Larry Ogunjobi

It has not been a great start for Taylor, who is 6-25-1 and so far. We can’t say that Joe Burrow will a) go right back to where he was before the injury or b) pan out. There haven’t been any monumental offseason additions for the Bengals. Even the Hendrickson signing may only offset the Carl Lawson loss. As the fourth-best team in the AFC North, can Taylor get a win-loss record that’s good enough to keep his job? What would that be? 7-9 or better?

However, Cincinnati does have a franchise quarterback that they at least hope to build around and they could be a lot healthier next season.

Carolina Panthers

Head coach: Matt Ruhle, second year

Last playoff appearance and win: 2017, 2015

2020: 5-11

NFL Draft, first three rounds: 8, 39, 73

2021 additions: WR David Moore, G Pat Elflein, LB Haason Reddick

Once they did the Teddy Bridgewater signing, you couldn’t convince me that the Panthers were on the right path. But perhaps now they are, since Carolina appears to be the team most desperate for a quarterback, even more so than the Bears now. If I had to predict a team to trade up within the top-10, the Panthers and the Dolphins swapping places makes sense to me. Miami could get Carolina’s third and a 2022 first. Then the Panthers start building around Justin Fields.

I don’t know why they were trying to trade for Matthew Stafford though, because I can’t imagine that move would have been enough to have them competing for the playoffs. That’s not a knock on Stafford, it’s just that the Panthers roster is nowhere near LA’s.

Denver Broncos

Head coach: Vic Fangio, third year

Last playoff appearance and win: 2015

2020: 5-11

NFL Draft, first three rounds: 9, 40, 71

2021 additions: CB Kyle Fuller, CB Ronald Darby

It’s been a quiet offseason for the Broncos, even staying out of the races to acquire new quarterbacks. Instead, they’re sticking by Drew Lock until further notice, which could still mean that they make a move for anyone from Deshaun Watson to Jimmy Garoppolo and/or trading up in the draft for one. I don’t think it will be Lock.

The Broncos have the advantage of being a franchise that is historically good, but the disadvantage of having an average roster and a below-average quarterback. The return of Bradley Chubb and Von Miller as a tag team could elevate their defense to such a degree to make them a tough out in the regular season but ... Super Bowl?

Maybe the Broncos didn’t acquire a quarterback this offseason because they don’t believe they’re only a quarterback away. I would tend to agree, though I guess it depends on the quarterback.

Poll

Which of these franchises is currently in the best position to build themselves into a Super Bowl team?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Jaguars
    (72 votes)
  • 12%
    Jets
    (22 votes)
  • 1%
    Texans
    (3 votes)
  • 13%
    Lions
    (24 votes)
  • 11%
    Bengals
    (19 votes)
  • 5%
    Panthers
    (10 votes)
  • 12%
    Broncos
    (22 votes)
172 votes total Vote Now

These teams are too good for me to put on this list:

Miami Dolphins, they went 10-6 last season.

Atlanta Falcons, they haven’t hit rock bottom yet.

LA Chargers, they found a QB and went 12-4 in 2019.

San Francisco 49ers, injuries sunk them in 2020.

New York Giants: I decided to cut things off at pick 10 and honestly none of the teams in the NFC East were all that interesting to me for this exercise.

Washington Football Team, I worried they’d win in a blowout just based on their playoff appearance last season and having a top-five defense. But Football Team isn’t going anywhere until they find a quarterback.

I even did a full write-up on the Eagles, then decided they’re too well off for next season.

Philadelphia Eagles

Head coach: Nick Sirianni, first year

Last playoff appearance and win: 2019, 2018

2020: 4-11-1

NFL Draft, first three rounds: 6, 37, 70, 84

2021 additions: S Anthony Harris

Believe it or not, the Eagles have mostly worked on retaining their own players this offseason. That is, other than trading away the starting quarterback for what they could get in return.

But the Eagles offensive line is set to go back to having Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo, and 2019 first rounder Andre Dillard. For now, Zach Ertz is set to return alongside Dallas Goedert. Miles Sanders is the running back. The defensive line has Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat, and Derek Barnett again. Darius Slay is still the number one corner and Harris was a surprisingly cheap pickup at safety.

I mean, this is the Eagles without Carson Wentz and you know who won the Super Bowl in 2017? The Eagles without Carson Wentz. The biggest culprit in Philly’s offseason was not parting with Wentz or Doug Pederson, it was their lack of cap space and not enough roads to improve it. The Eagles have at least a little bit of hope at quarterback with Jalen Hurts and could be a wild card to add a veteran through a trade or as a cap casualty. Of course, they could also draft one.

But they might not because the roster is not that poor off and going for a wide receiver, linebacker, and defensive back could be of help immediately.

Bonus Poll

Poll

Which of these teams that didn’t make the previous poll has the best chance to win a Super Bowl first?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Eagles
    (3 votes)
  • 3%
    Giants
    (5 votes)
  • 13%
    Football Team
    (18 votes)
  • 36%
    Dolphins
    (47 votes)
  • 0%
    Falcons
    (1 vote)
  • 43%
    Chargers
    (56 votes)
130 votes total Vote Now