- These franchises are stuck in ruts they probably won't escape in 2019.
The good news is that, with time, fewer and fewer teams will see a value in treading water. That doesn’t mean there won’t be perpetually bad teams, but it does mean that fewer teams will be excited about existing in the NFL’s purgatory—somewhere around .500, with picks consistently in the 11-20 range (an astrologist might call it The Jeff Fisher Orbit).
For now, though, there are still some franchises stuck in neutral. Over the last week, we’ve broken down teams with a wide-open Super Bowl window, and teams with a window that seems to be closing. This is the third component, and it has a few tentacles. There are teams whose window has shut and they simply don’t realize it yet. There are teams that are building themselves into a corner. The common denominator? They’re all stuck in neutral….
I’m going to couch a few of these teams. I think the Broncos will be markedly better under Vic Fangio, and I think that his success will lead a bit of a counter movement among teams who opted not to hire from the Sean McVay brat pack. That being said, a great running game and O.K. weapon set at wide receiver is not enough to accentuate a 34-year-old, oft-injured Joe Flacco. They will be fine, but not jolted out of their current status as a middle-of-the-pack team in a very good division. Maybe our opinion changes if Drew Lock comes in and stretches the Broncos into a more unpredictable, vertical offense.
I’m guilty of perpetually believing the best is yet to come for Marcus Mariota. Unfortunately, that belief seems to be fading—and not just on my end. After losing Matt LaFleur to the Packers, the Titans promoted from within to fill the offensive coordinator role (long-time offensive assistant Arthur Smith). In his first season as a head coach, Mike Vrabel led a tougher, far more thorough Titans team than we’ve seen in recent years. But did they do anything to make us believe that they can traverse an increasingly prickly AFC South?
T. J. Hockenson was one of my favorite players in the draft, but was he the right player for a Lions team that needs a lot more than an optimally functional, dual-threat tight end? A coordinator change was due, and I like the idea of betting on a coach like Darrell Bevell; he spent a season outside of the league, theoretically absorbing the nuances of this offensive revolution. But how much confidence is there in the idea that he will radically alter the second act of Matthew Stafford’s career?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While you could argue that the hiring of Bruce Arians is exactly the kind of thing that would unstick this franchise from the mud—and maybe, in time, it will—they are still dependent on the elevation of Jameis Winston to a role that we’ve only seen him grasp fleetingly on the field over the past few seasons. It’s an interesting last act for Arians after earning the title of Quarterback Whisperer for his hand in molding the likes of Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and a late-career Carson Palmer. Winston is the biggest project of his career, and Arians takes him on at the age of 66. The reward? Maybe being only slightly less confused about Winston’s viability as a franchise quarterback after this season, when the going rate for starters on long-term deals hitting the open market could be hovering around $40 million per year.
I think if any of us actually believed that Jon Gruden was going to resist his tendency to lean toward flashy, veteran help than this would be a different story. Despite an injection of young talent, there is a parallel track of mercurial elders to soak up reps and playing time. It’s in every coach’s right to pivot from a rebuild to a contender, but if that’s the case, what was the point of offering Gruden a 10-year contract as if it was going to be built the right way? One thing this team has going for it is Derek Carr, a quarterback who hopefully manages to survive the onslaught of insanity (starting with Hard Knocks!) and is on a relatively affordable long-term deal.
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