SI’s MMQB Staff Debates the NFL’s Least Improved Teams

Three clubs are dealing with challenging situations at quarterback, while an owner did nothing to help his head coach, whom he decided not to give a long-term deal.
McCarthy is in the last year of his contract as the Cowboys finish up their offseason workouts.
McCarthy is in the last year of his contract as the Cowboys finish up their offseason workouts. / Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the NFL offseason, where receivers get paid lots of money (just ask Justin Jefferson, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jaylen Waddle and Nico Collins), the NFL continues to push for an 18-game season, the league and NFLPA discuss ways to ruin the offseason calendar and teams continue to go through their OTAs and mandatory minicamps. 

So we asked our MMQB staff of NFL experts to answer a series of eight questions. They debated the most improved teams Thursday, so today they’re going to weigh in on the least improved teams. 

Let’s get to their answers as we get closer to the NFL taking a break before July training camps.

The least improved team this offseason is …

Matt Verderame: Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II
Should the Broncos consider trading Surtain for draft picks? / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos absorbed $85 million in dead money over two years after the release of Russell Wilson, and the replacement plan includes a depth chart of first-round pick Bo Nix, Jarrett Stidham and Zach Wilson.

Clearly, the Broncos are resetting the franchise. The problem is Denver is short on young talent because of that aforementioned trade, along with dealing away premium capital to acquire coach Sean Payton.

The Broncos are doing the right thing by stripping down the roster, but they should have gone further. Trade Courtland Sutton for a pick or two. Trade Patrick Surtain II for a haul. See what the market is for anybody with value. 

Gilberto Manzano: Minnesota Vikings

Vikings edge rusherJonathan Greenard
Minnesota signed Greenard after letting Hunter explore free agency. / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to upset more Vikings fans after I predicted them to finish 3–14 this season. But we can at least agree the Vikings are going to have a dropoff at quarterback with the departure of Kirk Cousins. 

I would have felt better about the Vikings had they traded up to get Drake Maye in the draft. Instead, they waited to take J.J. McCarthy, the fifth quarterback selected in the draft. McCarthy was impressive during Michigan’s playoff games, but he has boom-or-bust potential because he wasn’t asked to do much in Jim Harbaugh’s run-heavy offense. Minnesota could lean on veteran Sam Darnold, but he struggled with making quick decisions during his time with the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers.  

But this goes beyond the quarterback position. Minnesota didn’t do much to address the weak interior lines on offense and defense. There are also concerns with the cornerbacks. And there could be a case made that Danielle Hunter is better than free-agent addition Jonathan Greenard. The two edge rushers swapped places, with Hunter joining the Houston Texans. 

Perhaps I’m being too harsh with my 3–14 prediction, but there are too many concerns at critical positions.  

Conor Orr: The Dallas Cowboys

I mean, obviously the Cowboys. The most significant additions this offseason have been the re-signing of a long snapper and bringing back Ezekiel Elliott. This is Cleveland in Major League-type behavior from Dallas’s ownership group, and what I think is truly ridiculous is the fact that almost everyone in that building is now operating on an unorthodox one-year contract structure despite getting no help via free agency. This team is built to gently poke its head through the NFC once every few seasons and nothing more. They are a real estate company that happens to employ a few dozen football players to wave to the customers. Jerry Jones will try and say with a straight face that he did what he could to help Mike McCarthy or that he wanted to win the Super Bowl this year but the truth is that this team’s behavior is inexplicable. He didn’t like McCarthy enough to sign him to a longer-term contract but he also didn’t like him enough to give him the talent to push Dallas over the hump in the NFC. So the best option was to do…absolutely nothing? 

Albert Breer: Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence
Lawrence inherits a couple of new receivers after Jacksonville lost Ridley and Jones. / Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA

I was bullish on the Jags as a Super Bowl darkhorse last year, and that didn’t work out. And I think, on a few fronts, they spun their wheels this offseason preparing to open the vault for Trevor Lawrence.

They swapped out Calvin Ridley and Zay Jones for Brian Thomas Jr. and Gabe Davis. They signed Darnell Savage, who Green Bay replaced with Xavier McKinney, to take Rayshawn Jenkins’s spot. I like Arik Armstead on the defensive line, and Mitch Morse and Ezra Cleveland on the offensive line, but I’m not sure, especially given the age of Armstead and Morse, how much those additions move the needle.

What makes Jacksonville’s offseason worse is how aggressive the other teams in the AFC South were in building around their young quarterbacks. That, of course, all puts a little more on Lawrence to make up the difference. I think he’s capable of elevating to the next level. But it’s tough being in a position where you need that to happen.


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Albert Breer

ALBERT BREER

Conor Orr

CONOR ORR

Conor Orr is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, where he covers the NFL. He is also the co-host of the MMQB Podcast. Conor has been covering the NFL for more than a decade. His award-winning work has also appeared in The Newark Star-Ledger, NFL.com and NFL Network. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, two children and a loving terrier named Ernie. 

Gilberto Manzano

GILBERTO MANZANO

Matt Verderame

MATT VERDERAME

Matt Verderame is an NFL staff writer for Sports Illustrated. He hosts The Matt Verderame Show on Patreon; previously wrote for FanSided and Awful Announcing; and is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. A proud father of two girls and lover of all Italian food, Matt is an eternal defender of Rudy, the greatest football movie of all time.