Adam Gase, Blake Bortles, Brandon Beane, Buffalo Bills, Case Keenum, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, David Caldwell, Denver Broncos, Deshaun Watson, Jacksonville Jaguars, James Conner, John Dorsey, John Elway, Jon Gruden, Josh Allen, Le'Veon Bell, Marcus Mariota, Marvin Lewis, Miami Dolphins, Mike Mayock, Mike Vraebel, New England Patriots, New York Jets, NFL, Oakland Raiders, Patrick Mahomes, Peyton Manning, Pittsburgh Steelers, Sam Darnold, Sean McDermott, Tennessee Titans, Todd Bowles, Tom Coughlin, Vance Joseph
It is time to say our sad farewells to the teams that have already gone their separate ways having failed to reach the playoffs. In a bid to make this more manageable to both read and write I will be covering the AFC today and the NFC tomorrow.
Before I begin there is one universal bit of comfort that any fan of the following teams should take, namely that in the NFL a franchise really can turnaround in an off-season, although there are some situations that may take a couple of off-seasons to sort out but even then a big improvement could be in the offing in September.
The Dolphins had a very up and down season that saw a 3-0 start falter and slip to 7-9 record. This has cost Adam Gase his job and it feels like the Dolphins will spend the off-season remaking the roster again and trying to find a franchise quarterback. There were questions raised before the season about trading away some of their best players to address issues in the locker room, but it was a lack of consistency and an utter failure on the road that cost this team. The Dolphins won their first road game against the Jets and failed to win another all year. The season highlight will undoubtedly be the last second hook and ladder play to beat the New England Patriots but once again the Dolphins couldn’t seriously challenge in the AFC East. My concern is that the roster and front office is as much to blame, if not more, than the coaches and until they build a team round a quarterback who can remain healthy for the whole season then there is only so much success they can have. They also rank twenty-seventh in the league for cap space next year and so there is not a lot of room to do much in free agency with the way the team is currently constructed.
The Bills had a tough season this year as they traded away a number of assets to move up in the draft to get their quarterback of the future and whilst this did not affect the defence too badly as it finished second in the league by DVOA, the offence really suffered. The good news regarding Josh Allen was that he proved that he could be effective on the ground in the NFL, but he will need better players around him and to develop as a passer if the Bills are to get back to the playoffs. It will help that there is some stability as GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott are staying in place, and this team played hard for McDermott all year, but the offence will have to improve if they are to get where they want to go. The good news is that they have the third most free cap space next year so they have room to manoeuvre.
New York Jets
Having failed to get into the playoffs for three seasons and only going 4-12 this year the Jets let go of head coach Todd Bowles. I can understand that the franchise felt they needed a new voice, but Bowles was not given a huge amount to work with over the last couple of seasons and the Jets always seemed to play hard for him. The good news is that Sam Darnold is a promising young quarterback, but once again he will need to have the infrastructure placed around him to enable success. The worry will be that the defence also needs work as it only finished twenty-first in the league by DVOA despite Bowles’ pedigree as a defensive mind. At least they will have cap room to work with as they are second only to the Colts in cap space next year, but free-agency success doesn’t always translate onto the field as this franchise has learned only a few seasons ago.
The Steelers just missed out on the playoffs and will be kicking themselves about losses to the Broncos and Raiders. However, there was more than a little drama surrounding the team this season and to an outsider it seems that sorting this out may help the on field performance. Part of this should be achieved by the departure in free-agency of Le’Veon Bell, and certainly James Conner was an able and cheaper alternative at running back. In truth there doesn’t need to be big changes as there is an awful lot of talent on this team, who finished sixth on offence and thirteenth on defence by DVOA. I have no doubt the Steelers will be competitive next year and before we say there is too much wrong, with a now competitive Browns franchise the AFC North was one of the tougher divisions in the league this season. Speaking of which…
I billed this post as the disappointed ten, and yes the Browns would prefer to be in the playoffs, but this is the first time since 2010 that the Browns have not been bottom of the division (and yes the Bengals were bottom that season too) and there are definitely things that should give the fans in Cleveland hope. For the first time since the new franchise was founded it looks as if the Browns have got a franchise quarterback and a five and three finish suggests that if the Browns can nail the coaching staff hire this off-season they should be competitive next year. There is plenty of young talent on the roster already and GM John Dorsey has a proven track record of success, whilst the Browns have the fourth most cap space next season. I’m happy for the long suffering fans of Cleveland but it does not make the picture look any better for the Bengals.
All teams face injuries and there are plenty of teams who either had more, or had them more clustered, but the offence particularly suffered this season and when the defence didn’t really shape up until the last couple of weeks after Marvin Lewis took control then it’s not surprising that the season sputtered to a halt. The Lewis era is finally over in Cincinnati and I do not forget how much work he had to put in to make the franchise credible and not the laughing stock of the league but how this group moves on is the big question for next season. It is not implausible for the team to bounce back in the off-season, but they will need to be setup to improve and that really all does depend on the coaching staff as there is not much cap room to improve and Mike Brown seems to very much believe in incremental progress. There are a lot of unknowns right now and so us Bengals fans will just have to hope that the next hire is a good one.
For all that I couldn’t get a handle on them for picking purposes, the Titans went 9-7 despite the injuries to quarterback Marcus Mariota and if he can get the nerve issue in his throwing arm to settle down in the off-season then there is no reason why the Titans can’t compete again next season. For all his accolades as a player, Mike Vrabel was a rookie head coach with limited experience as the man calling the shots and he made a winning start in his first year of coaching, which bodes well for the future. The AFC South could be very competitive next season.
The Jaguars had a nightmare season, falling to 5-11 after getting to the conference championship game the year before. It appears that GM David Caldwell and head coach Doug Marone are coming back on Tom Coughlin’s say so but there are real problems here. They have no franchise quarterback and the running back they took ahead of Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes has struggled this year and there are reports that he’s been a problem in the locker room. They are also currently over the cap for next season and even if they cut Blake Bortles, $16.5 of his $21 million dollar cap hit would remain as dead money. For all that they have assembled a good defence, they desperately need a functioning solution at quarterback and better players on offence and who knows if they can put that together in the off-season. There may be trouble ahead for the Jaguars next season as a difficult off-season looms.
The Broncos could not sustain a challenge to get to the playoffs and ultimately fell to 6-10. The Broncos never really took off under Vance Joseph and with their vaunted defence slipping and Case Keenum not bringing the form he showed with the Vikings last season to the party this year, it feels like there is a lot up in the air this off-season. I don’t know how long it might take for John Elway to feel pressure, but his drafts have not been stellar and his only real success in finding a quarterback was signing Peyton Manning and even then, Manning was a shell of himself when they actually won the Super Bowl. Their cap situation is not a disaster, but they need to get the coaching hire right and nail a draft if they want to compete with the Chiefs and Chargers in the AFC West, which looks like it will be no easier next season.
The best thing that can be said for the Raiders is that they have a lot of draft capital, but after a tumultuous campaign that saw them go 4-12, the Raiders head into the off-season with nowhere to play their home games next season and questions all over the roster. They have just hired Mike Mayock to be their GM, but whilst he has been a great analyst for ESPN, it is a different job evaluating talent when there are wins on the line and make no mistake it will be Jon Gruden calling the shots. A lot will depend on whether this new pairing can hit the ground running, but with the roster where it is and where to play up in the air, it’s hard to sit here and predict how the Raiders will go next year. Let’s just say it would not exactly be a shock if they struggle again…