Too often, NFL teams are forced to start from scratch. There’s always many reasons; not enough talent, bad quarterback play, poor coaching, bad management, etc.
Usually, teams will restart all the way at the top. The owner decides that the General Manager (GM) making all these decisions has done a poor job putting the right coaches and players out there and the end result is speaking for itself.
In the past, the way a team has built itself has been dependent on what kind of identity the team wants to establish. Defensive, pass-happy, run-heavy, etc.
In the past decade, there’s been an unspoken rule about the way to establish a team. Starting from the top still, but then putting a focus on offense first and creating the defense along the way. Here’s how.
As I said before, it always starts at the top. The GM is the person hiring these coaches, signing free agents and drafting players. Once it’s become obvious it hasn’t worked the team will ‘go in a different direction’.
The GM gets the people they want around him to help run the team and the organization before even looking at players.
Example: The Cleveland Browns
The NFL’s longest laughing stock hired John Dorsey in 2018 and immediately started making moves which turned a previously 0-16 team into a team that was competing for the playoffs.
He’s added talent like Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Olivier Vernon, Damarious Randall, TJ Carrie, and Sheldon Richardson, while drafting players like Denzel Ward, Nick Chubb, Greedy Williams, Mack Wilson, Antonio Callaway and most important of all, Baker Mayfield.
The one mistake Dorsey and other GMs can make is the only other person who can affect the team in as big of a fashion. A mistake some make sooner than later and some make just too late: the coach.
The Head Coach
Aside from the GM, the most important person non-player is the head coach. A head coach can greatly impact a player’s development and whether or not they’ll reach their full potential.
It’s not just enough to pick a solid head coach. He has to have similar desires as the GM, they have to mesh well with whoever is playing quarterback and they need to bring a new culture to the team, creating a new team.
Example: Sean McVay
In 2016, the Rams, coached by Jeff Fisher at the time, selected Jared Goff number one overall. It looked like a bust from the beginning.
Jeff Fisher had a traditional way of running a team that worked in the 90’s and 00’s when he was coaching the Tennessee Titans to the playoffs and a Super Bowl appearance, but his defensive mindset was not working with a rookie QB and Goff suffered.
After Fisher was fired, the team took a chance on a young, offensive mind in Sean McVay. McVay was from the Jay Gruden coaching tree, which runs a very QB-friendly system.
As a result, McVay collaborates with GM Les Snead to find players to fit his offensive scheme and help Goff succeed. Adding players like Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Brian Allen and Andrew Whitworth for his offense, effectively turning the team into a championship contender.
Now we get to the players, There’s no more important player on an NFL team than a franchise quarterback. He’s the difference between a good team and a great one.
Quarterback is also the hardest position to evaluate. Typically franchise quarterbacks are supposed to be found exclusively in the first round, but there are always players who’ll defy expectations.
Names like David Carr, Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Russell Wilson, Nick Foles and especially Tom Brady are exceptions to the rule. Each was drafted outside the first round and has found success.
You can assume, however, that if the team is bad enough to have a top 3-5 pick, and there’s no real answer for their field general, a quarterback is the target.
Example: Matt Ryan
Following the Michael Vick scandal, the Atlanta Falcons were without a quarterback. Vick had been the most electrifying, most ‘must-see’ player in the league and was suddenly gone.
The team had come off a season where coach Bobby Petrino had left via notecards after 13 games and finished 4-12. The Falcons landed the third pick in the draft, selecting Ryan.
During Matt Ryan's time, he has re-made the Falcons as a legit playoff contender every year. To date, he’s won more than 100 career games, thrown more than 45,000 yards and scored over 300 touchdown passes. He’s also been elected to four Pro Bowls, won the 2016 MVP and took Atlanta to their first Super Bowl since 1998.
Most people think that once you have a quarterback, you give them receivers and backs to help them succeed but the reality is that if your man back there can’t stay upright, their career won’t last.
Hopefully, most of the line or at least two players in the starting five are set by the time the quarterback is taken but if not, free agency, trades and the draft all are explored to fill the line-up.
Example: The Indianapolis Colts
Maybe it was a lesson learned too late but the most important thing a team can do for their franchise quarterback is giving him an offensive line that will keep him healthy.
In 2017, the Colts gave up the most sacks in the league. The only reliable starters they had were Anthony Costanzo, Ryan Kelly, and Jack Mewhort, with Mewhort and Kelly both missing time due to injuries.
In 2018 Jack Mewhort retired, creating a hole at guard and making the line look even worse. However, with two of the Colts top picks, they selected Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith to fill in at left guard and right tackle.
In addition to them, the team had found a gem in a previous fourth-round pick, Mark Glowinski. He filled in for Matt Slauson at right guard and never looked back. Even signing a three-year extension in the 2019 offseason.
This made the team go from giving up the most sacks, to allowing the least in just one season. It’s too bad it took the team that long to figure it out because maybe Andrew Luck would still be playing. But now teams can look at how the Colts flipped it around and also learn to do it sooner than later.
The last move to rebuilding the franchise after finding a quarterback, and protecting him is to find players who can rush the other team’s quarterback.
Teams will need weapons for their quarterback and a good secondary, but a good pass rush is more essential. Teams can take time to build a better back seven (linebackers and secondary) if their pass rush has been set.
Example: The Chicago Bears
The Bear had their GM (Ryan Pace), Head Coach (Matt Nagy), quarterback (Mitchell Trubiski) and a set offensive line to protect him. But the Chicago Bears have been historically known for defense and the team had lacked it.
Despite having solid defensive players like Leonard Floyd, Akeim Hicks or Kendall Fuller, they lacked a premier pass rusher who could take over.
After their blockbuster trade with Oakland to get Kahlil Mack, and drafting Roquan Smith, the Bears defense has elevated itself into a contender the last two seasons. Even seeing the development of Eddie Jackson, Eddie Goldman, Adrain Amos (now with Green Bay) and a revamped Haha Clinton-Dix. One of the most elite, complete defenses in the league.
A good pass rush is key to a great defense and is one of the essential steps to a franchise rebuild. After that, the rest is just icing on top.