Though the confetti is still settling from Super Bowl XLIX, teams around the NFL have already turned their attention toward 2015, knowing that there are just a few months with which to make the moves that will bring a Lombardi Trophy within reach.
Of course, some teams are in better shape than others. Below are the five teams with the most work to do this offseason:
Surprisingly, the team in the most disarray logged the most wins (seven) of any squad on this list in 2014. At one point last season, the Browns were sitting at 7-4 and in control of the AFC North -- yes, the same AFC North that sent three teams to the postseason! But Cleveland hit a five-game skid to end the year, and is now in worse position than it was at this time last year. Quarterback Johnny Manziel has entered a treatment facility. Receiver Josh Gordon has been suspended for at least one year. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan parted ways with the team, eventually taking a job with the Atlanta Falcons. The Browns' only real downfield weapon, tight end Jordan Cameron, has an extensive concussion history and is set to enter free agency, meaning he's a long shot to be back, anyway. And we haven't even mentioned a defense that was dead last against the run and 23rd in total yards.
Just as they did in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Browns will have two first-round picks in April. They earned the 12th overall selection and will assume the Bills' No. 19 overall pick because of the draft-day trade that sent the fourth overall pick to Buffalo last May. This is a second-year coaching staff that has already seemingly wasted a first-round pick on a quarterback, not to mention the eighth overall selection, which was used on a cornerback, Justin Gilbert, who has had his ownmaturity issues and started just two games. That's not to suggest Manziel and Gilbert can't grow up, but picking them set the Browns organization back by at least one year. Cleveland can't afford to miss again with its two first-round picks in 2015.
Like most of the teams on this list, the Titans' biggest problems come at the most important position. They dealt with a carousel of quarterbacks in 2014, cycling through Jake Locker (five starts), Charlie Whitehurst (five starts), Zach Mettenberger (six starts) and even Jordan Palmer (one game). Locker certainly won't be highly sought after, but the former first-rounder's contract is expiring, and he'll be free to sign elsewhere. Whitehurst, meanwhile, is nothing more than a career backup -- which leaves Mettenberger. Mettenberger wasn't a total disappointment as a rookie last season, especially considering he was just a sixth-round pick, but still, he completed less than 60 percent of his passes and threw just one fewer interception (seven) than he did touchdowns (eight). That is hardly someone I want to rest the franchise on, particularly when I'm holding on to the second overall pick in this year's draft.
There are only two quarterback prospects worthy of first-round grades -- Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota -- and each comes with his own specific set of challenges. Tampa Bay, which owns the No. 1 overall pick, will have first crack, and that will leave the Titans with an interesting choice. Presuming the Buccaneers take a quarterback, will Tennessee's decision-makers value the remaining player highly enough to put the fate of their employment on his shoulders? Or will they look for a trading partner (I'm looking at you, Philadelphia) who will enable them to acquire additional picks with which to fill other holes?
New York Jets
New Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan was recently quoted as saying that "building through the draft is ideally what I'd like to do, but we'll be very active in free agency." The Jets might start by targeting another wide receiver to play opposite Eric Decker, perhaps even Decker's old running mate in Denver, Demaryius Thomas. Gang Green has the money to throw around and the shiny lights of the big city to offer -- but selling any free-agent receiver, let alone the best one, on coming to New York is going to be tough with Geno Smith as the returning quarterback. Alas, that is the reality, as it likely will be for at least another season. The market for quarterbacks, both in the draft and in free agency, is at an all-time low, and with the Jets picking sixth overall, the only two quarterbacks worthy of first-round consideration will surely already be off the board. Smith led the league's worst passing attack last season, as the team posted an awful 184.1 yards per game. In Smith's defense, I have to point out that this was partially due to the run-first mentality of former coach Rex Ryan -- but the majority of Smith's struggles stemmed from his propensity to turn the ball over and make bone-headed decisions.
I don't anticipate a major drop-off in defensive production, with new coach Todd Bowles building on the foundation that Ryan built. That said, the unit presents its own challenges. Ryan had been looking for corner help since the 2013 departure of star Darrelle Revis, and that problem is still facing Bowles. Bowles is coming from the defensive-coordinator spot in Arizona, which boasted one of the league's best CB duos in 2014: Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie. For Bowles to match the same level of defensive productivity in New York, he will need to find some of his own shutdown corners.
This one is simple. The Jaguars finished dead last in points and were second to last in passing offense and total offense. Despite those statistics being bad enough to get someone fired, I think the Jaguars will regret parting ways with offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. Fisch is one of the great young offensive minds in this game, and to say he had his hands full with this offense would be the understatement of the year. The Jaguars were starting a rookie quarterback (Blake Bortles) who was handing off to a second-year running back who was a college quarterback (Denard Robinson) and throwing to a receiving corps that included three rookies. To blow up the entire offensive foundation in the biggest year for growth for all these players is a mistake. Now Jacksonville must start from scratch. Yes, the Jags will be a year more mature, but they'll also have to learn another new playbook.
And it's not like the defensive statistics were any better. The Jaguars finished 26th in scoring and total defense and ranked 27th against the run despite playing in a division (the AFC South) that also includes the Titans and Texans, two teams that were hardly offensive powerhouses. Jacksonville is facing a steep uphill climb.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. That's where I feel like we're heading with Robert Griffin III. In the wake of the firing of Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike Shanahan, RGIII's relationship with first-year coach Jay Gruden proved to be plenty tumultuous. Steve Mariucci and I are both on record from "The Coaches Show" podcast as saying RGIII would be better off getting a fresh start elsewhere, though I'm not sure that's a viable option at this point. In fact, trying to move Griffin might lead to an explosive 2015 ... and not in a good way.
The relationship between RGIII and Gruden likely will dominate the headlines going forward, but it's not the only problem this team faces. Washington's best player, Brian Orakpo, is set to hit free agency -- and, to make matters worse, Orakpo tore his pectoral muscle in October. I'm not sure things won't get worse before they get any better in Washington.