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We'll get through this! The five stages of rebuilding


The New York Jets signed Josh McCown this week. Per the recent history of professional football, this does not portend great things. McCown, who looks like Ivan Drago and plays like Glass Joe, has a record of 2-20 as a starter over the past three seasons.

That .100 winning percentage isn't all on McCown, of course (you try winning with late-period Lovie Smith in Tampa or in Cleveland, well, ever). But the greater reality is hard to shake: McCown, 37, is the type of guy you sign as a starter when you're a bad team. He's less a bridge and more a loose bundle of sticks held together by seaweed. He is the patron saint of The Rebuild.

Yep, the Jets are rebuilding -- even if their head coach doesn't want to publicly admit it. No team likes to acknowledge the dreaded R-word because, in almost all cases, it's an admission that whatever you've been doing as an organization leading to this point was ... well ... wrong.

And let's not forget about the true victims of a rebuild: The fans. These are the people who count football not as a business, but pleasure -- a distraction to take you away from the difficulties and challenges of everyday life. When that "pleasure" becomes just another pitiable struggle, it can lead a fan to ask some hard questions. Chief among them, "Why the hell am I doing this?"

Jets diehards aren't alone. Fans in Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles and Jacksonville are all staring down the same predicament right now. You can make the case for other teams, maybe even your own. Some fans can successfully process the situation, take the necessary macro viewpoint, and gut through the inevitable double-digit loss season that acts as the toll for a better tomorrow. Others aren't as fortunate: They live and die with the team -- too close to the situation to ever truly enjoy their Sundays.

The End Around is here to help. To do this, we'll borrow the Kübler-Ross model, colloquially known as the Five Stages of Grief. It's not easy to admit your team is rebuilding. But once you do, the process of healing can begin.


We can delude ourselves as fans. It does not make us bad or stupid people. It's the price of eternal optimism: There is no problem too big to be solved by an underrated free-agent signing or fifth-round pick with upside. These are the fans who take Blake Bortles' pronouncement that he's fixed his mechanics as gospel rather than trope, who believe their cornerback crisis is in the rearview because Mo Claiborne is in the house. Jared Goff was a disaster as a rookie? Well, we just hired a head coach that's almost the same age. Their shared life perspective will yield greatness!

Bortles represents a perfect example of fan denial. He was one of the very worst quarterbacks in football last season, and Jacksonville's apparent decision to stay in business with the former first-round pick could ultimately spell doom for head coach Doug Marrone and general manager David Caldwell.

But the fan in denial will hang on that front-office support and those 35 touchdown passes in 2015, ignoring the fact that too much of Bortles' production that year came in garbage time. They'll write off 2016 entirely and work under the assumption that new executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin's grandpa-charm will act as a cure-all. It was Under Siege 2: Dark Territory that taught us, "Assumption is the mother of all f--- ups." If only everyone took the screenplays of Steven Seagal movies as seriously as this author.


Your team is sitting on its thumbs in free agency, the competition in your division is getting better, and now you're hitting out. This is no fun -- you might end up saying things you can't take back -- but inactivity shouldn't necessarily be mistaken for inepitude.

Let's circle back to the Jets here. New York purged several high-profile veterans over the last six weeks, a group that includes Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall and Nick Mangold. They made very little splash in free agency and ended up with cupcake filling on their face, thanks to their failed pursuit of Dont'a Hightower. Then the human white flag that is Josh McCown: Starting Quarterback showed up.

It's a lot for one fanbase to take -- especially one that's been waiting for a return trip to the Super Bowl since Woodstock. And so, many fans wailed, unable to see that GM Mike Maccagnan is actually being justifiably prudent as the organization clears the decks and waits for Tom Brady to get old. There's plenty of logic to how the Jets are attacking their offseason, but that doesn't sit well with the season-ticket holder who's heard 12 too many front-office sells over the past several decades.


The 49ers have been a mess since Jim Harbaugh left town, and the organization threw something of a Hail Mary in its hiring of GM John Lynch. It's not often that you task a man with no front-office experience to lead a ground-floor rebuild. At least there's no empirical evidence to suggest this could go terribly wrong.

Lynch wasted no time trying to buy the 49ers out of irrelevance. That leaves some 49ers fans convincing themselves that guys like Brian Hoyer, Kyle Juszczyk and Malcolm Smith are foundational pieces. Maybe they will be. But don't be surprised if they're not.

Then you have a team like the Bears, who identified Mike Glennon as a franchise quarterback with the misfortune to be stuck on a team that already had one. We'll see about all that. The Bears were a dreadful team last year, and their fans should be perhaps careful about getting too excited about finally moving on from Jay Cutler.


This is probably the territory most Browns fans find themselves locked into. You're miles away from denial, you've watched the team fall on its face over and over, and no rebuild seems to take. Cleveland is 4-33 since Nov. 30, 2014, hasn't won a playoff game since rejoining the NFL in 1999 and has a QB depth chart that currently features Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler up top. A trade for Jimmy Garoppolo could conceivably sweep Cleveland out of all of this, but can the Browns get the deal done? Is the opportunity even there?

The pessimistic Browns fans in the depressive state assume the worst. It's hard to blame them.


You get it. There will be no miracle run to the Super Bowl. It might be an upset if there's a meaningful game after Halloween. Your team is rebuilding today with the goal you will have something to be joyful about tomorrow. Ugh.

Reaching this understanding will be the key to enjoying your upcoming 4-12 season (give or take a win or two). So instead of dwelling on the scoreboard, take a closer look at your draft class. Track their progress. Study the production of your veterans and form an opinion about whether they should be part of the future. Keep an eye on the hot names on the college scene. If you're lucky, you'll have a young quarterback who shows a little bit of promise. Everything goes back to the quarterback.

No one likes to come to grips with the idea that your window as a Super Bowl contender is sealed shut in March while Patriots fans are knocking out their east wall to fully enjoy the gorgeous view of the Atlantic. But this is the reality. The hand you've been dealt. The sooner you come to grips with your short straw, the sooner you can adjust your expectations for the better.

Football can still be enjoyable to watch. Even if the results are hard to stomach.

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