There is not a longer timeframe in the world than between the Super Bowl and the start of next year’s regular season opener in the NFL.
Or at least that’s how it feels year on year to me, anyway. But with a long off-season comes great responsibility. Sorry, no, wrong cliché: with a long off-season comes great change. That’s the one.
The NFL’s salary cap means that teams can constantly change the face of their franchise if they so wish and some manage the dollars better than others.
We’ll talk about the teams who got better in another article, but here’s five teams that have gotten worse over the break.
Los Angeles Chargers
Yes, they got one of the steals of the draft in Notre Dame DT Jerry Tillery, but there’s been severe downgrades due to various factors.
For as long as anyone’s been alive, Philip Rivers was either a defence or an offensive line short of winning a Super Bowl. Well, now it’s the turn of the latter. The one consistent piece he had was left tackle Russell Okung who is now out indefinitely due to blood-thinning procedures. The Chargers are pencilling in two inexperienced players at left and right tackle, so Rivers’ physio is about to get paid nearly as much as his childminder.
Derwin James is out until at least week nine and Melvin Gordon is currently going through a holdout. Yes, Hunter Henry is back but that hardly compares. There’s no chance they win 12 games again.
It’s common enough to have one key playmaker unsettled, but the Cowboys have all three of their leading hosses on offence in a bind.
Ezekiel Elliott is holding out to be paid like a top-tier back, which he’s entitled to do – even if the true secret to his success lies behind the best offensive line in football.
Their run game allows them to be effective in play-action, screens and double moves – which is now going to be hampered. And that’s even without the following bad news: the two key elements of those plays are also in a bit of bother.
Amari Cooper’s got a heel injury, but he says he’s not worried. That’s about as reassuring as a promise from a liar, while Dak Prescott is reportedly demanding $40 million a year. I don’t know which federal charge he should go down for: embezzlement or negligence.
New England Patriots
It’s that time of year again where I tell everyone the Patriots have gotten worse again. The truth is that they have – it’s just that they’ll ultimately coach their way out of it, en route to Brady being league MVP, them having a top-10 defence and Bill hoisting yet another Vince Lombardi trophy over his head.
But for now: no Rob Gronkowski; Tom Brady is 42; Isaiah Wynn is not a tackle – he’s a guard; N’Keal Harry, while brilliant, has injury issues already; Patrick Chung has been arrested; and at some bloody point, eventuality has to determine that this group of men can no longer win these Championships.
You would think with their cap room, their notable first-round picks, their acquisition of Antonio Brown, their pickup of Nate Peterman – wait, what? – that they would be a better football team come year two of the Jon Gruden Years.
But for some reason, everyone expects them to be worse. And why is that? Well, they’ve not addressed the fact that Derek Carr will never be a Championship-winning quarterback. That resonates around any locker room, regardless.
Antonio Brown has disrupted the entire camp with his helmet saga, Jon Gruden is trying to be one of the lads and the spectre of the move to Las Vegas is looming large over the entire fanbase. Very soon, whatever the Oakland Raiders achieve(d) will be forgotten, so this year is an effective write-off, as all of these stars know that their job is to harness support in a Nevada desert soon.
I do not care that this unit is a top-10 defence once again, because Joe Flacco is their quarterback.
- Further reading: 5 NFL teams who got better during this off-season