Rebuilding in the National Football League can be a shorter process than in other sports if done right, but it is a necessary evil nonetheless.
Attempting to rebuild through free agency rarely leaves satisfactory results when not combined with wise draft choices, which is something the New York Jets are experiencing right now. Whether it's the result of bad quarterback play and inept offense or swiss cheese defense that can't stop anyone - or all of the above - there are some NFL squads in desperate need of big changes.
Those teams that are successful in both free agency and in the draft quickly rise to the top of the league and the Oakland Raiders are a shining example of that. For others, it may take a bit longer, but just showing signs of greatness can be enough to hold fans over and prove that a team is on the rise.
Normally having a young, up-and-coming quarterback can be enough to turn a team around, while in other instances great play from the defensive side of the ball can kickstart a team's return to respectability. It doesn't matter how a team gets there as long as the end result is multiple playoff berths and a Super Bowl victory.
Curious to know which teams need a rebuild and which teams are on the rise? All of your questions will be answered below, so let's go.
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15 Rebuild: New York Jets
The Jets are on a fast track to another failure of a season in 2016, as the veteran-filled team has played well below expectations this year. Journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing poorly and turning the ball over left and right, while former star cornerback Darrelle Revis looks to be on his last leg in the NFL after being burnt by receivers time and time again.
Along with Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall, the Jets' best players on offense are all 30 and over, and their defensive cornerstone is shot. New York needs to start looking to the future and that begins with the quarterback. Gang Green did its best to rebuild through free agency, however, that simply isn't working. Bryce Petty and/or Christian Hackenberg should get a look before the season ends so the Jets can have a better idea of what their priorities will be in the draft.
14 On the Rise: Philadelphia Eagles
Quarterback Carson Wentz went from not being ready to start the season to a top-notch rookie quarterback who is taking the league by storm. Wentz shocked many when he put up great numbers and got the Eagles off to an undefeated start, while also showing every quality of a competent quarterback when dropping back. He's aided by a young, albeit deep, wide receiver corps led by Jordan Matthews and also has a slew of running backs at his expense as well.
The Eagles aren't just playing well on one side of the ball, though. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has Philly's defense playing out of its mind, giving the Eagles a solid two-way team. Everything is going perfectly in Philadelphia at the moment and head coach Doug Pederson and company have many division titles in their future.
13 Rebuild: Cleveland Browns
Cleveland is easily the worst team in the NFL this season and it's back to the drawing board for head coach Hue Jackson. Robert Griffin III was in the Browns' plans for the future until he suffered a shoulder injury that will likely end his season. Now the Browns have to choose between Cody Kessler and Josh McCown, with the former being the best option for the future considering his young age.
Thankfully for the Browns, there is a lot of young talent on offense to work with, but Cleveland's defense can't stop anybody. The Browns better start finding some defensive players in the 2017 NFL Draft if there's to be any hope of being a competitive team once the rebuilding is further along. Regardless of what direction the Browns go in the draft, this team needs a lot of help and one offseason of good moves isn't going to get it done.
12 On the Rise: Dallas Cowboys
Not only are the Cowboys on the rise, they are one of the best teams in the NFL this season. An injury to Tony Romo before the season started was thought to be the team's death knell for 2016, however, rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has done so well in Romo's absence that people are debating whether or not the Cowboys should even let him start when he gets back.
Along with the best offensive line in football, the Cowboys have an absolute stud at running back in Ezekiel Elliott, who will undoubtedly be among the league leaders in rushing yards when the 2016 campaign is said and done. Even Big D's defense is playing above expectations and everything is coming together now that the Cowboys have found themselves a franchise quarterback not named Romo.
11 Rebuild: Arizona Cardinals
Carson Palmer and the Cardinals were tabbed as a possible Super Bowl contender in 2016 after falling short in the NFC Championship last season. Those expectations are going by the wayside as the Cardinals are not playing up to the standards set the past few seasons.
The problem in Arizona is that their quarterback, Palmer, is 37 and playing on borrowed time. Behind him, there is no viable solution when Palmer finally walks away. Another top offensive player, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, will leave the team without a no. 1 wideout when he decides to hang up his cleats. To make matters worse, the Cardinals have a boatload of defensive players becoming free agents after the season, so it's likely they lose talent on that side of the ball, also. The window is almost closed in Arizona and it's time head coach Bruce Arians starts thinking past 2016.
10 On the Rise: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings have slowed down since a 5-0 start, but the future is still very bright. Minnesota sports one of the best defenses in the NFL this season and is having success stopping both the run and pass. The Vikings are loaded in their front seven and a young secondary has risen to among the league's elite.
Sam Bradford's stagnant play has been the team's biggest issue this season, along with a non-existent running game that is sorely missing Adrian Peterson. After this season ends, franchise QB Teddy Bridgewater should return and give the Vikings a viable option at quarterback. Minnesota is playing with house money right now thanks to a slew of big injuries, however, head coach Mike Zimmer's squad will be expected to do big things once all the team's important players are healthy for an entire season.
9 Rebuild: Miami Dolphins
In four full seasons with quarterback Ryan Tannehill at the helm, the Dolphins are 29-36 (as of Week 9) and on their third head coach in that span. Known as a quarterback whisperer, head coach Adam Gase hasn't had much success in turning Tannehill into a better quarterback and there's little to no hope he will ever be the signal-caller the team was hoping for when drafting Tannehill no. 8 overall.
You can't blame it all on Tannehill, though. He has few weapons around him on offense and the line protecting him is one of the worst in football. Miami can't even lean on its defense, either. Clearly, things are not working out during the Tannehill era and it's time to scrap the current philosophy and go in a different direction. It'll be years before the Dolphins will ever compete in their own division, let alone be among the league's elite.
8 On the Rise: Atlanta Falcons
A few years ago the Falcons might have been one of the teams in need of a rebuild; although that isn't the case anymore after Atlanta went 8-8 last season and is primed to improve on that mark in 2016. Head coach Dan Quinn has enjoyed a revival by quarterback Matt Ryan and the offense is clicking on all cylinders, both on the ground and through the air.
Great offense won't get a team very far if the defense is bad and that's where the Falcons have seen the biggest improvement. Quinn has brought his defensive genius from Seattle to Atlanta and is now molding the Falcons to his liking. For the first time in years, the Falcons have a respectable defense and a good all-around team that can compete for more than just a playoff berth.
7 Rebuild: San Diego Chargers
It's all well and good that Philip Rivers might play his entire career with one team, but that doesn't mean the Chargers should let him do it. The fact is, Rivers hasn't taken the Chargers very far during his tenure and the lack of actual talent around him on both sides of the ball makes it certain that won't change.
Instead of keeping Rivers and having his big salary weigh the team down, San Diego should pull the trigger on a deal sending Rivers elsewhere in order to net a top draft pick or two to kickstart the rebuilding process. The Chargers look to have a good young running back in Melvin Gordon, so at least there is something to build around. Other than that, the Chargers need a lot of help in one of the best divisions in the NFL.
6 On the Rise: Tennessee Titans
After Jameis Winston was taken no. 1 overall in the 2015 draft, the Titans wisely drafted Marcus Mariota and so far the move is paying off. Mariota had a great rookie season and has recovered after starting off his sophomore campaign in a slump. Tennessee's offensive line and running game are top-flight in every sense of the word and its defense has improved greatly.
What Tennessee is not doing well is passing the ball, which is mostly to blame on a lack of receivers. Rookie Tajae Sharpe was supposed to be Mariota's no. 1 before not living up to the hype, leaving the Titans without a true top target for their franchise QB. That's a problem, however, it's one that can be solved rather easily if the Titans invest a first-round pick in a wideout. Cornerback wouldn't be a bad position to target in that spot, either.
5 Rebuild: San Francisco 49ers
Blaine Gabbert was a failure and now Colin Kaepernick is in the middle of reminding everyone why he lost his starting job in the first place. A new coach in San Fran should mean a new direction at quarterback and not the same old options of the failed regime before head coach Chip Kelly. The Niners should finish near the bottom of the league this season, meaning a choice at the top of next year's draft could net them a top signal-caller.
Another severe injury to linebacker NaVorro Bowman should signify a changing of the guard for the 49ers. The franchise can no longer depend on its defensive anchor and it's time to find another Bowman-like player to carry the defense into a new generation. Running back Carlos Hyde is a nice start for Kelly and the Niners, although it'll take much more than a good running back to get this team back on track.
4 On the Rise: Oakland Raiders
Success is finally coming to Oakland with the Raiders becoming an elite squad in the league. Quarterback Derek Carr isn't just playing well, he's playing like an MVP and gives the Raiders their first legit quarterback since Rich Gannon led the franchise to a Super Bowl appearance years ago. Unlike in his first season, Carr has a ton of help with a great mix of veteran and young options, headlined by Michael Crabtree and budding superstar Amari Cooper.
On defense, the Raiders have done enough to get by and there is still room for improvement. With that said, Oakland's defense is still vastly better than in years past and is close to making the Raiders a complete team in every sense of the term. The Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos better watch out; the Raiders are ready to own the AFC West for years to come.
3 Rebuild: Chicago Bears
The fact that head coach John Fox doesn't like starting quarterback Jay Cutler much means the veteran signal-caller's time isn't long in Chicago. Behind him, the Bears are weak at quarterback with Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley as the team's lone options after this season. In need of a new quarterback in 2017, the Bears will have to revamp their offense entirely.
On the bright side of things, the Bears' injury-plagued defense has been better than most expected and will only improve once the team is at full strength. Offensive weapons like Jordan Howard and Alshon Jeffery can be Chicago's foundation on offense, but both won't be able to help much if the team can't figure things out at quarterback. A team in need of a new quarterback is a team in transition, and that's exactly where the Bears are right now.
2 On the Rise: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After being selected first overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, Jameis Winston has given the Bucs something the team hasn't had in a long time, if ever: a quarterback who can give the offense a vertical threat. With room to grow in his second season, Winston is just barely scratching the surface of how good he can be after winning Rookie of the Year in his first season.
Wide receiver Mike Evans is a star, and along with Winston, he will be dominating opposing defenses for the next decade. Tampa Bay's running back situation is a mess with the oft-injured Doug Martin and defense has been a major issue in 2016. Even with that being said, the Bucs are still relevant now that Winston is developing and the team is on track to surpass its record from a season ago. Things are definitely looking up for the Bucs.
1 Rebuild: New Orleans Saints
When the Saints were at their best in the Drew Brees era, the team had some semblance of a defense. It's no surprise that the team has been on a downward spiral as the defense has gotten worse and worse. No amount of Drew Brees passes can save the Saints from getting blown out by opposing offenses on a regular basis.
What's the solution? Free up some cash by unloading Brees, who is 37 and at the tail-end of his career. The Saints aren't winning anything with the roster constructed as is, and the organization can't make improvements with so much money locked up in one place. Trading Brees would net a huge return and it would start the rebuilding process on the right foot. The Brees and Sean Payton era was great for New Orleans, but now it's time to let it go and improve this roster from top to bottom.
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