Once week 2 ends in the NFL the panic alarm goes off for teams sitting 0-2. Generally 0-2 is looked at as near death when it comes to the playoffs so the sentiment turns ugly pretty quick when you are there and people begin to focus on the future even though we are just two weeks in. I wanted to do a quick look at those teams and see what they have done and where they may be headed.
Buffalo Bills- Despite the fact that the Bills were a playoff team last year I don’t think anyone was under any impression that they would be back this year, although nobody expected them to be this bad. When the Bills brought in front office changes it was clear that the plan was to tear apart what was an aging, overpriced team. They were able to trade pieces away and amass some draft capital but also probably overspent on bringing in Kelvin Benjamin last season when the playoffs were surprisingly a possibility. The Bills are one of the most “band-aid” teams in the NFL. They rank at or near the bottom of the NFL in home grown players, quality draft picks, and long term deals and at the top of the league in dead money with nearly $55 million. They are way long on veterans, many of whom are minimum salary types and astonishingly just had Vontae Davis retire mid game and literally walk out on the team (on the bright side they will recover most of the $3.5 million they guaranteed him just a few months ago). As things stand now the Bills are going to come under pretty heavy criticism for not drafting Patrick Mahomes in 2017 and instead trading away the pick to the Chiefs. Mahomes looks like a star and the Bills ended up trading away assets to get to Josh Allen in this year’s draft. Allen may prove to be a star but for this year it will likely look pretty bad. If there is a silver lining in all of this it is that the Bills will have nearly $85 million in cap room in 2019 to try to improve the team around the young QB.
Houston Texans– I’m not sure what has gone wrong for the Texans but they were a bit of a dark horse Super Bowl pick and they just lost to a team starting Blaine Gabbert and some backup linemen. Unlike many of the others on this list they have been more competitive in their losses, losing by 7 to the Patriots and 3 to the Titans, but the expected explosive offense has been anything but. With Deshaun Watson coming off an injury there may just be some time needed to really get back to feeling right and they have yet to play a game at home so the alarm is lower here than anywhere else, but a win this week is critical. The Texans do have a bundle of cap room next year (around $90 million) but if things go bad this season the finger pointing is going to be on the head coach for not getting anything out of a talented roster and I could see the expectation that they can improve by spending moderately but bringing in a new head coach.
Oakland Raiders– The Raiders had a terrible loss yesterday against the Broncos in a game they really should have won. Nobody in the league has taken as many steps back as the Raiders have the last two years. They have gone from a playoff team that looked like they were on the brink of greatness to a punchline for a bunch of jokes. The Raiders made the crazy decision to get very old this year which was a reflection on the head coach who comes from an era where older veteran players were often given the benefit of the doubt over younger guys. They spent millions of dollars on short term and mid term deals for these type of players while letting Khalil Mack get away in a trade. Gruden gets the lions share of the blame but the Raiders have also been hurt by continued mediocre to poor drafts and mixed free agency results. It seems clear that next year Gruden will take over the GM mantle which is probably going to be yet another step back. Oakland will have close to $60 million in cap space next season but if the team is worried about paying Mack how much can they really do with it? I have gotten a few questions on Derek Carr and I cant imagine the team bailing on him but yes if they wanted to have a massive fire sale they could trade him away and get a first round pick or two to build around.
New York Giants– The Giants added at least another year of trouble when they decided to bypass drafting a QB to instead draft Saquon Barkley with the 2nd pick in the draft. The offense looks no different than last season despite the addition of Barkley, Nate Solder, Jonathan Stewart, and Will Hernandez and return of Odell Beckham, who they signed to a $90 million contract. The offensive line is a major problem and Eli Manning doesn’t look like he is capable of being anything more than a stopgap with a name. Maybe the Giants simply didn’t like any of the QB’s in last year’s draft but my worry was you get so few chances you need to take it when you have a shot (see the Eagles with Wentz). Right now that worry looks less important since the Giants are going to have a top 5 pick for the second year in a row if things continue down this path. The Giants are now going to enter a phase where they have to dismantle a somewhat expensive team that was built in free agency a few years ago. The Giants only project to have $15 million in cap room next year, close to the bottom of the league, before the purge. They can get to over $60M if they cut Manning, Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, Rhett Ellison, Patrick Omameh, and Jonathan Stewart but would they just go the free agent route again? They will have a big decision next season with QB. Because they built themselves somewhat backwards with Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Barkley all in their primes before they found a QB they may see the logic in going after a veteran, such as Teddy Bridgewater or Tyrod Taylor, to try to get something out of their investments and bypass a top draft pick again. Right now they have the look of either going down the path of the Bills or the Arizona Cardinals, neither of which is a good place to be for fans of the team.
Detroit Lions– The Lions got shelled against the Jets and then lost to the 49ers, allowing 78 points in the process. Those two teams managed to score a combined 28 points in their other two games. The Lions have some talent on the team but for whatever reason it doesn’t seem to click together. They have weapons in the passing game though it is streaky. They have individual talent on defense but something just isn’t right there. Maybe there is still too much reliance on Matt Stafford by the front office and in the locker room and he really is not that kind of player to just carry a team on his back regardless of what his contract says. I don’t know if this is going to be one of those years where things just improve out of nowhere as players buy into the head coach or if the players all just tune out the head coach and hope he gets fired by the end of the year. The Lions will have around $40 million in cap room next season but have Golden Tate and Ziggy Ansah as free agents. It is hard to let players like that walk away, but it may be the case.
Arizona Cardinals– Other than the Giants there is probably no bigger disappointment than the Cardinals. The Cardinals have tried their best to keep a window open that really closed a few years ago when they lost in the playoffs off a 13-3 season. They have been 15-8-1 since that time and the two games this year have scored just 6 points. They signed Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon in hopes of finding a starter to give them competent play but its going to look like wasted money. This season looks like it should mark the end of the Bradford money train as well as nobody can look at him as being potentially special anymore. The returning David Johnson has meant nothing to the offense so far. Nothing has really gone right defensively either. The bright light here is that they drafted Josh Rosen so that at least gives them a younger player to potentially lean on next year. Where they go from here is anyones guess. The best case scenario seems to be finding a team desperate for a QB following an injury leading to a coup for them if they can trade off Bradford. Once Bradford is gone next season expect over $60 million in cap room to try to improve the roster and get back into the playoff chase.
Seattle Seahawks- Last year it was clear the Seahawks were in that difficult spot of trying to rebuild on the fly trying to get the most out of their aging, but still capable, stars while bringing in some talent and hoping to develop in the draft. Thus far it looks like the effort will fall flat as the team has failed to find consistency on offense while their defense has no longer been as effective in critical spots. They have been wrecked by injuries (11 players on IR plus KJ Wright and Doug Baldwin as inactives) but look to be headed towards the full rebuild after this season. The way that the Seahawks have handled some of their veteran personnel may have an impact on their locker room. The situation with Earl Thomas is well publicized and their cast away of Richard Sherman was also messier than it needed to be. They missed with Michel Bennett for whatever reasons, lost valuable resources in a one year rental of Sheldon Richardson, and have wasted cap dollars through the years on overly bullish investments that did not work out. The Seahawks will go into next year with a very healthy cap of around $55 million but with a QB that will want a new contract. Last time around Wilson really did not capitalize the way he should have and given how things have gone he should look this time to be the highest paid player in the NFL as without him they have no offense or team. Frank Clark should also look to make a killing as a free agent. They will have some difficult decisions to make to see if they can get something more out of this core group or if they should be moving assets to complete a tear down of the roster.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.