What Does a Full Team Rebuild Look Like? Part 1: The NFL

The word “rebuild” in sports has been used once or twice before, but the term has never been fully covered, nor has the full process ever been truly explained. Some people (not naming names) don’t even know the difference between a rebuild and a full team rebuild. Rest assured, that’s exactly what will be broken down in this new series, as we take a look at what a full team rebuild looks and feels like while highlighting how improper executions arise. Additionally, you’ll see what the similarities and differences are between a standard rebuild and a full team rebuild in the NFL. To answer all of your burning questions, simply continue reading.

Know Your Right from Left

It’s important to understand the difference between a rebuild and a full team rebuild, as they’re two entirely separate events. On one hand, a normal rebuild requires a foundation, whether it’s a solid offense or defense, and the goal of the rebuild is to strengthen whichever is weaker. Consider it less of a breakdown and rebuilding of the team, and more so as a reconstruction. To paint a better picture for this, think of the Chicago Bears as a model for a normal rebuild. They have an un-be-lievable defense, but their offense is wide receiver Allen Robinson trying to carry 10 carebears with helmets. They have their foundation (defense), so their goal now is clearly retooling their offense. The standard rebuild generally lasts between 2-5 years depending on the current state of the team. If we’re living in a perfect world, the Bears are three good offseasons away from being contenders in the NFL. A full team rebuild, on the other hand, can be quite messy. In this scenario, a team does not have a foundation to build off of and must start from scratch with absolutely nothing. If you’re thinking of the New York Jets, you’re absolutely right. Starting in 2016, the Jets have been focusing on retooling their defense to serve as their foundation and they’ve actually done a solid job of doing so. It’s not a perfect defense, but it’s a start. The biggest decision to be made in a full team rebuild is establishing your new identity, and this is before you can begin building your foundation. In other words, get creative with a blank canvas and decide what kind of team you want, whether that’s being a defense-first team or an offense-first team, and going from there. This process is the longest and most painful for a franchise, as it can last anywhere from a 5-10 year span, or even a 15-25 year span!

Square Peg vs. Circle Hole

One of the most basic and credible strategies in rebuilds must be understood: “Draft and Develop.” Not only is it the most used strategy in the NFL, but it’s also used in every professional sports league on Earth (other than the NBA). Essentially, the rule of thumb for building long-term success in the NFL is consistently having good draft selections and the secret to a good draft is finding talent in the later rounds (i.e., Rounds 5-7). Anybody can select an elite prospect in the 1st Round of the draft, but not everyone can develop a good player who was taken in the 6th Round. Notice the difference in the usage of the words “prospect” and “player.” Even you (yes, you, the reader), could pick someone in the first round who has the potential to be a star in the NFL, but if you don’t know how to develop them, they’ll never reach that potential. Remember, this is a two-step program: Draft the prospect, Develop the player. It’s the teams who do this the best that are the teams who win the most. The reason why head coaches like Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints and Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks are the best in the game is that they can make players like Taysom Hill and Will Dissly effective players in the NFL as they prioritize the development of their players. A good example of the failure to follow only one of the steps is quarterback Josh Rosen, who was selected No. 10 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. He was described as the best passer amongst quarterbacks in the class, but exactly one year after being selected, the Cardinals drafted another quarterback with the 1st Overall pick, Kyler Murray, because Josh Rosen just wasn’t “doing it” for them. Since then, Rosen is now on his fourth NFL team. The moral of the story is that potential is nothing without training (shoutout Luke Skywalker).

Where Did I Go Wrong?

If drafting and developing is the key to success, why do so many teams fail at doing so? It’s quite simple, really. Not everyone is good at drafting. Sometimes, the guys that were labeled as first-round picks and future All-Pro players in the NFL turned out to be one-hit wonders. Again, this goes hand-in-hand with the failure to develop the player, but it’s also due to reaching. In the draft, there are two strategies that teams will use: drafting someone based on a need at the position or choosing the best available option. The former is 99% the wrong choice, as someone who will likely be available in the 3rd Round is instead taken in the 1st Round solely because he’s a cornerback. A couple years of doing this, and you’ll become the Cleveland Browns quickly (pre-Baker Mayfield era). Another cause for lack of success is attractability in free agency. Everyone wants to play for championship cities like Kansas City or Pittsburgh, but nobody wants to play in Cincinnati. When you combine the two, the inability to find talent in the draft as well as the inability to entice free agents to sign with your team, you end up with a franchise record of 363 wins, 452 losses, and 5 ties — the Cincinnati Bengals. While there are so many variables that play into a team’s success in the NFL, the inability to draft and develop, as well as the inability to lay down a proper foundation, are the ones that are the most significant.

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