As Week 15 rolls on, very crowded playoff races mean that we have very few teams with their sights no longer on the playoffs this season. In each conference, there are 12 teams that are, at worst, one game out of the playoffs, meaning just 8 teams total that don’t fit that criteria. This means that not many teams are focused on the future, but we at The 33rd Team are. With an eye towards that future, we’ve decided to take a look at three teams that currently find themselves outside the playoff picture, but who shouldn’t be too disheartened if it doesn’t happen this year because improvement appears to be on the horizon.
2022 Cap Space: $15.4M (22nd)
2022 Draft Capital: 3 R1, 1 R2, 1 R3, 1 R4, 3 R5, 1 R6 (5th in Tankathon.com Draft Value Rankings)
2021 Record: 6-7 (They play Washington on Tuesday night)
The Eagles have the most players in the NFL under contract for both 2022 and 2023, showing their commitment to keeping key pieces of their own roster while still having the ability to add to it. That is a big reason for their low amount of upcoming cap space, which is also why it’s not a huge deal because they have fewer holes that need filling as a result.
Their QB Jalen Hurts has been far from perfect, but has shown flashes of potential to be the franchise guy, meaning they don’t need to draft a QB in this draft, though they have the capital to do so if they’d like. Philadelphia fared quite well in the 2021 draft, including adding WR DeVonta Smith, who leads the team in receptions and yards, but they could still use some help at the receiver position. Meanwhile, TE Dallas Goedert is very good and just received extension, the OL is solid and mostly under team control for the future, and the run game is second in the NFL in rushing yards per game.
Defensively, they have been above average, ranking 9th in yards allowed and 14th in points allowed. They could be even better next season as their continuity builds and young players progress. This offseason is a big one for Philadelphia and GM Howie Roseman but getting it right could set them up incredibly well for next year and beyond.
2022 Cap Space: $74.2M (2nd)
2022 Draft Capital: 1 R1, 1 R2, 1 R3, 2 R4, 3 R5, 1 R6 (18th in Tankathon.com Draft Value Rankings)
2021 Record: 7-7
The Dolphins seemed to be headed for disaster just a short time ago when they started the season 1-7, but they have since won 6 straight games to return to .500 and have legitimate playoff hopes for this year. Even if those playoff hopes fall short, they have found a winning formula in spite of some clear roster issues that they will have sufficient assets to fix this offseason.
The Miami OL has been the worst in the NFL, especially in pass protection, stunting the development of QB Tua Tagovailoa for much of the early part of the season. To mitigate that, they have opted for a quick passing game that helps nullify the pass rush. This probably isn’t their long-term plan, but it has returned good results in the short-term, in large part because of defensive improvements.
Their defense was expected to be very good coming into the year, but took a bit of time to reach the level that was expected of them. Their upcoming draft capital isn’t anything special, but it isn’t on the low-end either, and they will have the ability to make significant additions in free agency to improve the rosters to hopefully fix holes, starting on the OL. Early returns indicate that Miami fared very well in the 2021 NFL draft and have set themselves up nicely for the next couple years.
New York Jets
2022 Cap Space: $54.5M (9th)
2022 Draft Capital: 2 R1, 2 R2, 1 R3, 2 R4, 2 R5 (1st in Tankathon.com Draft Value Rankings)
2021 Record: 3-11
The Jets’ case is a tougher one to make given how bad the on-field product has been for large stretches of the season, but there are reasons for hope.
Zach Wilson has had a very difficult rookie season, but has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks. The success of the rebuild really hinges on his ability to develop into the franchise QB they believe he is capable of becoming, and we should not give up hope of that happening just yet.
Elsewhere, in the last two drafts, GM Joe Douglas has added: Alijah Vera-Tucker (starting LG), Elijah Moore (starting WR), Michael Carter (starting RB), Michael Carter II and Brandin Echols (2 good young CBs), Mekhi Becton (starting LT when healthy), Bryce Hall (starting CB), Ashtyn Davis (improving young safety), and Bryce Huff (a UDFA who is a good rotational edge rusher). That is a very solid return and the majority of the foundation on which they are rebuilding when you include Wilson.
With their picks in this upcoming offseason, Douglas has the ability to add to that foundation and continue building out the core of the team. Where they really need to improve is free agency, where they’ve spent loads of money over the past decade with little to show for it. With the 9th most cap space this offseason, they can spend yet again, but desperately need to make good deals and bring in quality players. Their improvement will be the most gradual on this list, but patience should hopefully pay off for Jets fans.
2022 Cap Space: $49.9 (10th)
2022 Draft Capital: 1 R1, 2 R2, 2 R3, 1 R4, 2 R5, 1 R6, 2 R7 (8th in Tankathon.com Draft Value Rankings)
2021 Record: 7-7
The QB situation needs to be addressed, but if they can acquire Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, they will immediately become the top choice here. The Broncos play high-level defense, although they will lose some key players who need to either be re-signed or replaced. They also have a great young RB, three good WRs, two solid TEs, and an above average OL. There is reason for optimism, but this team needs to figure out the QB position.