Not all losing teams are created equal. Some NFL franchises are in a downward spiral and may take years to recover, with no foreseeable path to making the playoffs anytime soon. Some franchises, meanwhile, can see the light. These teams may be in the midst of a tough 2020 season, but fans have a lot to be excited about when it comes to the state of their beloved football team. Many factors go into analyzing a teams’ future, include young talent, cap space, coaching situation and draft capital.
So which struggling teams have the brightest future? For the sake of this argument, we’ll keep the San Francisco 49ers (5-6) out of it; the 49ers have a very talented young roster coming off a Super Bowl. Their season has been completely upended by injuries and they should be back competing for a Super Bowl next year.
Aside from San Francisco, these are the five losing teams with the brightest futures:
1. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are the one team on this list with their quarterback situation already figured out and this plays a significant role to the Chargers being number one on this list. Rookie first-round pick Justin Herbert has absolutely taken the NFL by storm this year and is having one of the best rookie seasons ever for a quarterback. He has shown skill and poise beyond his years and is looking like he will be one of the better quarterbacks in the league for a long time. On the other side of the ball, Joey Bosa and Derwin James are two of the best young defensive players in the league and could form the foundation of a feared defense. If the Chargers want to add to this core on defense, they have plenty of ways to do so. They currently have the ninth-most cap space available for 2021 with more than $33 million, and have a good shot at a top five pick in the 2021 draft. Having a high draft pick with their franchise quarterback already in tow gives the Chargers a lot of flexibility with what they need to address. The Chargers have the sixth-youngest roster in the NFL. One thing they might need to address is the head coaching position. Anthony Lynn, in his fourth season at the helm, is on the hot seat. Nine of the Chargers’ 12 games have been one-score affairs, with the Chargers on the losing end on seven of those occasions. With a roster loaded with promise, finding a way to win those close games is the key.
2. Washington Football Team
The hirings of Jason Wright and Ron Rivera have seemingly done wonders to the culture surrounding the Washington Football Team. Even with a 4-7 record, the Football Team has surprised a lot of people with their competitive play and actually have a shot at winning the NFC East. Their success this year can largely be attributed to the play of the defense, which is stacked with young talent including 2020 No. 2 overall pick Chase Young. The Football Team is also in a good financial position with the fifth-most salary cap space available for 2021, more than $50 million, and the ninth-youngest team in the NFL. The Football Team has young building blocks, the coach and the cap space it needs to be competitive in the NFC East for years to come. It seems the piece they may be missing (in addition to a new franchise name) is a franchise quarterback. Rivera made it clear that Dwayne Haskins isn’t the starter of the future, and it is unlikely that Alex Smith is the long-term answer, so the Football Team needs to find a quarterback either through free agency or the draft. Whoever steps in will have young stars like Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin at his disposal. Whether or not the Football Team wins the NFC East this season, Washington fans have a lot to be excited about.
3. New York Jets
“The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” The Jets might not win a game in 2020, but fans have reason to be optimistic about the future. A couple facts:
● The Jets are the second-youngest team in the NFL with an average age of 25.54
● The Jets have the second-most cap space available for 2021 at just under $83 million
That winless record also plays a large role in the future of the organization. The Jets right now are the favorite to have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft. That likely means Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. Even if the Jets manage to win a game or two down the stretch, they’ll still be in line for Lawrence or Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Either way, the Jets are almost certain to draft their quarterback of the future. This quarterback will be protected by one of the largest men in the NFL, 2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton, who has shown great promise through his first season and can be a cornerstone of the Jets offense. The biggest question mark for the Jets is the head coaching situation. Adam Gase hasn’t seen any success developing current QB Sam Darnold. If they decide to make a change, the next head coach will play a huge role in the development of the next quarterback, and therefore the success of the franchise.
4. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers added two rising stars among coaches when they hired head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady this offseason and they could be a fun team to watch in the coming years. A promising young core composed of Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Derrick Brown and Jeremy Chinn could soon be atop the NFC South standings, especially with the advanced ages of the quarterbacks on the other teams in the division. The Buccaneers, Saints and Falcons very well could all be going through transition phases in the next couple of years and this presents an opportunity for the Panthers. With the 10th-youngest roster and $26 million in 2021 available cap space to work with, the Panthers have flexibility with how they want to build their roster moving forward. QB Teddy Bridgewater has two more years on his contract, but offensive guru Brady may be looking to draft a rookie quarterback that he can mold into a quality starter in the NFL. The NFC South may be the Brady and Brees show for a couple more years, but the Panthers are going to be ready to make some noise when that is over.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars’ situation is most similar to the situation of the Jets — the team is young, has a lot of cap space and the quarterback situation will almost certainly be addressed in the first couple picks of the 2021 draft. The Jaguars actually possess the youngest roster in the NFL at 25.24 years old and possess the most cap space for 2021 with $85 million to work with. The 1-11 Jaguars have a reasonable shot at the first overall pick and are comfortably in the second slot if that does not happen. As mentioned with the Jets, the two quarterbacks to likely be considered for Jacksonville will be Lawrence and Fields. Whoever it may be will enter a much better situation than the Jets’ pick, as the Jaguars have some young impact players on offense, including UDFA James Robinson, and WRs Lavishka Shenault and Collin Johnson. Although the defensive side of the ball has experienced a mass exodus of talent in the last couple years, the Jaguars still possess one of the best young linebackers in the league in Myles Jack and are hopeful that rookie first-round pick K’Lavon Chaisson develops into an impactful edge player. The Jaguars have not found much success in 2020, but four picks in the first two rounds of the 2021 draft, including a lock for a top 5 pick, along with the most cap space in the NFL, indicate brighter times may be ahead in Jacksonville.
Sources: spotrac.com, pro-football-reference.com