With the NFL free agency settling down and the NFL draft nearing, teams are starting to get a feel for what their personnel may look like going into 2014. As always some teams come into the season with a more stable situation. There are some franchises in particular that have uprooted the core parts of their team and are facing major changes, which will require significant adjustments. But the parity in the league in the last couple decades is something that can give hope to an ailing squad. Stars sometimes align very quickly. Look at the 2006 Saints who rebounded from the 3-13 Katrina season to make the NFC Championship game the following season by adding Sean Payton and Drew Brees. Or the 2012 Colts who drafted Andrew Luck first overall and immediately went from 2-14 to 11-5 just like that. That Colts team was reminiscent of the 1999 Colts, by the way, who went from 3-13 to 13-3 in just one season with Peyton Manning. But while these success stories happened much faster than anyone could have dreamed, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t significant adjustments to go through. And for every Cinderella story like that, there are an infinite number more of squads that have needed time to gel under a new regime. Here are five teams that will be looking at significant change in 2014:
5. Tennessee Titans: Mike Munchak was let go after three seasons as the head coach and the Titans have since hired Ken Whisenhunt. That should be exciting news for Jake Locker and the Titan fan base as many feel the team was handcuffed by Munchak’s supposed predictable and unimaginative offense. Munchak as a former offensive lineman has much more of a “throwback” style than Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt is a great offensive mind that will work very creative plays into the offense. He’ll have to do that without Chris Johnson, though, who recently signed with the Jets after being let go. The Titans’ offense has relied with fading success too heavily on Johnson, but while a more explosive playbook and a change of the guard will be exciting, it also may take time for Locker to accustom himself to a new scheme. Adding playmakers around him with be of primary importance, too, and it’s not obvious that’s be done well enough yet to make Whisenhunt an immediate success.
4. Washington Redskins: Gone is Mike Shanahan’s revolutionary zone run blocking schemes and arrived is Jay Gruden’s passing attack. Gruden is a former quarterback that will rely much more heavily on Robert Griffin III’s arm than Shanahan did. The change had to be made, of course, because the relationship between RG3 and Shanahan had completely dissolved. Truth be told, Shanahan never wanted the superstar as his quarterback. Gruden does, but this will put more pressure on RG3 to make plays in the passing game. Gruden, on the other hand, will commit to RG3 unilaterally and try to develop with DeSean Jackson the tandem he had in Cincinnati with Andy Dalton and A. J. Green. Cincinnati’s offense was best in the NFL in number of times the quarterback was hit last season (just 47), which demands precision passing and a quick release. This will force RG3 to make quicker decisions and get the ball out of his hands as oppose to making plays with his feet. That is better long term for his health but may affect his performance as he adjusts to a different style of offense. The good news is Jim Haslett is staying so the defensive side of the ball will undergo little change. But the most significant adjustment will be for the offensive line and backs as pass protection will become the emphasis.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Everyone assumes Lovie Smith is a massive upgrade over Greg Schiano that will immediately transform the Bucs’ fortunes. And there’s a lot of merit to that line of thinking. Smith is inheriting a defense that was already solid a year ago and he’ll be able to implement his Tampa 2 discipleship with ease and have success on that side of the ball. But offense has always been Smith’s Achilles heel in Chicago. While he’s very respected around the league, what ran him out of town was inconsistent quarterback play by Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton which prevented the Bears from reaching their full potential. This Bucs team, though less talented currently, has a bit of the same feel as those Bears teams. The talent is on defense, and the offense is struggling mightily. It remains to be seen if brand new quarterback Josh McCown can tap into the magic he had last year as the Bucs’ 2014 starter. He’s in a new environment as “the man” now, and he’ll have to learn a new scheme. Gone is Darrelle Revis, too, which is a blow to the team. Lastly, while Smith is generally very well liked and respected, he’s a bit of a control freak. That attribute is what soured so many on Schiano and ultimately got him run out of town. If the players didn’t respond well to his attention to detail, they better be ready for more of it with Smith. From style perspective, it’s not as big of a contrast as some might think with Smith replacing Schiano, and the big question remains if they have enough talent on offense to win games. Smith’s offenses have generally been disappointing, so it remains to be seen if they can turn that around.
2. Detroit Lions: The big change here was Jim Caldwell replacing Jim Schwartz. Based on the success Caldwell has had developing Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco, many feel he’s a great fit to pair with emerging star Matt Stafford. Perhaps all Stafford needs to get to the next level is the guidance of Caldwell. But while many will blast Schwartz for having little control of his team and the Lions playing with a total lack of discipline under him, there is no question the Lions played with a physical edge under him. Caldwell is more of a disciplinarian and it’s fair to assume we’ll see less off the field antics and penalties with him at the helm. But will the Lions be able to play with the same physicality? There’s a pretty stark difference in approach between the two and it will be a real wake up call for a lot of the holdover players.
1. Houston Texans: While Bill O’Brien did an incredible job dealing with the disaster clean up situation at Penn State, this will be his first NFL job. Gone is Matt Schaub and no one is sure who the starting quarterback will be. The Texans have the first overall pick, but it remains to be seen if they’ll take a quarterback. Most think they will not. If the Texans go into 2014 with Case Keenum and Ryan Fitzpatrick as their main passers, it’s hard to envision them being a juggernaut right away and this transition could be a two to three year plan.