Rebuilding - When to Say When and How to Do It

No fan base wants to see your team go through it, but it happens to everyone sooner or later. It’s the dreaded rebuild. Even the mighty New England Patriots have now entered into rebuilding mode. It’s never easy to accept that your organization needs a full overhaul, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. The big issue that most teams have, is knowing when to say when. You often see organizations delay the inevitable, and that can set an franchise back several years.

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As a fan of an organization that has been rebuilding for 64 years now (the Lions), I feel like I can provide some insight as to what goes into a rebuild and how to go about it in a successful manner. I will lay out some decisions and circumstances that I believe will accelerate the rebuild of your team. Now given, it is often much easier to be an arm chair quarterback and say what a team should do from a far, than it is to be in the trenches. Having said that, I feel like there are several areas where teams go awry.

The most important step of deciding when to rebuild is knowing when to let go of aging stars with large contracts. No one is better at this than the Patriots, who often release or trade a player a year or two before their decline begins. The Patriots have a track record of this that is impossible for other teams to live up to.

You see this issue pop up so often around the NFL. The aging star has given the organization everything he’s had for 10 plus years. He wants to ride it out with the team, but his salary makes it difficult to fill the rest of the team with impact players. Nobody wants to release, trade or not re-sign a guy who has given so much to the organization, but failing to do so can set a team back four or five years.

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The Lions and Texans are two teams who are currently entering a rebuild and they both have had decisions to make regarding the long time faces of their franchises. Luckily for their two organizations, which both have a track record of being poorly managed, the stars came to management and asked to be traded or released. Matthew Stafford was traded for a package that included two first round picks as well as a young quarterback who lead his team to the NFC title just a few short years ago. The Texans decided to grant JJ Watt his release, which now allows him to sign with any team he would like to. Even by trading and releasing these two guys, both organizations put them in favorable situations. Stafford is going to a team that will be a contender in the NFC, while Watt gets to choose his next team after being granted his release. This is two organizations that are doing right by their guys, while setting up their team for a better future.

The second piece of the rebuild is deciding on the right people to lead it. The only way a rebuild is ever successful is when you have a solid Front Office and General Manager leading the way. Rebuilding can be an extremely difficult and tedious process. It takes patience, which is where some organizations get off track. Teams often feel pressure from the owners, city and fan base to make a quick turn around but this isn’t always possible. Very few teams are in a situation like Jacksonville where they are equipped with the first overall selection in the 2021 draft, while also holding $100 million in cap space. Those are pretty much the most ideal circumstances you can have while entering a rebuild but it rarely works out in such a way. Instead, you need a plan. Where are your teams greatest needs? What type of system are you going to run and who is going to lead your team in that direction? The teams that are most successful have the answers to these questions.