With one week in the books for the 2019 NFL season, there’s no reason to completely abandon hope for the remaining 15. Well, except perhaps one team. (Sorry, Miami Dolphins fans.)
But it’s always good to have the long game in mind. NFL teams are not just stuck in day-by-day and week-by-week mode, as there’s always a team-building element that stretches out months and years into the future.
With that in mind, let’s see which teams could be the most heavily armed when the offseason comes (before you know it). The NFL draft historically has been the best way to build an infrastructure, and there are a handful of needy teams who appear to be stocking up for 2020 and beyond.
Here are the five teams — plus a wild card sixth team — that are loaded with 2020 NFL draft capital as things stand now:
Yes, there’s a reason to be hopeful, even coming off a historic Week 1 home loss. The Dolphins currently own an incredible eight first- and second-round picks over the next two years and should be able to use that haul to land the future franchise quarterback of their choosing.
Some have suggested that the Dolphins might be playing the extra long game here and actually waiting for 2021 to do so, with Clemson’s true sophomore QB Trevor Lawrence being the type of prospect who is worth nuking two entire seasons for.
My gut feeling right now? I can’t see that.
Dolphins fans might buy into a one-year punt, but floundering for two years? Out of the hopes that they can get Lawrence and immediately contend? It doesn’t add up. They’ll make the big push for a QB next year — with Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert the targets as things stand.
Heck, the Dolphins might not even need to trade up for either one if they land one of the first two or three picks in the draft. But should they need to flex their draft-pick muscles, it shouldn’t be hard. That is, unless the team(s) picking ahead of them also are looking to draft quarterbacks.
The worst-case scenario here would be selecting third overall (or lower) and have multiple teams also interested in drafting a QB. That’s about the only way that the Dolphins won’t get one of their preferred targets at the position. That’s why you figure they have to do work on Plans C, D and E, which could be Georgia’s Jake Fromm, Utah State’s Jordan Love or — too soon? — LSU’s Joe Burrow, who is off to a blistering start for the Tigers.
The Laremy Tunsil trade netted them first-rounders in 2020 and 2021, plus a second-rounder in 2021. They also have the Saints’ second-rounder next year from a draft day trade in April and could end up netting extra third- and fifth-round compensatory picks (via Over The Cap) for losing Ja’Wuan James and Cameron Wake in free agency.
That’s a massive pile of assets. Will general manager Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores use them wisely? The next seven months’ worth of speculation will be fascinating.
The draft next April is in Las Vegas, and the (new) local team will be holding residency for three days. The Raiders’ draft runway show will include additional first- and third-round picks from the Chicago Bears, via the Khalil Mack trade (although Chicago owns the Raiders’ second- and fifth-round picks).
The team has used 18 draft picks the past two years (12 of them in Rounds 1-4) and appear to have built up its infrastructure.
Heck, the Raiders’ rookie 2019 class — they have 12 first-year players on the roster — had their fingerprints all over Monday’s impressive victory over the Denver Broncos, playing a combined 314 snaps in that game. (Only the recently re-acquired Keelan Doss was inactive among Oakland’s rookies vs. Denver.)
Will GM Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden be more aggressive with that pick ammo? They took a very safe, high-floor approach to the No. 4 overall pick this spring with Clelin Ferrell and now have seen some high-end talent walk out the door in Amari Cooper, Antonio Brown and Mack. The Raiders could use a few true difference makers and might target one or two of them in the draft — or trade picks for a veteran.
Another factor: How good is this team?
Either way, the Raiders might be compelled — especially coming to a new town — to go big in this coming draft as a way to sell tickets. The Raiders could end up with some real firepower based on how those two teams end up finishing in the standings. And if it’s another disappointing Raiders season, the pressure will crank up on Gruden and Mayock to hit big in some way.
The absolute worst-case scenario would be the Raiders (despite the 1-0 start) sinking to the bottom of the league and the Bears (despite the 0-1 start) winning the Super Bowl. That would mean the Raiders would pick 32nd overall and the Bears 33rd, so the Mack trade would look even worse in retrospect, essentially dealing him for only one first-round pick, not two.
Even with the Jadeveon Clowney trade, they’re in nice shape next year. They sent away a third-round pick to Houston in that deal but will land an extra second-rounder from the Chiefs via the Frank Clark trade. (That second-round pick will be the less favorable of the Chiefs’ two 2020 second-rounders, their own and the 49ers’ two, so it could come at the end of Round 2 if the Chiefs are as good as expected.)
Still, they also stand to add third-, fourth-, sixth- and seventh-round compensatory selections for letting Earl Thomas, Justin Coleman, Mike Davis and Shamar Stephen walk in free agency this year. The always-active Seahawks should be well-stocked in this coming draft, prepared to move up or down the board.
The trend under GM John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll has been to slide down in the draft and later maneuver up or down in the middle rounds. This coming draft-pick till affords them that freedom again.
Projecting their needs and potential targets is always a crapshoot. The Seahawks work off their own draft board, which often deviates from the collective league value of prospects, so it’s a mystery to consider how they might approach this year.
Our safest prediction: They’ll be busy again.
Don’t look now, but the Ravens have built a nice little nest egg for 2020.
They own all of their picks next year in Rounds 1-5; have extra fourth- and fifth-round picks via the Patriots and Vikings, respectively; and Baltimore is slated to earn third- and fourth-round compensatory picks. The Ravens will be shipping out their own sixth-rounder to New England and a seventh to Green Bay, but they’ve accumulated some nice assets here.
The Ravens have a bunch of 2020 free agents, although none terribly pressing to re-sign. Expect some roster overhaul and a bit of a youth movement, with Marshal Yanda a possible retirement candidate and Jimmy Smith a player they might be ready to move on from.
Still, bet on them being aggressive. That could include signing a few outside free agents and being ready to pounce up in the draft if the right opportunity to add a difference maker presents itself.
The Ravens are in that rookie-QB contract window with Lamar Jackson to load up at other positions, and Jackson is coming off a career-best performance in Week 1. It’s a great spot to be in if you’re GM Eric DeCosta, ready to load up for a Super Bowl run.
Yep, they’re in great shape in the draft again next year — a tradition unlike any other.
Even with fourth-, fifth- and multiple sixth-round picks going to other teams, the Patriots will get back a fourth-rounder from the Bears from the David Montgomery trade and stand to get two third-round compensatory picks for losing Trent Brown and Trey Flowers in free agency.
That could mean that New England will have five Day 1 and 2 selections next spring. So yes, the rich stay rich, even if the Patriots’ dominant Week 1 performance and recent history suggest they’ll be picking at the ends of rounds once again. That’s never stopped them in the past from working the system better than most teams.
Tom Brady’s future appears to be a year-to-year situation, and we don’t know for certain that Jarrett Stidham is his clear-cut replacement. They’ll also have decisions to make on Antonio Brown, Joe Thuney, Kyle Van Noy, Josh Gordon and Jamie Collins, so there are quite a few moving parts.
But if there ever is a team with plans upon contingency plans, it’s the Patriots. Bill Belichick has whiffed on some Day 2 picks in recent years, no doubt. But few people in league history have found ways to solve problems and find answers than Belichick, and he once again should be in great positioning to do so.
And a team that could crash this party …
They’re short a second-round pick in 2020, thanks to the Montez Sweat trade. It could be a tough blow for a team that landed at No. 31 in Frank Schwab’s Week 1 power rankings. (Geez, Frank, at least they looked semi-decent for the first 20 minutes!)
Losing that pick could sting if the Redskins struggle this season, giving the Indianapolis Colts a selection that might end up in the 30s. But if it means picking in the top 10 (or top five … or top two?), the Redskins should end up in good shape.
There's also the standoff with Trent Williams. The Redskins say they’re not trading him now, but their minds could change quickly if some OL-desperate team comes to them with a significant offer. That theoretically could make their 2020 pick pool grow.
Drafting Dwayne Haskins in Round 1 this year likely means that the Redskins also will be in good shape to offer their first-round selection to a QB-needy team, although making that assumption after the Arizona Cardinals dumped Josh Rosen under similar circumstances is a dangerous proposition.
And the by-product of finishing that low in the standings likely would cost head coach Jay Gruden his job, and it might even force team owner Daniel Snyder to reevaluate the structure of the front office despite his blind loyalty to Bruce Allen.
The ideal situation, should they lose this season, would be to see enough development from Haskins in Year 1 to feel good about him and then peddle the first-round pick to the highest bidder. That could offset the missing second-round pick, and they also are expected to gain an additional fourth-rounder via compensatory pick.
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