Note: This article originally appeared on our nationally-themed site, FranchiseTagged.com.
The 2021 NFL season commences in about 80 days, returning the league to normalcy after a topsy-turvy 2020 season maimed by a global pandemic. Most teams didn’t have fans in attendance, injuries were rampant, and everything just felt a little bit off.
Some tendencies remain the same, however. The teams heavily favored to witness February football — the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams, and Buffalo Bills — are in the driver’s seat for prolonged success. Other franchises, though, own highly pivotal stakes of 2021. This includes general management, head coaching, and rosters from top to bottom.
Here are the teams facing some semblance of wholesale teardown if 2021 goes pear-shaped.
Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden returned to the organization in January of 2018, and ever since, the output has been a humongous meh. Led by Derek Carr — who might be good or might not be good depending on the eye of the beholder — the Raiders feel a bit blasé. In no way, shape, or form are the Raiders bad, but they are mired in a rather difficult AFC West that hosts the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, and upstart Los Angeles Chargers.
General Manager Mike Mayock was paired with Gruden, forming a duo that was heralded based on name recognition. But the product amid the last three years is an underwhelming one. Since 2018, the Raiders showcase a 19-29 (.396) record — the 22nd-best mark in the business.
Gruden, Mayock, and Carr all may have questionable futures if Las Vegas’ record falls below 10-7 in 2021.
To be clear, this teardown will not include head coach Mike Tomlin. He’s safe. His track record is tremendous as one of the NFL’s most consistent coaches, who never allows the Steelers to completely tumble into irrelevance.
But the quarterback isn’t particularly safe. Although Ben Roethlisberger tossed 33 touchdowns to 10 interceptions during 2020, the general sentiment surrounding his talent is that of inevitable decline. Tom Brady redefined how long quarterbacks can play, yet he might just be the exception to the rule rather than the new normal.
If the Steelers don’t reach the postseason — or get wiped off the map again just like 2020 versus the Cleveland Browns — the organization will likely start over at QB1.
This is another one that includes accountability for the general manager, head coach, and quarterback. Most folks tend to believe that Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer, and Kirk Cousins are a package deal for job security.
Spielman’s resume is robust with successes — so is Zimmer’s from a win-loss perspective — but the trio faces a must-win season. This was whisked to the forefront when the team selected Kellen Mond in the 2021 NFL Draft. Should Cousins guide the team to another 7-9-like finish, well, the Mond Era will morph into an hourglass.
The Vikings actually have fantastic roster pieces in place. Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Adam Thielen, and Cameron Dantzler are upper-echelon dudes. But it all must mesh in 2021 — or Zimmer and Cousins will be promptly reevaluated.
New Orleans Saints
In the event the 2021 Saints encounter an 8-9 or worse win-loss, expect significant tweaks. This need not include Sean Payton, who has sired over a decade of prosperity, but the rest of the roster would be suspect. Sliding Jameis Winston the QB1 gig will have consequences. If he does not conduct an about-face from his wacky 2019 season, he’ll be relegated to QB2 somewhere not called New Orleans. Who knows, though? He could play wonderfully if Payton truly is a quarterbacking whisper.
The rest of the roster is decent, but it has been trimmed markedly due to cash restraints. A total reboot may be in order — that probably keeps Payton employed — if Winston isn’t the answer.
But, hey. They still have Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas for offensive weaponry.
This will be the head coach — if 2021 is nasty. However, the Cardinals should be set to make a progressive leap in 2021. Some thought that maturation would transpire in 2020, but all they got was this cool “I Was at the Hail Murray Game” shirt. When that noteworthy play generated national excitement, it would be the 2020 Cardinals magnum opus. Nothing good happened to Arizona after the 2020 win over the Buffalo Bills. Nothing at all.
Since then, J.J. Watt joined the franchise, Isaiah Simmons will be one year better, and perhaps the offensive line will finally improve.
Make no mistake, though. If the Cardinals do not reach the playoffs, head coach Kliff Kingsbury will be labeled as all-name with no sizzle while the front office hires a coach that expeditiously enables Kyler Murray to reach his apex.