Every team strives to get better each off-season, but with salary cap trouble and free agents choosing to play elsewhere not every team can achieve that. However, there are no guarantees in football as you never know which draft picks will shine early on or how the in-house development of young players will shake out. Based on their off-season losses, here are five teams that are trending downward from last season.
4. Carolina Panthers – Yes, this has everything to do with losing their wide receiving corps and replacing them with the likes of Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Tiquan Underwood, and Kelvin Benjamin. The Panthers lost WR’s Steve Smith (BAL), Brandon Lafell (NE), and Ted Ginn (ARZ) while replacing them with a vast array of third and fourth string wide receivers. Kelvin Benjamin is a rookie from Florida State and while he does have great size at 6’5 240 lbs., he’ll need to improve his route running coming in and out of breaks. Two key additions to the squad are at safety when the Panthers signed Roman Harper (NO) and Thomas DeCoud (ATL), but the wide receiving corps will hold them back from improving in the 2014 season.
3. Tennessee Titans – The Titans lost RB CJ2K (NYJ) and CB Alterraun Verner (TB) which are both big losses for a team that can’t afford to be losing talent. The Titans drafted Washington RB Bishop Sankey who will come in and make plays, but the question is still out on if he can come in right away and pick up where Chris Johnson left off. Michigan OT Taylor Lewan was also drafted this year which should really make Tennessee’s offensive line one of the best in football. The Titans may be able to reach the production they lost with CJ2K since they do look to have a great offensive line and adding a versatile speedster in Dexter McCluster (KC). The Titans are trying to replace their best corner from last season, Alterraun Verner, with Blidi Wreh-Wilson whom they drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft. It will be hard for Wreh-Wilson to give you the same production that Verner did and with the uncertainty in the running game, the Titans may take a small step back this season. QB Jake Locker and WR Justin Hunter need to develop into consistent starters for the Titans to avoid a slump in 2014.
2. Arizona Cardinals – The second year of Head Coach Bruce Arians and QB Carson Palmer should mean that they will only get better, but you can’t lose two of the best inside linebackers in the game today and think everything will be sunshine and roses. The Cardinals lost LB Karlos Dansby (CLE) in free agency and LB Daryl Washington to a year suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. They plan to replace that production with 2013 NFL draft pick Kevin Minter and 13 year veteran Larry Foote. Here is a look at the production the Cardinals are losing in the heart of their defense: 2013 (started 16 games) Karlos Dansby 122 tackles 6.5 sacks 4 interceptions 2 TD’s 2013 (started 12 games) Daryl Washington 75 tackles 3 sacks 2 interceptions The additon of CB Antonio Cromartie (NYJ) and pairing him with CB Patrick Peterson will be one of the best tandems in the NFL, but if you’re weak up the middle of your defense then those great corners don’t mean as much. Even if the rest of the Arizona Cardinals improve it will be hard to match their 10-6 record from a year ago in the toughest division in football, the NFC West.
1. Kansas City Chiefs – The Kansas City Chiefs lost three pro bowl players from a season ago in LT Branden Albert (MIA), CB Brandon Flowers (SD), and WR Dexter McCluster (TEN). Another key loss for Kansas City was losing RG Jon Asamoah (ATL) as they try to replace him with unproven talent such as Jeff Linkenbach (IND), rookie Zach Fulton, and Rishaw Johnson. The Chiefs needed salary cap relief with the contracts of QB Alex Smith and LB Justin Houston coming up so Brandon Flowers ended up being a cap casualty. LT Branden Albert also needed a new contract, but the Chiefs drafted his replacement in 2013 when they selected Eric Fisher number one overall. In the fourth round of this years draft the Chiefs addressed the need to replace Dexter McCluster when they selected Oregon RB De’Anthony Thomas. The Chiefs can’t expect the same production from these replacements as they step in for pro bowl players which is one reason why they look to take a step back this season. The Chiefs are also facing a much tougher schedule as they go up against the NFC West which they could easily find themselves 0-4 against. They did not address the WR position this off-season and the offensive line is worrisome with two new unproven starters and a second year player in Eric Fisher once again moving sides. CB Marcus Cooper got torched in the second half of the season and was replaced at the end of the year, but the Chiefs are counting on him to make strides and become a consistent starter. The Chiefs quite simply lost too much and face too hard of a schedule to even come close to their 2013 11-5 record.