Take care of the future and the future will take care of the present. It’s a philosophy I wholeheartedly embrace, especially as it pertains to football.
You take care of the future of your football team by providing for a continuously strong roster of young talent. By doing that, you never get old. It’s how you remain a playoff contender year in and year out. It’s how you avoid rebuilding.
There’s another aspect of providing for the future of a franchise: You must provide for its financial health and you do that by providing new ideas and ways for creating revenue. That usually requires having a large and loyal fan base and up-to-date facilities.
Let’s take a look at the futures of the NFL’s 32 franchises.
Bills—They once led the league in attendance, but the Buffalo market and its team have fallen on hard times. Can they get back to where they were? That’s a daunting question. The inevitability of new ownership is a main concern. This franchise needs a star player around whom it can rally.
Dolphins—The stadium is too big for a fickle fan base. The Dolphins need another Dan Marino, but those kinds of quarterbacks are tough to find.
Jets—Everything is in place for a run at the top. The Jets have a young, franchise quarterback and bulging revenue streams from the new stadium it shares with the Giants. This might be the new power team in the division, maybe in the conference.
Patriots—Top-notch organization that continues to provide for its future by wheeling and dealing for extra draft picks, but the Patriots need to start hitting on some of those extra picks. The drafts that built this team into a power have long since passed. The Pats may be at a bit of a crossroads in their future.
Bengals—They’ve got the stadium now; no more excuses. If Andy Dalton isn’t the face of the franchise’s future, well, then you know the rest.
Browns—Drafting has improved, but the Browns still need a quarterback. When they find their trigger man, this team could soar to the top. A big stadium and a loyal fan base await.
Ravens—A strong organization has built an impressive core of young players, though age is beginning to show in a few spots. A state-of-the-art facility, an intense fan base and a committed owner await the development of Joe Flacco into a star-quality quarterback.
Steelers—The future is protected by a legendary fan base and the torch has been passed in the Rooney family, which found a strong, young coach in Mike Tomlin. The Steelers need to address age on defense.
Colts—The most dominant regular-season franchise of the past decade could see itself lose the brains of its front office, Bill Polian, and its star quarterback, Peyton Manning, at the same time. That has to be a concern.
Jaguars—The future of professional football in Jacksonville is in the hands of Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars’ ability to sell tickets.
Texans—They’re poised to become the division’s new power team. Houston is the lone big-market team in a small-market division and they have advantages that’ll be difficult for the other three to overcome.
Titans—They’ve done a great job of filling that stadium. Bravo, Nashville. The Titans, however, are entering a new era in their history; new coach, new quarterback. This will be a white-knuckles time.
Broncos—John Elway and John Fox may have arrived just in time to save this franchise from mismanagement. Great stadium, great fan base; time to fix the roster.
Chargers—Overrated or unlucky? It better be unlucky because this franchise’s future in San Diego is in doubt and those doubts will grow if last season is an indication of what’s ahead.
Chiefs—Todd Haley has the Chiefs back in the postseason. Meanwhile, Arrowhead Stadium has undergone a handsome facelift. So why are the Chiefs experiencing attendance problems?
Raiders—I liked what I saw on the field last year, but the Raiders need a new home. The future will remain clouded until that happens.
Cowboys—As stadiums go, nobody has one to match the Cowboys’ and its revenue streams. As rosters go, the Cowboys have repair work ahead of them.
Eagles—Great stadium, solid ownership, devoted fan base and a philosophy of operation second to none. Hey, wasn’t last season supposed to be a rebuilding year?
Giants—They do it right and they ARE New York, and we all know what that means. Eli Manning has a ring but more is expected.
Redskins—I hated just about every move they made, until they hired Mike Shanahan. He’ll bring them back, but how far will he be allowed to bring them back?
Bears—Their draft intrigues me, and I couldn’t have said that for many of their drafts in recent years. The Bears have the market, the facilities and the pedigree to be monsters, again. They’ve got an issue at quarterback, but when haven’t they had an issue at quarterback?
Lions—It might finally be time in Detroit. The Lions have muscle up front and that’s how you build winners. Matt Stafford holds the key. The market has suffered through bad times, but Detroit has always been a great sports town and I have no doubt it’ll overcome its economic woes.
Packers—They’re the envy of the league, not only because they’re the reigning Super Bowl champions, but because they have the best young quarterback in the game, a young and talented roster, a powerhouse front office, the football equivalent of Fenway Park and a fan base that can support another stadium expansion. What’s not to like about the Packers’ future?
Vikings—Word is they’re close to getting a new stadium. Obviously, that’ll provide for the Vikings’ future. It’ll help them address what’s left of the Brad Childress era.
Bucs—They’re on the rise behind a great-looking, young quarterback. Oh, those drafts; they’re mouth-watering. So why were all of their games blacked out in a 10-6 season? Hey, bright futures aren’t built on empty seats.
Falcons—If they hadn’t made that risky draft-day trade, I’d be gushing about them. Good young quarterback; charismatic coach; high-profile owner; big market and a new stadium on the horizon. Look out, NFC. So, did they really have to trade all those picks for a wide receiver?
Panthers—The future is in Cam Newton’s hands. He’s got an awfully big stadium to fill.
Saints—I’ve decided the loss in Seattle was a fluke and I’ve decided they had another top draft. We’re talking about a team that found Jahri Evans, one of the most dominant run-blockers in the game today, at a small college in Pennsylvania. The Saints are doing right things and that’s how they’ve overcome the struggles of their market.
Cardinals—I really like their approach. They’ve drafted from the top of their board and even though they’ve been unable to address their need for a franchise quarterback, the discipline of their drafting will eventually show itself. When they find a quarterback, look out.
49ers—If Colin Kaepernick turns out to be the future at quarterback, then the 49ers need only settle their stadium issue. Jim Harbaugh is just what the doctor ordered.
Rams—Sam Bradford played better than his stats would indicate. He’s the future of a team that is getting better across the board under Steve Spagnuolo. Now, what about the franchise’s other issues? New ownership says it’s committed to St. Louis.
Seahawks—Stadium, ownership and the market are all positives. Pete Carroll is in another try on the NFL level. He’s got work to do.