The Lofton Files: So what happens now?

01/07/2014

The Lofton Files“So what happens now?” That famous lyric comes from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita – the play that debuted on Broadway in 1979 or the 1996 film starring Madonna. Colonel Perón has taken on Evita as his new lover and as Evita is entering the other nameless girl is exiting. “Another suitcase in another hall, take your picture off another wall, you’ll get by, you always have before” sings the exiting almost-queen.

So how about your team? What happens now? Those blank stares, lost expressions. All four Wild Card losers had entered the playoffs with dreams of a Super Bowl appearance. Now they’ll have to ask themselves that question as they watch and think about what could have been. Playoff exits are never planned or expected. You don’t go into the dance thinking, “Well, it’s nice to be here and a game or two will be just fine.”

On the Monday after a playoff defeat, the players meet one last time for the 2013 season. On the agenda: exit physicals and one-on-one meetings with the head coach, their position coach and coordinator and maybe even the general manager. Usually the senior veterans go first and the rookies are last, which makes it a 10-hour day for the young guys. Off-season programs will be outlined. Surgeries and rehab schedules will be put on the calendar. Some players will box up their belongings and clear out their lockers on the advice of an agent with free agency looming. Others will sit on that practice stool for a couple extra minutes just savoring the moment. For about 15 to 25 percent of the players, this past weekend will have been their last NFL game. That’s just the way the league turns over every year. A small handful will call it quits on their own, but that’s a very small minority. The stakes are too large to leave a couple of million dollars on the table when you think you still have something left. It’s hard to believe when you walk by the mirror at age 32 you could be considered ancient. Father time has a way of catching up with every player. Everyone who plays becomes an ex-player!

So what happens now? Your team, what does it need? A coverage corner, another running back, a #2 receiver, a pass rush specialist? If you made it to the playoffs, you’re a pretty solid team. Although the Vikings, Redskins, Texans and Falcons are all just a year removed from a postseason appearance and they’re all starting a new chapter with new coaches, new attitude, new cultures in the building and, soon enough, a boatload of new players in the building.

I can’t tell you exactly what changes Chip Kelly has in store for the Eagles. This used to be the time of year when the new recruits would visit campus. Kelly never had to worry too much about defense while with the Ducks. Maybe he tinkers with the defense a bit in efforts to stay ahead of Dallas, Washington and the New York Football Giants.

Andy Reid almost went from worst (2-14) to first. Along the way the Chiefs flirted with perfection. GM John Dorsey was new from Green Bay and it will be interesting to see how Reid and Dorsey work to improve a talented roster with eight 2013 Pro Bowlers. The offense peaked at 38-10 in their playoff collapse against Andrew Luck and the Colts. During the Chiefs 9-0 start the offense wasn’t always pretty and revolved around one man – running back Jamaal Charles. When your team is good you can draft more for the future than the present. In the pass-happy AFC West, you can never have enough good corners.

With success money and cap space become pressing issues. For the Cincinnati Bengals they don’t have to answer the question tomorrow, but in two years when his deal is up, they’ll have to decide if Andy Dalton is a $150 million quarterback. That’ll be the going rate if he continues to play well enough in the regular season to guide his team to the postseason. But with three bad playoff outings on his resume, the Bengals will now have to wait until next year’s playoffs to see if Dalton can get those monkeys off his back.

The Green Bay Packers found a running back in Eddie Lacy and the have the quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. The offensive line was plagued with injuries and the defensive line could use some new blood. The Packers don’t have to rebuild as much as just refuel.

There was no fat lady in Evita, but for these four teams (and the 20 that didn’t even get invited to the dance in the first place), she’s belting out quite a tune.

– James Lofton

Pro Football Hall of Famer James Lofton is the analyst for WestwoodOne’s coverage of Sunday Night Football.

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