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Fans don't like the dreaded R-word, but rebuilding is a way of life in the NFL.

Rebuilding projects aren't always easy. Some teams go for the quick fix and others take a long-range view. There isn't an exact blueprint, but there are some things that must be done to achieve success.

"You need patience by ownership and stability with the coaching staff," said Charley Casserly, a former long-time NFL executive and current league insider on CBS Sports' NFL pregame show. "You also need to draft and develop players and you need to sign the good ones. You can't let good people get away."

And you've got to find a good quarterback, according to former NFL coach and Monday Night Football commentator Jon Gruden.

"If you don't have a quarterback, get rid of him and get another one," he said. "I think the teams that are consistently winning get quality play from the quarterback. I don't know how many games the Colts would win if they didn't have Peyton Manning. I don't know how many games the Saints would win if they didn't have Drew Brees. You need to get a quarterback that can deliver for you and ignite your franchise and make plays."

Here is a closer look at some successful rebuilding efforts over the past 10 years:

>New England Patriots

2000 (5-11), 2001 (11-5)

How they did it: Owner Robert Kraft had to give up three draft picks, including a first-rounder, to hire Bill Belichick in 2000, but he proved to be well worth it. Belichick believed it was more about the "team" than one individual. While he had some stars in Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and Richard Seymour, Belichick added 20 bargain-basement free agents in his first two years. All of them had the smarts, blue-collar toughness and versatility he desired. Among them were Bills castoff Antowain Smith, who ran for more than 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Patriots in '01, and former Pittsburgh linebacker Mike Vrabel, who embodied Belichick's preference for versatile players.

But the biggest key to the Patriots' 2001 season was the emergence of quarterback Tom Brady. The 2000 sixth-round draft pick replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe in the '01 opener, and went on to lead New England to three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span.

"The development of Tom Brady was crucial," Casserly said. "Once they saw that Brady had the potential, they chose to go with him over Bledsoe, which was a big decision at the time. They made a number of good personnel decisions both in the draft and with veteran free agents. But the bottom line was Brady coming along. That was the key."

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>New Orleans Saints

2005 (3-13), 2009 (13-3)

How they did it: The Saints rise to reigning Super Bowl champs is the result of a wonderful collaboration between GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton, who took the team to its first NFC title game in 2006.

In their first four offseasons together, Loomis and Payton replaced 49 of the 53 players from the '05 debacle with smart drafting (Pro Bowl receiver Marques Colston was a seventh-rounder in the same 2006 draft in which running back Reggie Bush arrived as the third overall pick) and mixing in free-agent bargains with some big-ticket acquisitions. The Saints had 17 players on last year's roster who weren't drafted, including running back Pierre Thomas and former Bills cornerback Jabari Greer.

"The coach and general manager have to be in synch," Casserly said. "Clearly they all have to be working together to get this done."

Loomis and Payton weren't afraid to take chances, like signing Brees in 2006 despite a major right shoulder injury in the '05 finale with San Diego. Miami didn't pass him on the medical exam and Brees ended up in New Orleans. Four record-setting seasons and one Super Bowl MVP later, he's one of the NFL's elite players.

The Saints also picked free safety Darren Sharper off the scrap heap. All he did was become an All-Pro by tying for the league lead with nine interceptions (three returned for touchdowns) and setting an NFL record with 376 return yards.

"I think there's definitely an element of luck involved in most rebuilding situations," Casserly said. "If you can find good free agents and guys in late rounds or college free agents that develop and work out for you, that can accelerate the process."

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>Miami Dolphins

2007 (1-15), 2008 (11-5)

How they did it: First, owner Wayne Huizenga hired former Super Bowl champion coach Bill Parcells to be the Dolphins' executive vice president of football operations. In addition to hiring GM Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano, Parcells shook up the roster by purging some veterans, such as Jason Taylor.

Parcells got left tackle Jake Long with the No. 1 overall pick and his best free agent move was signing quarterback Chad Pennington, who was released by the Jets after they acquired Brett Favre. Pennington finished second to Manning in the NFL MVP voting while leading Miami to the AFC East title.

"Having people who know how to make good decisions is paramount for any franchise," Casserly said. "You can't win without that."

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>Carolina Panthers

2001 (1-15), 2003 (11-5)

How they did it: Head coach John Fox didn't overhaul the roster as 16 players from the 15-loss team started in the Super Bowl. What he did change was the mentality of the organization, which lacked discipline and toughness. He also added talent such as defensive end Julius Peppers in the first round of the '02 draft.

The next year Fox signed free agent running back Stephen Davis, who gave them a 1,444-yard, Pro Bowl season, and quarterback Jake Delhomme, a former Saints third-stringer who blossomed into a quality starter for a Panthers team that went 11-5 en route to the Super Bowl, where they lost to New England on a last-second field goal.

"I know they picked up Jake Delhomme and got Stephen Davis, who was a strong runner," said Casserly, who drafted Davis in 1996 when he was Washington's general manager. "They had talent on that team."

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>Atlanta Falcons

2007 (4-12), 2008 (11-5)

How they did it: Hoping to recover from quarterback Michael Vick's arrest and prison sentence for his involvement in a dogfighting operation, owner Arthur Blank made two important hires in GM Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith.

Dimitroff, the former Patriots scouting chief, nailed free agent signings like running back Michael Turner, who ran for 1,699 yards and 17 TDs to earn All-Pro honors. Dimitroff's first draft landed three picks (QB Matt Ryan, LT Sam Baker and MLB Curtis Lofton) who were immediate starters and six of the first eight selections became key contributors. Smith proved to be the right man to lead this young team, winning the NFL's Coach of the Year award. Ryan, taken third overall in the '08 draft, was the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

"I think Matt Ryan can be a very good quarterback," Casserly said. "He's a smart guy, he makes good decisions and I think he's got excellent leadership abilities. I'm not sure I'm ready to say he can be an upper-echelon guy, but he's already proven he's a playoff quarterback and will continue to grow and get better."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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New England

2000: 5-11

Coach: Bill Belichick

Keymoves: TomBrady, Antowain Smith, Mike Vrabel

Result: 2001: 11-5

Won Super Bowl XXXVI

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New Orleans

2005: 3-13

Coach: Sean Payton

Keymoves: Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Darren Sharper

Result: 2009: 13-3

Won Super Bowl XLVI

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Miami

2007: 1-15

Coach: Tony Sparano

Keymoves: Bill Parcells, Jake Long. Chad Pennington

Result: 2008: 11-5

AFC East title

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Carolina

2001: 1-15

Coach: John Fox

Key moves: Julius Peppers, Stephen Davis, Jake Delhomme

Result: 2003: 11-5

Lost Super Bowl XXXVIII

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Atlanta

2007: 4-12

Coach: Mike Smith

Keymoves: Michael Turner, Matt Ryan, Sam Baker, Curtis Lofton

Result: 2008: 11-5

Playoff berth