NFL Teams in the Best Position to Win the 2021 Offseason
The NFL offseason is a groundswell of optimism for fanbases because of the number of resources available.
But some teams are entering the 2021 offseason richer than others.
While some like the New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers have negative ledgers with no easy way to create cap space, others have plenty of money to work with, per Spotrac. In some instances, teams also possess premium draft assets, setting them up for a windfall.
Winning the offseason doesn't always translate to immediate marks in the win column because franchises still have to be smart with their assets, but acquiring certain resources can paint a positive outlook.
The Cincinnati Bengals annually land on lists like this, though the franchise is not known to flex its resources.
That changed during the 2020 offseason.
Letting Zac Taylor build the roster going into his second year as head coach, the Bengals emerged as one of free agency's biggest spenders.
They made D.J. Reader the NFL's highest-paid nose tackle at four years and $53 million. They gave a three-year, $42 million deal to cornerback Trae Waynes. Safety Vonn Bell got $18 million over three years. They also extended running back Joe Mixon (four years, $48 million) and franchise-tagged wideout A.J. Green ($18.2 million).
It feels like the team could be willing to spend again this offseason. Cincinnati is sticking with Taylor despite his 6-25-1 record over two seasons, and it owns the fifth pick in the 2021 draft. It also has the fifth-highest projected cap number at $34.3 million and will likely make cap-saving cuts, including Geno Atkins.
The Bengals have the resources to overhaul the offensive line in front of Joe Burrow and improve its 26th-ranked defense, especially after last offseason signaled to free agents they are willing to play ball on the open market like a modern franchise.
The Indianapolis Colts are another team that could win the 2021 offseason because of their history of being savvy with cap space.
This year, the Colts have a projected $68.9 million in cap space, the third-highest number this offseason. That's not bad for a team that just made a playoff appearance after an 11-win season and lost to a 13-3 Buffalo Bills team by only three points on the road.
But the big question is at quarterback. Should 39-year-old veteran Philip Rivers return in the range of another one-year, $25 million deal? Or should the Colts move on even if he doesn't choose to retire? They do have the 21st pick to work with if they go a different route.
Rivers' arrival last year made the team into a viable destination for veteran free agents who wanted to go to a contender, and the front office also did a good job managing its draft assets, including the selection of running back Jonathan Taylor in the second round. The budding core and willingness to spend will keep the Colts as an attractive destination even if Rivers doesn't return.
There's no reason to believe the Colts, who also fielded a top-10 defense in 2020, will not be able to capitalize on their resources.
The Jacksonville Jaguars boast the first pick in the 2021 NFL draft, with the team seemingly poised to land a generational talent in Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
But the good news hardly stops there. The Jaguars also own the Los Angeles Rams' first-round via the Jalen Ramsey trade and have 11 selections, with four in the top 45.
Additionally, they boast the top projected cap number in 2021 at $77.4 million, meaning the front office could its pick of any name on the open market provided the player buys in to the rebuild.
Granted, the team still needs to assemble a coaching staff following the firing of Doug Marrone. But there is a bounty of assets, and if utilized well, there could be a quick turnaround for Jacksonville in the AFC South.
The Miami Dolphins are by far the most intriguing team on this list.
Miami went 5-11 in 2019 after blowing up its roster and bringing on Brian Flores to direct the rebuild as head coach. The team went 10-6 this season, finishing second in the AFC East, yet still possesses the assets of a rebuilder that one would expect to be well below the .500 mark.
The Dolphins' $25.5 million in projected cap space is a top-10 number. The team also owns the third pick in the upcoming draft, courtesy of the Laremy Tunsil trade with the Houston Texans. Miami also has the 18th pick, two second-rounders and a third-rounder, with four selections in the top 50.
Players on the open market surely see what's happening under Flores and view Miami as an attractive destination. On Sunday, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is unhappy with his current franchise would consider waiving his no-trade clause to go to Miami.
That seems unlikely to come to fruition, but that may be an indication the Dolphins could be successful in free agency given the caliber of player Watson is.
With a strong quarterback situation thanks to Tua Tagovailoa, the team could take the next step forward at an accelerated pace.
New York Jets
The New York Jets ended the error-filled Adam Gase era by blundering away the draft's top selection via two wins after a 0-13 start.
Still, nobody can blame Jets fans for turning to the positive for now. The team is searching for a new coaching staff, and it has the second overall pick in 2021, 10 total selections and the second-highest projected cap mark at $62.9 million. That coaching staff could be defensive-minded and feature someone like Robert Saleh, according to ProFootballTalk's Chris Simms, which would surely help a bottom-10 unit.
What's encouraging is the wealth of options. New York could give 2018 first-rounder Sam Darnold another chance, meaning the team would still have one of the most valuable things in the NFL: a potential franchise passer on a cheap rookie deal.
If that happens, the Jets could trade down from No. 2 and acquire a treasure trove of future draft capital. If not, they could draft another possible franchise passer and deal Darnold while shoring up other needs on the open market.
The Jets are a bit of a wild card given the flexibility their stockpile of resources offers. Now they need to make sure they don't stumble like they did when it seemed they had the first pick cemented.