The 1 Move Every NFL Team Needs to Avoid in 2021 Offseason

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2021

The 1 Move Every NFL Team Needs to Avoid in 2021 Offseason

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    Brett Duke/Associated Press

    The NFL offseason is always full of tough decisions that have significant consequences. Teams must navigate the trade and free-agent markets and the draft, and the moves they make—or don't make—have a lasting impact.

    Sometimes, a team gets the biggest payoff from a move it doesn't make. 

    According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers initially planned to bring back quarterback Jameis Winston last offseason. They instead decided to move on, gambled on Tom Brady and finished the season with a championship.

    While not every team has the potential to make a championship run in 2021, each has at least one move to avoid this offseason. Whether that involves letting a key player walk, overpaying in a trade or free agency, or overvaluing a draft prospect will depend on where the franchise sits between rebuilding and ring-chasing.

    Here, you'll find one move that each franchise should avoid this offseason, based on factors like cap space, player potential, past production and roster construction. 

Arizona Cardinals: Overpay to Keep Patrick Peterson

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Cornerback Patrick Peterson has been a defensive mainstay for the Arizona Cardinals for a decade, but he could depart in free agency this offseason. While the Cardinals might love to have him back for another season or three, they can't afford to overpay to keep him.

    While Peterson is still a starting-caliber cornerback, he isn't the elite shutdown defender he once was. He allowed an opposing quarterback rating of 98.2 this past season and 99.0 in 2019.

    The Cardinals are projected to have more than $19 million in available cap space, but they shouldn't throw gobs of money at a 30-year-old defender who's past his prime. Paying top-market price for Peterson would only make sense for a team that views itself as a piece or two away from a championship.

    While the Cardinals do appear to be on the rise—they narrowly missed the postseason in 2020—they aren't likely to be a title contender within the next year or two.

Atlanta Falcons: Trade Matt Ryan

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Will the Atlanta Falcons move on from quarterback Matt Ryan this offseason? It's possible.

    The Falcons could consider taking a quarterback with the fourth overall pick in the draft, and team president Rich McKay has left the door open for the front office to move both Ryan and wideout Julio Jones.

    "Give us a plan," McKay said, per Jeff Schultz and Tori McElhaney of The Athletic. "Show us what you want to do and show us why. Show us how this gets us to Ws and make sure you execute the plan."

    While the presence of wideout Calvin Ridley would make a Jones trade more palatable, Atlanta must keep Ryan on its roster for another year. Even if the Falcons draft a quarterback of the future at No. 4, there's no guarantee he'll be ready to start as a rookie.

    Moving on from Ryan would also be financially problematic, as he has nearly $50 million in dead money remaining on his contract. The Falcons need to hang onto Ryan at least until the 2022 offseason, when his dead-cap hit will drop to just over $26.5 million.

Baltimore Ravens: Overpay to Keep Matt Judon

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    Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

    Last offseason, the Baltimore Ravens used the franchise tag on edge-rusher Matt Judon. They didn't sign him to a long-term deal, though, which means he's again slated to hit the free-agent market.

    The Ravens should want to keep Judon, who had six sacks and 32 quarterback pressures in 2020, but they shouldn't pay top-market value to do so. The 28-year-old could easily cost $15 million per year considering he earned $16.8 million on the tag last season.

    The Ravens are projected to have more than $28 million in cap space, but they can't afford to spend over half of it on a defender who has never produced a double-digit-sack season. Baltimore has other key contributors headed to free agency, including center Matt Skura, running back Gus Edwards (restricted) and edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue.

    The Ravens also need to find a legitimate No. 1 receiver and extend quarterback Lamar Jackson at some point in the near future. Judon should only be back on a deal that provides Baltimore with financial flexibility.

Buffalo Bills: Let Josh Norman Walk

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    Cornerback Josh Norman wasn't a full-time starter for the Buffalo Bills in 2020, but he was a fantastic cover man when he was on the field.

    During his nine appearances (three starts), Norman produced 24 total tackles, four passes defended, a forced fumble, and an interception. He allowed an opposing quarterback rating of only 84.0, his lowest mark since Pro Football Reference began tracking it in 2018.

    The 33-year-old Norman should be a relatively budget-friendly option—he cost only $5.8 million in 2020—which could be huge for the Bills. Buffalo is currently projected to have around $4 million in cap space.

    Retaining Norman would help the Bills maintain their playoff-caliber defense while also helping them navigate a tricky cap situation. Letting him walk would create a hole in the secondary that might not be cheap to fill.

Carolina Panthers: Commit to Teddy Bridgewater as the Starting QB

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers tried to trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford earlier this offseason, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. While the Detroit Lions eventually traded Stafford to he Los Angeles Rams—leaving Teddy Bridgewater in Carolina—the Panthers shouldn't fully commit to Bridgewater as their quarterback.

    Bridgewater had a serviceable passer rating of 92.1 during his first season with the Panthers, but he was far from elite. Carolina should be actively searching for a long-term upgrade, even with $20 million in dead money remaining on Bridgewater's contract.

    Bridgewater's dead-cap number drops to only $5 million next year, which will make him a viable cap casualty. Carolina should approach this offseason as if Bridgewater won't be around past 2021.

    Treating Bridgewater as a surefire starter could create problems if several quarterback prospects are still on the board when Carolina selects eighth overall in the draft. The Panthers need to ensure that his presence doesn't cause them to overlook their quarterback of the future at that draft spot.

Chicago Bears: Overspend to Keep Mitchell Trubisky

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears won't select until the 20th pick in the draft, and they're projected to be over the salary cap. If they aren't keen on their quarterback options this offseason, they may consider bringing back Mitchell Trubisky for one last opportunity.

    However, Chicago must avoid viewing Trubisky as anything more than a last resort.

    The 2017 No. 2 overall pick has played the game-manager role well enough to get Chicago into the playoffs in two of the past three years. But he's done nothing to suggest that he can develop into an upper-echelon signal-caller.

    Even giving Trubisky low-end starter money could be a mistake. Chicago is already stuck with Nick Foles' $6.7 million cap hit and will need to clear room to navigate the draft and even consider bringing back quality free agents like Allen Robinson II and Cordarrelle Patterson.

    Giving Trubisky a deal in the $20-million-per-year range—roughly what Teddy Bridgewater got last offseason—would put the Bears in an even worse salary-cap situation.

Cincinnati Bengals: Draft a Receiver at No. 5

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals own the fifth pick in the draft and may be tempted to take one of the class' many talented receivers. Reuniting quarterback Joe Burrow with LSU wideout Ja'Marr Chase may be a particularly enticing option.

    However, the Bengals need to resist the urge to add another splashy pass-catcher to a receiving corps that already features Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. Instead, they need to bolster their offensive line.

    Burrow was sacked an alarming 32 times in 10 games before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Cincinnati's top priority moving forward needs to be keeping Burrow upright and healthy.

    While adding a receiver at No. 5 may help Burrow produce some impressive statistics in 2021, it would do nothing to keep him safe from opposing pass-rushers.

Cleveland Browns: Trade Odell Beckham Jr.

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Seeing as how the Cleveland Browns offense thrived without Odell Beckham Jr. for most of the 2020 season, it should come as no surprise that they're willing to listen to trade offers for him.

    According to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, the Browns won't "hang up the phone" if a team comes calling about the star wideout.

    But with Beckham coming off a torn ACL and having lackluster production in Cleveland, his trade value won't be what it once was. Cleveland would be far better off keeping him on the roster for another season.

    When healthy, Beckham possesses the sort of game-changing speed that Cleveland otherwise lacks at receiver. He's also only 28 years old and is set to carry a cap hit of $15.75 million in 2021, with nearly $12.8 million of it guaranteed or injury. As Garafolo pointed out, "right now, he's injured."

    That $12.8 million will become fully guaranteed on March 19 regardless of whether Beckham is injured.

    Beckham is still young and talented enough to turn things around in Cleveland. Given the modest cap savings the Browns could acquire in a trade, they would be better off holding onto the explosive wideout unless they're completely blown away by an offer.

Dallas Cowboys: Let Dak Prescott Reach Free Agency

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys used the franchise tag on two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott last offseason. While they're projected to have more than $25 million in cap space, using the tag on Prescott for a second consecutive season isn't a viable option.

    Doing so would cost Dallas 20 percent over Prescott's 2020 tag price, or roughly $37.7 million.

    Given Prescott's profile as a prolific passer, the Cowboys cannot afford to outbid other teams on the free-agent market, either. Twelve teams are currently projected to have more cap space than Dallas. Even if the Cowboys are able to generate more cap room, re-signing Prescott on the open market would be difficult.

    Therefore, the Cowboys must do everything they can to lock up Prescott before March 17. If he becomes a free agent, he's almost certainly going to leave.

Denver Broncos: Exercise Von Miller's Option and Keep Him

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Von Miller is an eight-time Pro Bowler and one of the faces of the Denver Broncos defense. However, he's also coming off a season lost to surgery and is facing potential league discipline.

    Miller is under criminal investigation in Colorado, according to Kieran Nicholson and Ryan O'Halloran of the Denver Post, although details haven't been released.

    The Broncos have a club option for Miller, but they shouldn't be eager to exercise it. Doing so would cost them more than $22 million, while releasing or trading him would save $18 million for 2021.

    It would make far more sense for the Broncos to release Miller, negotiate a new deal, or exercise the option and then trade him. However, exercising the option and keeping Miller shouldn't be on the table.

    Miller is entering the back end of his career, is coming off surgery and may be facing league discipline. In short, he isn't a risk worth taking at the cost of more than $22 million.

Detroit Lions: Re-Sign Everson Griffen

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions are kicking off yet another rebuild under new head coach Dan Campbell, new general manager Brad Holmes and new quarterback Jared Goff. They're also projected to be more than $1 million over the salary cap, which is why re-signing the 33-year-old Everson Griffen wouldn't make sense.

    The Lions acquired Griffen in a midseason trade with the Cowboys. He was serviceable in a rotational role in Detroit, finishing with 3.5 sacks and 13 tackles.

    However, Griffen doesn't project as a long-term building block for the new-look Lions. He isn't likely to come at a bargain-basement price, either.

    While Griffen is past his prime, he's still a four-time Pro Bowler who logged six total sacks and 33 total tackles in 2020. Unless he's willing to sign for the league minimum, Detroit would be wise to let him walk.

Green Bay Packers: Re-Sign Kevin King

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers are in a precarious salary-cap position. They're currently projected to be more than $13 million over the cap and will have to be careful when it comes to re-signing pending free agents.

    Cornerback Kevin King is one such free agent who Green Bay shouldn't consider retaining this offseason.

    King has been inconsistent as a cover man and borderline terrible in run support. He was credited with 26 missed tackles over the past two seasons.

    The 2017 second-round pick is only 25 years old, so he's likely to generate a fair bit of interest in free agency. It's unlikely that King would be willing to sign for the league minimum given his age and the value of starting-caliber cornerbacks, but that's the only kind of contract the Packers should consider offering to him.

Houston Texans: Trade Deshaun Watson

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    Associated Press

    Deshaun Watson no longer wants to play for the Houston Texans. While the three-time Pro Bowler probably has a preference about where he plays next, escaping from Houston appears to be his top priority.

    "He just wants out," a source close to Watson told Greg Bishop and Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated.

    However, it would be a mistake for Houston to trade Watson this offseason.

    The 25-year-old is one of only a handful of elite signal-callers, and no amount of draft capital could ensure that the Texans find another one. Also, Houston is under no obligation to fulfill Watson's trade request.

    Watson signed a contract extension in September that places him under team control through 2025. While the threat of a potential holdout could cause Houston to seriously consider trading him, it must avoid pulling the trigger.

    The Texans are facing a rebuild, but they have the most vital piece of their roster in place. They need to ensure that he stays there.

Indianapolis Colts: Overrate Carson Wentz as the Long-Term Answer

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    On Thursday, the Indianapolis Colts found their long-term answer at quarterback. Or so they hope.

    According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter, the Colts traded the 85th pick in the 2021 draft and a conditional 2022 second-rounder that could become a first to the Philadelphia Eagles for Carson Wentz.

    Although Wentz's upside is tantalizing, the Colts must avoid viewing him as a surefire answer under center. He was among the NFL's worst starting quarterbacks in 2020, posting a passer rating of 72.8 and throwing a league-high 15 interceptions, and there's no guarantee that he'll return to his previous Pro Bowl form.

    Indianapolis must have a solid Plan B in place at quarterback, whether it's a draft prospect or pending free agent Jacoby Brissett. The Colts' playoff window is wide open, but 2021 could become a lost season if Wentz is unable to reestablish himself as a quality starter and remains the only viable option on the roster.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Trade Out of the No. 1 Pick

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    By all accounts, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence appears to be a generational talent and a future NFL star.

    "He is special. I really think he has that in him," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told NFL Network's Jane Slater (h/t Will Vandervort of The Clemson Insider). "He is going to be a great, great player for a long time."

    The Jacksonville Jaguars own the No. 1 pick in the draft, which means they have the chance to make Lawrence their quarterback of the future. Jacksonville shouldn't consider trading that pick away unless it's for a young, proven franchise quarterback like Deshaun Watson.

    While there's no guarantee that Lawrence will reach his potential in the NFL, he's about as close to a sure thing as we've seen at the quarterback position since Andrew Luck. The Jaguars cannot afford to pass up the opportunity to solidify the game's most important spot for the next decade-plus.

Kansas City Chiefs: Overspend to Keep Sammy Watkins

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Wide receiver Sammy Watkins has been an occasionally productive contributor during his three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. However, he's never played more than 14 games or reached 700 yards in a season over that span.

    With weapons like Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman on the roster, Watkins is also a bit of a luxury. Under no circumstances should Kansas City shell out a ton of money for a role player.

    The Chiefs are already projected to be more than $18 million over the cap. Overpaying to keep Watkins would put the reigning AFC champs in an even tighter financial bind.

    Unless he's willing to sign a bargain-basement deal to return, Watkins is a luxury that Kansas City cannot afford.

Las Vegas Raiders: Trade Derek Carr

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders are reportedly considering trading quarterback Derek Carr as part of a pursuit of Deshaun Watson.

    "Several NFL insiders expect the Raiders to field calls from teams inquiring about Carr's availability," Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote. "Increased demand for his services, insiders say, could create a scenario in which a three-team trade allows the Raiders to acquire Watson."

    But unless the Raiders are convinced that they can pry Watson away from Houston, they shouldn't trade Carr. He was a quality starter in 2020—he ranked 11th in passing yards, 11th in passing touchdowns and 10th in passer rating among full-time starters—and has a manageable 2021 cap hit of $22.1 million.

    Even if Las Vegas is able to find a new franchise quarterback with the 17th overall pick, it would be smart to hang onto Carr for one more season. He could play the role of mentor/placeholder for a year and be released in 2022 with no dead-cap hit.

Los Angeles Chargers: Overpay to Keep Melvin Ingram

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Melvin Ingram has been a defensive centerpiece for the Los Angeles Chargers for the better part of a decade. However, the three-time Pro Bowler is also 31 years old and is coming off of an injury-hampered season in which he finished with zero sacks in seven games.

    Ingram appears to be past his prime, and the Chargers should be careful not to overvalue him in free agency.

    While the Chargers are projected to have nearly $34 million in cap space this offseason, they also have other needs to fill. They must find a long-term solution at left tackle and a new starting center after Mike Pouncey announced his retirement earlier this month.

    Los Angeles also needs to re-sign star tight end Hunter Henry, who played on the franchise tag in 2020 and who is again set to reach free agency.

    The Chargers' primary goal moving forward should be to build around quarterback Justin Herbert. Paying Ingram like one of the top pass-rushers on the market could financially hamper that.

Los Angeles Rams: Overspend to Keep Leonard Floyd

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    Scott Eklund/Associated Press

    As is the case with the Chargers and Melvin Ingram, the Los Angeles Rams cannot afford to value Leonard Floyd as a top-tier pass-rusher.

    While Floyd did amass double-digit sacks in 2020 (10.5), it's worth noting that Dante Fowler Jr. did the same for L.A. in 2019. He departed in free agency last offseason and went on to produce just three sacks with Atlanta. The reality is that playing alongside Aaron Donald in L.A.'s defense may be enough to turn any average pass-rusher into a double-digit-sack guy.

    More importantly, Los Angeles is in a tough situation as it relates to the cap. The Rams are projected to be more than $34 million over the cap and cannot afford to overpay to keep a player who might be a product of the system.

    Floyd never had more than 7.0 sacks in a season before joining the Rams and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Donald.

Miami Dolphins: Overcommit to Tua Tagovailoa

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa flashed plenty of potential as a rookie in 2020. He helped Miami reach 10 wins and produced a respectable passer rating of 87.1. However, he was far from elite, which has left the door open for rumors about a potential replacement.

    Miami is the preferred trade destination for Deshaun Watson, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

    While Miami may believe that Tagovailoa can develop into a high-end signal-caller, it shouldn't dismiss the idea of landing a player like Watson or a top-tier prospect with the third pick in the draft. Yes, the Dolphins used a top-five pick to land Tagovailoa, but they shouldn't stick by him at the cost of potentially upgrading the position.

    The Cardinals were willing to move on from first-round pick Josh Rosen after just one year when the opportunity to draft Kyler Murray presented itself. Miami must at least be open to making a similar move this offseason.

Minnesota Vikings: Let Anthony Harris Get Away

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Last offseason, the Minnesota Vikings used the franchise tag on safety Anthony Harris. With Harris again slated to reach free agency, Minnesota has to be careful to avoid overpaying him.

    Make no mistake. Harris was phenomenal in 2019, finishing with 11 passes defended and six interceptions. While he amassed a whopping 104 tackles in 2020, however, Harris also took a step back in coverage. He logged just seven passes defended and allowed an opposing quarterback rating of 118.1.

    Paying Harris, who will turn 30 during the 2021 season, like an All-Pro safety would be a mistake. He's had exactly one remarkable season and has never been named to a Pro Bowl.

    Perhaps more importantly, Minnesota doesn't have the cap necessary to overpay Harris, as the team is projected to be more than $10 million over the cap. Barring an extreme bargain-basement deal, it may be best to let Harris walk this offseason.

New England Patriots: Bring in Another Stopgap Quarterback

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots took a chance on Cam Newton at quarterback in 2020. Newton did enough to help New England navigate a most unusual 2020 season, but he never showed that he could be a long-term answer.

    Newton finished with just 2,657 passing yards with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

    The Patriots never showed they had faith in Jarrett Stidham as a long-term solution, either. The 2019 fourth-round pick never got a starting opportunity even amid Newton's struggles.

    With the Tom Brady era a full year in the rearview, it's time for New England to finally identify its next franchise signal-caller. The Patriots aren't likely to be title contenders with another placeholder under center, and the franchise may be closer to a full-on rebuild than a playoff resurgence.

    Bringing in another one-year stopgap at quarterback would be a mistake in the long run for the Patriots.

New Orleans Saints: Re-Sign Jared Cook

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Jared Cook has been a fine pass-catching tight end for the New Orleans Saints over the past two years. However, the Saints shouldn't even consider bringing back the 33-year-old in free agency. The aging veteran produced good but not elite numbers in 2020, finishing with 504 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Those aren't the sort of numbers the Saints should break the bank for.

    And the Saints cannot realistically afford to re-sign Cook even if they wanted to. New Orleans is projected to be more than $70 million over the salary cap. It's going to take some extreme finagling from general manager Mickey Loomis just to get the roster under the cap this offseason.

    The Saints also have potential replacements for Cook in 2020 third-round pick Adam Trautman and blocking tight end/H-back Josh Hill. Financially, re-signing Cook simply does not make sense.

New York Giants: Extend Saquon Barkley

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Running back Saquon Barkley has been a bit of a mixed bag at the pro level. The New York Giants star was a Pro Bowler as a rookie, barely topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark in 2019 and missed all but two games to a torn ACL last season. How he may perform coming off the injury is unknown, though Barkley is hoping to be at his best.

    "I know I'm going to do everything necessary to put myself in the right position, the smart way and the right way, to come back better," Barkley said on the Hotboxin' with Mike Tyson podcast (at the 16:17 mark).

    Barkley also happens to be eligible for a contract extension this offseason, but that's something the Giants should look to avoid. The Panthers granted Christian McCaffrey an extension after his third season, and the former Stanford star went on to miss 13 games in 2020.

    Barkley now has an extensive injury history, which McCaffrey did not during his first three years. He's on a manageable rookie contract, and the Giants should keep it that way until they better know what he can be over the long term.

    New York is already projected to be more than $1 million over the salary cap.

New York Jets: Refuse to Sell the No. 2 Pick

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Unless the Jaguars pull off the shocker of the draft, the New York Jets aren't going to have a shot at Trevor Lawrence. This means the Jets should at least be open to the idea of selling the second overall pick.

    While there are several quality quarterback prospects in this year's class—including Ohio State's Justin Fields and BYU's Zach Wilson—none appears to be as much of a can't-miss player as Lawrence. There's also a chance Sam Darnold will flourish in the post-Adam Gase era and become the franchise signal-caller the Jets hoped he could be when they drafted him third overall in 2018.

    And the Jets aren't just a quarterback away from contention. They need building blocks like a legitimate No. 1 receiver, an elite pass-rusher and a lockdown cornerback. Unless new head coach Robert Saleh is completely out on Darnold, the Jets would be wise to consider trading the No. 2 pick to another quarterback-needy team.

    Such a move could bring a huge haul to New York—the Eagles surrendered three top-100 picks in the 2016 draft, a 2017 first-rounder and a 2018 second-rounder to move up from No. 8 to land Carson Wentz. Such a haul would be huge for a franchise looking to build from the bottom up.

Philadelphia Eagles: Re-Sign Jason Peters

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    Kirk Irwin/Associated Press

    Now that Jalen Hurts has been handed the keys to the Eagles offense, Philadelphia must commit to protecting the second-year quarterback. That protection plan should not include offensive tackle Jason Peters, who is looking to continue his career in 2021.

    "I'm gonna play one more year, try to get me another ring," Peters told 6 ABC Philadelphia.

    While Peters, a nine-time Pro Bowler, was a tremendous player in the past, he wasn't that in 2020. The 39-year-old allowed eight sacks in eight games, per Pro Football Focus. It's clear his best playing days are behind him.

    The Eagles are projected to be more than $50 million over the salary cap even after the Carson Wentz trade. They cannot afford to re-sign a lineman who was a liability as often as he was an asset this past season.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Overvalue Ben Roethlisberger

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers don't appear fully committed to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger heading into the new league year.

    "He reiterated that to us that he wants to continue to play, and we told him quite frankly we have to look at this current situation," general manager Kevin Colbert said, per Brooke Pryor of ESPN.

    The Steelers need to continue holding this stance on the future Hall of Famer. Big Ben appears to be on the decline—he struggled to consistently move the ball late in the regular season and then tossed four interceptions in an opening-round playoff loss to the Browns. Roethlisberger is also scheduled to carry a cap hit of more than $41 million for 2021.

    With Pittsburgh projected to be more than $15 million over the salary cap, there's no way the Steelers can afford to bring back Roethlisberger at his current price. Given his play at the end of 2020, the Steelers must consider not bringing him back at all.

San Francisco 49ers: Overcommit to Jimmy Garoppolo

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    Scott Eklund/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers reached a Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. However, Garoppolo has merely been an average quarterback who's occasionally shown flashes for the 49ers and also has an extensive injury history—he's missed 23 games over the last three seasons.

    While San Francisco may believe it can get back to the big game with Garoppolo, it shouldn't dismiss alternatives, especially if an affordable one pops up during the draft. San Francisco currently holds the 12th overall selection.

    Garoppolo is scheduled to carry a cap hit of $26.4 million for 2021. That's not an outlandish number for a starting quarterback, but it's problematic for the 49ers. San Francisco is projected to have roughly $17 million in cap space and has several key players—including Trent Williams and Jason Verrett—slated to hit the free-agent market.

    Given his mediocre play and inability to stay on the field, the 49ers cannot afford to overcommit to Garoppolo in 2021.

Seattle Seahawks: Consider Trading Russell Wilson

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    Scott Eklund/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks would be playing a dangerous game by listening to trade proposals for quarterback Russell Wilson. According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, teams have been calling about Wilson's availability, though Seattle has shown no signs it wants to move him.

    Seattle needs to keep insisting Wilson is unavailable for any price. The Seahawks' relationship with the future Hall of Famer appears to be strained already.

    "I'm hearing Russell Wilson's camp has grown increasingly frustrated by the Seahawks' inability to protect the eight-time Pro Bowler. He has been sacked 394 times in nine seasons. This situation warrants serious monitoring," CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora tweeted in February.

    Seattle, meanwhile, is unhappy with Wilson's decision to voice his displeasure.

    "A source told me that the Seahawks management is not happy with Russell Wilson and his camp for taking this to the media. ... The current situation is unsustainable," Dan Patrick said on The Dan Patrick Show (h/t Rob Staton of BBC Sports).

    By even considering offers, Seattle's relationship with Wilson could deteriorate further, leading to an even messier situation during the season or next offseason. Actually trading the elite signal-caller and starting over at quarterback would be even worse.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Overpay to Keep Leonard Fournette

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The good news for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is they're fresh off a Super Bowl win and projected to have more than $27 million in cap space this offseason. The bad news is several key championship contributors—like Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, Leonard Fournette and Ndamukong Suh—are slated to hit the free-agent market.

    Of these players, Fournette should be considered the most expendable. Yes, he is a Super Bowl hero, finishing with more than 130 scrimmage yards and a touchdown. However, Fournette also plays running back, a position that teams have found easy to fill through the draft.

    Finding a rotational back in the draft should be less of a challenge than finding a Pro Bowl wideout like Godwin or an edge-rusher like 2019 sack leader Barrett. Plus, the Buccaneers will have Ronald Jones II in the final year of his rookie contract. He rushed for 978 yards during the regular season, so it's not like the position would be one of glaring need anyway.

    Therefore, it doesn't make sense to pay Fournette like a top-tier back in free agency. If Fournette is willing to come back on a team-friendly contract, great. If he's not, then Tampa should be inclined to utilize its cap space elsewhere.

Tennessee Titans: Overpay for J.J. Watt

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans could use some pass-rushing help. As a team, the Titans produced just 19 sacks in 2020 while also ranking 29th against the pass. Presumably, veteran pass-rusher J.J. Watt could boost the Titans defense—and Tennessee is reportedly interested.

    "It's early in the stages," general manager Jon Robinson told reporters.

    However, Tennessee needs to avoid overpaying to land Watt. He has a notable injury history—he's missed 32 games over the past five seasons—and the Titans are projected to have less than $1 million in cap space.

    Last offseason, the Titans took a gamble on another oft-injured pass-rusher, Jadeveon Clowney. They shelled out $13 million for a one-year deal but got just eight games and zero sacks in return.

    Watt represents the sort of risk that the Titans cannot take for a second consecutive offseason.

Washington Football Team: Bet Too Heavily on Taylor Heinicke

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team got a strong postseason performance out of quarterback Taylor Heinicke and recently signed him to a two-year extension. With Alex Smith's future still up in the air, Washington may be tempted to view Heinicke as a long-term option.

    "No rush to make that decision here like tomorrow, but just kind of want to get into this offseason," Smith told Kyle Brandt of The Ringer during his 10 Questions with Kyle Brandt podcast (at the 51:33 remaining mark). "I still feel like I've got a lot of room for growth on the field, based off what happened this last year."

    However, Washington must avoid viewing Heinicke as a franchise quarterback after one good game. Hey, he was impressive in that contest—he passed for 306 yards, rushed for 46 yards and had two total touchdowns with an interception against a good Buccaneers defense—but Heinicke is still a quarterback with just two career starts on his resume. 

    The Football Team must consider other quarterback options in free agency and with the 19th pick in the draft. Washington has the foundation to be a perennial contender in the NFC East, but it needs a permanent solution under center. Even if Smith returns, he won't be that, and there's no guarantee Heinicke will be, either. 


    Cap and contract information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.


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