Every NFL Team's 2021 Offseason To-Do List
The NFL offseason is a three-step process each franchise must undertake to put the best version of the team on the field the following campaign.
First, general managers and decision-makers must address internal obstacles. Those involve potential contract extensions and restructures, veteran releases and pending free agents based on projected salary-cap standings. Some teams have plenty of space to manipulate the roster, while others are forced to shed salary. Trades opportunities tend to pop up as well.
From there, free agency begins at the start of the new league year (March 17). How the team managed its salary cap earlier determines how active it can be on the open market.
Finally, the draft serves as the driving force in talent acquisition. Younger, cheaper talent replenishes the roster as it transitions from one campaign to the next.
Organizations adjust as each step plays out since not everything works in their favor. The 2021 offseason is still in its formative stages, though it could get wild with a shrinking salary cap, massive demand for quarterbacks and an atypical draft-evaluation period.
Each franchise has three significant issues to address. How the team addresses those will determine whether it's been successful. Everyone yearns to be the new Tampa Bay Buccaneers after last year's Super Bowl-defining offseason.
- Cornerback is the top priority with Patrick Peterson's expected departure.
- Bring back wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald for one more season.
- Special teams require a reboot.
After 10 seasons in the desert, eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson looks like he'll enter free agency. According to Darren Urban of the Arizona Cardinals' officials site, general manager Steve Keim and Peterson "have talked," but no official offers have materialized.
Cornerback was already an area of concern. Peterson's potential departure amplifies the situation because of an aging and unsettled secondary.
Another Cardinals legend remains in limbo. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has yet to make his intentions for 2021 clear. If the future Hall of Famer plans to play, Keim must re-sign him. The 37-year-old is not the player he once was, but he remains a viable receiving threat and a great locker room presence.
Also, special teams can't be overlooked. Punter Andy Lee and kickers Zane Gonzalez and Mike Nugent are pending free agents. Neither performed particularly well last season anyhow. The Cardinals missed seven field goals, while Lee ranked 21st in net punting average.
- Draft a quarterback to become Matt Ryan's heir apparent.
- Prioritize the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
- Re-sign kicker Younghoe Koo.
Some will scoff at the idea of the Atlanta Falcons drafting Matt Ryan's eventual replacement with their fourth overall draft pick, but it would be a smart long-term strategy. Ryan turns 36 in mid-May. The team can save $15.1 million by trading or cutting the quarterback next offseason. Furthermore, this year's quarterback class is exceptional.
By planning the transition now, the Falcons won't scramble to replace Ryan. If the veteran returns to form, the team will have a valuable trade chip in its back pocket.
From there, center becomes a priority. Alex Mack is a pending free agent, and Atlanta doesn't have any salary-cap space. Also, the team didn't get as much from its defensive front as it expected after signing Dante Fowler Jr. That unit remains a concern the Falcons are likely to address in the draft.
Last but certainly not least, kicker Younghoe Koo emerged as a Pro Bowler in his first full year with the franchise. He's set to enter free agency, though the Falcons would be wise to re-sign the 26-year-old specialist before then.
- Bolster the offensive line.
- Find another wide receiver to complement quarterback Lamar Jackson and passing game.
- Re-sign edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue.
Orlando Brown Jr. could be on his way out the door after requesting a trade from the Baltimore Ravens. The team's starting right tackle is more comfortable on the blind side. ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported Brown's representation has "begun exploring trade possibilities."
With Brown potentially gone and little clarity at the center and right guard positions, three-fifths of the Ravens front could use fortifications. D.J. Fluker is a pending free agent as well. Baltimore must be strong up front to excel in its run-first scheme.
On top of worrying about the offensive line, the Ravens' passing game has yet to evolve. Another more well-rounded target would be beneficial for Lamar Jackson's development.
The defensive front has issues as well. Yannick Ngakoue, Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee and Tyus Bowser are set to enter free agency. Of the three, Ngakoue has the most upside. He came in via an October trade, and his re-signing should be prioritized.
- Rework the right side of the offensive line.
- Add another pass-rusher.
- Find a starting cornerback opposite Tre'Davious White.
The Buffalo Bills now feature one of the league's best rosters. It's not without faults, though.
The organization spent plenty on the offensive line two offseasons ago. It's still a work in progress. Cody Ford should return after last season's torn meniscus and start at right guard or tackle. From there, the projection is a little cloudy.
Daryl Williams' retention would solidify the strong side. Or the Bills could re-sign Jon Feliciano to play guard, with Ford moving out to tackle. They could also upgrade left guard even though Ike Boettger provided solid play once he became the full-time starter in Week 10.
Buffalo is weakest along its defensive line. The Bills pass-rushers are aging or lack explosivity. Linebacker A.J. Klein and 33-year-old veteran Mario Addison tied for the team lead in 2020 with five sacks.
Cornerback opposite Tre'Davious White has been a need for a couple of seasons now. Levi Wallace is serviceable, but he's a restricted free agent. Josh Norman, meanwhile, is an unrestricted free agent. A long-term bookend should be in the plans.
- Replace Teddy Bridgewater as the starting quarterback.
- Sign right tackle Taylor Moton and wide receiver Curtis Samuel to long-term extensions.
- Find a competent tight end.
Like other franchises around the NFL, the Carolina Panthers are in search of a new starting quarterback. The organization's reported interest in Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson signal the same thing: Teddy Bridgewater's spot as Carolina's starting quarterback is tenuous at best.
With the eighth overall draft pick, the Panthers should be positioned to select a new face of the franchise, even if it has to trade up.
Before that, Carolina must address the contract status of two offensive standouts. Right tackle Taylor Moton and wide receiver Curtis Samuel are pending free agents. Moton is a top-tier offensive lineman who's sure to draw interest in free agency, while Samuel is an intriguing and explosive weapon in the passing game. If the Panthers are able to retain both, their quarterback will be in a much better position.
After an entire defensive draft class in 2020, the Panthers can add a tight end to help complete the offense.
- Make an aggressive move to acquire a different starting quarterback.
- Place franchise tag on wide receiver Allen Robinson II.
- Reset at offensive tackle.
Maybe the Chicago Bears will swing a deal for Deshaun Watson—who recently reiterated his trade request, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano—or for Russell Wilson, who seems to be interested. If either of their teams are receptive to trade offers, general manager Ryan Pace must swing for the fences.
Otherwise, Pace could manage a draft-day deal to land a top quarterback prospect. With the 20th overall pick, Chicago will likely need to get into the top 10 to draft Mitchell Trubisky's replacement.
Whatever the case, the Bears can't enter another season with Trubisky and Nick Foles as starting options.
The team can make itself a more attractive destination by placing the franchise tag on wide receiver Allen Robinson II. Robinson will be a WR1 if he hits the market. Chicago needs its top target in tow to finally build the offense into something.
Fortifications along the offensive front, particularly the right side where tackle Bobby Massie is a release candidate, will help progress on that side of the ball.
- The offensive line takes priority over everything.
- Re-sign defensive end Carl Lawson and cornerback William Jackson III.
- Release defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
The Cincinnati Bengals must do everything in their power to protect 2020 first overall pick Joe Burrow.
Cincinnati's protection schemes were a disaster last year, especially without the caliber of talent necessary to consistently hold up against opposing pressure packages. Left tackle Jonah Williams and center Trey Hopkins are keepers. The rest needs to be rebuilt. Taking an offensive tackle with the fifth overall pick should be a foregone conclusion, whether it's Oregon's Penei Sewell or Northwestern's Rashawn Slater.
The retention of Cincinnati's top two young defenders, Carl Lawson and William Jackson III, is another must. With the team having approximately $43 million in projected salary-cap space, neither player should hit the open market.
The Bengals can create even more space ($9.5 million) by releasing longtime defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The eight-time Pro Bowl selection fell out of favor last season and played in only eight games.
- Restructure wide receiver contracts.
- Contract extensions for running back Nick Chubb, guard Wyatt Teller and cornerback Denzel Ward.
- Make defense a priority.
The Cleveland Browns must build upon last year's 11-5 regular-season record and an impressive postseason showing.
The team is exceptionally talented on offense, with the league's best offensive line, an elite running back tandem, two star wide receivers and an emerging quarterback. However, balloon payments will be due soon.
Currently, the Browns have some financial wiggle room thanks to last year's rollover cap, with $25.7 million to work with. But general manager Andrew Berry must create more flexibility by approaching Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. about their deals, which have a combined $30.5 million salary-cap hit in 2021.
Once accomplished, the team can approach Nick Chubb, Wyatt Teller and Denzel Ward about long-term extensions. Baker Mayfield can wait since the team can exercise his 2022 fifth-year option.
The draft should be simple: defense, defense and more defense. Cleveland has holes at all three levels, and any additions will make the team better.
- Sign quarterback Dak Prescott to a long-term deal.
- Protect Prescott's blind side.
- Address all three defensive levels.
The Dallas Cowboys already butchered contract negotiations with quarterback Dak Prescott by letting them go on this long. Even so, the team wants to get a "long-term deal" done, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Prescott holds plenty of leverage after receiving the franchise tag last season. Maybe the quarterback wants to go that route again. Either way, the Cowboys need their starting signal-caller under contract for the 2021 campaign.
Once it resolves the Prescott dilemma, Dallas can turn its attention toward its crumbling offensive front and subpar defense. Tyron Smith's season-ending neck injury makes offensive tackle an area of concern. The draft class is deep at the position, and the team should be able to find a long-term replacement.
The squad's 23rd-ranked defense is particularly weak along the interior. Dallas finished 31st in run defense after the free-agent acquisitions of Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe didn't work out.
- Restructure Von Miller's deal.
- Sign safety Justin Simmons to a long-term contract.
- Extend running back Phillip Lindsay.
Quarterback Drew Lock remains the Denver Broncos' biggest question mark after an underwhelming sophomore campaign, but the 24-year-old signal-caller will likely stay the starter unless Denver gets into a Deshaun Watson sweepstakes (if there is one).
Otherwise, the Broncos' offseason starts with the face of the franchise.
Von Miller didn't play a single down last season after suffering a dislocated peroneal tendon, and his 2021 salary-cap charge sits at $22.2 million. Considering his recent injury history and his age—he turns 32 in March—an extension with a lowered number for the upcoming season is the logical course of action.
Much like Miller, safety Justin Simmons should be with the Broncos for an extended period. He will be the top free agent at his position. The 27-year-old is a playmaker along the backline and shouldn't even sniff free agency, whether Denver signs him to a new contract or utilizes the franchise tag.
Running back Phillip Lindsay is yet another internal discussion. Melvin Gordon III remains signed through the upcoming season. However, Lindsay can continue to provide stability at the position well beyond 2021.
- Place franchise tag on wide receiver Kenny Golladay.
- Continue to add more outside weapons via the draft.
- Rebuild the defensive front.
The Detroit Lions are expected to bite and scratch their way toward competitiveness under the direction of new head coach Dan Campbell and his cast of former players turned coaches.
Veering from traditional thinking, Chris Spielman—the special assistant to owner Sheila Ford Hamp and team president Rod Wood—believes in building from the "outside in," according to the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett. That makes Kenny Golladay's re-signing an even greater priority. He is a true No. 1 wide receiver when healthy. His retention will immediately make new quarterback Jared Goff better.
Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola and Mohamed Sanu are scheduled to enter free agency. Detroit, which is in the red in projected cap space at minus-$3.9 million, should eschew the veterans in favor of getting younger and more dynamic outside targets.
Romeo Okwara is yet another free agent after leading the team with 10.0 sacks. No one else managed more than 3.5 quarterback takedowns. Campbell and Co. have their work cut out for them to rework the defensive front.
Green Bay Packers
- Add support around quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
- Prioritize tight end Robert Tonyan as a restricted free agent.
- Find a cornerback to bookend Jaire Alexander.
The thought of the Green Bay Packers not making a concerted effort to improve their skill positions must be anathema to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, even after an MVP season in which multiple individuals played above expectations.
To be clear, the Packers aren't going to sign a top free-agent wide receiver. They don't have the salary-cap space, with minus-$5.8 million in projected room. However, a first-round target would be a welcome change. General manager Brian Gutekunst should also make sure tight end Robert Tonyan doesn't leave by designating the restricted free agent with a first- or second-round tender.
Running back Aaron Jones could depart. But the Packers have AJ Dillon and could add another back later in the draft. Center Corey Linsley will be difficult to re-sign in free agency. Elgton Jenkins could move over the ball, or center could become a draft priority as well.
With Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan likely departing, cornerback opposite Jaire Alexander is an issue, though it shouldn't take precedence over placing pieces around Rodgers.
- Do not trade quarterback Deshaun Watson.
- Prioritize offensive interior.
- Find ways to improve pass rush after J.J. Watt's departure.
The Houston Texans are in a mess of their own creation. Somehow, the organization must find a way to dig itself out of the league's worst setup. As of now, franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson wants nothing to do with the team even after meeting new head coach David Culley.
Yet, the Texans can't give up hope. The front office and coaching staff must do everything in their power to mend fences with the 25-year-old superstar because Houston will never receive equal value in a trade.
With that in mind, the next step is trying to appease the quarterback by making the situation more tenable, starting with the offensive line. Watson faces too much pressure on a regular basis. The entire interior needs to be overhauled, especially after center Nick Martin's release.
The defense is almost an afterthought even after J.J. Watt's departure. However, the Texans can still move multiple defenders to create more than the projected $19.8 million in salary-cap space while concentrating on rebuilding part of the offense and addressing the unit's pass rush.
Watt was the only one on last year's roster to manage more than four sacks.
- Extend guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard.
- Pursue top-flight free-agent wide receiver instead of re-signing T.Y. Hilton.
- Find Anthony Castonzo's replacement.
The Indianapolis Colts already made their biggest move of the offseason with their acquisition of Carson Wentz from the Philadelphia Eagles. The next step is building around the quarterback in the hopes he'll return to form.
The offensive line is the starting point since it's been a team strength over the past few seasons. The organization should pick up Quenton Nelson's 2022 fifth-year option and then extend the three-time first-team All-Pro. He could become an even more important piece of the puzzle if he moves to left tackle to replace the retired Anthony Castonzo.
If Nelson doesn't make that transition, the Colts can land a capable first-round offensive tackle in what appears to be a deep class.
Unlike Nelson, Darius Leonard doesn't have a fifth-year option as a 2018 second-round pick, and the Colts should immediately extend their defensive cornerstone while they have extensive salary-cap space ($50.3 million).
Indianapolis can spend some of the money on a top-tier free-agent wide receiver. Again, the key is making Wentz's life easier. Allen Robinson II, Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay or JuJu Smith-Schuster would help.
- Draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
- Emphasize the need to build a better offensive supporting cast.
- Spend wisely in free agency.
The starting point for the Jacksonville Jaguars' offseason is obvious: Draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick in April. Everything this offseason should be done with that thought in mind.
Jacksonville's 28th-ranked offense must be bolstered. Left tackle Cam Robinson is a free agent and should be allowed to walk after four inconsistent seasons. The Jaguars also own this year's 25th overall selection, and an offensive tackle would be a logical target. They also need a second and possibly a third wide receiver depending on Keelan Cole's status as a free agent. They have basically nothing at tight end.
The front office can splurge in free agency with a league-leading $82.7 million in salary-cap space.
However, the organization shouldn't go overboard. The Jaguars have plenty of work to do. A new regime and a potential star quarterback will create an atmosphere in which the team can build toward long-term success without sacrificing the financial flexibility.
Kansas City Chiefs
- Rebuild the offensive front.
- Replace free-agent defensive linemen.
- Add more offensive weapons.
The blueprint for the Kansas City Chiefs' offseason became evident during their Super Bowl LV dismantling at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Everything starts up front with properly protecting quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and left tackle Eric Fisher are all expected back this fall. Even so, injuries and unexpected situations happen. Quality depth is crucial after seeing a patchwork group get obliterated by a quality defensive front, though center could be an immediate need if Austin Reiter signs elsewhere.
Kansas City, which finds itself in the red in projected salary cap at minus-$18.7 million, could lose defensive linemen Tanoh Kpassagnon, Alex Okafor, Mike Pennel and Taco Charlton in free agency as well. The team needs more pieces around Chris Jones, Frank Clark and Derrick Nnadi.
Wide receivers Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle are also free to test the market. The Chiefs should covet speed and playmakers in the draft.
Las Vegas Raiders
- Trade quarterback Marcus Mariota.
- Re-sign wide receiver Nelson Agholor.
- Find a capable pass-rusher.
The quarterback drama for the Raiders is old hat. This time, Marcus Mariota's status is the hotly debated subject. Las Vegas shouldn't carry both Mariota and Derek Carr for a second season with a $32.9 million combined salary-cap charge in 2021. Mariota's hit increases to $10.7 million this fall.
There has been a lot of interest in the Raiders backup, though trade talks have "slowed considerably" in recent weeks, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
With Mariota eventually off the books, Las Vegas will be in the black financially (currently minus-$2.6 million) and have wiggle room to address other areas of the roster.
Wide receiver Nelson Agholor should return after a career-high 896 receiving yards during his first season with the franchise. Carr targeted Agholor more times than any other wide receiver last season.
Finally, the Raiders are still horrendous when it comes to pressuring opposing quarterbacks. Despite multiple defensive line investments, head coach Jon Gruden's squad ranked 29th with 21 sacks.
To put that in perspective, 10 players registered 10 or more sacks last season.
Los Angeles Chargers
- Protect Justin Herbert at all costs.
- Re-sign tight end Hunter Henry.
- Bookend Joey Bosa with another pass-rusher.
The Los Angeles Chargers are starting over with Brandon Staley as the new head coach. Fortunately, the organization already found its franchise quarterback in record-setting Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert.
"I think we're going to tell him that we're going to build it around him," offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi told reporters.
The Chargers have the right mindset. Now, they must execute their plan. Center and left tackle are problems with Mike Pouncey's retirement and Dan Feeney's pending free agency, as well as Sam Tevi's underwhelming performance on the blind side. Herbert is excellent at creating outside of structure, but growth will ensue when he has a comfort level working from the pocket.
Re-signing Hunter Henry after he played last season under the franchise tag will make Hebert more comfortable. The tight end finished second on the team with 60 receptions.
Joey Bosa could also use a proper running mate if/when Melvin Ingram III doesn't return.
The Chargers are projected to have $31.5 million to work with.
Los Angeles Rams
- Restructure contracts for quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Aaron Donald and wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.
- Re-sign outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and cornerback Darious Williams.
- Draft offensive line help.
The Los Angeles Rams made an offseason-defining move when they traded for Matthew Stafford. At the same time, they took a record-setting dead-cap hit of $22.2 million in dealing Jared Goff. The team is $27.6 million over the projected salary cap.
Now, the Rams must rework Stafford's previous contract with the Lions, lower his 2021 cap number, extend its length and sprinkle in some new guaranteed money. General manager Les Snead can also approach Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods to create even more space.
Then Leonard Floyd jumps to the top of the Rams' to-do list after a career-high 10.5-sack season. He's a perfect outside complement to Donald's relentless interior pressure. Restricted free agent Darious Williams should get an early-round tender because he'll come cheaper than re-signing Troy Hill.
Of course, the Rams already traded their first-round pick to Jacksonville, but Snead can concentrate on drafting offensive line help once the team is finally on the clock.
- Commit to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and then try to trade out of the third overall draft pick.
- Add offensive weapons around last year's fifth overall draft selection.
- Re-sign defensive tackle Davon Godchaux and center Ted Karras.
The Miami Dolphins drafted quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth overall draft pick last spring. There's no reason for the organization to take another signal-caller with the third selection; it isn't in the same position as the Arizona Cardinals two years ago.
With Tagovailoa set as the starter, the Dolphins can move out of the third overall pick and continue to accumulate assets. They already have a pair of first-round selections in back-to-back draft classes. Maybe general manager Chris Grier can spin the team's current positioning into yet another future first-rounder.
With multiple picks and salary-cap space ($28.1 million), the Dolphins can address problems throughout the roster with high-end talent. Wide receiver is of particular concern because the position lacks consistency beyond DeVante Parker. Pairing a former Alabama wide receiver like DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle would be intriguing.
The re-signing of Davon Godchaux and Ted Karras will help Miami stay strong along the middle of both lines.
- Find new starters at left guard and kicker.
- Release linebacker Anthony Barr.
- Target defensive linemen in free agency and draft.
The Minnesota Vikings have two glaring holes. Left guard Dakota Dozier is a liability with inconsistent play that disrupts the offense. On special teams, kicker Dan Bailey missed seven field-goal attempts and six extra points. Neither is acceptable.
Guard should be a relatively easy fix, though the team doesn't have any salary-cap space. And quality kickers can be difficult to find.
To create some maneuverability, the Vikings can release Anthony Barr. The move would save them $12.5 million with a June 1 designation. It wouldn't be enough to re-sign safety Anthony Harris, but it would put the team in the black.
Some restructuring must be done simply because Minnesota needs help along the defensive line as well.
Michael Pierce's return after opting out will certainly help. At defensive end, the Yannick Ngakoue acquisition didn't work out, and he was traded to the Baltimore Ravens.
New England Patriots
- Prioritize a new quarterback.
- Find offensive weapons.
- Get younger along the defensive front.
The New England Patriots are in a difficult position. The organization needs a quality quarterback, yet it performed well enough to avoid a top-10 pick while simultaneously not being good enough to make the postseason.
With the No. 15 selection, the Patriots may miss out on the top five quarterbacks unless they trade up. Alabama's Mac Jones would be an ideal fit.
No matter who starts behind center, the franchise must get better at the skill positions. The tight ends were a non-factor last season, and there were no dynamic wide receivers. N'Keal Harry has potential, but the Patriots need someone to create consistent separation. The passing game won't get off the ground without better options.
The defense should be better off with Dont'a Hightower after he opted out last season. The linebacker will need a better front to protect him, though. Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, John Simon, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Carl Davis are pending free agents.
New Orleans Saints
- Continue to shed salary.
- Re-sign quarterback Jameis Winston.
- Extend cornerback Marshon Lattimore and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk.
The New Orleans Saints' offseason will be all about the money. After years of working the salary cap in ways no one besides well-seasoned accountants could understand, the team is dealing with the repercussions. The Saints are $66.4 million over the projected cap.
The staggering figure creates a situation in which numerous contracts need to be reworked. Basically, any player who makes more than the minimum should get a call from general manager Mickey Loomis.
At the same time, Loomis still has work to do at vital positions. Quarterback remains a question mark because of Drew Brees' expected retirement. Jameis Winston is the right choice to lead the offense, but he has to be re-signed. The fascination with Taysom Hill needs to stop.
New Orleans should also look to the future and tie up both cornerback Marshon Lattimore and right tackle Ryan Ramcyzk. Extensions won't cost anything in the short term, and the team must retain two of its stars.
New York Giants
- Add an outside receiver.
- Release or restructure multiple veterans.
- Re-sign defensive lineman Leonard Williams.
With running back Saquon Barkley combining back from a torn ACL, the New York Giants should receive a boost. More offensive weapons are necessary, though.
Darius Slayton is a good vertical threat, while Sterling Shepard is a quality slot receiver. Evan Engram put together a solid 2020 campaign, but he's not necessarily the long-term answer at tight end. A well-rounded top target to help quarterback Daniel Jones is a must.
Before the Giants can get to that point, general manager Dave Gettleman must massage the salary cap. Wide receiver Golden Tate, left tackle Nate Solder and right guard Kevin Zeitler are restructure or release candidates.
By creating more salary-cap space, the Giants can re-sign defensive lineman Leonard Williams with a long-term extension. Williams emerged last season as a game-wrecker. His presence is vital for the Giants to build upon Joe Judge's first season as head coach.
New York Jets
- Build around quarterback Sam Darnold.
- Place the franchise tag on safety Marcus Maye.
- Trade the No. 2 pick.
In essence, the draft will start with the New York Jets and the second pick. Since quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a near-lock to become the first choice by the Jacksonville Jaguars, the uncertainty won't begin until the Jets are on the clock.
New York shouldn't make a selection. General manager Joe Douglas and new head coach Robert Saleh should conclude that Sam Darnold has been in an untenable situation and deserves a chance in a stable environment. After that, the Jets will be in prime position for other quarterback-needy teams to attempt to trade up for their favorite prospect.
A trade down would still allow New York to draft an impact prospect while adding more assets to flesh out its roster. The Jets have needs at wide receiver, running back, tight end, edge-rusher and cornerback.
The least they can do is not create another hole by letting safety Marcus Maye leave via free agency. If he doesn't sign a long-term deal, the franchise tag will be a logical alternative.
- Acquire offensive weapons for quarterback Jalen Hurts.
- Trade tight end Zach Ertz and cut Alshon Jeffery.
- Restructure multiple deals.
Jalen Hurts did enough last season to warrant a shot to become the Philadelphia Eagles' long-term quarterback. As such, the organization should pass on the opportunity to draft one with this year's No. 6 pick. Instead, the franchise is positioned beautifully to add a top-notch offensive weapon to help Hurts' maturation.
Alabama's DeVonta Smith, LSU's Ja'Marr Chase and Florida's Kyle Pitts are viable candidates to come off the board that early and drastically improve the league's 28th-ranked passing attack.
As the Eagles bring in the new, the organization will be done with the old. The Eagle Maven's Ed Kracz reported the team has talked to the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts about trading tight end Zach Ertz. The Eagles can save $2.1 million by releasing wide receiver Alshon Jeffery with a June 1 designation. Considering Philadelphia is drastically over the projected salary cap, both must be moved.
Even with those two off the books, a few veterans will still need to rework their deals to help the franchise's financial status. Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Brandon Brooks are obvious candidates.
- Restructure Ben Roethlisberger's contract.
- Draft a quarterback of the future.
- Address the offensive line and running game.
Apparently, the Pittsburgh Steelers are all in with Ben Roethlisberger despite the franchise's obvious need to rip off the bandage and start anew at quarterback. To be fair, the team is in a financial bind and basically stuck with Big Ben unless the soon-to-be 39-year-old decides to retire.
Roethlisberger will have a $41.3 million salary-cap charge. The figure needs to be drastically lowered via a restructuring of his deal. Even so, Pittsburgh still won't have much room to breathe.
Even with the franchise's all-time leading passer on the roster, the Steelers can't go another offseason without implementing a succession plan. Whether Pittsburgh decides to spend a first-round pick or a later selection, it must add a talented prospect.
Finally, the Steelers seem unlikely to re-sign possibly high-priced free agents such as Bud Dupree and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Besides, a left tackle and center should take priority, and Pittsburgh needs another ball-carrier to replace James Conner, who is also a pending free agent.
San Francisco 49ers
- Trade quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and move up for a top prospect.
- Re-sign left tackle Trent Williams and cornerback Jason Verrett.
- Invest heavily in the secondary.
San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch has no doubt Jimmy Garoppolo will be the team's starting quarterback in the fall. It's easy to make such declarations now when high-profile quarterbacks aren't expected to be traded and the draft is two months away.
Opportunities for him to change his tune could be right around the corner, though. What if the Houston Texans become receptive to Deshaun Watson overtures? What if a quarterback Kyle Shanahan likes is attainable in the draft? These possibilities aren't going away. As such, the Niners should be prepared to trade Garoppolo and get their guy if something does break in their favor.
Even though Trent Williams will turn 33 in July, he will still be the biggest name and top free agent on the market. Williams wants to remain with San Francisco. The eight-time Pro Bowler will be needed to protect whomever starts behind center.
Jason Verrett is another in-house free agent worthy of a new contract. Verrett's extensive injury history is worrisome, but he played extremely well in 2020. Besides, the 49ers must retain someone since the majority of the secondary could leave via free agency. Verrett will come much cheaper than Richard Sherman.
- Make quarterback Russell Wilson happy.
- Re-sign Shaquill Griffin.
- Find a feature back.
The struggle between the Seattle Seahawks and franchise quarterback Russell Wilson has become public to the point where Wilson's representation has asked for a trade through the media.
The situation may not be quite as tense as the one with the Houston Texans and Deshaun Watson, but Wilson clearly isn't happy. In order to cultivate the one-time MVP front-runner's contentment, general manager John Schneider's primary directive should be to get Wilson help, particularly along the offensive line. The team must stop messing around with castoffs. Significant investments must be made since right guard Damien Lewis is the only long-term keeper.
Schneider can also help by reinvesting in the once prolific rushing attack. Maybe the organization will re-sign Chris Carson or pick a top running back prospect.
The defense improved greatly over the course of 2020. To build on that progress, top cornerback Shaquill Griffin must be re-signed.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Concentrate on re-signing the core that won the Super Bowl.
- Extend quarterback Tom Brady.
- Draft defensive front help.
Everyone within the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is probably still celebrating their Super Bowl LV victory. But general manager Jason Licht has plenty of work to do since Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, Rob Gronkowski, Ndamukong Suh, Leonard Fournette, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown will be free agents. Tampa Bay ranks 11th in available salary-cap space, though re-signing everyone will be difficult.
Thus, Licht must prioritize which players he brings back—and start with Barrett and Godwin.
Meanwhile, quarterback Tom Brady—yes, he will be 44 in August—should receive a contract extension.
"That's a possibility," Licht said on The Rich Eisen Show (h/t Yahoo Sports' Liz Roscher). "He certainly didn't look like he slowed down any this year."
The move would also be practical since it could crate salary-cap space.
No matter what the Buccaneers do with their veterans, their primary draft concern will be to replenish an aging defensive front.
- Prioritize the pass rush.
- Re-sign tight ends Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser.
- Move on from expensive veterans.
The Tennessee Titans signed Vic Beasley Jr. last offseason. He didn't make it through November before being released. The team also signed Jadeveon Clowney, who ended the season on injured reserve without registering a sack in eight games. The Titans know they must generate more of a pass rush, and their journey to find Harold Landry III's bookend will continue. Maybe J.J. Watt is in the cards.
But the Titans must take care of their own as well. Free-agent wide receiver Corey Davis might be priced out of Tennessee's range since the organization doesn't have significant salary-cap space. Tight ends Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser could be far more affordable. The duo combined for 80 receptions.
To create salary-cap space, the Titans already cut wide receiver Adam Humphries. Cornerback Malcolm Butler and possibly left tackle Taylor Lewan could be cap casualties as well.
Washington Football Team
- Find a starting quarterback.
- Re-sign right guard Brandon Scherff.
- Build around whomever starts behind center.
The Washington Football Team is searching for a quarterback despite already having three with starting experience. The organization re-signed Taylor Heinicke, but he is not guaranteed the job. Kyle Allen ended last season on injured reserve with a dislocated ankle. As for Alex Smith, Washington didn't want him around, according to the reigning Comeback Player of the Year himself.
As owners of the 19th pick, Washington is in quarterback limbo. Heinicke will get a shot, but an aggressive move in the draft to find a long-term solution would be preferable.
Quarterback is only part of the problem, though. As one of the league's best interior blockers, Brandon Scherff will be a highly sought-after free agent. Four-fifths of the offensive line would be set with Scherff's return.
Furthermore, whomever is the team's signal-caller needs better weapons, particularly at wide receiver. Terry McLaurin is an outstanding young player, but no other outside target managed more than 477 receiving yards last season.
Salary-cap information via Spotrac.