The Biggest Question for Every NFL Team Heading into 2021 OTAs

Alex KayContributor IMay 27, 2021

The Biggest Question for Every NFL Team Heading into 2021 OTAs

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    David Banks/Associated Press

    The NFL offseason has advanced to OTAs, where players begin hitting the field and working out with their teams. Questions on how free-agent acquisitions and draft picks will fit and perform can begin to be answered, but plenty of unresolved issues surround nearly every club.

    The answers can be franchise-altering, such as decisions on who will start at quarterback or whether some of the league's biggest superstars have adequately recovered from devastating injuries.

    With that in mind, here's the biggest question each team faces at the onset of OTAs, which run through early June.

AFC East

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    Buffalo Bills: Who Will Play Cornerback Across From Tre'Davious White?

    The Bills are coming off their best season in decades, claiming an AFC East crown and getting to the conference championship. They have almost all the key pieces to make another run, but there is a rather big question at cornerback.

    Buffalo has a surefire No. 1 corner in Tre'Davious White, who is under contract through 2025, but it doesn't have a clear-cut partner for him.

    The in-house options include Levi Wallace and Dane Jackson, a pair of solid, if unspectacular defensive backs who have experience in this system. Wallace would likely remain the starter if the season started today after he allowed a respectable 85.3 passer rating and 57.7 percent completion rate when targeted in 2020. He started 12 games for the Bills last year, playing 57 percent of the defensive snaps.

    Jackson can contribute at a high level as he prepares to go into his sophomore outing. The seventh-round pick was only active for five games as a rookie, starting two, but he did record 15 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery while playing just 193 defensive snaps.

    There are rumblings that the Bills may end up signing a free agent to round out the cornerback corps, with Steve Nelson—a regular starter for the Chiefs and Steelers since his second year in 2016—a realistic candidate to land in Buffalo, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. Aging free agents like the 33-year-old Josh Norman—who played well in limited action last year—and Richard Sherman, 33, are also options here as well.

          

    Miami Dolphins: Will Tua Tagovailoa Make the Leap?

    The Dolphins don't seem sure of what they have in Tua Tagovailoa, but they've seen enough to give him a chance to become their franchise quarterback.

    Miami brass committed to supporting last year's fifth pick in a series of predraft moves that saw the team trade back from No. 3 overall. The Dolphins ended up with the Nos. 6 and 18 selections, using their first pick on Jaylen Waddle, an elite receiver.

    With Waddle—Tua's teammate for a time at Alabama—the 'Phins finally have a reliable weapon for Tagovailoa. They need the second-year QB to make a leap after he went 6-3 as a starter last season but only completed 186 of 290 pass attempts for 1,814 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.

    Those aren't bad numbers, but they weren't much more impressive than those Ryan Fitzpatrick—the veteran whom Tagovailoa unseated in Week 7—put up as a starter. Considering the Dolphins were on the cusp of the postseason last year, they need more consistent quarterback play to get there.

           

    New England Patriots: When Will Mac Jones Start?

    The Patriots capitalized on a fantastic opportunity to land a potential franchise quarterback, snagging Mac Jones after he fell to them at No. 15. His slide might be an ideal outcome for both the player and organization, as on paper, Jones is a perfect fit. 

    He may not have the strongest arm or be the best athlete in the class, but he possesses a high football IQ, an elite pocket presence and the ability to read defenses. In that vein, he's quite similar to Tom Brady, who led the franchise to nine Super Bowl appearances during his two decades under center in Foxborough.

    Jones is also coming from a Crimson Tide program that runs a similar system to the one that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels utilizes in New England, which should give him an advantage in acclimating to the pros. The player Jones will compete with, Cam Newton, struggled at times to grasp the offense last year, which involved more designed runs and options that were tailored to his strengths.

    Once Jones becomes the starter, the Pats can get back to the system that worked incredibly well for them with Brady at the helm. The team should make that switch quickly, as it is apparent that the 32-year-old Newton isn't anything more than a bridge quarterback.

    Training camp should bring clarity, as Jones—regarded as a pro-ready prospect by many NFL executives—could show he is ready to take over soon. 

            

    New York Jets: Is Zach Wilson the Real Deal?

    Buzz surrounds the 2021 Jets because of Zach Wilson, 2021's No. 2 pick. The front office cleared a path for him to become the Week 1 starter by trading incumbent Sam Darnold before the draft. 

    Now he has to prove himself.

    While Wilson is a gifted passer with an amazing arm and elite athleticism, he may struggle early like so many other rookie quarterbacks thrust into a starting role right away. He'll need to adjust to the blazing speed of the NFL, which sees plays develop and break down much faster than anything he experienced at BYU.

    Wilson must also learn a new playbook and system while handling the pressures of being a starting signal-caller in the league's biggest market. It's no easy task, but it's time to find out if he'll show early signs of rewarding the Jets' faith.

AFC North

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    Baltimore Ravens: Do They Have the Pass-Rushers to Contend?

    The Ravens recently lost Matt Judon, Yannick Ngakoue and Jihad Ward in free agency, a trio of pass-rushers who accounted for 12 of the team's 39 sacks in 2020. While the club retained some edge talent in Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee—and used a first-round pick on pass-rushing prospect Odafe Oweh—Baltimore may be thinner than usual on the edge.

    It is not an ideal situation for this defense, especially with how critical generating pressure has become. The Buccaneers just proved, once again, that having an elite pass rush can win championships. While that isn't to disparage the rest of Tampa's roster, which includes a potent aerial attack led by the greatest quarterback of all time, the team secured a championship largely because of its ability to wreak havoc in the trenches.

    Expect the Ravens to add at least one more veteran—Justin Houston visited Baltimore last month and is a name often bandied about when this topic comes up. Defensive coordinator Don Martindale recently said he isn't opposed to some additional help, saying there are a “couple of guys out there.”

               

    Cincinnati Bengals: Can This Revamped Offensive Line Protect Joe Burrow?

    In Week 11 last season, the Bengals watched in horror as Joe Burrow—the top pick in the 2020 draft—tore his ACL after taking yet another sack. While the quarterback is poised to make a comeback in time for the season opener, it's up for debate whether the team has done enough to keep him upright.

    Cincinnati improved its protection issues by inking right tackle Riley Reiff to a one-year deal. It also added a likely day-one starter in guard Jackson Carman with the No. 46 pick. Cincinnati then secured two additional rookie linemen, using a fourth-round selection on D'Ante Smith and a sixth-round pick on Trey Hill.

    While those should help, one move the Bengals didn't make was drafting slam dunk left tackle prospect Penei Sewell at No. 5. The organization instead made Ja'Marr Chase the first receiver off the board, but it will be difficult to unlock his potential if Burrow is constantly under siege.

    It could be a shrewd decision, but it largely depends on left tackle Jonah Williams' health. The No. 11 pick in 2019 has only played 633 snaps for Cincinnati. He missed his rookie season after undergoing shoulder surgery and only started 10 games in 2020 before a knee injury landed him back on injured reserve.

    This unit could be one of the most improved in football, but plenty of concerns remain.

             

    Cleveland Browns: Will Their Rookies Live Up to the Hype?

    The Browns were widely lauded for having arguably the best draft of any team this year. A quality crop of veteran signings during the first wave of free agency preceded that, and their sterling offseason continued when they signed some of the top undrafted rookies.

    While Cleveland did a fantastic job filling holes, these players—especially the rookies—have to prove they can meet lofty expectations. It's been shown that initial draft grades don't matter, with Neil Paine at FiveThirtyEight finding almost no correlation between grades and future performance.

    The Browns head into 2021 looking to build on their first winning campaign since 2007 and first postseason appearance in almost two decades. They have plenty of new faces—including prized rookie additions such as first-round pick Greg Newsome II and second-round steal Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah—but need them to play big roles for a deep playoff run. 

              

    Pittsburgh Steelers: Who Will Play Center?

    The Steelers have the unenviable task of replacing one of the greatest centers in franchise history following the retirement of Maurkice Pouncey, who was a fixture in the middle of the offensive line for over a decade.

    They have a handful of in-house options, but none lack glaring flaws.

    The most likely battle will occur between veteran B.J. Finney and rookie Kendrick Green, but J.C. Hassenauer will likely get an opportunity as well.

    Finney returned to the Steelers—the club that took him on as an undrafted free agent in 2016—this offseason following a one-year stint in which he played for both the Bengals and Seahawks but barely saw the field for either. He has the advantage of experience, but his talent is lacking. Green is a skillful but inexperienced third-round pick out of Illinois, a prospect who may need time to pick up the NFL's intricacies.

    Given the dearth of elite centers on the open market and the team's minimal salary-cap space, one of these two is almost certain to be the Week 1 starter. It's not an ideal situation, but it's one that the Steelers will have to make do with.

AFC South

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    Houston Texans: Will They Trade Deshaun Watson?

    It has been months since Deshaun Watson first demanded a trade from the Texans.

    Since, 22 women have filed sexual assault and harrassment lawsuits against him.

    Houston will likely have to find a way to navigate through the remainder of the offseason with the quarterback on the roster, though he has not reported to OTAs and it is unclear if he will face league discipline.

    The team drafted promising third-rounder Davis Mills, who could expedite Watson's exit. The club reportedly doesn't have any offers for him, however, and the Houston Chronicle's John McClain said it has "not had conversations with anybody” regarding a potential trade.

    Yet, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler noted Tuesday that "multiple teams are still monitoring the situation in case there's clarity down the line and a potential trade would make sense, according to a source."

    If the Texans can find a deal for Watson, it likely will be for only a fraction of the price the signal-caller was initially expected to command.

                       

    Indianapolis Colts: Can Carson Wentz Revitalize His Career?

    The Colts are preparing to go into the campaign with their third starting quarterback in as many years.

    Following a playoff appearance and Rivers' retirement, the organization brought in former Eagles signal-caller Carson Wentz. Indianapolis gave up a 2021 third-rounder and a conditional 2022 first- or second-round pick to acquire Wentz, who lost his starting job to rookie Jalen Hurts toward the end of an abysmal 2020 season.

    Wentz finished last year with career-worst marks in completion percentage (57.4 percent), passing yards (2,620), touchdowns (16) and interceptions (15). He looked sluggish and couldn't avoid the rush, taking 50 sacks—13 more than his previous career high—and fumbling 10 times.

    The Colts need something close to the 2017 version of Wentz, who went 11-2 as a starter while making the Pro Bowl and throwing for 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions. That is a bit of a long shot, but there wasn't a better option available.

              

    Jacksonville Jaguars: Will They Find a Pass-Catching Tight End?

    None of Jacksonville's six tight ends appears ready to make a significant impact as a pass-catcher this season.

    The situation has gotten so dire that the Jaguars recently signed Tim Tebow. The former quarterback, who hasn't seen regular-season action in almost a decade and who last competed for a roster spot during the 2015 offseason, is trying to convert to tight end at age 33.

    While there is no denying Tebow's competitive drive and athleticism, it's one of the toughest positions to transition to from college to the pros. While the 6'3”, 245-pound Tebow wouldn't need to do much blocking because of the presence of guys like Chris Manhertz, James O'Shaughnessy and rookie Luke Farrell, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner has never proved he can catch the ball at a high level.

    It's highly likely that Jacksonville's Tebow experiment ends with his being cut before the season. Even if he makes the roster, he'll have an uphill battle trying to become the type of playmaker the Jags have lacked for years at the position.

              

    Tennessee Titans: Will Their Receiving Corps Hold Them Back?

    Tennessee made some big signings to get a quality pass-rusher in Bud Dupree and used a first-round pick on top-tier cornerback prospect Caleb Farley after a subpar defensive season. While those moves shored up significant concerns, the team has another problem..

    Wide receiver Corey Davis, the fifth pick in 2017, signed with the Jets this spring. He had a career year in 2020, gashing defenses for 984 yards and five scores on 65 receptions while working effectively alongside up-and-coming star A.J. Brown. Davis' departure, along with that of steady slot receiver Adam Humphries, leaves Tennessee thin at the position.

    While the Titans offense should still move the chains thanks to bulldozing back Derrick Henry, it needs to find another reliable wideout for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Josh Reynolds is the only other proven option under contract, making this position the biggest question mark for the club going into OTAs.

AFC West

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    Denver Broncos: Who Will Win the Quarterback Battle?

    The Broncos didn't draft a franchise quarterback, even though both Justin Fields and Mac Jones were still available at No. 9. While that may disappoint some of the Mile High faithful, the battle for the top job under center will greatly impact the heights this squad can reach in 2021.

    Incumbent starter Drew Lock hasn't done enough to inspire confidence. He's going into a crucial third year, but the 2019 second-rounder may ride the pine if he has a poor training camp. The club brought in a capable veteran to push Lock, sending a sixth-round pick to the Panthers to acquire Teddy Bridgewater.

    Expect a heated battle between the two signal-callers, with each offering their own set of assets and flaws. Lock still has plenty of potential, but he has to show he can put it all together on Sundays. Bridgewater has been a steady hand on veteran-laden rosters, memorably keeping the Saints in playoff contention two years ago while filling in for an injured Drew Brees. It's unlikely he'll ever become an elite signal-caller, but at his best, Bridgewater can manage a game well enough to take Denver on a playoff run.

              

    Kansas City Chiefs: Can Their New Offensive Line Jell Quickly?

    The Chiefs revamped their injury-plagued offensive line following a Super Bowl collapse, spending big bucks on the open market, swinging blockbuster trades and using draft capital to reshape a unit that fell apart down the stretch last season.

    There is no denying Kansas City is much better off with additions like tackle Orlando Brown Jr., guard Joe Thuney and rookie Creed Humphrey. But with so many new faces, it might be difficult for this unit to develop chemistry in time for the new campaign.

    Austin Blythe, the veteran center who signed with the Chiefs in March and will compete for a starting job, told reporters: “I think it'll be fine. Continuity and communication and friendship and all that stuff is an important part for playing well together. I don't foresee any problems. I've gotten in contact with a couple of guys already and I know I'm just really excited to get to work with everybody here.”

    If Blythe is correct, the Chiefs will be a force in the offensive trench.

              

    Las Vegas Raiders: Is Jon Gruden the Right Guy for the Job?

    Jon Gruden was heralded as Raiders' savior when he was finally convinced to leave the broadcast booth and return to the sidelines to coach the club for the second time. Heading into the fourth season of a 10-year, $100 million megadeal, Gruden only has a 19-29 record and zero playoff appearances in his latest stint.

    While Las Vegas is coming off its best season since it made the playoffs in 2016 with Jack Del Rio at the helm, the team only went 8-8 and finished second in the AFC West. There were some good moments—the Raiders were the only squad to top the rival Chiefs during the regular season. 

    But the organization hasn't had a truly great year since 2002. That was the campaign that immediately followed Gruden's trade to the Buccaneers, one that ended with the coach beating his former employer in the Super Bowl.

    Gruden deserves to be on the hot seat, especially after his trades of stars Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper have failed to result in a surplus of young talent. The Raiders made intriguing offseason moves to improve a flawed defense but also blew up their offensive line—one of the club's bright spots—and lack talent in the receiving corps, especially if Henry Ruggs III, the top wideout off the board last year, fails to make a leap.

    Vegas could be one of the surprise success stories this season, but the team could just as likely suffer through another mediocre campaign. If the latter scenario happens, it may just be Gruden's last year with the Raiders.

              

    Los Angeles Chargers: Will Brandon Staley Unlock This Defense's Potential?

    The Chargers have the defensive talent to field one of the league's best units but have failed to unlock its full potential.

    That could change in 2021 thanks to new head coach Brandon Staley, the architect of the Rams' top-ranked defense last year. The Bolts parted ways with Anthony Lynn after four years of inconsistent performances, going 33-31 in that stretch while making just one playoff appearance. 

    With players like Joey Bosa, Derwin James, Michael Davis and Linval Joseph, the Bolts defense could dominate. As a coordinator, Staley did a fantastic job of maximizing the talent around stars Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey during his lone year with the Rams and can do the same with L.A.'s other squad.

    If the Chargers defense—which ranked No. 23 in points allowed and No. 10 in yards conceded last season—can make the leap, the Justin Herbert-led offense should follow suit. A playoff appearance, even coming out of the competitive AFC West, is possible during Staley's first year.

NFC East

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    Dallas Cowboys: Is Dak Prescott Healthy?

    The Cowboys went into 2020 with aspirations of winning the NFC East, but a season-ending injury to Dak Prescott derailed their hopes of competing, even in a division that ultimately saw a sub-.500 Washington team earn its playoff berth.

    Prescott's return, plus an offseason overhaul of a porous defense that was the other major problem for Dallas last year, has the Cowboys poised to contend once again. The signal-caller recently signed a massive extension, accepting a four-year, $160 million offer to remain under center through the 2025 campaign. With that out of the way, Prescott can focus on leading this franchise back to the postseason for the first time since 2018.

    There are some concerns about the possibility of Prescott's fractured right ankle having lingering effects on his performance. The injury, which he suffered in Week 5 last season, led to multiple surgical procedures to both repair and strengthen the ankle. While Prescott has been spotted walking without crutches for a few months now, it is unclear if he'll truly be 100 percent before the season begins.

    The quarterback claims he could start a game and play well right now, but until he's regularly making plays in training camp—especially on the run and using his legs as effectively as he did before the injury—there will be some lingering doubts.

             

    New York Giants: Will Daniel Jones Develop Into A Franchise Quarterback?

    The Giants were criticized for their decision to draft Daniel Jones with the No. 6 overall pick in 2019, but he appeared to prove doubters wrong during his rookie season. The Duke product had some memorable performances after replacing longtime starter Eli Manning, but he just suffered through a sophomore slump that could be more indicative of his potential as a pro.

    Jones threw for 24 touchdowns against 12 interceptions in 2019, but only connected on 11 scoring passes last season while getting picked off 10 times. The Giants offense as a whole had a down year, which is why the jury is still out on whether the 23-year-old has what it takes to be the team's next franchise quarterback.

    The Big Blue brass spared little expense improving the roster around Jones this offseason, signing arguably the top free-agent wideout in Kenny Golladay and using a first-round pick on elite receiving prospect Kadarius Toney. This revamped receiving corps, coupled with the return of superstar running back Saquon Barkley—who went down in Week 2 with a torn ACL and missed the remainder of the 2020 campaign—will allow the team to properly judge Jones during his third year as a starter.

    If Jones can't succeed with the talent New York has now acquired for him, the organization may find itself looking for a new signal-caller in the 2022 draft.

             

    Philadelphia Eagles: Can Miles Sanders Carry The Offense?

    While one of the biggest question marks surrounding the Eagles is their situation under center, the front office clearly has faith in second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts to lead them in 2021. Philadelphia traded back before the draft and didn't take a signal-caller despite having the opportunity to do so when they were on the clock.

    With Hurts getting a fair shake, new head coach Nick Sirianni will now need to find out if running back Miles Sanders can shoulder a heavy load and carry Philly's offense. The 2019 second-round pick has dazzled at times during his two years in the City of Brotherly Love, making the Pro Bowl last year after racking up 867 yards and six touchdowns on just 164 carries.

    While few doubt Sanders' ability, he's been banged up often—missing four games last year—and hasn't taken on a heavy workload at any point during his pro career thus far. He was less of a factor in the passing game as a sophomore—catching 28 balls in 2020 compared to 50 as a rookie—and had issues with drops.

    Becoming a more consistent player is imperative for Sanders, who Sirianni will lean on to produce while Hurts and the rest of this young roster develops. If the running back can't answer the call regularly, the Eagles will struggle mightily to move the chains and put points on the board this season.

             

    Washington Football Team: Will Ryan Fitzpatrick Lead Them Back To The Playoffs?

    After releasing second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins last year, Washington found itself without a potential franchise quarterback to develop. While Haskins clearly wasn't panning out for the club, he was the No. 15 overall pick in 2019 and represented the Football Team's best chance at a long-term solution under center.

    The organization wasn't able to land one of the five consensus first-round talents in the draft, watching as Mac Jones—the last of the bunch—came off the board four spots ahead of where it was selecting. Instead of paying the high price of trading up, Washington instead indicated it has no qualms about rolling with veteran signal-caller Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2021.

    Fitzpatrick, who has started for eight different teams during his 16-year career, inked a one-year, $10 million deal with the club in free agency. The 38-year-old has defied Father Time and remained effective in the twilight of his career, and he'll once again be asked to lead an offense this season.

    Washington's defense is more than capable enough to carry this team, but Fitzpatrick will need to manage the game well enough to support that unit. He hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, but there aren't any suitable alternatives on the roster to take over if the aging quarterback regresses.

NFC North

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    Chicago Bears: When Will Justin Fields Start?

    The Bears may have finally found a franchise quarterback for the first time in decades. The team moved up to draft Justin Fields at No. 11 overall, bringing hope to a fan base that has been desperate for an elite prospect to rally around for years.

    Fields will contend with veteran Andy Dalton for the starting job this offseason, setting off a battle between this flashy young talent and a grizzled veteran. Dalton—the longtime Cincinnati signal-caller who started last year as the Dallas backup before being thrust into the starting job due to Dak Prescott's injury—signed a one-year deal with Chicago in free agency and is currently penciled in as the starter going into training camp.

    Head coach Matt Nagy was adamant that Dalton will be getting the No. 1 reps, but that should change if Fields impresses in practice. The bar isn't set too high—Dalton completed a pedestrian 64.9 percent of his passes for 2,169 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions in 11 games last year—so Fields has a real shot at bypassing the 33-year-old before Week 1.

    Even if Dalton does win the QB1 job to start the season, it should only be a short matter of time before Fields is ready to take over. His sky-high ceiling, elite arm and ability to make plays happen with his feet should elevate the Chicago offense to a place that Dalton simply can't reach.

    If the Bears are serious about building on their playoff appearance, they'll need to get Fields on the field to take this team to the next level.

             

    Detroit Lions: Is Jared Goff A Long-Term Option Under Center?

    Detroit made its intent to rebuild readily apparent this offseason by trading away a franchise cornerstone. The Lions flipped starting quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Rams for Jared Goff and draft capital, and now must find out what they have in 2016's top overall pick.

    Goff was promising at times during his five-year tenure in L.A., having his best season in 2018 when he threw for nearly 4,700 yards and hit on 32 touchdown passes while helping the Rams reach the Super Bowl. He regressed significantly since then, however, amassing less than 4,000 yards last year while only throwing 20 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.

    With Goff eventually getting replaced by the undrafted, unproven John Wolford in the playoffs, it was obvious the Rams were being held back by their quarterback. Detroit will now try to find out if a change of scenery can rehabilitate Goff's career or if the signal-caller is destined for a few more seasons of mediocre play before bouncing around and eventually exiting the NFL.

    There are still four years left on Goff's contract, which the Lions recently restructured, but the team has an out in 2023 and could take a palatable $10 million cap hit by releasing him that offseason. Expect Detroit to give Goff two years to prove his value, with first-year head coach Dan Campbell getting a chance to tailor the team's offense around the quarterback’s talents.

    Considering Detroit has little chance to truly contend with the current roster, finding out if Goff has what it takes to be the franchise's quarterback for the foreseeable future will be a top priority in 2021.

              

    Green Bay Packers: Will They Convince Aaron Rodgers To Return?

    The Packers are coming off back-to-back NFC Championship Game appearances and initially had Super Bowl aspirations going into the upcoming campaign, but now could be headed toward the league's basement if they aren't able to sort things out with their future Hall of Fame quarterback.

    Prior to the 2021 draft, reports began surfacing regarding how disgruntled superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers had become with his organization. The quarterback reportedly told the team he has no desire to return this season, expressing his displeasure with general manager Brian Gutekunst and the decisions he has made in recent years.

    The most notable complaints Rodgers raised were that Gutekunst decided to take a quarterback in the first round in 2020 and cut Jake Kumerow right after the signal-caller praised the unheralded wideout in an interview.

    ESPN's Rob Demovsky said the Packers are “unlikely” to remove Gutekunst from his post and have no interest in trading Rodgers. The quarterback is still under contract for three more seasons, but so far hasn't reported to OTAs and hasn't indicated plans to show up anytime soon.

    If Rodgers does not return, Green Bay will likely turn to Love in 2021. While the Utah State product has elite potential, he may not be ready to assume the starting job—he was inactive for every game as the third-string signal-caller last year—and the team will have issues remaining competitive this season.

             

    Minnesota Vikings: Do They Have Enough Depth To Make a Playoff Run?

    The Vikings are one of the most polarizing teams right now, possessing some star-caliber players but having little depth behind them and question marks at several positions.

    The defense, in particular, could be strong, but it has to show improvement over last season's group. Head coach Mike Zimmer pulled no punches last season, calling it a “bad defense, the worst one I've ever had.” The team seems to have improved the situation by signing veterans like safety Xavier Woods, cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, but also parted ways with the likes of linebacker Eric Wilson and safety Anthony Harris.

    Injuries did play a role in last year's ugly showing, as Anthony Barr played just two games and Danielle Hunter missed the entire season. They should both be back in action in 2021, presences that will bolster the defense significantly if they can stay healthy.

    While Minnesota does have some points of strength on offense—their receiving corps is one of the league's best and Dalvin Cook is one of the elite running backs right now—the team needs to work on being more consistent on that side of the ball.

    The offensive line should be better this year thanks to the additions of veteran Mason Cole, first-round rookie Christian Darrisaw and third-round pick Wyatt Davis, which should aid quarterback Kirk Cousins in performing at a higher level in his fourth year with the club.

    If the bottom half of the Vikings roster can pitch in at a high level, this team should be in good shape. If not, the club likely won't have the depth to withstand many injuries to its first-string players.

NFC South

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    Atlanta Falcons: What Will Happen With Julio Jones?

    The Falcons decided against a full-blown rebuild this offseason, keeping quarterback Matt Ryan around with a contract restructure instead of trying to trade the veteran signal-caller. Ryan's long-tenured top target could be on the move, however, as superstar wideout Julio Jones recently revealed his time with the organization is at an end.

    Jones made headlines on Monday when he appeared on FS1, telling host Shannon Sharpe “I'm out of there” when discussing his future with Atlanta. The MMQB's Albert Breer reported Jones had asked for a trade in March, while PFT's Mike Florio found that the club declined a second-round pick for the wideout prior to the draft.

    While the Falcons allegedly wanted a first-rounder for the 32-year-old, Jones is owed over $15 million for the upcoming campaign, a salary that will make it difficult for contending teams to fit him on the roster. The receiver would prefer to land with a winning team like the Patriots or Titans, hardly a surprise after the Falcons went just 4-12 last year and failed to make the playoffs in any of the past three seasons.

    Now that this situation has been brought to light, the Falcons could have a tougher time convincing teams to send over an early pick and take on the aging wideout's big contract. It's unlikely Jones remains with the organization for much longer though, as this is a messy situation the club needs to sort out before training camp begins.

              

    Carolina Panthers: Who is Playing Left Tackle?

    The Panthers have started 14 players at left tackle since Jordan Gross retired seven years ago. They'll be looking to find No. 15 this offseason, but none of the current options appear viable as a long-term answer for the club.

    Carolina will be trying to find a starter among a group that includes veteran signing Cam Erving, rookie third-rounder Brady Christensen and incumbent linemen Greg Little, Trent Scott and Dennis Daley.

    Erving has a leg up in the competition after signing a two-year, $10 million contract in free agency. The No. 19 overall pick in 2015 has played all over the line during his career, most recently appearing in six games for the Cowboys. He graded out as a mediocre 58.0 and gave up a sack and committed one penalty in just 279 snaps according to PFF. It's unlikely the 28-year-old will improve much at this stage of his career.

    Christensen is old for a rookie at 25, but he'll have an uphill battle trying to beat out the experienced vets for this job. He was drafted largely due to his athletic abilities, but he's a bit raw in terms of technique and needs to adjust to better handle the speed of an NFL rush before becoming a viable starter.

    Scott and Daley have both been backups who haven't inspired much confidence when given a chance to start. Scott graded out as a 60.2 after allowing two sacks and being flagged for three penalties in 347 snaps last year, while Daley earned a 64.7 grade over a meager 135 snaps in 2020.

    None of these players seem ideal for protecting new quarterback Sam Darnold's blind side as he gets integrated into the Carolina offense. The Panthers will have to find the best of the bunch and make do with it in 2021.

              

    New Orleans Saints: Is Their Next Franchise Quarterback On the Roster?

    The Saints are preparing for life without Drew Brees after the quarterback decided to end his Hall of Fame career this offseason. Brees was the foundation of this offense for the past 15 years and New Orleans now must see if any of the three quarterbacks on its roster can replace him.

    The battle will be between Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill and rookie Ian Book. The former two are the most realistic options for the Saints this season, with Book being added as a developmental piece in the fourth round of the draft. He'll almost certainly work behind Hill and Winston as the third quarterback in 2021, giving the club hope for the future if the two veterans fail to pan out.

    Expect a heated competition between Winston and Hill this offseason. Winston has a leg up in starting experience after being the top overall pick in 2015, starting for the rival Buccaneers until his contract ran up following the 2019 campaign. He's thrown 121 touchdown passes during his career, but also has 88 interceptions to his name and a completion rate of just over 61 percent.

    Hill has been with the Saints since they acquired him as an undrafted free agent in 2017, working as a gadget player for most of his career before getting the first crack at replacing an injured Brees last year. He finished the season connecting on 88-of-121 passes for 928 yards and four touchdowns against two interceptions while adding another 457 yards and eight scores on the ground.

    Both players have their share of strengths and weaknesses, with Winston a more dynamic thrower when he's on his game but prone to turnovers. Meanwhile, Hill is a dual threat capable of keeping defenses off-balance but lacks refinement in his mechanics.

    Either Hill or Winston could legitimately win the starting job this summer, making this one of the most exciting competitions to monitor leading up to the 2021 season.

             

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Can They Stay Healthy For Another Run?

    The Buccaneers are coming off an impressive run to a Super Bowl victory, putting it all together late in the regular season and dominating on both sides of the ball in the playoffs.

    Every key player is returning for the team's title defense, a testament to the savviness of a Tampa Bay front office that not only managed to retain every notable free agent, but also added some intriguing pieces into the mix such as first-round pass-rusher Joe Tryon. The Bucs only got better this offseason, making up a unit that has almost no question marks going into 2021.

    Perhaps the only way Tampa fails to mount a valiant title defense is if the roster ends up plagued by injuries, which very well could happen given this is one of the league's older teams. Many of the top contributors are on the wrong side of 30 and just endured four extra games of wear-and-tear during the team's romp through the postseason.

    As long as the Bucs can keep most of their stars on the field, they will remain one of the favorites to lift the Lombardi Trophy following Super Bowl LVI.

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Arizona Cardinals: Will the Secondary Limit Their Potential?

    The Cardinals narrowly missed the playoffs in 2020, falling just short at the end of the season. The team clearly doesn't want the same to happen this year, using the offseason to stock up on talent.

    Arizona acquired several impactful veterans like pass-rusher J.J. Watt and wideout A.J. Green, plus secured some pro-ready prospects like stud linebacker Zaven Collins in the draft. This series of moves significantly improved the club's chances to make the postseason.

    While the Cardinals look ready to make the leap, their current crop of cornerbacks leave a bit to be desired.

    If the season began today, Arizona would likely be starting free-agent pickup Malcolm Butler—who was released by the Titans this offseason—and Robert Alford, who has been hampered by major injuries and hasn't seen a snap since signing with the club in 2019. Byron Murphy, a second-round pick two years ago, will likely cover the slot, but beyond that there are few reliable in-house options.

    The Cardinals may have to rely on fourth-round rookie Marco Wilson and sixth-round pick Tay Gowan to play significant roles this season. If they can perform at a high level, the team will have some decent depth to rely on. If neither pans out, Arizona will be in trouble when having to go into dime packages or if a starter is unavailable.

    If these rookies aren't able to distinguish themselves in OTAs, it would hardly be a shock to see the Cardinals dip into the open market to grab a veteran cornerback.

               

    Los Angeles Rams: Who Is Snapping the Ball?

    The Rams are constructing a roster with the goal of winning Super Bowls starting this season. They are loaded with top-notch talent all over the field, but their offensive line—especially center—isn't as star-studded as the rest of the roster.

    With Los Angeles upgrading to Matthew Stafford from Jared Goff at quarterback, the team needs to find a consistent option to snap him the ball. The incumbent starter, Austin Blythe, left in free agency and signed a budget deal with the Chiefs. By letting Blythe walk, the Rams' brass signaled that they feel confident another lineman under contract can fulfill his duties.

    Whether that is Austin Corbett, Brian Allen, Shelton Coleman or UDFA Meredith Jordan is up for debate, but Corbett seems to have the inside track. The former guard has been spotted lining up at center for the first team offense during OTAs.

    Corbett played both guard positions for the Rams during the regular season, but lined up at center previously in the preseason and took on that role for the Browns when he came into the league. He's unproven at the position, although he has flashed more potential than any of the players he's competing with.

    For a cash-strapped club like L.A., Corbett is likely going to be worth the dice roll.

              

    San Francisco 49ers: When Will Trey Lance Take Over?

    The 49ers made the decision to entrust the future of the franchise to No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance, but the question is when will the quarterback prospect get his chance to start?

    It may not be this year, as the San Francisco front office elected not to clear a path for Lance to take over right away. The team held onto incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo, the veteran signal-caller who helped bring the Niners to a Super Bowl two years ago.

    Although San Francisco was successful in 2019, Garoppolo hasn't lived up to the lofty expectations the team had for him after giving up a second-round pick for him midway through the 2017 campaign. He started out hot, but has struggled with injury and production in the time since. The franchise came to terms that the 29-year-old isn't the long-term solution, moving up the board to acquire Lance and his limitless potential.

    It's going to be difficult to keep Lance off the field, as he was incredibly impressive during his short tenure at North Dakota State. While he only started one full season in 2019, he absolutely dominated the competition with both his arm and mobility. He brings much more to the table than Garoppolo and could climb the depth chart rapidly this offseason.

    If Lance is looking great during OTAs and training camp, expect the Niners to reconsider the idea of having him wait in the wings.

               

    Seattle Seahawks: Did They Do Enough To Keep Russell Wilson Happy?

    One of the key storylines coming out of Seattle following the 2020 campaign was how unhappy quarterback Russell Wilson was with the Seahawks. The team attempted to assuage its superstar by adding weapons and improving his protection this offseason.

    Seattle's most significant move to bolster the offensive line was trading for guard Gabe Jackson. The former Pro Bowler is a quality pass-protector and should significantly aid the efforts to keep Wilson upright in 2021. The team also got one of the steals of the draft by taking tackle Stone Forsythe in the sixth round, a prospect who can potentially contribute from the jump as a rookie.

    The Seahawks already had two of the best wideouts in the game in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but the receiving corps looks even better now with the addition of D'Wayne Eskridge. The second-rounder will help stretch the field and brings more big-play capability to this offense.

    Considering the Seahawks would be in disarray without their franchise quarterback, these moves were necessary to avoid a complete breakdown in the relationship. It may not be enough—Wilson reportedly desired more autonomy and involvement in the organization's decision-making process—but should help smooth things over in the short term.

                 

    Statistics via Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary-cap info via Over the Cap unless otherwise noted.

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