The Hottest Hot Seat for Every NFL Team in 2021

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJune 10, 2021

The Hottest Hot Seat for Every NFL Team in 2021

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    Stew Milne/Associated Press

    As summer heats up, a few seats around the NFL will as well.  

    The grind of the actual season will determine how certain scenarios play themselves out, but legitimate competition begins in the grueling heat of the solstice, thus bringing uncertainty. 

    Many players must deal with the pressure of being pushed by others. Maybe certain individuals weren't good enough last season, their production didn't meet their financial compensation or the team drafted an eventual replacement. 

    Coaches, on the other hand, must piece together their 53-man rosters in hopes of achieving a winning season. Things can go awry quickly because of injury, lack of development and/or poor decisions. 

    Right now, ample opportunity exists. Every single person around the league must take advantage of their respective setup.

    Ultimately, there will be those who fail. At some point, either in the regular season or after the 2021 campaign, those previously heated seats will become inflamed, and change will come.     

Arizona Cardinals: LB Jordan Hicks

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals already allowed linebacker Jordan Hicks and his representation to seek a trade, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. His standing with the team is tenuous at best. 

    As soon as the Cardinals drafted Zaven Collins with this year's 16th overall pick, Hicks became expendable. The fact that the veteran holds a $6 million salary-cap charge this season doesn't help matters. 

    Arizona would save next-to-nothing by releasing Hicks, though. A trade would recoup $2.9 million. But the idea of another squad taking on the rest of Hicks' contract this late in the offseason seems unlikely. 

    Maybe the two parties will renegotiate the deal. Or the Cardinals could simply ride out this season with Hicks as a veteran presence in the linebacker room while Collins and Isaiah Simmons assert themselves as the team's off-ball options.    

Atlanta Falcons: QB Matt Ryan

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Falcons made a mistake when they decided to rework Matt Ryan's contract and push too much guaranteed money into the future. 

    With the possibility of a Julio Jones trade looming over the franchise—which came to fruition Sunday—the front office should have started the transition away from its 36-year-old signal-caller. 

    Instead, Atlanta now sits in limbo as a team halfway between a rebuild and trying to be competitive in the short term. 

    Ryan is good enough for the Falcons not to be completely awful. Yet Atlanta had an opportunity to draft Ohio State's Justin Fields with this year's fourth overall pick and passed. Tight end Kyle Pitts is an amazing talent, and he'll become the team's primary offensive weapon with Jones now gone.

    Still, Ryan's salary-cap charge in each of the next two seasons following 2021 exceeds $43 million. The question of whether the Falcons should have bit the bullet this offseason will linger for years to come.   

Baltimore Ravens: WR Marquise Brown

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Browns talks a good game, but he needs to be better. 

    "Honestly, I feel like, you know, I'm gonna do what I do," Brown said in March (h/t Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun). "I'm a playmaker.  ... If we add somebody else, I'm not going to do nothing but learn either way. If we add somebody, I'm going to learn and still do my job."

    The 2019 first-round pick led the team with 769 receiving yards last season. But for context, Brown finished 42nd overall in the category. 

    Yes, Baltimore is a run-first team. At the same time, quarterback Lamar Jackson lacked the consistency needed in the passing game. As such, the Ravens signed Sammy Watkins in free agency and then drafted Rashod Bateman in this year's first round. 

    "When you add talent like that, it's really going to expand our profile quite a bit, actually," offensive coordinator Greg Roman told reporters. "... I really think it will probably take some pressure off guys that have been here like Marquise, free him up a little bit as well."

Buffalo Bills: TE Dawson Knox

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Dawson Knox entered the NFL as a third-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills two years ago. The tight end oozes potential with the athletic profile to be a consistent mismatch in the Bills' already potent passing attack. 

    Yet he hasn't managed more than 28 receptions in a season. 

    The Bills have yet to bring in someone to really push the third-year player, though the possibility of a Zach Ertz trade remains in the background. 

    Knox used this offseason to improve. In particular, he addressed his vision. 

    "We improved [Dawson's] depth perception and his tracking ability," Performance Vision coach Ryan Harrison told Matt Parrino of "There is some software that we use and some hands-on, manual things, and he'll do a lot of movement with his body while he's identifying and recognizing things while he's processing information."       

Carolina Panthers: QB Sam Darnold

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Sam Darnold's natural ability has never been in question. But a poor surrounding cast and even worse coaching stunted the quarterback's development with the New York Jets. 

    The 24-year-old received a new lease on his football life when the Jets traded him to the Carolina Panthers this offseason. 

    However, his status shouldn't be viewed as anything more than a trial run. Even with the Panthers picking up Darnold's fifth-year option, he's not guaranteed to be the long-term starter. The 2018 third overall pick has a two-year window to show he's capable of realizing his full potential. 

    "He's an incredible talent and incredible teammate already, so I'm super excited for him," running back Christian McCaffrey said last month, per Darin Gantt of the Panthers' official site. 

    Darnold's talent needs to translate into more from an on-field perspective. 

Chicago Bears: QB Andy Dalton

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Andy Dalton is the Chicago Bears QB1, or so head coach Matt Nagy claims. 

    "Andy is the starter," Nagy told reporters at the onset of organized team activities. "Andy's going to get the one reps."

    In truth, the Bears are already Justin Fields' team. He's the face of the franchise. He's the great hope after general manager Ryan Pace traded up in this year's first round to select the talented quarterback. 

    "I knew the situation I was going into, regardless of if they drafted somebody or they didn't," Dalton said (h/t Pro Football Talk's Charean Williams). "I was on a one-year deal, and I was going to be the starter. My mindset didn't have to change."

    It should. The clock is ticking for Dalton, as his time with the Bears first-team offense is limited. He might provide a steady hand through training camp and even into the onset of the 2021 campaign. Eventually, Fields will take over and the Bears won't look back.

Cincinnati Bengals: HC Zac Taylor

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    Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals are undoubtedly a more talented team today than they were a year ago. But they're far from a complete squad. 

    The biggest question is whether head coach Zac Taylor and his staff are the correct choice in molding the improving squad. 

    Since Taylor took over the team, Cincinnati holds a 6-25-1 record. 

    Today, the roster features Joe Burrow, whom the organization drafted first overall last year, running back Joe Mixon, left tackle Jonah Williams, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, defensive tackle D.J. Reader, cornerback Trae Waynes, nickel Mike Hilton, safety Jessie Bates III and wide receivers Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and this year's fifth overall pick, Ja'Marr Chase. 

    The talent is in place to be competitive and improve record-wise, even in the difficult AFC North. If the Bengals don't, issues within the coaching staff will be the primary culprit. 

Cleveland Browns: WR Odell Beckham Jr.

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the NFL's most gifted wide receivers. But he's coming off a torn ACL he suffered in a Week 7 contest against the Cincinnati Bengals. 

    Something weird happened during his absence: Baker Mayfield became a better quarterback. 

    Clearly, the Browns offense is potentially a much better unit with OBJ in the lineup, and his presence makes opponents defend Cleveland differently. But no one can deny how well Mayfield played down the stretch.

    In fact, he was the second-highest-graded quarterback (behind MVP Aaron Rodgers) from Week 7 through the playoffs, according to Pro Football Focus. Maybe Mayfield simply became more comfortable in Kevin Stefanki's system over time. Or, he stopped forcing the ball to a certain target. 

    Whatever the case, Beckham has the team's highest salary-cap charge this season at $15.75 million. If the mercurial receiver doesn't play well, people will start to wonder if he's part of the problem and not the solution.

Dallas Cowboys: HC Mike McCarthy

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Mike McCarthy probably should have been a one-and-done head coach with the Dallas Cowboys after the team completely fell apart last season and couldn't capture a division title even in the lowly NFC East. 

    Injuries certainly played a big role in the team's downturn. But that's merely an excuse.

    The Cowboys were horrendous on defense, which forced McCarthy to fire coordinator Mike Nolan. Dan Quinn now leads that side of the ball. An overall lack of adjustments seemed to come from the head coach as well. 

    Quarterback Dak Prescott, left tackle Tyron Smith, right tackle La'el Collins, right guard Zack Martin and tight end Blake Jarwin are expected back after injury-plagued campaigns. The defense received an injection of talent with draftees Micah Parsons, Kelvin Joseph, Osa Odighizuwa and Jabril Cox. 

    Considering how much talent is on the roster, anything short of a playoff appearance should be considered a major disappointment and once again call McCarthy's standing into question.

Denver Broncos: HC Vic Fangio

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos sit at a crossroads with head coach Vic Fangio trying to lead the team in the right direction. 

    The team took a step back in 2020 with a 5-11 record. Significant improvement may be necessary for Fangio to get a fourth year at the helm, while certain obstacles stand in the coach's way. 

    A quarterback competition between Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock from which no real winner may emerge doesn't help. Neither is viewed as a top-end starter unless Lock makes significant strides in Year 3.

    Also, Fangio backed coordinator Pat Shurmur even though the unit finished among the league's bottom 10 in total offense.

    Finally, the Broncos hired a new general manager this offseason. While George Paton will work with Fangio, the two aren't joined at the hip. Thus, a disappointing campaign would provide Paton the opportunity to handpick a head coach.

Detroit Lions: QB Jared Goff

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions may very well be the NFL's worst team. Las Vegas oddsmakers think they're right there with the Houston Texans when it comes to projected futility, per DraftKings.

    Meanwhile, Jared Goff gets to start over as their starting quarterback.  

    "It's a nice vote of confidence obviously for me," Goff told reporters after the Lions passed on a quarterback in the draft. "I think what's not lost on me is that their first move as a staff with Brad [Holmes] and Dan [Campbell] involved me, so it's exciting and it makes you feel good."

    The story may not be the same a year from now. The Lions could be staring down the possibility of selecting a new franchise quarterback at the top of the 2022 draft while saving some money by designating Goff as a June 1 release. 

    Detroit brass supports Goff now. Everything could change by the end of the 2021 campaign.

Green Bay Packers: CB Kevin King

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst could both be considered candidates for the hot seat. But the most logical outcome is both being in place throughout this season and something possibly being done next offseason. All the while, the Packers will remain competitive as one of the NFC's best squads. 

    On the other hand, the Packers' decision to re-sign cornerback Kevin King was downright flabbergasting after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers exploited him in the NFC Championship Game. 

    The 26-year-old re-signed on a one-year, $5 million deal. Packers fans will be all over King the second he makes any mistake. He basically has no room for error this fall. 

    Green Bay did hedge its bet by drafting cornerback Eric Stokes with this year's 29th overall pick. King isn't even guaranteed a starting spot after growing into the role over the last two seasons.

Houston Texans: WR Brandin Cooks

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    Wide receiver Brandin Cooks can't seem to find a home. All he does is produce 1,000-yard seasons and end up on new teams. 

    Since entering the league in 2014 as a first-round draft pick, Cooks has produced five 1,000-yard campaigns. He's played in at least 14 games in six of his seven seasons. Yet he's been with four different franchises. 

    He could very well be working his way toward a fifth as the Houston Texans try to establish an identity with new general manager Nick Caserio and head coach David Culley. 

    The receiver's contract escalates in 2022 with a $16.2 million cap hit. Houston can save $3.1 million this season, plus $13.7 million next year, by trading or cutting Cooks before the start of the 2021 campaign. 

    Considering the team's current turmoil and turnover, coupled with Cooks' production and age (27), something could get done with an asset coming back in return. Everyone understands the current iteration of the Texans is not how the team will look a year from now.

Indianapolis Colts: QB Carson Wentz

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Andrew Luck threw a wrench into the Indianapolis Colts' inner workings when he abruptly retired. Since then, the team has featured three starting quarterbacks in Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers and now Carson Wentz. 

    Of the three, Wentz brings the most long-term potential. But the Colts coaching staff must rediscover what once made him the face of the Philadelphia Eagles franchise.

    Bad habits and bad blood formed in the City of Brotherly Love. He's now in a situation where he's comfortable with the coaching staff based on previous relationships. 

    Wentz's reemergence isn't a given, though, and Indianapolis sunk a significant investment in its new signal-caller. If things aren't working midway through the season, general manager Chris Ballard may be forced to make an executive decision and bench Wentz rather than lose a more valuable draft asset. The package the Eagles received includes a conditional second-round pick that will automatically turn into a first-round selection if Wentz plays 75 percent of the team's offensive snaps or 70 percent of the snaps with a Colts playoff appearance.

Jacksonville Jaguars: OT Cam Robinson

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Surprisingly, the Jacksonville Jaguars placed the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson. A franchise tag brings expectations. However, Robinson hasn't played like a top-shelf blindside protector at any point in his career.

    "We realized that he has a great future. His ceiling is very high," head coach Urban Meyer told reporters. "... We feel that the way this free agency is moving, is that left tackle position—as always, but even more now this year, from hearing from the guys who have been in the NFL—this is a tough year for that left tackle position."

    Meyer conceded that the team probably wouldn't be in a position to upgrade.

    Basically, the Jaguars settled and overpaid for a marginal player with significant upside. Unless Robinson seriously outperforms what he's done earlier in this career, there's very little chance he'll live up to this year's $13.8 million cap hit and get a similar deal next offseason. 

Kansas City Chiefs: Edge Frank Clark

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs simply haven't gotten the return the organization must have expected when it traded for defensive end Frank Clark two years ago. 

    Clark—not quarterback Patrick Mahomes or two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Chris Jones or even all-world tight end Travis Kelce—holds the Chiefs' highest salary-cap hit this fall at a whopping $25.8 million. 

    The number doesn't decrease in 2022, either. In fact, the opposite happens with a slight increase to $26.3 million. 

    With those figures in mind, 14 sacks in his two seasons with the Chiefs are underwhelming. Clark added 25 total pressures, but those overall numbers have been in decline each of the last three years, per Pro Football Reference.

    Kansas City isn't exactly loaded with edge-rushers, so Clark's skill set remains valuable—but nowhere near as valuable as his contract would suggest.

Las Vegas Raiders: GM Mike Mayock

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Mike Mayock's track record as the Las Vegas Raiders general manager hasn't been great. 

    The team made five first-round draft picks in his first two offseasons. Clelin Ferrell, Josh Jacobs, Johnathan Abram, Henry Ruggs III and Damon Arnette became the selections. 

    It's still early, but the return, except Jacobs, hasn't been promising. 

    Then, Mayock and Co. chose Alex Leatherwood with this year's 17th overall pick. Leatherwood is a solid prospect coming out of college football's best program as the reigning Outland Trophy winner. But his selection has been viewed as a bit of a reach, which is an ongoing stigma of Mayock's first-round picks. 

    Value is relative, and Leatherwood should step in from day one as the Raiders' starter at right tackle. Though any struggles by the rookie will again point to disappointment in yet another first-round selection. If that's the case, Mayock will almost certainly be the subject of heavy criticism.

Los Angeles Chargers: DL Jerry Tillery

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    Doug Murray/Associated Press

    New Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley identified a specific defender who should be a critical part of his scheme, as long as he shows continued development. 

    Jerry Tillery hasn't quite lived up to expectations since the Chargers chose the defensive lineman with the 28th overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft. He hasn't been the consistent disruptive force seen at Notre Dame when he led interior defenders in pass-rush grade, per Pro Football Focus. Staley sees his potential, though. 

    "Where he's going to give us the biggest advantage is in interior pass rush," Staley told reporters. "But we feel like this guy's got a chance to be a complete player."

    The Chargers may not have Aaron Donald like Staley did with last year's No. 1 overall defense, but they do have Joey Bosa at defensive end. Tillery has a chance to be Michael Brockers in the coach's system.

    Tillery must keep progressing or run the risk of the defensive scheme not clicking on all cylinders. 

Los Angeles Rams: LB Micah Kiser

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    Brett Carlsen/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Rams' connective tissue between an awesome defensive front, specifically reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, and the game's best pass defense can be found lacking. 

    At middle linebacker, Micah Kiser is a smart and instinctive downhill defender. But he's limited athletically, and opposing offenses exploited him in coverage. 

    With a strong grasp of the defensive scheme, third-round rookie Ernest Jones could easily displace Kiser in the starting lineup. 

    "That's what I was kind of brought in here for, to be vocal and continue what I did in college," Jones told reporters. "The first few days, [I was] being a little cautious and nervous [about] speaking in front of [teammates]. In just these last few days, I’ve become comfortable with them.

    "Once you see something, you take control, you call it out."

Miami Dolphins: RB Myles Gaskin

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    John Munson/Associated Press

    Running back became a favored projection for the Miami Dolphins with this year's 18th overall draft pick. Instead, the organization chose Miami defensive end Jaelan Phillips. The Dolphins passed on the opportunity to select Najee Harris or Travis Etienne.

    Miami likes what it has in Myles Gaskin, Malcom Brown and Salvon Ahmed. Gaskin led the team last season with 584 rushing yards.

    "The big thing about Myles from at least last year and going from Year 1 to Year 2 for him was his growth in football and what he learned and how dependable he became for what we needed done," co-offensive coordinator Eric Studesville told reporters. "... Myles is going to put his best foot forward and give you everything he has and that's what gives him a chance."

    Overall, Miami finished 22nd in rushing offense. What happens when Gaskin doesn't grow into a featured back? Questions about why the team passed on the position through the first six rounds will return.

Minnesota Vikings: OG Dakota Dozier

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings continue to shuffle their offensive line and it's not likely to stop in the near future. 

    First, the organization released veteran left tackle Riley Reiff. Next, general manager Rick Speilman drafted Reiff's replacement, Christian Darrisaw, with this year's 23rd overall pick. Second-year guard Ezra Cleveland will move from the right to left side. With four of the five spots set, right guard remains unsettled. 

    Dakota Dozier started 16 games at left guard last season. The 30-year-old veteran is a passable run blocker, but his pass blocking leaves a lot to be desired. 

    As such, Mason Cole, whom the team signed as a free agent, and third-round rookie Wyatt Davis will enter an open competition to fill the spot vacated by Cleveland. 

    Dozier may have been a starter, but his overall performance portends a change with Cole or Davis flanking center Garrett Bradbury.

New England Patriots: QB Cam Newton

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Cam Newton will be the New England Patriots' starting quarterback until he isn't. 

    The organization won't suffer through another mediocre campaign where the team doesn't make the postseason. This offseason's activity ensures the squad has everything necessary for its quarterbacks to succeed. 

    The front office splurged with the acquisitions of tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry as well as wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. The team rebuilt part of its offensive front, too, with Trent Brown and Ted Karras returning. 

    To be fair, Newton had little help last season. Still, the former league MVP knew he had to be better and worked on rebuilding his throwing fundamentals this offseason, per ESPN's Mike Reiss. Also, the veteran has a better understanding of the team's offense going into his second year.  

    Despite promising returns, the Patriots still sunk this year's 15th overall pick in Alabama quarterback Mac Jones. Newton won't be allotted too much leeway. Either the veteran plays at a much higher level, or the coaching staff should pull the trigger on starting the team's rookie signal-caller.

New Orleans Saints: QB Taysom Hill

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Sean Payton's fascination with Taysom Hill is befuddling. But no one can deny the head coach's affinity for the multipurpose threat. 

    As the Saints begin life A.D.B. (after Drew Brees), a competition will ensue between Hill and Jameis Winston. Winston seems like the obvious choice, though Hill has been groomed to become Brees' successor. 

    Hill may not be paid like a starting NFL quarterback, but his upcoming salary-cap hit is still $4.8 million more than Winston's. 

    "But I think as I got ready to enter the NFL, my goal and my mindset was to just do everything I can to have an opportunity to be a guy," Hill told reporters. "Because there are only 32 starters in the NFL. ... So it's definitely something that I'm not taking lightly and I'm going to give it everything I've got."

    The 30-year-old must show he's a capable quarterback and not just a gadget player. Otherwise, Winston will claim the starting job. 

New York Giants: TE Evan Engram

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    Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

    Evan Engram remains an enigma for the New York Giants. 

    Engram is a hard worker and one of Joe Judge's favorite practice players. When the athletic tight end is playing well, he's a difficult mismatch and arguably the best receiving threat on the Giants roster. 

    Inconsistency is an issue, though. Drops and overall ball security are problematic. Engram knows he must be better despite finishing second on the team last season with 63 receptions. 

    "There were a lot of things I feel like I could have done better," Engram told reporters. "There were a lot of things I did well and there are things that I can build on. Definitely throwing last year away. There were a lot of things to learn from but I'm looking forward to this next season."

    A make-or-break season emerges from the ashes of the previous campaign. Engram is entering the last year of his rookie deal, not to mention the team now has a steady veteran option in Kyle Rudolph. 

New York Jets: WR Jamison Crowder

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    Stew Milne/Associated Press

    The New York Jets chose wide receiver Elijah Moore with the 34th overall pick in this year's draft.

    Two responses immediately came to the forefront after his selection. First, he provided excellent value as one of the class' best wide receiver prospects. Second, his skill set is redundant as a slot receiver since the Jets already have Jamison Crowder on the roster. 

    Crowder's current contract has an $11.4 million salary-cap charge this season, and he hasn't attended voluntary workouts. 

    "Jamison, obviously, is working through some stuff with his contract with Joe [Douglas] and his staff and his agent," head coach Robert Saleh told reporters. "[I'm] really confident to get Jamison here quickly, and when we do, he definitely has a role for this team."

    A source told SNY's Ralph Vacchiano that the Jets want Crowder to take a "significant" pay cut. If not, the veteran's replacement is already on the roster. 

Philadelphia Eagles: LT Andre Dillard

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    Brad Penner/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles traded up in the first round of the 2019 draft to select offensive tackle Andre Dillard. The organization did so to prepare for life without Jason Peters. 

    Two years later, the team still doesn't know what it has at left tackle. 

    Dillard experienced ups and downs as a rookie while starting four games. Unfortunately, he missed all of last season with a torn biceps. 

    "I'm back 100 percent. Stronger than I was before," Dillard told reporters. "Being out lit a fire in me that I never felt before. I'm ready to compete for the left tackle job with Jordan Mailata."

    At this point, Mailata brings more starting experience while being a year and a half younger than Dillard. If the former first-round pick can't win the job to protect Jalen Hurts' blind side, the dreaded bust label will be applied more and more often. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: TE Eric Ebron

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Eric Ebron fooled everyone with his breakout season in 2018. The tight end's career looked like it finally turned the corner after years of disappointment with the Detroit Lions. Instead, his Pro Bowl performance proved to be an anomaly. 

    Ebron regressed in 2019 before signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a free agent the following offseason. Much like his time in Detroit and second season with the Colts, the 2014 eighth overall pick showed he's an inconsistent performer with suspect hands. 

    The Steelers didn't mess around after Vance McDonald's retirement and chose Penn State's Pat Freiermuth with this year's second-round draft pick. If not for a shoulder injury that ended the tight end's season prematurely, Freiermuth could have been a first-round selection. 

    As the season unfolds, the possibility of the veteran tight end being phased out for a rookie with promise seems like a natural progression, especially since Ebron is scheduled to be a free agent next offseason. 

San Francisco 49ers: Edge Dee Ford

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers traded for Dee Ford two years ago and agreed to five-year, $87.5 million contract. The organization almost immediately regretted the decision. 

    Since that point, Ford has played in 15 of 35 possible games. He missed all but one game last season due to back and neck injuries. 

    Even before the 2020 season began, the 49ers floated Ford as a potential trade option while the front office dealt with salary-cap issues. Obviously, suitors didn't materialize.

    His salary-cap charge this fall isn't terrible at $8.9 million. But his worth is determined by on-field production, and the 49ers have received little from that perspective. 

    San Francisco is set on the edges with Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa. The organization can't save anything by moving on from Ford unless a new suitor emerges to take on his $4 million base salary through a trade. Otherwise, a split between these two parties appears to be only a matter of time. 

Seattle Seahawks: DC Ken Norton Jr.

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks defense can't start as slowly as it did a year ago. The unit was on a record-shattering pace for futility before it finally righted the ship. 

    Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. heard the criticism. 

    "Everybody loves a winner, and everybody has all the answers for the guys who aren't playing well," he told reporters. "I totally understand that, and I get it. It's a matter of us taking care of our business."

    As Scott Kacsmar noted, Seattle allowed 115 fewer points in the second half of the 202 campaign than it did during the first half. In total, the Seahawks finished with the league's 22nd-best defense. 

    With the firepower the offense features, including offseason improvements along the offensive line and at tight end, the defense must continue to play disciplined football. If Norton's unit backtracks, his status will immediately come under fire. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Edge Jason Pierre-Paul

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    Alex Menendez/Associated Press

    Life is good when you're the reigning Super Bowl champions. It's even better for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who return their entire starting lineup from the 2020 campaign. 

    Continuity doesn't mean change isn't eventually coming, though. 

    The Buccaneers made this abundantly clear with their approach to the NFL draft. With their initial four selections, Tampa Bay added a prospect who will be ready to take over for a veteran either this season or next. 

    In the first round, general manager Jason Licht chose edge-rusher Joe Tryon. The Washington product will take part in a rotation as a rookie and eventually replace Jason Pierre-Paul. The 32-year-old JPP put together a fantastic career as a two-time Super Bowl champion and three-time Pro Bowl selection. He's a free agent after this season, though. 

    Tryon is the long-term bookend to Shaquil Barrett. 

Tennessee Titans: LB Rashaan Evans

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    Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

    Anytime an organization doesn't pick up a former first-round pick's fifth-year rookie option, the writing is on the wall. 

    The Tennessee Titans declined Rashaan Evans' fifth-year option this offseason even after finishing among the team's top-three tacklers the past two seasons. 

    Sure, the linebacker could have a strong effort in his fourth year like Jack Conklin once did before he signed a significant free-agent deal with the Cleveland Browns. The odds are more likely that Evans plays out his contract and doesn't remain with the Titans beyond the 2021 campaign. 

    Tennessee already has the pieces in place to move on from both Evans and Jayon Brown in David Long Jr. and Monty Rice, whom the organization drafted in this year's third round. 

    At this point, the bigger question is whether Evans and Brown can even hold onto their starting jobs. 

Washington Football Team: OT Cornelius Lucas

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team overhauled its offensive tackles this offseason. 

    Left tackle was a significant need area, though Cornelius Lucas settled the position some over the second half of the season. Lucas started the final nine games of the 2020 campaign (including the team's playoff contest). But Washington signed free agent Charles Leno Jr. to take over blind-side duties. 

    Over on the right side, Washington released Morgan Moses for salary-cap purposes. Moses started every game since 2015. The move saved the organization nearly $8 million toward this year's cap number. 

    Lucas bumps over to the right side where he has plenty of experience. He's now the first-team right tackle, per the Washington Post's Sam Fortier.

    The veteran may not hold the position for long, though. Washington drafted Samuel Cosmi in the second round. The rookie appears earmarked to start at some point this year to complete the unit.


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