2021 NFL Offseason's Biggest Winners and Losers so Far
Winning or losing the offseason doesn't necessarily translate to positive results or a nosedive in the regular-season standings, but we shouldn't overlook the most notable developments in the NFL from the past few months.
While some teams strengthened weaknesses on their rosters, retained key players or potentially changed the trajectory of their franchises, other clubs made head-scratching moves, took a questionable approach in solving an issue or lost multiple starters.
Let's dive into what stood out the most, good and bad, for players and teams this offseason.
Winner: Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace
Quarterback Justin Fields has garnered a lot of praise over the past several weeks. He seems likely to lead the huddle sooner rather than later. That's a good sign for general manager Ryan Pace, who moved up nine spots to draft the Ohio State product in this year's draft.
Head coach Matt Nagy thinks Fields has shown up at practice as advertised, starting with his approach to the game.
"Everything that we thought he was going to be when he got here with learning and being obsessed with everything that we teach him and then being able to be himself out on the field—he's really doing things in a really good way," Nagy told reporters.
"I've caught one or two deep balls from him," Mooney told reporters. "The very first one that he threw up to me I was smiling mid-route of just seeing the ball in the air and just where it was placed. He's very accurate with his ball, and he understands exactly where he wants the ball."
Pace has to love what he hears about Fields out of practice. He needs to hit on a quarterback selection after Mitchell Trubisky's inconsistent four-year run with the club.
In 2017, Pace moved up one spot to select Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick. Despite a 2018 Pro Bowl year, the 26-year-old fizzled out and didn't sign a second contract with the Bears. He's now a backup for the Buffalo Bills.
Going into the final year of his contract, Pace could point to Fields' promising future as a reason to keep his job for at least another term.
Loser: Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers may have to prepare for the post-Aaron Rodgers era.
Since then, Packers CEO Mark Murphy has made public comments about the club's rift with Rodgers. In a mailbag response, he shared his belief that the situation has "divided" the fanbase.
Perhaps Murphy tried to put public pressure on Rodgers, who hasn't reported to OTAs or mandatory minicamp. In spite of all of this, the Packers have said they won't trade him.
During an event at Lambeau Field last Thursday, Murphy made another comment that may rub Rodgers' the wrong way.
"I'm often reminded though...of Ted Thompson, as most of you know, just a great general manager, passed away [earlier this year]," Murphy said, via NBC 26. "[Thompson] often talked about Aaron, that he's a...and it wasn't just Aaron, a lot of different players. He would say 'He's a complicated fella.'"
NFL Network's Michael Silver doesn't believe Rodgers is "tripping" about Murphy's remark at the event, but the Packers executive didn't paint his quarterback in a favorable light.
Meanwhile, Jordan Love had a mixed bag of performances through OTAs, though he made strides last week. Keep in mind, general manager Brian Gutekunst said the second-year quarterback has "a long way to go."
If the Packers sit down with Rodgers this summer, they would have to iron out some wrinkles about the team's direction. Green Bay may not be able to resolve this issue after burning one too many bridges with its star quarterback.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
Last season, Patrick Mahomes' mobility masked some pass-protection issues that didn't show up until Super Bowl LV against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2020, he had been hurried 62 times, which ranked fifth in the league, and was seventh (59) in hits taken among quarterbacks.
The Kansas City Chiefs acquired upgrades and added depth to their offensive line in a variety of ways, signing left guard Joe Thuney as well as interior offensive lineman Austin Blythe. They added tackle Orlando Brown Jr. from the Baltimore Ravens via a trade and selected Creed Humphrey in the second round of the draft.
The Chiefs signed guard Kyle Long, but he went down with a knee injury that could sideline him through training camp, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who opted out of the 2020 term, could start at right guard.
According to Pro Football Focus, Thuney has allowed just three sacks in 1,733 offensive snaps since the 2018 season. In 2020, Brown filled in for an injured Ronnie Staley at left tackle and earned his second Pro Bowl nod. He'll replace Eric Fisher, who's recovering from a torn Achilles and is now a potential starter for the Indianapolis Colts.
Thuney and Brown are immediate upgrades at their respective positions. Humphrey didn't allow a sack through three terms at Oklahoma, per Pro Football Focus. He's a candidate to start at center.
If Duvernay-Tardif needs to knock off some rust, Blythe can slide over to right guard. Lucas Niang, a 2020 third-rounder who opted out of the previous campaign, could challenge Mike Remmers for the starting right tackle spot.
Mahomes should have a much cleaner pocket with the addition and return of multiple offensive linemen.
Loser: Las Vegas Raiders QB Derek Carr
Derek Carr will play behind a younger but much less experienced offensive line in comparison to the starting five from last season.
The Las Vegas Raiders traded center Rodney Hudson, guard Gabe Jackson and tackle Trent Brown. That veteran trio played a combined 2,426 offensive snaps in 2020. From the pivot to the perimeter, Andre James, Denzelle Good or John Simpson, and rookie first-rounder Alex Leatherwood will have opportunities to start.
According to The Athletic's Tashan Reed, the Raiders "would be thrilled" if Simpson beats Good for the right guard spot.
With left guard Richie Incognito coming off an Achilles injury at 38 years old (in July), Carr will have one of the league's most shaky offensive lines in 2021.
On top of all that, Carr won't have his lead wide receiver from the previous campaign in Nelson Agholor, who signed with the New England Patriots.
Within the first three weeks of the upcoming season, the Raiders will play three of the top-six scoring defenses from the 2020 term. They could struggle out of the gate if their offensive line needs a few games to jell in the trenches.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers kept the core of their 2020 Super Bowl squad together.
Quarterback Tom Brady reworked his contract, which allowed Tampa Bay to save $19.3 million, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. By this time, the club had already franchise-tagged wideout Chris Godwin.
The Buccaneers went on to re-sign key players, including running back Leonard Fournette, wideout Antonio Brown, tight end Rob Gronkowski, edge-rusher Shaquil Barrett, linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The front office also had enough cap space to sign Giovani Bernard, a pass-catching tailback with 342 receptions for 2,867 yards and 11 touchdowns for his career.
After their Week 13 bye, the Buccaneers won eight consecutive games en route to a Super Bowl victory. Clearly, they started to click in the second half of the 2020 campaign. With its core on both sides of the ball still intact, Tampa Bay should go into the 2021 season as a strong favorite to win the title as repeat champions.
Loser: Houston Texans
The Houston Texans had a rocky start to the 2020 offseason with Deshaun Watson's demand for a trade, initially reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter in January.
The Texans seemed prepared to wait out the situation and chose not to honor Watson's request. If they had planned to eventually entertain offers, that's on hold for the foreseeable future.
Since March, there have been 22 civil lawsuits filed against Watson by women alleging sexual assault and misconduct. Yet he hasn't wavered on his desire to leave Houston.
Now the Texans have to move forward with journeyman Tyrod Taylor, rookie third-rounder Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel in the quarterback room, which doesn't inspire much optimism for the offense.
Taylor will keep the seat warm for the quarterback of the future who may not be on the current roster.
Last season, the Texans won four games with Watson healthy for a full 16-game slate. Without him, in a transition year under a new regime, they're arguably the worst team in the NFL.
Winner: New York Giants QB Daniel Jones
In 2021, we'll find out if the New York Giants have a solid starting quarterback in Daniel Jones.
With a stacked pass-catching group, Jones has a bevy of offensive playmakers around him. Though the Giants may limit dual-threat running back Saquon Barkley's snaps early in the upcoming season, Big Blue's perimeter weapons could spread a defense thin on the back end.
The Giants signed Kenny Golladay, who joins Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton and rookie first-rounder Kadarius Toney in the wide receiver unit. Don't forget Pro Bowl tight end Evan Engram, who has 216 receptions for 2,420 yards and 13 touchdowns in four seasons.
At 6'4", 213 pounds, Golladay will likely become the go-to receiver. He eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in two seasons and led the league in touchdown receptions (11) for the 2019 campaign.
Toney has missed significant practice time because of a minor injury, contract and cleat issues and a family emergency, per The Athletic's Dan Duggan. Nonetheless, he's an X-factor because of his versatility as a slot receiver and gadget player who can take handoffs out of the backfield.
Big Blue are returning three primary starters across the offensive line plus Shane Lemieux, who filled in at left guard for an injured Will Hernandez last season.
With the Giants' collection of offensive talent and continuity, Jones could take a significant leap in his third season after a disappointing 2020 term with 11 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.
Loser: Jacksonville Jaguars RB James Robinson
Even though James Robinson tied for fifth in rushing with 1,070 yards last year, he'll likely accept a lesser role in 2021.
Under a new regime, the Jacksonville Jaguars signed Carlos Hyde, who played for head coach Urban Meyer at Ohio State between 2012 and 2013, and selected Travis Etienne in the first round of the draft, which creates a crowd in the backfield.
Etienne took reps at wide receiver during rookie minicamp, but he'll likely handle a good chunk of carries during the regular season. The Clemson product rushed for 4,952 yards and 70 touchdowns through four collegiate terms.
According to ESPN's Dianna Russini, the Jaguars may use tight end Tim Tebow in a Taysom Hill-like role. In other words, he could take direct snaps in the Wildcat formation and handoffs for short-yardage rushing attempts.
Despite Robinson's ascension from an unknown undrafted free agent out of Illinois State to a top-five rusher, he's one component of a three-man committee in an offense that may not feature a dominant ball-carrier.
Robinson will likely see a drop in his second-year rushing numbers with Etienne, Hyde and perhaps Tebow splitting the carries.