19. January 2021

NFL Nation

The NFL 2020 playoffs take place during championship weekend with the top four teams. But it also means that 28 additional teams have started the offseason. The Free Agency and the 2021 NFL selection are waiting for them to fill in the weaknesses and gaps on their teams.

Some teams have just hired new general managers and head coaches who are working diligently to rebuild their teams, while others, who just missed the postseason, are wondering how they are going to make it.

With this in mind, we asked our NFL journalists to determine what decision each organization should make and how likely it is to separate itself from its player:

Spring:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | AUTO | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LAC | LAR | LV | MIA | MIN
NE | NO YG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

AFFC IS

Offensive tackle Daryl Williams. The addition of Williams in the offseason allowed the Bills to get comfortable with second-year lineman Cody Ford on defense to start the season. Williams had its best season since being named second All-Pro team in 2017. However, with John Feliciano and Matt Milano likely favoring Williams among Bills free agents, Williams may have played his part in a contract Buffalo can no longer afford – especially given the planned reduction in the salary cap and Josh Allen getting an even bigger contract than expected. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Dolphins general manager Chris Grier has publicly committed to having Tua Tagovailoa as the starting quarterback in 2021, but head coach Brian Flores made no such commitment when asked if Fitzpatrick would return as a backup, citing the need for a full roster evaluation. Fitzpatrick, 38, will have to decide whether to retire, but he played well during his two seasons with the Dolphins, leading them from rebuilding to competition. Therefore, it is likely that another team will offer him a significantly free agent contract. If he continues to play, Fitzpatrick will transfer to a team that gives him the ability to play bridge as the starting quarterback or run to the starting position. Dolphins must sign and/or date another backup quarterback. — Cameron Wolfe

David Andrews Center. There are many other notable options – including quarterback Cam Newton, guard Joe Tunney and fullback Lawrence Guy – but Andrews will be chosen as a four-time captain and active member of the organization on and off the field. It gets the defense in trouble at the line of scrimmage, so it will be an essential extension for anyone lining up as a quarterback, which is another big problem for the Patriots. That’s why the odds look better, they’re going to work hard to re-sign it. — Mike Reiss

Marcus May’s security. The Jets would like to resign Maya, their team MVP. The same, of course, goes for wide receiver Robby Anderson (he moved as a free agent) and the Jamal Adams vault (traded). So you never know. Maye is a regular player, even exceptional, who can be had for a high salary ($8 to $10 million a year). This is only his second contract, but he’s 28 this season. The office likes its untouchability and should fit in well with Robert Saleh’s zoning. — Rich Cimini

NORTH

2 Connected

Passenger Matthew Judon or Yannick Ngakoue. The Ravens must decide which free third agent to invest in. Jadon is the most versatile linebacker and Ngakoue is considered the best cleaner. Baltimore tried to get a contract extension with Judon, but according to one source, he was looking for a $20 million per season contract. The Ravens could have labeled Ngakoue as a franchise, but he has been a disappointment as they traded him a third round pick in October. Ngakoue played just 20 times in Baltimore’s playoff run, suggesting he may not be part of the team’s long-term plans. Four of the Ravens’ five outside linebackers wait for the free agents: Jadon, Ngakoue, Pernell McPhee and Tyus Bowser. — Jamison Hensley

Defensive end Carl Lawson. Lawson may not have had a huge number of sacks, but he produced 10.5 in 2020, according to ESPN Stats & Information and NFL Next Gen. The Bengals would do well to give Lawson a long-term contract. But the big question will be whether Lawson wants to stay in Cincinnati or go where he’s most likely to find bags. — Ben Baby

Receiver General Rashard Higgins. The Browns brought Higgins back on a contract from last season, and Baker Mayfield helped convince Higgins to re-sign. Higgins, for his part, has played a big role in Mayfield’s resurgence since joining Odell Beckham Jr.’s injured team in Week 7. The Browns have a lot of money to spend on wide receivers, OBJ and Jarvis Landry. But given the relationship between Higgins and Mayfield, it seems reasonable for Cleveland to sign a multi-year deal. — Jake Trotter

Wide receiver Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster. Ben Roethlisberger wants it back. Smith-Schuster wants to go back. But the Steelers rarely award outs to wide receivers, with only two going to Hines Ward and Antonio Brown. Smith-Schuster was an indispensable part of the offense, mainly because of his fiery yards after the catch and his reliability on third runs, but history is not on his side. The same goes for the salary cap. To re-sign Smith-Schuster, the Steelers will need to hire more Wizards, made even more difficult by Roethlisberger’s $41.2 million cap. Still, the Steelers let him go and are counting on Chase Claypool, Deontae Johnson and James Washington to secure the future of the position. — Brooke Pryor.

SOUTH

The great receiver Will Fuller. The wide receiver, who played out his five-year option, was in line for a big new contract before he was suspended for six games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substances policy. Even with the suspension, Fuller could still get a big payday, and he could come all the way from Houston. Texas quarterback Deshaun Watson said in December, after the receiver was suspended, that it was important for Fuller to come back. Of course, the Texans still can’t deal with Watson’s frustration at finding a general manager, but Fuller’s rehire could be a way to keep Watson in Houston. -Sarah Bar Shop

Quarterback Philip Rivers. Rivers has told the Colts that he is not 100% sure he will make his 18th start. The NFL season wants to play out. Both parties will decide next month on the direction to take. The Colts want Rivers, 39, but they won’t sit back and wait for him to make a decision. They will evaluate the league’s quarterbacks and continue to look for potential candidates for selection. If Rivers doesn’t return, the Colts could have their third starting quarterback in as many seasons with Jacoby Brissett on free agent duty. — Mike Wells

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Offensive tackle Cam Robinson. He has been a passing defender this season and not the dominant player the Jaguars envisioned when he was drafted in the second round in 2017. He fought with a torn ACL in 2018, but that shouldn’t be a problem in 2020. Do the Jaguars want an inconsistent player to protect the blind side of Trevor Lawrence, or will they try to move on to free agents or the national team? — Mike DiRocco.

The great receiver Corey Davis. Last season, the Titans finally managed to pack a good punch (1-2) on a wide receiver. Davis used a cover that was primarily aimed at A.J. Brown. The chemistry Davis developed with Ryan Tannehill allowed him to make 70 percent of his catches and reach the peak of his career in one season, in yards (984) and touchdowns (five). It’s going to be expensive, but the Titans will figure out how to get Davis back. — Turron Davenport

AH WEST

Security Justin Simmons. It’s at the top of the to-do list of recently hired CEO George Paton. In the locker room, many of Simmons’ teammates are wondering what exactly he needs to do to get back on the team. Simmons has played in each of the last three seasons, being named to the Pro Bowl and the second All-Pro team in those three seasons. He is one of the most active players in the Broncos and was a candidate for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2020. Of course, the Broncos could have marked him up again like they did last season, but the new contract keeps one of their best players around and shows the team is interested in rewarding his efforts. Yes, the deal should make sense for the Broncos, but if Simmons doesn’t re-sign, many of his teammates will wonder: If he can’t get a new contract with the Broncos, how can he? -Jeff Legwold

The great receiver Sammy Watkins. Since Watkins joined the Chiefs in 2018, his numbers have been low, but the offense has been more productive when he’s been in the line of fire than when he hasn’t. The Chiefs don’t appear to have a replacement on their roster as the No. 2 receiver. It’s hard to imagine that the chiefs can afford to pay Watkins again, given the tight wage situation. But both sides were motivated to reach an agreement last year when Watkins accepted a reduced contract to remain with the team. — Adam Thacher.

Defensive lineman Denzel Good. Yes, receiver Nelson Agholor had a career year with 896 receiving yards, an average of 18.7 yards per catch and eight touchdowns. But since the Raiders will likely need a pay cut to get under the hood, Agolor could be asking for more than they can afford. The good thing is that the Raiders gave it their all in the front row and had excellent lineups at both Right Tackle and Left Guard. And with big question marks behind right tackle Trent Brown and left tackle Richie Incognito, Good is probably the smartest choice here. Finally, coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr both said Good was an unsung hero of the team and the best player on the team last year. — Paul Gutierrez

Hunter Henry. The 26-year-old was strong, but his injuries caused confusion on both sides. The Chargers thought he would make it through the season, but he missed the last two games. Henry is a valuable asset to the Chargers and they will try to keep him. But he can have a lot of fans. — Shelley Smith

NPC EAST

Quarterback Duck Prescott. No, it’s not a cut-and-paste from last year. It remains the trademark of off-season scheduling. The Cowboys want to sign it long-term, but they also want to sign it in 2019 and 1920. If they are unable to reach a long-term deal, they will likely award it a new $37.7 million franchise. Whether it’s a one-day or long-term contract, the Prescott contract gobbles up a lot of the cap, and it will affect Dallas’ ability to attract free agents or retain players currently under contract. Maybe this time the Cowboys and Prescott’s agent, Todd France, will have a real negotiation before the mid-June deadline, when he’ll be flagged again. — Todd Archer

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Damien Woody says the Cowboys have the worst offense in the NFL since Dak Prescott was fired and says it’s time for things to change in Dallas.

Defensive lineman Leonard Williams. He played for the franchise ($16.1 million) that season and had a banner year with 11.5 sacks and 30 quarterbacks, earning him third place in the NFL. Still, it will be expensive to sign it for a long period of time. How much are the giants willing to pay? How much will Williams ask? He insisted that money was not his first priority. However, it will be expensive and the Giants can’t afford to lose it. No one had more than four bags. Giants must add, not subtract, from pass rushers. — Jordan Ranan

Defender Jaylen Mills. In 2020, he went from cornerback to safety and improved along the way. He was the starting point for the 2017 championship and was the leader in the locker room, but the new defensive coordinator will have to decide if he fits into the system. — Tim McManus.

Security guard Brandon Scherff. He played for the franchise this season, becoming the first Washington player to be named to the first All-Pro team roster since Matt Turk in 1996. Some of those who know Scherff thought that last offseason wouldn’t make him want to make a long-term commitment, but after coach Ron Rivera’s first season, Scherff seemed excited and said he was looking forward to coming back. Rivera wants to build strong lines, and if that’s the case, then Scherff should be retained. In November 2019, Philadelphia made three-time pro bowler Brandon Brooks its highest paid guard with a four-year contract worth $54.2 million. It makes sense that the Scherff deal is close to this figure. — John Keim.

NFC NORTH

Receiver Allen Robinson. Robinson peaked his career with 102 receptions last year, but the Bears weren’t willing to pay the 27-year-old receiver much money. Contract negotiations between the Bears and Robinson’s agent during the season fell through. The Bears like Robinson, but seem content to let the veteran test the market rather than pay him a top 5 receiver. Chicago could use a deductible tag, but this seems unlikely given the league’s upcoming salary cap reduction. The Bears take Robinson’s real opportunity to leave via free agency. — Jeff Dickerson

The great receiver Kenny Galladay. The Lions didn’t make a deal with him during the season, and now the new regime is faced with whether to franchise him, sign him to a long-term deal or leave him in Free Agency. The most plausible solution here might be to label Golladay to save time to either A) develop a long-term deal once they figure out how to build a boneless receiver, or B) find potential business partners if it’s not part of a long-term plan, as the Texans did with Jadeveon Clowney and the Jaguars with Ngakoue last season. It’s also possible that Golladay will play for Detroit in 2021 and that the two teams will get along, but it’s hard to imagine the club letting him go given the 27-year-old’s talent and age. — Michael Rothstein

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Aaron Jones back. The Packers had a deal on the table that would have made Jones one of the five highest paid players in the league, but that was average for the year. The big guaranteed money wasn’t enough. Jones refused, then decided to switch agents and hire Drew Rosenhaus. The Packers continue to see Jones’ value – you only have to see his 60-yard run to open the second half of the playoffs against the Rams – but it’s hard to see them raising the guaranteed money, especially if they want to rehire the Corey Linsley All-Pro center. The decision to let it go – or at least to market it – may have been made, but it was not an easy one. — Rob Demovsky

Linebacker Eric Wilson. At the center of the Viking decisions are Kyle Rudolph and Riley Reiff, who are still under contract through 2021, but whose future in Minnesota is uncertain, in part due to the need to create a salary cap space. However, Wilson could soon be on the open market after a strong season in which he played all the defensive shots following Anthony Barr’s injury in the first quarter of week two. Minnesota can’t afford to keep three defensemen on the roster given the amount of money Barr ($12.3 million) and Eric Kendricks ($8.15 million) are expected to make in 2021. But the team must decide if they want to keep Wilson and possibly make a deal with Barr, or if they want to part with the Pro Bowl linebacker. Given the financial implications (dead money) this seems unlikely. And if Wilson can command a $9-10 million salary in free agency, chances are he’ll end up somewhere else. — Courtney Cronin

NPC SOUTH

Kicker Yeon Goo Ku. Keanu Neal’s safety is also a priority, but having a reliable kicker is just as valuable and snappy as the game’s calling. This is the best year of his career (37 of 39 field goals), and if the Falcons can sign him for a decent amount of money, new coach Arthur Smith will have nothing to worry about. — Mike DiRocco.

Taylor Moton offensive tackle. We could talk to receiver Curtis Samuel, but the Panthers don’t have enough room to sign both. They need Moton to anchor the right side of the line while looking for the franchise’s left tackle. Samuel is a good piece, but they could replace him with a healthy Christian McCaffrey and a free agent or a cheaper recruiting option. — David Newton

Defensive end Trey Hendrickson. The Saints have many important decisions to make, including bringing back starting quarterback Jameis Winston and making expensive long-term commitments with free agents Terron Armstead, Ryan Ramczyk, Marshawn Lattimore and Taysom Hill in 2022. But Hendrickson is the most exciting free agent of 2021. It will be interesting to see how the Saints and the rest of the NFL evaluate him after a surprising breakout season with 13.5 sacks that likely got him out of New Orleans. — Mike Triplett

Offensive tackle Donovan Smith. Smith will be a free agent in 2022, not 2021. Still, he’s guaranteed in his contract through 2021 to make $14.25 million next year. He reached the peak of his career, but had one of his best performances in the Wild Card round against Chase Young. With the success of Tristan Wirths as a rookie right guard, can the Bucs turn the tide, especially when they have turned several key players in Chris Godwin, Shaq Barrett, Lavonte David, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown and Ndamukong Suh into free agents? — Jenna Lane.

NPC WEST

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Cornerback Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals’ fifth-round pick in 2011 played his entire career at Arizona and was an elite cornerback. Early in his career, he played in eight straight Pro Bowls, but experienced some slump in 2019 when he was suspended for six games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Since then, receivers have made more passes against him and Peterson is no longer the cornerback he was in his career. At 30, he wants another big deal – like the extension he got in 2014 – but the Cardinals haven’t committed to anything, and his contract expires in March. What the Cardinals do with Peterson depends on what they do around him. Robert Alford, who is under contract through the 2019 season, has yet to play a game due to injury and Byron Murphy is a center back instead. In theory, Arizona will need to consolidate its position before letting Peterson go. — Josh Weinfuss.

The linebacker Leonard Floyd. The Rams have several defensive playmakers, including John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill, in talks as free agents, but with the NFL’s bounty on passers, that could mean Floyd will likely be the most hunted. Rams coach Sean McVay was unequivocal when asked if he wanted Floyd back. But the question is whether the Rams can afford the 2016 first-round pick, who has had 10.5 sacks this season, the best of his career. — Lindsay Tyree

Offensive tackle Trent Williams. He’s a top priority for the 49ers and he’s made it clear he’d like to stay, but it’s not that easy. The Niners can’t tag Williams, which means he could be one of the few remaining top tackles to ever hit the open market. Mr. Williams said it would be interesting to see what my value is. If these costs are in a range that 49-year-olds can’t afford given the limitations of their salary cap, they may be faced with a difficult decision. The parties will probably come up with something. But if that doesn’t happen before Free Agency begins, the Niners risk sweating and, if they lose, finding themselves in dire straits in one of football’s most important positions. — Nick Wagoner

Shaquille Griffin, cornerback. Griffin and running back Chris Carson are two players the Seahawks want to keep, but apparently didn’t get to the point of trying to extend them both last season as each entered the final year of their rookie contracts. Griffin played the Pro Bowl as a replacement in 2019. He’s playing well in the organization and he’s answered the question of whether he can receive the ball with three interceptions in 2020, which is the number of his first three seasons. The distance the Seahawks will have to go to fire him may depend to some extent on how much they have to pay for the safety of Jamal Adams, who is awaiting a massive extension. Adams is likely the top priority on Seattle’s offseason contract. — Brady Henderson

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