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Charles Krupa/Associated Press
If you count the two-day legal tampering period, we’re one week into NFL free agency. Even in a season with a lower salary cap that has led to a few veterans signing one-year contracts, some players, like San Francisco 49ers tackle Trent Williams and (new) New York Giants wide receiver Kenny Golladay, hit the proverbial jackpot.
Some teams (like the New England Patriots) have taken a buzzsaw to their rosters, adding new talent left and right. Others, like the Los Angeles Rams, haven’t done a lot—usually because they didn’t have the cap space to make a lot of moves.
Still, whether a team’s free agency has been impressive or invisible, every squad still has at least one need that it must address, one move left to make before the 2021 NFL draft, whether it’s signing a player, releasing one or swinging a trade.
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Brian Blanco/Associated Press
The Arizona Cardinals have been active in adding veteran talent this offseason. They signed J.J. Watt to bolster the pass rush and inked wide receiver A.J. Green to give Kyler Murray another target in the passing game.
However, it hasn’t all been good news. Lead back Kenyan Drake signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, and while Chase Edmonds has flashed when given the opportunity, the fourth-year pro has never had even 100 carries in a season.
The Cardinals could look to a decent class in the 2021 draft to add some depth behind Edmonds, but free agency remains an intriguing option. They have less than a million in cap space, so a player like Leonard Fournette is probably out. But running backs like Damien Williams or Mike Davis could offer a complementary punch in the backfield at a reduced cost.
If the New Orleans Saints can afford to sign players, the Cardinals can find the room to do this deal.
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Kevin Sabitus/Associated Press
The Atlanta Falcons have a problem. Several, actually.
They have a number of holes on both sides of the ball, including at running back, on the offensive line, the pass rush and in the defensive backfield. But Atlanta doesn’t have much in the way of resources, with just $4.7 million in cap space.
That leaves the team in something of a bind. Among those spots, running back is probably the easiest to fill in free agency, and the team’s best bet may be a familiar face.
Todd Gurley wasn’t especially impressive in his first year with the Falcons in 2020. The 26-year-old failed to tally even 900 yards from scrimmage and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. But while injuries have sapped much of the explosiveness that made Gurley the 2017 Offensive Player of the Year, he can catch the ball out of the backfield, pass-protect and grind out yardage between the tackles.
Most importantly, he can likely be re-upped on a small short-term contract.
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Zach Bolinger/Associated Press
The first week of free agency hasn’t been especially kind to the Baltimore Ravens. Their pursuit of wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was unsuccessful. The team’s top two edge-rushers (Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon) both signed lucrative contracts elsewhere.
The Ravens were at least able to retain veteran edge-rusher Pernell McPhee and youngster Tyus Bowser, 25, although that position appears to be a priority in the 2021 draft. That leaves wide receiver as the position best addressed in the second week of free agency.
With about $12.5 million in cap space, the Ravens weren’t going to be players in the Kenny Golladay sweepstakes. Even signing a veteran like T.Y. Hilton could be problematic if Spotrac‘s estimated contract value of $10.1 million a season is anywhere close to accurate.
However, the Ravens have had past success with aging wideouts like Steve Smith Sr. and Anquan Boldin, and they need to find a dependable complement to Marquise Brown in the passing game, whether it’s Hilton or a lower-end option like Golden Tate.
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Terrance Williams/Associated Press
The Buffalo Bills entered 2021 as one of the leading contenders to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LVI. If anything, the offseasons (so far) of the Bills and Kansas City Chiefs have only narrowed the gap between the two teams.
The Bills don’t have many holes on their roster. The loss of wide receiver John Brown was offset by the addition of Emmanuel Sanders. The team got one of the steals of free agency when it brought back starting cornerback Levi Wallace for just over $2 million.
Of course, the Bills don’t have much to spend on free agents. As a matter of fact, they are about $2.2 million in the red against the salary cap.
General manager Brandon Beane will no doubt make a few moves to open up some cap space. But at this point, any free-agent deals will be low-end depth signings.
In that regard, the trenches are usually the way to go. Whether it’s a versatile veteran O-lineman like D.J. Fluker or an inexpensive defensive lineman like Alex Okafor, you can never have too much depth up front.
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Nick Wass/Associated Press
The Carolina Panthers have been aggressive on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, making a number of moves to improve the front seven. They are also one of the most mentioned teams in a potential trade for Houston Texans cornerback Deshaun Watson.
However, there’s still one position group that badly needs an upgrade. The Panthers were a middle-of-the-pack defense against the pass last year, and Donte Jackson is the only above-average corner on the roster.
In theory, Carolina has the cap space to take a run at one of the top remaining cornerbacks. Just three teams have more cap space than the Panthers’ $31.1 million.
That’s enough wiggle room to put Carolina in contention for higher-end free agents like Richard Sherman or Adoree’ Jackson. If the price point for those cornerbacks is too rich for general manger Scott Fitterer, a veteran like Bashaud Breeland, who spent the past two years with the Chiefs, could offer an upgrade for a bit less.
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Gerry Broome/Associated Press
The Chicago Bears have had an, um, interesting start to free agency.
According to The Dan Patrick Show (h/t Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic), they threw three first-round picks, a third-rounder and two starters and a lifetime supply of pizzas that are actually casseroles at the Seattle Seahawks in an effort to land Russell Wilson, only to be rebuffed.
The team then signed Andy Dalton, who is certainly not Russell Wilson.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, the Bears parted with veteran cornerback Kyle Fuller in a cost-cutting move. The team signed longtime Atlanta Falcons starter Desmond Trufant as a potential replacement, but Trufant’s 2020 season in Detroit was an injury-marred mess.
Second-year pro Jaylon Johnson showed flashes as a rookie, but the secondary in the Windy City is a big-time question mark. Given Chicago’s cap issues, any additions the team makes are going to have to come from the bargain bin, but there are some options at the position (like Rasul Douglas) who could provide a measure of veteran stability.
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Aaron Doster/Associated Press
Among AFC teams, only the Houston Texans surrendered more sacks last year than Cincinnati Bengals. Joe Burrow took quite the pounding (sacked 32 times) before tearing his ACL.
Adding veteran tackle Riley Reiff in free agency was a step in the right direction. Drafting an elite prospect like Oregon tackle Penei Sewell with the fifth overall pick would be as well.
But the Bengals have more work to do to shore up the league’s third-worst offensive line in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus.
Cincinnati has the war chest to sign more linemen. Only six teams are sitting on more cap space than the Bengals, who have $24 million.
Most of the high-end options along the interior of the offensive line are already taken, but the cupboard isn’t bare. Center Joe Looney started 12 games in 2020 for the Dallas Cowboys and could push Billy Price. There’s even more available at guard, including Trai Turner and Nick Easton.
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Kyusung Gong/Associated Press
The Cleveland Browns have hit the defense hard in free agency. General manager Andrew Berry added defensive tackle Malik Jackson up front, Anthony Walker Jr. at linebacker and safety John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill on the back end.
They should keep going.
If there’s one spot that stands out, it’s the defensive end slot opposite Myles Garrett. Olivier Vernon is a free agent coming off an Achilles tear, and while the Browns were reportedly in on Trey Hendrickson, according to reporter Josina Anderson, he eventually signed with the Bengals.
The big names have been scooped up, and with just under $15 million in cap space, the Browns can no longer afford a top-end free-agent edge-rusher. But there are still some options available who have potential to thrive opposite Garrett, including Carlos Dunlap or Justin Houston. There are even less expensive options like Everson Griffen and Kerry Hyder Jr.
Berry has come this far.
He needs to finish the deal.
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Ron Jenkins/Associated Press
To say that the 2020 campaign was a letdown in Dallas is one whopper of an understatement. Dak Prescott’s season-ending injury and a miserable defense paved the way for a 6-10 mark.
However, it wasn’t all bad news. In his first real game action since 2015, edge-rusher Aldon Smith piled up 48 tackles and five sacks, three of which came in a shootout loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 3. Those sacks don’t tell the whole story, though. Per Pro Football Focus, Smith was one of just 20 edge-rushers to notch 50 pressures on the season.
Granted, Smith cooled way off after a hot start. Odds are we’ll never again see the defensive force who terrorized quarterbacks to the tune of 33.5 sacks over his first two professional seasons. But the 31-year-old proved to be a decent rotational edge-rusher and a solid run defender, piling up the second-most snaps of his career.
The Cowboys are in neither great nor terrible shape relative to the salary cap, with $11.5 million to spend. That’s enough to bring Smith back on a short-term deal.
It’s one he’s earned.
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Stew Milne/Associated Press
As Jon Heath reported for Broncos Wire, Denver isn’t necessarily ready to move on from Drew Lock at quarterback. But the team isn’t not ready to move on either.
“We have a plan in place, and there’s free agency, there’s the draft, there’s trades, there’s a lot of ways to acquire a quarterback,” general manager George Paton said Thursday. “Fortunately, we have a quarterback here, and we have a nice quarterback room. We do want to bring in competition. We are not going to force it. We are monitoring the market right now.”
It’s possible that one of the top quarterbacks will make it to the ninth overall pick in April’s draft. Or the Broncos could swing a megadeal for Deshaun Watson. But the former is far from guaranteed, and the latter would cost the team a bushel of high draft picks.
There’s another potential solution, though—one that is much less pricy.
If the New York Jets decide to move on from Sam Darnold this year, then all of the moves other teams have made under center could depress his asking price. A Day 2 pick would likely get the deal done.
Darnold hasn’t impressed in three seasons in New York, but he was the third overall pick in 2018 for a reason. Denver could see what it has in Lock and Darnold in 2021 and then (if need be) reset in 2022 without having made a massive investment in either quarterback.
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Zach Bolinger/Associated Press
Things are looking very Lions-y in Detroit.
That’s not a compliment.
Coming off another disappointing season and a regime change in Motown, the Lions roster has holes aplenty. With the possible exception of the running back spot and defensive end, there isn’t a position group that doesn’t need help. But after re-upping edge-rusher Romeo Okwara and trading for quarterback Jared Goff (and his abomination of a contract), the Lions only have $9.9 million to spend.
If Detroit is going to improve through free agency, it’s going to have to be at a position where the improvement will be relatively inexpensive.
Like at safety.
Tracy Walker had a solid year for the Lions in 2019, but he backslid last season. And there’s not a lot on the roster behind him. Adding a veteran like Kareem Jackson or Bradley McDougald isn’t going to get Detroit into the playoffs, but it also isn’t going to cost that much.
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David Richard/Associated Press
This entry is not going to make fans of the Green Bay Packers happy.
The Packers aren’t without needs, whether it’s at cornerback, offensive tackle, along the defensive line, at wide receiver or at linebacker. But there’s a reason why Green Bay is one of two teams, per Zach Kruse of Packers Wire, that hasn’t signed a single outside free agent.
After re-signing star running back Aaron Jones, Green Bay doesn’t have any money. The team is slightly in the red against the salary cap.
Given that unpleasant financial reality, the Packers’ wisest course of action is clear.
Do nothing, at least for now.
This isn’t to say that the day won’t come when a player will be worth taking a run at. The longer guys languish on the open market, the more their price point will (in theory) come down.
The Pack can at least offer a legitimate chance at making the Super Bowl to a veteran willing to sign for close to the league minimum.
But it’s probably going to be a less than thrilling player such as former Indianapolis Colts cornerback T.J. Carrie.
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Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
Before we go any further, this recommendation has nothing to do with the allegations of inappropriate conduct and sexual assault against Deshaun Watson. That is a delicate and developing situation, and this particular article isn’t the place to address it.
But the staredown between the star quarterback and the Houston Texans has been going on for weeks, and neither side has been willing to budge. Houston has shown zero willingness to trade the 25-year-old signal-caller. Watson has indicated even less willingness to play for the Texans in 2021.
Something has to give. And while it’s understandable Houston doesn’t want to be the one, it doesn’t have much choice if Watson really is hell-bent on leaving the organization.
This isn’t to say the Texans should give Watson away. At least five teams called about a deal prior to the allegations, and the Houston Chronicle‘s Aaron Wilson reported Sunday that six teams are still interested despite the pending lawsuits.
What Houston could net in a Watson trade is now up in the air, though. Pre-allegations, he could have brought the kind of haul we hadn’t seen since the Dallas Cowboys sent Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings, and that deal set the stage for Dallas to completely revitalize the franchise. At the very least, that has become less likely.
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Zach Bolinger/Associated Press
All in all, Justin Houston’s two years with the Indianapolis Colts have been a success with 69 total tackles and 19 sacks. But the 32-year-old’s numbers were down in 2020 relative to the season before, so much so that the team allowed him to test the waters of free agency.
Well, the first week of free agency has come and gone, and while most of the big-name pass-rushers have found new homes (or stayed in their old ones), Houston is still looking for work.
That opens the door for a reunion.
It’s not so much a matter of money. The Colts have plenty of that. Their $35.9 million in cap space ranks third in the league.
Partly it’s a matter of need, especially after watching Denico Autry sign with the rival Tennessee Titans. And partly it’s a matter of familiarity. Houston knows the defensive scheme and had eight sacks even in last year’s “down” season.
Indy can’t afford to enter the 2021 campaign with Ben Banogu and Isaac Rochell as the starting defensive ends.
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Sam Craft/Associated Press
It’s the dawn of a new age in Jacksonville—again.
New Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer has already arrived in Duval County, and soon enough he will all but certainly be joined by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Now the attention turns to the former putting the latter in the best position to succeed.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Jaguars offensive line ranked 22nd last year. Tackle play was especially problematic. After they franchise-tagged Cam Robinson, it appears he’ll be protecting Lawrence’s blind side. But the Jags could still use an upgrade on the even more disappointing Jawaan Taylor at right tackle.
If it really wants to go for broke, Jacksonville could take a run at Mitchell Schwartz, who is arguably the league’s best right tackle when healthy. The team certainly has the cash and is a league-leading $43.4 million under the cap.
There are other proven right tackles on the market like Rick Wagner and Dennis Kelly, though they aren’t quite the players a healthy Schwartz is. They also wouldn’t cost as much.
Given what the team is about to invest in Lawrence, spending on his protection is wise.
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Don Wright/Associated Press
When the Kansas City Chiefs were steamrolled in Super Bowl LV, it shocked fans and pundits alike. But in some respects, it was even more surprising when just before the dawn of free agency, the cap-strapped Chiefs released both their Pro Bowl tackles.
The Chiefs have already overhauled much of the offensive line that failed so badly against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kansas City handed guard Joe Thuney a five-year, $80 million pact, took a flier on un-retired guard Kyle Long and re-signed Mike Remmers to replace Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle.
However, Patrick Mahomes’ blind side remains a sore spot—unless you believe Long can play a position he hasn’t manned in years at a high level after numerous injuries and a year off.
There are, however, at least a couple of relatively proven veteran tackles still on the market in Alejandro Villanueva and Russell Okung. Neither is the player a healthy Eric Fisher is, but perhaps one of them will agree to a short-term, below-market deal in exchange for an opportunity to play for the two-time defending AFC champions.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Frankly, the biggest issue with this move is that it should have happened already. Weeks ago.
Before free agency kicked off, there was demand from several teams for an upgrade under center. The Washington Football team wanted one. So did the Chicago Bears and possibly the New Orleans Saints.
But the WFT has signed Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bears inked Andy Dalton. The Saints re-upped Jameis Winston.
And that leaves the Las Vegas Raiders (and quarterback Marcus Mariota) with quite the dilemma.
Mariota made the most of the lone opportunity as a starter last year, throwing for 226 yards and a score while running for 88 yards and another touchdown in a Week 15 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
But the Raiders can’t be faulted during a year in which the salary cap dropped over $16 million for not wanting to pay a backup quarterback over $10 million, especially since releasing or trading him would wipe every cent off the books.
Sure enough, the Raiders have asked the second overall pick in the 2015 draft to take a pay cut. If he balks at that, the trade market for him would likely be nonexistent, Why pay him $10.7 million and give up a pick when you can wait Vegas out and get him for a fraction of that?
But one way or another, a Raiders team less than $1 million under the cap has to get that salary off the books.
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Stephen Brashear/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Chargers have already taken one major step toward improving the protection for quarterback Justin Herbert with the addition of veteran center Corey Linsley. But there’s still work to be done since the Bolts need improvements at both guard and left tackle.
Given the remaining options, the latter is better addressed with the 13th overall pick in the 2021 draft. That leaves guard, and with just under $28 million in cap space, the Chargers can afford to be aggressive in pursuing a player or two.
Nick Easton made nine starts for the New Orleans Saints in 2020, allowing two sacks in 562 snaps. Kelechi Osemele is a 330-pound road-grader who was a starter for the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs before getting hurt last year. Austin Blythe played over 1,100 snaps for the Los Angeles Rams a season ago.
These players aren’t worldbeaters, but they would be experienced improvements along one of the NFL’s worst O-lines in 2020.
The better that line is this season, the better the odds Herbert takes a step forward in Year 2.
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John Bazemore/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Rams haven’t done much of anything in free agency, at least where bringing in outside players is concerned. The reason for that lack of activity isn’t hard to pinpoint: No team is in worse shape relative to the salary cap.
Still, there are holes to fill. The financial situation forced the Rams to watch a number of defensive starters leave, including defensive linemen Michael Brockers and Morgan Fox, cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson III.
The first-round tender the Rams put on young cornerback Darious Williams all but ensures he’ll be back in 2021. But at the very least, they need to add depth in the defensive backfield. An upgrade over Nick Scott at free safety wouldn’t be a terrible idea.
The best route here might be to take a run at a player on the wrong side of 30 who hasn’t enjoyed much team success in the NFL. A cornerback like Darqueze Dennard or a safety like Tashaun Gipson might take a below-market deal to play for a contender.
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Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
The Miami Dolphins were arguably the most active team in free agency last year. They have also made additions in 2021, but they still have multiple areas of need to fill, whether at wide receiver, in the pass rush or at running back.
With the third overall pick in 2021, the Dolphins could have their pick of any wideout or edge-rusher in the draft class. Miami also has an extra second-rounder that could ostensibly be used on a high-end rookie in the backfield.
That leaves the center spot as the best use of the remaining $12.1 million in cap space after veteran Ted Karras bolted for New England in free agency.
The Dolphins lost out on the top free-agent center when David Andrews elected to stay with the Patriots, but there are still some targets of note. Austin Reiter is the most notable, but a veteran like Ben Garland could serve as a fall-back option.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
The Minnesota Vikings already pilfered one veteran player from the Arizona Cardinals, agreeing to terms on a one-year pact with former Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson. Now they should go back to that pool once more and bring in a player who would be a massive hit with the Minnesota fanbase and a sneaky-good upgrade for the offense.
The Vikings already possess one of the better one-two punches at wide receiver in Adam Thielen and electrifying youngster Justin Jefferson. But with all due respect to Bisi Johnson and Chad Beebe, the slot situation could use some work.
At 37, Larry Fitzgerald is no longer the player who recorded 100-plus receptions five times, posted nine 1,000-yard seasons and made 11 Pro Bowls. But as recently as two years ago, he put up a 75/804/4 line with the Redbirds, and he has thrived in the slot in the latter stages of his career.
Signing the Minneapolis native and former Vikings ball boy makes quite a bit of sense.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
The New England Patriots have been the most active team in terms of bringing in outside talent in free agency. They added a fistful of pass-catchers (including the top two tight ends), fortified the offensive line and injected significant talent into the defense.
But there are still needs to be filled.
New England brought back Cam Newton, but he’s a stopgap under center. The wide receiver room is better but still not especially great. And while the Pats have a pair of capable early-down backs in Damien Harris and Sony Michel, they could use a passing-down back with James White and Rex Burkhead hitting free agency.
The Patriots have some wiggle room with about $9.9 million in cap space, and re-signing White would certainly solve the problem. But if the 29-year-old decides he wants a change of scenery, Burkhead or another veteran like Duke Johnson, Dion Lewis or Chris Thompson could also be a viable option.
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Larry Maurer/Associated Press
Edge-rusher Trey Hendrickson had far and away the best season of his professional career in 2020, pacing the New Orleans Saints with 13.5 sacks.
The downside to that breakout season was that a Saints team that entered the offseason in a miserable position against the cap had no real chance to re-sign him. Sure enough, he inked a big deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, and now the Saints have a hole to fill opposite Cameron Jordan.
There’s hope Marcus Davenport will finally live up to his first-round draft status in his fourth season. But with just 12 sacks in three years, that can’t be counted on.
However, the Saints don’t have much cash to spend—or any, to be precise. Even after a master class in manipulating the cap, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis is still about $1.7 million in the red.
With a little more creative accounting, the Saints should be able to afford a veteran edge-rusher like Bruce Irvin or Jabaal Sheard on a short-term contract.
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Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
The New York Giants made the biggest free-agent splash of the weekend, agreeing to terms on a four-year contract with wide receiver Kenny Golladay that includes a whopping $40 million in guarantees.
That took the biggest name at wideout off the board and ate up most of New York’s cap space, but it’s not the only expensive agreement the Giants made in the passing game in recent days. More than a few eyebrows went up when they gave veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph a two-year pact that averages $8 million per season.
Those two pave the way for a third transaction: sending young tight end Evan Engram packing.
Engram was a Pro Bowler a year ago, but that honor came with a couple of caveats. He dropped a whopping 11 passes last year, and per Zach Rosenblatt of NJ.com, half a dozen of the passes thrown in his direction were intercepted.
However, the 26-year-old’s ability to stretch the field vertically should appeal to a number of teams, and trading him would clear his entire $6 million salary off the books.
Assuming a reasonable offer is forthcoming, the Giants should take it.
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Charles Krupa/Associated Press
There’s been no shortage of speculation regarding the future of Sam Darnold in New York. But as ESPN’s Rich Cimini wrote, the pool of potential suitors for a trade shrunk significantly as teams with holes under center have added quarterback help over the past week:
“If the Jets are planning to trade Darnold, their options are dwindling. It’s not their fault. They’re performing due diligence on the incoming class of quarterbacks for the 2021 NFL draft, and the prospects’ pro days won’t be wrapped up until the end of the month — BYU’s Zach Wilson on March 26, Ohio State’s Justin Fields on March 30. The way we hear it, Jets general manager Joe Douglas has a particular affinity for Wilson.”
Still, if the Jets are serious about bringing in a rookie signal-caller with the second overall pick, then it’s time to see what they can get for Darnold and move on. Keeping him on the roster for one more year, only to watch him leave in free agency in 2022, doesn’t get them anything.
And frankly, a change of scenery is probably what Darnold needs after three disappointing seasons in New York.
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Derik Hamilton/Associated Press
There’s been no shortage of trade speculation surrounding Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. But as Paul Domowitch reported for the Philadelphia Inquirer, general manager Howie Roseman made it clear Philly won’t deal the 30-year-old just to do it.
“Zach’s been a huge part of the success that we’ve had since we drafted him,” Roseman said. “He is a heck of a player, he is a heck of a person, and we value him. For us to trade any player, it’s got to make sense for both sides.”
The thing is, Roseman really doesn’t have much choice, and he has no one to blame but himself.
Had he put Ertz on the block a year ago, the Eagles could have gotten at least a Day 2 pick. Suitors would have lined up around the block to procure (arguably) a top-five tight end. But his injury-marred 2020 campaign was the worst of his career in many categories. His value has tanked.
He isn’t part of Philadelphia’s long-term plans. The team is still a whopping $12.2 million over the salary cap for 2021, and dealing him would clear $4.7 million off the books.
Bite the bullet, get what you can and deal him.
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Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
The Pittsburgh Steelers got good news and bad news Friday.
The good was that wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster agreed to terms on a one-year, $8 million contract that will count just $2.4 million against the cap for 2021.
The bad was that cap concerns and a $14.42 million cap number for 2021 led the Steelers to give veteran cornerback Steven Nelson permission to seek a trade. Mike Hilton already signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, which means Pittsburgh will be short two of its top three corners from last year’s AFC North championship team.
Cornerback isn’t the only need. The offensive line and running back are also major question marks. But the free agents on the O-line are already pretty picked over, and running back is an easier spot to address on the second day of the NFL draft.
The veteran cornerbacks have been sifted through, as well, and with less than $2.3 million in cap space, the Steelers will have to be cost-conscious even if they clear Hilton off the books.
But there are still several veteran corners looking for work like Casey Hayward and Quinton Dunbar, who might be willing to sign a short-term deal with a contending team.
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Scott Eklund/Associated Press
There has been no shortage of smoke surrounding the notion of the San Francisco 49ers trading quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo this offseason. Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal went so far as to say San Francisco might release the 29-year-old outright.
“Somebody told me this the other day that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the 49ers just release Garoppolo at some point with the $25 million he’s on their books,” he said on the Greg Bedard Patriots Podcast (h/t Kyle Posey of Niners Nation). “They say maybe we’re going to do this or that in the draft. That is possible.”
That wouldn’t make any sense, and the same is true of trading Garoppolo.
The odds of San Francisco landing one of this year’s top four rookies under center isn’t great. Getting a top-five signal-caller is far from guaranteed. And even if it was able to, that youngster isn’t going to have a better chance of getting the Niners back to the playoffs than the guy who led them to a berth in Super Bowl LIV.
Yes, Garoppolo has had injury problems, including 10 missed games in four of five seasons as a starter. But unless the Patriots come along with a Godfather offer, San Francisco’s best bet is affording him one more shot to lead the team on a deep playoff run.
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Stephen Brashear/Associated Press
This may be the easiest recommendation in this entire piece. There’s one thing the Seattle Seahawks need to do this offseason, and it is glaringly obvious: Stop even entertaining the notion that quarterback Russell Wilson could be traded.
Yes, Wilson made it clear back in February that he was frustrated with all the hits he took behind Seattle’s porous offensive line in 2020. That was followed by weeks and weeks of speculation that he might actually want out of the Emerald City, as well as a recent whopper of an offer reportedly made by the Chicago Bears, which Seattle rebuffed.
That was wise because three first-rounders, a third-rounder and two defensive players wouldn’t get the Seahawks closer to the promised land than keeping their MVP-caliber signal-caller.
The Seahawks recently spent a Day 3 pick on a trade for guard Gabe Jackson and re-signed running back Chris Carson, and those moves were met with approval from Wilson. There’s a good chance Seattle will restructure the quarterback’s deal to free up cap space.
It’s time to end the madness, make it clear Wilson isn’t going anywhere and get to work on repeating as NFC West champions.
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Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
There isn’t a team in the National Football League that has had a better offseason than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Their success over the past couple of weeks isn’t about going on an outside spending spree, either. The Super Bowl champions have excelled by keeping the band together.
The Buccaneers applied the franchise tag to wide receiver Chris Godwin and re-signed linebacker Lavonte David, edge-rusher Shaquill Barrett and tight end Rob Gronkowski. All those moves have left them tight against the salary cap, but general manager Jason Licht needs to figure out a way to bring back one more key part of the run to a championship: “Lombardi Lenny.”
Leonard Fournette only averaged 3.8 yards per carry in the regular season, but the postseason was another story. The 26-year-old eclipsed 100 total yards in three of four playoff games, including 135 total yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl LV.
With all due respect to Ronald Jones II, Fournette was the No. 1 back when it counted last year. And keeping both ball-carriers in the fold would give the champs a Plan B at a position where one can come in handy.
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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
Wide receiver was already an area of need for the Tennessee Titans heading into free agency. With Corey Davis moving on to catch passes for the New York Jets, that need is now that much more pronounced.
Yes, the Titans have a difference-maker at the position in A.J. Brown. But behind him is a menagerie of mediocrity that isn’t going to get it done if they are going to get back to the playoffs in 2021.
Given how glaring Tennessee’s need is, the odds of the team making a wideout the 22nd overall pick have skyrocketed. But even if that’s the case, it still needs to add another receiver capable of starting in three-wide sets.
With a couple of notable exceptions, the wide receivers available in free agency have already been picked through. Considering the available talent and the $14.6 million in cap space the Titans have left, the most realistic course of action is adding a veteran slot receiver like Josh Reynolds or an aging vet like Larry Fitzgerald.
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Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
With a few well-placed additions, the Washington Football Team has quietly assembled the most balanced roster in the division. Ryan Fitzpatrick provides an upgrade under center, and the skill-position talent and front on offense are both above-average. The D-line and secondary are each in good shape.
Only one position group (at first glance) still needs work: the linebackers.
Washington has spent quite a bit of cash this offseason, but there’s still room to make another impact signing since it’s sitting on just under $21 million in cap space.
That’s enough to pursue a veteran upgrade at linebacker, whether it’s an inside linebacker like Avery Williamson or a player capable of stepping in as a starter on the weak side like K.J. Wright or De’Vondre Campbell.
Lock down that spot and Washington could be a legit contender in more than just the NFC East.
Salary-cap information courtesy of Over the Cap.