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Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
We’re still in the middle of the NFL offseason, and teams are a long way from finalizing their rosters and gearing up for Week 1. However, the bulk of free agency and the NFL draft are things of the past, meaning the foundations for teams are mostly set.
Unlike last offseason, teams have also had organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp and thus know a little more about what they have than they did at this point in 2020.
Below, you’ll find one thing we’ve learned about each team heading into the summer. We’ll dive into the latest reports on the draft, free agency, roster information and other relevant offseason issues here. How are rookies progressing? Which position battles might take center stage in training camps? Who’s poised for a bounce-back season?
Let’s dig in.
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Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins and the offense headlined the Arizona Cardinals in 2020, and for good reason. Murray and Hopkins were a nearly unstoppable combination—both made the Pro Bowl—and Arizona finished sixth in total offense.
However, Arizona’s defense was quietly solid, finishing 13th in yards allowed and 12th in scoring. That defense is already getting a boost from offseason acquisition and three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.
“He’s locked in all the time,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said, per Kyle Odegard of the team’s official website. “He’s a team guy. Incredible work ethic. Incredible leadership. It’s been a real joy to see him around the building.”
A 10-year veteran with 101 career sacks on his resume, Watt is expected to add some extra punch to the Cardinals’ pass rush. At the same time, though, his leadership and work ethic can pay dividends long before he takes a regular-season snap.
The five-time first-team All-Pro knows what it takes to play at the highest level, and he can teach younger defenders like Isaiah Simmons and rookie Zaven Collins by example. This should help the Cardinals defense take another step toward the upper tier in 2021.
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David Dermer/Associated Press
The Atlanta Falcons traded star wideout Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans, but they may still have one of the most dangerous passing attacks in the NFL this season. Quarterback Matt Ryan is back for another run, as is wideout Calvin Ridley, who had 1,374 receiving yards in 2020.
The Falcons also added Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick in the draft. Atlanta is already looking to use the rookie in a variety of roles.
“Observation from Falcons’ mini-camp,” Jeff Schultz of The Athletic tweeted. “Not sure I’ve seen the same set or Kyle Pitts line up in the same place twice.”
Pitts was a versatile weapon at Florida who amassed 770 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in eight games last season. With the size of a tight end (6’6″, 245 lbs) and the skill set of a wideout, Pitts can be a true mismatch at the next level.
Atlanta can further unlock Pitts’ potential by moving him around the formation, matching him against different coverages and diversifying his route tree. Expect the rookie to be used in numerous ways this season and to be one of the centerpieces of the Falcons’ offense.
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Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press
Lamar Jackson is the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the NFL. A unanimous MVP in 2019, the speedy gunslinger took a step back statistically in 2020 but nevertheless led the Baltimore Ravens to the postseason.
Jackson could be even better in 2021 because Baltimore finally addressed a receiving corps that has been lackluster during Jackson’s tenure. Mark Andrews is a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end, and Marquise Goodwin is a nice complementary deep threat, but Jackson has lacked high-end options on the perimeter.
This should no longer be an issue with Sammy Watkins and rookie first-round pick Rashod Bateman in the fold—fourth-round pick Tylan Wallace may contribute as well. Bateman has the potential to be the No. 1 receiver Jackson has sorely lacked.
“I think he’s a very special wide receiver,” Watkins said of Bateman to reporters. “He just has to put it together, take coaching and be able to maximize opportunities and go out there and play when all 11 are out there on the field.”
Jackson’s ability to chew up yards with his legs isn’t going anywhere. With the Ravens committed to upgrading the receiver room, Jackson may take another step forward as a passer. That’s a frightening possibility for defensive coordinators around the league.
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Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen was sublime in 2020, passing for 4,544 yards with 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 421 yards and eight scores. However, the Buffalo offense lacked balance and was largely disappointing in the ground game.
The Bills ranked 20th in rushing, with 24 percent of its yards coming from Allen. They also ranked 20th in yards per carry.
Buffalo has taken steps to improve the ground game, adding Matt Breida and preparing for a training-camp backfield competition between returning players Zack Moss and Devin Singletary.
“In terms of what we ask those guys to do, what their approach has been, they’re two good young backs. It’ll be a good competition come training camp,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll told WGR 550 (h/t Nick Wojton of Bills Wire).
The Bills offense was already dangerous thanks to Allen’s emergence, ranking second in both yards and points last year. It could become borderline unstoppable if Buffalo can find more consistency and potency in its rushing attack.
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Nell Redmond/Associated Press
This offseason, several teams opted to find their quarterbacks of the future in the NFL draft. The Carolina Panthers decided to go a different route, trading for former New York Jets starter Sam Darnold instead.
While Darnold failed to establish himself as a high-level starter in New York—he owns a career passer rating of just 78.6—he’ll get a fresh start with a new supporting cast and a new coaching staff. With Joe Brady calling the offense and weapons like D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey at his disposal, Darnold could be poised to reach the potential he couldn’t with the Jets.
McCaffrey already likes what Darnold is bringing to the Panthers offense.
“Just getting together throwing with him and hanging out off the field. He’s an incredible talent and incredible teammate already, so I’m super excited for him,” McCaffrey said, per Darin Gantt of the team’s official website. “I think he’ll fit in great. Already fits in great.”
Darnold will have to prove himself on the field, of course, but the physical traits and intangibles that made him the third overall pick in the 2018 draft haven’t left him. If he meshes well with his new teammates and Brady’s offensive system, Darnold should be in store for a career year.
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Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
The Chicago Bears traded up to draft former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, but they’re not planning on rushing him into game action.
“I promise you every single person will know including Justin when it’s the right time, and that’s naturally how it happens,” head coach Matt Nagy said, per Alex Shapiro of NBC Sports Chicago.
The Bears signed veteran Andy Dalton in the offseason to manage the quarterback position for 2021. The three-time Pro Bowler should be fully capable of holding down the job until Fields is ready. Yet, it may be hard to keep Fields off the field because his upside and arm talent are already turning heads in OTAs.
“I’ve caught one or two deep balls from him,” wideout Darnell Mooney said, per Stephanie Stremplewski of NBC Sports Chicago. “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.”
Dalton has been a fine game manager in the past, but Fields is the future in Chicago. If the rookie continues wowing during training camp, the future could begin as early as Week 1.
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Aaron Doster/Associated Press
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is recovering from a devastating 2020 knee injury that involved multiple torn ligaments. The Bengals expect him to be ready for the regular season, though, and used the fifth overall pick in the draft to get Burrow a new No. 1 target.
More accurately, Cincinnati got Burrow an old No. 1 target. Rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase and Burrow were teammates at LSU and had a fantastic connection during the 2019 season. Burrow won the Heisman Trophy, while Chase racked up 1,780 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns.
Now reunited in Cincinnati, Burrow and Chase are busy picking up where they left off.
“We can look at each other and already know what we’re thinking,” Chase said, per Geoff Hobson of the team’s official website.
Burrow was tremendous as a rookie before the injury, passing for 2,688 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions in 10 games. If healthy, he should be even better in Year 2, thanks in no small part to the addition of a familiar face and the rekindling of a potent college connection.
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Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press
The Cleveland Browns won 11 games during the 2020 regular season and notched their first postseason win as an expansion franchise. Instead of resting on its laurels, Cleveland worked to improve its 17th-ranked defense this offseason.
The Browns added players like Josh Johnson III, Troy Hill, Anthony Walker and Jadeveon Clowney in free agency. They also drafted defenders Greg Newsome II and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the first and second round, respectively.
This was the sort of all-in approach to rebuilding the defense that a team makes when it believes it is close to title contention. It also gave Cleveland one of the better overall rosters in the NFL.
“If the offense hums the way it did for much of last season, the Browns will win a bunch of games and be a threat to beat just about anyone when it really counts,” Zac Jackson of The Athletic wrote.
With Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and pretty much the entire Browns offense returning for 2021—and with reigning Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski calling the shots—the Browns have every reason to believe their offseason moves will put them into the title chase.
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LM Otero/Associated Press
While a large chunk of the league is looking at quarterback changes in 2021, the Dallas Cowboys are getting their franchise signal-caller back.
Dak Prescott was lost for the 2020 season when he suffered a fractured and dislocated ankle in Week 5. At the time of the injury, he was leading the NFL with 1,856 passing yards. Dallas went on to finish ranked 14th in total offense, even with Prescott missing most of the season. Undoubtedly, though, the Cowboys would have been better with the two-time Pro Bowler under center.
The good news is that Prescott is on track to be at 100 percent for the start of training camp.
“He hasn’t missed anything that’s been slated. He’s doing a lot of extra, frankly, so the anticipation would be for him to go every day is the outlook,” head coach Mike McCarthy said, per ESPN’s Todd Archer.
If Prescott can return to form and stays healthy, Dallas should have one of the NFL’s most dangerous offenses in 2021. Weapons like CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Ezekiel Elliott and Dalton Schultz are all back.
So is Prescott, which might be enough to put the Cowboys back in the playoff mix.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Earlier this offseason, the Denver Broncos traded for Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. They brought in the Louisville product to go against with third-year man Drew Lock in a competition that will likely last through training camp.
The early signs point to Bridgewater being ahead early in that competition.
“Bridgewater won the day,” Troy Renck of ABC 7 Denver wrote after one OTA session. “And it wasn’t close. … Lock appears to be pressing. It’s not uncommon when an athlete is so concerned with making a mistake that he becomes robotic and loses the confidence and athleticism that provides an opportunity to win the job.”
As Renck pointed out, Bridgewater has some familiarity with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s system from their time together with the Minnesota Vikings. However, that shouldn’t give him a significant edge over Lock, who operated Shurmur’s offense in 2020. It appears that Bridgewater is simply outperforming Lock in the early offseason.
Lock will have an opportunity to make up ground in camp and the preseason, of course, but if Bridgewater already has the inside track at the starting job, Denver might have a new Week 1 starter for the fifth time in five years.
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Paul Sancya/Associated Press
The Detroit Lions traded away quarterback Matthew Stafford this offseason, getting a package of picks that includes two first-rounders, which may eventually be parlayed into a move for a rookie quarterback prospect.
The Lions also got quarterback Jared Goff as part of the deal, and he figures to be the starter in 2021. Goff appears to be more than just a trade throw-in and a stopgap while Detroit eyes the 2022 quarterback class. The Lions seem genuinely thrilled to have Goff on the roster.
“He’s got a lot of confidence right now, and I think he’s getting a good grasp of the offense,” head coach Dan Campbell said, per Kyle Meinke of MLive. “It was impressive. It really was. We’re pretty happy right now.”
Detroit is in the early stages of a rebuild and is starting over at several key spots, including quarterback, coach and general manager. However, if Goff pans out as a long-term starting option, the Lions’ rebuild could progress quickly.
If Goff reestablishes himself as a franchise quarterback, Detroit can use the draft capital it gained in the Stafford trade to improve the pieces around him.
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Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press
When news broke over draft weekend that Aaron Rodgers was looking to leave the Green Bay Packers, it was easy to dismiss the notion as a plot to obtain contract leverage. However, Rodgers, who is signed through 2023, really does appear unhappy with the organization and to want out.
“Some close to him remain adamant that he is stuck in and won’t play for the Packers ever again,” CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora wrote.
Rodgers hasn’t relayed exactly why he’s unhappy with the Packers and was extremely vague when asked about the situation by ESPN’s Kenny Mayne.
“It’s about character, it’s about culture, it’s about doing things the right way,” Rodgers told Mayne (h/t ESPN’s Rob Demovsky).
The reality, though, is that Green Bay might not have Rodgers under center this season, either due to a trade or his strict refusal to play. This would leave the Packers with some combination of Blake Bortles and second-year quarterback Jordan Love at quarterback.
While it’s hard to imaging a reigning MVP walking away from football, the Packers must be prepared for Rodgers to walk away from Green Bay.
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Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
The Deshaun Watson era is all but over for the Houston Texans. While the three-time Pro Bowler remains under contract, he is facing 22 lawsuits alleging sexual assault and misconduct, which could lead to league discipline, and has requested a trade out of Houston.
Watson’s pending civil cases have not changed his stance on a trade, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
For their part, the Texans appear to have moved beyond Watson—at least, they’re not focusing on his potential future.
“We have nothing more to say,” new head coach David Culley told reporters. “We’ve talked about the Deshaun situation… [general manager] Nick [Caserio] and I both and with [team owner] Cal [McNair], and nothing’s new on it.”
Houston is looking to rebound from a disappointing 4-12 campaign and will most likely do so without Watson as a part of the team. Instead, Houston will rely on some combination of journeyman Tyrod Taylor and rookie Davis Mills at quarterback.
In one fashion or another, Watson is almost certainly done in Houston. The Texans are wisely focusing on the players who will be there in 2021.
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Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich knows Carson Wentz well from their time together with the Philadelphia Eagles. The two helped deliver a Super Bowl to Philadelphia during the 2017 season, though Wentz missed the postseason with a torn ACL, and Reich left the following offseason.
Reich’s familiarity with Wentz made Indianapolis a natural landing spot for the former Pro Bowl quarterback—the retirement of Philip Rivers also played a role—and the Colts did indeed trade for Wentz this offseason.
The move wasn’t simply about replacing Rivers or taking a flier on a former first-round pick. Reich believes that Wentz is the right quarterback for his offense and for Indianapolis.
“I love sticking my neck out for people I believe in,” Reich said, per Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star. “I believe in this team, I believe in Carson. I feel good about it.”
Wentz, who is under contract through 2024, is Indianapolis’ new quarterback of the future. Indianapolis also has 2020 fourth-round pick Jacob Eason and 2021 sixth-round pick Sam Ehlinger on the roster. However, the Colts are all-in on Wentz for 2021 and quite possibly far beyond.
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The Jacksonville Jaguars won just a single game in 2020, which “earned” them the No. 1 pick in the draft and the opportunity to select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. While Lawrence is considered a generational talent, he isn’t going to immediately make the Jaguars contenders.
Jacksonville still has one of the more underwhelming rosters in the league, a first-time NFL head coach in Urban Meyer and a defense that ranked 31st in both points and yards allowed last season.
Even though he possesses a tremendous amount of upside, Lawrence has had his fair share of rookie struggles during OTAs.
“Lawrence returned from what appeared to be tightness # and threw two Pick 6’s within a few passes of each other,” Mark Long of the Associated Press tweeted after one session.
Some of the NFL’s all-time greats struggled early in their careers—Peyton Manning famously led the league in interceptions as a rookie—and there’s no guarantee that Lawrence will be this year’s version of Kyler Murray or Justin Herbert.
The future in Jacksonville is bright with Lawrence on the roster, but going worst-to-first in the AFC South probably isn’t a realistic expectation.
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Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
The Kansas City Chiefs lost Super Bowl LV, but they’re not going to wallow in the loss or merely look to avoid the dreaded Super Bowl hangover. Kansas City is focused on winning it all.
“The only record I have my eyes set on breaking, which would be new this year, would be going 20-0,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes told Bleacher Report. “… Being able to go 20-0 and being the first one to do that, that would be awesome.”
While going undefeated through the Super Bowl might be a tad unrealistic, getting to the title game isn’t. The Chiefs have been there twice in Mahomes’ three seasons as a starter and have made the AFC Championship Game in all three years.
The Chiefs, who revamped their offensive line by adding pieces like Orlando Brown Jr. and Joe Thuney, have the pieces needed to be favorites in the AFC.
If there’s one thing that we know for sure about Kansas City, it’s that the championship window is wide-open with Mahomes. The Chiefs have reloaded and are ready to make another run in 2021.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Last year, the Las Vegas Raiders ranked 11th in rushing attempts, with starter Josh Jacobs (273 carries) seeing the bulk of the work.
Jacobs, who made the Pro Bowl in 2020, is a high-level starter, but the Raiders added former Cardinals starter Kenyan Drake in free agency. Head coach Jon Gruden told Raiders analyst Eric Allen that the move was about bringing in depth and a valuable insurance policy, according to the team’s official website:
“Doug Martin had 190 touches three years ago when [Marshawn] Lynch went down, and DeAndre Washington had 144 touches when Jacobs went down two years ago, and this past year Josh went down and Devontae Booker got 110 touches. So we’re going to try to circulate the touches Kenyan Drake’s way. He’s a guy that’s made big plays.”
Pairing Drake, who had 955 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns last season, with Jacobs should give Las Vegas a deadly duo on the ground. This may allow the Raiders to be even more run-heavy than they were a year ago.
The Raiders also have talented receiving backs Jalen Richard and Theo Riddick, who add versatility to a backfield that should be one of the league’s best in 2021.
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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Even though he wasn’t named the Week 1 starter, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020. He threw a rookie-record 31 touchdowns and looked every bit like a franchise quarterback in the making.
While Herbert will have to learn a new offense under head coach Brandon Staley and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, there’s little reason to believe that he won’t be just as good in Year 2.
Los Angeles got Herbert some offensive line help by signing All-Pro center Corey Linsley and drafting tackle Rashawn Slater. Most of Herbert’s supporting cast is back from last season, and the second-year quarterback is adapting to the new offense well.
“As we started off and [have] gone through these last couple weeks of practice, he’s really, really sped up as far as what he knows,” quarterbacks coach Shane Day said, per Jeff Miller of the Los Angeles Times. “I think it’s all right where it’s supposed to be. It’s been perfect.”
While sophomore slumps are a thing—Baker Mayfield was amazing as a rookie, awful in Year 2—Herbert is poised to pick up where he left off in 2020.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Rams got themselves a new quarterback when they traded for longtime Lions starter Matthew Stafford. The team had a roster that ranked 11th in offensive yards and first in total defense last season, and adding Stafford might be the move that reopens its Super Bowl window.
Of course, there will be an adjustment period. That period should be brief, however, as Stafford is quickly making a connection with his new pass-catchers.
“I think we’re all comfortable with him,” wideout Van Jefferson said, per Dan Greenspan of Yahoo Sports. “He’s getting more comfortable with us, and I think that’s coming with timing and throwing over and over again.”
According to Greenspan, Stafford plans to hold workouts with his receivers during the break between OTAs and training camp.
Last year, Tom Brady proved that a new quarterback can step in and lead his team to a championship. Los Angeles may not be able to replicate that success, but Stafford and the Rams offense should hit the ground running this season.
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Adrian Kraus/Associated Press
Heading into the draft, some may have wondered if the Miami Dolphins would consider taking a quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick. Tua Tagovailoa showed some flashes as a rookie but struggled to push the ball downfield consistently, averaging just 6.3 yards per attempt. He was twice pulled for journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick in-game.
Miami, however, committed to Tagovailoa by trading the No. 3 pick and then trading back up in Round 1 to secure wideout Jaylen Waddle, the quarterback’s former teammate at Alabama.
Tagovailoa’s teammates are also buying into what they’ve seen early in the offseason.
“His mechanics look different,” wideout DeVante Parker said, per Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post. “Footwork, ball out quicker, all that.”
Miami has a great roster—one that won 10 games in 2020, even with the quarterback flip-flopping. With Fitzpatrick gone, the team is Tagovailoa’s. Miami will give him every opportunity to prove that he is its franchise quarterback.
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Al Goldis/Associated Press
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is under contract through the 2022 season. While the 32-year-old has been more than serviceable for the Vikings over the past three campaigns, Minnesota is clearly looking for more out of the position.
In the third round, Minnesota took Texas A&M product Kellen Mond. According to post-draft reports, the Vikings were looking to select Cousins’ replacement much earlier.
“As disclosed in a video published by the Panthers, the Vikings called Carolina in an attempt to trade up from No. 14 to No. 8 in the first round of the 2021 draft,” Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wrote. “Per a league source, the Vikings were targeting quarterback Justin Fields.”
Obviously, the Panthers rejected the call and took South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn. The Bears, meanwhile, traded up to No. 11 to snatch Fields.
Cousins may have been the 2021 starter even if the Vikings had landed Fields. However, Minnesota has made it obvious that Cousins is not a significant piece of its long-term plans. When Cousins’ contract is up, his time in Minneapolis probably will be too.
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Mary Schwalm/Associated Press
The New England Patriots re-signed quarterback Cam Newton in free agency this offseason. They also used the 15th overall pick on Alabama product Mac Jones. A quarterback competition should be part of training camp, and the rookie should have a viable chance of winning the starting gig.
This is a different situation than last year, when Newton and 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham were the primary options. Stidham never had a realistic shot at starting, even when Newton was on the reserve/COVID-19 list or when he struggled with his passing consistency late in the season.
Jones has already taken a big first step by grasping the Patriots offense during voluntary workouts.
“I think Mac has a pretty good understanding of the things that we do,” head coach Bill Belichick told reporters recently.
Jones is the only quarterback drafted in the first round during the Belichick era and is clearly viewed as the quarterback of the future. If he continues to make a quick NFL transition, he should have every opportunity to unseat Newton as the starter. And Newton missing time with a hand injury could accelerate the process.
It’s unlikely Newton’s bone bruise will keep him out of training camp next month, but in the meantime, New England will get a longer look at its newest quarterback.
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Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
Drew Brees retired this offseason, meaning that the New Orleans Saints will have a new quarterback in 2021. The team is expected to hold a competition between utility man and spot starter Taysom Hill and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter/2020 backup Jameis Winston, though rookie Ian Book has an off chance of inserting himself into the mix.
While we don’t know whom the Saints will start under center in Week 1, they have made it clear that the offense won’t be identical to the one that featured Brees.
“We’ll build it a little bit around that player accordingly,” head coach Sean Payton said, per ESPN’s Mike Triplett. “That’s something that we did when Drew first arrived here and that we would do with either of these two players.”
It’s not an unexpected approach, as Winston and Hill have different playing styles. Winston is more of a traditional pocket passer, while Hill brings some dual-threat ability.
While the quarterback competition isn’t yet fully underway, logic would suggest that Winston has the early inside track. Giving him the starting job would allow Payton to continue using Hill as a gadget player and change-of-pace quarterback.
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Kathy Willens/Associated Press
There will be no quarterback controversy for the New York Giants this season. Though he’s coming off a disappointing second campaign with an 11-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a passer rating of 80.4, Daniel Jones is the starter. The Giants are doing everything they can to support him.
They brought in pass-catchers Kenny Golladay and Kyle Rudolph in free agency and then used a first-round pick on speedy gadget receiver Kadarius Toney (4.39 40-yard dash). With running back Saquon Barkley expected to be back from last year’s ACL tear, Jones should have the supporting cast needed to succeed.
“He’s been fun to work with,” Jones said of Golladay, per Michael Eisen of the team’s official website. “Obviously, his talent and skill level, you can tell as soon as you can get on the field with him he’s a good player, smart player and I’m excited to keep working with him.”
New York didn’t bring in quarterback competition in the offseason—Mike Glennon shouldn’t threaten Jones’ job—so this season will be all about proving that Jones is the long-term answer. If he cannot succeed with a revamped offensive roster, though, the Giants may have to start weighing other options.
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Kathy Willens/Associated Press
The New York Jets used the No. 2 overall pick on BYU quarterback Zach Wilson in April. He is the latest in the line of their quarterbacks of the future, and he’ll likely be thrown into the fire immediately.
The Jets don’t have a veteran mentor on their roster who can guide Wilson and/or open the season if the rookie isn’t ready. New York’s other quarterbacks, Mike White and James Morgan, have no regular-season experience.
While making the leap from college to the NFL can be a challenge, it’s become increasingly common for rookie quarterbacks to start early in their pro careers. BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick believes that Wilson will be up to the task.
“The next level is going to be a huge challenge, but he’s ready,” Roderick said, per Jack Bell of the Jets’ official website.
2018 first-round pick Sam Darnold started in Week 1 of his rookie season, though he ultimately didn’t pan out as the Jets’ long-term starter. However, New York has a new regime with head coach Robert Saleh (brought in last winter) and general manager Joe Douglas (hired in 2019).
The Jets had better hope things are different this time around because they don’t have a solid Plan B in place.
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Matt Slocum/Associated Press
With Carson Wentz out in Philadelphia, second-year man Jalen Hurts should be the unquestioned starter. Ideally, he’ll be supported by a healthy and improved offensive line.
The Eagles were without starting tackles Andre Dillard and Lane Johnson for most of the season and struggled mightily in 2020. The team’s quarterbacks were sacked a whopping, league-high 65 times. Hurts took 13 sacks despite making only four starts.
While Johnson should step right back into a starting role, the same isn’t true for Dillard. He’ll face competition from 2018 seventh-round pick Jordan Mailata.
“Oh, there’s definitely one,” offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said of the left tackle competition, per Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Mailata was far from perfect in his 10 starts last season. He was responsible for seven sacks and three penalties, according to Pro Football Focus. However, Dillard suffered a torn bicep last August and has made just four starts since being drafted 22nd overall in 2019.
This figures to be one of the biggest camp battles for the Eagles, who are looking to bounce back from last year’s 4-11-1 campaign.
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Don Wright/Associated Press
The Pittsburgh Steelers won 12 games last season while finishing 12th in points scored. However, they had problems offensively, especially late, and got blown out by the Browns during the Wild Card Round.
Part of the issue was that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appeared to lose steam. He struggled to stretch the field vertically while getting hardly any support from the ground game. Pittsburgh finished dead last in both rushing yards (1,351) and yards per attempt (3.6).
The offense will have a different look in 2021. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was replaced by Matt Canada in the offseason, and the Steelers used their first-round pick on Alabama running back Najee Harris.
Harris should bolster the ground game, while Canada may only keep certain core plays from the 2020 playbook.
“Canada asks his QB their favorite 10 or so of each concept (PA, RPO, dropback, etc.) and builds off of those as a crutch for the QB and himself so the QB is always ready to go,” Nick Farabaugh of Pittsburgh Sports Now tweeted.
There will likely be enough familiarity to keep Roethlisberger comfortable, but the Steelers offense will be different than the one fans saw last season. Given the way the 2020 campaign ended, that’s probably a good thing.
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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
The San Francisco 49ers used the third overall pick in this year’s draft on North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance. While the two quarterbacks selected before Lance—Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson—are widely expected to start from day one, the 49ers don’t plan to rush their rookie onto the field.
The plan is to stick with incumbent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
“It’s going to be very hard for a rookie to come in and beat Jimmy Garoppolo out. He’s a very good player,” head coach Kyle Shanahan told ESPN (h/t Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith).
Garoppolo doesn’t appear to be ready to relinquish the starting job either.
“I think Jimmy had his best spring since we’ve had him,” Shanahan said Wednesday, per Keiana Martin of the team’s official website.
If Lance clearly outplays Garoppolo in camp and/or Garoppolo suffers another injury—he’s missed 23 games in three seasons with San Francisco—then the rookie probably will claim the starting job. However, the 49ers aren’t in any hurry to rush Lance onto the field.
When Garoppolo was healthy in 2019, after all, San Francisco made it to the Super Bowl.
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Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
Plenty of drama surrounded Russell Wilson’s relationship with the Seattle Seahawks early in the offseason. The quarterback publicly voiced some complaints about the organization, and Seattle wasn’t happy about it.
“A source told me that the Seahawks management is not happy with Russell Wilson and his camp for taking this to the media,” Dan Patrick said on the Dan Patrick Show (h/t Michael Davis Smith of Pro Football Talk). “You wonder if they’re going to be able to co-exist. …The current situation is not sustainable. That’s what I was told.”
Naturally, trade speculation ensued. According to Patrick, the Bears offered a hefty package for Wilson that included three first-round draft picks and two starters.
Wilson wasn’t dealt, though, and it seems that both he and the Seahawks have put the drama in the rearview for the time being.
“We’re on the same page,” Wilson said Thursday, per The Athletic. “We’re here to do what we’re meant to do, and that’s to win it all.”
Depending on how the 2021 campaign plays out, trade drama could creep back into the picture next offseason. For now, though, everyone seems happy in Seattle.
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Last season, quarterback Tom Brady won his record seventh Super Bowl. He also had a remarkable first campaign with the Buccaneers, finishing with 4,633 passing yards, 40 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
However, he might be poised to have an even better 2021. One reason for this is that he’ll be more comfortable with an offense that befuddled him at times last season.
“Midway through the year, I was still trying to figure out how to call the plays,” Brady told the Hodinkee Radio podcast last month (h/t JoeBucsFan.com).
The quarterback should also be healthier, as a knee ailment bothered him throughout the season and eventually led to offseason surgery.
“It was an injury I dealt with since last April-May,” Brady said, per ESPN’s Jenna Laine. “I knew I would have to have something done at the end of the year. Happy I did it.”
Repeating as champion won’t be easy for Tampa Bay, but with a healthier knee and a better grasp of the offense, the future Hall of Famer could be in store for an MVP-caliber campaign.
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Zach Bolinger/Associated Press
Though they lost in the opening round of the playoffs last year, the Tennessee Titans clearly believe that they’re close to competing for the Super Bowl. They made that clear when they in part traded a second-round pick for 32-year-old wideout Julio Jones.
While Jones is still a fantastic receiver when healthy, he is coming off an injury-hampered season and doesn’t provide a massive window of high-level play. The move to acquire Jones was likely made with the short-term in mind.
But if Jones is healthy in 2021, the Titans offense may be nearly unstoppable. Derrick Henry has won back-to-back rushing titles, while A.J. Brown is quickly becoming a reliable No. 1 receiver.
“I mean, defenses, you’re really going to have to pick your poison,” Jones said, per NFL Media’s Kevin Patra. “If you to stay in the box, put nine in the box. A guy like Derrick Henry in the backfield, you got to respect him. So then, that’s when me and A.J. go to work outside.”
Ryan Tannehill has quietly been an upper-tier quarterback over the past two seasons—with a passer rating of 110.6—and there are few weaknesses on Tennessee’s offense. If the Titans can improve a defense that ranked 28th overall in 2020, they should indeed be title contenders.
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Luis M. Alvarez/Associated Press
The Washington Football Team lost one experienced quarterback when it released Alex Smith, who subsequently retired. It added another when it signed 16-year veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.
While Fitzpatrick is a journeyman and has never established himself as a franchise quarterback, his recent play suggests he can help boost Washington’s offense. He posted a passer rating of 95.6 last season and helped the Dolphins win 10 games (4-3 record as starter).
Fitzpatrick isn’t only going to aid the offense with his arm talent, though. He’s already using his experience to help improve his teammates in offseason workouts.
“I’ve seen him communicate with just about every receiver on the roster right now, just about what they’re thinking with this route, what they’re thinking about with this leverage,” wideout Terry McLaurin said, per Ethan Cadeaux of NBC Sports Washington. “I think that is very important to do at this part in the season because you want to try to start making that connection early.”
Last year, the Football Team won the NFC East despite ranking 25th in passing yards and 30th in total offense. Washington should be more potent offensively with Fitzpatrick under center.