Free agency and the NFL draft have taken place. Time to take stock of what teams have improved, stayed the same, or are not prospering this offseason.
Arizona won the J.J. Watt sweepstakes, traded for C Rodney Hudson, and snagged LB Zaven Collins and WR Rondale Moore in the first two rounds of the draft. The Cardinals also signed CB Malcolm Butler to replace Patrick Peterson. Larry Fitzgerald’s playing status for 2021 is uncertain, but either way, the Cardinals are in a brutal division. They currently have the longest odds of winning the NFC West.
With the fourth pick, the Falcons made Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted TE in NFL history and he should immediately make them better. Atlanta prioritized its secondary with second-round selection S Richie Grant. The Falcons probably won’t contend but they did make their team better in the offseason.
Baltimore had a relatively quiet free agency but improved its offensive line depth with G Kevin Zeitler and Alejandro Villanueva. It also signed WR Sammy Watkins. The Ravens took WR Rashod Bateman with their first-round pick and DE Jayson Oweh soon after. It may be hard to improve on 11-5 but Baltimore addressed its needs and should be a more well-rounded team.
The Bills brought in former Bears QB Mitch Trubisky as Josh Allen insurance. They also lost WR John Brown but replaced him with Emmanuel Sanders. Buffalo drafted DE Gregory Rousseau in the first round to address an area of need. While Buffalo should top the AFC East, it seems like it’ll be difficult to reach the heights of last season.
Sam Darnold gets a fresh start in Charlotte as Carolina QB. Only time will tell whether his struggles were a result of a bad situation with the Jets. The Panthers didn’t make any jaw-dropping signings but quietly put together a solid draft and free agency. They should be better than their 5-11 record from last season.
Chicago, notably, placed the franchise tag on WR Allen Robinson instead of trying to sign him to a long-term deal. The Bears made a head-scratching move by signing Andy Dalton at QB but made a bold move in the draft to trade up and take Justin Fields. They also snagged a first-round level talent in the second round in T Teven Jenkins. The Bears’ resounding success in the draft makes up for a lackluster free agency.
The Bengals drafted LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth pick to reunite him with Joe Burrow. Then, the Bengals reached for T Jackson Carman in the second round. Cincinnati did sign T Riley Reiff in the offseason but it’s unclear whether the offensive line will be improved.
The Browns made shrewd defensive signings in free agency and knocked the first two rounds of the draft out of the park. Cleveland took Northwestern CB Greg Newsome and Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah to round out its defense. Whether the offense will be improved is another story.
The Cowboys re-signed Dak Prescott and took the best defensive player available on the draft board, in LB Micah Parsons. Prescott going down injured derailed the Cowboys season in 2020 but it was the defense that was a problem. The Cowboys certainly prioritized defense in the draft and should be an improved team.
The Broncos brought in Teddy Bridgewater to give Drew Lock competition at QB after Lock led the NFL in interceptions. They also got arguably the best corner in the draft, in Patrick Surtain II, and are in the Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes.
In terms of a long-term rebuild, the Lions did a pretty good job in the draft. They built from the inside-out, taking T Penei Sewell with their first-round pick and defensive linemen with their second and third-round picks. It was a bit curious that they waited until the fourth round to draft a WR for Jared Goff, in Amon-Ra St. Brown, but he’s a good one. Losing Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones will make Detroit worse in the short term but I like where things are headed.
Green Bay Packers
Draft night’s biggest news was Aaron Rodgers’ desire to leave Green Bay. Nine of the Packers’ last first-round picks have been defensive players and in 2020, Green Bay drafted QB Jordan Love, reportedly angering Rodgers. If Rodgers can’t or won’t reconcile with the front office in Green Bay, they’ll be worse.
Another team with an uncertain QB situation, Deshaun Watson has been embroiled in almost two dozen lawsuits alleging sexual assault. The Texans brought in Tyrod Taylor and drafted Davis Mills but are in a rough position. Their draft received low marks and they didn’t markedly improve in free agency. This could be another tough year for Houston, especially if Watson is suspended.
After Philip Rivers retired, the Colts made a big bet on Carson Wentz by trading for him. Wentz had well-documented struggles in Philadelphia but might benefit from a change of scenery. The Colts got a steal in DE Kwity Paye but failed to draft T Anthony Costanzo’s successor.
Just by drafting Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence with the first pick alone, the Jaguars should be a better football team. The Jaguars haven’t had a Pro Bowl QB since David Garrard, who only made the game because other players passed on it. Jacksonville kept Clemson’s backfield together by drafting RB Travis Etienne with the 25th pick. It’ll be interesting to see if Urban Meyer can make the transition to coaching in the pros, but this roster is certainly more talented than it was a few months ago.
Kansas City Chiefs
The addition of G Joe Thuney and the Orlando Brown Jr. trade were big wins for the Chiefs, immediately improving their offensive line. Kansas City gets two linemen back after opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID and should be on top of the AFC West once again. Kansas City has the best Super Bowl Odds at +450.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders made some good signings in the offseason in DE Yannick Ngakoue, DT Quinton Jefferson. However, GM Mike Mayock bizarrely gutted their offensive line, which was one of their strengths last season. He also reached for OT Alex Leatherwood in the draft. This offseason was a confusing one for Vegas.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers lost TE Hunter Henry but replaced him with veteran Jared Cook. The Chargers prioritized protecting QB Justin Herbert and signed first-team All-Pro C Corey Linsley and T Matt Feiler. LA also drafted T Rashawn Slater in the first round and CB Asante Samuel Jr. in the second. It was a solid offseason for LA.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams moved on from Jared Goff and traded him for longtime Lions QB Matthew Stafford. LA was constrained in free agency by the salary cap and had a lackluster draft. Adding Stafford should keep the Rams in contention, though.
Miami narrowly missed out on the playoffs in 2020 and should once again be on the playoff bubble. The Dolphins had a good draft, netting Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle and Oregon S Jevon Holland. Bringing in QB Jacoby Brissett should also be good for Tua Tagovailoa’s development.
The Vikings got good value in landing T Christian Darrisaw and G Wyatt Davis in the draft. They also managed to sign CB Patrick Peterson but the rest of their offseason was unremarkable.
New England Patriots
The Patriots re-signed Cam Newton to another one-year deal and drafted Alabama QB Mac Jones at 15. The Pats were one of the hardest-hit teams by COVID opt-outs and made good signings in TE Hunter Henry and LB Kyle Van Noy. The Pats should be much improved after a disappointing 2020 season.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints lost Drew Brees to retirement and a bunch of other starters in free agency. New Orleans reached on DE Payton Turner in the first round and didn’t have a notable draft. Expect the Saints to take a step back this season.
New York Giants
The Giants made some big offseason signings, in WR Kenny Golladay, CB Adoree Jackson, and DE Leonard Williams. GM Dave Gettleman also made some shrewd trades and drafted WR Kadarius Toney and LB Azeez Ojulari.
New York Jets
The Jets weren’t the only NY team to get better this offseason. They shipped off Sam Darnold to Carolina and drafted BYU QB Zach Wilson with the No. 2 pick in the draft. New York made some other solid early round selections in G Alijah Vera-Tucker and WR Elijah Moore. The Jets also improved their offense in free agency with the signings of RB Tevin Coleman and WRs Corey Davis and Keelan Cole.
Three years removed from their first Super Bowl title, the Eagles appear to be in a rebuild. Philadelphia traded Carson Wentz to get off of his monstrous contract in the offseason and is rolling with second-year QB Jalen Hurts. The Eagles landed WR Devonta Smith in the draft but have a roster devoid of elite talent.
The Steelers addressed a big need at RB by taking Najee Harris in the first round but have problems. Pittsburgh lost secondary depth and three starters from its offensive line. Things have gone south since starting the 2020 season with 11 straight wins.
San Francisco 49ers
There was a lot of speculation on who the Niners would take after trading up from 12 to 3 in the draft. One of the most intriguing teams in the NFL in 2021, the 49ers drafted North Dakota State QB Trey Lance. Jimmy Garoppolo is still on the roster, for now, and should be the Week 1 starter. The Niners were Super Bowl contenders before injuries decimated their playoff hopes in 2020 and should contend again this year.
The Seahawks had both a quiet offseason and draft. There was some speculation that they might trade Russell Wilson but it quickly died down. The Seahawks won the NFC West in 2020 and should be right in the mix in 2021.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
All 22 starters from the Super Bowl-winning Bucs are back. The Bucs added a pass-catching RB in Giovani Bernard and drafted edge rusher, Joe Tryon, at the end of the first round. They have an excellent chance to go back to the Super Bowl next February.
The Titans lost a couple of cornerbacks in the offseason and drafted Caleb Farley in the first round to help replace them. They’re rolling the dice a bit given Farley is recovering from back surgery but it is a gamble that could pay off. The Titans also lost WR Corey Davis in the offseason. This is still a good team but could also conceivably take a step back.
Washington Football Team
The team with no name surprisingly won the NFC East in 2020 despite lacking a franchise QB. Washington opted for a stopgap solution in the offseason, with the signing of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Washington also signed WR Curtis Samuel to give Fitzpatrick another target. Washington’s first-round selection of LB Jamin Davis improves an already solid defense. I expect Washington to win more than the seven games it won last season.