Six NFL playoff games down, seven to go. The offseason is nearly here — and for 24 teams, it already is — bringing the opportunity for every team to get better and make changes as they prepare for the 2021 season.
How will free agency shake out? Who will land playmakers in the 2021 draft? How will coaching shuffles alter the direction of a handful of franchises? All 32 teams need something this spring. So we asked our NFL Nation reporters to identify the biggest area of need for each team as we enter the offseason.
Bring in a premier edge rusher.
Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison anchored a Bills pass rush that ranked second in pass rush win rate this season, but they are 32 and 33 years old, respectively. Buffalo spent a 2020 second-round pick on A.J. Epenesa, who has turned in a strong end to the season after spending Week 1 as a healthy scratch, but the team could stand to add another edge rusher as it looks to the future. This is a team with few, if any, glaring needs, however, and even edge rusher does not represent an immediate concern. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Add playmaking offensive weapons.
The Dolphins were one of the NFL’s worst teams in receiver separation and yards after contact in 2020, showing they need more speedy, elusive players who threaten defenses. Miami’s offense simply wasn’t good enough to compete with AFC elite. Improvement from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and a new offensive coordinator may help, but upgrades at receiver and running back should both be top priorities this offseason in both free agency and the draft as the Dolphins look to surround their QB with the adequate weapons to thrive. — Cameron Wolfe
Improve the wide receiver group.
Damiere Byrd was the team’s No. 1 target in 2020, playing a receiver-high 901 snaps — almost double his previous career high. While Byrd is deserving of praise for his effort, he was also playing above his level. That reflects why the Patriots, who also have a major question to answer at quarterback, figure to make receiver a top priority this offseason. — Mike Reiss
Nail the head coach decision.
The search is underway, and the Jets are talking to all the right candidates, including top coordinators Eric Bieniemy (Chiefs) and Robert Saleh (49ers). Now it’s a matter of finding the right fit. The Jets need more than an X’s-and-O’s guy; they need a leader who can galvanize the organization and change the losing culture. Easier said than done. — Rich Cimini
Get a No. 1 wide receiver.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson has a Pro Bowl tight end in Mark Andrews and a budding star in running back J.K. Dobbins. What Jackson and this offense need is a proven go-to wide receiver. Baltimore banked on Marquise Brown developing into that, but he has not been consistent, though he did have a 100-yard day in the team’s wild-card win over Tennessee. The Ravens need to repeat what Buffalo and Arizona did last season and acquire an upgraded target on the outside for Jackson. — Jamison Hensley
Shore up the offensive line.
When quarterback Joe Burrow suffered his season-ending injury, it was clear that the Bengals needed to revamp their line. Between the draft and free agency, the Bengals should attack this unit in the offseason. As a rookie, Burrow showed he has the tools to be a franchise quarterback — as long as he is upright. — Ben Baby
Add defensive help — especially in the secondary.
The Browns need help defensively, particularly at defensive back, where injuries and inconsistent play plagued them at times. Second-round pick Grant Delpit making a healthy return from the Achilles injury he suffered in training camp would help. But Cleveland could use reinforcements at every level of its defense. — Jake Trotter
Solve their offensive issues.
The Steelers have a mountain of needs after a shocking first-round playoff exit, beginning with a new playcaller. The offensive system was broken this season, most evident in the evaporated run game. The fix goes beyond a new running back or an upgraded offensive line. The system itself needs an overhaul. Maybe that’s a new offensive coordinator. Maybe that’s giving more responsibilities to Matt Canada. Whatever it is, the Steelers need to solve it before the 2021 season. — Brooke Pryor
Get on the same page as Deshaun Watson.
The Texans’ franchise quarterback is reportedly upset with the way Houston CEO Cal McNair and the organization handled hiring new general manager Nick Caserio. Watson reportedly wanted more input into the hiring process and did not feel Houston considered the candidates he endorsed. McNair said Friday that he had reached out to Watson on vacation but had not heard back from the quarterback. Houston still has to hire a head coach, but before doing that, it needs to make sure it mends the relationship with Watson. — Sarah Barshop
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Figure out who the starting quarterback will be next season.
Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett are both free agents, leaving rookie Jacob Eason as the only quarterback under contract for next season. Rivers had the third-best completion percentage of his career, and his interceptions dropped by nine, but the Colts have to determine if the 39-year-old can take them another step or two if they re-sign him. Buckle up because the offseason will be full of quarterback buzz, especially the longer things remain uncertain in Philadelphia with Carson Wentz. — Mike Wells
Draft Trevor Lawrence. Quarterback is the team’s biggest need, just as it has been for most of the past 15 years. Luckily, the Jaguars have the top pick, and they’ll take Clemson’s Lawrence, which will give them a franchise signal-caller for the first time since Mark Brunell led them in the early days of the franchise. — Mike DiRocco
Acquire more pass-rushers.
Not being able to dominate up front really hurt Tennessee’s defense last season. The Titans swung and missed last season when they signed Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley to one-year deals. After finishing with only 19 sacks and a 25% pressure rate, the Titans still need a game-wrecker to add to their front four. — Turron Davenport
Hire a new general manager.
The Broncos are conducting interviews now. They have a young roster — especially on offense — and salary cap flexibility. And while John Elway is still the team’s president of football operations, the new GM will control the roster, the draft and free agency. A big offseason under a new GM could nudge Denver back into the playoff conversation. It is easily the team’s most important hire since former owner Pat Bowlen coaxed Elway back into the organization in 2011. — Jeff Legwold
Figure out a way to keep Tyrann Mathieu.
The Chiefs have more than $190 million of salary cap obligations for 2021, and all of those salaries won’t fit under the league’s limit. So they have some major work to do. They need to extend the contract of Mathieu, who would otherwise be in the final year of his deal, because he’s just too important for them to lose. The safety is a prime target for extension because his cap number is almost $20 million. — Adam Teicher
It’s all about the defensive coordinator.
The Raiders will rebuild their defense after Paul Guenther was fired with three games to go and Rod Marinelli took over on an interim basis. Coach Jon Gruden wants to maintain a 4-3 front (and Marinelli as his defensive line coach), so any incoming coordinator will have to keep that in mind. Among those already linked to the job: Gus Bradley (Gruden’s linebackers coach in Tampa Bay from 2006-08), Joe Barry (Gruden’s linebackers coach in Tampa Bay from 2002-06 and Marinelli’s son-in-law), Kris Richard (worked with Marinelli in Dallas) and Raheem Morris (a longtime staffer with Gruden in Tampa Bay). — Paul Gutierrez
Hire a head coach and fill out the staff.
The search has begun, although the Chargers won’t say who they’ve interviewed. We know Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is in the mix and could be a good fit with quarterback Justin Herbert. But whomever they hire, it might not happen until after the Super Bowl. — Shelley Smith
Fix the defense.
When you have a unit that allowed a franchise-record 473 points against and was 31st in run defense, you have to do anything and everything to get better. While adding new coordinator Dan Quinn was the first step, the Cowboys have to help most levels of their defense: defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback and safety. Last year, they drafted the best player available when they selected wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in the first round at No. 17 overall. This year, they have to take the best defensive player available at No. 10 overall and maybe follow that rule for their entire draft class. — Todd Archer
Pick your poison: No. 1 WR or edge rushing.
Both are massive voids on the roster, and the Giants have neither at the moment. Both need to be addressed, likely one in free agency and the other in the draft. They can’t go into next season with Darius Slayton as the No. 1 receiver or Kyler Fackrell as the top edge rusher. — Jordan Raanan
Find a coach/quarterback combo.
The search for a new leader begins after the Eagles fired Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson on Monday. Once they make a decision on that front, attention will quickly turn to the quarterback situation, and whether to move forward with Carson Wentz, Jalen Hurts or both. The odds Wentz remains in Philly have likely gone up, however, and the incoming coach will influence how it plays out. — Tim McManus
Find a quarterback of the future.
While Washington had good stories this season — Alex Smith‘s return and Taylor Heinicke‘s playoff performance — it needs a solid long-term solution. Smith is 37; Heinicke has started two NFL games and durability would be a concern. The team also has Kyle Allen, but with a defense ready to win now, it will explore all options — a veteran would make sense but they’ll also explore draft options. One note: Coach Ron Rivera likes mobile quarterbacks. — John Keim
Who is the quarterback?
Stop me if you have heard this before: The Bears have another big decision to make at quarterback. Mitchell Trubisky‘s fifth-year option was declined, and Nick Foles looked ineffective this season. Do the Bears draft another quarterback? Do they — gulp — re-sign Trubisky? Do they find another veteran? The story remains the same in Chicago. — Jeff Dickerson
Figure out how much of a rebuild is necessary.
The Lions are going to have a new general manager and a new head coach. What those two people do — and how they decide to construct the franchise in their vision — will be the primary need of the offseason that everything else is going to flow through. Conversations about the futures of Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay, Romeo Okwara and entire position groups will all be dictated by how those two people choose to handle things. — Michael Rothstein
Create some salary-cap space.
The Packers are almost never in poor cap positions thanks to contract negotiator Russ Ball’s prudent ways, but this is going to be a challenging offseason. They’re in the neighborhood of $26 million over their projected 2021 cap, making it difficult to re-sign players such as center Corey Linsley and running back Aaron Jones. General manager Brian Gutekunst will have some difficult decisions to make, and Ball will have to find ways to create cap room. Cash floor isn’t a problem for the Packers, but cap space certainly is. — Rob Demovsky
Add help in the trenches.
Some will argue that getting pass-rushers is priority No. 1. Others will say the need for a high-quality guard is most important. Either way, the Vikings need to focus their efforts in free agency (once they make moves to free up cap space) and the draft in shoring up both their defensive and offensive lines. Minnesota generated a franchise-low 23 sacks this year while members of the interior of the O-line were responsible for 20 of the 39 sacks that quarterback Kirk Cousins took in 2020. — Courtney Cronin
Determine a direction for the franchise.
It could be an awfully long list of needs for a team that has to consider just how extreme a makeover it wants to undertake this offseason. But obviously it has to start with identifying to right general manager and coach to guide this team through big decisions. Those decisions will include what to do with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the fourth pick in the NFL draft, among others. — Mike Triplett
Make a quarterback decision.
Teddy Bridgewater, despite not having top weapon Christian McCaffrey for 13 games, did not prove he can be the franchise quarterback this team needs to be a playoff contender. An 0-8 record on game-winning drives magnifies this point. That he had four players with 1,000 yards of total offense but had only 15 touchdown passes to 11 interceptions is another strike against him. Bridgewater can be a game-manager and could mentor a young player, but long-term, he is not the answer. — David Newton
Identify the long-term quarterback.
There is a strong chance that Drew Brees will retire after this season, leaving a void at the position for the first time in 15 years. If he does, Saints coach Sean Payton has suggested multiple times that the next QB is “in the building,” referring to both Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston (who will be a free agent). But the Saints would also have to strongly consider a developmental QB in the draft, as well. — Mike Triplett
Bring back Chris Godwin — and other stars.
Tom Brady told the Sunday Night Football broadcast in the Bucs wild-card game that Godwin has some of the “best hands he’s ever seen.” If they want to keep continuity on offense, which Brady has been talking about all season, they need to re-sign Godwin. But he’s not the only one. The Bucs have roughly $30 million in salary cap space and have to find a way to get linebackers Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David back too. — Jenna Laine
Add another reliable wide receiver.
Beyond DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals didn’t have a true threat in their wide receivers room. Larry Fitzgerald showed signs of being 37, Christian Kirk made plays but wasn’t as much of a threat as he could’ve been, although that may not have been totally on him, and then the rest of the receiving corps wasn’t consistent. For the Cardinals to take the next step and make the playoffs, they need a WR2 who can complement Hopkins and make defenses pay attention so they can’t commit all their resources to Hopkins. As of now, Arizona doesn’t have that. — Josh Weinfuss
Find a backup quarterback to challenge Jared Goff.
Maybe that is current backup John Wolford. Perhaps the Rams will sign an experienced veteran. They could also use a midround pick to bring in a talent for coach Sean McVay to develop and consider inserting into game action if Goff stumbles. But the bottom line is that competition brings out the best in each player, and while Goff has the talent to lead the Rams to the playoffs, he has performed inconsistently over the past two seasons. And the Rams must try a new avenue to challenge him. — Lindsey Thiry
Figure out the quarterback situation.
Yes, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have said repeatedly that they expect Jimmy Garoppolo to be their starter in 2021. But they’ve also left a little wiggle room by pointing out that they always look at possible upgrades at every position every year. That means they must figure out if any legitimate upgrades to Garoppolo will be available, if they can realistically acquire one and what it would cost to do so. If no such upgrade is available, they must come up with a better plan behind Garoppolo, as backups Nick Mullens (restricted) and C.J. Beathard (unrestricted) are set to be free agents. The roster is simply too good to throw away another season because Garoppolo is injured, which means upgrades are needed at the position even if it’s not in the starting spot. — Nick Wagoner
A clear answer to what happened on offense, and a plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
An upgrade at tight end and to their offensive line would help, but the group of players who struggled for much of the second half of the season and in their wild-card loss to the Rams was pretty much the same as the one that led the NFL in scoring over the first nine weeks. That suggests the offensive ineptitude that doomed the Seahawks was as much about their approach and coaching as it was about personnel and execution. Besides, splashy additions will be hard to come by with no first- or third-round picks and given all the money they need to set aside for key players who need new contracts, notably safety Jamal Adams. — Brady Henderson
Coin flips, sudden death and cookies: Why Ravens want to change OT – Baltimore Ravens Blog
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — To create the fairest way to decide tie games, the Baltimore Ravens want you to think of overtime as a cookie.
For years, children have split cookies with a method called “Divide and Choose.” One kid breaks the cookie into two pieces, and the other gets first choice on what piece to take.
This principle is not only the driving force behind the Ravens’ new overtime format but it’s also referenced in the proposal that they have submitted to the NFL competition committee and ownership for review at the upcoming league meetings.
Under the Ravens’ “Spot and Choose” proposal, at the result of the coin toss, one team spots the ball on the field for the start of an overtime period (which begins from there without a kickoff). Then, the other team chooses whether to start on offense or defense from that spot. The overtime proceeds as either sudden death or a timed period (7 minutes, 30 seconds) to determine the winner.
The Ravens believe this proposal adds more strategy to the game, simplifies the rules and likely decreases total snaps.
“In my view, it’s a clear improvement to the game and think it should be adopted immediately,” said Seth Walder, ESPN analytics writer. “It helps from a fairness standpoint and from an entertainment standpoint — that’s as good as it gets. I’d be legitimately excited to see where teams think the right break-even yard line is, and how they would adjust if, say, Patrick Mahomes were standing on the opposite sideline.”
Why are the Ravens proposing this? Recent history shows coin flips are determining too many games.
According to Baltimore’s research, receiving teams are 28-20-4 (a win rate of 58%) since 2017, when overtime was shortened to 10 minutes. In the playoffs, receiving teams are 9-1 since 2010 when “modified sudden death” was first introduced, including four teams since 2015 winning on a first-possession touchdown.
The Ravens see their format — which is based on teams deciding the initial spot of the ball — removing chance from overtime.
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“It transfers power from luck to strategy,” Walder said. “There’s no reason that a coin toss should give an advantage the way it currently does. This asks teams to reconcile with a central question to game management: How valuable is possession relative to field position? No matter the outcome — where the ball is placed, which team starts with it — the result is because of choices they made. It is inherently fair in that way. It’s also interesting. Breaking down those decisions in real time and afterwards will be fascinating. And there’s also a potential risk-reward element I love: If I’m the spot team and I have a sense the opposing coach really wants the ball, how far can I push the spot back without it being flipped back on us?”
One tweak that Walder would make is eliminating field goals in the overtime period for the sudden-death proposal. So, teams can win only by scoring a touchdown or recording a safety.
“Touchdowns are worth twice as much as field goals in the rest of football, so it seems off to make them suddenly equals,” Walder said. “The downside here is that this could encourage ties. The Ravens also probably prefer keeping the value of field goals up, given their advantage at kicker, though that is a temporary edge.”
Also, to speed up game administration, Walder said a coin toss can be eliminated. The rule can set the home team as the “spot” team and the road team as the “choose” team, or vice versa.
“I will say: It’s not lost on me that the Ravens — who have strong game management and are one of the most analytically inclined teams in the league — are the ones proposing this,” Walder said.
How glassblowing helps Minnesota Vikings’ Stephen Weatherly decompress – Carolina Panthers Blog
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — “Ooooh! Oooh!’’ Stephen Weatherly yelled as he noticed a small spot smoldering on his right thigh.
The five-year veteran defensive end, who recently signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings after he was released by the Carolina Panthers, momentarily lost his concentration during a glassblowing session, allowing the hot end of the six-foot pipe he was breathing into while rolling it make contact with his pants.
His instructor, Nicolas Emeric, had been waiting for such a mishap, understanding there was less clearance between the pipe and legs because Weatherly (6-foot-5, 265 pounds) is bigger than his typical clientele.
Weatherly quickly refocused as he would on the field.
“I got burned because I wasn’t locked in,” he said. “When you come into the hot shop, the fact that you have to be locked in forces you to push everything to the back burner.
“… Like where am I going to end up next? That is very much on the front of my mind. When I come in here I have to think about blowing glass.”
Weatherly, who will turn 27 this month, became enamored with glassblowing a few years ago during his first stint with the Vikings. He saw it on Instagram and his roommate at the time had a co-worker who owned a studio, so he went and became hooked. That ultimately led to his interest in the Netflix show “Blown Away,” which led to an appearance as a guest judge on its glassblowing competition that aired in late January.
Glassblowing always has been therapeutic for Weatherly, because when dealing with molten glass at temperatures of more than 2,000 degrees, you don’t have time to think about everyday issues. It became more therapeutic when he was cut less than a year after signing a two-year, $12.5 million deal.
“So I was able to just think for an hour and 15 minutes straight, not about anything stressful, but just about creating that beautiful piece of art,” Weatherly said.
Not done with football
Glassblowing began as one of Weatherly’s many hobbies when looking for things to occupy his life after football. It’s still just a hobby.
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“I have a lot of good years still left in the football world,” Weatherly said.
He hoped they would be spent in Carolina, rebuilding under coach Matt Rhule. Unfortunately, he had no sacks and only three quarterback pressures in nine starts, then was placed on injured reserve in November because of a finger injury that required surgery.
His release simply was a matter of fit and needing to clear $5.9 million in salary-cap space.
“They are building for the future,” Weatherly said. “I didn’t do enough to show that I can be part of their scheme for the future. I mean, it’s a business. Just sucks.”
Weatherly wasn’t out of work long, reuniting with the Vikings on Thursday.
Emeric recognized Weatherly when he walked into Hot Glass Alley, in an eclectic Charlotte neighborhood, as a judge on “Blown Away,’’ not an NFL player.
“He definitely fits in with the rest of the weirdos in the glass world,” he joked.
Coachability in football, however, made Weatherly a good student in glassblowing.
“He soaks up every little bit of information I give him,” Emeric said. “And he’s responsive. Which is great, because most people don’t want to learn and dive in so far.”
Teaching Weatherly was nerve-wracking initially.
“He said nobody has ever let him do this before, because they know how much his hands are worth,” Emeric said.
Weatherly’s hands constantly were close to the heat that burned his pants. As violent as those hands are in football, they easily adjusted to the gentle touch needed to roll the pipe while blowing life into the glass.
Weatherly showed the same control he uses on the piano and eight other instruments he has learned to play. A sociology major at Vanderbilt, he loves the delicate side of the art world almost as much as he does the brutality of football.
“The piece, it gets heavy,” Weatherly said of the 10-pound pipe and his vase that weighed 5.9 pounds but felt like 50. “So I get to use my physicality in a sense, but also my fine-tuning, like turning it with just my fingertips.”
Art becomes football
Weatherly pumped his fist into the air as if he’d just made a sack. But the exhilaration came from seeing a taffy-like glop of glass become an artistic creation.
“He has such a creative mind already,” Emeric said. “Most people come in and barely have an idea of what’s their favorite color.’’
The decision on Weatherly’s latest project, a vase for his girlfriend, was born 24 hours earlier after he gave her flowers. He chose his favorite colors, orange and green, to remind her of him.
As rewarding as it was to put the glass into the furnace and see it blossom, it was exhausting.
“I promise you I am in shape,” Weatherly said as he gathered himself after an extended period of glassblowing.
Emeric said he understood. He also understood why blowing glass has become therapeutic to Weatherly.
“Because it’s hot and it’s very intrinsic material, you can’t let your day-to-day stresses overwhelm you, because it will show in your piece,” he said. “You can see where there are imperfections because your mind goes astray.”
Weatherly has had mishaps. His first piece with Emeric quickly went from a pyramid to the tip of a spear.
He had better luck with other projects such as paperweights, cups, a jellyfish and a sword that adorn his home.
“I love everything I’ve done,” Weatherly said.
He loved the vase in particular because he was able to push his football thoughts aside at a fragile time. At the same time, it was a lot like football.
“All the hard work, the stuff you don’t understand and see, is definitely the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday practices,” Weatherly said. “But the beautiful part at the end, that’s all Sunday under the bright lights.”
Houston Texans sign ex-Seahawks C Justin Britt to one-year deal, source says
Britt, who did not play during the 2020 season after Seattle released him in April, indicated he signed with the Texans in an Instagram post.
“I’M BACK!” Britt wrote in his post.
Britt, 29, was a second-round pick in 2014. He tore his ACL in October 2019, but before that injury he had missed only one game in his first five seasons.
Last week, Houston cut center Nick Martin, a second-round pick in 2016, saving $6.25 million.
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