The 2021 NFL free-agency period officially begins at 4 p.m. ET on March 17, but speculation about which players might be switching teams this offseason began months ago.
With more than half of the league’s 32 teams rumored to be considering a change at quarterback, with franchises dealing with a lower salary cap and with dozens of big-name players about to hit the market, this free-agency period promises to be one of the NFL’s busiest in years.
With that in mind, ESPN’s NFL Nation breaks down each team’s needs and potential free-agent fits.
Fresh off an appearance in the AFC Championship Game, the Bills’ future hasn’t looked this bright since the 1990s. But with only three starters returning on the offensive line and a defense that lacks a consistent pass rush, general manager Brandon Beane will be busy fortifying the trenches. Read more from Marcel Louis-Jacques
The Dolphins enter free agency focused on adding offensive talent to surround quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — particularly reliable speed at wide receiver. Tampa Bay’s Chris Godwin and Houston’s Will Fuller are two potential fits. Read more from Cameron Wolfe
Stephen A. Smith explains why next season and beyond are so important for Bill Belichick.
The Patriots have an abundance of salary-cap space in an offseason when many teams are feeling a crunch, so there’s an opportunity for them to think big to fill glaring needs. Pass-catchers such as wideouts Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson II and Kenny Golladay and tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith could be on New England’s wish list. They also need to settle on a QB with Cam Newton a pending free agent. Read more from Mike Reiss
With a projected $68 million in salary-cap space, the Jets are one of the few teams positioned to spend aggressively, even if that isn’t the preference of general manager Joe Douglas. Cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Jason Verrett, who played for Jets head coach Robert Saleh in San Francisco, are names to watch in free agency. Read more from Rich Cimini
The Ravens’ focus this offseason is improving quarterback Lamar Jackson‘s supporting cast. A No. 1 wide receiver such as Allen Robinson or Kenny Golladay and a high-end interior lineman such as guard Joe Thuney or center Corey Linsley could be on their shopping list. Read more from Jamison Hensley
If the Bengals can add another dynamic receiving target this offseason, their offense will be poised to take a big step in quarterback Joe Burrow‘s second season. The offensive line is another area of need. And if they don’t bring back defensive end Carl Lawson, the Bengals will need to add another pass-rusher. Read more from Ben Baby
With their offense in good shape, defense figures to be the focus for the Browns, who will look to surround pass-rusher Myles Garrett with more talent. Finding a playmaking linebacker and help for the secondary could be priorities in free agency. Read more from Jake Trotter
Because of the smaller salary cap and their backloaded contracts, the Steelers don’t have much money to use in free agency. The priority is to retain a few of their defensive players, such as cornerbacks Mike Hilton or Cameron Sutton, and find suitable replacements for wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner. Read more from Brooke Pryor
It’s been a turbulent offseason for the Texans, with quarterback Deshaun Watson‘s future the biggest topic right now. Houston also must decide whether wide receiver Will Fuller is in its future plans. And granting J.J. Watt‘s request to be released means a big focus will be adding talent to the defense — specifically the defensive line. Read more from Sarah Barshop
The Colts addressed their quarterback situation with the addition of Carson Wentz, but there are other needs. The priorities include determining the future of wideout T.Y. Hilton, finding a replacement for left tackle Anthony Castonzo, adding help at linebacker and boosting the pass rush. Read more from Mike Wells
The Jaguars have the most cap space available ($77 million) in the league and needs at left tackle, tight end, defensive tackle and in the secondary. Potential targets in free agency are tight end Hunter Henry and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. Read more from Mike DiRocco
After finishing 30th in the league with 19 sacks and allowing opposing offenses to score touchdowns on 69% of their red zone visits, the Titans need to improve their defense. Getting an outside linebacker via free agency is paramount. Read more from Turron Davenport
Denver’s offseason might be defined by who stays, as safety Justin Simmons and defensive end Shelby Harris could hit the open market. The Broncos also have a significant decision to make on the option year for linebacker Von Miller, who missed last season due to injury. Read more from Jeff Legwold
Addressing the offensive line will be a focus for the Chiefs, particularly with tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher coming off serious injuries. They also might be looking at help for the back seven on defense. Read more from Adam Teicher
For the Raiders, trying to find that elusive game-changing edge rusher while shoring up a young and riddled secondary should be priorities. A bruising, change-of-pace running back and an interior defensive lineman who can move the pocket are other potential targets. Read more from Paul Gutierrez
The Chargers could address their offensive line as they work to provide protection for quarterback Justin Herbert. They also need to secure another reliable wide receiver and decide what to do with tight end Hunter Henry, a pending free agent. Read more from Shelley Smith
While they will not be big spenders in free agency because of talks with quarterback Dak Prescott, the Cowboys have needs at all levels of the defense. The linebackers and cornerbacks could look much different next fall, and a pass-rusher could be a need if Aldon Smith doesn’t return. Read more from Todd Archer
Figuring out what to do with their defensive line is at the forefront of this offseason as the Giants decide whether they can afford to keep pass-rusher Leonard Williams and run-stuffer Dalvin Tomlinson. They also should be targeting top-of-the-market talent at edge rusher and wide receiver. Read more from Jordan Raanan
The Eagles are projected to be more than $40 million over the 2021 salary cap and are in the midst of a youth movement, so it’s unlikely they’ll be major players in free agency. A veteran quarterback (Jacoby Brissett?), help at the skill positions and reinforcements for the secondary could be targets during the second wave of free agency. Read more from Tim McManus
Washington must provide more help for its QBs, starting at the wide receiver and tackle positions. It also should have another tight end. Defensively, it needs a linebacker, safety and cornerback. A few receivers will tempt Washington because of their speed, including Curtis Samuel, Will Fuller and Nelson Agholor. Read more from John Keim
With little cap space and needs across the board, GM Ryan Pace will need to get creative to add a veteran QB and keep pending free agent Allen Robinson II at wide receiver. If the Bears are unable to land a big-name quarterback, veterans such as Alex Smith, Andy Dalton or Ryan Fitzpatrick could be within their price range. Read more from Courtney Cronin
The Lions don’t have much money after trading quarterback Matthew Stafford and aren’t expected to contend immediately; GM Brad Holmes has made it clear he is going to build through the draft. However, big changes could be in store at wide receiver and along the defensive front seven with Kenny Golladay and Romeo Okwara in position to test the market. Read more from Michael Rothstein
The Packers have to decide whether they can afford to keep two members of their top-scoring offense: running back Aaron Jones and center Corey Linsley. There are signs GM Brian Gutekunst wants to add to the receiver group. And cornerback also could vault to the top of its needs if Green Bay doesn’t re-sign Kevin King. Read more from Rob Demovsky
Coach Mike Zimmer said one of his priorities is to get more pass-rushers, after the Vikings notched a franchise-low 23 sacks last season. Melvin Ingram, Bud Dupree and Carl Lawson could be targets in free agency. The offensive line could be another focal point, as they need to upgrade their interior pass protection. Read more from Courtney Cronin
The Falcons have little cap space, but they could make a move for a running back such as James Conner or Leonard Fournette. Finding help for the pass rush and at cornerback could also be in the cards. Read more from Michael DiRocco
Upgrading the quarterback position and rebuilding an offensive line that has only one starter under contract is the focus. Tight end is another need, and Hunter Henry could be a target in free agency. Read more from David Newton
The Saints’ budget will be constrained by the league’s reduced salary cap. Safety Marcus Williams and defensive end Trey Hendrickson are pending free agents who should draw the greatest interest around the NFL. But quarterback Jameis Winston is probably the Saints’ top priority, with Drew Brees expected to retire. Read more from Mike Triplett
Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman want the Buccaneers to sign Antonio Brown to a one-year deal.
The Buccaneers have an estimated $24 million in salary-cap space — 13th most in the NFL — and GM Jason Licht and coach Bruce Arians said the priority is re-signing their own. Wideouts Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown and linebackers Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David are among Tampa Bay’s pending free agents. Read more from Jenna Laine
The Cardinals made a big move on Monday by adding All-Pro J.J. Watt to a solid defensive line that already includes pass-rusher Chandler Jones. There are a handful of other positions such as wide receiver, cornerback and tight end that could help Arizona get over the hump and into the playoffs. Read more from Josh Weinfuss
The Rams must find creative solutions in free agency, with three key defensive starters — outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, safety John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill — ready to test the market. Adding a deep threat for quarterback Matthew Stafford — acquired in a trade that will become official at the start of the league year — is a priority. Read more from Lindsey Thiry
The 49ers have pressing needs in the secondary and on the offensive line, and they could be involved in the ever-evolving quarterback carousel, if the right opportunity arises. If left tackle Trent Williams leaves, the Niners could chase a pass-rusher such as Shaq Barrett or Yannick Ngakoue. Read more from Nick Wagoner
With less than $10 million in cap space, the Seahawks have to free up money via cuts (Carlos Dunlap?), restructures (Bobby Wagner?) and maybe even a salary-shedding trade just to re-sign some of their own free agents, let alone add players. Read more from Brady Henderson
Seattle Seahawks re-sign Damarious Randall, moving him to CB
Randall played cornerback for his first three seasons with the Green Bay Packers, who drafted him 30th overall in 2015. He has also played safety and some nickelback.
Most of Randall’s 35 defensive snaps last season came at safety. He appeared in 10 games with the Seahawks — mostly on special teams — after joining their practice squad in September.
It’s not clear if the Seahawks see Randall as an option at nickelback or on the outside.
At 5-foot-11 and 196 pounds, the 28-year-old is smaller than what the Seahawks typically prefer in their perimeter cornerbacks. But D.J. Reed emerged for Seattle on the outside last season despite not having prototypical size.
The Seahawks’ other perimeter cornerbacks include free-agent addition Ahkello Witherspoon and Tre Flowers, who has started 37 games for Seattle over the past three seasons. Safety Ryan Neal has played cornerback in the past. Ugo Amadi and Marquise Blair are returning at nickelback, although Blair is coming off a torn ACL.
Randall has 14 interceptions and 47 passes defensed over six NFL seasons. He spent three with Green Bay and two with the Cleveland Browns before landing in Seattle last year.
North Dakota State’s Trey Lance to hold second pro day
North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance has scheduled a second pro day on April 19, sources told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.
Lance held his first pro day in front of 30 NFL teams on March 12. Lance completed 58 of his 66 attempts during the workout, but didn’t participate in the other drills.
Lance is not the only quarterback prospect holding a second pro day. Justin Fields will work out for NFL teams during Ohio State’s second pro day on Wednesday. Fields’ second pro day was first reported by The Athletic and confirmed by ESPN.
The NFL draft will be held April 29-May 1.
Is Camaron Cheeseman, aspiring dentist, the NFL draft’s top long-snapper?
Back in 2018, No. 12 Michigan was holding on to a 13-7 lead over No. 15 Wisconsin during the first drive of the second half.
The Wolverines were facing a fourth-and-6 from their own 44 and lined up to punt. As they got the kick away, a flag came out for roughing the snapper, giving Jim Harbaugh’s squad a fresh set of downs.
Five plays later, the Wolverines were in the end zone, the first of 25 consecutive points in a 38-13 rout of the Badgers.
But that would all come later. For a moment, those watching the game were consumed by the name of the long-snapper on the receiving end of the penalty: Camaron Cheeseman.
“All the Wisconsin fans are like, ‘Why didn’t he come to Wisconsin?'” Cheeseman said.
Ever since he could remember, his last name has always been a point of discussion.
“People always ask me, ‘Is it Cheese-man or is it Cheese-min?’ And I’m like, ‘I think it’s Cheese-min.’ … But yeah, people just call me ‘Cheese.'”
And Cheeseman notes that the fun doesn’t stop there, since his first name means “shrimp” in Spanish.
“So it’s like Shrimp Cheeseman is my name,” he said. “I’ve never seen anybody else spell it that way, and I can never get a keychain at a [gift shop].”
But in a couple of weeks he might be able to find his name on an NFL draft card. Because while the name might be the first thing you notice about Cheeseman, he’s also one of the nation’s top long-snappers, currently at No. 2 in Mel Kiper Jr.’s rankings. (Each of the past six drafts has seen one long-snapper selected.)
There’s not a lot of glory for long-snappers. Their greatness can’t be measured by completions, yards or touchdowns, and attention usually comes only when they make a mistake.
To have one of the 32 long-snapping jobs in the NFL requires consistency, and that’s what Cheeseman and his coach Casey Casper of Kohl’s Kicking, Punting, and Long Snapping go for. Keeping that consistency after the past year has been a challenge, but one he’s been able to meet.
Cheeseman says he opted out of the 2020 season because Harbaugh told him a scholarship wasn’t available. (The former walk-on had been awarded a scholarship back in 2018.) At the time, Cheeseman needed to know if he would have one before renewing the lease on his apartment in Ann Arbor.
A native of New Albany, Ohio, Cheeseman and his family weren’t in a position to pay out-of-state tuition and, with the added uncertainty due to the pandemic, he decided to forego a final season and train for the NFL from home.
“A few weeks later, that’s when they brought the Big Ten season back and I was home,” Cheeseman said. “And I couldn’t do anything about it. I was helpless at that point. I already left, I graduated.”
“It was emotionally draining,” he added. “It was unfortunate. It was tough for me. That was my first season in 14 years I hadn’t played football.”
At that point, Casper said, “I told him, ‘You know that taking a year off like this kind of sets you back because these guys that are still playing are going to be training with the team and working with the team. And you know, the food, resources, you name it, just gotta work that much harder.
“‘It’s gonna be that much more enjoyable when you make it, but it’s going to be that much harder. You need to stay after it.'”
So throughout the fall of 2020 and into 2021, Cheeseman held himself accountable. He purchased a tripod for his iPad so he could take better film of himself. He would send film to Casper, and they’d go over it trying to pick out things he could do better.
“It’s cool where he’s gotten to with his knowledge of the game, just the little nuances,” Casper said. “It’s been fun for him and I because that’s what I do for a living, I break down long-snapping and film, tens of thousands of clips a year and figure out little things and why, and talk to guys like him and other NFL guys, and it’s just cool to have that. Guys that take it to that level where he’s a student of it, it’s like he’s becoming an expert kind of thing.
“How can we get better? How can we get faster, better rotation, more accuracy, all that stuff?”
Cheeseman takes those little details with his mechanics to his workouts, and takes it a step further by making his workouts feel as close to game situations as possible.
“A lot of times you’ll see snappers just want to keep snapping back to back to back, you may have five snaps in a minute,” Cheeseman said. “That’s unrealistic to how the game is. I kind of like to picture the situation. I may just stand over the side, and then I might do a little jog out to the ball. Visualize the fronts, visualize four guys on my left, four guys on my right, or five guys on my left, three guys on my right. And picture what the personnel protection is going to tell me and take my specific steps.”
Michigan’s pro-style punt system is also an advantage for Cheeseman. Most college teams run spread punts, where they snap the ball, and immediately run downfield. So for most long-snappers entering the NFL, there’s an adjustment.
“Easily the hardest part of being a good NFL snapper is your blocking,” Casper said. “Because you have to snap a ball, backpedal, catch up to a guy that’s in a dead sprint next to you. It’s very, very difficult to do and that’s why guys lose their jobs, is blocking. Cam’s been doing that already for three, four years, and he’s training on that. He’s not having to learn all that stuff now.
“He just checks every box. He really does.”
The rest of Cheeseman’s days are filled with taking an anatomy class at Columbus State Community College in order to be able to attend dental school at Ohio State. He took the Dental Admission Test (DAT) back in August, and scored over the 92 percentile on the exam, which helped him get into Ohio State.
Along with his workouts and classwork, Cheeseman has been working at an orthodontic practice in Gahanna, Ohio. He checks the wellness of patients who come in by taking temperatures, handing out mouthwash and having them fill out symptom forms.
And while Cheeseman has dental school in front of him before he can actually practice dentistry (presumably after football), he already has impressed Dr. James McNamara in Ann Arbor, who has been working in the field for half a century.
“He’s taking this NFL thing really seriously,” McNamara said. “But he’s taking the dentistry thing just as much. I mean, he got admitted to Michigan and Ohio State on his own merits. This wasn’t because he was a football player, I can tell you that.”
McNamara has known Cheeseman since 2018, and started inviting him to observe at his office. Eventually McNamara hired Cheeseman as a research assistant through the University of Michigan, where the two co-authored the first significant article on the carriere appliance, which is a method of fixing an underbite.
“To be a co-author on a major paper as your first paper was a big deal,” McNamara said. “And that doesn’t happen very often that I would put somebody in that, but he worked so hard and was not just putting in the hours, but was putting in the mental time to understand the significance of what we were doing.”
As far as dentistry and dental school goes, Cheeseman said, “It’s kind of just like a security blanket. I wasn’t sure what was gonna happen, and I applied, and I got accepted. So I have that in my back pocket.
“But if the NFL works out this year, then I’ll just reapply.”
For now, he’ll keep grinding in the run-up to the draft.
“Long-snapping is unique, you have to be perfect,” Casper said. “That’s the expectation. And it’s unachievable, but you can keep working towards it.”
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