With Super Bowl LV in the rearview mirror, the off-season for the 2021 NFL has arrived, albeit a strange one. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, much – if not all – of the offseason will be virtual.
While the annual Scouting Combine is largely canceled this year, the NFL draft will go on as usual at the end of April. Even before then, teams will pay the Free Agency salary cap in mid-March of this year. Several teams may also be getting new quarterbacks for next season. The next few months will be busy and anything can happen. Expect the unexpected as all 32 NFL teams prepare for the 2021 season.
With that in mind, let’s think outside the box. We asked our NFL reporters to give us one big, bold prediction for the 2021 offseason. Nothing is impossible, but remember that these are adventurous guesses about what might happen, outcomes that are not very obvious or even very likely. Our reporters have imagined everything from a big meeting with Alabama in Miami to an AFC South team contracting an elite receiver to an NFC East team adding a setter to the many carries and QB Shakers that have plagued them this season. Let’s go.
ARI: ATL: BAL: BUF: CAR: CHI: CINCLE:
DAL: DEN: DET: GB: HOU: INDJAX:
KC: LAC: LAR: LV: MIA: MINNE:
NO: NYG: NYJ: PHI: PIT: SFSEA:
TB: TEN: WSH
Bills will not re-sign Matt Milano.
The outside linebacker is hitting in free agency this season and is Buffalo’s third home run in 2017, alongside Tre’Davious White and Dion Dawkins, both of whom have already received contract extensions. However, the Bills can’t afford Milan without surrendering enough salary to make room for his estimated $13.8 million annual salary. With a declining salary cap in 2021, Milan will be the first major local player to leave Buffalo under Brandon Beane. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
The Dolphins bring the trio together in Alabama, with DeVont Smith and Najee Harris in Tua Tagovailoa.
Rolling Fins? The Dolphins spent the 2020 offseason digging trenches and finding their BQ. We bet Miami picks Tagovailoa and surrounds him with two of their best offensive weapons in the draft. Miami currently has the 3rd and 18th picks — ideal places to land Smith and Harris, respectively, and the Dolphins might even trade a few spots for them, but that gives Tagovailoa a much-needed pair of explosive playmakers, both of whom he had great chemistry and rapport with at Alabama. — Cameron Wolfe
Jimmy Garoppolo will be the Patriots’ quarterback in 2021.
The 49ers’ bench is ready to part with Garoppolo, which combined with his $25 million salary and injuries makes them consider possible promotions this season if the QBs move on to the NFL, which could be very interesting. If they do, it makes sense that the Patriots would be on the front lines to bring Garoppolo, who was Tom Brady’s original succession plan, back to New England. Mike Reiss.
The Jets will trade QB Sam Darnold to the 49ers in the second and third rounds.
The Jets want to contract veteran C.J. Beathard from the 49ers. Beathard, who played under new Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco. The Jets choose the quarterback position and select UFA Zach Wilson as their second choice. Rich Cimini.
The Ravens will sign Joe Tooney, one of the best guards in free agency.
Most important will be landing the big Allen Robinson II receiver. But the top priority is strengthening the offensive line, according to what Coach John Harbaugh and General Manager Eric DeCosta said during the offseason. Tuney, who played under New England’s franchise label last year, was one of the league’s most underrated indoor linemen. With his tenacity, fighting spirit and good character, Thuney will help fill the void left by retired Pro Bowl defensive lineman Marshall Yanda, something Baltimore never really managed last year. He’s also a great technician who has allowed three puffers in the last three seasons. This will benefit Lamar Jackson’s passing defense. — Jamison Hensley
Cornerback William Jackson III will get a big contract – and defender Carl Lawson will get a boost.
Lawson stayed healthy in 2020 and showed how disruptive he can be. However, he is a free agent this season and may be waiting for a big contract from the team he can put up big numbers with. That leaves more money for Jackson, who played well last season in the first round in 2016. Cincinnati has yet to see what the defense looks like with Jackson and Trae Waynes as the starting corner. — Ben Baby
The Browns are going to extend quarterback Baker Mayfield, making him one of the highest paid players in the NFL.
Last season, Mayfield had many doubts after a difficult second season. But after leading the Browns to their first playoff win in 26 years by throwing 20 TDs against only 3 INTs in Week 6, Mayfield showed that he is the franchise QB Cleveland has been waiting for for two decades. That’s why the Browns will make sure he stays in Cleveland for the foreseeable future. — Jake Trotter
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey will return in 2021.
It seemed unlikely when they sat on the bench together crying after the loss, but with Roethlisberger apparently wanting to return for the final year of his contract, it’s possible that Pouncey will finally decide to come back for another year. Both men have vowed to play for so long, and Roethlisberger would feel more comfortable coming back for his final season with Pouncey than opening a new center. Brooke Pryor.
The Texans will not trade Deshaun Watson for the quarterback.
A few months ago we wouldn’t have even believed a prediction, but things have taken a bad turn in Houston this season. Seeing how quickly the relationship between Watson and the team deteriorated, it seemed like this mini soap opera was a done deal after all. But the Texans want Watson as their quarterback, and instead of trading him for the offseason if he refuses, Watson could also miss the season if the relationship is not mended. Sarah Barshop.
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Steve Young and Booger McFarland analyze why the Texans insist that Deshaun Watson not be traded.
The Colts will rise from 21st place to choose their future quarterback.
That is, unless they bring in Carson Wentz from Philadelphia or Sam Darnold from the Jets via a trade. The Colts cannot continue with the one-year approach to the quarterback position and hope this will help them advance to the playoffs as core players like Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson continue to age. — Mike Wells
The Jaguars will sign wide receiver Chris Godwin in free agency.
The Jaguars have the most money (about $74 million) and they will spend much of it to add another weapon for the QB they chose first. Godwin will be number one in a band that also includes DJ Chark Jr, Laviska Shenault Jr and Collin Johnson. — Michael DiRocco
The Titans will add a total of four edge rushers via free agency and draft.
General Manager John Robinson is well aware of the Titans’ empty passer position after the team finished with 19 sacks (30th in the NFL). Tennessee had only three active outside linebackers for most of the season. The Titans will contract an average-level setter and select two setters from this year’s draft class. — Turron Davenport
The Broncos are going to re-contract Justin Simmons security.
It represents everything they say they want to do. If the franchise keeps telling the players in the locker room that they will be rewarded for playing well, being good ambassadors in the community and being the center of the building, at some point the team has to show that with a checkbook. Simmons is an actor who grabs the attention of everyone in the building. If the Broncos don’t reinstate him, many will wonder what they can do to be a part of the team in the long run if Simmons can’t be there. — Jeff Legwold
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The Chiefs will find a way to fire Receiver General Sammy Watkins, despite the tight salary situation.
The Chiefs fought to keep Watkins in 2018 by signing him as a free agent, and fought to keep him last year with a restructured contract. Watkins is only 27, and the Chiefs are not used to parting with key players at such a young age. — Adam Thacher
Derek Carr will not only remain a Raider, but will also sign in Las Vegas.
They wanted a challenge, right? Yes, the theory surfaced that Carr would be a “hot commodity” in the next quarterback carousel, so he could force two picks in the first round of trades. If that’s the case, what are the raiders waiting for? This is Carr’s season of speculation, and it will end once again with an unchanged franchise leader who has remained with the team that had him selected in the second round draft in 2014 and signed him to a five-year, $125 million extension in 2017. — Paul Gutierrez
The Chargers will prepare a new tackle on the left side to protect Justin Herbert and recruit a reliable kicker in the offseason.
More production up front will allow Herbert, who threw a record 31 touchdown passes last season, to develop further. An improvement from Michael Badgley, who scored just 72.7% of his field goal attempts (24 of 33) and missed three more points, could help the Chargers turn the corner in tight games. – Shelley Smith
Dak Prescott will not sign a contract extension.
If both parties say they want to make a multi-year commitment, the circumstances for doing so in the off-season have become much more difficult because of the reduction in the wage ceiling. How can they break the roadblock that has been erected over the last two off-peak seasons? Without a long-term contract, Prescott will play the 2021 season for the second year in a row at a franchise, earn $37.7 million, and in 2022 just cement a start with a franchise that will have reached over $52 million by then. — Todd Archer
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Domonic Foxworth maintains that Dak Prescott would have been better off with the Cowboys.
Haason Reddick, the free agent, will fill an important void for the Giants.
This year’s top prospects don’t necessarily match New York’s needs, so the Giants turn to Free Agency and add a promising player with explosive play. Reddick showed what he can bring in his Week 14 game (5 sacks). And as Joe Judge likes to say, Show me what a player can do, not what he can’t. Reddick can cut down on the passer and give him speed. He got 12.5 sacks last season. The Giants need. — Jordan Ranan
In the first round, Philadelphia will recruit a quarterback to take on Jaylen Hurts.
Would the organization really trade a quarterback with Carson Wentz for another? This is a question that will have to be answered as part of the April project. This opportunity may be too good to pass up. The Eagles are sixth in the overall standings and obviously hope they don’t get that spot again in the near future. If they designate a QB franchise, they can strike while they have the chance. — Tim McManus
Quarterback Alex Smith will want to keep playing…. …But he’s not going to do that in Washington.
Smith was visibly rejuvenated after returning to the field last year – and he was proud of how his leg felt and moved in the pocket before his bone injury. Washington trailed him 5-1 and appreciated his leadership. But the franchise is looking to improve his position, and there are questions about whether he’ll be able to keep the 16-game mark and play at a consistent level. There’s always the possibility that he’ll return at a reduced salary if Washington doesn’t find another quarterback to work with Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke (or Stephen Montes). And he has no intention of mortgaging his future to get one. — John Keim
The Bears will allow receiver Allen Robinson II to be a free agent.
Robinson has been a great player for the Bears, but the team reached out to the 27-year-old receiver last year. Robinson wants more money for receivers. Chicago likes Robinson, but clearly not at this price. The Bears seem content to let Robinson test the market. If Robinson finds a team willing to pay big money, he’s gone. Jeff Dickerson
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With Jared Goff on the roster, the Lions will be without a quarterback.
Given all of Detroit’s needs in rebuilding its workforce, acquiring Goff in the trade of Matthew Stafford at least gives the Lions a competent quarterback for the foreseeable future. And if Goff can rejuvenate his career in Detroit – which no one will know until at least late 2021 – the position will become much less necessary. But with gaping holes in receivers and all defensive positions except the corner position, the Lions are targeting young impact quarterbacks in the draft and pushing the quarterback issue to the 2022 offseason, where the team now has two choices in the first round. — Michael Rothstein
Aaron Rodgers will miss offseason workouts, if any.
Rodgers competes every year — and yes, he gets a $500,000 training bonus — but if he really wants to use his influence and get the Packers to guarantee to give him more money for the remaining years of his contract, that could be his course of action if nothing is done before the offseason begins. — Rob Demovsky
The Vikings will be part of a free-agent quarterback carousel.
If Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers really want Kirk Cousins, then the time has come for Minnesota to make a deal that frees up space to rebuild other parts of the roster. The Vikings can walk away from the financial commitment they made to Cousins when he signed a two-year extension last March that caps him at $31 million through 2021 and move in a different direction at this position. If this comes in the form of Jimmy Garoppolo and a second-round pick (which they don’t currently have), the Vikings should seize the opportunity. — Courtney Cronin
The Falcons’ first pick will be a quarterback.
Matt Ryan is 36 years old, so even though he’s still playing at a high level and has a few more productive years ahead of him, it’s time to prepare for the future. New General Manager Terry Fontenot and Coach Arthur Smith have the fourth pick; if the Jets give up second QB, they will take Justin Fields and let him learn under Ryan’s guidance for about a year. — Michael DiRocco
The Panthers will find a way to trade quarterback Deshaun Watson to the Texans.
He wants to leave Houston, although the organization maintains that he will not be traded. The Panthers will do whatever it takes, even if it means offering three first-round picks and perhaps a star player, although Christian McCaffrey’s commitment seems unlikely. But ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said it would be helpful to hire McCaffrey to get a quarterback franchise if needed. — David Newton
Jameis Winston will be the quarterback for the Saints, winning his first game of the playoffs.
Sean Payton made no secret of the Saints’ desire to fire Winston and have him compete with Tays Hill for the starting position after Drew Brees’ retirement. And it’s clear that there’s still a lot of potential with Winston, who just turned 27, if they can fix his turnover problems. It’s also not a bad thing that New Orleans still has one of the most talented teams in the NFL. — Mike Triplett
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Dan Graziano sees the Buccaneers extending Tom Brady’s contract to get more free agents.
Several of the Bucs’ quality players are restructuring their existing contracts to retain as much of the team as possible.
Mike Evans, Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith and Ryan Jensen are among the team’s six highest-paid players, who are under contract until 2021, and are candidates for restructuring. At this stage, anyone can request a change, but the workload will not be known until the new salary cap is announced. — Jenna Lane
The Cardinals will not sign cornerback Patrick Peterson.
This means they will have to rebuild an essential part of their high school. Peterson, who turns 31 at the start of next season, wants another big deal, but the Cardinals are unlikely to give him the money he is looking for. If Peterson does not re-sign, he will be playing on the open market for the first time in his career. Without Peterson, the Cardinals will have to find a replacement for him, which is easier said than done, as he has been among the elite for several years — and is one of the best in the league. — Josh Weinfuss
The Rams will be quick to make a choice despite their lack of ceiling space and their lack of starting capital.
They need someone who can extend the reach of new quarterback Matthew Stafford. It was the next step, after the boldest prediction had already come true when the Rams negotiated the franchise of quarterback Jared Goff two weeks into the season and sent him — with two first- and third-round picks — to the Lions in exchange for Stafford. — Lindsey Tyrie
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The 49ers are going to get the quarterback in the first three rounds to push him and give him depth behind … Jimmy Garoppolo.
With the 12th pick, it would be easier for one of the first four callers to run into the Niners, but if that doesn’t happen, they could be within striking distance to trade, or they could target someone else coming back from the 12 or from one of their other locations. Either way, the Niners need to find someone who can push Garoppolo and be able to step in if Garoppolo continues to struggle with injuries. — Nick Wagoner
The Seahawks will either make Jamal Adams the highest paid specialist in the NFL or trade him.
The most likely outcome is that Seattle retains Adams for the long term, which would be more than Buddha Baker’s average of $14.75 million, but how much more will he ask for? It is assumed that Adams will want to be paid more than that for security after he set a league record for defensive back failures in one season. When the Seahawks acquired Adams last summer and postponed overtime negotiations until this offseason, they figured if they couldn’t reach a deal, they could trade him as a last resort. Brady Henderson.
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