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The Rams laid the blueprint. Now everyone is trying it. Los Angeles general manager famously rocked a NSFW t-shirt at the team’s championship parade this year that summed up his feelings on draft picks. Let’s just say he doesn’t regret his aggressive approach to roster building.
As the old saying goes: it’s a copycat league. A whopping eight teams currently do not have a first-round pick in the upcoming 2022 NFL draft. There are a few outliers in the group, as Chicago and San Francisco both parted with their 2022 picks in 2021 to trade up to draft a quarterback. However, the rest, which includes Denver, Las Vegas, Cleveland, Miami and, or course, the LA Rams, all did so in a win-now move in pursuit of a Super Bowl.
For the Rams, we’ve already seen the tact work. They brought in Matthew Stafford and sent Jared Goff packing. Continued aggression saw them acquire Von Miller from the Broncos for a second-round pick. It all paid off in the form of a Lombardi trophy won in February. Even if the Rams are terrible in two years, which is possible with an aging core and fewer draft picks to replace them, it will have been worth it because they won a title.
The important thing to remember when it comes to trying to emulate Los Angeles is that this was already a championship contender. The Rams featured in the Super Bowl three years prior against Tom Brady and the Patriots. That group ultimately came up short, but L.A. was very clearly within reach of a title. They just made the move to put them over the top.
I can’t say the same thing for any of the teams that have attempted to follow in their footsteps this offseason. We obviously saw the Colts fall well short of expectations last year and ultimately ship Carson Wentz to D.C. after just one season. They brought in Matt Ryan, but as I’ve talked about, they have some holes they still need to fill at corner, left tackle and wide receiver.
Then you have the Browns, who mortgaged their future to acquire Deshaun Watson. Cleveland is probably closer than most to competing for a title, but they need another receiver to complement Amari Cooper, possibly a new center and tight end and an edge rusher. It’s also far from a guarantee Watson will be available for much of this upcoming season given that he is facing civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and harassment. The Browns also compete in the same division as the reigning AFC champions and the 2019 MVP in Lamar Jackson. Plus, you can never count out Mike Tomlin and the Steelers.
Miami has fewer clear holes on the roster after spending big in free agency and adding Tyreek Hill via trade. That being said, they have maybe the 10th best quarterback in the conference. We simply have not seen enough from Tua Tagovailoa to believe he is capable of leading the Dolphins to a Super Bowl, or even to stay healthy for a full season. Perhaps he will take the next step in his development with a new, offensive-minded head coach in Mike McDaniel. Still, the Dolphins haven’t made the playoffs since 2016. Not exactly a contender putting in the final piece of the puzzle. While Miami is unquestionably better, it’s hard to say they are even the best team in their own division with Buffalo coming off an impressive year and adding Von Miller.
Then there are the Raiders and Broncos. Many are describing the AFC West as the best division we’ve ever seen in football with Russell Wilson joining the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr. Denver had a good defense last year, but some abysmal quarterback play, which led to a 7-10 record and the end of Vic Fangio’s tenure with the team. Las Vegas snuck into the playoffs after beating the Chargers in Week 18. Rich Bisaccia righted the ship after a season full of controversy and hardship.
There is no question both teams are better, but given the moves made by the Chargers (re-signing Mike Williams, signing J.C. Jackson and trading for Khalil Mack) and the continued presence of Patrick Mahomes, I’m hard pressed to say either Raiders or Broncos are a lock to make the playoffs, much less a true championship contender. All four teams are talented enough to make it, but the likelihood is someone will miss out because of how brutal those divisional games will be.
The all-in approach is one that I can respect. If you think you have a championship window, you should be doing everything possible to maximize it. The problem is, if you fall short after going all in, you wind up staring down a long rebuild without the resources necessary to do so. My prediction, none of the teams that went all in will win the Super Bowl this year. I think we are much more likely to see a team like the Chiefs, Packers or Buccaneers hoist the Lombardi trophy than a team like the Raiders, Broncos, Dolphins or Browns. What the Rams did is much harder to imitate than it might seem.
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What in the world??? There has never been a week in the NFL like this before and there might never be a week like it ever again. The greatest quarterback of all time unretired just 40 days after hanging up his cleats. Then, the Broncos sent a huge haul to Seattle to land Russell Wilson as their new quarterback. Aaron Rodgers then signed the richest contract in NFL history on an annual salary basis to stay with the Packers. A couple of blockbuster trades saw Khalil Mack join the Chargers and Davante Adams land in Las Vegas. Oh, and Carson Wentz is in Washington now. To cap off this whirlwind of a week, the Browns traded three first-round picks as part of a package to land Deshaun Watson. Simply stunning.
The Watson sweepstakes have been long and complicated. Watson announced that he wanted to be traded last year, but the Texans showed no signs of agreeing. It appeared to set up a standoff between team and player until the news about Watson’s off-the-field actions broke. He sat out all of 2021 as the investigation into allegations of sexual assault took place. Interestingly, the NFL never put Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list despite the ongoing situation. On March 11, just one week before Watson was ultimately traded, a grand jury declined to indict the then Texans quarterback on charges stemming from lawsuits filed by 22 women alleging harassment and sexual assault. That opened the floodgates for a return to the field.
Now, Watson is still facing 22 civil lawsuits and will likely be disciplined by the league. This situation is far from being resolved. Clearly the Browns, whether right or wrong, felt comfortable bringing Watson into the fold. While there is a lot of football implications to discuss with this move, it is really important not to lose sight of the significance of these allegations and what it will mean if it comes out that Watson is in fact a sex offender. As of now, we don’t know if he is one way or the other. I hope the legal system leads to justice, but I also know that too often, that isn’t the case.
What’s more, this past week alone has been truly bizarre. From reports out of the Browns front office stating they want “an adult” at quarterback to reports that Watson had informed Cleveland he would not play for them, this saga is astounding. For the Browns, it is hard to imagine how acquiring a player in the midst of a sexual assault scandal gives you an adult at the position. For Watson, I can understand the about face when there is $230 million in GUARANTEED money on the table. Still, it is staggering that the Browns would be willing to do this given Watson’s deplorable off-the-field behavior and the pending consequences.
There is no easy way to transition to the football side of things, but this does greatly impact the NFL as a whole. Baker Mayfield will now certainly be the subject of trade offers. I wrote about where he could land yesterday. Plus, the draft just became way more interesting.
It appears like the Texans will give Davis Mills the opportunity to start at quarterback this season. With two too-15 selections, Houston can now fill some of the major holes on its offense, namely on the offensive line and at receiver. This also gives the Texans all the draft capital needed in order to move up for the top prospect in next year’s draft or to acquire a veteran via trade if Mills does not look like the long-term answer. In short, Houston actually seems poised to properly rebuild.
On Cleveland’s side of things, they will hope to recoup a few draft picks in exchange for Mayfield. Even after acquiring Amari Cooper, the Browns need another receiver. Plus, they have an opening at center after releasing J.C. Tretter. They have way less premium draft capital to address those positions, but the Browns should be able to attract whatever remaining free agents they want after this move. That is, assuming players don’t have an issue with Watson.
From a football perspective, there is no doubt the Browns got better. Cleveland just better hope it is ready to handle the media firestorm that is bound to follow this decision. There will be intense scrutiny and criticism of the Browns and Watson each step of the way. Forget whatever media attention Mayfield drew, Cleveland now has a target on its back.
It is hard to believe that one year after Baker Mayfield led the Browns to their first playoff win since 1994 he will now be searching for a new home. Tom Pelissero reported Thursday that Mayfield has requested a trade following Cleveland’s pursuit of Deshaun Watson.
An injury-riddled, disappointing 2021 season soured the relationship between the team and the former No. 1 pick. Cleveland had already opted against offering Mayfield an extension, instead allowing him to play out the final year of his rookie contract.
Mayfield posted a goodbye to Browns fans on social media earlier this week following the team’s interest in Texans quarterback Watson. The writing was on the wall then, but it is still a shocking development considering the Browns entered the season with legitimate title aspirations.
So what happens now for Mayfield? There is no shortage of suitors for the 26-year-old quarterback this offseason. Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans are all in on landing Watson, but two of those teams will still need a long-term answer at quarterback after a deal goes down. Beyond those three, the Colts, Giants and Seahawks are all kicking the tires on prospective quarterbacks. New York did just sign Tyrod Taylor to backup Daniel Jones, but if there is interest in Mayfield, I don’t think that will stop them from making a move. What makes this complicated is that the Browns do not seem inclined to trade Mayfield. Jake Trotter tweeted shortly after the news broke that Cleveland denied his request.
The teams that stand out to me are Indianapolis, Carolina and Seattle. The latter two allow the Browns to move Mayfield out of the conference and both teams have major question marks at quarterback with hopes of being much more competitive in 2022. However, Cleveland might receive the best offer from Indy. After trading away Carson Wentz and without a first-round pick in 2022, it is hard to figure out who the Colts will start at quarterback this season. Let’s go team by team.
The Panthers have several starting quarterback options, which is to say they have no idea who will start for them this season. Sam Darnold, who was selected two picks after Mayfield in 2018, is still under contract for 2022. He had an up-and-down year that ended prematurely due to an injury. Then there is Cam Newton. Super Cam arrived halfway through the 2021 season and immediately breathed some new life into the Panthers offense. The spark was short-lived though as Carolina went 0-5 in games Newton started. The former MVP also threw just four touchdowns and five interceptions in eight appearances. There is no question the Panthers need a long-term solution at quarterback.
Should they make the call?: Absolutely not. What is the point in adding a second quarterback from the 2018 draft coming off an injury. Mayfield would be an upgrade over both Darnold and Newton, but this does not provide the stability the Panthers need.
Now that Russell Wilson is donning Broncos orange, Seattle desperately needs to find its next quarterback. The combination of Drew Lock and Geno Smith does not inspire much confidence for long-term success. Lock is heading into his fourth season, but has struggled with consistency and health. Smith is a career backup who can step in for an injured starter. Neither is going to be the starting quarterback by the time 2023 rolls around. In fact, both could not be on the roster by that point. The question is not if Seattle needs help, it is if this is the right move.
Should they make the call?: I personally would love to see Colin Kaepernick get a second chance by landing with the Seahawks. Pete Carroll revealed this week that he has been in touch with the former 49ers quarterback. Kap is also working out with Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett after he posted a video lamenting his lack of throwing partners. That being said, Mayfield is a much safer bet than Kaepernick, who has not taken a snap in the NFL since 2016. If Cleveland is willing to move Mayfield for a Day 2 and a Day 3 pick, I would strongly consider it.
Once again, the Colts find themselves in desperate need of a quarterback. Last year, that led Indianapolis acquiring Carson Wentz from the Eagles. Colts general manager Chris Ballard already flipped Wentz to Washington for pennies on the dollar, so this team is short on draft capital and high on needing a solution. With the right quarterback, this team has the talent to make a real run at winning the AFC South and maybe winning a playoff game or two. Sam Ehlinger and James Morgan are the only quarterbacks on the Colts roster at the moment. Maybe Indy will give Ehlinger a chance to compete for the job, but it also needs to find a veteran to be in the mix.
Should they make the call?: I don’t think so. To be honest, I think the Colts have missed their Super Bowl window. They have holes at wide receiver, left tackle, left guard, cornerback and safety. They have big contracts on board already for players like DeForest Buckner, Darius Leonard, Braden Smith and now Yannick Ngakoue. They still need to pay Quenton Nelson as well. I just think Indianapolis has too many holes and not enough resources to fill them all and become a true contender with this current roster. This core could still win a title, but it looks like it will be a year or two before they are ready to compete. If I’m Ballard, I pass on Mayfield and go sign Jameis Winston while I retool the rest of my roster.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints are clearly banking on landing Watson. After rolling with the combination of Winston, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian and Ian Book in 2022, the Texans quarterback could offer some much needed stability. You know, as soon as he is done serving the suspension that is likely coming for his off-the-field behavior. Still, if Watson winds up in Carolina or Atlanta, New Orleans will still need a quarterback. Winston and Siemian are free agents, Hill is a gadget player and Book looks like an overmatched backup quarterback. With Michael Thomas hopefully coming back from injury and Alvin Kamara facing legal trouble himself, there are still a lot of question marks surrounding this Saints offense.
Should they make the call?: Assuming they don’t land Watson, I say yes. Contingent on the asking price of course. If the Saints can land Mayfield for a mid-round selection and a future Day 3 pick, I think that is worth doing in this case. Mayfield is still 26 and has shown the potential to be a solid starter in the NFL. He won’t be a superstar, but the Saints can work to build more around him. They already have some great playmakers and a solid offensive line in place. That sounds like a recipe for success for Mayfield.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
How about a wild card to throw into the mix? Tom Brady is returning for another season, but his contract is up following 2022. Not to mention that he could always retire again. Rumors put Brady in San Francisco for 2023 with a chance to finish his career in his hometown. Speculation about Brady aside, it feels like Tampa has one more year with the seven-time Super Bowl champion. What remains behind Brady is far from reassuring as Blaine Gabbert and Kyle Trask will compete to be his backup.
Should they make the call?: I say yes. I just don’t think Cleveland would do the deal. Tampa could probably offer some more draft capital if the Browns would be willing to eat at least part of Mayfield’s cap hit for 2022. It would give Bruce Arians a year to evaluate Mayfield and let him learn from the greatest to ever play the position. Mayfield will certainly have opportunities to start elsewhere, but that does not mean he should take them right away. If he has another tumultuous year, it is hard to envision him landing a starting job anywhere beyond 2022. He has to pick his next destination carefully.
It’s almost time for football! Training camp is getting underway and the NFL rumor mill is in full effect. Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and even Chandler Jones could be on the move.
There will be plenty of time to get into all of the potential scenarios for the big names looking for a change of scenery. I wanted to take a look at where every coach in the NFL stands though as we approach the preseason. Every year, we see about seven or eight head coaching openings in the league. Those openings don’t happen without a coach losing his job. Here is an early look at which coaches could be sweating it out at the end of the season. My plan is to update this list at the midway point and again after the regular season.
New York Jets – Robert Saleh Heat Index: 🔥 A rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. It’s the first time the Jets have ever had both heading into the same season in franchise history. That takes the pressure off everyone here. While seeing a massive turnaround from a 2-14 season would be great, it is not expected. As long as Saleh can show signs that he is putting the pieces in place for future success, that’s all that matters. Besides, after dealing with Adam Gase for two years, Saleh will be a breath of fresh air.
New England Patriots – Bill Belichick Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Could the Patriots really fire Bill Belichick? It feels unlikely. At this point, I think it is more likely Belichick retires or leaves on his own accord than being fired. Still, after a very rocky 2020 season, the Patriots spent a ton of money in the offseason to retool their roster. They also spent a first round pick on Mac Jones. If New England takes a step backward though and the offense flops again, maybe the team could think about making a change. Again, it feels incredibly unlikely, but the expectations are certainly higher for the Patriots in 2021.
Buffalo Bills – Sean McDermott Heat Index: 🔥🔥 The Bills are entering a clear championship window in the final two years of Josh Allen’s rookie deal. Allen took a massive step in 2020 and put together an MVP-caliber campaign. If he can come close to replicating that performance, Buffalo will be very capable of winning its first Super Bowl in franchise history. In order to get to that point, Sean McDermott needs to get the defense back to its 2019 form. With higher expectations comes increased pressure. It would take a truly miserable season for McDermott to lose his job, but he has to deliver.
Miami Dolphins – Brian Flores Heat Index: 🔥 Honestly, if the Dolphins went 0-17 and Tua Tagovailoa lost his starting job to Jacoby Brissett, I think Brian Flores might still keep his job. He is a ton setter and a great culture builder. Let’s be clear, I don’t expect the above scenario to come true. Miami came up one game short of reaching the playoffs in an incredibly competitive AFC. Even if Tagovailoa falters again, I think Flores would get a chance to pick another quarterback and continue building the framework of this team.
Indianapolis Colts – Frank Reich Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 Which direction are the Colts headed? The team has a championship-caliber roster in a lot of areas. Their front seven is incredible. The secondary should be even better in 2021. The offensive line is definitely among the top five units in the league. They lack a true No. 1 receiver at this point, but they have depth at the skill positions. It now all falls on Frank Reich and Carson Wentz. Indianapolis acquired Wentz this offseason for a decent amount of draft capital, reuniting him with his offensive coordinator from his early days in Philadelphia. If the Colts struggle in what looks to be a fairly weak AFC South and miss the postseason, there could be some significant turnover in Indy.
Houston Texans – David Culley Heat Index: 🔥 If there was ever a team that could be accused of tanking in the NFL, it has to be the Houston Texans. After releasing franchise icon J.J. Watt amid a massive quarterback controversy on the heels of a 4-12 season, it seems like the Texans are entering a long rebuild. With limited draft capital in recent years, this roster has a massive talent deficit compared to the rest of the league. The roster building is confusing as well, as the team continues to target veteran running backs. Deshaun Watson was likely not going to play this season before his pending legal situation unfolded. Now it seems certain he will not see the field in 2021. All of this is to say, there is absolutely no pressure on David Culley to succeed this season.
Tennessee Titans – Mike Vrabel Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Mike Vrabel has the Titans playing at an extremely high level. They are tough, determined and disciplined, which is usually a product of good coaching. After making a splashy move to land Julio Jones, the pressure is on for Tennessee to make a deep postseason run. With Arthur Smith heading to Atlanta, it is going to be interesting to see if the Titans can maintain their offensive success. A major step backward could see Vrabel come under scrutiny. I think his job is safe, but stranger things have happened.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Urban Meyer Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 It is very bizarre to say a first-year head coach is on the hot seat, but Urban Meyer is unlike most rookie coaches. Meyer comes with a ton of clout from his days at Ohio State and Florida. He also just drafted arguably the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. The heat here mostly stems from Meyer’s checked history with team culture. The league fined the Jaguars $200,000 for OTA violations and slapped Meyer with a $100,000 fine of his own. The fines stemmed from breaking the non-contact rules of OTAs. This comes on the heels of Meyer hiring former Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle. Doyle resigned one day after his hire following a chorus of former Hawkeyes saying he discriminated against them. The Jaguars have a chance to build something special around Trevor Lawrence. There have already been red flags. Jacksonville needs to be sure it has the best possible system in place for Lawrence to succeed.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Tomlin Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 With Ben Roethlisberger’s tenure in Pittsburgh seemingly at its end, could the Steelers opt for a fresh start and move on from Mike Tomlin as well? It certainly feels possible. Despite winning the AFC North and reaching the playoffs, Pittsburgh struggled mightily down the stretch, including a dismal playoff loss against the rival Browns. With no clear succession plan in place and a roster coming up against the cap, the Steelers could look to rebuild with a new coach and a new quarterback.
Baltimore Ravens– John Harbaugh Heat Index: 🔥🔥 A few years ago ago, it felt very possible the Ravens were set to move on from John Harbaugh. Baltimore missed the playoffs from 2015-2017. Joe Flacco was struggling. The defense was far from its championship-winning dominance in 2012. Lamar Jackson likely saved Harbaugh’s job. Baltimore is now among the top title contenders heading into 2021. Harbaugh feels very safe, but there is always a scenario where he could not be back. There have been concerns around the Ravens offense being too one dimensional with Jackson at the helm. Finally winning a playoff game took the edge off, but if Baltimore somehow misses the postseason in 2021, the heat will be turned up on Harbaugh.
Cleveland Browns – Kevin Stefanski Heat Index: 🔥 After reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and winning the franchise’s first playoff game since 1994, Kevin Stefanski is among the safest coaches in the league. His run-heavy approach was incredibly successful, utilizing the two-headed attack of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to great effect. Stefanski also put Baker Mayfield’s career back on the right path. Now, there are still questions that persist around Mayfield, but after investing heavily in the defense, he might not need to do much for the Browns to be successful again.
Cincinnati Bengals – Zac Taylor Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥 Through two years on the job, Zac Taylor owns an ugly 6-25-1 record as a head coach. Some of that is a product of joining a team in the midst of a rebuild, but this is the year to start seeing some progress. Joe Burrow is undoubtedly the quarterback of the future in Cincinnati. Coming off a gruesome knee injury, expectations will be tamped down some for Burrow, but another double-digit loss season could cost Taylor his job. The team needs to take advantage of Burrow being on his rookie contract and can’t afford to waste another year of his development and that salary cap window waiting to see if Taylor can put together a winning formula.
Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid Heat Index: 🔥 Unsurprisingly, the pressure seems to be fairly low on Andy Reid. He delivered the franchise its first Super Bowl victory since 1970 in 2019. He led the team back to the big game in 2020 despite having an offensive line decimated by injuries. It cost the Chiefs a chance at repeating, but Kansas City is expected to be among the top contenders to lift the Lombardi in 2021. As long as Reid and Patrick Mahomes are still clicking, the Chiefs are going to be among the best teams in the league.
Denver Broncos – Vic Fangio Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 Maybe this is a bit warmer than Vic Fangio truly deserves, but the Broncos are heading into a pivotal season. The team put a lot of faith in Drew Lock by passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones on draft night. Courtland Sutton is back after missing 2020 due to injury. So is Von Miller. Winning the division is an incredibly tall task at this point with the Chiefs leading the way, but it feels like the Broncos need to be in the playoff conversation for Fangio to keep his job. Another five-win season with suspect quarterback play and a subpar defense is going to trigger a rebuild.
Los Angeles Chargers – Brandon Staley Heat Index: 🔥 Brandon Staley walks into a fantastic situation. He has a talented defense with a number of proven playmakers. He inherits one of the most exciting quarterback prospects in the league in Justin Herbert. Los Angeles is also stocked with some reliable playmakers on offense with Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. The Chargers are simply looking to take a step in the right direction this year. Anthony Lynn was a good coach, but struggled with time management and maintaining leads. If Staley can show an ability to at least be average in those two areas, he will be a major improvement and the Chargers will be at least a league average team.
Las Vegas Raiders – Jon Gruden Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 At what point are the Raiders going to put it all together? Heading into his fourth year of his second stint with the franchise, Jon Gruden has yet to post a winning record or reach the postseason. Las Vegas had its moments in 2020, but on the whole it was a disappointing campaign. If the Raiders don’t show signs of progress, expect a rebuild to follow. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have had ample opportunity to shape this team how they want it to. Now it is time for the results to follow.
New York Giants– Joe Judge Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Only entering his second year, Joe Judge might be a victim of circumstance more than anything else if he were to lose his job after this season. New York had a rocky 2020 campaign, finishing 6-10 and struggling to figure out its direction offensively. The Giants are in for a much better season in 2021. Saquon Barkley should be healthy at some point early in the year. Dave Gettleman invested draft capital at wide receiver and edge rusher, two positions of need. However, if Daniel Jones struggles and New York suffers through another 6-10 season, Gettleman will almost definitely be gone and the Giants will be looking to find a new franchise quarterback. If there is already that much turnover, Judge could be gone as well.
Philadelphia Eagles – Nick Sirianni Heat Index: 🔥🔥 It is incredibly rare that coaches are fired after just one season. However, it has also happened twice in the past three years. Steve Wilks only got a single season in Arizona and was fired after 2018. Cleveland canned Freddie Kitchen after a disappointing 2019 campaign. It’s not out of the question for the 2021 season either. I already touched on Meyer. Nick Sirianni is not facing as much pressure as his Jacksonville counterpart, but Philadelphia has never been known for being patient. Sirianni inherits a team with more questions than answers at a number of key positions, namely quarterback. If Jalen Hurts flames out and Sirianni shows no signs of building a positive culture, I could see a scenario where ownership decides to clean house.
Dallas Cowboys– Mike McCarthy Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 Speaking of coaches lasting one year with a team, there was some buzz that Mike McCarthy could be done after a single season in Dallas. Even before Dak Prescott went down for the season, the Cowboys looked outmatched. It got much worse after that. McCarthy did enough to somehow earn a second year, but now the pressure is on. Dallas needs to win the NFC East for McCarthy to keep his job. It is an incredibly weak division and the Cowboys have the most talented roster, at least on paper. McCarthy might even need to win a playoff game to truly secure his place in 2022.
Washington Football Team – Ron Rivera Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Ron Rivera seems to have endeared himself well to the fans and to the locker room in D.C. After scraping together a playoff appearance despite a losing record, Washington still has not addressed the quarterback position long term. If it takes a step back in 2021, I don’t think that will be enough to force Rivera out. It would take a truly terrible season to see him lose his job. However, there will be those who feel like Washington’s defense gives them a good chance to repeat as division champions. Expectations lead to increased pressure. Given what we’ve seen in recent years, nothing is out of the question.
Atlanta Falcons – Arthur Smith Heat Index: 🔥 After impressing as the offensive coordinator in Tennessee, Arthur Smith has earned the chance to lead a team of his own. The Falcons are coming off a tough season full of late-game collapses and bad injury luck. Atlanta is caught in limbo as well. They have some veteran players that would make you believe they want to contend, mainly Matt Ryan. The front office gave Ryan a vote of confidence, or realized they could not afford to move him, when it passed on Justin Fields in the 2021 draft. Instead, they grabbed an elite pass-catcher in Kyle Pitts for Ryan to work with. That feels like a move towards contending in the short term. Then, the Falcons traded Julio Jones to Smith’s former team. Like I said, the team is in limbo. I think that bodes well for Smith’s job security while Atlanta attempts to figure out its direction moving forward.
New Orleans Saints – Sean Payton Heat Index: 🔥🔥 It is the end of an era in the Bayou. Drew Brees’ retirement leaves the Saints with uncertainty at quarterback for the first time in a decade and a half. New Orleans is also in salary cap hell after loading up to contend in the future Hall of Famers’ final few years. Now, the Saints seem set for a step backward. Where does that leave Sean Payton? He has shown he can win games without Brees in recent years with Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill stepping in to lead the team when Brees went down with injury. I think the pressure is likely off for Payton in 2021. It is a year for the Saints to retool their roster and identify their new franchise quarterback. If New Orleans tanks, Payton’s seat could get warmer, but I expect him to be back in 2022.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Bruce Arians Heat Index: 🔥 The only way Bruce Arians is not the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022 is if he decides to retire after the season. Fresh off a Super Bowl victory, the Buccaneers brought back essentially their entire roster to make a run at a repeat. Even if Tampa suffers from a major Super Bowl hangover and misses the postseason, it would be a rash move to fire Arians. He has the trust of Tom Brady, which goes a really long way in securing his position on one of the best teams in the league.
Carolina Panthers – Matt Rhule Heat Index: 🔥 2020 was a rebuilding year for the Panthers. Carolina rebuilt its defense in the 2020 NFL draft, gave Teddy Bridgewater a try at quarterback and lost their best player for most of the season due to injury as Christian McCaffrey played in just three games. Honestly, going 5-11 was a decent feat given how young Carolina’s starters were on both sides of the ball. Matt Rhule has earned the title of one of the best teachers in the game. His coaching skills were showcased during the Senior Bowl this past January. Given that the Panthers made a move to acquire Sam Darnold, I think the expectations will be slightly higher, but I still don’t think Rhule has anything to worry about heading into 2021.
Detroit Lions – Dan Campbell Heat Index: 🔥 If Detroit goes 1-16 in 2021, that might just be mission accomplished for the Lions. Avoiding a winless season and setting the team up to find its quarterback of the future would be a solid start to what will likely be a long rebuild. Dan Campbell likely won’t let any of that happen. He is competitive as hell and I think we could see the Lions win a game or two that they probably shouldn’t simply by putting in a ton of effort. Campbell is going to have his team motivated to play every week. Unless his tough as nails persona rubs players the wrong way in the locker room, I think Campbell will be given a few more years to rebuild this team.
Chicago Bears – Matt Nagy Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥 Drafting Justin Fields likely takes a little bit of heat off Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace. However, I don’t think it changes a tremendous amount for how this duo needs to approach the 2021 season. It needs to be clear at the end of the year that Fields is on track to be a franchise quarterback and that Nagy is the right person to help him reach his potential. Nagy was lucky to keep his job following a 2020 season where Chicago’s offense was nothing short of anemic. The combination of Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky was tough to watch. David Montgomery having a breakout season made up for some of those deficits, but the Bears need to show major progress offensive. It does not mean they will suddenly become the Chiefs or the Buccaneers, but fewer turnovers and sharper play will go a long way.
Green Bay Packers– Matt LaFleur Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Much of how Matt LaFleur will be judged stems from what happens with Aaron Rodgers. Will management blame him for the fractured relationship with the 2020 MVP? Unlikely, seeing as Rodgers’ issues seem to stem more from how the front office operates. There are two ways to spin LaFleur’s tenure in Green Bay. The Packers have reached back-to-back NFC Championship games and dominated the NFC North. For reference, Seattle was the last NFC team to reach back-to-back conference title games in 2012 and 2013. However, unlike the Seahawks, the Packers have been unable to get over the hump. Could another year where the team comes up short in the postseason raise enough questions about LaFleur’s ability to win the biggest games of the year to cost him his job? That seems bold, but don’t rule it out.
Minnesota Vikings – Mike Zimmer Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 Mike Zimmer said after the 2020 season that Minnesota’s defense was the worst he ever coached. Enter Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, Bashaud Breeland, Dalvin Tomlinson, Chazz Surratt and Patrick Jones II. Now, it falls on Zimmer to get the most out of this new talent. Kirk Cousins is locked in through 2022, but another lackluster season from the Vikings could get the wheels turning on a rebuild. Especially if Aaron Rodgers does not play this season, this is Minnesota’s division to lose. Failing to do so would be a major letdown that would likely cost Zimmer his job.
Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 An underperforming defense, inconsistent play and a disgruntled star quarterback are a recipe for losing your job as a head coach in the NFL. Pete Carroll has the Seahawks in the mix as a playoff regular, but they have not made it past the division round since their 2014 Super Bowl loss. With Russell Wilson complaining this offseason about his offensive line, it certainly will turn up the scrutiny on Seattle’s performance this season. Another early playoff exit highlighted by a team that can’t quite put it all together could spell the end of Carroll’s tenure.
Arizona Cardinals – Kliff Kingsbury Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 Entering his third year in charge of the Cardinals, Kliff Kingsbury needs to start producing some results. Arizona came close to reaching the playoffs in 2020, losing the tiebreaker to Chicago for the final spot. However, after starting 5-2, the Cardinals limped to a 3-6 finish. I mean limped literally as well because the team started to struggle right around the time Kyler Murray suffered an ankle injury. Murray still has three years left on his rookie deal, which gives Arizona a fairly lengthy Super Bowl window, but this year feels like an important one to show some progress after signing veterans like J.J. Watt, Malcolm Butler and James Conner to an already talented roster.
Los Angeles Rams – Sean McVay Heat Index: 🔥🔥 While Cam Akers certainly strikes a blow to Los Angeles’ title hopes, it should not drastically change the team’s expectations for 2021. After making the bold move to acquire Matthew Stafford, the Rams are positioning themselves as championship contenders. Taking all of that into account, I still think Sean McVay is entrenched in the organization that he can weather an underwhelming season. Long praised as one of the great offensive minds in the sport, McVay has proven himself to be valuable to this franchise. After all, the team is only three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. Not to mention, the Rams upset the Seahawks in Seattle with an injured Jared Goff at quarterback. I think McVay is likely safe, but expectations are high for this Rams team heading into 2021.
San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Shanahan Heat Index: 🔥 After slogging through a ridiculous season of injuries, the 49ers seem poised to bounce back in a big way in 2021. However, the team is also facing a changing of the guard at quarterback after selecting Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick in April. I think that actually increases the likelihood Kyle Shanahan keeps his job. He is praised as an offensive guru who has developed several quarterbacks in his coaching career. On top of that, he and general manager John Lynch signed six-year extensions following a Super Bowl appearance. Shanahan will be around for a while in San Francisco.
The 2021 NFL draft is in the books! While I don’t believe in giving out draft grades as soon as the draft ends and none of these players have played even a down in the NFL, I do think it is interesting to look at how the draft unfolded. There were a few teams that found great value at positions of need while others were left reaching or neglected to fill large holes on their roster. Here are my initial reactions to what went down in Cleveland.
Talk about nailing the draft
At first glance, there were a few teams that I think had really strong drafts. They navigated the board well, found great value and filled out their roster for 2021 and beyond. If your team is not here, that does not mean I hated their draft. There are only so many clubs that can impress in a weekend.
Washington Football Team Biggest impact: Dyami Brown, WR, UNC (82nd overall) Best value: Shaka Toney, EDGE, Penn State (246th overall) This is by far my favorite draft class. It is way too early to start handing out grades, but Jamin Davis, Samuel Cosmi, Benjamin St-Juste and Dyami Brown could all be starters this year. Washington filled a number of positions of need and found some great value throughout the draft. Darrick Forest, Dax Milne and Toney are all solid depth pieces who could contribute in situational roles as early as this year. I think there is tons of upside with both Cosmi and Toney. I couldn’t believe they were both still available when they were finally selected. The only knock you could have would be not finding a quarterback to develop. Perhaps Washington really views Taylor Heinicke as a developmental option, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is obviously a stop-gap solution.
Atlanta Falcons Biggest impact: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida (4th overall) Best value: Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan (68th overall) Atlanta quietly had a great draft. They grabbed one of the best receivers in the draft in Pitts. Richie Grant, Jalen Mayfield and Drew Dalman will all push for playing time this year. Avery Williamson will be a special teams standout. Ade Ogundeji has outrageous length to work with and Frank Darby could be a steal in the sixth round. The Falcons also grabbed Jaret Patterson as an undrafted free agent. Not drafting a running back was one my biggest negatives here, so getting him helps soften that blow.
Carolina Panthers Biggest impact: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina (8th overall) Best value: Daviyon Nixon, DL, Iowa (158th overall) There was a lot to like in what the Panthers did in this draft. Carolina found some gems in the later rounds. Tommy Tremble could be the team’s No. 2 tight end this year and his blocking is a huge asset. Daviyon Nixon had a second-round grade from me and Shi Smith earned a late third-round mark. Landing them in the fifth and sixth respectively is great value. Terrace Marshall gives Sam Darnold another reliable receiver to work with as well. Chuba Hubbard will be a great change-of-pace back behind Christian McCaffrey. Oh, and Jaycee Horn fills a huge need and is pro ready. Carolina has put all the pieces in place for Sam Darnold to be successful.
Cleveland Browns Biggest impact: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame Best value: Owusu-Koramoah Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was a top-20 player on my board and the Browns got him at 52. That alone might be enough to make them winners. However, they also grabbed Greg Newsome, one of my favorite corners in this draft, and Anthony Schwartz, a field-stretching receiver with untapped potential. James Hudson is a great value in the fourth round with a lot of upside. Having depth on the offensive line is never a bad thing either. I really like all of the Browns picks across the board. Tommy Togiai could compete for a role this season, maybe in goal line and short yardage situations. Tony Field is a great depth linebacker with a nose for the football. Richard LeCounte is talented but has to clean up his off-the-field issues. Demetric Felton is a fun gadget player for Kevin Stefanski to deploy as well. Well-rounded draft for Cleveland that filled a lot of team needs.
Minnesota Vikings Biggest impact: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech (23rd overall) Best value: Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State (97rd overall) When you trade down and take a player everyone expected you to take before the trade, you are doing well. Minnesota landed two new starting offensive linemen in Darrisaw and Davis. I had both ranked in my top 32 players. The Vikings landed some other key contributors in Chazz Surratt and Patrick Jones II. Janarius Robinson, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Jalen Twyman are all good value picks in the later rounds. I think Minnesota did an excellent job of planning for the present and the future. Kellen Mond gives the Vikings a development quarterback as well, who could potentially take over for Kirk Cousins down the line. Bottom line, Minnesota addressed some big needs without reaching. That’s a recipe for success.
Even the best laid plans go to waste
We all go into the draft expecting to go one way. Very quickly, it ends up going another way. The best front offices can pivot and recover when the unexpected occurs. With the benefit of hindsight, here a few teams that might want a do-over.
Seattle Seahawks Biggest surprise: D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan (56th overall) Biggest reach: None Let’s make something clear, this has nothing to do with who the Seahawks decided to draft. It is much more about who Seattle didn’t decide to draft. Russell Wilson made it clear he wanted offensive line help. The front office ignored that entirely, waiting until the sixth round to select Stone Forsyth. D’Wayne Eskridge is an exciting player, but the Seahawks absolutely could have filled the role of a third receiver later in the draft, especially when your top two options are D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. I touched on it in my Day 2 surprises, but there were a number of good linemen on the board at that spot. I was also stunned that Seattle did not trade down. With only three picks in the whole draft, moving down to pick up one or two more selections would’ve been a wise move. The three players they took were good ones, but it feels like the Seahawks could have done more.
Dallas Cowboys Biggest surprise: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State (12th overall) Biggest reach: Nahshon Wright, CB, Oregon State (99th overall) It feels weird to put the Cowboys in this category. On one hand, I love Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox. I think both are great players and Cox was an absolute steal in the fourth round. However, this is a team that already has Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith at linebacker. While Dallas was smart to address its defense, linebacker was the one spot that didn’t feel like a huge need. Rashawn Slater was still on the board with both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins coming off major injuries. Then there was the Cowboys’ third round. Osa Odighizuwa went a bit earlier than expected, but filled a need. Chauncey Golston did too, but I liked him in the fifth round. NahShon Wright is long, but I was shocked to see him go this early. I don’t think this was an awful draft for Dallas by any means, but it was a weird one. I think they could’ve done better with the picks they had and the players still on the board.
Indianapolis Colts Biggest Surprise: Dayo Odeyingbo, EDGE, Vanderbilt (54th overall) Biggest Reach: Kylen Granson, TE, SMU (127th overall) Indianapolis got off to a great start to the draft with Kwity Paye in the first round. Things went downhill from there. Dayo Odeyingbo is an intriguing talent, but he is coming off a torn Achilles suffered in January, so he likely won’t contribute this year. It was also a bit early for him and they had already drafted Paye. With a huge need at left tackle and other needs at receiver and corner, doubling up at defensive end was an odd choice. Kylen Granson was one of my least favorite picks. He went way too early and there were better players on the board, both in general and at the position. Waiting until the seventh round to draft an offensive lineman is questionable given the team has no real plan at left tackle. Carson Wentz proved last year that he does not thrive under pressure. I thought the Colts would prioritize protecting him. Still don’t understand the Sam Ehlinger selection either. Indy just took Jacob Eason last year. Definitely not my favorite draft on paper.
Dylan Moses and Mavin Wilson Heading into the 2020 NFL draft, I had a late first-round grade on Dylan Moses. Even with the ACL injury and him missing his entire junior season, I figured a team would take a flier on him by the end of the second round at the latest. When he returned to school, he became one of the top prospects for 2021. I mocked Moses No. 10 to the Dolphins in my way-too-early mock draft. Moses had a rough 2021 season. He looked nowhere close to the explosive athlete we saw in 2019. His change of direction speed was gone and he reportedly dealt with a meniscus injury. I thought he would slide into the middle rounds of this draft. For him to go undrafted is wild. It was likely due to the lack of medicals for teams this year. Still, Moses missed out in a big way by returning to school. I will be rooting for him to prove people wrong in Jacksonville. Much of the same can be applied to Marvin Wilson. He was a fringe first-round pick in 2020 mocks, but decided to return to school. He debuted at No. 17 to the Jaguars in my way-too-early mock for 2021. Wilson had a checkered season that started with a public dispute with new Florida State coach Mike Norvell. He only recorded one sack, which came against Jacksonville State, in a disappointing season. Wilson ended up going undrafted as well, signing with Cleveland as an undrafted free agent. He signed a deal worth $192,000 guaranteed. For reference, Joe Tryon, who went to Tampa with the final pick of the first round, is expected to sign a deal worth $11.1 million with a $5.4 million signing bonus, per Spotrac.
While I have you here, a few more thoughts on this draft
These next two teams didn’t really fall into either category, but I felt like they were worth talking about because of the moves they made.
Houston Texas Biggest impact: Nico Collins, WR, Michigan(89th overall) Best value: Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami (147th overall) Houston has now signed Tyrod Taylor, traded for Ryan Finley and drafted Davis Mills. Deshaun Watson’s future looks murkier than that of even Aaron Rodgers right now. Adam Schefter was reporting on Saturday that there are people in NFL circles who believe Watson won’t play in 2021. Credit the Texans for being aggressive in trying to find his successor. Well, as aggressive as a team who traded away a ton of premium draft picks to acquire Laremy Tunsil can be. Houston is still undoubtedly one of the worst-run franchises in football, but this is a positive start for Nick Caserio and company. Instead of feeling like this team is headed for a tear down, they suddenly have an exciting, raw quarterback to develop with an on rebuilding. Nico Collins and Brevin Jordan could both be involved in the offense this year. The Texans are still bad, but I like what they did with limited resources.
Buffalo Bills Biggest impact: Carlos Basham, DL, Wake Forest (61st overall) Best value: Basham For the third year in a row, Buffalo invested significant draft capital into its defensive line. In 2019, it was Ed Oliver with the ninth overall pick. A.J. Epenesa landed with the Bills in the second round in 2020. This draft saw Buffalo grab defensive linemen with its first two picks, selecting Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham. Only San Francisco is able to rival the amount of young talent the Bills currently boast up front. What makes this group particularly scary is the versatility. You could really start any of them anywhere along the defensive line and feel pretty good about that decision. That doesn’t even take into account that Buffalo still has veterans like Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison and Vernon Butler. This undoubtedly sets the Bills up to have one of the best defensive lines in the league going forward. Also love the addition of Spencer Brown in the third round.
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