News & Analysis

Best-case, worst-case scenarios for all 32 NFL teams

Nov 1, 2020; Seattle, Washington, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) exits the locker room before pregame warmups against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NFL offseason is finally here, and it’s likely to be one of the most challenging offseasons the 32 franchises have ever faced.

Instead of the $10-plus million increase to the salary cap we typically see, the cap will decrease by around $15 million in 2021. And the pre-draft process is once again drastically altered due to COVID-19.

Offseasons are when Super Bowl champions like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are constructed, and a lot of the 2021 contenders don’t have a lot of margin for error this time around. Today we will go over the best and worst outcomes for all 32 teams, using PFF's Free Agent Rankings page, the PFF 2021 NFL Draft Guide and the PFF Big Board as our guide.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS

Best-case: Patrick Surtain II falls to Arizona at the 16th overall pick, and they work to patch up the secondary in free agency with a low-budget pickup like Gareon Conley

Worst-case: They are on the outside looking in on the cornerback market

Arizona’s coverage unit was suboptimal in 2020, especially on the outside. Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick manned the starting roles, but both players are impending free agents who produced sub-60.0 coverage grades on the outside last season. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph called man coverage at an above-average rate in 2020. It was quite clear that Peterson and Kirkpatrick had both lost a step and were no longer effective man-cover corners.

Two cornerback prospects have separated themselves from the rest at the position — Caleb Farley of Virginia Tech and Patrick Surtain II of Alabama. And both players can slide right into this system. Surtain is the most likely of the two to be available when Arizona picks at No. 16, and it shouldn’t even be a thought if he is on the board. Despite being tasked with playing on an island more than any cornerback in the country, Surtain came in at No. 1 at his position in PFF grade this year (89.7); he has the size, physicality and press skills necessary to succeed.

Getting Surtain in April after grabbing a cheap option like Conley in free agency would be a huge win for Arizona. Conley has the highest forced incompletion rate since entering the league in 2017 (22.2%). If neither occurs, they may have one of the worst secondaries in the NFL in 2021. 

ATLANTA FALCONS

Best-case: Trade away Matt Ryan for an absolute haul and secure Justin Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft

Worst-case: They pass on a quarterback with the No. 4 overall pick

Given the current quarterback market, Atlanta could get a monstrous package for quarterback Matt Ryan despite his headache of a contract. However,  all signs point to Ryan remaining in Atlanta at this point, as owner Arthur Blank recently said he would be “completely shocked” if he didn’t. And that could cause Atlanta to think twice about taking a quarterback with their top-five pick in April.

Atlanta would be fine for 2021 if they decide to roll with Ryan and pass on a quarterback in the draft, but the prospects would be bleak long-term. Not every year is a team going to be in a position to grab a quarterback of Justin Fields‘ caliber.

The Ohio State product will have a little bit of a learning curve with his processing speed and blitz recognition, but the talent is there for him to become a franchise quarterback. With PFF grades of 91.5 and 93.5 in his two years of starting action, Fields showed pinpoint accuracy, elite physical tools and protected the ball exceptionally well.

Ryan still has a couple of quality years left in him, but he’s not leading them to a Super Bowl in the short-term with the holes they have on their roster. It’s time to start thinking long-term.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Best-case: They get a true WR1

Worst-case: Instead of grabbing a receiver, Baltimore breaks the bank on edge rushers

Baltimore doesn’t have a lot to work with this free agency period. They have $17.7 million in cap space — a lot more than most teams — but no impactful cut candidates and a lot of impending free agents, which include Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee, Willie Snead IV, Dez Bryant, Derek Wolfe and D.J. Fluker. Based on that list alone, it’s quite clear that Baltimore will have to do something at the edge position this offseason.

However, they shouldn’t use what cap space they have for the pass rush. They must use that to get a true WR1.

The Ravens’ wide receiver group was among the five lowest-graded units in the NFL in 2020. Baltimore needs an “X” receiver who imposes a threat to defenses. Corey Davis might be the best option, considering the money Baltimore has at its disposal. Davis was the 11th-highest-graded wide receiver in the league this past year; he generated the fifth-best contested catch rate (64.7%) and ranked in the 85th percentile in grade against single coverage.

BUFFALO BILLS

Best-case: Cutting the few overpaid pieces along the defensive line and carefully making a move for an impact pass-rusher

Worst-case: Going all-in on Matt Milano, limiting their opportunities in free agency

Buffalo is in excellent shape at the most important positions on the field. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to add another quality outside corner, but it also wouldn’t be a bad idea to bolster the fairly average defensive front.

The Bills are fairly close to the cap as things stand, but they can open up $20 million with cuts that include Quinton Jefferson, Mario Addison and Vernon Butler, all of whom finished with PFF grades below 61.0 in 2020. Using that cash brought in via those cuts on a pass-rusher like Yannick Ngakoue wouldn’t be a bad move to make as long as the price is right

Ngakoue, who is tied for ninth among edge rushers in pass-rush grade over the last four seasons, would bolster the Bills’ pass-rush and could slide right into Addison’s role in 2021. Ngakoue and Hughes would immediately become one of the better pass-rushing tandems in the NFL. 

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Best-case: They trade up for Justin Fields

Worst-case: Teddy Bridgewater remains the starting quarterback

Carolina was extremely limited with Bridgwater leading the offense in 2020. He finished 27th in passing grade at 66.4, coming in at fifth-to-last in passing grade and second-to-last in uncatchable pass rate (44.5%) on passes thrown 10-plus yards downfield. 

The Panthers made it known that they are in the market to improve at the quarterback position with an aggressive offer for Matthew Stafford before he was sent to L.A. But now the options on the trade and free agency market are limited, the only chance for them to change things at the most important position on the field will come via the NFL draft.

They could trade up and secure Justin Fields — just as PFF lead draft analyst Mike Renner outlined in his latest mock draft or they could take a big swing on Trey Lance or Mac Jones. Either way, it’s looking like they will at the very least dedicate that top-10 pick on a new passer. If they don’t and opt to stick with Teddy, the team seems set for mediocrity at best in 2021.

CHICAGO BEARS

Best-case: Allen Robinson II gets a long-term deal and finally has a quality QB throwing to him, whether it be a rookie or established veteran

Worst-case: Nick Foles or a bottom-tier free agent is the Week 1 starter with Robinson on another team

The fate of the entire Chicago front office and coaching staff hinges on the quarterback and passing offense in 2021. They need a promising rookie or established veteran to lead the passing offense, but the options are becoming increasingly limited.

Quarterbacks who were once rumored to be on the open market — players like Matt Ryan, Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo — are likely to return to their respective teams in 2021, and the Bears don’t have the capital to acquire Deshaun Watson if he does become available. This really narrows down their realistic “new” quarterback options to Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold, Gardner Minshew or Mac Jones. Right now, all signs are pointing to the 2016 No. 1 overall pick being the guy.

Wentz is not necessarily an established veteran, given that he is fresh off a season in which he finished fifth-to-last in passing grade (60.0) and led the league in turnover-worthy plays despite not playing from Week 14 on.

Bringing back Allen Robinson — PFF’s No. 3 ranked free agent and third-most valuable wide receiver of the 2020 season — is also clearly a priority. Without him, the receiving unit will almost certainly reside in the bottom-tier of the NFL.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Best-case: They reunite Joe Burrow with Ja’Marr Chase and revamp the OL in free agency

Worst-case: They take a tackle with the No. 5 overall pick and don’t make a power play for a standout offensive lineman in free agency

Cincy’s offensive line has been one of the five lowest-graded units in the NFL in each of the last four years. They came in at No. 30 in combined offensive line PFF grade in 2020.

Jonah Williams was a strong performer in his first year of NFL action, ranking 13th among left tackles in true pass set grade, and center Trey Hopkins produced an above-average pass-block grade at his respective position for the second straight year. The other three positions were a liability. 

Taylor Moton and Joe Thuney both hitting free agency would be the dream scenario for the Bengals. Moton is the fourth-highest-graded right tackle over the last three years, while Thuney is the fourth-highest-graded left guard over the last three years. The Bengals could then make a play on one or even both. 

Then they could take former LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase No. 5 overall to reunite with Joe Burrow. Chase and Burrow teamed up for more deep catches (24) and touchdowns (14) than any other QB-WR connection in the PFF College era in their championship run in 2019. 

Sep 8, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detail view of the watch of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) as he runs the ball past Tennessee Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Best-case: They sign one of the marquee safeties on the open market, such as Anthony Harris, Marcus Williams or John Johnson III

Worst-case: Not making a move for one of those top safeties and trading away Odell Beckham Jr.

After years of having one of the worst rosters from top to bottom in the entire league, the Browns finally have a competitive team with few holes to speak of. And they are in prime position to fill their biggest one — safety — this offseason with the roughly $21 million cap space they currently have. 

The safety market will be a loaded one when the new league year opens in March. Justin Simmons, Anthony Harris, Marcus Williams, Marcus Maye and John Johnson III are all set to hit free agency, and all five have finished in the top five at the position in WAR in either 2019 or 2020. Harris, Williams and Johnson are most likely to find a new team, and Cleveland should be in on all three. The addition of Grant Delpit, a 2020 second-round pick who missed his entire rookie campaign due to injury, will certainly help, but Cleveland still has to land one of those major players.

The worst-case scenario for Cleveland is not landing a premier safety while also trading away wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Yes, the Browns’ offense was better after Beckham got hurt this past season, but as PFF’s Ben Linsey outlined in an article a few weeks ago, they are not better off without him. A healthy Beckham, who has finished as a top-10-graded wide receiver in four of his seven seasons in the NFL, has the ability to take this offense to another level.

DALLAS COWBOYS

Best-case: Caleb Farley is there at the 10th overall pick

Worst-case: They re-sign Chidobe Awuzie to start opposite Trevon Diggs once again

Finding a corner to start opposite Trevon Diggs in 2021 is the top priority for Dallas this offseason. Finding a cornerback tailor-made for man coverage in Dan Quinn’s defense would be the icing on the cake. Farley didn’t play a lot of press man in college at Virginia Tech, but he has the physical tools needed to thrive in this type of defense. Before opting out of the 2020 season, Farley allowed one or fewer catches in seven of his 11 starts in 2019 while intercepting four passes and breaking up nine en route to a 26.8 passer rating allowed and a 90.5 coverage grade.

DENVER BRONCOS

Best-case: Finding a quality quarterback to replace Drew Lock (after bringing back Justin Simmons, of course)

Worst-case: Drew Lock is the Week 1 starter

Trading up to secure quarterback Justin Fields would be the dream scenario for the Denver Broncos. However, the most likely scenario is landing North Dakota State’s Trey Lance or Alabama’s Mac Jones.

Denver simply cannot go into Week 1 of 2021 with Drew Lock as their starter. Lock has appeared in 18 games in his two-year NFL career and has come away with the league’s third-worst passing grade over that span (61.8). No quarterback has thrown a higher rate of uncatchable passes (28%) on throws beyond the line of scrimmage since 2019.

Lance is one of the biggest wild cards in the 2021 NFL Draft. His athleticism is off the charts, and he will present an immediate threat on the ground. In his one showcase game back in October against Central Arkansas, he carried the ball 15 times (13 designed, two scrambles) and put up six explosive runs of 10-plus yards, forcing nine broken tackles along the way. His accuracy is still a massive concern, but he’s still worth taking a swing on.

DETROIT LIONS

Best-case: Kenny Golladay is back, and Detroit still takes a wide receiver at No. 7 overall

Worst-case: No cap magic is worked, Golladay is gone, Detroit goes defense with its first-rounder and Jared Goff has no wide receivers to throw to

Detroit has been home to some of the better wide receiver units over the past few years, but that could come to a screeching halt this offseason. Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola are all slated to hit free agency, and the Lions have only around $6 million in cap space to work with. That can obviously change with some cuts and restructures, but Golladay, a top-tier deep threat and consistent winner in contested scenarios, likely costs too much. 

The good news is that there are three incredible wide receiver prospects — Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle — in the 2021 NFL Draft who could be available for the Lions at the No. 7 overall pick. The bad news is that there is a world in which Detroit passes on one of those wide receivers in favor of repairing a defense that allowed more expected points added per pass play in 2020 than any defense in the past decade. While there are obvious needs within their front seven, making sure Jared Goff has at least some receiving threat is an absolute must for Detroit.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Best-case: Aaron Rodgers — the 2020 MVP — finally gets a quality No. 2 receiving option

Worst-case: Green Bay gives running back Aaron Jones a hefty contract, the team loses one of the league’s best centers in free agency and Rodgers still has no receiving threats outside of Davante Adams

Aaron Rodgers hasn’t had two wide receivers crack the top 50 in PFF grade in any of the past four years. Davante Adams is in the conversation for best in the NFL after posting a league-high 92.2 PFF grade in 2020, but the reigning MVP needs a No. 2 receiver. Green Bay will need to get creative to accomplish that in free agency, as the team is likely to be nearly $30 million over the cap. But if the Packers can make it work, Will Fuller V should be a top target.

Green Bay’s wide receivers ranked second-to-last in percentage of catchable 20-plus yard targets caught (71%) in 2020, and Fuller would help bolster that. His deep speed has helped him pick up a 15-plus yard gain on over 26% of his targets since 2018, the eighth-highest rate in the NFL. That’d certainly help ease the loss of the league’s highest-graded center from 2020, Corey Linsley, as the Packers wouldn’t have the money to sign both.

Dec 13, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looks on before the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

HOUSTON TEXANS

Best-case: Deshaun Watson is the Week 1 starter

Worst-case: They continue to try to call Watson’s bluff, go the whole offseason without considering a trade, are forced to deal him with no leverage and lose out on one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft

At this point, free agency and the draft is an afterthought for Houston; this offseason is all about getting Deshaun Watson back. He is coming off a campaign in which he trailed only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady for the highest PFF grade at the position, with a 92.5 mark, and has set himself on a Hall of Fame trajectory. But if nothing changes in the coming weeks and Watson is dead set on not returning to Houston, then it’s vital for the Texans’ brass to not get too cute by trying to continue to call Watson’s bluff after the 2021 NFL Draft and into the season. Getting a young, promising quarterback prospect in return for Watson — such as Zach Wilson or Justin Fields — is an absolute must if a trade is Houston's only option.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Best-case: They manage to get Mac Jones in the 2021 NFL Draft and add a true deep threat in free agency

Worst-case: Jacob Eason or a low-tier free agent like Jacoby Brissett is the starter next season

After Philip Rivers‘ retirement, the Colts are in a similar boat as the Bears with their quarterback situation. Their most likely options consist of either Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold, a low-tier free agent, Jacob Eason or Mac Jones. None of them are ideal, but the 2021 Alabama prospect is perhaps the team's best bet. Jones’ physical tools aren’t in the elite tier of other top quarterback prospects, which is why he could be available when Indianapolis is picking at 21st overall in April.

While that is a rightful concern, the accuracy, decision-making, timing and processing he displayed this past season in the Crimson Tide’s championship run are worth taking a chance on. Jones finished the year with the highest PFF grade and the lowest negatively graded throw rate we have recorded in the PFF College era.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Best-case: Revamping the secondary via free agency

Worst-case: It's nearly impossible for the Jaguars to have a “bad” offseason with how much cash and draft capital is at their disposal

No team is in a better position in both free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft than the Jaguars. They lead the league in cap space available and have more draft pick value than any of the 32 teams. One would have to actively try to mess that situation up. They’re only going to get better from here with the moves they make in free agency and Trevor Lawrence as their quarterback. With that said, the best-case scenario for the Jaguars is that they rebuild their secondary this offseason.

In 2020, Jacksonville produced the fourth-worst coverage grade of any defense in the past decade. A top-tier safety, such as Anthony Harris or Marcus Williams, should be in the cards for the Jags in March, as should cornerback Quinton Dunbar and slot corner Desmond King II. Just two years ago, Dunbar was the second-highest-graded corner in the league for Washington.

Last year, however, Dunbar battled injuries in Seattle and struggled when on the field. His PFF grade fell nearly 40 grading points. King also had a bit of a down season in 2020, but he still holds the No. 1 spot in slot coverage grade since entering the league in 2017. Each is a low-risk option that could do wonders for Jacksonville's coverage unit.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Best-case: Kadarius Toney falls to the Chiefs at No. 31 overall

Worst-case: Calling this a “worst-case” is a bit of a stretch, but not retaining center Austin Reiter and not bringing in a low-cost interior lineman in free agency is less than ideal

The closer we get to the 2021 NFL Draft, the more it looks like Florida's Kadarius Toney will be a top-20 pick. But if he does end up sliding to Kansas City at No. 31, that’d just be flat-out unfair. Giving Patrick Mahomes an after-the-catch weapon like Toney to pair with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce would make this already-potent passing offense even more dangerous.

Toney will be one of the hardest people to tackle in the NFL from Day 1 with his combination of balance, agility and explosiveness. On 187 touches in his college career, Toney has broken a whopping 66 tackles while averaging 8.5 yards after the catch.

With Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz back and healthy in 2021, Kansas City’s offensive line isn’t going to look as bad as it did in the team's Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay. Bringing back center Austin Reiter — the 12th-highest-graded player at the position in 2020 — would still be wise if the Chiefs can make it work (projected to be $15 million over the cap), but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he hits free agency. That being their worst-case scenario this offseason goes to show how good of a spot the Chiefs are in once again in 2021.

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS

Best-case: They add an established corner and safety in free agency

Worst-case: Jon Gruden doesn't get an “alpha” presence for the Raiders' secondary

It’s no secret Las Vegas is looking to improve a secondary that has ranked as one of the league’s worst over the past few years. Head coach Jon Gruden himself said as much on PFF’s Cris Collinsworth Podcast with Richard Sherman. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, the Raiders posted expected points added per pass play allowed marks that rank seventh-, 10th- and 13th-to-last among all pass defenses in the past decade.

Gruden said he’s looking for that “alpha” presence and insinuated to Sherman the Raiders would be interested in bringing him in to play in Vegas with new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who was his first NFL defensive coordinator in Seattle. Back in 2019, before an injury-riddled 2020 campaign, Sherman was the highest-graded and most valuable corner in the league. Securing him along with Marcus Williams — the third-most valuable safety over the past two years — would be a massive win for the Raiders this offseason. Doing nothing, on the other hand, wouldn’t put them any closer to securing a winning record — something they've done just once since 2003.

Dec 6, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Adam Butler (70) sacks Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) in the fourth quarter at SoFi Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Chargers 45-0. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Best-case: The offensive line undergoes a complete overhaul in free agency

Worst-case: The Chargers don’t sign any offensive linemen who feature in PFF's top 100 free agents

The theme for the Chargers in free agency is unequivocally their offensive line. The unit was among the worst in the NFL this past season, and a lot of the lowly performers are set to hit the market in March. As a group, they ranked fourth-to-last among the 32 offensive lines in pass-blocking grade. Yet, rookie quarterback Justin Herbert overcame the poor pass protection and produced the highest pressured passing grade in the NFL this past season. In fact, the Chargers’ 0.11 EPA per pressured dropback was the third-highest single-season mark in the past 16 years. That's not a sustainable face of play, though.

Los Angeles has around $24 million in cap room to work with and needs to dedicate that to at least a couple of the offensive linemen in PFF’s top 100 free agents. Players such as Alejandro Villanueva (No. 33), David Andrews (No. 68) and Alex Mack (No. 79) are viable options.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Best-case: General manager Les Snead finds a way to keep safety John Johnson and cornerback Troy Hill

Worst-case: The Rams make zero impactful moves in free agency and lose both Johnson and Hill

The Rams have two key defensive backs set to enter free agency this offseason, safety John Johnson III and slot corner Troy Hiil, but the team is more than $27 million over the cap. Finding a way to retain both of them would be ideal considering they ranked fifth and 17th, respectively, at their positions in WAR generated this past season. But it’s highly likely that only one (Hill) returns. Hill leads all defensive backs in slot coverage grade over the past two years and is projected to fetch a two-year, $10.5 million deal in March. 

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Best-case: Trade the No. 3 overall pick to a desperate, quarterback-needy team

Worst-case: Stay put at No. 3 and take tackle Penei Sewell

The quarterback demand in the NFL is as strong as ever before. There will be many teams considering a trade to better their 2021 NFL Draft position, and the Miami Dolphins will be the first team to get the call, as they hold the third overall pick. Now, it might be best on their end to actually take a quarterback themselves since they are still not 100% certain that Tua Tagovailoa will end up a franchise quarterback.

So, trading that pick away to a team such as the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos or San Francisco 49ers is the best idea. They could still land a playmaker in Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle or Kyle Pitts — who all rank in the top 10 of the PFF Draft Board — in any of those four scenarios and bolster their draft capital at the same time. 

A popular mock selection for Miami, if the team were to stay put, has been tackle Penei Sewell. But let’s take a step back and remember what’s more valuable. The ceiling for any of those four receivers listed above is higher than Sewell’s, no matter how rare of a tackle prospect he may be. This is no slight to Sewell at all. In fact, his pro projections make him one of the safest picks in the draft with statistical pass-protection comparisons to players such as David Bakhtiari and Trent Williams. He’s just not going to push Miami over the hump that sits between them missing and making the playoffs.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Best-case: Sign a cheap veteran edge rusher in free agency, sign a cheap veteran guard in free agency and draft Christian Barmore at No. 14 overall

Worst-case: Standing pat in free agency by not opening up any cap space 

The Vikings went from having the eighth-best defense in terms of EPA per play allowed in 2019 to the sixth-worst in 2020, and they aren’t in a prime position to help themselves much more this offseason. They are projected to be over the cap by around $8 million and also have to address their guard situation, where the team ranked dead last in pass-blocking grade in 2020. 

One option for the defense line is a reunion with Everson Griffen, who played for Minnesota from 2010 to 2019 and earned a 76.6 pass-rush grade in his last season with the team. As for the offensive line, Matt Feiler, who has played both guard and tackle, would be a dream scenario. He finished inside the top 20 in pass-blocking grade at tackle in 2019 and then guard in 2020. Plus, he likely costs only $12 million over two years.

In the draft, Alabama interior defensive lineman Christian Barmore appears to be the best bet at the No. 14 overall pick. He posted the highest pass-rush grade of any defensive tackle in 2020, at 91.5, and feasted in the College Football Playoff against Notre Dame and Ohio State en route to 12 pressures.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Best-case: New England liquidates its assets and commences a rebuild

Worst-case: They sign a mid- or low-tier free agent quarterback to be their Week 1 starter and get stuck in quarterback purgatory

Regression hit the New England Patriots hard in 2020. They went from having Tom Brady to Cam Newton and subsequently fielded their least-efficient passing offense of the PFF era by a considerable margin. Then a coverage unit that was considered the best in the league in 2019 saw the steepest drop among all 32 teams in EPA per pass play allowed in 2020. They have no quarterback, a clear bottom-five receiving unit and two aging defensive backs on expiring contracts in 2022 that still have trade value (Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty). They aren’t going to be a contender in 2021, especially with a mid- to low-tier free agent passer like Andy Dalton or Mitchell Trubisky as their quarterback. 

It’s not going to happen, but Bill Bellichick should strongly consider liquidating their assets and focusing on a rebuild this offseason. Next year would be a throwaway year, but they’d become an immediate favorite to land next year’s top quarterback, Spencer Rattler. And considering what we saw from him in Year 1 at Oklahoma — the fourth-best PFF grade in the country at 92.5 — he has the potential to be an elite level prospect like Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray

Nov 15, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) throws during warm-ups prior to kickoff against the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Best-case: Jameis Winston comes back on a dirt-cheap, one-year deal

Worst-case: They end the offseason with Taysom Hill as their only option at quarterback

At nearly three figures over the cap, the Saints don’t have a lot of options to improve this offseason. Still, there is one move they must make in order to take advantage of a quality roster while they can: re-sign the Jameis-coaster. Winston is obviously one of the most volatile and aggressive passers in the league, but he provides more high-end play than Taysom Hill or any other option the Saints can afford. Over his final three years as the starter for the Buccaneers, Winston generated the 14th-most WAR among quarterbacks and led the league in passing yards on throws of 10-plus yards (7,231).

NEW YORK GIANTS

Best-case: Daniel Jones gets his WR1 in free agency and another weapon in the draft  

Worst-case: Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson are prioritized over wide receiver in free agency, and the team focuses on the trenches again in the draft

Aadding a quality deep threat — such as Kenny Golladay or Will Fuller — to a passing offense that ranked 28th in passing efficiency in 2020 could do wonders. Despite those two missing some time here and there over the last two years, Golladay and Fuller still rank sixth and 12th, respectively, in deep receiving yards over that span. 

And they shouldn’t stop there. 

If Kyle Pitts happens to be there at No. 11 in the NFL Draft, they should dial that selection in quickly. Pitts generated a 96.2 PFF grade this year, more than five grading points higher than any tight end in the PFF College era. His movement skills are incredible, and the ability to win on the outside against press-man coverage is reminiscent of Raiders tight end Darren Waller.

The one thing the Giants shouldn’t do is go all-in on both Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency instead of prioritizing one of those deep threats. Those two combined didn’t generate as much WAR as Fuller did alone in 2020 and Golladay did in 2019 when he played more than five games.

NEW YORK JETS

Best-case: Deshaun Watson or Zach Wilson + Allen Robinson or Kenny Golladay

Worst-case: Sam Darnold is the Week 1 starter 

There is a small chance that the New York Jets decide to stick with Sam Darnold for another season as opposed to taking a quarterback second overall, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. Needless to say, this would be a very bad idea. Darnold has flashed a troubling combination of inconsistency, inaccuracy and poor decision-making throughout his NFL career. Since entering the league, he ranks second-to-last in passing grade, last in big-time throw rate, third-to-last in turnover-worthy play rate and third-to-last in accurate pass rate on throws beyond the line of scrimmage. The odds of him having a Year 4 breakout are slim to none at this point.

If/when Houston makes Deshaun Watson available via trade, the Jets should be the first team calling. If not, Zach Wilson is still a great consolation prize with the second pick. His combination of accuracy, arm talent and ability to make off-platform throws is truly special. Just 13.6% of Wilson’s throws beyond the line of scrimmage were deemed uncatchable this past season, the lowest rate in the FBS. His passing grade on tight-window passes also led all quarterbacks, and it wasn’t particularly close. With either one of those two QBs as the Jets’ new face of the franchise along with one of the premier free agent wide receivers go a long way in turning around a passing offense that has been anemic for years.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Best-case: They sucker a team into trading a monstrous package for Carson Wentz

Worst-case: It’s Carson Wentz, Jalen Hurts and no WR with the No. 6 pick to begin the year

If Philadelphia can get a Matthew Stafford-type of package for Wentz, then this offseason would already be considered a huge win. On top of leading the league in turnover-worthy plays, Wentz ranked dead last in percentage of accurate passes thrown beyond the line of scrimmage and second-to-last in negatively graded throw rate. He does still have something to offer with the right team, but that team is not the Eagles given their current situation, It’s quite clear that he isn’t going to produce like an elite quarterback on a routine basis.

With a Wentz seemingly a sure thing at this point and the Eagles unable to make any major moves in free agency with the second-lowest cap space available, it’s vital they nail the No. 6 overall pick. They should obviously be suitors for Justin Fields, like many other teams, but if they lose out on that race they should undoubtedly take the best wide receiver on the board. Heisman winner DeVonta Smith could be that guy. Outside of his thin frame, there is nothing to be concerned about with Smith. He does everything at the position at an extremely high level, and it showed throughout his 2020 season when he posted a record-breaking 94.9 PFF grade.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Best-case: Big Ben is gone and the rebuild commences 

Worst-case: Big Ben gets restructured and other free agents like Bud Dupree and JuJu Smith-Schuster are prioritized over Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton

The best-case scenario here isn’t going to occur. Ben Roethlisberger ranked 25th of 33 quarterbacks in passing grade on 10-plus yard throws in 2020 — and he'll be back on a restructured deal. Even with an altered contract for Big Ben, Pittsburgh will still have little cap space to work with, so it’s important they allocate what they have to cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton over guys like Bud Dupree or JuJu Smith-Schuster. Sutton and Hilton combined will cost nearly three times less than Smith-Schuster and generated 2.5 times more WAR combined than the wide receiver in 2020. As for Dupree, the two corners generated six times as much WAR than the pass-rusher and will also cost less.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Best-case: Trading up for Justin Fields and sending Jimmy G to a desperate team in need for a quarterback

Worst-case: They lose all of their most important defensive backs in free agency

Jimmy Garoppolo has proven that he’s extremely dependent on scheme and collective supporting cast, and he's also struggled to stay healthy. The Niners have long been rumored to be in the quarterback market as a result and are very much in play as one of the teams that could trade up for Justin Fields. Kyle Shanahan would love to have a mobile quarterback like Fields who is also deadly accurate and can open up the downfield passing game. No quarterback to play in both 2019 and 2020 in college football earned a higher passing grade on throws over 10 yards downfield than Fields.

San Francisco has a boatload of defensive backs that are impending free agents — safety Jaquiski Tartt and cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon and K’Waun Williams — and only $13.5 million in the bank to spend with tackle Trent Williams also in need of a new contract. If Sherman, Verrett and Williams, in particular, are all unable to be re-signed, San Francisco’s secondary would immediately go from one of the best over the last few years to one of the worst in 2021. Verrett is coming off an incredible comeback year in which he ranked eighth in PFF grade, and both Sherman and Williams produced a top-10 grade back in 2019 before injuries derailed their 2020 campaigns.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Best-case: Re-signing Shaquill Griffin and bringing in a cheap, veteran option for the defensive line like Aldon Smith

Worst-case: They get outbid on Griffin and Quinton Dunbar and are left with nothing at corner

With around $6 million in the bank and no notable cut candidates on roster, there isn’t much the Seahawks can do this free agency period. Somehow, they need to find a way to secure Shaquill Griffin, who is likely to fetch a three-year, $28.5 million deal. Despite nagging injuries this past year, Griffin managed to sustain a quality level of play and has now been the 17th-most valuable corner in the NFL since 2019. And if Seattle gets outbid on Griffin, they could look to add Quinton Dunbar — the second-highest-graded corner of 2019 before an injury-riddled 2020 — on a cheaper deal in the ballpark of two-years, $12 million. There is, however, a shortage of cornerbacks in the NFL, and being outbid on both Griffin and Dunbar in free agency is a real possibility. 

Dec 26, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) celebrates with wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) after making a touchdown reception against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter at Ford Field. Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Best-case: Jason Licht pulls off some magic to retain all of the team's marquee free agents 

Worst-case: Tampa is forced to let a key offensive and defensive free agent walk

The reigning Super Bowl champions are going to have their hands full this offseason trying to keep their core intact. They have six key contributors who are in need of new contracts — Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Lavonte David, Rob Gronkowski, Shaq Barrett and Ndamukong Suh — but have approximately $33 million to spend. Head coach Bruce Arians has said he is “very, very confident” that general manager Jason Licht can retain all of their top free agents, and wide receiver Mike Evans reportedly said he would take a pay cut to help out. Tampa’s roster generated 1.5 more WAR than any other team this past season. Keeping that together would obviously strengthen their chances of becoming the first team to repeat as champions since the 2003-2004 New England Patriots.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Best-case: Prioritizing skill-position players on offense with the little cap space they will have or with the No. 22 overall pick

Worst-case: They break the bank for Jadeveon Clowney and take another pass-rusher in the first-round of the 2021 NFL Draft

At over $3 million over the cap, the Titans are set to lose wide receiver Corey Davis and tight end Jonnu Smith. Both players finished in the top eight at their respective position in receiving grade in 2020. If that holds true, Tennessee must go wide receiver with the 22nd overall pick. The good news is that there should be no shortage of quality wide receivers available there. Rashod Bateman, who has the route-running chops and release package to thrive in the NFL, as well as after-the-catch monsters Rondale Moore and Kadarius Toney are all in play there.

What Tennessee shouldn’t do is prioritize edge rushers over receiving weapons. Bringing back Jadeveon Clowney isn’t a bad idea, but they should not break the bank for him. He only played half of the 2020 season due to injury and was as expected: above-average at best. He ranked 19th at the position with a 74.9 PFF grade, and there were no “dominant” pass-rush outings to really speak of. That’s really been the story of Clowney’s entire career.

WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM

Best-case: Getting a star receiver in free agency to team up with Terry McLaurin and taking Mac Jones at Pick 19

Worst-case: It’s the Alex Smith/Taylor Heinicke show in 2021 and they go tackle at Pick 19

Even with Terry McLaurin on the roster, Washington still had the lowest-graded set of wide receivers and tight ends among the 32 units in 2020. They can fix that with the $39 million or so in cap space they have (fifth-most) and the plethora of top-tier wide receivers set to hit the open market. Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay and Corey Davis — all of whom ranked in the top 15 in PFF WAR at the position in their last full season — should all be on the table. 

We've talked ad nauseam about the lack of quality veteran quarterbacks on the market, and Washington is among that group that is suffering as a result. If they don’t go down the veteran route — and they shouldn’t, assuming no one new becomes available — the Football Team should roll with drafting Mac Jones another year of Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke. Heinicke impressed in Washington’s playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champions with a 92.0 PFF grade, five big-time throws and zero turnover-worthy plays. But banking on him sustaining that in 2021 isn’t a smart move. After all, the former UDFA attempted just 77 passes in his six years prior to that outing and posted a poor 55.6 passing grade on those reps. 

Know tomorrow, today. Western Southern Financial Group.
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