With 2021 NFL free agency winding down, we are looking back on what went down and looking forward to what’s ahead.
While there were a number of significant free-agent signings such as the Tennessee Titans picking up a pair of edge rushers, the Baltimore Ravens upgrading their offensive line and the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-signing nearly all their free agents, the period began with a slew of significant trades that sent quarterback Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams and the No. 3 overall pick to the San Francisco 49ers.
Many teams continue to look to shore up weaknesses on their respective rosters, and plenty of big names remain unsigned. The Kansas City Chiefs cut their bookend offensive tackles — Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz — who both remain unemployed. Edge rushers Melvin Ingram III and Justin Houston also are looking for a team, while Jadeveon Clowney is now seemingly on an annual one-year contract.
NFL Nation breaks down the signings, the offseason goals and the biggest question remaining for each team:
Marquee signings: Matt Milano, LB; Darryl Williams, OT; Jon Feliciano, G; Emmanuel Sanders, WR; Mitchell Trubisky, QB
Offseason goals: The Bills entered the offseason as the AFC’s runners-up and were intent on running it back in 2021 with largely the same roster. General manager Brandon Beane cleared cap space through a series of restructures and releases and was eventually able to re-sign their marquee free agents while shoring up a few areas that needed reinforcements.
Biggest question to be answered: Where does Buffalo see its remaining weakness? The Bills’ pass rush still needs improvement as they look to take down Kansas City. Tight end, cornerback and running back also continue to be areas of need. If the Bills see their roster as championship-ready, they might eschew drafting for value and instead take instant-impact players later this month. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Marquee signings: Will Fuller, WR; Jacoby Brissett, QB; Matt Skura, C; Bernardrick McKinney, LB (trade)
Offseason goals: The Dolphins wanted to improve their offense, which was mediocre in 2020, by building around the quarterback. Their big splash was signing Fuller, while the rest of free agency focused on depth. All eyes are on the draft, as Miami already has made two big trades and seems likely to add both a wide receiver and a running back with two of its five picks in the first two rounds.
Biggest question to be answered: Pass rush was a need coming into free agency, and the Dolphins got worse in that area after trading away Shaq Lawson for McKinney. Emmanuel Ogbah and Andrew Van Ginkel are their top edge rushers, but they need to add one and maybe two significant contributors in the draft to solve this issue. — Cameron Wolfe
New England Patriots
Marquee signings: Jonnu Smith, TE; Hunter Henry, TE; Matthew Judon, OLB; Davon Godchaux, NT; Nelson Agholor, WR; Kendrick Bourne, WR; David Andrews, C
Offseason goals: Get aggressive with ample cap space, in a year the NFL salary cap went down that meant less competition from other teams, and fill some major holes as a result of some inconsistent drafting. Specifically, address tight end, wide receiver and the front seven on defense.
Biggest question to be answered: Who is the quarterback of the future? For all the moves the Patriots made, and no team had more, they still have a level of uncertainty at QB. That could be answered in the draft, although picking at No. 15 — and with the 49ers shaking things up with their big trade up to No. 3 with a quarterback in mind — there’s no guarantee the Patriots will find their answer, unless they make their own bold move up the board. For now, Cam Newton is the projected starter for 2021, and Jimmy Garoppolo could be in play in 2022 (if not sooner). — Mike Reiss
New York Jets
Marquee signings: Carl Lawson, DE; Corey Davis, WR; Sheldon Rankins, DT; Tevin Coleman, RB; Jarrad Davis, LB
Offseason goals: The Jets have done solid work in free agency, but they haven’t improved the offensive line. That’s scary, considering the line ranked among the league’s worst. Former Chargers starter Dan Feeney will compete at guard with Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten, but that’s hardly an upgrade. GM Joe Douglas still has work to do. There’s not much left in free agency, so look for him to draft a lineman in the first three rounds, preferably a guard. Mekhi Becton is a potential star at left tackle, but he needs help. Improvement from center Connor McGovern would be a nice start.
Biggest question to be answered: Everybody knows this one: Who’s playing quarterback? It probably won’t be incumbent Sam Darnold, whose days in New York appear numbered. From all indications, he will be traded and replaced by BYU’s Zach Wilson, the Jets’ likely draft pick at No. 2 overall. Once they get that resolved, the Jets have to find a QB2, either in free agency or via trade. — Rich Cimini
Marquee signings: Kevin Zeitler, G; Sammy Watkins, WR
Offseason goals: The Ravens wanted to upgrade the supporting cast around quarterback Lamar Jackson, and they did so with mixed results. Baltimore sought to improve the blocking in front of Jackson, and the Ravens landed their top target on the first day of free agency. Zeitler, one of the top guards in free agency, helps fill the yearlong void left by Marshal Yanda, who retired after the 2019 season. The pursuit of a veteran wide receiver was not as smooth. Baltimore eventually went with Watkins after JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.Y. Hilton turned down its offers. Watkins is a step up from Willie Snead, but Watkins has to prove he can stay healthy.
Biggest question to be answered: Who’s rushing the passer? In free agency, the Ravens lost two of the NFL’s best young pass-rushers in Matthew Judon (to the Patriots) and Yannick Ngakoue (Raiders). Baltimore was able to keep continuity at outside linebacker by re-signing Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee. But Bowser is known for his pass coverage, and McPhee is among the team’s best run defenders. To truly address the need for edge rushers, the Ravens have to sign one of the top remaining free agents (Melvin Ingram III, Justin Houston or Jadeveon Clowney) and draft an outside linebacker in the first two rounds. — Jamison Hensley
Marquee signings: Trey Hendrickson, DE; Mike Hilton, CB; Riley Reiff, OT; Chidobe Awuzie, CB; Larry Ogunjobi, DT
Offseason goals: The Bengals needed a strong push in free agency to move toward the end of the current rebuilding period. Cincinnati made a couple of big additions, specifically with Hendrickson, Hilton and Awuzie. But Cincinnati was replacing outgoing starters, and it remains to be seen if the signees will be upgrades. Adding Ogunjobi and Reiff pushed their free-agency period from a neutral or slightly negative one to somewhat positive. Reiff gives the Bengals some flexibility on the offensive line as Cincinnati approaches the draft and the critical No. 5 overall pick. If Cincinnati drafts Penei Sewell, Reiff gives them an option to start Sewell at guard in his rookie year or put him at right tackle.
Biggest question to be answered: The middle of the offensive line, specifically the two guard spots, remains a massive question mark. Aside from re-signing Quinton Spain, a midyear acquisition in 2020, the Bengals didn’t sign any offensive guards. This could signal a renewed sense of confidence in the current roster with assistant Frank Pollack. However, Cincinnati can’t be anything short of confident in its pass protection with second-year quarterback Joe Burrow coming off a devastating knee injury. Cincinnati is still looking for long-term options at guard. — Ben Baby
Marquee signings: John Johnson III, S; Takkarist McKinley, DE; Troy Hill, CB; Anthony Walker, LB; Malik Jackson, DT
Offseason goals: Cleveland’s priority this offseason was to bolster the defense around All-Pro edge rusher Myles Garrett. The Browns did that, signing arguably the top safety on the market in Johnson, before landing McKinley to start opposite Garrett. Johnson’s instincts, versatility and leadership should solidify the secondary. The Browns see McKinley’s strength as a suitable complement to Garrett’s speed. Garrett’s speed off the edge forces the opposing quarterback to step up into the pocket; McKinley’s power collapses the pocket from the other side. For that theory to work, though, McKinley will need to regain his focus and health.
Biggest question to be answered: Given that McKinley barely played last year, defensive line is still a question mark. The Browns also didn’t upgrade their speed or athleticism at linebacker in any way, while allowing 2020 starting corner Terrance Mitchell to walk in free agency. The Browns will have to address those needs in the draft, beginning with the No. 26 overall pick, which is sure to be a defensive selection. With the Johnson signing, the Browns’ defense is better, but probably not enough to consider Cleveland a viable Super Bowl contender. — Jake Trotter
Marquee signings: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR; Cam Sutton, CB; Tyson Alualu, NT
Offseason goals: The Steelers’ biggest goal is to return to the Pittsburgh way of anchoring the offense with a bruising, physical run game — something that’s been lacking the past two seasons. James Conner is gone, and the team didn’t sign a running back in free agency, leaving that to the NFL draft. Picking at No. 24 in the first round, there will be plenty of options to draft a top-tier running back such as Najee Harris or Javonte Williams. If they wait, though, there are second- or third-round options such as Michael Carter who could supplement the backs on the roster. In addition to drafting a running back, the team must also find more protection for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a center or left tackle — another option for its first-round selection.
Biggest question to be answered: When will the Steelers sign T.J. Watt to a massive extension? Team owner Art Rooney II said in a recent call with fans that keeping Watt was a big priority, signaling an extension could be coming sooner rather than later. The remarkable pass-rusher is set to hit free agency next year, but the Steelers don’t want that to happen. On a team that still has so many questions, one of the most immediate ones is how to structure and time a Watt extension to keep the cornerstone of its defense around for a long time. — Brooke Pryor
Marquee signings: Bradley Roby, CB; Randall Cobb, WR; Phillip Lindsay, RB; Tyrod Taylor, QB; Desmond King, CB
Offseason goals: One of the Texans’ offseason goals is to find a way to build a competitive team despite not having a draft pick in the first two rounds and entering the offseason more than $20 million over the 2021 salary cap. General manager Nick Caserio began that process by adding more than 30 players in free agency and via trade after the start of the league year on March 17. Houston still has a long way to go before improving on the four games it won in 2020, but at the very least, Caserio has created a lot of competition for the offseason program and training camp by signing a large number of players to one- or two-year deals at a low price.
Biggest question to be answered: Who will be the Texans’ Week 1 starting quarterback? Deshaun Watson asked to be traded in January, putting pressure on Caserio in his first offseason as Houston’s general manager. That decision took a huge turn in March, when 19 women filed civil lawsuits against Watson alleging inappropriate conduct and sexual assault by the Texans quarterback. The legal process isn’t expected to be wrapped up quickly, and Watson is facing a possible suspension from the NFL as the league has opened an investigation into the situation. The Texans agreed to a deal with Taylor on March 16, hours before the first lawsuit was filed against Watson. Houston has also since traded for quarterback Ryan Finley to give the team another option at the position. — Sarah Barshop
Marquee signings: T.Y. Hilton, WR; Marlon Mack, RB; Xavier Rhodes, CB; Sam Tevi, OL; Isaac Rochell, DL
Offseason goals: The best way to describe the Colts’ free agency so far: dull. And that’s dull despite the need to find a starting quarterback, left tackle and add more pieces along the defensive line and receiver. But that shouldn’t be surprising because that’s how general manager Chris Ballard has operated every year since he was hired in 2017. The Colts skipped the free-agent market when addressing the quarterback position, instead choosing to acquire Carson Wentz via a trade. The two other significant moves have been re-signing the 31-year-old Hilton and Mack, who is coming off a torn Achilles in 2020.
Biggest question to be answered: Who will start at left tackle and where will the pass rush come from? Anthony Castonzo’s retirement in January has left a void along the offensive line, which has been one of the best in the NFL the past couple of seasons. Owner Jim Irsay recently hinted they’re leaning toward the draft in finding their future left tackle. Another option — and one the Colts would rather try to avoid — is moving All-Pro Quenton Nelson from guard to left tackle. Defensive lineman Denico Autry signed with AFC South counterpart Tennessee and veteran Justin Houston remains unsigned. That’s a combined 15.5 sacks that have left or could leave in free agency. — Mike Wells
Marquee signings: Shaquill Griffin, CB; Marvin Jones Jr., WR; Roy Robertson-Harris, DT
Offseason goals: Coach Urban Meyer said the Jaguars wanted to rebuild on the defensive line and at tight end. The Jaguars got a good start on the first goal by signing Robertson-Harris and defensive end Jihad Ward and trading for nose tackle Malcom Brown. Losing defensive end Tyson Alualu, who agreed to terms but backed out and returned to Pittsburgh, stings, but the Jaguars also re-signed defensive ends Dawuane Smoot and Adam Gotsis, two of their best defensive linemen last season. As for tight end, the Jaguars brought in blocker Chris Manhertz and re-signed James O’Shaughnessy, who had 80 catches in four years with the Jaguars, but Meyer said there’s more work to be done there.
Biggest question to be answered: The Jaguars will take a quarterback with the first pick — Meyer signaled it would be Trevor Lawrence — so what can they do to get him help? Signing Jones was a big step, but Meyer wants to add speed at receiver and running back. They also signed wide receiver Phillip Dorsett but gave him no guaranteed money, so expect the team to target fast receivers and backs in the draft. In addition, the Jaguars need a tight end who can be a factor in the pass game. Jaguars tight ends coach Tyler Bowen coached at Penn State, so former Nittany Lion Pat Freiermuth is a name to watch there. — Michael DiRocco
Marquee signings: Bud Dupree, OLB; Janoris Jenkins, CB; Denico Autry, DL; Josh Reynolds, WR
Offseason goals: The top priority for the Titans was to bolster their pass rush after they registered 19 sacks last season. The secondary gave up 36 passing touchdowns, which marked the second most in the NFL, so the Titans wanted to make some changes to the back end by purging themselves of high-priced contracts. As for the offense, Tennessee knew it would likely lose wide receiver Corey Davis and tight end Jonnu Smith to free agency. Losing two of the top pass-catchers from last season created a void at wide receiver and tight end that had to be filled with limited cap space.
Biggest question to be answered: There still are question marks at cornerback. Both starting cornerbacks from last season are gone after the team released Malcolm Butler and Adoree’ Jackson. Jenkins will take over one of the starting spots. The other spot will come from a group headlined by second-year corner Kristian Fulton and veteran Kevin Johnson. There is also a void at nickel corner after the Titans didn’t re-sign Desmond King. The Titans also lack a proven starter at tight end to replace Smith, so they’re going with more of a committee approach. Finding a slot receiver will also be on the docket. — Turron Davenport
Marquee signings: Justin Simmons, safety; Shelby Harris, DE; Kyle Fuller, CB; Ronald Darby, CB; Kareem Jackson, S; Mike Boone, RB
Offseason goals: The Broncos’ secondary needed reinforcements having lost five cornerbacks (four to injury, one to a suspension) in a three-week span last season. Bryce Callahan also missed 22 games over the past two seasons combined. The Broncos spent much of their free agency money on the position, securing Simmons long-term and adding Darby and Fuller. They also exercised the option in linebacker Von Miller’s contract and brought Jackson back. General manager George Paton said he wanted a defense that “can rush and cover.” If the Broncos stay healthy, their defense can do that.
Biggest question to be answered: The Broncos keep saying they like quarterback Drew Lock — in recent weeks Paton went as far as to say “we’re fortunate we have a quarterback” when asked about the potential of adding another one. But the draft will show whether that is written in Sharpie or not. If they do not attempt to move up and stay at No. 9 in the first round, the quarterbacks with the ability to start in 2021 will be off the board and any quarterback they select would be coming in to compete with Lock down the road. Even if they sign a veteran quarterback late in free agency or after the draft, the Broncos believe Lock is the best option in 2021. — Jeff Legwold
Kansas City Chiefs
Marquee signings: Joe Thuney, G; Kyle Long, G; Jarran Reed, DT
Offseason goals: The Chiefs needed to rebuild an offensive line that crumbled by the end of last season and was a big problem in their Super Bowl LV loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They attacked the problem in the early days of free agency by signing Thuney and Long, but more work remains. They still have openings in the starting lineup at left tackle and center. The Chiefs hadn’t put many resources in terms of free-agent money or premium draft picks into their line, so the Thuney and Long signings were overdue. Reed should give the Chiefs a strong interior pass-rush combination when paired with Chris Jones.
Biggest question to be answered: Who’s their No. 2 wide receiver? The Chiefs, with Sammy Watkins a free agent, tried to sign a number of wide receivers, including JuJu Smith-Schuster. That leaves the impression they aren’t thrilled with their options behind their No. 1 wide out, Tyreek Hill. Mecole Hardman is next in line, but his inconsistency hasn’t inspired confidence he can handle the role. The Chiefs declined to give him more playing time last year when Watkins was out of the lineup with injuries. If the Chiefs can’t find a receiver they like in what remains of free agency, look for them to draft one in an early round. — Adam Teicher
Las Vegas Raiders
Marquee signings: Yannick Ngakoue, DE; John Brown, WR; Willie Snead IV, WR; Quinton Jefferson, DT; Solomon Thomas, DT; Kenyan Drake, RB; Nick Martin, C; Matt Dickerson, DT; Darius Philon, DT
Offseason goals: The Raiders needed to address their woeful defense and add a piece or two to an explosive offense. Who knew Las Vegas would also have to rebuild its high-priced offensive line? Trading away right tackle Trent Brown, right guard Gabe Jackson and center Rodney Hudson (the Raiders also cut left guard Richie Incognito before re-signing him) changed the focus for a bit. At least they re-signed versatile O-lineman Denzelle Good. In reshuffling the O-line the Raiders saved some money, but at what cost? Adding numbers in the defensive front seven was also a met goal, and Ngakoue being an elite edge rusher should only help the continued developments of Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby.
Biggest question to be answered: What about the veteran presence needed in the secondary in general, a free safety in particular? The Raiders desperately need said vet to help young cornerbacks Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette as well as safety Johnathan Abram understand the nuances of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s scheme and show them how to be pros. So, what’s the holdup on Richard Sherman? I kid. Kinda. But this much is no laughing matter: Are the Raiders comfortable with Jeff Heath and Dallin Leavitt as their two free safeties? Drafting a safety at No. 17 overall would be intriguing, but it would also be counterproductive for an already-young unit that, once again, badly needs veteran leadership on the back end. — Paul Gutierrez
Los Angeles Chargers
Marquee signings: Corey Linsley, C; Matt Feiler, LG; Oday Aboushi, G
Offseason goals: Offseason goals should be to get healthy — at every position. Running back Austin Ekeler is healing from a gruesome thigh injury and safety Derwin James ought to be close to 100% after missing the season with a torn meniscus. The young safety showed incredible promise in his rookie year. Also, Justin Herbert now has to learn yet another playbook (with a lot of his ideas meshed with OC Joe Lombardi’s).
Biggest question to be answered: The biggest question to be answered will be special teams. They brought back kicker Michael Badgley, who struggled until the final four games, when he was able to make field goals to win games. But he will have competition in Tristan Vizcaino, recently from the 49ers. They have a new coordinator in Derius Swinton, who joins Lombardi and defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill on Brandon Staley’s staff. They are young and energetic; now we’ll see how they mesh. — Shelley Smith
Marquee signings: Keanu Neal, S; Damontae Kazee, S; Tarell Basham, LB; Brent Urban, DE; Ty Nsekhe, OT; Jake McQuaide, LS
Offseason goals: The top goal was to get quarterback Dak Prescott signed to a long-term deal, which they did before free agency began, ending a three-year offseason odyssey. The rest of the goal was to find pieces on a defense that needs a ton of help. They largely did that, but without paying huge money. Basham has the largest salary-cap hit of any of their eight signings at $2.5 million. Neal can make the biggest impact because of the need in the secondary in a hybrid safety/linebacker role. If Kazee is healthy coming off a torn Achilles, the Cowboys have another player familiar with what defensive coordinator Dan Quinn wants and the proven ability to take the ball away (seven interceptions in 2018).
Biggest question to be answered: The Cowboys might have added quantity in free agency with eight signings, but have they added quality? They have chosen not to make a splashy signing, so will these additions tip the balance in the division or conference? None of them will take the Cowboys out of play for a specific position in the draft; however, cornerback and linebacker (just out of sheer numbers) are at the top of the list, while they will always need pass-rush help and bigger interior defensive linemen. With 10 draft picks, the Cowboys can either target specific players by moving up after the first round or they can stand pat and build their roster out with all of their selections. — Todd Archer
New York Giants
Marquee signings: Leonard Williams, DL; Kenny Golladay, WR; Adoree’ Jackson, CB
Offseason goals: The Giants needed to add a No. 1 wide receiver and/or edge rusher to support quarterback Daniel Jones. They came up short on edge rusher after Leonard Floyd chose to stay with the Rams. They pivoted to wide receiver, where they signed Golladay to a massive deal. Getting a cornerback the caliber of Jackson was a bonus. The Giants filled holes at WR1, CB2, backup quarterback and added depth at tight end. Not a bad free-agent haul.
Biggest question to be answered: Edge rusher remains a massive need for the Giants. The offensive line is also a huge question mark. Can the Giants protect Jones enough to reap the benefits of signing Golladay, tight and Kyle Rudolph and the rest of the returning cast? At least their free-agency haul gives them flexibility in the draft to potentially address the concern. If not with the No. 11 pick, then maybe in the first three rounds. — Jordan Raanan
Marquee signing: Anthony Harris, S
Offseason goals: The Eagles needed to fill out the quarterback room after trading Carson Wentz and took a step in that direction by signing Joe Flacco to a one-year deal. He provides a veteran presence for projected starter Jalen Hurts. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is expected to put a heavy emphasis on the secondary, which needed upgrades at multiple positions. By signing Harris (one year, $5 million), Gannon gets a proven playmaker who can line up at multiple spots. Harris played under Gannon in Minnesota. That should make for a smooth transition into his system.
Biggest question to be answered: Who will play cornerback opposite Darius Slay? The good news for the Eagles is there are a number of notable free-agent corners who remain unsigned, including A.J. Bouye, Steven Nelson and Casey Hayward. They should be able to find a quality player at a discount. They could also use the No. 12 overall pick on a cornerback such as South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn. Philadelphia needs to add a third quarterback. Florida’s Kyle Trask makes sense as a midround pick. — Tim McManus
Marquee signings: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB; William Jackson III, CB; Curtis Samuel, WR; Adam Humphries, WR
Offseason goals: Add a veteran starting quarterback and more speed at receiver. They filled the starting quarterback role with Fitzpatrick, giving them an experienced passer who perhaps is playing the best ball of his career. And they filled the desire for speed by signing the versatile Samuel. They also kept guard Brandon Scherff, but needed the franchise tag to do so. They had hoped to re-sign corner Ronald Darby, but after failing to do so, they landed arguably the best available corner in Jackson.
Biggest question to be answered: Who is the quarterback of the future? That person is not yet on the roster and there’s no doubt Washington will consider drafting one later this month; it doesn’t feel it must be addressed in Round 1. While Taylor Heinicke was a nice story for his one start, that’s hardly enough to launch him from being out of the league for two years into a prominent role for the future. They have a wait-and-see approach with him and Kyle Allen. But they’d like to add someone they view as having much more long-range potential who can also learn from Fitzpatrick. — John Keim
Marquee signings: Andy Dalton, QB; Desmond Trufant, CB; Damien Williams, RB
Offseason goals: Quarterback, quarterback and more quarterback. The Bears were under immense pressure to fix a quarterback situation that has been largely untenable for 70-plus years. After weeks of rumors about trading for Seattle’s Russell Wilson, the Bears settled on veteran Andy Dalton, much to the dismay of an already agitated fan base. The Bears doubled down even further by anointing Dalton their 2021 starter, but that doesn’t preclude Chicago from drafting a quarterback. With the 20th overall pick, the Bears will have to get creative if they want to land any of the top five quarterback prospects. But they have to do something. Going into next season with just Dalton and fellow veteran Nick Foles seems unlikely and unwise. Stay tuned.
Biggest question to be answered: Everything. What are the Bears exactly? Without a viable solution at quarterback, how can Chicago expect to overtake Green Bay in the NFC North? The defense is relatively strong, but losing cornerback Kyle Fuller (cap casualty) was an unfortunate turn of events. All of it, though, circles back to the offense. The Bears need dramatic improvement on that side of the ball. Keeping top receiver Allen Robinson (via the franchise tag) helps, and so does signing veteran running back Damien Williams, but the Bears have question marks at the other receiver spots and on the offensive line (right tackle) that must be answered. — Jeff Dickerson
Marquee signings: Romeo Okwara, DE; Tyrell Williams, WR; Breshad Perriman, WR; Jamaal Williams, RB; Charles Harris, EDGE; Randy Bullock, K; Alex Anzalone, LB
Offseason goals: The Lions are still in the market for linebackers, defensive backs, receivers and draft picks. Detroit did accomplish a few things in free agency, namely making Okwara a foundational piece for the next few years while having its two biggest acquisitions (defensive lineman Michael Brockers and quarterback Jared Goff) come by trade. Next up is where new general manager Brad Holmes theoretically shines best as a former college scouting director: the draft. He has pick No. 7 and a lot of needs to address as the team tries to rebuild following three straight losing seasons.
Biggest question to be answered: To pick one question is hard, because there are a multitude of issues on Detroit’s roster. That pass rush — the glaring issue for years under former general manager Bob Quinn — has been answered. In the short-term, what the linebacking corps looks like and who might be the receiver to build around in the future are the big questions for Detroit. The long-term question — whether Jared Goff is the answer at quarterback — won’t be answered for at least a year. — Michael Rothstein
Green Bay Packers
Marquee signings: Aaron Jones, RB; Marcedes Lewis, TE; Kevin King, CB
Offseason goals: Figure out how to get over the hump in an NFC title game after coming up one game short of the Super Bowl for the second straight year. GM Brian Gutekunst put it bluntly earlier this offseason: “The biggest thing is we have to get to the point where we play well in that championship game. We’ve had a couple games where we haven’t played up to our standard.” Gutekunst knew, given the tight salary cap, he wouldn’t be able to make many major additions in free agency (especially if he decided to re-sign Jones), so in a sense his statement was a challenge to the players and the coaches to get it done when it matters most.
Biggest question to be answered: What is quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ long-term future with the team? When the Packers didn’t rework Rodgers’ contract before they paid his $6.8 million roster bonus on March 19, it again begged the question: Are they planning to move on after this season? If not, then why not push some of Rodgers’ roster bonus into future cap years by turning it into a signing bonus? Perhaps they’re working on a bigger restructure or extension, but until that happens, it will be difficult to say for sure whether Rodgers has a future in Green Bay beyond the 2021 season. — Rob Demovsky
Marquee signings: Dalvin Tomlinson, DT; Patrick Peterson, CB; Mackensie Alexander, CB; Xavier Woods, S
Offseason goals: A year after ranking 29th in points and 27th in yards allowed, the Vikings went all-in on defense to shore up their biggest issues. Minnesota’s secondary went from an inexperienced unit without much depth to a defensive backfield that has flexibility and options at multiple positions with the additions of Peterson, Alexander (who was previously Minnesota’s starting nickel corner) and Woods, a promising young safety with upside. Coach Mike Zimmer addressed his team’s biggest weakness in order to get them back to the playoffs in 2021, believing that the offense (minus a couple of pieces here and there) will be able to stand pat if the defense can pull its weight.
Biggest question to be answered: How will the Vikings address the offense through the remainder of free agency and the draft? Minnesota struggled with its interior pass protection last season and won’t be able to fix those issues by relying on backup-caliber players to fill important roles. The Vikings need to draft a starting-caliber left tackle (or guard) unless they believe Rashod Hill and Mason Cole are capable of starting. Minnesota also needs to find a No. 3 wide receiver in the draft. Because the team went so heavy on defense in free agency, offense should be the priority in April. — Courtney Cronin
Marquee signings: Mike Davis, RB; Erik Harris, S; Brandon Copeland, LB; Barkevious Mingo, LB; Fabian Moreau, CB; Lee Smith, TE; Younghoe Koo, K
Offseason goals: The Falcons couldn’t really do much in free agency with a difficult cap situation and commitments to Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Grady Jarrett, among others, so one-year deals were likely going to be the answer. And to that effect, general manager Terry Fontenot accomplished that goal. This is going to be the start of a process in Atlanta, and it made sense for the Falcons to not make many long-term commitments as they try to figure things out.
Biggest question to be answered: Will the Falcons take a quarterback at No. 4? The trade maneuvering to see San Francisco get up to No. 3 suggests the Falcons will have the choice of the fourth quarterback off the board (would that be Justin Fields or Trey Lance?) or potentially the best non-quarterback available. How Fontenot handles that question could say a lot about the short- and-long-term futures of the franchise and should be what the Falcons’ front office and coaching staff weighs over the next month until draft day. — Michael Rothstein
Marquee signings: Haason Reddick, OLB-DE; Morgan Fox, DT-DE; Pat Elflein, OG-C; Cam Erving, OT; LB Denzel Perryman, MLB; Dan Arnold, TE
Offseason goals: To upgrade at quarterback after a disappointing 2020 from Teddy Bridgewater, rebuild the offensive line, find a pass-catching threat at tight end, improve the pass rush and find a shutdown corner. The offensive line has been rebuilt, although free-agent signings Erving and Elflein could be considered projects at left tackle and left guard. Franchising right tackle Taylor Moton and re-signing right guard John Miller were solid moves. Adding Haason Reddick (12.5 sacks in 2020 at Arizona) was huge for the pass rush. He frees defensive coordinator Phil Snow to be multidimensional with his schemes. Arnold is only a slight upgrade at tight end.
Biggest question to be answered: Upgrade at quarterback and add a starting corner. Carolina attempted to trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford but fell short. The options in the draft were reduced by San Francisco trading with Miami into the No. 3 spot, likely for a quarterback. With Trevor Lawrence going No. 1 to Jacksonville, that means the top three or four selections could be quarterback, so staying at No. 8 makes getting one of the top players sketchy. Signing journeyman cornerback Rashaan Melvin feels like a band-aid, and not a great one. — David Newton
New Orleans Saints
Marquee signings: Marcus Williams, S (franchise tag); Jameis Winston, QB; P.J. Williams, DB; Nick Vannett, TE; James Hurst, OL; Alex Armah, FB. Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE
Offseason goals: Unfortunately, the Saints’ No. 1 goal was to get under the salary cap. They shed more than $110 million in cap space while losing quarterback Drew Brees to retirement and releasing or trading a handful of second- and third-tier players. However, it’s notable the Saints decided to keep all of their elite talent instead of going into rebuilding mode. They didn’t trade any of their most expensive players, and they placed the franchise tag on Williams. They also re-signed Winston to compete with Taysom Hill for the most important job on the roster.
Biggest question to be answered: Quarterback is the obvious choice, since the Saints need to identify a starter for the first time in 15 years. They’re in decent shape with Winston and Hill as two intriguing candidates, and they probably don’t have enough collateral to acquire an obvious upgrade through a trade or the draft. But they’ll at least consider every option since the position is vital. The second-biggest question is whether they can replenish the depth they lost with guys like defensive end Trey Hendrickson, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and defensive tackles Malcom Brown and Sheldon Rankins. They have kicked the tires on some free-agent cornerbacks, but they have precious little cap space left. — Mike Triplett
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Marquee signings: Lavonte David, ILB; Shaq Barrett OLB; Rob Gronkowski, TE; Ndamukong Suh DL; Leonard Fournette RB; Ryan Succop, K; Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DL; Kevin Minter, ILB; Josh Wells, OT; Aaron Stinnie, OL
Offseason goals: Bucs general manager Jason Licht and coach Bruce Arians vowed to do everything they could to “keep the band together,” and they did: The Bucs return all 22 starters from their Super Bowl LV victory on offense and defense — the first time that’s been done in the salary cap era (since 1994), per the Elias Sports Bureau. They were able to accomplish this by extending quarterback Tom Brady and left tackle Donovan Smith, which together, freed up $29.65 million, in addition to more money created by using voidable years on all their contracts — something the Bucs haven’t used previously in director of football administration Mike Greenberg’s time handling contracts. So far, they’ve lost just two players to other teams: safety Andrew Adams and offensive lineman Joe Haeg.
Biggest question to be answered: Will Antonio Brown return? He’s the only key free agent who hasn’t re-signed. The Bucs are already paying two No. 1 wide receivers — a rarity in the NFL. Mike Evans will count $16.64 million against the salary cap in 2021 and Chris Godwin — who will play under the franchise tag — will count $15.98 million. The wide receiver market has been slow-moving. It’s also understandable other teams might be apprehensive to sign Brown. He’s on felony probation for assaulting a delivery driver a year ago, and he faces a civil suit for alleged sexual assault, with a trial that was moved from 2020 to 2021. The Bucs raved about Brown as a person and a teammate, but the money has to be right for both sides. — Jenna Laine
Marquee signings: J.J. Watt, DE; A.J. Green, WR; Malcolm Butler, CB; Matt Prater, K
Offseason goals: The Cardinals needed to strengthen their wide receiving corps and find a No. 1 cornerback, and they did both by signing Green and Butler. But the goal of the offseason was to get good enough to make the playoffs, which they were one win away from last year. Adding Green, Butler, Watt and Prater should be enough to put the Cardinals over that proverbial hump and get them to the postseason. The Cardinals’ offense was lackluster if not mired in mud the second half of the season, so Green should be a major boost. Adding Watt on the defense wasn’t a necessity like the other positions of need, but he gives the Cardinals as tough of a one-two punch off the edge as there is in the NFL. And Prater can be the veteran kicker who can be the difference between wins and losses, which could be the difference between the playoffs and staying home.
Biggest question to be answered: Why didn’t Arizona focus on younger free agents? The answer probably lies in the fact that the older free agents they signed were willing to take one-year deals for the cap-lowered 2021 season. But another question is whether the “name” free agents they signed — Watt, Green, Butler and Prater — are simply too old. They’re all in their 30s. And even though Arizona didn’t sign any of them for more than two years, the potential for their bodies to either start or continue to break down this season should be a major concern. — Josh Weinfuss
Los Angeles Rams
Marquee signings: Matthew Stafford, QB (trade); Leonard Floyd, OLB; DeSean Jackson, WR
Offseason goals: The Rams entered the offseason needing to reinvigorate an offense that declined in production the past two seasons, and needing to maintain a presence at edge rusher on the top-ranked defense of 2020. Both goals were accomplished. The Rams traded for Stafford, who is entering his 13th NFL season and brings a strong arm and savvy to the quarterback position, and signed Jackson to be a deep-threat receiver that the offense lacked in 2020. After producing a career-high 10.5 sacks last season, Floyd returns on a four-year deal and solidifies at least one side of the pass rush.
Biggest question to be answered: What is the solution at center? Austin Blythe remains an unrestricted free agent after playing center in 2020 and for seven games in 2019, leaving Brian Allen as the only center on the roster with experience. Allen started nine games in 2019 before he suffered a season-ending knee injury, and questions remain about his health moving forward. “The key that we don’t necessarily know with Brian is, how will he play, how will he play post-injury?” general manager Les Snead said earlier this month. “That was a pretty serious injury that [he] has gone through and he’s done a heck of a job rehabbing it.” Coleman Shelton also can play center but has no game experience at the position. — Lindsey Thiry
San Francisco 49ers
Marquee signings: Trent Williams, LT; Kyle Juszczyk, FB; Jason Verrett, CB; K’Waun Williams, CB; Alex Mack, C
Offseason goals: The 49ers’ primary emphasis going into free agency was on keeping their own key free agents and figuring out how they were going to reshape their quarterback room. They did both in resounding fashion. Keeping Trent Williams was the domino that allowed all of the others to fall, as the Niners benefited from the cap squeezing the middle class of free agents and retained many of their own. The Niners also made the franchise-altering trade up to No. 3 to land their quarterback of the future.
Biggest question to be answered: Which quarterback will the Niners target, and what will it mean for Jimmy Garoppolo? If BYU’s Zach Wilson somehow slips to No. 3, the Niners should be all over it, but if not, there’s a difficult choice to be made among Trey Lance, Mac Jones and Justin Fields. All three could probably use a year on the bench, and since the Niners believe they can contend in 2021, they could stick with Garoppolo for another year. Of course, the Niners’ loyalty to Garoppolo only runs as deep as the best offer they might get for him, which is why there are still no absolutes. These are decisions that will reverberate through the organization not just this season but for years to come. — Nick Wagoner
Marquee signings: Gerald Everett, TE; Gabe Jackson, G (trade); Ahkello Witherspoon, CB; Kerry Hyder, DE; Chris Carson, RB; Carlos Dunlap, DE; Benson Mayowa, DE; Poona Ford, DT; Ethan Pocic, C; Jordan Simmons, G; Cedric Ogbuehi, T; Nick Bellore, FB
Offseason goals: Quarterback Russell Wilson’s complaints about his pass protection put a spotlight on the Seahawks heading into free agency. Their trade for Jackson and their signing of Everett were moves they might have made even without public pressure from Wilson, but those additions helped ease some of the tensions between the organization and its frustrated quarterback. Jackson was a pricey addition, but general manager John Schneider got Dunlap and Carson back on reasonable deals by waiting out their markets. He also brought back Mayowa and added Hyder at team-friendly rates, giving the Seahawks three pass-rushers for around what Dunlap would have cost them had they kept him on his old contract. The Seahawks’ pass rush now looks loaded, at least on the edge. They’ll miss Jarran Reed in the middle after releasing him for needed cap room.
Biggest question to be answered: How will the Wilson situation play out? Wilson and the Seahawks seem to be in a better place than they were before the start of free agency. He liked some of their additions on offense and had a positive conversation with coach Pete Carroll. He worked to convince Carson to re-sign then publicly celebrated his return and several of Seattle’s other deals, giving the appearance of a player who is fully engaged. But that was not a situation that was going to be completely fixed by one or two offseason moves. And while Jackson will help the Seahawks’ pass protection, he’s not the only player they need to add to their offensive line. Expect them to continue looking for someone to compete at center with Pocic, whose $3 million deal suggests he’s not a lock to start. They also need a third receiver and a strong-side linebacker with K.J. Wright unsigned. — Brady Henderson
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