10 biggest stories to watch in the 2021 NFL offseason

Blockbuster trades! Salary cap crises! New coaches! Free agent wish lists! The 2021 NFL offseason is already upon us for fans of the 30 teams not named the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Kansas City Chiefs. That is why NFL Recap has one eye on Super Bowl LV and the other on the biggest developing news stories coming our way over the next sixth months of the NFL offseason.

From the fallout of the Matthew Stafford trade to the Los Angeles Rams, to Aaron Rodgers’ annual request to speak to the manager, to the turmoil that’s shaking up more than one organization, there will be much to talk about in the weeks and months ahead. NFL Recap is here to get those conversations started.

Blockbuster trade goes down before the 2021 NFL offseason is even officially underway

Matthew Stafford goes Hollywood

The Los Angeles Rams are reportedly trading Jared Goff and a king’s ransom in draft picks (including two first-rounders) to the Detroit Lions in the hopes that Matthew Stafford can lead them to the Super Bowl.

Er…did the Rams forget that Goff already led them to the Super Bowl? Or that Stafford couldn’t win a playoff game in 12 seasons with the Lions (even though he was surrounded by serious talent in some of his best years)?

Do the Rams realize that they are $31 million over the projected 2021 salary cap and shouldn’t be eating Goff’s prorated bonus of $22 million while simultaneously trying to keep their Super Bowl window open?

NFL Recap rates the Stafford trade as somewhere between “really risky” and “an unmitigated disaster” for the Rams. It’s practically a stimulus package for the new Lions’ brain trust.

Yet, Stafford joining forces with Sean McVay is just the first of what could be an entire NFL offseason of news and surprises involving veteran quarterbacks and unlikely suitors. And it will be enlightening to see how the Rams try to build around Stafford with no money or draft picks.

10 biggest new stories to watch during the 2021 NFL offseason

10. Bill Belichick Rebooted

Are the New England Patriots rebuilding? Does Bill Belichick have any more aces up his sleeve? His sleeves sure looked empty, and a little ratty, in 2020. Will the Patriots pursue another short-term veteran solution like Cam Newton at quarterback? Or will they try to move up and draft a rookie? Or, heck, do they bring back Jimmy Garoppolo?

What about all of the veterans who opted out in 2020? What about stalwart veterans like cornerback Jason McCourty and offensive linemen Joe Thuney and David Andrews who are 2021 free agents?

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Do the Patriots have a plan at all this NFL offseason? If they don’t, how rewarding will it be for the rest of the NFL to point and laugh at them as they collapse into a 3-13 (or 4-13, read on) heap of an empire of dirt?

The answer to that final question is very rewarding. Very rewarding, indeed.

9. The Rush on Veteran Pass Rushers

The 2021 free agency class will have a number of marquee veteran edge rushers. Shaquil Barrett, Melvin Ingram, Ryan Kerrigan, Bud Dupree, Leonard Floyd, and Yannick Ngakoue, to name a few, are just some of the names set to hit the open market.

Meanwhile, there are several playoff-caliber teams that really could be one impact pass rusher away from the Super Bowl — teams such as the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks, and Buffalo Bills.

With so many NFL teams in serious cap trouble entering 2021 and talented-yet-similar veterans on the market, some contender is likely to get a bargain on the edge.

Related | 2021 NFL Free Agents: Top available at each position

Remember how Belichick’s Patriots seemed to be able to sign a still-useful former superstar for peanuts each year? Mike Vrabel or Sean McDermott might be able to pull off the same stunt and come away with someone like Justin Houston or Olivier Vernon for close to the league minimum. The promise of a deep playoff run could do the trick.

8. The Rise of King Urban I

College-to-NFL coaching leaps rarely work out, but they are never boring. Urban Meyer’s first year as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars is certain to produce plenty of headlines, a little hope (especially once Trevor Lawrence is selected with the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft), and probably a fair share of behind-the-scenes drama as Meyer learns about life with a salary cap, a player’s union, and an owner who wants to flex his Jerry Jones muscles.

Bobby Petrino lasted one year with the Atlanta Falcons before returning to the comfy life of a college coaching emperor. Nick Saban lasted two years with the Miami Dolphins. Chip Kelly lasted three years before most of the Philadelphia Eagles’ organization wanted to give him an atomic wedgie.

No matter how long it takes, college coaches like Meyer generate so much friction that it inevitably leads to a divorce. Even, as in the case of Jimmy Johnson and the Dallas Cowboys, it comes after a pair of Super Bowls.

7. The Fall of the House of Brees

The New Orleans Saints enter the 2021 NFL offseason $121 million over the projected salary cap, per OverTheCap.com. To put that in perspective, the Indianapolis Colts’ active cap spending for 2021 is currently $119 million. The Saints are more than the amount of the entire Colts’ payroll over the salary cap!

Drew Brees is likely to retire, which won’t help. The Saints have been using Brees’ contract like a reverse mortgage for about half a decade. Now, they will eat $22 million in dead space upon his retirement.

So say goodbye to in-house free agents like edge rusher Trey Hendrickson and safety Marcus Williams. In addition, say goodbye to useful veterans with bloated cap numbers like tight end Jared Cook and cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

In fact, say goodbye to just about everyone but Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Cameron Jordan, and (of course) Taysom Hill. Unless Sean Payton can perform miracles, the Saints will be a shell of a team for the next few years.

6. 17-Game Schedule and the 4th and 15 Option

The NFL season will expand to 17 games next year. That’s not official news, but all the insiders agree that it’s gonna happen during the NFL offseason. It’s just a matter of squeezing every last nickel out of the television broadcast networks and other media rights holders before the change is official.

The announcement of the 17-game schedule will likely come between free agency and the draft (early April, probably). Then, listen for purists to claim that they hate the change for three days. Then, they will abandon that hill and gleefully place prop bets on their favorite teams to go 11-6 or better.

The NFL rules committee is also likely to once again discuss the possibility of replacing the onside kick with a 4th and 15 conversion attempt after a score. If the team converts, they retain possession. Otherwise, their opponent gets the ball back. It sounds great until referees call the first pass interference penalty of the game when one of Tom Brady’s receivers is looked at the wrong way by a defender on a 4th and 15 screen pass of an “onside kick.”

The rules committee will probably not eliminate the “fumble touchback” rule in the offseason. But they really, really, really, really should.

5. Keeping Carson Comfy

The Philadelphia Eagles’ organizational goal transitioned over the last two months or so. They went from trying to return to the Super Bowl to doing nothing else except soothing the bruised ego and rebuilding the fragile confidence of quarterback Carson Wentz.

Doug Pederson was fired in favor of Nick Sirianni, a blurry copy of Pederson (who was a blurry copy of Andy Reid) who will do the bidding of owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman. He might end up shouting incomprehensible gibberish if forced to think for himself.

That “bidding” centers upon justifying the Eagles’ $128 million in Wentz. Though Jalen Hurts showed promise at the end of the 2020 season, perhaps not as much promise as the quarterback controversy lovers might suggest. The franchise is so deep in salary cap doo-doo that they will have to shed veterans like tight end Zach Ertz this NFL offseason.

Look for the Eagles to be a reliable source of Hurts vs. Wentz, coaching staff vs. front office, sunk costs vs. cut losses, and Sirianni vs. the English language drama and intrigue throughout the offseason. Just don’t look for many wins once next year rolls around.

4. Wide Receiver Spending Spree!

Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay, Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Curtis Samuel. The 2021 free agent class is loaded with talented young wide receivers. Many of whom are likely to change teams due to the wide disparity between the salary cap haves and have-nots this offseason.

Even a team that sits out the Robinson-Godwin sweepstakes can potentially bargain hunt for someone with untapped potential like Corey Davis. Valuable role players like rugged-blocking Kendrick Bourne and slot speedster Isaiah McKenzie will also garner interest this NFL offseason.

Contenders in need of a jolt at wide receiver — the Baltimore Ravens and (ahem) Green Bay Packers — leap to mind. Teams could find just what they need on the free agent market. A team like the Jacksonville Jaguars or New York Jets with cap space to burn and (probably) rookie quarterbacks to develop could find something, too!

3. The QB Dilemma Club

With Stafford out of the picture, the charter members of the QB Dilemma Club — the Washington Football Team, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, and New England Patriots — now face even more of a dilemma.

All of these teams desperately need a quarterback. However, they are too far from the top of the draft board to select a rookie. And honorary QB Dilemma Club members like the San Francisco 49ers (wary of Garoppolo), Pittsburgh Steelers (wary of Ben Roethlisberger), and New Orleans Saints (wondering if this Taysom Hill thing is serious) will have their own set of questions.

With Stafford out of the equation, the QB Dilemma Club and NFL offseason will turn its attention to possible news surrounding Garoppolo trades, Newton rentals, unlikely Wentz blockbusters, Sam Darnold/Mitch Trubisky reclamation projects, attempts to move up in the draft, and perhaps even an attempt to rescue you-know-who from you-know-where (now you’ve probably guessed what number one is).

When the music stops, lots of familiar faces will be sitting in new chairs. It’s possible that one or two members of the QB Dilemma Club might actually be happy with the results.

2. The Aaron Rodgers Soap Opera

No, Aaron Rodgers is not leaving the Green Bay Packers. No, the Packers aren’t likely to trade Jordan Love, either. It would be nearly impossible for them to get a decent return on that investment.

All the latest saga is likely to produce is lots and lots of Rodgers’ passive-aggressive angry-spouse hints about his dissatisfaction with anything and everything. In response, there will be lots of talk radio speculation and “Five Entirely Plausible Rodgers Trade Scenarios” blog entries to keep us all busy in May and June.

Rodgers is who he is, the Packers are who they are, and this is what they do. News and chatter are highly likely to come out of Green Bay this NFL offseason. However, as long as the team remains one game away from the Super Bowl and Rodgers is earning $37 million per year or so, everyone will keep putting on a brave face and staying together for the sake of the children.

1. Houston Has a Problem

Here’s the exclusive NFL Recap percentage breakdown of how the Deshaun Watson/Houston Texans cold war will be resolved:

  • Miami Dolphins’ Trade: 10% chance.
  • New York Jets’ Trade: 10% chance.
  • New England Patriots’ Trade (which turns out to be an absolute swindle because Belichick is 20 times smarter than former co-workers Jack Easterby and Nick Caserio combined): 10% chance.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars’ Trade (sorry, Trevor Lawrence): 7% chance.
  • Trade to any other team: 3% chance.
  • Texans’ leadership solves the problem by making an honest effort to communicate with Watson: 0.01% chance.
  • Watson just sucks it up, holds his nose, and plays for the Texans because the money is good: 10% chance.
  • Bitter, ugly holdout/”retirement” that eats up the first half of the season like what Carson Palmer did to escape the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011: 49.99% chance.

In other words, buckle up for a long NFL offseason (and possibly in-season) of news on the Watson/Easterby Texans’ front. An organization dumb and stubborn enough to create this problem will also be too dumb and stubborn to find a reasonable solution.

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