With the 2020 NFL season officially closed, all 32 teams are now taking stock of where they stand. Many will be looking to free up cap space and figure out how to overcome the struggles of a greatly reduced salary cap they will be looking at moving into the new league year of 2021. A few teams are entering panic mode on how they will overcome $30, $40, even $65 million dollars of negative cap space. A select few teams who had inadvertently properly planned ahead are chomping at the bit to dive into a free agency period that promises to be stocked with top players and few teams able to make the deals needed to sign them. Today, we take a look at what the entire NFL can expect moving forward into a year of questions, hopefully some answers, and above all, how they can improve the rosters to remain competitive for the 2021 NFL season.
A division near and dear to my heart, the AFC East could very soon end up being the most competitive division in the NFL. Buffalo is no joke. They will figure out the missing pieces and keep rolling behind that cannon Josh Allen has. Miami came out of nowhere in 2020 as well finishing 10-6. With some in house issues at QB, pulling Tua in high pressure situations, they either need to back the kid, or have him sit. They aren’t doing Tua any favors using Fitz as a safety net. New England had a rough go, but they won’t be down long. Last but not least, the New York Jets are set for a big rebound. Joe Douglas is a legit GM. Saleh has compiled a quality coaching and coordinator staff, and with the 3rd most cap space in the league (currently $75.5M) going into the uncertainty of 2021, the Jets are set to make a big splash in free agency to set up their draft.
The NFC East had one of the worst collective seasons I have ever seen. When the winner of a division is sub .500, you know things are rough. Washington and Dallas are looking ok cap wise, the Giants are walking a tightrope sitting at $8M of available cap space, and Philly, wow Philly is going to have a rough go. Sirianni looked absolutely lost in his press conference.. Not Adam Gase crazy eyes lost, but the struggle bus has arrived at Lincoln Financial Field.
In the AFC West, we have the Chiefs sitting negative $18M and the Raiders negative $10M in cap space. Denver and the LA Chargers are doing well in the cap with $39M and $34M in cap space respectively. Look for the Chiefs to negotiate some contracts to help their situation and make a few cuts here and there. The players over in KC will want to make another run so I see
them as more willing to do what they can to keep the team together, within reason anyway. Vegas has some questions to answer. I think they will be trying to make a QB move this offseason. I don’t think Carr is the long term answer in Las Vegas. Since they don’t have the cap space to make a free agent move at QB, I could see the Raiders looking into someone like Kyle Trask or Mac Jones with the 17th pick. The division, overall, isn’t in too bad a position heading into the 2021 season.
The NFC West very well could be one of the toughest divisions in football. I see the LA Rams taking over the top spot however. Mainly because of the questions circling the Niners and the Seahawks at the QB position. Russell Wilson coming out hot with reports of his displeasure with how Seattle has protected him over the years, and he is completely valid in that line of thinking. He has been sacked 201 times in the last 4 years. San Francisco is reportedly
shopping Jimmy Garoppolo even making calls to the New York Jets for Sam Darnold. LA is now set with Stafford and Arizona has Kyler Murray with Deandre Hopkins so we could see a changing of the guard in the NFC West very soon.
The AFC North is going to remain a tough division. The Steelers are the only team here negative in cap space, but they aren’t so far gone that they would need to gut the roster. A couple shifts in the roster will get the job done. Baltimore will likely be the same Baltimore they have been for the last 2 years. I see a bit of a decline though as they are essentially a run only team. I also would bet money that Marquise Brown will continue to become frustrated being a wide receiver on a running team. The Browns? Who knows about the Browns. Every time they show life, they trip over something and take a couple steps back. We will see what happens with them. I see the Bengals making a jump in the right direction as they will presumably be spending a good amount of their cap space on O line help as well as drafting Penei Sewell to lock down the left side of their line. Burrow should be just fine after his injury, but they have to spend the money and protect the kid.
The NFC North is a question mark. Chicago has questions to answer at not only QB, but wide receiver as well. I don’t believe Allen Robinson will be in Chicago in 2021. I think he has had enough of the Windy City. Minnesota is looking strong in the wide receiver department with Justin Jefferson making a huge statement in 2020, but what will happen with Cousins? The Vikings need to clear out about $5M of negative space and also probably another $8M to sign their draft class. If they don’t feel Cousins is the right man to lead the team in 2021, they can eat the $20M left on his signing bonus and deal him and that would still cover their cap needs. It will be interesting to see the direction they take. Detroit getting Jared Goff is a positive, but they let Stafford go so we have yet to see if this will be a net positive for the Lions moving forward. It is a big question in the Motor City though. They are a bit negative in cap space so there will be some more cuts taking place. They will need to be very smart in the draft to compensate. The Packers need to clear out about $28M to get back into the black with the cap and have enough to sign the draft class. Since they won’t be able to make any free agent moves, they are another team that will need to be smart in the draft. Would it be too much to ask the Pack to draft a weapon for Rodgers in round one for a change?
In the AFC South, the Colts are sitting pretty in cap space with more than $78M to spend, and really, they don’t need to spend all that much. They are on the cusp of being a real contender for the Super Bowl. They have been looking into QB obviously with Rivers retiring, making calls to the Jets for Darnold and the Eagles for Wentz. Rumor has it they are close to a deal for Wentz, but we will have to wait and see for that answer. They add a few pieces on the D and get another weapon for whoever ends up under center and they could be the real deal. The Titans need something to compliment Derrick Henry. The man can’t do it all on his own. They better make the right moves in the draft because they are sitting on about a million dollars in cap space so they will need to make a few roster cuts to sign their incoming class. Forget free agency this year Tennessee. The Texans and Jags, those two teams are in contention for one thing.. The worst franchise in the NFL. In Jacksonville, you have an owner in Sahid Khan who is Al Davis reincarnate, claiming total control of the organization from the roster to the front office.
Urban Meyer may take issue with that sooner rather than later. They have the potential to really turn the franchise around, but it won’t happen if Khan doesn’t let his football people make the football decisions. This is an NFL franchise. Not a car parts manufacturer. Let the football people do their jobs Khan. Houston is holding true to their apparent business model of letting their talent leave the franchise for peanuts or in the case of newly released defensive End JJ Watt absolutely nothing in return. This franchise is on a collision course for disaster for the foreseeable future and it isn’t helping that Jack Easterby, pastor turned apparent football guru according to Houston CEO Cal McNair. The AFC South will show us the greatest separation from the top teams to the bottom in the division.
Last but not least, we have the NFC South. Reigning Super Bowl champ Buccaneers looking to repeat in 2021, and they have a legitimate shot to do so. That defense is stout and with $27M in cap space, they do have some decisions to make with players like Chris Godwin and Shaq Barrett coming due for new contracts. The decision makers in Tampa seem to have their heads on right so I have no doubt they will be contenders again next season. New Orleans is in trouble. Sitting $65M in the red for cap space, they will have to cannibalize several positions to clean up that mess. The Saints is a team you will see a lot of top talent being let go or traded. Brees retiring helps the money situation, but there is still a lot of work to do. The Panthers have a solid coaching staff in place and with a few additions, QB mainly, as with a lot of other teams, they could make a run at the division, but that is a massive uphill battle with Brady and the Bucs standing in the way. Atlanta is in a rebuild and has some work to do as well. 2021 will be another rough year for Falcons fans. New coaching staff and serious cap questions to answer, I feel for them.
Well football fans, there we have our look into what the 2020 year left us with and what we have to look forward to. This will be an interesting year and it will be nice to possibly see a shakeup throughout the league. It will be nice to potentially see some franchises turn themselves around and regain some competitiveness. I am very excited already and the countdown to the 2021 season begins now! Only 208 more days until the start of the 102nd season of NFL football!
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