We’re fast approaching the dead period on the NFL calendar. Free agency and the draft are in the rearview mirror. Clubs are in the midst of OTAs and have minicamp on the horizon before taking the summer break prior to the return for training camp. With that in mind, things — in theory — are set to be quiet across the league in short order. While not much action may be occurring, don’t mistake that for teams being content with what they have. I’d argue that there’s at least one thing each GM hopes to have resolved before the 2021 season officially kicks off. That brings us to our conversation today.
Below, we’re going to take a snapshot of every team in the league and highlight one of the major priorities they need to focus on. That could be mean a number of things — sorting out a player who wants to be traded, adding to the roster, pursuing extensions, and the list goes on. Whatever the need may be, we’ll highlight and briefly discuss. Let’s get to it.
Will Larry Fitzgerald’s presence be the difference between the Cardinals making a playoff run or not? That seems unlikely at this point in his career, but we are talking about the greatest player to ever put on a Cardinals uniform still having his future hanging in the balance. It’s unclear as to which way things will turn with Fitzgerald as he could elect to come back to Arizona for a send-off season, sign on with a Super Bowl contender to go after a ring, or simply retire from the game. It’s anyone’s guess as to which way this thing turns out. Cardinals GM Steve Keim has said the club will welcome Fitzgerald back with open arms if that’s his desire and the team should look for an answer sooner rather than later. Not only would they want to know Fitzgerald’s plan for their own housekeeping for the 2021 season (and possibly pursue another veteran receiver) but to ensure they give him the proper goodbye if that’s the route he takes.
Craving even more NFL coverage focusing on previews, recaps, news and analysis? Listen below and follow the Pick Six podcast for a daily dose of everything you need to follow pro football.
There are going to be a couple of scenarios on this list that are pretty obvious and the situation surrounding Julio Jones and his future with the Atlanta Falcons kicks off those “uh, ya think?” priorities. Jones has bluntly decreed that he’s played his last down for the Falcons and the club has been fielding calls in an attempt to trade the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver, but no deal has come to the forefront just yet. While first-year Falcons GM Terry Fontenot will push to get the biggest haul he can for Jones, it is also important to get this thing squared up as soon as possible. Not only is Fontenot new to the organization, but so is first-year head coach Arthur Smith. If you’re trying to establish a culture, having a player as monumental to the franchise as Jones is serving as a distraction could hurt that process. Completing a trade prior to training camp should be a priority for all parties involved.
The former league MVP is eligible for an extension for the first time in his career this offseason and the Ravens should be doing everything they can to lock the dynamic quarterback down for the long term. Baltimore did exercise Jackson’s fifth-year option so he is under contract through the 2022 season, but an extension eliminates any potential bad blood forming over the next year or so. Jackson recently stated that he’d love to be in Baltimore forever and also noted that he and GM Eric DeCosta have spoken about an extension, so things appear to be on a positive track. Of course, this will likely be one of the biggest contracts in NFL history so it’s no small task to hammer out, but it should be something that the Ravens put an emphasis on getting done before the 2021 season.
Same rules apply for Josh Allen as they do for Jackson above. The Bills quarterback is also eligible for an extension and Buffalo should be running to the negotiating table to get him locked in. Allen took a major leap in his third season in the league in 2020 and is now a bonafide MVP-caliber quarterback who had the club on the brink of a Super Bowl appearance. Similar to Jackson, Allen also stated his desire to stay with his team, saying earlier this offseason that he’d like to be “locked down in Buffalo for a very long time.” Bills GM Brandon Beane also would like to have Allen in the fold for the foreseeable future, but this is another contract that has the potential to be market-setting. Whenever you’re that high in the tax bracket, it’s that much more difficult to execute.
The Panthers are putting their faith in Sam Darnold — who they acquired in a trade with the New York Jets — heading into the 2021 season. Instead of pursuing a quarterback within the top 10 of the draft, they decided Darnold was the best option available and now they’ll need to ensure that he’s prepared enough to prove them right on that call. From now until Week 1, the emphasis for Matt Rhule and Joe Brady is to mold Darnold into the leading expert in their offense enough that he can run it in his sleep. If he can make strides getting to that point, Darnold has a chance to have a nice second act with the Panthers and finally live up to his No. 3 overall pick status.
I originally was going to talk about Justin Fields here and argue that the Bears should do everything they can to put him on a track to start as soon as possible, but then I pivoted to Robinson. While I still feel that way about Fields, I wanted to give the receiver some love. Earlier this offseason, he was looking at being arguably the top free-agent receiver on the market and marked for a massive contract. However, Chicago placed the franchise tag on Robinson, ensuring he’ll be around for the 2021 season and halting his trip to the open market. With Fields now in the fold and a promising future under center, Chicago should look to lock Robinson in with an extension prior to the July 15 deadline to do so. He’s the perfect pass-catcher to help the young quarterback develop and is extremely well-deserving of the massive payday.
Joe Burrow has been participating in OTAs and looks well on his way to being ready to go for Week 1 after tearing his ACL last season. That’s fantastic. While the Bengals were able to reunite him with his go-to pass-catcher at LSU in Ja’Marr Chase, the offensive line is still an issue. So not only does Cincy need to continue Burrow’s path to full recovery, but they should also continue to look for upgrades along the O-line to ensure that he stays healthy once the season gets rolling.
By all accounts, Cleveland had a fantastic offseason from top to bottom. They addressed a wide array of needs and were able to make a number of savvy additions to a roster that should be a serious contender in the AFC this year. While they were able to sign Jadeveon Clowney to a deal to pair opposite of Myles Garrett, they should still be on the lookout for pass-rushing depth. Clowney has dealt with injuries and the past so it’d be smart for the Browns to be proactive and create some insurance on top of Takkarist McKinley.
Dallas Cowboys: Veteran quarterback to back up Dak
You could probably go in a couple of different directions here when specifically asking what the priority should be for Dallas, but finding a solid veteran backup quarterback may be one of the sneaky needs on this club. Yes, Dak Prescott looks like he’s set to suit up for Week 1 after that devastating ankle injury last season, but if the Cowboys want to have insurance in the event that he gets injured again, I wouldn’t hate it. After all, Andy Dalton was able to keep things somewhat afloat in 2020 and was likely better than what Cooper Rush or Ben DiNucci could’ve provided. If a veteran shakes loose during final roster cuts, that’s something worth exploring.
Denver Broncos: Solidify the quarterback position
Nobody has any clue what is going to happen with Aaron Rodgers, but no matter if it’s pulling off a blockbuster for him or figuring it out with the guys they have, the Broncos need to solidify who’ll be QB1 in 2021. Rodgers is obviously the top option, but Denver can’t sit by and just wait for something that might never actually occur. In the meantime, Vic Fangio and company need to dive in on the competition between Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock and determine which out of those two is their best option heading into the regular season.
Detroit Lions: Add another skill position player
It’s a new era in Detroit as the coaching staff saw an overhaul. Jared Goff is the new quarterback after Matthew Stafford was traded to Goff’s former team in the Los Angeles Rams. While the Lions are likely still building toward what they hope are more fruitful seasons down the line, they’ll still look to compete in 2021, and giving Goff another weapon to work with would be a welcome sight. The team does have Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams as the top two receiver options, but neither is striking a ton of fear into opposing secondaries. They also have T.J. Hockenson at tight end and a stable of backs that includes D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, but adding one more dynamic piece may do this unit a world of good. While I would lean more toward a receiver, the team has shown interest in free-agent running back Todd Gurley.
Maybe the most obvious priority on this list: The Packers need to figure out a resolution to this saga surrounding Aaron Rodgers. The reigning NFL MVP seems pretty dug in that he wants out of Green Bay. The club did draft Jordan Love in the first round in 2020, but it doesn’t seem like their top option is to just let Rodgers exit and ride with the kid. They want Rodgers back, but he doesn’t want to return. Something needs to give.
If you say that you know what will happen with Deshaun Watson, you’re a liar. Not only is the Texans quarterback still dealing with significant off-the-field issues, but he still wants to be traded out of Houston even as that unfolds. Not matter how Watson’s situation plays out, Houston would be kidding itself if it is planning for him to be a member of the 2021 squad. With that in mind, the Texans need to act as if Watson is already gone and that means putting Tyrod Taylor in a position to prepare as the Week 1 starter. If Watson is cleared from his sexual assault lawsuits and has a change of heart on the Texans organization, that’s the best-case scenario for the franchise. It also appears like the least likely scenario to occur, so it’d be unwise to prepare as if he’ll be back.
The Colts were in the bottom half of the league in our triplets rankings that compare each team’s top offensive weapons — quarterback, running back, pass-catcher — against the rest of the league. Part of the reason they are so low is that they don’t have that true No. 1 receiver option. T.Y. Hilton has been that in the past but has dwindled in recent years. This would be an ideal landing spot for the likes of Julio Jones and would make the Colts arguably the favorite over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South.
Sorry, Tim Tebow, but I do think the Jaguars would be wise to bring in another tight end at some point prior to the season. One name that could be on the move is Zach Ertz in Philadelphia. He’s been the subject of trade rumors for quite some time and he could be a solid possession tight end that Trevor Lawrence can lean on during his rookie season. Ertz would by far bring the highest upside to a Jacksonville position group that is currently pretty bare.
While the Chiefs offense that consists of Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce captures most of the headlines, Tyrann Mathieu has grown into the main face of the Kansas City defense during their ascension into an NFL powerhouse. The safety is now heading into the final year of his contract and it’ll be interesting to see how the Chiefs play this. Will Mathieu simply play out the final year of his contract and possibly face free agency or will the two sides come to terms on a deal prior to the season? If I’m Chiefs GM Brett Veach, I try to lock in this key defensive piece.
While the Denver Broncos have been the team most linked to Aaron Rodgers throughout this firestorm in Green Bay, let’s not sleep on the Raiders. Las Vegas was reportedly on Rodgers’ list of preferred teams as rumors of his pending divorce with the Packers was going public on draft day. If I’m Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden, I’m keeping the phone lines wide open in the event that Rodgers becomes available and they have an opportunity to outbid their division rival in Denver.
This one is pretty straightforward but necessary. The Chargers needed to build a stronger offensive line in front of Justin Herbert, who was walloped at times throughout his impressive rookie season. Fortunately for Los Angeles, it was able to do just that by upgrading the unit in a major way this offseason. The Chargers signed center Corey Linsley along with guards Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi to deals around the start of free agency and took left tackle Rashawn Slater in the first round of the 2021 draft. That’s a job well done. Now, they’ll need to spend the next few months building up a rapport and fixing any miscues before the season begins.
Los Angeles Rams: Continue to look to upgrade 2021 roster
While the Julio Jones-to-Los Angeles dream didn’t last long, I didn’t hate the approach. The Rams are not playing for the future. They cashed in a ton of their future first-rounders so they can contend in the here and now. Why not continue to look for ways to improve upon this roster so they have the best possible shot at hoisting the Lombardi trophy over the next few seasons? After all, Matthew Stafford is only signed through 2022 so this window could be pretty tight for Sean McVay and company, which is why they should leave no stone unturned on potential stars to help get them over the hump.
Miami Dolphins: Help Tua build for a big Year 2
Noting too flashy here for Miami. All Brian Flores and the rest of the Dolphins coaching staff need to focus on this summer is putting Tua Tagovailoa in the best possible position to succeed as he steps into the second year of his career. From a roster-building standpoint, the club did give him a couple of deep threats in Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle, which should help tremendously. The former first-round pick also seems to have changed his mechanics a bit, according to one of his receivers. These are the types of buttons the Dolphins should be pushing in hopes that Tagovailoa can take a big jump in Year 2.
Minnesota Vikings: Look to add depth at key positions
While tight end Irv Smith may take on a bigger role in the pass-catching game, the Vikings still could use a No. 3 receiver to join Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. There are a couple of veterans still available on the free-agent market to fill that role like Golden Tate or Danny Amendola. Both would be fine additions in that spot. Meanwhile, the pass-rushing unit could also use some sorting out opposite of Danielle Hunter, who is returning from a season-ending neck injury. Do they roll with the combination of guys they currently have on the roster or do they make a Yannick Ngakoue-type splash late in the summer like they did a year ago? Solidifying those spots should be a point of emphasis.
You could argue that New England’s priority should be to add a true No. 1 receiver like Julio Jones. While I would tend to agree that Bill Belichick could use a talent like that, progressing Mac Jones through the offense is of greater importance. He’s the clear future under center for the Patriots and the sooner he is able to grasp the offense, the quicker he can get on the field. While this offense is much improved from a season ago, if Cam Newton’s passing deficiencies bleed into 2021, Jones may have to come in earlier than expected. It’s best that he has a full working knowledge of the offense if/when that occurs.
With Drew Brees now retired, the Saints will be looking for a new starting quarterback. As things stand currently, the next QB1 will be a familiar face of either Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston, who’ll compete over the summer for the job. This likely won’t be determined until well into training camp, but it’s the biggest question currently looming over New Orleans.
The Giants apparently feel comfortable rolling out essentially the same offensive line from a season ago that ranked as the second-worst unit in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. They didn’t take a single lineman at the draft and will look to largely keep the band together. That said, they will be getting back Nate Solder after he opted out of 2020, but he’s hardly the player he was during his prime years with New England. Joe Judge and the rest of the staff will need to coach this unit up in a major way to prevent Daniel Jones needing to run for his life in 2021.
New York Jets: Don’t ask too much of Zach Wilson
This isn’t really a priority but an overall philosophy that the Jets should take on. This new regime should heed the lesson the prior administration learned the hard way with Sam Darnold over the last few years and not waste the talents of their first-round quarterback in Zach Wilson. The No. 2 overall pick is oozing with talent and it’s certainly an exciting time for the franchise, but he won’t be able to rebuild the Meadowlands in a day. It’ll likely take Wilson time to get his feet wet in the league and the Jets should bring their new franchise quarterback along slowly.
The Eagles have two tight end situations floating above them at the moment. Zach Ertz has been the subject of trade rumors and a deal could be likely now that we’re past June 1. Meanwhile, Philadelphia is also discussing a contract extension with fellow tight end Dallas Goedert, who is heading into the final year of his rookie deal. Both situations should be sorted out before the regular season begins to avoid any distractions, but the Ertz trade may be the more pressing of the two.
This could very well be it for Ben Roethlisberger as he enters what could be his final season in the NFL. The 39-year-old has noticeably worn down in recent years, which is why it may be smart to limit how much work he gets throughout the summer. The Steelers need to find the balance of getting Roethlisberger the proper amount of reps that he’s ready to go once the season begins, but not so many that it contributes to him falling over later in the season. By doing that, this could also be a beneficial time to see if Dwayne Haskins can flash his first-round potential and possibly be an option for the post-Roethlisberger era as early as 2022.
All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is in a position to receive what is poised to be a market-setting extension with the 49ers. Not only should San Francisco look to get this extension done to keep Warner in the Bay Area for the long haul, but it’d also be smart to get it done before the Colts reach an extension with their star linebacker in Darius Leonard that could potentially raise the price on Warner.
At one point this offseason, it felt like Russell Wilson played his last down for the Seattle Seahawks. However, things have seemingly done a complete 180 and the two sides have been able to work out their disputes. The Seahawks added to the offensive line, which apparently helped them back into Wilson’s good graces. The only priority for Seattle now is to keep the positive momentum with their star quarterback going to avoid possible trade talks from firing back up.
Repeating as Super Bowl champions may be the hardest thing to do in the NFL. There have been so many great teams in recent years that had the talent to go back-to-back, but just couldn’t muster a consecutive Lombardi, leaving the 2003-04 Patriots as the last team to do it. For the Buccaneers to climb the mountain top once again, they’ll need to erase that championship-winning season from their memory, which is something Bruce Arians should hammer into his club on Day 1 of training camp.
Tennessee Titans: Add another pass-catching weapon
Julio Jones may be too rich for Tennessee’s blood, but the team could use another receiver to help absorb the 92 targets that are on the table after Corey Davis departed for the Jets in free agency. If Jones is truly unattainable, other options include trading for Anthony Miller in Chicago or looking at a veteran free agent like Golden Tate.
Washington Football Team: What’s the plan at QB?
Washington has all the makings of a contender outside of the most important position in the NFL: quarterback. Yes, the offensive line is sort of in a state of flux, but generally speaking, this team is right there when you look at the skill position players and a front seven that is littered with first-rounders. However, Ryan Fitzpatrick — who signed a one-year deal with the team this offseason — being the quarterback lowers Washington’s ceiling, despite him being a strong stopgap guy. Ron Rivera’s club needs to figure out a concrete plan as to how they’ll address the future of that position so that they can get into legit contention. Similar to other quarterback-needy teams in the league, Washington should be monitoring Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and whatever other star signal-callers may become available. Of course, this is more of a big-picture priority, but it’s the piece separating this club from consistent playoff appearances.