With Super Bowl LV in the rearview, the 2021 NFL offseason is here, albeit an odd one. Amid the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic, much — if not all — of the offseason will be virtual.
While the annual scouting combine is essentially scrapped this year, the NFL draft will go on as planned at the end of April. And even before that, teams will navigate the salary cap in this year’s mid-March free agency. Numerous teams could have new quarterbacks by next season, too. It promises to be a busy few months, and anything can happen. Expect the unexpected as all 32 NFL teams gear up for the 2021 season.
With that in mind, let’s think outside the box a little bit. We asked our NFL Nation reporters to give us one big and bold prediction for the 2021 offseason. Nothing is off-limits, but keep in mind that these are adventurous suggestions of what might happen, rather than obvious or even highly probable outcomes. Our reporters imagined everything from a big Alabama reunion in Miami to the signing of an elite receiver by one AFC South team to an NFC East team adding a pass-rusher who tormented it this season to numerous QB movers and shakers. Let’s jump in.
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LAC | LAR | LV | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH
The Bills will not re-sign Matt Milano.
The outside linebacker hits free agency this offseason and is Buffalo’s third home run from its 2017 class along with Tre’Davious White and Dion Dawkins — both of whom already have received contract extensions. The Bills can’t afford Milano, however, without shedding enough salary to make room for his projected $13.8 million-a-year salary. With a declining salary cap in 2021, Milano will be the first major homegrown player to leave Buffalo under Brandon Beane. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
The Dolphins reunite an Alabama trio, drafting DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris to pair with Tua Tagovailoa.
Roll Fins? The Dolphins spent the 2020 offseason building the trenches and finding their QB, and we’re betting on Miami going all-in on Tagovailoa while surrounding him with two of the best offensive weapons in the draft. Miami currently has the No. 3 and No. 18 picks — perfect landing spots for Smith and Harris, respectively, and maybe the Dolphins even trade back a few spots to nab them — but it gives Tagovailoa a pair of much-needed explosive playmakers in two guys he had great chemistry and relationships with at Alabama. — Cameron Wolfe
Jimmy Garoppolo will be the Patriots’ quarterback in 2021.
This banks on the 49ers being willing to part with Garoppolo, a combination of his $25 million salary and injury history leading them to consider potential upgrades in an offseason when the QB shuffle across the NFL could be intriguing. If they do, it makes sense to think the Patriots would be at the front of the line to bring Garoppolo, who was the original succession plan to Tom Brady, back to New England. — Mike Reiss
The Jets will trade QB Sam Darnold to the 49ers for second- and third-round picks.
Looking for a veteran placeholder, the Jets will sign 49ers UFA C.J. Beathard, who played under new Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco. Capping the quarterback makeover, the Jets will select BYU’s Zach Wilson with the second overall pick. — Rich Cimini
The Ravens will sign Joe Thuney, one of the top guards in free agency.
The bigger splash would be landing wide receiver Allen Robinson II. But the bigger priority is bolstering the offensive line, based on what coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta said this offseason. Thuney, who played in New England last year under the franchise tag, has been among the most underrated interior linemen in the league. With his durability, grit and high character, Thuney would help fill the void of retired Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, which Baltimore never really did last year. He’s also an elite technician, allowing three sacks in the past three seasons. This will go a long way in improving the pass protection for Lamar Jackson. — Jamison Hensley
Cornerback William Jackson III will get a massive contract — and defensive end Carl Lawson walks.
Lawson stayed healthy in 2020 and showed how disruptive he can be. However, he will be a free agent this offseason and could be in line for a big contract from a team that will allow him to put up big numbers. That leaves more money for Jackson, a 2016 first-round pick who played well last season. Cincinnati has yet to see how the defense looks with Jackson and Trae Waynes as the starting corners. — Ben Baby
The Browns will extend quarterback Baker Mayfield, making him one of the NFL’s highest-paid players.
Coming into last season, Mayfield had plenty of doubters following a rough second season. But after guiding the Browns to their first playoff win in 26 years, while throwing 20 TDs with only 3 INTs after Week 6, Mayfield showed he’s the franchise QB whom Cleveland has longed for these past two decades. As a result, the Browns will make sure he remains in Cleveland for the foreseeable future. — Jake Trotter
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey will be back in 2021.
This seemed unlikely as the two sat together and cried on the bench after the wild-card loss, but with Roethlisberger appearing to lean toward returning for the final year of his contract, it’s not out of the question that Pouncey ultimately decides to return for one more year. The two have long vowed to play as long as the other, and Roethlisberger would feel more comfortable coming back for a final season with Pouncey rather than breaking in a new center. — Brooke Pryor
The Texans will not trade quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Just a few months ago, this wouldn’t have even counted as a prediction, but things have taken a turn for the worse this offseason in Houston. Given how quickly the relationship between Watson and the team soured, it seems like this mini soap opera would eventually end in a trade. But the Texans want Watson to be their quarterback, and instead of trading him this offseason if he refuses to report, this could also end with Watson sitting out the season if the relationship isn’t repaired. — Sarah Barshop
Steve Young and Booger McFarland analyze why the Texans insist Deshaun Watson won’t be traded.
The Colts will trade up from the No. 21 spot to select their quarterback of the future.
This is if they don’t land Philly’s Carson Wentz or the Jets’ Sam Darnold via trade. The Colts can’t continue to take the one-year Band-Aid approach at the quarterback position and hope it’ll help get them further in the playoffs while core players such as Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson continue to get older. — Mike Wells
The Jaguars will sign wide receiver Chris Godwin in free agency.
The Jaguars have the most money available (approximately $74 million) and they’ll spend a good chunk of it adding another weapon for whichever QB they choose first overall. Godwin becomes the No. 1 in a group that includes DJ Chark Jr., Laviska Shenault Jr. and Collin Johnson. — Michael DiRocco
The Titans will add a total of four edge rushers through free agency and the draft.
General manager Jon Robinson is well aware of the Titans’ void at pass-rusher after the team finished with 19 sacks (30th in the NFL). Tennessee had only three outside linebackers active on game day for most of the season. The Titans will sign a mid-upper-level free-agent pass-rusher along with a bargain player and select two pass-rushers from this year’s deep draft class. — Turron Davenport
The Broncos will re-sign safety Justin Simmons.
He represents everything they say they want to do. At some point, if a franchise continues to tell the players in the locker room they will be rewarded if they play great, are quality ambassadors in the community and are frontline leaders in the building, then the team actually has to show it with the checkbook. Simmons is the player who gets everybody’s attention inside the building; if the Broncos don’t re-sign him then many will wonder what, exactly, can they do to be part of the team long-term if Simmons can’t. — Jeff Legwold
The Chiefs will find a way to re-sign wide receiver Sammy Watkins despite a tight salary-cap situation.
The Chiefs fought hard to get Watkins in 2018, when they signed him as a free agent, and fought hard to keep him last year on a restructured contract. Watkins is still only 27 and the Chiefs haven’t made it a habit to move on from key players when they’re at such a young age. — Adam Teicher
Derek Carr will not only remain a Raider, he will sign an extension with Las Vegas.
You wanted bold, right? Yeah, a theory has surfaced that Carr will be a “hot commodity” in the upcoming quarterback carousel, so desired he could command two first-round picks in trade. If that’s the case, what are the Raiders waiting for? It’s Carr Speculation Season and it will end, again, with the franchise’s all-time passing leader staying put with the team that made him a second-round draft pick in 2014 and signed him to that five-year, $125 million extension in 2017. — Paul Gutierrez
The Chargers will draft a new left tackle to make sure Justin Herbert is well protected and acquire a more reliable kicker this offseason.
More production up front will allow Herbert, who threw for an NFL rookie-record 31 touchdown passes last season, to continue his development. An upgrade from Michael Badgley, who connected on only 72.7% of his field goal attempts (24-of-33) and missed three extra points, could help the Chargers get over the hump in close games. — Shelley Smith
Dak Prescott will not sign a contract extension.
Despite both sides saying they want to get together with a multiyear commitment, the circumstances to get one done this offseason are much more difficult with a shrinking salary cap. How can they break the roadblock that has been there the past two offseasons? Without a long-term deal, Prescott will play the 2021 season on the franchise tag for the second straight year, earning $37.7 million and all but cementing a departure in 2022 with the franchise tag rising then to more than $52 million. — Todd Archer
Domonique Foxworth makes the case that Dak Prescott would be better off leaving the Cowboys.
Free-agent edge rusher Haason Reddick will fill a massive Giants hole.
The top of this year’s draft doesn’t necessarily align with New York’s need at edge rusher, so the Giants look to free agency and add an ascending player with explosiveness. Reddick showed in their Week 14 matchup (5 sacks) what he can bring to the table. And as Joe Judge likes to say, show me what a player can do, not what he can’t. Reddick can rush the passer and provide speed off the edge. He had 12.5 sacks this past season. The Giants need that. — Jordan Raanan
Philadelphia will draft a quarterback in the first round to compete with Jalen Hurts.
Would the organization really end one quarterback controversy by trading Carson Wentz, just to invite another? That will be a question to grapple with between now and April’s draft. The opportunity could be too good to pass up. The Eagles hold the No. 6 pick and obviously hope they’re not selecting that high again anytime soon. If they identify a franchise QB, they could pounce while they have the chance. — Tim McManus
Quarterback Alex Smith will want to keep playing — but he won’t be doing it in Washington.
Smith was clearly rejuvenated by returning to the field last year — and buoyed by how his leg felt, and how he was moving in the pocket, prior to the bone bruise injury. Washington went 5-1 with him and valued his leadership. But the franchise wants to improve at the position and there are concerns if he can last all 16 games and play at a consistent level. It’s still possible he returns, at a reduced salary, if Washington can’t find another quarterback to pair with Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke (or Steven Montez). And it won’t mortgage the future to land one. — John Keim
The Bears will let wide receiver Allen Robinson II walk in free agency.
Robinson has been a great player for the Bears, but the team balked at extending the 27-year old receiver last year. Robinson is looking for top wide receiver dollars. Chicago values Robinson, but obviously not at that price. The Bears seem content to allow Robinson to test the market. If Robinson finds a team willing to pay big money, he’s gone. — Jeff Dickerson
With Jared Goff on the roster, the Lions won’t draft a quarterback.
Considering all the needs Detroit has as it reconstructs its roster, acquiring Goff in the Matthew Stafford trade at least gives the Lions a competent quarterback for the immediate future. And if Goff can rejuvenate his career with Detroit — something no one will know until the end of 2021 at least — then the position becomes much less necessary. But with gaping holes at receiver and every position on the defense other than cornerback, the Lions focus on young, impact defenders in the draft and push the quarterback question to the 2022 offseason, where the team currently has two first-round picks. — Michael Rothstein
Aaron Rodgers will skip the offseason workouts — assuming there are any.
Rodgers has participated every year — and yes, he has a $500,000 workout bonus — but if he truly wants to exercise his leverage and get the Packers to commit more guaranteed money to him over the remaining years of his deal, then this could be his course of action if nothing gets done before the offseason program begins. — Rob Demovsky
The Vikings will be part of the quarterback carousel in free agency.
If Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers really want Kirk Cousins, now’s the time for Minnesota to pull off a trade that will create freedom to reconstruct other parts of the roster. The Vikings could get out of the financial commitment they made to Cousins when he signed a two-year extension last March that comes with a $31 million cap hit for 2021 and go a different direction at the position. If that comes in the form of Jimmy Garoppolo and a second-round pick (they currently don’t have one), the Vikings should jump at the opportunity. — Courtney Cronin
The Falcons’ first draft pick will be a quarterback.
Matt Ryan is 36. Although he’s still playing at a high level and has several more productive years ahead of him, it’s time to start preparing for the future. New GM Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith have the fourth overall pick; if the Jets pass on a QB at No. 2, they’ll snag Justin Fields and let him learn for a year or so under Ryan. — Michael DiRocco
The Panthers will find a way to trade for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
He wants out of Houston even though the organization insists he won’t be traded. The Panthers will do whatever it takes, even if that means offering three first-round picks and possibly a star player, although including Christian McCaffrey seems unlikely. But as ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said, it would be worth throwing in McCaffrey if necessary to get a franchise quarterback. — David Newton
Jameis Winston will win the Saints’ starting quarterback job — and go on to win his first playoff game.
Sean Payton has made no secret about the Saints’ desire to re-sign Winston and allow him to compete with Taysom Hill for the starting job after Drew Brees retires. And there is obviously still a ton of potential there with Winston, who just turned 27, if they can cure his turnover issues. It doesn’t hurt that New Orleans still has one of the NFL’s deepest and most talented rosters. — Mike Triplett
Dan Graziano sees the Buccaneers extending Tom Brady’s contract in order to land other free agents.
Multiple high-priced Bucs players will restructure their existing contracts to keep as much of the team together as possible.
Mike Evans, Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith and Ryan Jensen are among the six highest-paid players on the team under contract in 2021 and are candidates to restructure. At this point, anyone can be a restructuring candidate, although the amount of work they’ll have to do won’t be known until the new salary cap comes out. — Jenna Laine
The Cardinals will not re-sign cornerback Patrick Peterson.
That means they’ll have to rebuild a key part of their secondary. Peterson, who’ll be 31 when next season starts, wants another big deal, but the Cardinals are unlikely to give him the type of money he’s seeking. By not re-signing, Peterson will hit free agency and the open market for the first time in his career. Without Peterson, the Cardinals will have to find his replacement, which is easier said than done since he was an elite corner — and one of the best in the league for a few years. — Josh Weinfuss
The Rams, despite a lack of cap space and draft capital, will piece together the means to bring in a speedy receiver.
They need one who can stretch the field for new quarterback Matthew Stafford. This was next in line after the boldest possible prediction has already come to fruition, when the Rams moved on two weeks after the season from franchise quarterback Jared Goff, sending him — along with two first-round picks and a third-round pick — to the Lions in exchange for Stafford. — Lindsey Thiry
The 49ers will draft a quarterback some time in the first three rounds to push and provide depth behind … Jimmy Garoppolo.
With the 12th pick, the easiest path would be for one of the top four signal-callers to fall to the Niners, but if that doesn’t happen, they could be in striking distance for a trade up or they could target someone else by moving back from 12 or up from one of their other spots. Regardless, the Niners need to find someone with long-term upside who can push Garoppolo and be capable of stepping in should Garoppolo continue to struggle with injuries. — Nick Wagoner
The Seahawks will either make Jamal Adams the NFL’s highest-paid safety or trade him.
The most likely outcome is Seattle keeping Adams long term on an extension that tops Budda Baker’s $14.75 million average, but how much more than that will he insist on making? Adams will presumably want to be paid more like a pass-rusher than a safety after setting the league’s single-season sack record for a defensive back. When the Seahawks acquired Adams last summer and put off extension talks until this offseason, they figured that if they couldn’t get a deal done, they could trade him as a last resort. — Brady Henderson