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Who needs a fresh start for every team


With the start of 2021 NFL free agency a month away, all 32 teams have looming decisions to make about how their roster could look next season. That includes players who could use a change of scenery — free agents, cut candidates and guys who could be traded — and potentially flourish elsewhere.

Will the Super Bowl champions bring back running back Leonard Fournette, who thrived in the postseason for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Are the Chicago Bears officially done with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky? What will the rebuilding Houston Texans do with quarterback Deshaun Watson? And what about Odell Beckham Jr., who is coming off a torn ACL for the Cleveland Browns?

Maybe it’s money, maybe it’s production. Or, maybe it’s both. Sometimes a player just needs to go somewhere new. Here are 32 players our NFL Nation reporters believe would benefit from a move away from their current teams:

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Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie

Teams don’t like to give up on second-round picks, but sometimes they just run their course. Awuzie had four interceptions in his four seasons, starting 42 games. The free agent could get a larger deal from another team than what the Cowboys might pay and he might have more success somewhere else. — Todd Archer

Tight end Evan Engram

Engram made the Pro Bowl in 2020, but that was not indicative of how his year went. He led all tight ends with eight drops and failed to thrive under Joe Judge and the new coaching staff. Despite his potential and enticing talent, it really hasn’t clicked for Engram in his four years with the Giants. A change of scenery might benefit everyone in this case. — Jordan Raanan

Tight end Zach Ertz

Contract extension talks between Ertz and the Eagles soured last offseason, and a split by trade now seems inevitable. Ertz, 30, was limited to 11 games because of injury in 2020 and had a down year overall, but he has been one of the most productive tight ends in the game over the course of his career. He’ll be doubly motivated next season as he tries to reestablish himself as one of the best at his position and prove to his new team that he is worth the investment. He has one year remaining on his deal and is scheduled to make $8.25 million. — Tim McManus

Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan

It’s not because of anything other than his changing role this past season with the arrival of rookie end Chase Young to pair with second-year end Montez Sweat. That meant Kerrigan, Washington’s all-time leader in sacks (95.5), was a backup for the first time in his career. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent and still wants to start. There was frustration early last season with the number of snaps he played; while his snaps eventually increased he still feels he can help in a bigger role. To get that role, he’ll have to leave the franchise that drafted him in the first round in 2011. — John Keim


Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky

The Bears and Trubisky need a clean break. Most of Chicago will never forgive the team for moving up to draft Trubisky second overall in 2017, ahead of true franchise passers Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Trubisky clearly isn’t on the level of Mahomes or Watson, but he played well at times (mostly versus inferior opponents) over the course of the past four years. Trubisky’s time with the Bears is effectively over. The 26-year-old quarterback ought to prioritize a situation where he can compete for a starting job or be a priority backup. Chicago is no longer that place. — Jeff Dickerson

Tight end Jesse James

It’s not clear whether the new regime will hold on to the tight end whom former general manager Bob Quinn gave a four-year, $22.6 million contract in 2019. James has averaged fewer than one catch per game (30 catches in 32 games) and has two total touchdowns in two seasons. With T.J. Hockenson clearly in command at the position, it might be best for both parties to move on. The caveat will be new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn’s offense. If two-tight end sets are something he favors, James could stick around and get a fresh start that way. But it might be best for Detroit to consider another option. — Michael Rothstein

Cornerback Kevin King

King was an oft-criticized draft pick from the start. The Packers could have taken home-state favorite T.J. Watt but instead traded out of the first round and picked King with their first selection in Round 2 of the 2017 draft. Injuries set back King during his first two seasons, and he never developed any consistency. Meanwhile, Jaire Alexander blossomed on the other side. King, who is headed for free agency, might be best remembered for his jersey grab that led to a penalty in the final minutes of the 2020 NFC Championship Game, which prevented Aaron Rodgers from getting one last shot at a game-winning drive. Cornerback will be a big need even if King doesn’t leave in free agency, but it would probably be a mistake to bring him back. — Rob Demovsky

Tight end Kyle Rudolph

A couple of weeks ago, the veteran tight end stated on a podcast that he wasn’t open to the idea of restructuring his contract for the 2021 season and that he “couldn’t sign up” for the type of role he has played in the offense over the past two years, which saw his targets dwindle as he was no longer a top red zone threat. Rudolph has been a staple in Minnesota since 2011, but a split would do both parties a world of good. The Vikings could save up to $8 million against the cap, depending on when he is released, and Rudolph, 31, would get a chance to finish out his career in an offense that could utilize him beyond his ability to block. — Courtney Cronin


Running back Todd Gurley

Gurley ran for a career-low 695 yards and averaged a career-low 3.5 yards per carry in 2020 despite playing in 15 games, but he told reporters he’s excited about potentially staying in Atlanta to play for new coach Arthur Smith, who built the Titans’ offense around Derrick Henry. Gurley, however, has nearly 1,500 carries in six years and is dealing with arthritis in his left knee, so his workhorse days might be over. He had just 14 carries in the final three games; Brian Hill had 21 and Ito Smith 19. The Falcons could go with the other backs so Gurley, who is scheduled to become a free agent in March, might be better off somewhere else. — Michael DiRocco

Tight end Ian Thomas

Thomas hasn’t lived up to expectations to be a replacement for Greg Olsen, catching only 20 passes for 145 yards this past season and only 72 passes for 614 yards in three seasons. He didn’t produce in Joe Brady’s pass-happy scheme and the Panthers need a playmaking tight end like Kansas City’s Travis Kelce to take this offense to the next level regardless of whether they stick with Teddy Bridgewater or trade for a quarterback such as Deshaun Watson. — David Newton

Tight end Jared Cook

The Saints can’t re-sign all of their free agents because of major salary-cap restrictions, and Cook seems like the most likely casualty. Although he caught 16 touchdowns in his two seasons in New Orleans, his production dipped in 2020, including a costly fumble in the Saints’ playoff loss. He turns 34 in April, and the Saints drafted a likely replacement last year in Adam Trautman. — Mike Triplett



Leonard Fournette shares how he reacted to being cut by the Jaguars and joining the Buccaneers.

Running back Leonard Fournette

Don’t get me wrong — the Bucs love “Playoff Lenny,” who has since become “Lombardi Lenny” thanks to his integral role in the Bucs’ postseason and Super Bowl with a league-leading 448 scrimmage yards in the playoffs. And the free agent would consider coming back, too. He likes Tampa Bay. But he doesn’t necessarily want to split carries forever either, and it’s hard to blame him when he’s used to being the guy. — Jenna Laine


Cornerback Robert Alford

Alford hasn’t played a down for the Cardinals since signing a three-year deal as a free agent before the 2019 season because of back-to-back season-ending injuries. During that span the Cardinals have paid him $10.4 million and are set to pay him another $7.45 million in 2021. Alford will come with a $9 million cap hit but just $1.5 million in dead money, so moving on from him and saving that cap space makes sense. And since it’s likely the Cardinals are not going to re-sign fellow cornerback Patrick Peterson, starting fresh at the position could be the way to go for the team. There’s no guarantee that Alford will be healthy for the season. — Josh Weinfuss

Tight end Gerald Everett

A second-round pick in 2017, Everett has flashed over his four seasons but never been able to establish a consistent presence despite several standout performances. Last year, the Rams selected Brycen Hopkins with a fourth-round pick in a move that appeared to signal that Everett’s time with the organization could be limited. After he has spent the entirety of his career behind starter Tyler Higbee, a fresh start could be best for Everett, who has caught 127 passes for 1,389 yards and eight touchdowns in his career. — Lindsey Thiry

Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon

Witherspoon is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after a roller-coaster four seasons in San Francisco. He has shown the ability to be a solid starter in the league but has been unable to consistently put it all together and was a healthy scratch at times in 2020. Although Witherspoon played well when given a chance down the stretch, a fresh start elsewhere might be what he needs to reach his potential as the Niners invest elsewhere to bolster their cornerback group. — Nick Wagoner

Defensive end Carlos Dunlap

Dunlap doesn’t need a change of scenery so much as he might need to figure out the market for his services. The Seahawks want him back given how he helped ignite their pass rush with five sacks and 14 QB hits in eight games after he was acquired in an October trade, but his $14.1 million cap charge is prohibitive. Dunlap clearly enjoyed his time in Seattle, but neither side may want to do an extension without knowing how much other teams are willing to pay the 32-year-old pass-rusher. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Seahawks cut Dunlap before he’s owed a $3 million roster bonus in March, then try to re-sign him if the market isn’t what he hopes. — Brady Henderson


Defensive end Trent Murphy

The Bills kept Murphy around despite his $9.7 million cap hit last season, in part because rookie second-round pick AJ Epenesa needed time to acclimate. But Murphy was active for only 10 games in 2020, missing essentially all of Buffalo’s final stretch of the season, when it played its best defensive football. He is a free agent this offseason and probably has played his final snaps in Buffalo. But at just 30 years old, his playing days are not yet over. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Running back Matt Breida

The Dolphins’ draft weekend trade of a fifth-round pick for Breida brought initial excitement, but it largely turned out to be a dud. He still has eye-opening speed and playmaking ability to be a key part of a backfield rotation, but he had just 68 touches for 350 yards last season as he fell behind second-year back Myles Gaskin and eventually rookie undrafted back Salvon Ahmed for playing time. Breida is an unrestricted free agent and is expected to move on to another team while the Dolphins seek a feature back most likely via the draft. — Cameron Wolfe

Kicker Justin Rohrwasser

After the Patriots selected him in the fifth round of the 2020 draft, making him the first kicker picked overall, Rohrwasser didn’t make it out of training camp as veteran Nick Folk was signed to take his place. Rohrwasser, who generated headlines because of a tattoo from his days at Marshall University, spent the entire season on the practice squad, and now faces additional competition from the late-season signing of Roberto Aguayo. It looks like a potentially ominous situation for him. — Mike Reiss



Mike Reiss boldly predicts a reunion between the Patriots and 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Linebacker Jordan Jenkins

The pending free agent is the longest-tenured member of the team (drafted in 2016), which means he has experienced a lot of losing — a 23-57 record. No player deserves to be exposed to that much defeat. A 3-4 outside linebacker for his entire pro career, Jenkins isn’t a fit in the new 4-3 scheme, which means he probably will move on. He’s a solid player, when healthy, and deserves a fresh start. — Rich Cimini


Center Matt Skura

A free agent this offseason, Skura lost his starting job midway through last season after struggling with snaps in the pistol formation. His family received some threatening social media messages from fans after some poor snaps led to a Ravens loss in New England. Before getting benched, Skura was considered one of the more reliable starting centers in the league in 2018 and 2019. — Jamison Hensley

Wide receiver A.J. Green

Green played his first season under coach Zac Taylor after missing the 2019 season with an ankle injury. He caught only 47 passes for 523 yards with two touchdowns. Green struggled to find a rhythm in the offense and talked about the challenges the scheme presents for him. With Green getting an official goodbye in the team’s season finale, it makes sense for him to find another team for his 11th season in the NFL. — Ben Baby

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Because of the injury guarantee in his contract, the Browns probably won’t be moving on from OBJ this offseason. But since coming over in the trade from the Giants in 2019, he has struggled to mesh with quarterback Baker Mayfield and stay healthy. Beckham has shown that he’s still a tremendous talent, but with the Browns thriving without him offensively down the stretch this past season, it might make sense for both him and the team — at least financially — to find a trade at some point down the line. — Jake Trotter



Jeff Darlington analyzes the possibility of the Buccaneers acquiring Odell Beckham Jr.

Running back James Conner

The running back was a great story in 2018 when he had a Pro Bowl season filling in for Le’Veon Bell. Since then, though, Conner hasn’t been able to replicate those numbers because of recurring injuries and an overall ineffective run game. In his four seasons, Conner has never played a complete 16-game stretch, and he averaged just 28 yards per game in his last four starts. Conner is a free agent this offseason, and both he and the Steelers could use a fresh start. — Brooke Pryor


Quarterback Deshaun Watson

Watson might not get a trade away from Houston, but he has made it clear to the Texans that he wants a change of scenery. Watson asked for a trade in January due to his unhappiness with how the team is run. Publicly and privately, the Texans have said they don’t want to trade their franchise quarterback, but if he truly is done playing for the team and Houston refuses to move him, will he sit out the season? If they don’t trade him, the Texans will find out. — Sarah Barshop

Safety Malik Hooker

Hooker, a first-round pick in 2017, showed promise during his rookie season when he had three interceptions before a torn ACL in Week 7 ended his year. Since then, though, he has been more flash than substance. He totaled only four interceptions, including an incredible one-handed pick against Philip Rivers in Week 1 of the 2019 season, in the past three seasons. Hooker’s 2020 season ended after two games due to a torn Achilles. His injury history combined with the emergence of Julian Blackmon, a rookie last season with two interceptions, sets the stage for Hooker to try to resume his career elsewhere. — Mike Wells

Quarterback Gardner Minshew

The Jaguars are expected to draft Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick so Minshew’s playing time in Jacksonville is done. The best he can hope for is to be Lawrence’s backup. He’s not a finished product as a QB by any means and might still develop into a starter at some point. The Jaguars might be able to unload him in a trade for a late-round pick, which could give him a chance to win a starting job somewhere else. — Michael DiRocco

Wide receiver Corey Davis

To be clear, this is not a suggestion that the Titans don’t re-sign Davis or that he isn’t a fit. He broke out last season but fell 16 yards short of a 1,000-yard season. Picturing a player of Davis’ ability in a more pass-happy offense sparks visions of 80-plus receptions and more than 1,000 yards. Davis, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 draft, is a pending free agent who should draw interest if he enters free agency. — Turron Davenport


Running back Melvin Gordon

Yes, Gordon led the team in carries (215), rushing yards (986) and rushing touchdowns (nine) this past season, but he’s facing the possibility of a three-game suspension in 2021 after a DUI arrest. Gordon also had limited impact in the passing game — an area in which the Broncos figured he’d help when they signed him — and led the team in lost fumbles with four. He is slated to have the sixth-highest salary-cap charge on the roster for 2021 if the Broncos don’t try to void some of the guaranteed money in his deal because of the arrest. — Jeff Legwold

Running back Le’Veon Bell

Bell had almost no impact for the Chiefs after joining them early in the season. The Chiefs had opportunities to turn to him for help. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was out with an injury for the divisional-round win over the Browns, but the Chiefs went with Darrel Williams as their featured back instead. Bell was in uniform for Super Bowl LV but didn’t play. He’s a free agent this offseason. — Adam Teicher

Quarterback Derek Carr

Don’t get it twisted: This is not to advocate one way or another that the Raiders move on from the guy who holds virtually every passing record in franchise history yet has a losing career record and has not played in the postseason. It’s just that every offseason turning into a Carr “dramedy” series has to be weighing on him. As Carr said at the dawn of camp last summer, he’s tired of being disrespected. And as many replied, then he should play better. Carr threw 27 touchdown passes to nine picks last season. Groundhog Day in Silver and Blackdom. Stay tuned. — Paul Gutierrez

Wide receiver Mike Williams

Williams’ fifth-year option was picked up last April, meaning he’s due $15.7 million in 2020. That’s too much money for a receiver who has never cracked 50 catches and has just seven touchdowns over the past two seasons. Yes, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 draft is big and strong and has all the tools to develop into a top wideout, but he didn’t seem to mesh well with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert’s strengths. — Shelley Smith

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