Aaron Rodgers stole the show at the 2021 NFL Draft -- and the Green Bay Packers quarterback didn't even change teams. Rodgers wanting to get out of Green Bay changed the landscape of the draft, along with the plans of several teams in the 24 hours leading up to the No. 1 pick. The San Francisco 49ers -- the team that traded to to No. 3 overall -- checked in on the availability of Rodgers, who revealed the wish list of teams he wanted to play for in 2021.
At the end of the draft, Rodgers remains with the Packers -- for now. While the league waits to see what happens with Rodgers, plenty of other veterans were impacted by several selections -- or picks that weren't made -- during the draft. The draft always tells a story, even if the teams will never admit such in public press conferences.
Which veteran players had a smile on their face when the draft concluded? What players have to fight for their job this summer? Let's take a look at the five veterans that benefited from the draft -- and the five veterans whose jons aren't exactly secure at the moment.
Five veterans the draft helped
How can Rodgers benefit when he's still on the Green Bay Packers? Just ask the Denver Broncos, the most likely destination for the NFL MVP in 2021. Denver didn't even bother drafting a quarterback at No. 9, opting to instead select Patrick Surtain -- addressing a major need on defense. The Broncos traded for Teddy Bridgewater prior to the draft and are only paying slightly over $4 million in salary for one year, a contract the franchise can easily part ways with if they were to acquire an elite talent like Rodgers.
Denver has the second-most cap space in the NFL and a first-round pick in every year, enough to take on Rodgers and his massive salary. The Broncos also have the offensive pieces in place to compete for the playoffs, starting with wide receivers Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Tim Patrick, and Courtland Sutton -- who is returning from injury. Denver also has a solid offensive line, (even with the Ja'Wuan James injury), complemented with Melvin Gordon at running back and Noah Fant at tight end.
The deal may take a while to get done (if the Packers decide to trade Rodgers), but Denver is set to make him their next quarterback. Even if Rodgers remains in Green Bay, the Packers are still one of the best teams in the NFC. He'll be a winner in 2021, no matter where he plays.
Carolina did something for Darnold the New York Jets never did, get him help on offense. The Panthers selected Terrace Marshall Jr. in the second round, adding him to a wide receiver unit that includes D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, the latter Darnold had success with in New York. The Panthers actually decided to protect Darnold by selecting tackle Brady Christensen in the third round along with tight end Tommy Tremble, one of the best blocking tight ends in the draft. Let's not forget Christian McCaffrey is back as well.
Carolina has an opportunity to select Justin Fields or Mac Jones at No. 8 overall. They passed on both, selecting Jaycee Horn instead. If that wasn't a vote of confidence in Darnold, the Panthers exercised the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. Carolina never turned down the possibility of selecting a quarterback at No. 8, but the Panthers committed to Darnold for the 2021 season -- giving him an excellent opportunity to succeed in this league. Helps Joe Brady is working with him instead of Adam Gase.
Robinson was one of the league's best wide receivers with Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles throwing to him. The Bears actually traded up and selected Justin Fields at No. 11 overall, finally getting the franchise quarterback the organization hasn't had since Jay Cutler.
Not only will Robinson take his game to the next level with Fields throwing him the ball, but Chicago has one of the league's top young deep-ball receivers in Darnell Mooney lined up right next to him. Robinson won't be double-teamed as much has he normally is, so expect his touchdown numbers to go up with a better quarterback in tow. The emergence of David Montgomery in the backfield will also help Robinson take his game to the next level.
Fields and Robinson could be the next great quarterback-receiver connection. A massive contract may be next.
Fuller was already getting a golden opportunity to become one of the elite cornerbacks in the league again by reuniting with Vic Fangio and the Denver Broncos. He won't be on an island in Denver, as the Broncos selected Patrick Surtain at No. 9 overall -- giving Fuller an excellent rookie to pair with in the secondary.
With Surtain on the other side, more opportunities for turnovers will come Fuller's way in 2021. Fuller has a strong chance to regain his All-Pro status and lead the league in interceptions again (just like he did in 2018). He also has Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson behind him at safety, making Denver's secondary one of the best in the NFL.
Playing on a one-year deal, Fuller has an opportunity to make a lot of money after this season. In Fangio's defense, don't be surprised if Fuller becomes a Pro Bowler again.
The Eagles made sure Hurts has every opportunity to become the next franchise quarterback. Not only did Philadelphia not draft a quarterback at No. 10 overall, the Eagles traded up to that spot and selected DeVonta Smith -- Hurts' college teammate and the No. 1 wide receiver the franchise hasn't possessed in nearly two decades.
Philadelphia has one of the league's top young running backs in Miles Sanders and added to the backfield by selecting Kenneth Gainwell in the fifth round, while claiming Kerryon Johnson from the Detroit Lions. The Eagles offensive line -- the unit that allowed the most sacks in the NFL last season -- have Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson back healthy on the right side, and Jason Kelce decided to play another season. Philadelphia also selected Landon Dickerson in the second round, adding insurance at center and guard in case any interior lineman suffers a significant injury in 2021.
Having 2020 first-round pick Jalen Reagor under a wide receiver savant in Nick Sirianni will improve his game, giving Smith some help on the outside. Zach Ertz is still with the Eagles (for now). If Ertz remains, he and Dallas Goedert are one of the best tight end combinations in the league.
This season is Hurts' chance to become the permanent starter. Hurts is under pressure in 2021, but the Eagles have made sure he has what he needs to succeed. Eagles fans are wondering where that was for the previous franchise quarterback.
Five veterans the draft hurt
Newton was already on thin ice in New England after the Patriots had their first losing season since 2000 -- a year which he threw more interceptions than touchdown passes. The Patriots decided to bring Newton back on a one-year deal, but didn't hand him the starting job for the 2021 season when they were fortunate enough to select Mac Jones at No. 15 overall.
New England was fortunate Jones even fell to No. 15, as the Patriots appeared to strike out on one of the top quarterbacks in the draft unless they traded up. Davis Mills and Kyle Trask wouldn't move the needle in terms of Newton's job, but Bill Belichick has never drafted a quarterback in the first round -- ever. Jones wasn't selected to sit the bench in New England for long.
Newton may open the season at quarterback. Unless he returns to his 2015 MVP form, he won't be finishing as the starter.
So much for the Bears naming Dalton QB1. The Bears traded up nine spots in the draft to select Justin Fields, arguably one of the top three quarterbacks on the board. Chicago's offense will be instantly better the moment Fields takes the field -- and it should be in Week 1. There will be a competition for the starting quarterback job, even though this one is Fields' to lose.
Dalton didn't sign up for a competition -- with Justin Fields at least -- even though he's getting a cool $10 million out of the deal. It will be much easier to win a job against Nick Foles than Fields. Chicago fans will certainly want the new franchise quarterback to start immediately. Dalton is just a placeholder at this point.
Give Chicago credit -- they did tell Dalton they had plans to draft a quarterback.
Robinson was the first undrafted rookie in NFL history to average at least 100 scrimmage yards a game in a season and his 1,414 scrimmage yards were the most ever for an undrafted rookie. How do the Jaguars reward him for his efforts? Drafting Travis Etienne with their second first-round pick (No. 25 overall).
Robinson was one of the best running backs in the league last year and had excellent value with an undrafted free agent rookie contract. The Jaguars may view Etienne as a third-down back right now, but the carries and targets will be diminishing for Robinson with Etienne and Carlos Hyde in the backfield. Robinson may be the No. 2 back when it's all said and done, even though he was the only reason to watch Jacksonville last year.
The Cowboys had the writing on the wall for Vander Esch the moment they selected Micah Parsons at No. 12 overall, making him the next linebacker in a revamped defense under Dan Quinn. To add insult to injury, the Cowboys passed on Vander Esch's fifth-year option on his rookie contract -- the beginning of the end of his tenure on Dallas.
Not only did the Cowboys select Parsons, they selected Jabril Cox in the fourth round. Two linebackers in the draft showcase the direction Quinn wants to go with his defense, one Vander Esch doesn't appear to be part of after 2021. Injuries have tarnished an excellent start to Vander Esch's career, one which he appeared to be the next dominant linebacker in Dallas.
Vander Esch just has to stay healthy in 2021. He'll start again somewhere, but this is likely his final year with the Cowboys.
The Vikings have gotten a lot out of Cousins since they signed him in 2018, but drafted his apparent successor in Kellen Mond. Minnesota never had a quarterback controversy with Cousins at the helm, even though they created one selecting Mond in the third round of the draft. Keep in mind the only game Cousins has missed over the last six years was a matchup where the Vikings had their playoff spot clinched and they could afford to rest him.
Over the last three years, Cousins is second in the NFL in completion percentage, fifth in touchdown passes, and seventh in passer rating. He's a top-10 quarterback in the league, yet the Vikings felt it was important to address the future at the position by drafting Mond.
If Cousins happens to struggle in 2021 -- or if the Vikings keep losing games -- they may turn the page sooner than expected. Minnesota doesn't owe Cousins any guaranteed money in 2022 and can save $45 million in salary cap space. Seems like Cousins' future with the Vikings is all but decided.