As the 2021 NFL Draft draws closer, dozens of notable veterans remain unsigned. Many could still prove valuable into the summer and early fall. But most of the big waves of free agency are past, and most teams have already assembled their cores. So which teams knocked it out of the park? Which ones swung and missed? We're going division by division at CBS Sports to evaluate all 32 teams and their early-offseason performance.
In the NFC South, we have one clear winner:
- WR Chris Godwin (franchise tag)
- TE Rob Gronkowski (1 year, $8M)
- DT Ndamukong Suh (1 year, $8M)
- OLB Shaquil Barrett (4 years, $68M)
- LB Lavonte David (2 years, $25M)
- K Ryan Succop (3 years, $12M)
- RB Leonard Fournette (1 year, $4M)
- OT Joe Haeg (2 years, $4.6M)
It's not uncommon for Super Bowl champions to lose a handful of core pieces while they're still basking in the Lombardi celebration. That's not the case in Tampa, where the Bucs have worked wonders with their cap to bring back every notable title piece save for Antonio Brown, who could still return. You have to go all the way back to the 1977 Raiders to find a Super Bowl champion that returned all 22 of its starters. The kicker is they're not really overpaying for a single one. Gronk, Suh and David are on reasonable win-now deals, and Barrett's big extension is an absolute steal considering he would've commanded close to $20 million per year on the open market.
Is it a little risky to run it back rather than get creative to upgrade in some areas? Maybe, but it's not as if Godwin and Barrett -- arguably the two best re-signings -- won't be around for the long term, too. They could stand to add some depth along the trenches, and they still need a backup for Tom Brady, but there's no way to classify their offseason as anything but a home run.
- RB Mike Davis (2 years, $5.5M)
- TE Lee Smith (trade)
- DE Barkevious Mingo (1 year, $1.25M)
- DE Brandon Copeland (1 year, $1M)
- CB Fabian Moreau (1 year)
We get that the Falcons are in transition -- new coach, new front office, not a ton of cap space. The draft has always been the focal point of their 2021 offseason. But when you're still lugging Matt Ryan and Julio Jones along for the kickoff of the Arthur Smith era, well, you're bound to be caught between tiny tweaks and a total overhaul. Davis, for example, is a nice addition who will bring some size and pass-catching ability at a low cost, but he's also their "premier" signing. Everyone else, from Mingo to Moreau, is a lottery ticket that, at best, could wiggle into a starting role and, at worst, end up on the cutting room floor come September.
Again, this is par for the course for a team turning pages on an old regime. And maybe Smith will do wonders with Ryan and make us look silly for second-guessing Atlanta's decision to cling to its longtime QB-WR duo for at least one more year. But it's hard not to suggest the Falcons would've been better off wiping the entire slate clean for 2021.
- WR David Moore (2 years, $4.75M)
- TE Dan Arnold (2 years, $6M)
- OT Taylor Moton (franchise tag)
- OG Pat Elflein (3 years, $13.5M)
- OL Cameron Erving (2 years, $10M)
- DE Morgan Fox (2 years, $8M)
- DE Haason Reddick (1 year, $8M)
- LB Denzel Perryman (2 years, $6M)
If only they had solved QB. (And they still might.) Teddy Bridgewater is fine, but they've told us how they really feel by publicly touting a potential upgrade and, behind closed doors, pursuing other vets like it's their job. Solving that position, most likely with a first-round pick, will make some of their other decisions a bit easier to swallow. Paying Elflein and Erving, for example, a combined $23.5 million, despite both linemen probably still belonging on the market, wasn't pretty. We get that they want to protect the QB (whomever it is), and Moton's return will be massive, but they could've allocated resources for his running mates better.
They do deserve props, however, for taking some low-risk, high-reward swings at receiver and pass-rusher. Moore feels like a sneaky breakout candidate after serving as a Russell Wilson deep threat, and Reddick and Fox could earn bigger deals down the road. Their lack of big gambles is bittersweet; they're lacking a star addition but didn't overpay outside of the O-line. Now it's time to draft.
- QB Drew Brees (retired)
- WR Emmanuel Sanders (Bills)
- TE Jared Cook (Chargers)
- TE Josh Hill (Lions)
- DE Trey Hendrickson (Bengals)
- DT Malcolm Brown (Jaguars)
- DT Sheldon Rankins (Jets)
- CB Janoris Jenkins (Titans)
Is it fair to criticize the Saints for losing a ton of players they were fully expected to lose? That's really what will determine whether you think this offseason has been lightly discouraging or totally catastrophic in New Orleans. They obviously deserve blame for their mammoth-sized cap issues, which allowed them to spend on whomever they pleased in previous years, but break down the losses on a case-by-case basis, and the damage doesn't seem fatal: Brees was physically nearing the finish line, Sanders and Cook were solid but replaceable, and Hendrickson was bound to be overpaid on the market.
Now, does that mean betting on Winston to succeed Brees was smart? For a backup's salary, it's certainly a frugal move, and at least the upside is about as high as any other free agent QB. (Would anyone really be stunned if Jameis threw for 4,500 yards and 25 touchdowns with Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas by his side?) The defense certainly took a hit, losing quantity and quality, but the Saints also wisely tagged Williams to give themselves one of the league's top up-and-comers at safety.