Do the Minnesota Vikings have a playoff contending roster

Is the Vikings roster elite?

By Christopher Thomas

The NFC playoffs are almost impossible to predict because there are so many teams in the middle of the pack that can easily sneak into the playoffs if they get hot towards the end of the year. Last year’s team who snuck into the NFC playoffs was the Chicago Bears who were led to the playoffs by their starting running back David Montgomery. This year that team could very also be from the NFC North.

The Minnesota Vikings are at an interesting crossroads with the way their current roster is projected. They have some elite talent spread throughout their roster. But they also have a combination of veterans past their prime and inexperienced young players filling out the rest of their roster. Head coach Mike Zimmer is one of the best and most respected at his position around the league. However, this current Vikings roster could have the Vikings finishing anywhere between picking in the top-10 and potentially winning the NFC North. Here is a deep dive of the Minnesota Vikings roster. 

Quarterbacks

Much like a majority of teams in the NFL the Minnesota Vikings playoff hopes are reliant on the play of their quarterback. During the 2017-18 offseason, the Vikings signed quarterback Kirk Cousins to a 3 year $84 million deal. Since signing Cousins the Vikings have made the playoffs once over the last three seasons and have a 25-21 -1 record when he is the starter. This offseason Minnesota gave him a two-year $66 million extension that will keep him in Minnesota until 2022. He has played at a borderline Pro Bowl level every season but has not played up to the expectations that the Vikings had when they signed him. Minnesota believed Cousins was going to be the piece to get Minnesota over the hump and into Super Bowl contending territory. Instead, the team has been stuck in between playoff contention and a restart. In the two seasons Cousins has thrown double-digit interceptions. The only season in Minnesota where Cousins did not throw double-digit interceptions he did not reach 30 passing touchdowns or 4,000 yards passing. This wouldn’t be a major issue except Cousins is being paid like one of the premier quarterbacks in the league. 

If Cousins can limit his turnovers while maintaining the production he put up during his first and third seasons with the team Minnesota could have a shot at the playoffs. However if Cousins begins to falter, the Vikings took Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond early in the third round to potentially take his place and become the team’s starting quarterback of the future. If Mond becomes the Vikings starting quarterback early in the season it is unlikely that he has a Dak Prescott-like impact on Minnesota despite being the fourth highest-ranked quarterback on Chris Simms 2021 draft rankings. Minnesota needs Cousins to play at a Pro Bowl level to make the playoffs. 

Running Backs

There is an extremely valid case for running back Dalvin Cook to be considered the best player on the Minnesota Vikings. It also isn’t too farfetched to say Cook is the best pure running back in the league overall. Over the last two seasons, Cooks has put up career-high numbers in every major running back category. He has finished top-10 in rushing over the last two seasons and was named to the Pro Bowl every year as well. 

The Vikings’ offense could very well feature Cook as the focal point, but the major question about him is his health. Cook has dealt with multiple injuries that have not allowed him to play a full sixteen-game schedule over his first four seasons in the league. Cook has played in 43 of a potential 64 games since being drafted in 2017. Things did not look great for Cook early on after he missed 17 of his first 32 games he could have played during his first two seasons. However, Cook has been able to play in 28 of the last 32 games the Vikings have played.

If Cook is unable to play the Vikings have turned to 2019 third-round pick Alexander Mattison to lead their backfield. Despite being valuable in fantasy football as a replacement for Cook, Mattison is not as great of a runner as him and likely cannot be the focal point of the team’s offense. For Minnesota to make the playoffs next season Cook needs to play a majority of the team’s regular-season games. 

Pass Catchers (Wide Receivers and Tight Ends)

Even though Minnesota’s offense is based on the run, the Vikings have an extremely talented group of pass-catchers at their disposal. The Vikings have two Pro Bowl-caliber wide receivers in Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen along with a young talented tight end in Irv Smith Jr. 

A season ago Jefferson broke the rookie record for most receiving yards in a single season with 1,400. He did that off of 88 receptions and had seven touchdowns. Thielen fell 75 yards short of becoming the Vikings’ second 1,000+ yard receiver finishing the year with 925 yards in 15 games. However, Thielen was a scoring machine scoring 14 receiving touchdowns last season which was tied for fourth in the league. Smith Jr. finished the season with less than 400 receiving yards, but the former second-round pick looked more than capable of replacing Kyle Rudolph as the team’s primary receiving tight end at the end of last season. Over his last six games, Smith Jr. caught 19 of his 26 targets for 216 yards and all of his five touchdowns. Now that Rudolph is now a member of the New York Giants Smith Jr. can build on what he did a season ago, be the team’s starting tight end for an entire season, and become the team’s third receiving option on offense.

To make the playoffs Minnesota is going to need Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen to play the same level or better than they did last season. While it would be a major help if Irv Smith Jr. had a breakout season posting career highs in his first year as the team’s primary tight end. 

Offensive Line

For the last half-decade, it seems like the Minnesota Vikings have invested heavily into their offensive line. So far their investments have paid dividends. Some may say that the players they’ve drafted have not met the expectations Minnesota had when they drafted them. Minnesota has taken six offensive linemen in the first three rounds in the last five seasons. None of which have made a Pro Bowl in that time and outside of Brian O’Neill have been regarded as better than average. The Vikings took two offensive linemen inside the first three rounds this past draft that they expect to contribute right away. 

One of the biggest question marks on the Vikings offensive line is at left tackle. After trading down from 14th overall and passing on arguably the best interior offensive lineman in the draft Alijah Vera-Tucker, Minnesota took Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw 23rd overall. Darrisaw should be the Vikings starting left tackle from Day one. If he could anchor the offensive line and do a great job protecting the blindside of Kirk Cousins (or Kellen Mond, the Vikings’ offensive line could get the boost they need to remove themselves from the average or below-average territory it has been in for the last couple of seasons. Opposite Darrisaw on the right side is the most solid and best player along the Vikings offensive line Brian O’Neill. Since being drafted in 2018, O’Neill has entered the territory as one of the best young right tackles in the league. 

The interior of the Vikings offensive line starts with a player Minnesota took in the second round last year to potentially become their left tackle. After taking Darrisaw in the first round this past year it seems that Ezra Cleveland will likely stay on the interior for Minnesota. Cleveland was solid in his rookie season, if he progresses and develops into a better player this year that would go a long way to increasing the production of the Vikings line. Their center Garrett Bradbury has been a disappointment since being drafted in the first round in 2019. Bradbury was taken in the first round and has not played anything like the player many thought he would be coming out of NC State. Minnesota traded a sixth-round pick for former Arizona Cardinals center Mason Cole to push Bradbury for the team’s starting job. Cole was drafted in the third round by Arizona in 2018 and has started 32 of the 46 career games he has played in Minnesota. The biggest question mark along the Vikings offensive is at right guard. Minnesota is expected to have a competition for the right guard position between veteran Dakota Dozier and third-round pick Wyatt Davis. 

If Minnesota puts their best five offensive linemen out there to protect their quarterback and open holes for the running game efficiently that could very well be what the Vikings need to get back into the playoffs next season. 

Defensive Line

Last season the Vikings’ defensive line was atrocious. The lack of production from this unit impacted the rest of the roster. However, this unit has been almost completely revamped and could easily be the strength of their defense. Their sack leader from a season ago was Yannick Ngakoue who had five sacks in six games in Minnesota before getting shipped to Baltimore near the trade deadline. From there on out it is fair to say Minnesota had one of the worst defensive lines in the league last season.

A healthy Danielle Hunter is about as good as it gets at defensive end. If all goes well Hunter should have double-digit sacks for Minnesota, a Pro Bowl nob, and possibly recognition as an All-Pro. Opposite Hunter is expected to a rotation of a few players off the edge. Veteran defensive end Stephen Weatherly started all nine games he played in Carolina last season. He returns to the Vikings as the favorite to land a starting defensive end job. A rookie third-round pick out of Pittsburgh Patrick Jones could compete with Weatherly for the starting job and will likely rotate with him throughout the season. Janarius Robinson out of Florida State could get on the field this year as well. The fourth-round pick has all the traits to be an NFL defensive end but needs to be coached up. Robinson landed in an ideal situation getting coached by one of the better defensive coaches in the league Mike Zimmer. 

A dark horse candidate to take some snaps and potentially start at defensive end is former Pro Bowler and 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year interior defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson. The Vikings reunited with Richardson a few weeks after being released from the Cleveland Browns. Since Minnesota has an elite duo on the interior of their defensive line they may experiment with lining up Richardson as a base defensive end. Richardson has always been a better pass rusher than run defender during his career. The opportunity to rush off the edge on an elite defensive line may be what Richardson needs to rejuvenate his career. 

Minnesota will get to see both their major free agent signings from the past two seasons playing for them for the first time this upcoming season. Last year Minnesota replaced Linval Joseph with former Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Michael Pierce. Minnesota signed Pierce for three years $27 million. The former Raven was an elite-run defender due to his size and ability to plug up holes created by opposing offensive lines. The Vikings did not get to see Pierce play last season due to him opting out of the 2020 NFL season due to Covid-19 concerns. This offseason the Vikings spent big again on the interior of their defensive line bringing in former New York Giants Dalvin Tomlinson on a two-year $22 million deal. Tomlinson was a part of a dominant defensive line in New York that almost singlehandedly carried the Giants defense and team overall to the playoffs last season. He has been an elite-run defender as well during his time in New York and also has been able to rack up 3.5 sacks in each of the past two seasons. 

There is a lot of talent on the Minnesota Vikings offensive line. If Mike Zimmer can coach each of these players to their potential it would put overwhelming pressure on opposing offenses. A defensive line this talented could be what carries the Vikings into the playoffs next season. 

Linebackers

Since 2015 the Minnesota Vikings have had one of the better linebacker duos in the league between Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr. Over the last couple of seasons, both have been to multiple Pro Bowls and have been major parts of the Vikings’ defense. Both missed time due to injury last season. Both need to remain healthy for the Vikings to contend next season. 

Kendricks has been a tackling machine over the last couple of seasons averaging 106.5 combined tackles a season since being drafted. He is also no stranger to creating turnovers when factoring in his four career forced fumbles and seven career interceptions. Three of Kendricks’ career interceptions came last season. Over a couple of year stretch Barr was considered one of if not the best 4-3 outside linebacker in football. However, there has been a slight decline for the former 2014 first-round pick. Prime Anthony Barr does a little bit of everything. He not only can rush the passer like a defensive end, but he could also tackle and play in coverage as well as a linebacker on the inside. If Barr can play similar to how he did during his stretch of four straight Pro Bowls Minnesota’s defense could look similar to how it did in the late 2010s when it was considered one of the best in the league. 

The play of Minnesota’s linebacker duo is so important to their success. Not only do they need to stay healthy, but Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr need to play at a high level for this defense to have done their part to get this team in a position to contend for the playoffs. 

Secondary

The biggest question mark about the Vikings’ defense coming into this season is their secondary. Mike Zimmer is known for spending high draft picks on cornerbacks and developing defensive backs extremely well. In the last couple of seasons, it has become clear that Zimmer prefers to build his defense from the back forward. 

The Vikings gutted their cornerback room and drafted two cornerbacks with their first four picks in 2020. They took Jeff Gladney Jr. in the first round and Cameron Dantzler in the second round. Gladney was the team’s starting slot cornerback last season and Dantzler covered the team’s number one cornerback on the outside last season. It is fair to say that they struggled to defend pass catchers last season. This is not necessarily a knock on Gladney and Dantzler as players, a lot of cornerbacks struggle early in their careers in the NFL regardless of how high they were drafted. But in year two in the same defense, both are expected to take a leap forwards and play at a solid level if not better. The Vikings also made two major moves to their cornerback room. First, they signed former Pro Bowler and Arizona Cardinal Patrick Peterson to a one-year $10 million deal. Then Minnesota traded 2018 first-round pick, Mike Hughes, to the Kansas City Chiefs for a sixth-round pick in 2022. 

The dynamic duo of safeties that Minnesota has had over the last two seasons will not return this season. Free safety Anthony Harris left Minnesota in free agency and shockingly signed a cheap one-year $5 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Vikings replaced Harris with former Dallas Cowboy Xavier Woods and fourth-round pick Camryn Bynum. However, Harrison Smith will be returning to Minnesota for his tenth season. Smith has been one of the best and most important players to this franchise over the last decade. His production has been extremely reliable for the Vikings including last season when the team’s defense played awful as a whole. Smith finished last season with five interceptions and 89 combined tackles. 

Minnesota’s secondary can very well tie this defense together and return it to the juggernaut it was only a few seasons ago. If the young defensive backs that are expected to have feature roles in this secondary can play up to their potential and the veterans continue to play at a high level, Minnesota could have one of the best secondaries in the league. However, if Gladney and Dantzler do not improve from last season and Peterson plays like how he did last year, that could be enough for the Vikings defense to underperform and hold the team out of the playoffs. 

Final Verdict 

After evaluating this roster it is fair to say that a major component of this roster is health. A lot of vital pieces across this roster got hurt last season and Minnesota paid the price for it falling out of playoff contention early in the year before trying to play catchup towards the end. There is so much talent spread across this roster the veterans need to continue to play at a high level and possibly develop into better players, while the young guys need to make a major impact for Minnesota early in their careers.

It is fair to say the biggest component that will decide the fate of the Minnesota Vikings this season is the status for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. If Rodgers decides to hold out or is traded the Vikings have the roster to surpass Green Bay as the favorite to win the NFC North. At that point, all four teams in the NFC North would be rebuilding or retooling their roster likely making the winner a team with a close to .500 record and the race to determine the winner very ugly much like the 2020-21 NFC East. If last season’s MVP does not play in Green Bay and his replacement Jordan Love doesn’t have a breakout season Minnesota has what it takes to make the playoffs next season as long as their team can stay healthy and none of the vital or young players on this roster majorly disappoint. 

Three reasons why the Steelers could repeat as AFC North champs

The Pittsburgh Steelers offseason needs high goals

By: Noah Nichols

Everyone knows the story. The Steelers began the 2020 NFL season with an impressive 11-0 record. They would then go 1-4 and be eliminated in the first round the by the Cleveland Browns. However, that first round loss has really brought down people’s expectations for the Steelers. It is a popular opinion to believe that the Steelers will not make the playoffs in 2021. To be sure, the end of 2020 left a bad taste in the mouth of both fans and critics. The Steelers flaws really came to the surface at the end of the season.

But that does not mean that the Steelers won’t win the division, like they did last year. Even when they were predicted to finish third in the division. Yeah, the Steelers did not look good at the end of the season. But they have changed some things to fix the flaws that were apparent at the end of the 2020. Like their running backs and offensive line.

The AFC North is not so different from 2020. Some new players here, same players there, talent lost, and talent gained. That’s what happens in free agency and the draft. And while the critics are quick to point out the Steelers flaws, and praise the rest of the division for players acquired, they forget the Steelers. They have everything that they need to win the division. And they plan to. They wont say it, but they don’t have to, they will let their play do the talking, and let the rest of the division take the spotlight. Like the Browns, who are now expected to win the division, something that they have not done since 2002.

The Steelers have a running game

It is not early to say that the Steelers will have a better run game in 2021 than in 2020, where they finished dead last in the NFL in rushing yards per game.

Najee Harris will make sure that doesn’t happen again.

After being drafted in the first round at 24 overall, he instantly improves the Steelers run game from worst, to average. At least. I can’t say, well he improves the running game, here, here, and here. Oh wait, I can. He’s smarter, bigger, more fluid, a better pass catcher, stronger, and more athletic than any other running back on the Steelers roster. By far.

It’s not just the influx of talent, it’s the amount of times that he will touch the football. 300 times this season is probably too low of a mark. 340 is closer. And that threat, will force the division to do something that they have not had to do in a long time.

Focus on stopping the run against the Steelers. The division has been able to key in on the pass for the past two-three years and largely ignore the running game except when James Conner was playing, when he was healthy. Now, they cannot ignore Harris. A great example is the second Bengals game from 2020 where JuJu Smith-Schuster caught a dump-off pass over the middle and was clocked by Vonn Bell. Bell knew that the Steelers weren’t going to run the ball, because they were so bad at it, so he keyed in on JuJu.

Harris will force teams to respect the running game, which also opens up the passing game even more. Essentially, Harris ensures that the division cannot focus on one aspect of the Steelers offense. And that’s something that they are not used to doing, not since the days of Le’veon Bell.

The Steelers defense is still elite

The offseason losses to the Steelers defense are a little overblown. First, Bud Dupree is a big loss. But Alex Highsmith, who took his place last year when Dupree tore his ACL, proved that he is a worthy starter. Highsmith will ease the loss of Dupree. The loss of Mike Hilton is more of a pass rush loss than a coverage loss. Hilton, being 5″8 and never the fastest player on the field, was never great in coverage. His bread and butter was defending the run and blitzing.

While Hilton was great at what he did, it’s not that hard to find someone who can blitz. And the Steelers are replacing Hilton with Cameron Sutton, who was much, much better in coverage. And even though Steven Nelson is no longer on the team, he was cut. Clearly the Steelers are confident in what they have behind him.

The Steelers still have an insane pass rush, probably the best interior defensive line in the NFL. They have the best edge rusher in the NFL to pair alongside that defensive line. And they have arguably the best safety tandem in the league. The defense is not going anywhere, and will be a pain to play against for the division.

The Steelers know the division, and how to win it

I wanted to put these statistics in the above column, but it made more sense here. Lamar Jackson has played the Steelers as a starting quarterback twice. He has been sacked nine times, thrown five interceptions, thrown 24 incompletions, compared to three touchdowns and 369 yards passing in two games. Not so great. Jackson lost both those games. (Fun fact, Jackson has never beaten the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger as the opposing quarterback.)

Baker Mayfield has a passer rating of 80.4 with 884 yards, 7 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in 5 games versus the Steelers in his career, much better than Lamar. However, Mayfield has been sacked 16 times in those five games. And one of those games was against the Steelers backups to end the 2020 season. Joe Burrow has not fared much better, going 21 of 40 for 213 yards, one touchdown, 4 sacks, and a passer rating of 76.4. Burrow has only played on game though, so that information cannot be taken as 100% accurate.

However, the division clearly struggles at quarterback when playing the Steelers defense. Ben Roethlisberger is 63-20 versus the AFC North, and half of those losses belong to the Ravens. Eight belong the the Bengals. Ben Roethlisberger has lost to the Browns only twice in his 18-year career. He knows how to beat the rest of the division. The Steelers know how to win the division. Yeah, the division got a little tougher in some areas, but it got weaker in others. Like the pass rush, outside of Myles Garret, not a single player on the rest of the division’s front seven would start on the Steelers front seven. And that’s not even because of how good their front seven is, but how bad the rest of the division’s is.

Bill Cowher said it best in a interview on First Take.

“I think they will, they’ll be the hunt,” Bill Cowher said when asked on First Take recently if the Steelers will make the playoffs in 2021. “When you look at them, yes the division’s got tougher, but I love the pick of Najee Harris…” “Defensively they get Devin Bush back and that’s a top-tier defense. So, yes the division’s gotten better, but they’ve got a lot of veterans in that locker room that know how to win close games. And that’s what it’s going to come down to, and they got a great kicker in (the) kicking game. So, I think they’ll be in the hunt, and yes, I will say they will make the playoffs.”

The Steelers have a running game, they have a great defense, and they know how to win the division. Oh, and their receivers are still pretty darn good. They have everything they need to win the division. Just because no one in the national media is predicting it, does not mean it won’t happen. Don’t be surprised when it does. Don’t sleep on the Steelers. I guarantee the rest of the division isn’t.

Why the Browns should sign Richard Sherman right now

Cleveland Browns secondary needs Richard Sherman

By: Noah Nichols

The Cleveland Browns entered into the 2021 NFL draft clearly lacking at the cornerback position. They had the 27th worst passing defense in the NFL in 2020. Quarterbacks averaged 265 yards a game against the Browns. Only five teams were worse in 2020. The Browns knew that something needed to change in their secondary, specifically at cornerback. As a result, they selected Greg Newsome II in the first round. They also signed former Los Angles Rams cornerback Troy Hill. Both these moves are indicative of two things.

One, that the Browns knew there was a problem- and addressed it. They could not ignore the horrible pass defense that their team consistently put up in 2020. Aside from Denzel Ward, there were questions about if the rest of the secondary even belonged in the NFL. Those questions have more merit than you might think. A.J. Green, Kevin Johnson, Andrew Sendejo, Karl Joseph, and Sheldrick Redwine were all starters in 2020 for the Browns. Only Sendejo and Joseph were supposed to start in 2020, and none of those players are starting in 2021 for the Browns.

Two, the Browns have lost faith in Greedy Williams and have lowered their expectations of Grant Delpit. Williams played zero games for the Browns in 2020 and twelve games in 2019. He has only two pass deflections to his name, and injuries seem to be derailing his career. The Browns are ready to move on, or replace him with someone else. Delpit has yet to play a snap in the NFL after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in training camp last year.

This opens the door for two things, players with availability, and players with experience. That’s where Richard Sherman comes in.

The Browns could sign Sherman to be a veteran backup/starter in case someone gets injured, and the Browns would not be forced to start someone who has never played a game. The problem that the Browns might be worried about with Sherman is his availability. He has not played a full season since 2016, though he was close to doing so in 2018 and 2019. However, if the Browns sign Sherman, he won’t be a starter, at least not right away. He would be the third or fourth cornerback, and could play more zone, where he excels.

Because he would not be the starter, the Browns would not be hit too hard when/if he was injured. They would be able to play Williams behind him, and would not see a huge difference in play. Sherman would bring experience to the cornerback position and would not have to be a starter, perfect for a player getting up there in age.

So, why should the Browns sign Sherman? A few reasons. First, Sherman is expecting courters at this point in free agency. As he stated in an interview, Sherman knows that teams would wait to sign him until after the draft. “Well, apparently we got to wait ’til the draft happens before anything else shakes out, because everybody has their hopes and dreams in the draft, which is understandable,” Sherman said, via Matt Maiocco of NBCSportsBayArea.com. “You turn 33, and then it’s like, ‘We’ll wait until we get a young pup; and if we can’t get a young pup, we’ll take an old fool.’ So that’s where we’re sitting.”

The “old fool,” has bid his time, and now it’s up. The draft is over, and now the Browns know what they have. They can add Sherman for cheap, with interest in the aging corner seeming to die down. They are a contender for the Super Bowl, something that Sherman made clear that he was looking for in the next team that he would sign with. And if the Browns sign him now, it prevents him from becoming more expensive in the future.

Sherman would be able to drive up the price if another injury were to happen in camp, because the Browns would not have many other options, if they wanted an experienced cornerback. Signing Sherman now would ensure that the Browns would have depth at cornerback- something that teams never can get enough of.

Critics will point out that the Browns already have depth at the position. They will argue that the addition of Hill and Newsome will be more than enough, and there is no need for added depth. However, the Browns have clearly had problems keeping their players healthy in the secondary over the past two years. And with a 17-game schedule, there is even more room for injury. Another player does not hurt, especially when it’s someone with the presence of Sherman.

The final thing that Sherman brings is fire to the position. He would inspire the Browns secondary to play with swagger and pride. The Browns defense would not only get better, but they would know and act like they were better. That swagger plays with the minds of opponents, and helps players believe in themselves.

Denzel Ward believes that the secondary can be great. “I think we can be dominant,” Ward, a four-year veteran, said Tuesday on the first day of minicamp. “You can never have enough corners, and all of those guys can play and they’ve shown that. So everybody has to come out here and compete and do our job, and everything else will take care of itself.”

Sherman would only build upon that mindset and belief. And if the Browns really want that mindset, then they should sign Sherman. He would only improve an already-improved defense. But they better do it soon, before someone else does.

Top fits for the remaining FA RBs

Where will Le’Veon Bell sign?

By: Chris Thomas

In recent memory, it is hard to recall so many extremely talented free agent players still available at this point of the offseason. The reasoning may be that teams wanted to wait till after the draft to see if they could fill the remaining needs on their roster in the early rounds. Teams may also want to wait till training camp to see if the players on their roster have developed to a point where they could fill that need. On top of that in recent years veteran free agents have decided to wait till after the draft and training camp to sign with teams so they can look at a team’s overall roster before signing and skip training camp and get ready for the season with their own personal trainers. 

One of the deepest positions in this free-agent class is running back. Multiple former Pro Bowl running backs are still on the market. There are a couple of teams around the league who could still use a veteran to add to their running back rotation. Here is where the top free agent edge rushers could land.

Le’Veon Bell to the Miami Dolphins

Less than a year ago Le’Veon Bell had the option to sign with the Miami Dolphins. But Bell decided to join the Kansas City Chiefs backfield with 2020 first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire than to become the lead back in Miami or Buffalo. Bell was more interested in joining a championship contender than joining an unproven contender like the Bills and Dolphins who both ended up with over ten wins this past season. 

Bell started his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers where he quickly became known as one of if not the best running back in football. He had three seasons with over 1,800 scrimmage yards and 10+ touchdowns. Bell was voted to three Pro Bowls, named a First-Team All-Pro twice, and Second Team All-Pro once in 2016. After a conflict with the Steelers involving a contract extension, Bell hit the market as a free agent and signed with the New York Jets for 4 years $52 million. He only had 789 rushing yards in his first season in New York. Bell was released by the New York Jets following his return from injury in Week 5. this past season He had demanded that the team trade him, but after not finding a trade partner the Jets decided to release him. Bell rushed for 328 yards and two touchdowns on 82 attempts in games with both teams last season. He only started four games combined for both the Jets and Chiefs.

It felt like the Miami Dolphins were beat out in multiple situations when they attempted to add a star running back this offseason. Miami went after Chris Carson, Kerryon Johnson, and 2021 Second Round pick Javonte Williams at different points of the offseason. But they could not land any of those three backs. The Dolphins were able to sign former Los Angeles Ram Malcolm Brown to a two-year $3.5 million contract this offseason and still have Myles Gaskin on their roster from the year before. Gaskin led the Dolphins in all rushing categories putting up 584 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 142 attempts in ten games (seven starts). Miami also has Salvon Ahmed who was a great find for them last offseason. Last season’s undrafted free agent rookie rushed for 319 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 75 attempts in six games (four starts). 

If Miami signed Bell they realistically cannot expect him to be the player he was in Pittsburgh. But they can hope he can compliment Gaskin by putting up the production that he did in New York. It is at least worth it for the Dolphins to kick the tires on the former All-Pro since their backfield is still very unproven. Miami is expected to still be a run-first team despite adding Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle this offseason. So it would make sense for the Dolphins to make sure they have as much talent as they can get at this point in their backfield. Miami has playoff aspirations and may look to achieve more. Signing Bell would make sure the Dolphins did all in their power to make sure their backfield isn’t holding them back.

Prediction: Le’Veon Bell signs with the Miami Dolphins for one year $1 million 

Todd Gurley to the Kansas City Chiefs

Out of all of the remaining free-agent running backs, Todd Gurley had gained the most attention from teams. Gurley had visited the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens this offseason. The Lions had an interest in signing Gurley “on their terms“. The Lions would make a lot of sense considering they appear to be embracing a run-first approach with their lack of weapons at receiver, new Lions general manager Brad Holmes was a major part of the Rams front office who drafted Gurley who almost won them to a Super Bowl in 2017-18. Gurley would also be reuniting with former Rams’ teammate quarterback Jared Goff who was traded to the Lions this offseason. However, it appears at this point the Lions won’t be signing Gurley and don’t need to with a backfield featuring D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. 

During his time in St. Louis/Los Angeles Gurley was one of the most dominant running backs in the league. In three of his five seasons with the Rams Gurley rushed for 1,100+ yards and had over ten touchdowns. In two of those seasons, Gurley led the league in rushing touchdowns. His accolades with the Rams include Offensive Rookie of the Year (2015), Offensive Player of the Year (2017), three Pro Bowls, two First-Team All-Pro selections, and Second Team All-Pro recognition in 2015. Following the 2019-20 season, the Rams released Gurley two seasons into his four-year $60 million deal. He then signed a one-year $5.5 million prove-it deal with the Atlanta Falcons. He rushed for a career-low 678 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 195 carries. The Falcons decided not to bring back Gurley and elected to sign veteran Mike Davis to a two-year $5.5 million deal. 

The Kansas City Chiefs were in the middle of the pack in most major rushing stats last season. However, they were in a five-way tie for 22nd in the league in rushing touchdowns with 13. Only six teams had fewer rushing touchdowns than the Chiefs did a season ago. Having Patrick Mahomes as the face of the offense can be to blame for most of that. However, it would be a major help to the offense to have a running back on the roster capable of punching it into the endzone when they’re close rather than relying upon Mahomes to scramble or shovel pass it to All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was one of the worst running backs in the league in the red zone last season. Within the five-yard line, Edwards-Helaire was one for nine on attempts to punch it into the endzone. Edwards-Helaire is a great pass-catching running back but struggles in short-yardage situations. 

Although Todd Gurley’s health issues have regressed him to the point where he runs like he has been in the league for ten years despite only playing in the league for six, one constant throughout Gurley’s career has been his ability to score when his teams get in close. Since 2015, Gurley has rushed for 67 touchdowns. Last year in arguably Gurley’s worst season he still managed to have nine rushing touchdowns which was tied for 11th last season. Kansas City should consider pairing Edwards-Helaire with a former All-Pro running back for the second season in a row, but pair him with a back who compliments his skillset in Gurley. Signing in Kansas City would give Gurley another opportunity to be a part of a Super Bowl team and allow him to display what he is still capable of. 

Prediction: Todd Gurley signs with the Kansas City Chiefs for one year $1.5 million deal

Adrian Peterson to the Los Angeles Chargers

Adrian Peterson is one of the few running backs in the NFL who definitely will be receiving a gold jacket in Canton, Ohio after he retires. Peterson spent his first ten seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. A majority of running backs don’t even play in the league ten seasons, let alone play as dominant as Peterson had during that span. During his time in Minnesota, he led the league in rushing three separate times and led the league in rushing touchdowns twice. Peterson accumulated multiple accolades including league MVP (2012), NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, seven Pro Bowl appearances, four First-Team All-Pro acknowledgments, and three Second Team All-Pro acknowledgments. He also was a unanimous selection onto the 2010’s All-Decade Team.

Since leaving Minnesota Peterson had defied the odds and continued to be a major part of multiple team’s backfields for the next four seasons. After a tough 2017 season where he split time with the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals, Peterson ran for over 1,000 yards at age 33 in his first season in Washington. He followed it up the following season with just under 900 rushing yards in his second season in Washington. This past year Peterson started ten games for the Detroit Lions at age 35. As it stands right now Peterson is the fifth all-time in rushing yards in NFL history. 

Last offseason the Los Angeles Chargers gave their lead back Austin Ekeler a 4 year $25.4 million contract. Ekeler had outshined former first-round pick Melvin Gordon and was well deserving of being paid like the team’s lead back. But last season Ekeler got hurt and missed six games last year. The Chargers struggled to run the ball during that six-game stretch. Their best running back when Ekeler got hurt was Kallen Ballage who is now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It would make a lot of sense for the Chargers to bring in Peterson for a lot of reasons. Los Angeles is a warm-weather city that is extremely attractive to free agents and playing there could open up opportunities for Peterson in media after he retires. Secondly, his playstyle compliments Ekeler very well. Ekeler is most dominant as a receiver out of the backfield. If Peterson was brought in to Los Angeles, he could take on some of the between the tackles and short-yardage runs while Ekeler can focus on being a receiving threat out of the backfield. The Chargers could even explore the option of having both Peterson and Ekeler on the field at the same time, lining up Peterson in the backfield and Ekeler in the slot as a wide receiver for a couple of plays a game.

Also, another feature of the Chargers that would be attractive to Peterson is the fact that they are considered a borderline playoff team. Despite being one of the greatest running backs to ever play the game, Peterson had only been to the playoffs four times in his career and hadn’t been to the playoffs since the 2015-16 season. At this of his career, Peterson has done it all except play winning and meaningful football. Peterson has only played past the Wild Card round of the playoffs once in his career back in the 2009-10 season.

Prediction: Adrian Peterson signs a one year $2.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers

Frank Gore to the Arizona Cardinals

Similar to Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore is one of the only running backs still in the NFL that will be enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame shortly after he retires. He has played for four different teams over the last four seasons. But Gore began his career with the San Francisco 49ers. During his ten seasons with the 49ers, he had been named to the Pro Bowl five times and was named a Second Team All-Pro in 2006. After leaving San Francisco, Gore played three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and followed that with one-year stints with the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, and New York Jets After only starting one game his rookie season, Gore has started 217 of 227 games since 2006-07. That is an unreal feat for a running back. Gore has the NFL record for most games played for a running back (241) and is the first player in NFL history with 12 consecutive seasons with 1,200+ scrimmage yards. A resume like that earned him a spot on the 2010’s All-Decade Team.

It is unclear what to expect out of the Arizona Cardinals backfield this upcoming season. Their projected starter Chase Edmonds has only started four games in his career at this point and has never reached 500 rushing yards in a single season. Last season Edmonds took snaps away from starter Kenyan Drake being the team’s primary receiving back. He had a career-high 53 receptions for 402 yards and four receiving touchdowns last season. They also signed former Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner to a prove-it one year $1.75 million deal. In Conner’s first season as a starter in 2018-19, he was voted to the Pro Bowl after rushing for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns along with 497 receiving yards. Since then multiple injuries have kept Conner off the field or limited in the action he has seen. Pittsburgh decided to move off of Conner and go in another direction at running back.

The best-case scenario for Arizona’s backfield in 2021-22 is for Kliff Kingsbury’s offense to put Conner in a position to play similar to his best similar to what it did for Kenyan Drake while reducing his carry count having him split carries with Edmonds. For a team that has playoff aspirations, there is a lot of uncertainty in Arizona’s backfield. That is why the Cardinals should bring in Frank Gore. Over the last couple of seasons, Gore has remarkably been extremely consistent with his production despite being in his late thirties. At worst Gore could be a veteran presence in a locker room filled with both veterans and young players. But if Conner cannot remain healthy and Edmonds struggles to play like a lead back, Gore can be a safe option in the backfield that could be good for between 8-12 carries a game.

Arizona is also a great landing spot for Gore because it has been the final landing spot for multiple veterans and future Hall of Famers looking to finish their career in a great warm-weather city. At age 38 Gore will likely be playing his final season this year if he hasn’t already.

Prediction: Frank Gore signs a one year $1.75 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals

Duke Johnson Jr. to the Atlanta Falcons

For just over half of a decade Duke Johnson Jr. has been one of the best complimentary backs in the league. Despite only starting 17 of 91 career games, he has been an important part of the offenses he has played for during his time in Cleveland and Houston. During each of his first three years in Cleveland, Johnson had over 800 scrimmage yards. In his last season in Cleveland Johnson’s role was reduced. Then after receiving a three-year contract extension Johnson asked to be traded and was moved to the Houston Texans for a 2020 Third Round pick. Johnson had a career-high 410 rushing yards in his first season in Houston then split carries with David Johnson this past season. The new Texans administration cut Duke Johnson this offseason.

The Atlanta Falcons lost their best two running backs Todd Gurley and Brian Hill in free agency. They replaced them with veteran running back Mike Davis. The Falcons signed Davis to a two-year $5.5 million deal after a career year with the Carolina Panthers.

Davis was drafted in the fourth round by the San Francisco 49ers in 2015 then after two seasons was claimed off waivers by the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle started Davis for six games in 2017 after being activated off the practice squad late in the year. The following season Davis posted career highs in a rotational role. Davis signed a two-year $6 million deal with the Chicago Bears in 2019 but did not finish his first season with the team. He was claimed off waivers by the Carolina Panthers. During his first full year with the Panthers this past season, Davis was forced into a large role because of multiple injuries to former All-Pro Christian McCaffrey. Davis showed during his twelve starts last season that he is capable of being a team’s starting running back. T

His performance last season was enough for the Falcons to feel comfortable with Davis being their lead back next season. Based on Atlanta’s running back depth chart Davis may be the workhorse back for the Falcons next season. For a team trying to be competitive in 2020, it is risky having Davis as the team’s only capable running back on the roster. Atlanta should add a veteran backup or change of pace back in case Davis gets hurt or needs help carrying the load. That role would be perfect for Duke Johnson. That is the exact role Johnson had last season in Houston. Johnson could serve as Davis’ primary backup and take a couple carries a game when Davis needs a breather.

Prediction: Duke Johnson Jr. signs a one year $990,000 deal with the Atlanta Falcons

Is Kirk Cousins the future QB of the Vikings?

Will Kirk Cousins remain with the Vikings beyond his current contract?

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

Kirk Cousins is currently the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings and it will be his job heading into the 2021 NFL season. He has had mixed results in this role and will have to prove his worth if he wants to keep it moving forward. He is still only 32 years old so time is on his side as he is still in the middle of his prime. He is not racing the clock but he is playing for his future with the team. Let’s take a look at whether or not he is the long-term answer at quarterback for the Vikings.

The Contract

Cousins is under contract with the Vikings for the next two seasons, through 2022, and is set to make a ton of guaranteed money. He is owed 76 million dollars guaranteed including salary cap hits of 31 million n 2021 and 45 million in 2022. This massive contract and the way that it is structured means he will almost definitely remain with the team until it concludes at the end of the 2022 season. That does not necessarily guarantee his starting job but it does keep him on the payroll.

The Production

After being the starting quarterback for 3 years in Washington, Cousins has now been the starter for the Vikings for 3 consecutive seasons and has only missed one game since arriving in Minnesota. In his 3 seasons with the Vikings he has accumulated over 12000 passing yards and 91 passing touchdowns against 29 interceptions. His completion percentage has decreased each year with 70.1 in 2018, 69.1 in 2019, and 67.6 in 2020. On the other hand, his total QBR has impressively improved each season with 59.5 in 2018, 60.4 in 2019, and 63.2 in 2020.

His numbers as a whole have not been bad but not exactly spectacular either. He has been fairly consistent and definitely does his best work out of the play-action passing game, which makes Dalvin Cook extremely valuable to the success of their offensive scheme. When Cook is rolling, it allows Cousins to get into his rhythm and operate at his best. Cousins has shown consistent chemistry with veteran Adam Thielen and great promise with the young stud Justin Jefferson.

Besides just the individual statistics, it’s also very important to look at the results of the team since Cousins took over as the starting quarterback. Since his arrival, the Vikings record is 25-22-1 in the regular season. They have only made the playoffs one time out of the three years as a wild card and have never won the NFC North division. While this is not a terrible record over three seasons it still leaves much to be desired. If the Vikings do not at the very least make the playoffs this upcoming season then Cousins could be in big trouble in terms of his job security. This may be his last chance to receive a contract extension beyond the 2022 season.

The Replacement

Through the first three years that Cousins was with the Vikings, there wasn’t any real threat on the roster to challenge him for the job including both the present and the future. It was really always his job alone but now things may be different after the organization used a third-round draft pick this year on quarterback Kellen Mond out of Texas A&M. Mond is definitely not going to start right away and is considered a little bit of a developmental project for now but he does have real talent and true potential. After spending some time with the Vikings coaching staff while also serving as the backup quarterback to Cousins, he could blossom into a solid starter eventually.

As a starter in all four years at college, Mond was a legitimate dual-threat quarterback with dangerous rushing abilities to go with arm talent that continuously improved from one year to the next. His accuracy, which was a weakness initially, started to become a strength as he matured and became more comfortable with how the quarterback position is played. He excelled greatly in a zone-read style of offense because of his elite athleticism and effective scrambling. In his college career, he accumulated an impressive 9661 passing yards, 71 passing touchdowns, 1609 rushing yards, and 22 rushing touchdowns.

What makes Mond a good fit with the Vikings is the similarity in styles between what they do as a team and what his strengths appear to be. With Cousins as their quarterback, the Vikings offensive scheme features a ton of play-action passing as well as RPOs. That is exactly the style of attack where Mond found his most success at the college game. Compared to Cousins, Mond is definitely more athletic and dangerous with his legs but not as efficient and accurate of a passer, especially the deep ball.

The Coach

Mike Zimmer has been the head coach of the Vikings since the 2014 season so that of course also includes the entire three years that Cousins has been the quarterback. He has a career record of 66-50-1 as the head coach of the team and it seems as though his job is on the line this year also. If the Vikings do not have a successful campaign this season and at a minimum make a playoff appearance then it is very likely that Zimmer will be fired. Often times when a team brings in a new head coach, it also means that it is time to make a change at quarterback as well, preferably to a younger option to develop chemistry between coach and player while growing together. This situation is another serious threat to the future of Cousins, especially with Mond lurking behind him.

The Verdict

All things considered, the plan for the future of the Vikings at the quarterback position seems pretty clear based on multiple factors. Financially, it would make the most sense to move on from him after the 2022 season when his contract officially expires and he becomes an unrestricted free agent. The potential successor is already on the roster in Kellen Mond, who is an exciting young prospect with a style of play that very well fits the modern NFL game. Unless Cousins does something spectacular this season and not only makes a deep postseason run but is also the main reason for that success, it seems his days as the starting quarterback are numbered in Minnesota.

Though nothing is impossible, it is highly unlikely that Cousins can take such a leap at this point in his career. He can still improve his game but who he is as a quarterback has mostly been defined already. By the 2023 season, if not sooner, expect to see a new combination of a head coach and quarterback for the Vikings. The Cousins era in Minnesota was not a failure and still has a little time to be written, but it was not good enough to this point to justify another very expensive contract extension. As long as he continues to show promise, Kellen Mond is up next for the Vikings and even has a chance to take over the job this year if Cousins struggles at all.

Ben Roethlisberger’s ceiling and floor for 2021

By: Noah Nichols

“I didn’t play well enough at the end of the season,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s no secret, and I’ll be the first to point the finger at myself. When the ball is in your hand every play, you have to make plays and play better football. I just felt like I had more in the tank and felt disappointed about the way the season ended. I wanted to let (the Steelers) know that if they wanted me back, I felt like I could give them everything I’ve got.”

Entering into the 2020 NFL season and coming off of major arm surgery, expectations for Ben Roethlisberger were not very high. Throughout most of 2020, Roethlisberger exceeded those expectations, but he did struggle towards the end of the season. Passing the football over 600 times might have had something to do with that, but the fledgling finish to the season raised some doubts about Ben. Can he still do it? Were the failings at the end of the year an indicator of someone who was throwing the ball too much, or of someone who just cannot throw the ball as well anymore?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. But Ben is not preparing like it.

“I’m going to approach this like I do every season like it’s my last,” Roethlisberger said. “Every single play in the game of football could be your last … every game could be your last. I’ve never looked toward the future. I’ve always looked toward the right here and now. I’m going to give it everything I have to win a Super Bowl this year because it’s the most important year for any of us.”

Ben is approaching the 2021 NFL season the right way. If everything goes well, where does that place him? Top 10 quarterback? And if it does not go well, bottom 25? The answer is more in between.

Ben Roethlisberger’s Ceiling

“Ben Roethlisberger says he expects more from his arm this year, a full extra year off of surgery. Said not having to rehab also affected his approach this winter: “I took a lot of time off from throwing this off-season. I really hope and pray it will pay dividends.” — Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) June 1, 2021

Ben struggled at the end of 2020. There is no way around that. But it does make sense that he might. He was coming off major elbow surgery in his throwing arm. And the offense required him to pass the ball over 600 times, which was the most in the league. The reason for that was twofold. One, the Steelers were the worst team in the NFL at running the ball. So instead of running the ball, the Steelers would rely on short, quick, passes and after the catch yards. Second, the now-without-a-job Randy Fichtner, the Steelers offensive coordinator in 2020, did not exactly help Ben by limiting his passes. Fichtner would keep calling those short passes, only continuing to wear down Ben’s freshly reconstructed elbow.

Enter Najee Harris and a completely remolded offensive line. Ben will not have to rely on those quick passes anymore. Najee Harris will tote the ball, and he will get the ball, a lot. 325 touches is not an unreasonable figure, and he could very well go over that number. So, with Roethlisberger no longer relying on his arm as a substitute for the run game, his arm will get more rest. And like I indicate earlier, he is already resting his arm.

Ben will have more passes with zip, and less throws that float in the air as a result of this. His arm strength is not something to be worried about, and that is not what he struggled with in 2021. He struggled with downfield accuracy. However, for someone who has to get used to basically a new elbow, that might be expected. And with a year to regain his familiarity with that elbow, to get used to throwing downfield again, it’s reasonable to expect that he might throw the ball better downfield in 2021.

The run game will help him with that, he will be able to use play-action effectively because defenses will be keying in on the run. His arm will be fresh and well-rested. Something that it was not entering into the 2020 season. So, what his ceiling? Taking into account his weapons, a new offensive coordinator, and a new running back, it’s pretty high. I expect Chase Claypool to take a second-year jump that Mike Tomlin expects from his players. Najee Harris is also a great pass-catching back, so he will receive more dump-off passes than his predecessors used to. The new offensive coordinator, Matt Canada has already said: “We’re gonna do what Ben wants to do and how Ben wants to do it,” Canada said Tuesday. “Our job is getting every player in position to make plays. There are changes with terminology. That’s an adjustment for Ben. He’s been great in learning it. Doing really well with it. He has adapted easily as we all knew we would.”

Canada is going to put Ben in a position to win. I think it’s reasonable to expect that Ben will pass for over 4,700 yards and 33 touchdowns. And his interception’s will probably come in around seven. Passing the ball less, but more effectively is going to be the name of the game for Ben in 2021. He won’t fall off at the end, either. No, he wont win MVP. But he will do more than enough for the Steelers. If I had to place him on a tier for 2021, I would say 10-12th best.

Ben Roethlisberger’s Floor

“Matchups are how you win football games,” Canada continued. “It starts with the quarterback. What does he do well? What does he like? What does he see? What is good to his eye in the passing game? Then we build off of that. That’s what we are gonna do. His voice. His vision. What he sees will be what we’ll do.”

Like I noted earlier, the offense in 2021 for Ben Roethlisberger is going to be tailored for him, and to fit his strengths and weaknesses. More runs, fewer short passes, and designed plays to keep Ben upright, but not passes that are predictable. Roethlisberger notes that he has already started practicing this new offense that Canada is implementing.

“We have gone under center,” Roethlisberger said during organized team activities on June 1. “We have shotgun. He has more motion. But I feel like that is where the NFL is going right now, a lot of the jet sweep motions and stuff. I can go under center. I never said I didn’t like it. We will be in the gun, we will move. We will throw a lot of different looks and schemes and things at people and see what works.”

So, how does this pertain to Roethlisberger’s floor? Well, if the offense is tailored to fit him, he can only be so bad. He is surrounded by talent around him at skill positions. Najee Harris can do anything and everything that Ben will need. Harris will be like Le’veon Bell for Roethlisberger, someone that he can rely on whenever things go south. That ensures that Ben won’t be throwing the ball into triple coverage, trying to make a play. And his offensive line has the talent and potential to make sure that he does not get killed in the backfield.

Roethlisberger won’t have to get the ball out at the fastest pace in the NFL either. Those basic things, a new offense tailored to him, and a new running back who he can rely on, will ensure that he always has some options, and won’t be trying to do too much.

As a result, his floor for 2021 comes in at 4,00 yards, and 25 touchdown passes. Maybe he throws more interceptions than usual, like 13 in this prediction. That would not be unreasonable to expect from him, he has thrown for more than that in a season not a few times.

In either scenario, Ben is at worst a top 20 quarterback, and at best, fringe top-10 quarterback. Now, maybe he could crack the top eight. If he does, than he would really be exceeding expectations. But that is not a reasonable ceiling. Still, Ben will be more than good enough for the Steelers in 2021. Perhaps even great.

Where the best available edge rushers could sign before Week 1

Where should Justin Houston sign?

By: Chris Thomas

In recent memory, it is hard to recall so many extremely talented free agent players still available at this point of the offseason. The reasoning may be that teams wanted to wait till after the draft to see if they could fill the remaining needs on their roster in the early rounds. Teams may also want to wait till training camp to see if the players on their roster have developed to a point where they could fill that need. On top of that in recent years veteran free agents have decided to wait till after the draft and training camp to sign with teams so they can look at a team’s overall roster before signing and skip training camp and get ready for the season with their own personal trainers.

One of the deepest positions in this free-agent class is edge rusher. Multiple former Pro Bowl edge rushers are still on the market. There are a couple of teams around the league who could still use another pass rusher off the edge. Here is where the top free agent edge rushers could land.

Justin Houston to Baltimore Ravens

Before free agency started in March, Justin Houston was viewed as one of the best free-agent edge rushers. However, due to his age and slight decline, teams may have been hesitant to give Houston a long-term big money contract. But that being said Houston showed last year that he is still capable of being a player opposing offenses need to plan for. After racking up eleven sacks in his first season in Indianapolis, Houston had eight sacks this past year after the Colts traded for DeForest Buckner in the offseason. The pairing of Houston and Buckner was disruptive enough to give Indianapolis one of the better defenses in the league last season.

A team that has not done enough to replace the pass rushers they lost in free agency is the Baltimore Ravens. During free agency, the Ravens lost both Yannick Ngakoue and Matthew Judon who both signed large deals with the Las Vegas Raiders and New England Patriots. Ngakoue and Judon had 9 of the teams 39 sacks last season. Along with Jihad Ward, they were three of the six payers that had three sacks or more for Baltimore last season.

They did manage to resign situational pass rusher Pernell McPhee and former second-round pick Tyus Bowser. But neither McPhee nor Bowser has shown the capability to play like a true number one pass rusher on a playoff team. The Ravens did use their second first-round selection (31st overall) on Penn State edge rusher Odafe “Jayson” Oweh. The hype around Oweh as a prospect was his athletic testing and high ceiling, but in year one he will likely be better in a rotational role.

Baltimore hasn’t been a stranger to signing veteran defenders over the years. Houston would arguably be the Ravens’ best pass rusher next season depending on how Calais Campbell plays. His eight sacks from a season ago would have led the Ravens last year and he could very well lead the team in that category if he were to sign there. The transition to Baltimore’s defense wouldn’t be that large considering Houston was largely looked at as just a 3-4 outside linebacker before landing in Indianapolis. Actually, the reason why Kansas City let him go was because of the fear that he would not be able to fit in with Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defensive scheme. Bringing in Houston could be more than a bridge until Oweh can take on a full-time role. Houston could be what boosts this defense to play at a top-10 level this season. He has Pro Bowl upside and could very well make people question why he didn’t land with a team earlier in the offseason.

Prediction: Justin Houston signs with the Baltimore Ravens for one year $7.5 Million

Melvin Ingram to Pittsburgh Steelers

Throughout his career, Melvin Ingram has been a player who is good for about just under ten sacks a season who is capable of playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber level and put up double-digit sacks. Going into this season it seemed unlikely that Ingram would play his way into another huge contract. He was likely going to land somewhere as a veteran secondary pass rusher. However, a season riddled with injuries limited Ingram to seven games. He also did not have a single sack on the season. The knee Ingram injured that put him on IR twice is likely the reason why he remains unsigned. If Ingram’s knee heals, he could be a valuable addition to a defense.

The Pittsburgh Steelers arguably had one of the worst offseasons last year. Not only did they lose four of their five starters along their offensive line, but they also lost two starting cornerbacks, and edge rusher Bud Dupree. To replace those players Pittsburgh is betting on the players they have drafted in the middle rounds over the years that have shown the ability to potentially become starters for them. 2020 third-round pick Alex Highsmith is expected to take over for Bud Dupree this coming season. After Dupree tore his ACL last year, Highsmith was thrusted into the starting lineup. He had 48 tackles and two sacks in five starts. But since Pittsburgh believes they are in a win-now mode they should try to bring in a veteran to compete with Highsmith for the job starting opposite T.J. Watt.

Ingram appears to be the perfect veteran for Pittsburgh to bring in to compete with Highsmith for one of their starting edge rusher roles. Over the course of his career, Ingram has been very consistent over the last couple of seasons averaging 8.6 sacks a year between 2015-2019. That type of production is good enough to take away attention from premier edge rusher T.J. Watt and keep this defense playing near an elite level. At the worst, Ingram and Highsmith rotate rough out the season, and as the year progresses Highsmith develops into a full-time starter while Ingram reverts into a situational role. If Ingram signed to a low-risk contract he could be the real difference-maker this upcoming season.

Prediction: Melvin Ingram signs with the Pittsburgh Steelers for one year $5.5 million

Olivier Vernon to Dallas Cowboys

One of the forgotten free agents that hit the market this offseason is former Cleveland Browns edge rusher Olivier Vernon. He had nine sacks in 14 games this past season which is his highest total since he had 11.5 during his second season in the league in 2013-14. It was so unfortunate that during Week 17 Vernon tore his Achilles. Vernon was a vital part of the Browns’ defense this past season and could have gotten a large payday. His Achilles injury may be a large part of why he remains unsigned, but the fact that he has not been able to stay healthy and finish a 16 game regular season since 2017-18 may have derailed his market.

The Dallas Cowboys are one of those teams that could finish near the top or bottom of the league this year. It is hard to predict how they will finish the season. They are expected to have an elite offense but may be held back by their defense. Besides replacing Mike Nolan with Dan Quinn and drafting a couple of defensive rookies early, what else has Dallas done to improve their defense this offseason? How much better is Dallas’ defense this season compared to last year? After evaluating their roster, the answer is not much better.

The one position Dallas did not address this offseason is pass rusher. Since getting his huge contract from the Cowboys, DeMarcus Lawerence has been extremely inconsistent putting up five sacks in 2019 and six and a half sacks this past year. A trend Dallas has had the past couple of seasons has been adding a veteran pass rusher later in the offseason to pair up with Lawrence. In 2019, Dallas traded for Robert Quinn who had a borderline Pro Bowl season and got a huge payday after that. Last year Dallas signed Pro Bowler Everson Griffen to a deal but dealt him once it became clear that Dallas would not be contending after Dak Prescott’s injury. Dallas could do the same by adding Oliver Vernon this offseason. If Vernon is healthy and added to Dallas’ defense it gives them an extremely athletic pass-rushing duo who are dynamic enough to put up between 15-20 sacks combined next season.

Dallas desperately needs a veteran player opposite Lawerence because there is uncertainty whether Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong, Bradlee Anae, or third-round pick Chauncey Golston could fill that void.

Prediction: Olivier Vernon signs with the Dallas Cowboys for one year $5 million

Everson Griffen to Kansas City Chiefs

At this point last season one of the best available free agents was former Minnesota Vikings pass rusher Everson Griffen. Late in the offseason, Griffen signed a one-year $6 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys. He had 2.5 sacks in his seven games with the Cowboys but then was traded to the Detroit Lions for a conditional sixth-round pick. Griffen started two out of seven games with the Lions and had 3.5 sacks for them. So overall in 14 games, Griffen had six sacks which is solid for a secondary or rotational pass rusher.

The biggest theme for the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason was upgrading the trenches after their loss in the Super Bowl. Kansas City primarily focused on adding to their offensive line but has made some upgrades to their defensive line as well. They retained former first-round pick Taco Charlton and made the extremely underrated signing of former Seahawks defensive tackle Jarran Reed. The Chiefs have an elite group of defensive linemen including Frank Clark, Chris Jones, Jarran Reed, and great run defender Derrick Nnadi. According to NFL.com’s Kevin Patra, the Chiefs are planning to use Jones as an edge rusher this season opposite Frank Clark while playing Reed and Nnadi primarily in the middle. Jacob Lang of the St. Joseph News-Press reported that Jones has wanted to play defensive end for the Chiefs, but played in the interior because they had Justin Houston and Dee Ford at the time off the edge. Over the last four seasons, Jones has developed into one of the elite pass-rushing interior defensive linemen in the league. Jones has averaged 9.6 sacks a season since 2017.

So if Jones has been so dominant rushing the passer from the interior, why would the Chiefs try to move him around the line instead of keeping him at his natural position on the interior and finding another player to put opposite Frank Clark. Jones deserves the right to lineup at defensive end in a couple of packages a game, but it may not be the best thing for him to move all over the line.

Very few defensive linemen are able to play on multiple spots across a defensive line. It seems like almost every season a star defensive lineman signs with a large money deal with a new team and that team tries to play him in a different role than he is accustomed to and that player struggles. Jones may be one of the few players who can transition to a different role on the defensive line. But signing a veteran like Everson Griffen could give Kansas City a security blanket at edge rusher in case Jones is unable to transition well to his new role and lines up in the interior for a majority of the season. Griffen showed last year he is still capable of producing at a starting level and could rotate with Taco Charlton off the edge opposite Frank Clark. If he can mimic the production he had last season on this dominant defensive line it could be well enough to not consider this a major need or hole on the roster until they address it the following offseason.

Prediction: Everson Griffen signs with the Kansas City Chiefs for one year $4.5 million

Why L’Jarius Sneed is the key to the Chiefs success

L’Jarius Snead is going to be a star in the league

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

On a team loaded with superstars like Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, it is actually a much less known player that is the key to their success this upcoming season. That player is their young second-year cornerback L’Jarius Sneed. He is a versatile weapon on defense who was impressive playing multiple defensive back positions.

An impressive rookie season

His skills and athleticism allowed for him to be both a lockdown corner and successful on the blitz as well. In just 9 games played last season, he recorded 41 tackles, 7 passes defended, 3 interceptions, and 2 sacks. Maybe most impressively, the rookie allowed only a 52 completion percentage when targeted in man coverage. Opposing quarterbacks completed only 13 passes for 108 yards on 25 targets when throwing to the assignment of Sneed. For reference, he recorded the fourth-best coverage efficiency based on passer rating in the entire NFL and by far the number one best among rookies.

Unfortunately for both Sneed and the Chiefs, after recording an interception in each of his first two NFL games, he injured his collar bone in week 3 and missed the next 7 games of the season. When he returned his position was switched from an outside coverage corner to a slot defender. In this new spot, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was able to get more creative with Sneed and used him in more ways than just in coverage. His versatility shined and he was arguably even better as a utility defender than just in a role of man coverage on the outside.

Interestingly, minus the week 17 game where the Chiefs had nothing to play for, the only regular-season game that they lost all season was to the Raiders in week 5. Sneed did not play this game due to his injury, and the Chiefs defense got torched for 40 points. His presence is clearly a big factor for the Chiefs. He is an important piece to the puzzle if the Chiefs want to make another Super Bowl run.

Chiefs Defense

The Chiefs total defense last year was middle of the pack, ranking 16th in yards allowed per game with 358.3 and 11th in points allowed per game with 22.6. They ranked 14th in passing yards allowed per game with 236.2 but where they actually thrived was in forcing turnovers. They recorded 16 interceptions which were the 5th most in the NFL last season. These defensive rankings are not bad but there is definitely some room for improvement.

It’s very important to remember that Sneed only played about half of the season last year. This gives a very good reason to be optimistic that if he is able to play a full season this year then all of those rankings, especially against the pass, could all improve. Sneed recorded 3 out of the 16 interceptions for their defense, which was actually the second-highest total on the team. Only Tyrann Mathieu had more picks with 6 total and he played in 15 games. Sneed also had the second-most passes defended on the team with 7 on the season. Mathieu and Breeland tied for the lead with 9 and they played 15 and 11 games respectively.

If the numbers for Sneed last year were doubled, which would roughly account for the half-season he missed, he would have potentially registered an estimate of 82 tackles, 14 passes defended, 6 interceptions, and 4 sacks. That would have been the most passes defended on the team by far and tied him for the team lead in interceptions. Just as impressively, that would be the third most sacks too. Even his 2 sacks total were good enough for 5th most on the team. The projected numbers would have not only been good enough to make the Pro Bowl, but Sneed would have had a strong case for Defensive Rookie of the Year as well.

With the hopes of getting a full season out of Sneed in 2021, the Chiefs defense expects to make a significant improvement. He has the skillset and potential to be an All-Pro at cornerback, especially considering that with more experience and maturity his game should improve even more. Cornerback is one of the most difficult positions to learn in the NFL but Sneed has made it look relatively easy so far. If his game takes the next step, the Chiefs could definitely be a top 10 defense next season. That is a scary thought considering how dominant their offense already is.

Chiefs Offense

Head coach Andy Reid is one of the greatest offensive minds in NFL history and he has a generational talent in Patrick Mahomes quarterbacking his Chiefs offense. They have blazing speed at all of the offensive skill positions including the fastest player in the NFL in wide receiver Tyreek Hill and the best receiving tight end in Travis Kelce. Just to put the cherry on top, they have a very solid offensive line as well. This lethal combination makes an absolutely stacked offense from top to bottom. It would be expected for them to be one of the best units in the league, but how much better they are compared to other teams is amazing.

The Chiefs were by far statistically the best offense in the NFL with 415.8 yards per game. That is almost 20 yards per game more than the second-place Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans, who were tied at 396.4. Passing yards per game is a similar story, leading the NFL with 303.4 and almost 15 better than the 289.1 by the second-best Tampa Bay Bucs. All things considered with this Chiefs offense, they have little to worry about in the upcoming 2021 season. As long as they are healthy, they will most likely once again be the best in the league.

Season Outlook

With how good the Chiefs offense is, they will always have a shot to win every game. This is why they won 14 games last season and made it all the way to the Super Bowl despite having an average-ranked defense. The thing that can take this team to another level, such as transforming from a yearly Super Bowl contender to a true dynasty, is by improving on the defensive side of the ball. The offense couldn’t really be much better, as it is already better than the rest.

Sneed is definitely someone to watch this season and his play could be the key to unlocking a new level for the Chiefs. He was dominant in his half of a season and expectations are sky-high heading into the 2021 campaign. If he develops into an elite defensive back and helps the defense move firmly into the top 10, it would be really hard to see anybody taking down the mighty Chiefs this season. They are already the favorites to win the Super Bowl this year and their chances would improve even further if Sneed takes the next step.

The Colts are the Super Bowl Darkhorse in the AFC

The Indianapolis Colts are a real Super Bowl contender in the AFC

By: Noah Nichols

The Indianapolis Colts finished the 2020 NFL regular season in disappointing fashion. It started with a 21-0 lead on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second-to-last game of the regular season. The Steelers would rally, and the Colts would falter, ultimately losing to the Steelers 28-24. The Colts would then wallop the Jacksonville Jaguars the following week, but then lose the week after in the playoffs to the Buffalo Bills. The loss against the Bills showed that the Colts had mostly everything they needed to win playoff games. And perhaps even win a Super Bowl. But Phillip Rivers retired in the off-season, which led to Carson Wentz being brought in to be the starting quarterback.

This leads to a few questions. First of all, can Carson Wentz play to the same level as Phillip Rivers did in 2020? Can the Colts improve on being good everywhere, and ascend to great? There are a few reasons to believe that the answer to those questions might be yes. And if the Colts can improve in those areas, then the Super Bowl is certainly not out of the question. And the fact that almost no one is talking about the Colts should provide a little fuel to the fire. The Colts have been pushed aside, left aside by the media in favor of flashy teams like the Bills, or Tennessee Titans.

That might be a mistake.

“You move teams. You go through what Carson has gone through, and an opportunity like this presents itself you use it for what it is. It’s time to hit the reset button. If you know Carson the way I know him, he’s embracing that.” Frank Reich knows that Carson Wentz struggled in 2020. Reich was not going to ignore it, probably because there was no way he could deny how awful Wentz was in 2020. But that does not mean that Reich no longer believes in Wentz. If that was the case, Wentz would not be a Colt.

Wentz could be, scratch that, is the x-factor for the Colts in 2021. His job is to replace Phillip Rivers’ level of play with something similar, and hopefully, better. A new situation is good for Wentz. He needed out of Philadelphia. Especially after these stats which he posted last year. Wentz led the NFL in interceptions (15) and sacks (50) while posting career-lows in completion percentage (.574), touchdown-to-interception ratio (16-to-15), and yards per attempt (6.0). Not looking so good.

But the Eagles had drafted a quarterback in the second round, and faced injuries on offense that, at times, seemed insurmountable. But that begs the question, can Reich fix Wentz? Possibly. But Reich doesn’t need to fix Wentz. He just needs Wentz to produce like Rivers did in 2020. Rivers threw for roughly 4,200 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. His completion percentage was 68 percent, a career high by four points.

Wentz does not have to play that much better to reach those stat lines. He wont be running for his life in 2021. Instead of playing behind the worst offensive line in the NFL last year, he will be playing behind one of the best. To make this clear, the Eagles gave up 65 sacks in 2020. The Colts gave up 21. With the statue at quarterback that is Phillip Rivers. The pressure wont be all on Wentz. He not only will be able to have more than 0.3 seconds to throw the football, but have a capable running back to hand the ball off to. Jonathan Taylor will lead a Colts rushing attack that is growing to be one of the best in the league. Taylor will most certainly improve in 2021, and he had the 3rd most rushing yards in the NFL in 2020.

To switch gears momentarily, that rushing attack will certainly propel the Colts into the dark-horse-Super-Bowl- contender category. With one of the best offensive lines and running backs, in the NFL, the Colts could be a lot to handle on the ground. Taking even more pressure off Carson Wentz and allowing him to succeed. Admittedly, there is no way to prove that Wentz will be better in 2021 and near the level of Rivers. However, with the way 2020 went, there seems no place for Wentz to go than up, because he definitely hit rock-bottom in 2020. Hopefully.

Sarcasm aside, the pieces surrounding Wentz in Indianapolis are much better then in Philadelphia. There is little real pressure on Wentz, because expectations are so low. And he has been reunited with his old quarterbacks coach. Wentz should perform better in 2021, and there is little reason to expect that he will be as bad in 2021 as he was in 2020.

But Wentz playing at an average level, or even above average, might not be enough to take the Colts to the Super Bowl. The Colts are searching for players on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball that can be star players. Not pretty good, or really good players. They need stars. And they have some.

To begin with, Jonathan Taylor looks like he might be one of the best running backs in the NFL in 2021. He was third in the NFL with roughly 1,200 yards rushing and had 11 touchdowns. He also caught the ball 36 times- something he never did at Wisconsin, for 299 yards. He averaged exactly five yards running the ball, and eight catching it. Heading into 2021 Taylor looks to be ready to explode onto the scene. He will have a year under him to learn the nuances of being a running back, and there is almost no reason for the Colts to limit his touches. Most likely, the Colts will increase his touch total from 268 to over 300.

The Colts also are expecting, and rightly so, that their passing game improves. At least, they are right to expect their receivers to improve. T.Y. Hilton is still a good receiver, but he has never been a true number one. However, the Colts have high expectations for second-year player Michael Pittman entering into 2021.

“There was a conscious effort to get the ball to him in the way that we did,” Reich said of Pittman. “We saw this in his college days. I remember Chris (Ballard) and I talking a lot about this, but this guy is fearless, now. He’s fearless in every way, but when the ball is in his hands, he wants to hurt somebody. ” Reich continued to heap the praise on Pittman. “That wasn’t possession-type stuff, that was big-play receiver stuff,” Reich said. “And we need to see more of that.”

The 6″4 223-pound wide receivers certainly should improve from his 40 receptions, 503 yards, and one touchdown. Pittman looks to blossom into a star on offense. And that’s all the Colts really seem to need. Darius Leonard leads a solid defense. The Colts are looking for first-round draft pick Kwitty Paye to add to their pass rush. If Paye can compliment Leonard, the Colts could suddenly have a darn good pash rush tandem. Their secondary is deep, but with no real star player.

But the Colts cannot have everything, like every team in the NFL. And the Colts don’t need everything to win the Super Bowl. If Carson Wentz can play like an average NFL quarterback, then the Colts passing game will not really lose its luster. Pittman should take a big jump in year two, and become the clear number one wideout that T.Y. Hilton never was. And Jonathan Taylor should become one of the best running backs in the NFL.

What more does it take? Not much. The Colts nearly beat the Bills in the playoffs last year, and the Colts have certainly improved at almost every position since that point. The biggest question is really Carson Wentz. The Colts Super Bowl hopes ride on his shoulders. His expectations are low and perhaps he will use that to his advantage.

The Colts certainly are being forgotten in the Super Bowl discussion. Probably because of Wentz. But all the Colts need is for Wentz to be OK. Throw the ball up to Pittman on crucial downs, and hand the ball off to Jonathan Taylor every-other snap. The rest will take care of itself. The media has forgotten the Colts. Don’t make the same mistake. They are too strong of an organization, head coach, and team, to fall off a cliff. If Anything, they will improve from 2020 and could potentially win the Super Bowl in 2021. They wont be the most flashy team in the NFL. But they have the playmakers, potential and determination to do it. And that’s all it takes.

3 reasons why Derek Carr won’t be traded anytime soon

Derek Carr trade unlikely to happen?

By: Jake Rajala

Derek Carr, the pocket passer that holds the most late-game comebacks in a quarterback’s first several seasons (20), has been in controversial trade rumors over the past couple of seasons. It’s unclear if Carr will follow in the footsteps of past former elite QBs like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, likely Aaron Rodgers, in switching uniforms in a high level of his career. 

As of right now, Carr is dedicating all of his energy to obtaining a Lombardi trophy in Las Vegas. Carr is so fixated in marriage to the Raiders that when asked about getting traded, this is how he responded, “I’d probably quit football if I had to play football for someone else”.

Carr’s allegiance to Las Vegas is unquestionable. The real inquiry is, “do the Raiders want Carr to be the face of their franchise forever?”. My response to that question: I believe so. 

I will outline the three reasons why Carr will remain the Raiders QB until the death star (Raiders stadium) is inhabitable.

  1. Carr will be the best “long term option” available 

The Raiders signal-caller isn’t only an elite caliber of talent, but he is only 30 years old. Carr is the same age as Taysom Hill, two years younger than Russell Wilson, and two years younger than Kirk Cousins. Carr has at least a decade of quality football left in him. 

As long as Carr is the franchise QB, the Raiders will have an excellent floor each season. The Raiders have improved from four wins to seven victories, to eight wins, under Jon Gruden’s reign. Even if the Raiders miss the playoffs or have an early postseason exit, they should be in a tough spot to acquire a decade-like talent at QB in the draft each year.

There have been talented QBs on the trade block, but the available QB options are no longer available, or the steam has left the QB’s camps. Deshaun Watson doesn’t appear tradeable at this point, Russell Wilson is staying in Seattle, Aaron Rodgers appears to be in a Denver uniform or staying in a Packer jersey, and Tua Tagovailoa will be a franchise QB in Miami if he improves, or below dealing for if he sinks.

To sum it up, Carr will always be the best long-term offseason option to start for the team moving forward. 

  1. The Raiders need to seriously focus on improving the defense

Gruden knows that improving a defensive unit that ranked 25th in 2020 is the highest priority on the horizon. The Raiders had issues against the pass (26th ranked) and opened the floodgates against the run (24th). The Raiders have made this defensive emphasis clear with four defenders getting drafted in the first four rounds of the 2020 NFL draft. 

LV acquired pass rusher Yannick Ngakouye and cornerback Casey Hayward in free agency this offseason. Holes still lie in the secondary for the Raiders defense. CB Damon Arnette hasn’t proven his worth as a first-rounder, while the safety position was an Achilles heel in 2020. Corey Littleton was a sneaky good signing last offseason at LB, but the team desperately needs more consistent production in the LB unit. 

In an AFC West division featuring MVP Patrick Mahomes, OROY Justin Herbert, and potentially Aaron Rodgers, the Raiders have to be featuring a competitive defense (at the very least) in the divisional gauntlet. A lackluster defense with a young, different face at QB could also put the Raiders in a massive hole in their very own division.

  1. Jon Gruden is a Derek Carr supporter

There have been false claims of Gruden wanting “his own guy” or in search of a different QB. This common, false report, can be put to the grave. Gruden AND Mayock firmly stand strong behind their QB held on a high pedestal. 

They’ve expressed their gratitude and defense for their QB after putting on a fantastic showcase in the 2020 season. Carr displayed a career high passer rating (101.4) last season. His personality of grittiness is also very similar to Gruden’s style in the locker room. 

Carr told Vinny Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review Journal that his relationship with Gruden is often misunderstood. He elaborated by saying “what people don’t understand is how close we are. Not just football, but off the field. Whether it’s him texting videos of his dog and what they’re doing, and I’m sending videos of my kids hitting baseballs in their first game. People don’t understand that.”


The young Carr had an amazing season of production in 2020. If Carr ousts another year of mastering the offense and capping elite numbers, the connection should only continue to grow in the upcoming years.

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