David Banks/Associated Press

Every NFL Team's Riskiest Move of 2021

Gary Davenport

A lot has changed across the NFL since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers waxed the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. Hundreds of million of dollars have been handed out in free-agent contracts. Beginning with Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, this year's rookie class knows where its professional careers will begin.

And every club in the league from the Arizona Cardinals to the Washington Football Team has taken a chance and spun the wheel of risk.

For some, it meant signing an injury-prone or aging player. Others still made a trade that could impact the franchise for years. A couple made interesting coaching and management decisions. And for others, it's what they didn't do—the need they didn't fill or position the team failed to address.

To be clear, some of these decisions will pay off—perhaps in a huge way. That's the nature of gambling. But there will also be teams that come up empty and question why they took the chance in the first place.

No guts, no glory.

Arizona Cardinals: Signing J.J. Watt

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

This first one is a risk that was well worth taking.

Defensive end J.J. Watt is one of the best players of the past 25 years on that side of the ball, and that might be an understatement. Only three players in league history have been named Defensive Player of the Year three times—Lawrence Taylor, Aaron Donald and Watt.

Paired with Chandler Jones, Watt could give the Redbirds one of the most formidable one-two pass-rush duos in the NFL.

Just as Jones saw his 2020 season wrecked by injury, Watt has seen his effectiveness wane in recent seasons. Watt's last truly dominant season came in 2018, when he posted 61 tackles and 16 sacks. The year after that, he played in just eight games—the third time in a four-year span (2016-2019) in which he missed at least half the season.

Watt made it through all 16 games a year ago but posted just five sacks—a career-low for an entire season for the 32-year-old.

All this isn't to say that signing Watt wasn't worth the gamble, even at $14 million a year.

But a 75-tackle, 20-sack onslaught (benchmarks Watt hit in 2012 and 2014) is less likely than 40 tackles, a handful of sacks and some missed time.

Atlanta Falcons: The Mike Davis Experience

Mike McCarn/Associated Press

An argument can be made that Atlanta's riskiest move of the offseason was the one it didn't make.

There were rumors this offseason that both Matt Ryan and Julio Jones could be traded in a franchise reset. Jones will be catching passes in Nashville in 2021. Ryan is still leading the offense.

Rather than reset, the Falcons attempted to reload...sort of.

Atlanta can't be faulted that much for dealing Jones. The relatively modest return the team received may be questionable, but when a player of Jones' stature makes it clear he wants out and the organization needs to clear cap space as badly as the Falcons did, there's only so much a team can do.

However, Jones' departure puts more pressure on wide receiver Calvin Ridley. And rookie tight end Kyle Pitts. And Atlanta's run game.

That last part could be a problem.

After ranking 27th in the league in rushing last year, Atlanta added free-agent running back Mike Davis in the offseason. Davis played relatively well last year in place of the injured Christian McCaffrey in Carolina, topping 1,000 total yards. But he did so while averaging just 3.9 yards per carry.

Behind that middling talent at running back, the Falcons depth chart thins out quickly, and Atlanta neglected to select a single back in the 2021 draft.

When an undrafted rookie free agent is labeled the "most talented back on the roster," that's not a good sign.

Baltimore Ravens: Swapping Orlando Brown Jr. for Alejandro Villanueva

Gail Burton/Associated Press

First off, this isn't meant as a criticism of Baltimore's decision to trade tackle Orlando Brown Jr. The 25-year-old Pro Bowler made it clear he wanted no part of moving back to right tackle in 2021. The Ravens were able to get a first-round pick from the Kansas City Chiefs in return for Brown—a pick that was used to bolster the pass rush with the addition of Penn State's Odafe Oweh.

The Ravens then patched that hole with a veteran tackle with a pair of Pro Bowls on his resume, signing Alejandro Villanueva to a two-year, $14 million pact.

However, there's some risk involved in the swap.

For starters, Villanueva played left tackle during his six seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He may turn out to be a capable right tackle in his new home. But the switch isn't as simple as doing everything in reverse.

Also, while Villanueva was a capable player in 2020 (allowing three sacks in just under 1,100 snaps), it's been some time since he made the Pro Bowl. He's also a much better pass protector than run-blocker, which could be an issue for a Ravens team that runs the ball as much as any squad in the league.

Buffalo Bills: Not Extending Josh Allen (Yet)

Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

There are quite a few teams in this piece that didn't make a clear-cut "risky" move. The Buffalo Bills are one of them.

Not only are the Bills coming off a 13-win regular season (tied for the best in franchise history) and a trip to the AFC title game, but Bills GM Brandon Beane did a fine job preparing the team for another run in 2021.

With that said, there's one looming piece of business still to address—and it's a whopper.

Yes. Josh Allen has only produced one stellar season, but after his 2020 coming-out party, there has already been talk of a megadeal for the 25-year-old.

Per Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic, locking up Allen now rather than waiting a year could set the team up better for the future.

"Getting Allen signed now will not only avoid the overall market inflation at every position, but it also presents an opportunity to manufacture more cap space in those two seasons when quality cap space could be on the way. The 2023 salary cap jump could be huge, with new money from TV deals and gambling partnerships potentially providing a 'spike' to the cap."

At this point, there is zero question Allen's payday is coming. The only question is when. And the longer Buffalo waits, the more it will likely cost.

Carolina Panthers: Hitching the Offense to Sam Darnold

Nell Redmond/Associated Press

Former USC and NFL quarterback Rodney Peete traveled a career path very similar to Sam Darnold's. And per ESPN's David Newton, Peete thinks this is the year that Darnold puts it all together.

"You could put Patrick Mahomes in Detroit or with the Jets, and he doesn't have the success he's had in Kansas City,'' he said. "Why? Because of the weapons.''

There's no denying that Darnold's weapons in Carolina outshine anything he had over three disappointing years in New York. He has Christian McCaffrey in the backfield. DJ Moore, Robby Anderson and rookie Terrace Marshall Jr. at wide receiver. And an offensive-minded coach in Matt Rhule who traded for Darnold, picked up his fifth-year option and passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the 2021 draft.

The Panthers have committed to the third overall pick in 2018.

The question is whether it was wise to commit to a quarterback with just 45 career touchdowns, 39 interceptions, fewer than 215 passing yards per game, a completion percentage south of 60, just 13 wins in 38 starts and a career passer rating of 78.6.

Chicago Bears: Trading Up to Draft Justin Fields

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

You will be hard-pressed to find a fan of the Chicago Bears who isn't on board with the team's decision to trade up in the 2021 draft to select Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields 11th overall.

The Bears are a franchise that has been searching for a long-term answer at quarterback for decades. The signal-caller who led the team to its only Super Bowl win (Jim McMahon) isn't going to be confused with Joe Montana anytime soon.

But moving up nine spots wasn't cheap—Chicago's first selection in 2022 now belongs to the New York Giants. And as Rick Morrissey wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times, there are those in the draftnik community who have considerable concerns about Fields.

"The throwing mechanics are really my biggest issues—the inconsistencies there," former NFL quarterback Chis Simms said on his podcast. "Too many slam-dunk NFL completions that were left as incomplete in the college game. That bothered me. He is a little bit of a boom-or-bust prospect."

Anytime you spend an extra first-rounder, there's risk involved.

Cincinnati Bengals: Picking Ja'Marr Chase over Penei Sewell

Aaron Doster/Associated Press

Fans of the Cincinnati Bengals are undoubtedly tired of hearing about this. They have already committed their hearts to new wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase. Posters have been hung. No. 1 jerseys have been purchased.

The Who Dey gang doesn't wanna hear about offensive tackle Penei Sewell anymore. He was taken two picks later by the Detroit Lions. It's done.

To be fair, if Cincinnati's new-look offensive line jells and Chase shines as a rookie, the Bengals brain trust will look like geniuses. Per Tyler Dragon of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said his chemistry with Chase is "right back to where it was" in college at LSU.

But Burrow's rookie season was filled with pass-rushers in Burrow's grill and ended by a torn ACL. For all the improvements made to the Bengals offensive line, Pro Football Focus still ranked it 24th in the league entering the season.

If Jonah Williams can't stay healthy, Burrow takes another beating and Sewell shines in Motown, there might be some regrets about taking the team's newest pass-catcher.

Cleveland Browns: Releasing Sheldon Richardson

David Richard/Associated Press

There isn't a team in the NFL that has had a better offseason than the Cleveland Browns. The front office completed a defensive overhaul that injected talent along the line (Malik Jackson, Jadeveon Clowney), at linebacker (Anthony Walker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah) and in the secondary (Greg Newsome II, John Johnson, Troy Hill).

Still, there was also a departure that could come back to bite general manager Andrew Berry.

In order to free up cap space, the Browns released veteran defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. As Mary Kay Cabot reported for Cleveland.com, the team tried to bring Richardson back on a reduced deal, but the 30-year-old took less money still to join the Minnesota Vikings.

Now, Jackson is a capable veteran who made a Pro Bowl in 2017, but he's not the player Richardson is at this point in their respective careers. Cleveland signed Andrew Billings as well, but he didn't play at all in 2020 after opting out of the season.

It's possible that Cleveland's new-look defense won't miss a beat in 2021 with Richardson gone.

But it's also possible that new-look D will miss an old presence in the middle.

Dallas Cowboys: Drafting Micah Parsons

LM Otero/Associated Press

Let's get one thing squared away before Dallas fans break out the pitchforks and torches. Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons is a wildly talented young defender with the potential to be a difference-maker in the NFL.

The risk the Cowboys took with Parsons has less to do with the player himself and more to do with the decision to take him 12th overall in April.

Of all the needs the Cowboys had entering the 2021 draft, off-ball linebacker ranked toward the bottom of the list. Yes, Leighton Vander Esch has had injury issues of late. Yes, Jaylon Smith's level of play in 2020 wasn't as good as the season before. But both young linebackers have Pro Bowls on their resumes. Dallas also signed safety Keanu Neal in free agency with the intention of moving him to linebacker.

Parsons is also, for his talents, rather raw as a prospect. He opted out of the 2020 season at Penn State and didn't play much coverage in college.

The Dallas O-line isn't the strength it once was. The secondary needs work. The team needs edge-rush help opposite DeMarcus Lawrence.

Eschewing those positions for Parsons was a gamble.

Denver Broncos: Passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

When the Denver Broncos went on the clock with the ninth overall pick in the 2021 draft, the team faced a dilemma—select a potential franchise quarterback of the future in Justin Fields of Ohio State or Mac Jones of Alabama, or go another route and stick with the Teddy Bridgewater vs. Drew Lock battle under center in 2021.

That cornerback Patrick Surtain II is now in Denver settled that. The question is whether it's a call that will haunt the franchise for years.

Lock showed some potential late in his rookie season, but his sophomore campaign was a mess—a completion percentage under 58, a league leading 15 interceptions, a passer rating that barely cleared 75 and four wins in 13 starts for the Broncos.

Bridgewater wasn't noticeably better in his lone season as the starter for the Carolina Panthers. Granted, Bridgewater did complete a career-best 69.1 percent of his throws. But he threw just 15 scoring passes in as many games and actually had a worse winning percentage as a starter than Lock.

The Broncos have skill-position talent on offense and enough playmakers for a top-10 (if not top-five) defense. In most areas, it's a good enough team to vie for a wild-card spot.

But only if the quarterback play is at least average. And that's no sure thing.

Detroit Lions: Taking on Jared Goff's Contract

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

It's absolutely understandable that the Detroit Lions traded Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff and a package of draft picks. Stafford wanted out of Detroit, and a veteran quarterback and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 were a solid return.

But that doesn't mean there wasn't risk involved with adding the 26-year-old—largely because of his abomination of a contract.

As Mike O'Hara reported for the team's website, general manager Brad Holmes made it clear he doesn't view Goff as a short-term Band-Aid under center.

"I never viewed him as a bridge option," Holmes said. "He's been a winning quarterback. I think his resume speaks for itself."

It's true that Goff has a career record of 42-27. He led the Rams to a berth in Super Bowl LIII and has been named to two Pro Bowls. But his level of play fell off considerably in 2020, leading the Rams to move on from the first overall pick in 2016.

The Lions won't really have that option—at least not until 2023. The four-year, $134 million extension the Rams gave Goff makes it all but impossible to release him before then.

Green Bay Packers: Playing Chicken with Aaron Rodgers

Morry Gash/Associated Press

Like it was going to be something else.

It's not like the Green Bay Packers had much of a choice here. Not really. From the moment Rodgers reportedly demanded a trade out of Titletown, the Pack had two options: Acquiesce and do something that has never been done in NFL history (deal a reigning MVP), or dig in and hope that either Rodgers would blink or that fences could be mended.

The Packers have insisted from the jump that the first isn't happening—Rodgers isn't being traded. The second one doesn't appear likely at the moment—Rodgers has reportedly threatened to retire if he isn't dealt. Given that team president Mark Murphy has taken what some viewed as a veiled shot at the 37-year-old signal-caller, there doesn't appear to be much mending happening anytime soon, either.

There's also the possibility that Rodgers could take advantage of the agreement reached recently between the league and the NFLPA and just opt out of the 2021 season, although that decision has to be made by July 2.

Simply put, smoothing things over somehow is the only way this doesn't go down as maybe the single biggest front-office gaffe in NFL history. It doesn't matter how big the potential return would be in a Rodgers deal—going from the primary threat to the Buccaneers in the NFC to a rebuild under Jordan Love in the blink of an eye is not a good look for GM Brian Gutekunst.

Calling his bluff and watching Rodgers leave the game altogether while getting nothing in return is even worse.

Houston Texans: Making Nick Caserio General Manager

Steven Senne/Associated Press

There was a time when Nick Caserio was one of the more coveted front-office executives in the NFL. Caserio was the director of player personnel for the Patriots for over a decade, and during that time the Pats blocked a number of attempts by teams to interview the 45-year-old for general manager vacancies.

Caserio finally got his chance to be a GM this year in Houston, and a few months later there are probably organizations thankful that New England stopped them from hiring him.

To be fair, Caserio wasn't exactly put in position to succeed. When he took the job, the team's best defensive player (J.J. Watt) and offensive player (Deshaun Watson) both wanted off the team. Watt is in Arizona now. Watson's days with the franchise are all but certainly numbered. Caserio also had next to no draft capital thanks to the tenure of Bill O'Brien as head coach and GM.

But Caserio hasn't helped matters any. He re-signed running back David Johnson—and then signed Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram II. There are more new names than you can count, but the Texans don't appear any better than they were entering the offseason. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Add in the wholly uninspiring hiring of David Culley as the team's head coach, and the Texans are the early leaders in the race to be the NFL's worst team in 2021.

Indinapolis Colts: Trading for Carson Wentz

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

It's absolutely understandable that the Indianapolis Colts felt motivated to make a bold move under center. The team made the postseason in 2020. The Colts possess a playoff-caliber roster. The retirement of Philip Rivers left a massive hole in the roster at the game's most important position.

But there's also no denying that trading for Carson Wentz was a risky move.

If the Colts get the Wentz who played under Frank Reich in Philly in 2017, then jackpot. That Wentz completed 60.2 percent of his passes with 33 touchdowns against just seven interceptions with a passer rating of 101.9 while winning 11 of 13 starts.

That Wentz will be more than worth the first-round pick in 2022 the Eagles will receive if Wentz plays 75 percent of Indy's snaps this year.

However, the last Wentz we saw was nowhere near that player—57.4 percent completion rate, 16 touchdowns, a league-leading 15 picks, three wins in 12 starts and confidence that appeared to be shot.

If that Wentz shows up in Indianapolis in 2021 and the team backslides, losing that pick will sting quite a bit.

Jackaonville Jaguars: Hiring Urban Meyer as Head Coach

John Raoux/Associated Press

The riskiest move for the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason technically happened before the 2021 league year even started.

The Jags had gotten yet another early start on the offseason after a 1-15 nightmare of a season. It marked the ninth time in the last 10 seasons that the Jaguars lost at least 10 games. Jacksonville has been to the playoffs just three times since the turn of the millennium.

To his credit, if there's one thing that Urban Meyer knows about, it's success—albeit at the collegiate level. Over the better part of two decades as a head coach at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State, Meyer amassed a ridiculous 187-32 record—a winning percentage of .854. Meyer won a pair of national championships at Florida and one with the Buckeyes.

But that was college, and this is the NFL. Sure, we've seen Jimmy Johnson and Pete Carroll win both a national title and a Super Bowl. But we have also seen Steve Spurrier flame out in the pros. And Chip Kelly. And Greg Schiano.

The greatest coach in college football history (Nick Saban) lasted two years with the Miami Dolphins before crawling back to the collegiate ranks.

Last year's debacle landed the Jags a generational quarterback prospect in Trevor Lawrence.

Entrusting a guy who has zero NFL experience with that opportunity is as risky as it gets.

Kansas City Chiefs: Releasing Mitchell Schwartz

Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

Not that long ago, Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz were considered arguably the best tackle duo in the NFL. But after the two veterans battled injuries last year and the Chiefs were obliterated in the trenches in Super Bowl LV, both players were released in the offseason.

For the most part, Kansas City did a great job retooling that offensive line. Joe Thuney was signed at guard, with Laurent Duvernay-Tardif set to join him after opting out in 2020. The Chiefs sent a first-round pick to Baltimore for Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr.

But while Mike Remmers did a decent job filling in for Schwartz last year, the right tackle spot could still be a question mark for the team in 2021.

However, there's a chance the Chiefs have had a plan all along. Fisher has signed with the Indianapolis Colts, but Schwartz is still out there on the open market. With veteran Kyle Long already injured (again), a pretty compelling argument can be made that if Schwartz's back is healthy (or expected to be), the Chiefs would be well-served to kick the tires on the four-time All-Pro (three second-team, one first-team).

Who says you can't go home again?

Las Vegas Raiders: Trading Three OL Starters

Noah K. Murray/Associated Press

Not that long ago, the offensive line was a strength for the Las Vegas Raiders. Now, Pro Football Focus ranks the unit 25th in the league.

And the Raiders have no one to blame but themselves.

It's not just that the Raiders sent right tackle Trent Brown packing. Brown has had trouble staying on the field since signing a four-year, $66 million contract in 2019, and the Raiders drafted a replacement for him in Alabama's Alex Leatherwood in Round 1 of the 2021 draft.

But then they turned around and all but dumped Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson in Arizona's lap, dealing the 31-year-old for a Day 2 pick. And just in case that wasn't puzzling enough, the fire sale continued—Mike Mayock gave guard Gabe Jackson away, trading the seven-year veteran to Seattle for a Day 3 pick.

This is a Raiders franchise that supposedly fashions itself as being close to a playoff spot.

Those aspirations are awfully hard to buy into after the team disassembled the O-line.

And Derek Carr best have his scrambling shoes ready for the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens.

Los Angeles Chargers: Failing to Address the Edge Spot Opposite Joey Bosa

Peter Joneleit/Associated Press

There are a lot of reasons for optimism with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2021. There's a new head coach in Brandon Staley. 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert has two new starters on the offensive line in front of him in tackle Rashawn Slater and center Corey Linsley.

This is a team that is getting some run as a dark-horse playoff contender in 2021. But there are potential problem areas.

The Chargers possess one of the best edge-rushers in the league in Joey Bosa, but after nine seasons and 49 sacks, the Bolts didn't make any real effort to re-up batterymate Melvin Ingram III. That moves fourth-year veteran Uchenna Nwosu into the starting lineup opposite Bosa.

The 24-year-old Nwosu is coming off the best season of his career, but that high-water mark was still just 4.5 sacks. If Nwosu can't produce with at least some consistency off the edge, Bosa is going to be the constant victim of double-teams.

And if the Bolts can't get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, Los Angeles is going to have a hard time finishing in the top 10 in pass defense for a fifth straight season.

Los Angeles Rams: Trading for Matthew Stafford

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Apparently Rams general manager Les Snead hates first-round picks. The last time he made one was when he traded up to select Jared Goff in 2016.

After shipping Goff and a package of picks to the Detroit Lions, Snead won't be making another one until at least 2024.

Of course, that trade got the Rams the veteran quarterback the team hopes is the final piece of a Super Bowl puzzle. As Myles Simmons reported for Pro Football Talk, veteran tackle Andrew Whitworth has been impressed by what he's seen from his new QB to date.

"You see it in him, how hungry he is, how hard he works, and also just how talented he is," Whitworth said on the Jim Rome Show. "So I think our whole football team is obviously really excited about the opportunity to take the field with him this fall."

The individual numbers have always been there for Stafford—45,000-plus passing yards over the span of a dozen seasons. But the 33-year-old is 16 games under .500 as a starter and lost all three of his postseason starts to date.

The team around Stafford is the best of his career. But the pressure on him to win is its highest ever as well.

Anything less than a trip to Super Bowl LVI will be viewed as a major failure.

A ridiculously expensive one.

Miami Dolphins: Trading Up to Draft Jaylen Waddle

Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

The Miami Dolphins have been incredibly active in acquiring and dealing draft capital over the past couple of years. After getting Houston's first-rounder in 2021 as part of the Laremy Tunsil trade, Miami flipped that third overall pick to San Francisco for three first-rounders—including the 12th overall pick in 2021.

Miami wasn't done yet—the Dolphins then traded their first-rounder in 2022 and that 12th overall pick to Philadelphia to move up six spots and draft Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.

Waddle's talent isn't in question—the 5'10", 180-pounder has drawn comparisons to Chiefs wideout Tyreek Hill. Waddle also has a built-in rapport with Tua Tagovailoa from their time together at Alabama.

But with Will Fuller V and DeVante Parker already on the team, it's fair to question whether Waddle's talent was worth that extra first-rounder. The Eagles wound up selecting Waddle's teammate DeVonta Smith after moving up to No. 10. With their 18th overall pick, the Dolphins could have drafted Minnesota's Rashod Bateman, Florida's Kadarius Toney or Elijah Moore of Ole Miss—all without sacrificing a first-round pick next year.

If Waddle lives up to those Hill comparisons, this will all be moot.

But if he struggles, the extra capital required to acquire him will sting that much more.

Minnesota Vikings: Ignoring the WR Position

Jim Mone/Associated Press

The Minnesota Vikings have one of the better one-two punches at wide receiver in the NFL. Adam Thielen set a career high with 14 touchdowns in 2020. Justin Jefferson had a season for the ages as a rookie.

But behind that duo on the depth chart is…not much. Chad Beebe isn't a terrible slot receiver, but he isn't scaring any opposing defenses. Bisi Johnson has shown the occasional flash, but that's about it.

Thielen has also missed time in each of the past two years, including half a dozen games in 2019 with a hamstring injury.

Given that relative lack of depth, there was some expectation that the Vikings might sign a free agent receiver or draft a wideout relatively early this year—especially after the home run the team hit with Jefferson. But it wasn't until the fifth round of the 2021 draft that Minnesota addressed the position with Iowa's Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

This may not turn out to be much of a liability at all for Minnesota. In addition to Jefferson and Thielen, the Vikings have one of the league's best running backs in Dalvin Cook and a promising young tight end in Irv Smith Jr.

But a lack of depth at wide receiver could become a big problem for the Vikings if the injury bug bites.

New England Patriots: The Nelson Agholor Signing

Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

There wasn't a team in the NFL that was more aggressive in free agency this year than the New England Patriots. Many of the moves were hailed, such as the trade with the Las Vegas Raiders that brought 2019 Pro Bowler Trent Brown back to town.

But there's one contract that stands out as a pact that could leave Darth Hoodie with buyer's remorse.

To be fair, wide receiver Nelson Agholor is coming off the best season of his professional career—the seventh-year veteran set personal bests in Las Vegas last year in receiving yards (896), yards per reception (18.7), touchdowns (eight) and yards per target (10.9). It was something of a coming-out party for a player who was previously best known for being ripped in a viral clip by the witness to a house fire.

No. Really.

But the Patriots just gave $11 million a season and $16 million in guarantees to a veteran who has never even amassed 900 yards or caught 65 passes in a single campaign.

Now he's being asked to be the top wideout for a Pats team with its eye on getting back to the playoffs.

New Orleans Saints: Drafting Edge Payton Turner in Round 1

Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

For the most part, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis is well-regarded around the NFL. He has played a significant part in the franchise's success over the past decade-plus.

But Loomis appears to have a soft spot for small-school edge-rushers.

In 2018, the Saints dealt their first-rounder the following season to move up and take Marcus Davenport of UTSA. The team recently picked up Davenport's fifth-year option for 2022, but by any objective measure he has been a major disappointment. Through three seasons, Davenport has almost as many missed games (11) as he does sacks (12).

Apparently, Loomis believes that if at first you don't succeed, try, try again: New Orleans made one of the most puzzling picks of Round 1 in April when the Saints took Houston's Payton Turner with the 28th overall pick.

it's not that Turner is devoid of talent, but he was widely viewed as both a Day 2 prospect and one that will need time to develop.

It was an odd gamble—especially after the team doubled down on its bet with Davenport.

New York Giants: Big Contracts for Banged-Up Players

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

No one can accuse New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman of sitting on his hands. After a disappointing six-win season, the Giants were aggressive in adding talent on both sides of the ball.

On offense, the Giants shelled out $72 million over four seasons (including $40 million in guarantees) to give Daniel Jones a new No. 1 wide receiver in Kenny Golladay. On defense, New York added talent in the secondary by inking cornerback Adoree' Jackson to a three-year pact that averages $13 million a season.

Both have the potential to be impact players.

Both also have the potential to be major busts.

Golladay was a force in 2019, setting career highs in receiving yards (1,190) and touchdowns (11) while averaging over 18 yards a catch. But 2019 is the only time in four years he has played in all 16 games, and 2020 saw him miss 11 games with an assortment of injuries.

Jackson has had similar durability issues. Two years ago, he missed five games, and in 2020 he missed all but three games with a knee injury. When Jackson was on the field last year, the 25-year-old was mostly awful—Jackson allowed an 81.3 percent completion rate on balls thrown in his direction, and his passer rating against was a staggering 145.8.

New York Jets: Giving Edge Carl Lawson $15 Million a Season

Matt Patterson/Associated Press

As odd as it feels to type it, the New York Jets quietly had one of their best offseasons in years.

Regardless of how you feel about BYU's Zach Wilson as the team's quarterback, it was clear Sam Darnold wasn't going to be the guy. Not in New York, at least. It was time to move on. The Jets also put Wilson in a better position to succeed by adding some passing-game weapons in veteran Corey Davis and rookie Elijah Moore and fortifying the offensive line.

It's possible that the Carl Lawson signing will turn out to be a success as well; Lawson is only just entering the prime of his career, and the 25-year-old tallied a career-high 32 quarterback hits with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2020.

But $30 million in guarantees is a lot of cabbage to give an edge-rusher who has never had nine sacks in a season and had just 5.5 a year ago.

If Lawson doesn't start converting those near-misses to sacks fairly quickly, it won't take long for the New York media to turn on him.

Philadelphia Eagles: Replacing Doug Pederson with Nick Sirianni

Tim Tai/Associated Press

It's hard to pinpoint a personnel move by the Philadelphia Eagles as risky. After eating an NFL-record dead-cap hit in the Carson Wentz trade, the Eagles didn't have any money to make moves.

That leaves us with the move that started the ball rolling on what has been a tumultuous offseason in the City of Brotherly Love: the firing of Doug Pederson and installation of Nick Sirianni as the team's head coach.

Maybe it will be for the best. The relationship between Pederson and Eagles management had reportedly reached a staggering level of dysfunction. Per Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia, Eagles passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo said Sirianni has impressed from the moment he took the job:

"The first thing that stood out to me was his command for the big stage, getting in front of the offense and speaking to the team. That was something that stuck out right away. He does an unbelievable job of getting in front of a big crowd and just speaking to people and conveying the knowledge and the details of how he wants to get things done."

But just a few years ago, Pederson was standing on a stage holding the first (and only) Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. Sirianni had never been a head coach and has just three years experience as a coordinator.

Add in the rebuild underway in Philly, and Sirianni has quite the task ahead of him.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Offensive Line Implosion

Kirk Irwin/Associated Press

This is less about one move the Steelers made this offseason and more about a series of moves Pittsburgh made—or in this case, didn't make.

Per Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports, on Thursday the Steelers stunned the NFL by releasing six-time Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro, whose balky ankle reportedly has the 31-year-old contemplating retirement.

It's the latest in a string of transactions that have left Pittsburgh's offensive line in shambles. Center Maurkice Pouncey retired. Tackle Alejandro Villanueva is now in Baltimore. Matt Feiler signed a three-year pact with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Mind you, this was a line that "helped" produce the NFL's worst ground game in 2020. That line had already fallen from 17th in the league last year (per Pro Football Focus) to 29th in 2021—and that was with DeCastro in the lineup.

The Steelers did sign veteran Trai Turner in an effort to stop the proverbial bleeding. But the difference between Turner and DeCastro is significant—with Turner being the inferior talent.

And that's a theme in Pittsburgh along the O-line.

This is a team with Super Bowl aspirations and a 39-year-old quarterback with all the mobility of a ficus tree.

Rookie running back Najee Harris is about to get a rude introduction to professional football.

San Francisco 49ers: The Trey Lance Trade

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

There wasn't a more obvious risk taken in the NFL this offseason than the trade that landed the San Francisco 49ers the third overall pick in the 2021 draft.

Or a bigger one.

Quarterback Trey Lance has everything a team could want in a prospect at the position. He's an athletic 6'4", 224-pounder with a huge arm. Per David Bonilla of 49ers Webzone, Lance is already making a positive impression on teammates, like tight end George Kittle.

"Trey's a good quarterback," Kittle said on ESPN's First Take. "I'm excited to see the progression that he makes. He's a hell of an athlete. Just being in OTAs with him, he's a guy that wants to learn every single day. He's competitive every single day. He doesn't let mistakes stop him. Nothing snowballs."

But Lance also has just 318 pass attempts in his collegiate career—and those came at the FCS level. He played in just one game last year and struggled quite a bit. While Lance is incredibly talented, he's also raw.

And the Niners didn't just use a top-five pick to draft him. The move up cost the Niners their first pick in both 2022 and 2023 as well.

If Lance isn't the real deal, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan will never hear the end of it.

Seattle Seahawks: Replacing Shaquill Griffin with Ahkello Witherspoon

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

The Seattle Seahawks are an example of the difficulties of managing a roster in today's salary cap era.

With players like quarterback Russell Wilson and inside linebacker Bobby Wagner commanding massive salaries (and a big extension looming for safety Jamal Adams), Seattle's cap situation is tenuous.

When the Jacksonville Jaguars offered cornerback Shaquill Griffin a three-year, $40 million pact that included $29 million in guarantees, the Seahawks could do little but wave goodbye and look to sign a lower-cost option. That would up being Ahkello Witherspoon, who spent the first four seasons of his career in San Francisco.

The 26-year-old is coming off arguably the best season of his career, posting a highly respectable passer rating against of 82.4 in 2020. But Witherspoon has also started just 12 games over the past two seasons, and in both 2018 and 2019, his passer rating against was over 104.

Maybe Witherspoon is ready for a full-time role after playing 333 snaps last season.

Or maybe the second-worst pass defense in the league in 2020 is in danger of being even worse in 2021.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tagging Chris Godwin

Kyle Zedaker/Associated Press

OK, so this is a reach.

What do you want? The riskiest thing that has gone on with the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers this year was a switch from Coke to Pepsi in the vending machines at One Buccaneer Place. This is a group that returns all 22 starters from the team that throttled the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

This level of continuity for a franchise is unprecedented. Despite a number of prominent players (including wide receiver Chris Godwin) hitting free agency, not one left.

However, while guys like edge-rusher Shaquil Barrett and linebacker Lavonte David got multiyear deals, Godwin is playing under the franchise tag in 2021. There has been no indication that the 25-year-old is unhappy about the situation, but if Godwin can rebound statistically from last year's injury-marred campaign and post numbers similar to the season before (86/1,333/9), he is going to command a monster deal next offseason.

The kind of deal Tampa may even have a hard time fitting under next year's increased salary cap.

Tennessee Titans: Signing Bud Dupree

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

On the surface, it's hard to find much to criticize about the Titans offseason. The team added one of the best wide receivers of his generation by trading for Julio Jones. After managing just 19 sacks in 2020 (third-fewest in the league), Tennessee looked to bolster the pass rush by adding one of this year's top free-agent edge-rushers in Pittsburgh's Bud Dupree.

Pass-rush help doesn't come cheap—the Titans gave Dupree $35 million in guarantees as part of his five-year, $82.5 million pact.

And that's where the risk comes in.

It's not just a matter of the lengthy history of edge-rushers who ink a massive contract and then fail to recapture past glory. Or the fact that Dupree won't have T.J. Watt drawing double-teams opposite him in Nashville.

Dupree is also coming off an ACL tear that happened late in the 2020 season. There's been nothing to indicate Dupree has suffered any setbacks in his rehab, but being anywhere close to 100 percent by the opener against the Cardinals would be a quick turnaround for the 28-year-old.

With the Colts hot on their heels in the AFC South, the Titans don't have time to wait.

Washington Football Team: Signing Ryan Fitzpatrick

Luis M. Alvarez/Associated Press

It's not all that often that a 7-9 team enters a season riding a wave of optimism. But that 7-9 record was good enough to earn the Washington Football Team the NFC East title. And the pieces appear to be there for another playoff run in 2021.

There's a stout offensive line. A good array of offensive weaponry that now includes wide receiver Curtis Samuel. And arguably the best defense in the league.

The biggest question mark facing the team was at quarterback, and Washington attempted to answer that question by signing veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Per Ethan Cadeaux of NBC Sports Washington, top wideout Terry McLaurin said he's already building a rapport with the 38-year-old Fitzpatrick.

"Fitz is great," McLaurin said. "The first thing that struck me about him is just that he has a [really] cool, calm demeanor about him. When he's in the huddle, it's just really collected."

Fitzpatrick hasn't officially been named the starter, although most expect him to win the job over Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen. The 16-year vet has had his moments of late, including four wins in seven starts with the Miami Dolphins last year.

But we are talking about the king of the journeymen. This marks Fitzpatrick's ninth NFL team. Over the past three seasons, Fitzpatrick has thrown 33 interceptions in 32 games. He's 27 games under .500 as a starter.

And Fitzpatrick has never led a team to the postseason.


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