The New England Patriots have always had something of a revolving door at the wide receiver position since Tom Brady became the team’s quarterback in the early part of the last decade.
But rarely have the changes come as rapidly as they have this preseason for the Patriots.
Entering training camp, Julian Edelman and first-round pick N’Keal Harry were expected to carry the load, veteran with free agent Demaryius Thomas expected to work in as he returned from an Achilles injury.
Since then, Edelman and Harry have both suffered injuries. Harry was placed on the injured reserve and will miss at least the first eight weeks of the season with an ankle injury. Edelman also suffered a thumb injury that he appeared to re-aggravate in the Patriots’ preseason finale. His status for this Sunday is unknown, but the Patriots characterized the re-injury as a minor one.
Thomas was unexpectedly released after his big performance in the Patriots’ fourth preseason game, but was re-signed after Harry was placed on injured reserve. Thomas finished 2018 with 59 aches for 677 yards and five touchdowns, splitting his season between Denver and Houston.
He’ll be joined in the presumptive starting lineup by Josh Gordon, who was conditionally reinstated from his suspension for violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy in August. Gordon started 12 games (one for Cleveland, 11 for New England) last season and racked up 737 yards and four touchdowns.
Gordon and Edelman both played in the teams’ Week 15 matchup in 2018. Edelman had seven catches on 11 targets for 90 yards. Gordon had one catch on two targets for 19 yards.
Offseason Primer: Ravens Still Looking for Weapons for Lamar Jackson, with Cap Space to Spend
With their 2020 season ended in the Divisional round by the Buffalo Bills last Saturday, the Baltimore Ravens look ahead attempting to retool, reload and continue the growth and maturation of quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Jackson took a step back from his 2019 campaign that made him the youngest MVP in NFL history, passing for 2,757 yards and 26 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He did rush for seven scores and eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground for the second-straight season, becoming the first quarterback in league history to do so.
Entering this offseason, Baltimore’s primary objective should be to acquire Jackson a true No. 1 receiver on the outside. While wide receiver Marquis “Hollywood” Brown caught a career-high eight touchdowns, the Ravens failed to have a pass catcher reach 800 receiving yards. If they do not address the need through the draft, notable options in free agency will likely include, Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown.
Baltimore’s run game was dominant again last season, as they led the league with 3,071 yards. Rookie running back J.K. Dobbins appears to be a budding star, rushing for 805 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns. His emergence factored into the Raven’s decision to cut veteran running back Mark Ingram on Tuesday.
Turning to the defensive side, the Ravens were stout in 2020 under defensive coordinator Don Martindale. The unit ranked second in scoring defense at 18.9 points allowed per game, and had 22 takeaways. Cornerback Marlin Humphrey led the league with eight forced fumbles, while his partner Marcus Peters had four interceptions and four forced fumbles of his own. Lastly, rookie linebacker Patrick Queen had a strong showing as well with 106 total tackles, nine tackles-for-loss, three sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
The Ravens already own the sixth-most cap space in the league, but could create more if they decide to part ways with some of their more expensive veterans, especially on the defensive side. 34-year-old defensive end Calais Campbell and 31-year-old defensive tackle Brandon Williams are both making north of $10 million next season, but such such moves could significantly hinder Baltimore’s front with edge rushers Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue both entering free agency.
Baltimore clearly has plenty of tough decisions to make and different paths they may choose to follow as they look to continue the quest for their franchise’s third Super Bowl.
Notable Free Agents:
OLB Matthew Judon
DE Yannick Ngakoue
WR Willie Sneed
RB Mark Ingram
DE Derek Wolfe
C Matt Skura
QB Robert Griffin III
SS Anthony Levine
WR Chris Moore
OLB Tyus Bowser
OLB Pernell McPhee
LS Morgan Cox
G D.J. Fluker
CB Tramon Williams
WR Dez Bryant
DE Jihad Ward
DT Justin Ellis
SS Jordan Richards
TE Eric Tomlinson
WR DeAndrew White
RB Gus Edwards (Restricted)
P Johnny Townsend (Restricted)
CB Devontae Harris
LB Chris Board (Restricted)
Baltimore has an active cap of $136,542,293 entering the 2021 offseason, according to Spotrac. The Ravens have the sixth-most cap space in the league at $28,604,089.
Offseason Primer: Cincinnati Bengals Continuing Youth Movement with No. 5 Pick, A.J. Green Set for Free Agency
Last season proved another challenging campaign for the 4-11-1 Cincinnati Bengals. Not only did they finish last in the AFC North for the third consecutive year, but they also lost quarterback Joe Burrow, the No. 1-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, to a season-ending knee injury Week 11.
Burrow was having a strong rookie season prior to the injury, passing for 2,688 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions through ten games. He also demonstrated his mobility adding three scores on the ground.
The former Heisman winner needed that mobility throughout the season, as he was sacked 32 times. Strengthening the offensive line to better protect Burrow in the future will be paramount for the Bengals, a goal they will likely address both through free agency and the draft.
Burrow also operated the majority of the season without the services of running back Joe Mixon, who saw action in just six games due to a foot injury. Mixon rushed for a career-low 428 yards and three touchdowns.
While Mixon will be back healthy in 2021, wide receiver A.J. Green is expected to be playing elsewhere next season. Green remained relatively healthy and played in all 16 games, but posted career lows across the board in receiving yards (523) and touchdowns (2). With Green set to hit free agency in just a few months, he will end his Bengals career as the second most prolific receiver in franchise history, trailing only Chad Johnson.
Green may not be the only franchise mainstay the Bengals part ways with this offseason. As the youth movement in Cincinnati continues, they could also move on from defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The two-time All-Pro was virtually invisible this past season and saw his snap counts consistently drop week-by-week. He recorded just a single tackle and a quarterback hit in eight games. Still under contract the next two seasons for $24.6 million, Cincinnati and the 32-year-old are likely headed for a divorce, either by trade or release.
The Bengals’ defense faced their fair share of struggles themselves, but free safety Jessie Bates III was one of the lone bright spots. Bates led the team with 109 total tackles, three interceptions and 15 passes defended. He was honored as the Bengals’ 2020 Team MVP by the Cincinnati Chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America.
Cincinnati’s defensive struggles can largely be pinned on their lackluster pass rush, which recorded the fewest sacks in football with 17. Acquiring a difference maker along the defensive line is at the top of their wishlist.
Cincinnati will have plenty of opportunities to retool and add talent with eight total picks in April’s draft, including the No. 5-overall selection.
Notable Free Agents:
WR A.J. Green
SS Shawn Williams
WR John Ross
CB Mackensie Alexander
CB William Jackson
P Kevin Huber
WR Alex Erickson
TE Cethan Carter
S Brandon Wilson
G Alex Redmond
K Randy Bullock
CB LeShaun Sims
ILB Josh Bynes
DT Christian Covington
DT Mike Daniels
LS Clark Harris
DE Margus Hunt
DT Xavier Williams
WR Mike Thomas
QB Brandon Allen
DE Carl Lawson
CB Tony Brown*
RB Samaje Perine
OLB Jordan Evans
Cincinnati has an active cap of $148,458,547 entering the 2021 offseason, according to Spotrac. The Bengals have the fifth-most cap space in the league at $34,224,143.
Packers Could Pass Steelers in All-Time Playoff Wins in NFC Championship Game
The Green Bay Packers can pass the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL record books with a win in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
The Packers and Steelers are currently tied with 36 all-time NFL playoff wins, the second-most behind the New England Patriots, who have 37.
The Packers will be playing the man responsible for most of those wins in New England, now-Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady.
Both the Packers and Patriots have a higher postseason winning percentage than the Steelers, with New England holding a 37-21 record and Green Bay 36-23, while Pittsburgh is 26-26 after a Wild Card Round loss to Cleveland this month.
None of the other top five teams, including Dallas (35-28) and San Francisco (32-30) are still alive this year. Tampa Bay has just eight playoff wins in its history, the sixth-fewest in league history.
The Buffalo Bills (16-17) and Kansas City Chiefs (14-19) are 19th and 20th in playoff wins entering their AFC Championship Game showdown on Saturday.