Joe Burrow showcased enough in his Ohio homecoming to suggest he has a chance to be the Cincinnati Bengals' saviour at quarterback.

But, after the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft saw a promising rookie season snuffed out by a serious knee injury, there is as much tension as there is excitement surrounding the Bengals.

Burrow tore his ACL and his MCL in a Week 11 meeting with the Washington Football Team, the Bengals losing four of their six games with him on the sideline to finish 4-11-1.

The relatively smooth transition Burrow made to the pros should raise hopes he can be the man to eventually bring success to a franchise that has not won a playoff game since the 1990 season.

Yet recoveries from injuries as severe as that of Burrow's are far from guaranteed and the holes on a roster that still looks some way from legitimate contention could mean another year of struggle for Cincinnati.

That may spell trouble for head coach Zac Taylor, who heads into year three as head coach with just six wins to his name.

What do the Bengals need to do to produce more tangible signs of progress in 2021? 

We used Stats Perform data to look back on their 2020 and their offseason moves so far to identify areas of focus for the coming year.

Offense

The set-up in Cincinnati was not conducive to success for a rookie quarterback, and the numbers bore that out in 2020.

Cincinnati ranked 30th in yards per play with an average of 4.92 while they were 28th in yards per pass play (5.48).

Yet Burrow's individual numbers from his 10 games suggest he was the right pick for a team that has been nothing short of moribund since their trip to the postseason in 2015.

Burrow ranked seventh in the NFL in yards per game (268.8) across his 10 appearances for Bengals from Week 1 to 11, with his average impacted by his injury against Washington.

He had five 300-yard passing games and averaged a poor throw every 13.1 attempts, a better rate than Josh Allen (11.4), Deshaun Watson (11.9) and Lamar Jackson (12.5).

However, Burrow's numbers as a deep-ball passer were very disappointing. His 23 pass completions of 20 yards or more were two fewer than Dak Prescott, who played only five games, and he completed just eight of his 42 attempts of at least 21 air yards.

Burrow's passer rating on those throws was 53.9, 26th of 28 quarterbacks with at least 25 such passes.

He likely would have fared better going downfield had he benefited from greater protection. Burrow was sacked on 7.34 per cent of his dropbacks, the 10th-highest rate among quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks.

But Burrow can have confidence in his receivers. Tee Higgins' 908 receiving yards were the third-most among rookies in 2020 and both he and Tyler Boyd, who had 841 yards, proved dependable options on third down.

Twelve of Higgins' 14 third-down receptions went for a first down, while Boyd moved the chains on 15 of his 19 third-down catches.

Cincinnati's rushing attack was just as inefficient as the passing game, the Bengals ranking 27th with 4.06 yards per attempt.

Only four teams had fewer runs of 10 yards or more than the Bengals' 37, with Joe Mixon averaging only 3.6 yards per rush across his six games after signing a contract extension, his year prematurely ended by a foot injury.

Burrow and Mixon having their seasons curtailed cut short any intrigue surrounding the Bengals in 2020, and they won't be interesting in 2021 unless their signal-caller receives better assistance from the offensive line and a defense that ranked among the league's most porous last season.

Defense

The most complimentary thing you could say about the Bengals' defense last year was that it showed some signs of developing into a 'bend but don't break' unit.

Cincinnati allowed 6.10 yards per play in 2020, ranking 28th, yet they were closer to the middle of the pack in terms of points conceded.

The Bengals were 22nd in offensive points allowed (410), and 21st in opponent scoring efficiency, allowing a touchdown or field on 78 of 180 opponent drives.

While those numbers were far from the worst in the NFL, the Bengals defense still bent and broke far too often for Cincinnati to compete on a week-to-week basis.

Simply put, the Bengals did not do enough to put opposing offenses in difficult situations.

Cincinnati's tally of 67 negative plays forced was 30th in the NFL, with the negative play yardage of minus 208 yards the lowest in the league.

Only four teams produced fewer takeaways than their 17 turnovers, which produced a total of 47 points that ranked tied for 25th.

An anaemic pass rush was a critical reason for their inability to take the ball away. Cincinnati had the fewest sacks in the NFL (17) and the fourth-fewest quarterback knockdowns (66).

As was the case on offense, the running game provided little relief for Cincinnati, the Bengals continually gashed by opposing ground games.

Only the Houston Texans (5.20), allowed a higher yards per carry average than the 5.11 yards per attempt the Bengals gave up.

Additionally, opponents racked up 73 runs of 10 yards or more against the Bengals defense, 22 more than the league average of 51.

Despite a busy free agency, there isn't much to suggest Cincinnati will be drastically improved on that side of the ball in 2021.

Offseason

The Bengals lost their most disruptive pass rusher from last season as edge rusher Carl Lawson departed for the New York Jets in free agency.

Lawson had only 5.5 sacks but racked up 32 quarterback hits, with his combined hurries and knockdowns tally of 65.5 tied for ninth in the NFL.

Cincinnati immediately replaced Lawson by signing Trey Hendrickson to a four-year, $60million deal after his breakout season with the New Orleans Saints.

The Bengals are banking on Hendrickson being able to consistently replicate a 2020 season that saw him record 13.5 sacks, though that may be a more difficult task playing in front of a secondary that lost arguably its best player with William Jackson III leaving for Washington.

Jackson had double-digit pass deflections in three of his four seasons with Cincinnati and is coming off a year in which he had a burn percentage in coverage of 46.5, his lowest since his rookie campaign (34.7).

They filled the void he left by gambling on the athleticism of former Dallas Cowboy cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, whose burn percentage of 59.5 for his career is significantly worse than Jackson's 48.2.

Cincinnati can afford to have more confidence in Mike Hilton's reliability as a nickel cornerback. Hilton comes across from the Pittsburgh Steelers having posted a career-high three interceptions in just six starts last season.

The Bengals demonstrated their understanding of the need to better protect Burrow by signing left tackle Riley Reiff to a one-year deal after he allowed only two sacks and was penalised just once in 15 games for the Minnesota Vikings in 2020.

But Reiff is entering the latter half of his career at 32, meaning his arrival certainly should not prohibit the Bengals from targeting a top-tier offensive line prospect like Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater with the fifth overall pick in the first round.

With wide receiver A.J. Green ending his long association with Cincinnati by signing with the Arizona Cardinals, there may be a temptation to give Burrow, who has already endorsed the potential selection of former LSU team-mate Ja'Marr Chase, a dynamic third option to go with Higgins and Boyd.

However, after their failure to protect Burrow left him facing a lengthy recovery process to get back to the field, the Bengals must prioritise players who can give him a clean pocket from which he can put the franchise back on the road to prominence.

Former NFL player Phillip Adams has been named as the person who shot dead five people, including a prominent doctor, in South Carolina.

Dr Robert Lesslie (70), his wife Barbara (69) and their grandchildren Adah (9) and Noah Lesslie (5) were pronounced dead at the scene of a home in the Rock Hill area, with an initial emergency call made at 16:44 local time on Wednesday.

Another man - an air-conditioning technician identified as James Lewis who was carrying out work at the house - was found shot dead outside, while another technician was confirmed to have suffered "serious gunshot wounds".

Adams was later found dead in a bedroom at his parents' house, with what was described as a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Reports in the United States said Adams was a former patient of Dr Lesslie. York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said he had "no indication" that was the case and said that "nothing makes sense to us right now", with a motive yet to be established.

Adams was drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 draft by the San Francisco 49ers after representing South Carolina State as a cornerback at college. He also played for the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons. In total, Adams made 78 NFL appearances over six seasons.

Sheriff Tolson added: "We are working hard to provide some answers. We want answers. 'Why?' That is a question we are probing as we speak. We hope to be able to get to those answers."

He added that Adams, who lived locally, was swiftly identified as the suspected gunman and that he had "forced entry" to the property.

"Once the investigation began, we were able to develop Phillip Adams as a suspect in this incident," Sheriff Tolson said.

"We feel like we have the individual who is responsible for this and he is deceased. We have not been able to determine that anything was taken from the Lesslies' residence. We did recover evidence at the scene that linked Mr Adams."

Nike has suspended its endorsement of Deshaun Watson amid accusations of assault and sexual misconduct against the Houston Texans quarterback.

Watson, 25, is the subject of 22 civil lawsuits from females accusing him of assault or sexual misconduct.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

The first woman to accuse him spoke publicly at a media conference in Texas on Tuesday.

Sitting alongside her attorney, Tony Buzbee, Ashley Solis described the emotional and physical torment she has endured from the alleged assault.

A second woman, Lauren Baxley, identified herself in a statement read by an attorney from Buzbee's firm.

On Wednesday, Nike released a statement, which read: "We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and have suspended Deshaun Watson.

"We will continue to closely monitor the situation."

Houston police and the NFL are both conducting investigations into the accusations.

Seattle Seahawks veteran Carlos Dunlap said star quarterback Russell Wilson is "here to stay" amid speculation over his future with the NFL franchise.

Wilson reportedly provided the Seahawks with a list of teams to whom he would accept a trade this offseason – the New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears and Las Vegas Raiders – while the Philadelphia Eagles continue to be linked.

At the end of last season, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback and eight-time Pro Bowler voiced his frustration over the number of hits he had received and spoke of wanting a greater say in team affairs.

Seahawks team-mate and defensive end Dunlap said he sought assurances that Wilson would still be in Seattle before re-signing.

"I did ask him if, obviously, he was going to be with us, because if I'm coming back, I'm coming back because I see him as my quarterback, and the rest of the team, I want to pick up where we left off," Dunlap told reporters on Tuesday.

"And he told me he's with us and he's here to stay, and he said, 'Let's go, Hawks.' I'm not going to quote his every word.

"These words are not his words verbatim, but these are my explanation of how I interpreted what he said."

Wilson signed a four-year, $140million extension in April 2019 that includes a no-trade clause which needs to be waived for a deal to take place.

The Seahawks finished as division champions but were stunned by the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL play-offs.

The New York Jets are officially moving on from Sam Darnold, trading the 23-year-old quarterback to the Carolina Panthers on Monday. 

The Panthers are sending the Jets three draft picks – a sixth-rounder this year, plus second and fourth round selections in 2022. 

New York has the second overall pick in the April 29 draft, and will almost certainly nab a quarterback with hopes he can be the franchise’s answer at QB and lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after Darnold never lived up to expectations. 

The Jets moved up three spots to select Darnold with the third pick of the 2018 draft, but the former USC star struggled with consistency at the pro level. 

In 38 career starts for the Jets, he went 13-25 while throwing for 45 touchdown passes and 39 interceptions with a 59.8 completion percentage and a 78.6 quarterback rating. 

He had some encouraging performances – but not nearly enough, with only four 300-yard passing games. He threw for fewer than 200 yards in exactly half of his 38 starts, and only had 13 games with multiple TD passes. 

This past season was especially disappointing, with more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (nine) while averaging 184.0 passing yards per game with a 72.7 passer rating – the worst among the 36 QBs with a minimum of 200 pass attempts. 

While Darnold can be blamed for some of New York’s offensive struggles, he wasn’t surrounded by many star players. The Jets, who have had two head coaches and two different offensive systems in Darnold’s three years with the team, haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2015 (Chris Ivory) – the same season the franchise last had a 1,000-yard receiver (Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker). 

The offensive line has also been shaky, as Darnold was sacked on 8.8 per cent of passing plays last season, the third-worst mark in the league among QBs with at least 200 attempts. 

Darnold now joins a Panthers team that has Teddy Bridgewater, who has two years remaining on a three-year, $63 million contract he signed in 2020. 

Bridgewater had 15 TD passes and 11 interceptions in going 4-11 as a starter last season for Carolina.

The 2020 season is not one fans of the New England Patriots will remember fondly.

Not only did they lose Tom Brady after 20 years, but the star quarterback went on to win a famous seventh Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Pats, meanwhile, suffered with the tight salary cap left behind after years of pushing for postseason glory with Brady.

They went 7-9, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008, a season that saw Brady suffer a serious knee injury in Week 1.

While their record was by no means the league's worst, it was their first losing season since 2000.

Head coach Bill Belichick is not used to that and, with their cap situation looking much better, he has been aggressive in attempting to put things right with a free agency spending spree.

Here, we have used Stats Perform data to look at their disappointing 2020 season and some of the moves they have made to turn their fortunes around.

Offense

Cam Newton was a late addition ahead of the season on a bargain contract, but he was unable to recapture his Carolina Panthers peak as he returned from injury with a new offense.

His 82.9 passer rating was 28th out of 35 qualifying quarterbacks and he had just eight touchdown passes through the air, with 10 interceptions.

Still, Brady had not impressed in his last season either, with New England having one of the weakest supporting casts in the NFL.

Jakobi Meyers, who was undrafted in 2019, had a good year at wide receiver (59 catches for 729 yards), though no other player topped 400 yards receiving.

Julian Edelman was only healthy for six games, while the top tight end Ryan Izzo had just 199 receiving yards.

The Pats were 30th in the NFL with just 181 passing yards per game, 49 YPG below the league average.

New England had 38 passing plays of 20+ yards – only the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals faring worse in that category.

Newton attempted 22 passes of 21+ air yards – 30 NFL QBs threw more – highlighting the limitations of the offense.

He did, however, add 592 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground, offering a new dimension the Pats' offense.

That at least helped the Pats, with a strong offensive line, to a fourth-ranked rushing attack (147 YPG), though only two of their 20 rushing TDs were runs of 10+ yards

Newton went a solid but unspectacular 7-8, missing one game due to coronavirus, which he said had a lingering effect on his performance even after he had returned. 

On the whole, it was an offense that was tough to watch and while Newton may have underwhelmed, it was a very difficult situation in which to succeed.

Defense

The Patriots' defense was hit hard by COVID-19 opt outs, but the talent that remained combined with Belichick's coaching meant it was still a top-10 unit that was usually tough to move the ball against.

New England were seventh in points allowed (22.1) and while they were 15th in yardage (354 YPG), that ranking improved to eighth against the pass (222 YPG).

Stephon Gilmore was a Pro Bowl selection at cornerback for a unit that allowed seven TDs of 20+ yards, a figure bettered by just six teams.

The run defense struggled (26th in NFL at 131 YPG), forcing only 26 rushing plays to go for negative yardage – with only the Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs faring worse.

New England had 22 takeaways, close to the league average (21), though 24 sacks was way below the par score recorded by the rest of the NFL (35).

Chase Winovich led the team in sacks (5.5) as well as in combined QB knockdowns and hurries (44), but the Patriots did not have anyone in the top 40 in either category, making pass rush an area of need.

Offseason

Armed with a strong cap situation and a point to prove, Belichick embarked on a spending spree that went against the team's usual philosophy.

Whereas previously the second wave of free agency would have been targeted along with bargain veterans desperate to secure a ring, New England were aggressive in chasing some of the top names on the market.

Their tight end situation has been among the league's worst since the departure of Rob Gronkowski, but they doubled down at the position to land Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

Henry ranks sixth among tight ends with 1,265 yards since the start of the 2019 season, while only four TEs have more than the 11 TDs grabbed by the athletic Smith over that period.

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor arrived after a career year (896 yards) for the Las Vegas Raiders as the pass-catching options were significantly boosted, albeit amid some concerns over the size of the contracts handed out.

It is hoped Matt Judon (four years, $56m) can help bolster the pass rush. He is 25th in the NFL with 30.5 sacks since 2017 for the Baltimore Ravens, while linebacker Kyle Van Noy returned from the Miami Dolphins.

The biggest loss was guard and two-time Super Bowl winner Joe Thuney, who signed a huge five-year, $80m deal with the Chiefs after playing last season on the franchise tag, though a former Patriot offensive lineman - Trent Brown - was brought back in a trade with the Raiders.

Newton, meanwhile, returned on another team-friendly deal worth an initial $5m with incentives that could reach $13m, though that contract will not preclude the Patriots from making other moves at QB.

The talent on the roster has undoubtedly improved, giving the Pats some flexibility when they pick at number 15 in the draft.

A move to further strengthen at wide receiver would make sense, as would a cornerback to add to a group including Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, with the latter set to hit free agency in 2022.

But Belichick may have one more move up his sleeve at QB. With the top five options all in the mix to go in the top 10, he may have to move up the board, or perhaps a trade to bring Jimmy Garoppolo back appeals after the San Francisco 49ers jumped up the draft order themselves.

Life after Brady continues to be fascinating for the Pats.

While many NFL fans relished their 2020 downfall, followers of New England will settle for a solitary 7-9 season if that proves to be the worst of their struggles and a turnaround begins in 2021. 

With the return of Major League Baseball on Thursday already sparking excitement among fans across the world, could Tom Brady be suiting up on Opening Day next year?

Of course not! But the NFL superstar enjoyed pretending it was a possibility on April Fools' Day.

Brady was actually drafted by MLB's Montreal Expos in 1995 but did not sign with the team as he instead pursued a career in football.

That worked out quite well for the great quarterback, who last season claimed his seventh Super Bowl ring.

The Expos did not fare quite so well, with the Montreal franchise folding in 2004 and relocating to DC to become the Washington Nationals.

But Brady's hijinks on Thursday suggested he was ready for a sensational return - as player, coach and owner.

"With opening day today, excited to announce we're bringing the Expos back to the MLB in 2022," the Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB posted on Twitter.

"Excited to be the first player/coach/owner in MLB history."

That move would certainly not wash with the Bucs, who extended Brady's contract this offseason as they go for a second straight championship.

The 43-year-old will instead have to leave America's pastime to neighbours the Tampa Bay Rays, as they start their 2021 season against the Miami Marlins on Opening Day.

The times they are a-changin' in the AFC North, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will have to spend one more season led by a veteran quarterback ill-equipped to help them stem the tide.

Pittsburgh made no secret of a desire to move on from Ben Roethlisberger this offseason, but the best the Steelers could do was to restructure his contract, with his new deal voiding after 2021, making him a free agent and likely ending a glittering career next year.

But that means they will have to go into the new season with a 39-year-old signal-caller coming off one of the most inefficient seasons of his time in the league, in which the Steelers started 11-0 only to fade badly down the stretch and suffer a humiliating playoff loss to long-time AFC North whipping boys the Cleveland Browns.

Cleveland and the Baltimore Ravens look well-placed to contend again, and the Steelers are in a position where the team around Roethlisberger must elevate him to levels that now appear beyond the two-time Super Bowl winner to ensure they can compete.

How should Pittsburgh go about achieving that goal? We attempt to find the answers by using Stats Perform data to analyse their 2020 campaign and their offseason moves so far.

Offense

Whenever he decides to bring his career to an end, Roethlisberger is a near-certainty to reach the Hall of Fame.

However, in 2020 he was at the helm of one of the least dynamic offenses in football, with Pittsburgh's struggles illustrated by a yards per play average of 5.13 that ranked a lowly 26th in the NFL.

The lack of a consistent downfield element to the passing game was a significant contributor to the Steelers' problems on offense.

Roethlisberger's yards per attempt average of 6.3 was the lowest of his career across seasons in which he has played double-digit games - it was 5.7 in his two appearances in 2019.

He had 43 pass plays that went for 20 yards or more, tied for 17th, though yards after catch was clearly a massive contributor to those plays. Pittsburgh ranked eighth with 50.4 per cent of the Steelers' gross passing yardage made up by yards after the catch.

His passer rating of 81.0 on throws of at least 21 air yards was 18th among quarterbacks with 25 such attempts and he completed only 30.2 per cent of those attempts (22nd of 28 QBs with a minimum of 25 attempts).

There were still bright spots on the passing offense even in a down year, the most prominent of which was rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool.

Claypool led all rookies with nine receiving touchdowns. Five of those were of a distance of at least 20 yards, with only Tyreek Hill (nine) and Nelson Agholor (six) recording more such touchdown receptions

Beyond Roethlisberger's issues pushing the ball downfield, the running game was a source of major frustration for Pittsburgh.

The Steelers were last with a yards per carry average of 3.62, their 32 runs of 10 yards or more were also the fewest in the league and only three teams had fewer rushing touchdowns than their 12.

If the Steelers want to maximise Roethlisberger's hopes of a bounce-back year, they must give him more support from the ground game.

Defense

The Steelers succeeded despite the travails of their offense in large part because their defense was again one of the best in the league.

Pittsburgh finished the year with the third-best mark in terms of yards per play allowed, giving up an average of 4.91.

Conceding 55 scores (touchdowns or field goals) from 188 opponent drives, the Steelers were second in opponent scoring efficiency behind the Los Angeles Rams.

Their stingy performance on defense was fuelled by a ferocious pass rush, which led the league in sacks (56) and knockdowns (129) while finishing fourth in hurries (180).

T.J. Watt was the leader of that potent front seven, the 2017 first-round pick missing out on Defensive Player of the Year despite leading the league with 15.0 sacks.

He lost out to Aaron Donald, who had the edge in terms of combined knockdowns and hurries, posting 94.5 to Watt's 83.

The efforts of Watt and Bud Dupree, who had 8.0 sacks before tearing his ACL in Week 12, helped the Steelers finish second with 27 takeaways.

Five of those takeaways were produced by Minkah Fitzpatrick (four interceptions and one fumble recovery) in another stellar campaign for the All-Pro safety.

While this was a second successive year in which the Steelers were a top-five defense in yards per play, elite play is typically tougher for defenses to maintain than offenses.

Performing to that standard for a third straight year will be a substantial challenge, and one that may prove beyond them if they cannot find a replacement for the departed Dupree.

Offseason

While there are elite talents at running back that should be within the Steelers' reach in the first round of the draft, the priorities should be two positions at which they now have holes.

The Steelers may hope Alex Highsmith can step up and fill the void left by Dupree - five of his six quarterback hits as a rookie came after he took over the starting role from the now Tennessee Titans pass rusher - but they will have much better odds of effectively replacing him by adding a draft prospect into the mix.

Of more pressing concern, however, is likely to be the left tackle position. The Steelers did not make an effort to bring back veteran Alejandro Villanueva, a move likely motivated by the depth of this year's tackle class in the draft.

If the Steelers can land a rookie tackle who can step in and can maintain solid protection for Roethlisberger while improving the line's ability to open holes for the backs, he will do more for an offense that badly stuttered down the stretch than any of the top runners in the draft.

Assuming they succeed in doing so, Roethlisberger will have an excellent support system around him once more, with Juju Smith-Schuster surprisingly returning to keep an excellent receiving corps intact.

Yet, after a dismal end to 2020, Roethlisberger's ability to make the most of that support system is firmly in doubt. As such, it would be no surprise to see the Steelers spend a day-two pick on a rookie passer who can provide better competition for a quarterback who is certainly not their long-term future and may not even be a short-term solution.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he would have "loved" for superstar Tom Brady to retire with the NFL franchise.

Brady left the Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 after a trophy-laden two-decade spell in New England, where he won six Super Bowl titles.

The 43-year-old quarterback enjoyed immediate success with the Buccaneers, guiding Tampa Bay to victory in Super Bowl LV.

"Well look, I would've loved for him to have retired as a Patriot," Kraft said on Wednesday. "Everybody knew that. But in life, things just happen in a way that you have to balance a lot of things.

"After 20 years, I thought he was entitled to make a decision that was what he thought was best for him, and where he was at. And we gave him the ability to do that."

Brady signed a contract extension with the Bucs through 2022 after helping take down the Kansas City Chiefs.

He threw for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns with 12 interceptions, his passer rating of 102.2 his highest since his MVP season of 2017 (102.8) in his first season with the Bucs.

Only Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes had more completions of 20 yards or more than Brady's 63 as he experienced a revival as a downfield passer in Tampa.

It came as the Patriots struggled to fill Brady's void – Bill Belichick's team missing the postseason for the first time since 2008 with Cam Newton under center.

Kraft said: "Well, after 20 years … with any player, I'll make this commitment to any player in the future: Anyone who spends 20 years with us and helps us win six Super Bowls, we're not gonna keep — look, we could've, contract-wise, kept him in our camp. But it's just not the right thing.

"Naturally, we want to win. But who knows what would've happened if he stayed here? Look what happened at the end of his last season here."

"It's like marriages sometimes," Kraft added. "No one knows on the outside everything going on, and you try to balance a lot. You know …  It is what it is."

The Patriots have splashed the cash this offseason in an attempt to bounce back after a disappointing 2020 campaign.

Matthew Judon, Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor and Jalen Mills are among the free-agent signings, but Kraft insisted New England's activity has nothing to do with Brady's success in Tampa.

"I mean, look, I love Tom Brady, and he's great. But he's moved on. What happened here last year was not something to our liking. And we had to make the corrections," Kraft said after the Patriots finished with a 7-9 record.

The Seattle Seahawks have agreed a lucrative new long-term contract with wide receiver Tyler Lockett.

ESPN and NFL Network both reported Lockett is to receive a four-year extension worth $69.2million, of which $37m is guaranteed salary.

A third-round pick by the franchise in 2015, the 28-year-old has managed 376 receptions at an average of 13 yards per catch in the NFL, while he has 37 receiving touchdowns in his career.

He has started all 16 games in the previous two seasons and finished the 2020 campaign with a career-high 100 catches, making him one of only eight players to reach three figures in the league.

His total of 1,054 receiving yards was a touch below his 2019 number of 1,057, while he had 10 touchdown catches for the second time in three years.

Quarterback Russell Wilson targeted Lockett 132 times in a campaign that came to a disappointing conclusion. They suffered a first-round exit in the playoffs, going down 30-20 in a Wild Card showdown with the Los Angeles Rams after finishing top of the NFC West with a 12-4 record.

Wilson's future has been a hot topic during the offseason. While willing to stay with the Seahawks, the eight-time Pro Bowler reportedly provided a shortlist of teams he would play for, should the franchise consider trading him.

The commitment to Lockett follows on from Seattle handing a new deal to Gabe Jackson this week, the offensive lineman who arrived this month from the Las Vegas Raiders via a trade.

Jackson received a three-year contract worth $22.575million that, due to how it is structured, eases the impact on the 2021 salary cap.

The guard started 99 out of 100 games played during his seven seasons with the Raiders, who were reportedly considering cutting Jackson before working out a deal that saw them net a fifth-round draft pick.

The Baltimore Ravens entered the 2020 season out to silence the doubters having posted the NFL's best record in 2019 only to fall to a shock playoff defeat.

After a frenetic regular season that they ended with a five-game winning streak to reach the playoffs, the Ravens avenged that loss to the Tennessee Titans with a Wild Card Round win.

Yet they finished the campaign with more questions to answer in 2021 after the Ravens were throttled by the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round, exiting the postseason at the same stage as in 2019.

With a former league MVP calling the shots, the Ravens should be better equipped to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC, and those waiting for clear signs of progress in terms of their ability to truly contend for the Lombardi Trophy may be growing impatient.

What do the Ravens need to do in the remainder of the offseason to ensure they are set up to challenge for a third Super Bowl title in 2021? We used Stats Perform data to answer that question by analysing their 2020 performance and their moves in free agency.

Offense

Regression from Lamar Jackson was always likely after his spectacular 2019 season that saw him named as the league MVP.

His completion percentage dropped from 66.1 to 64, his net yards per passing play from 7.13 to 6.41 and his touchdown percentage from 9.0 to 6.9.

Meanwhile, Jackson's interceptions increased from six to nine and he was slightly less effective as a runner, his yards per carry average falling from 6.9 to 6.3.

Yet even with Jackson's drop-off from MVP form, the Ravens still finished 10th in yards per play with 5.85, with his abilities with his legs helping Baltimore finish first in rushing yards per play with 5.53.

Where the Ravens continue to have issues, however, is in making explosive plays down the field in the passing game.

Jackson had 37 pass plays of 20 yards or more in his 15 regular-season games in 2020, putting him 20th in the NFL.

His passer rating on throws of 21 or more air yards (89.1) was 17th among quarterbacks to have attempted at least 25 such throws.

The Ravens' passing game was not helped by protection issues, with Jackson sacked on 7.16 per cent of his drop backs, the 11th-highest rate among quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks.

Baltimore did not waste time in making a move to address the weaknesses that were apparent on the offensive line in 2020.

However, if their offense is to jump from top 10 to top five in 2021, Jackson will improved support from a receiving corps that featured just one wide receiver (Marquise Brown - 769) who topped 500 yards in 2020.

In an increasingly imposing division, Baltimore must give their AFC North rivals more reason to fear their aerial attack.

Defense

The offense may have taken a step back, but the Ravens stayed consistent in terms of being one of the better defenses in the NFL.

Having allowed 5.22 yards per play in 2019 - good for 11th in the NFL - Baltimore finished seventh in that same category in 2020 with an average of 5.19.

That marginal improvement was largely a product of the Ravens' strength against the pass. Baltimore gave up 5.57 yards per pass play, with only three teams conceding fewer. 

However, the Ravens were substantially more susceptible to the run game.

Opponents put up 4.55 yards per carry against the Ravens, well above the average for playoff teams of 4.19.

Additionally, while playoff teams gave up an average of 44 rushes of 10 yards or more, the Ravens conceded 50, bettering the league-wide rate of 51 by the finest of margins.

Yet the Ravens' defense should remain in the top half of the NFL if it continues to excel at limiting opposing passing attacks.

Only seven teams forced more negative passing plays than the Ravens (51), with Matt Judon's ability to pressure the quarterback and some stellar play in the secondary contributing to that tally.

Judon led the team with 21 quarterback hits while Marcus Peters recorded four interceptions and Marlon Humphrey led all cornerbacks with eight forced fumbles to go with his 11 pass breakups.

But with Judon and Yannick Ngakoue each heading for pastures new, the Ravens will need to reinforce their defensive front if their pass defense is to be as effective in 2021. 

Offseason

The Ravens will see Ngakoue go against them when they face the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021 while Judon will attempt to help the Patriots enjoyed a bounce-back year after signing a lucrative deal in New England.

Baltimore is unlikely to miss either of them given the Ravens' proclivity for successfully developing pass rushers.

Their faith in their own ability in that regard was illustrated by the four-year, $22million contract handed to Tyus Bowser, who had only two sacks last year but whose 27.5 combined knockdowns and hurries were just nine fewer than the tally of Judon, who played 20 more defensive snaps.

An increased role for Bowser, along with the infusion of some rookie depth, could help the Ravens fill the void left by Ngakoue and Judon.

On the other side of the trenches, head coach John Harbaugh will have been delighted to land guard Kevin Zeitler, who was signed after being released by the New York Giants. Zeitler, who has not allowed more than two sacks since 2014, should improve Baltimore's interior protection.

Right tackle Orlando Brown Jr's desire to seek a trade so he can play left tackle may force Baltimore to prioritise the offensive line in the draft, and wide receiver should still be prominent on their to-do list despite the signing of veteran Sammy Watkins on a one-year deal.

Watkins is still a dependable third receiver but his career-low yards per reception average of 11.4 in 2020 hinted at declining big-play upside. A rookie who can be an immediate focal point of the offense is a must in the draft.

The slight step back Jackson experienced in 2020 may not have come as a shock, but there will be significant questions asked of those running the Ravens if it carries into 2021.

The NFL made the right move to increase the regular season to 17 games and an 18-game slate is likely in the future, says Brian Baldinger.

Team owners voted on Tuesday to approve the first expansion to the NFL's regular-season format since 1978.  

Beginning this year, teams will play 17 regular-season games, with the preseason reduced from four games to three. 

Contrary to some proposals in previous years, each team will still have just one bye week.  

The approval came one year after owners expanded the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in two additional playoff games and an estimated $150million in added annual revenue.  

A majority of players had already approved an added regular-season game as a part of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, which gave ownership the ability to expand as early as this season.  

Earlier this month, the NFL announced a new broadcast rights agreement that secured the league's media distribution through the 2033 season. 

Tuesday's deal allows for additional international games, with each team playing abroad at least once every eight seasons.  

Commissioner Roger Goodell called it "a monumental moment in NFL history that [provides] the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world".

Baldinger, who played for the Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles and now works for NFL Network, agrees the change was a positive one, despite the opposition of some high-profile players.

He told Stats Perform News: "Look, 12 teams every year, 14 teams now, play that 17th game every year, you know, going to the playoffs? 

"To me, the players have always adjusted. They adjusted when it was a 12-game schedule to a 14-game schedule to a 16-game schedule. 

"It's hard on the body, there's no question about it. 

"But these players – they are in so much better condition now than they than they ever have been. 

"And so players will adjust to this and I think it's going to be eventually accepted. 

"They just signed a new TV deal that's off the charts, the amount of money that is coming into this league, the amount of money that it generates, and they're a big part of it. 

"And so they're getting their share I think. 

"There are safety concerns, but really a 17th game, they just have to take care of themselves.

"I think that eventually it's just going to be business as usual once we get used to 17 games, because I think eventually it's going to be an 18-game schedule. 

"Eventually. I mean, I can see that. 

"I'm not predicting anything [for] right now [but] I think that players will adjust to it and the amount of money that had just come in and the labour peace and everything else. It's there. 

"I think it's the right time and I think the league, part of them generating this type of money from the television partners was a 17th game."

Team owners voted on Tuesday to approve the first expansion to the NFL's regular-season format since 1978.  

Beginning this year, teams will play 17 regular-season games, with the preseason reduced from four games to three. Contrary to some proposals in previous years, each team will still have just one bye week.  

Tuesday's approval came one year after owners expanded the playoff field from 12 to 14 games, resulting in two additional playoff games and an estimated $150 million in added annual revenue, according to ESPN.  

The players had already approved an added regular-season game as a part of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, which gave ownership the ability to expand as early this season.  

Earlier this month, the NFL announced a new broadcast rights agreement that secured the league's media distribution through the 2033 season. Tuesday's deal allows for additional international games, with each team playing abroad at least once every eight seasons.  

"This is a monumental moment in NFL history," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans.  

"And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world."

The added game will match inter-conference foes, with AFC teams getting an extra home game in odd-numbered years and NFC teams in even-numbered years.

Some of the most anticipated matchups in the added game in 2021 include a showdown between Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers when the Kansas City Chiefs host the Green Bay Packers, the Indianapolis Colts hosting the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and two former number one overall picks at quarterback squaring off when the Arizona Cardinals visit the Cleveland Browns.  

The season is scheduled to begin on September 9 and end on January 9, 2022.

Despite the NFL Players Association approving a schedule expansion in last year's collective bargaining negotiations, some players have been vocal about their disapproval of the change.  

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara took to social media to call the expansion "dumb…as hell," while Green Bay Packers safety Adrian Amos tweeted: "We really let this happen."

Players will not see an increase in salary in 2021, and their wages will be split over 18 weeks instead of 17 weeks.  

In future seasons, the added revenue from a 17th game will contribute to a rise in the salary cap, providing the possibility for additional compensation for players signing new contracts.  

Ideally, they would have liked more of one of the NFL's most tortured fanbases in the stadium to see it, but the Cleveland Browns will forever reflect on 2020 as the year the drought finally ended.

Kevin Stefanski's first season as head coach resulted in a first playoff berth since the 2002 season, with long-awaited revenge for a Wild Card defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers 18 years earlier coming as the Browns trounced Pittsburgh in their own back yard to clinch their first postseason win since Bill Belichick was head coach.

Little went right for the Browns following their trip to the Divisional Round in the 1994 season, Belichick enduring a losing final year in charge before the team spent three years out of the league following a controversial relocation to Baltimore.

But every sign points to the Browns writing more positive chapters in the history books in the coming years after Stefanski helped a deep roster realise its potential.

What do the Browns need to do to take the next step towards Super Bowl contention? We used Stats Perform data to reflect on a memorable 2020 campaign, analyse their offseason moves so far and look at what should still be on their to-do list heading towards the draft.

Offense

Any doubts around Stefanski's ability to get consistent production out of the Browns' offense were put to bed in his first season at the helm.

The Browns narrowly missed out on finishing top 10 in yards per play in 2020, their average of 5.79 putting them 11th.

Unsurprisingly for a coach experienced in running the Shanahan-Kubiak type offense that is en vogue in the NFL, the Browns' success was built around an extremely efficient run game.

Cleveland's yards per rush average of 4.8 was fifth in the league, with the Browns' offensive line doing an excellent job in opening holes for two elite running back talents in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

Chubb (34) and Hunt (29), each finished in the top 10 in rushes of 10 or more yards, with each excelling at picking up yards after first contact by a defender.

Indeed, Chubb's average of 2.5 yards after contact per attempt was tied-second among running backs with at least 50 carries, just behind J.K. Dobbins of the Baltimore Ravens (2.6).

Hunt (2.2) was 10th in the same category, and they each ranked in the top three in broken tackles. Chubb was tied for first with Dalvin Cook on 14, just ahead of Hunt on 13.

The passing game ranked in the top half of the league in yards per play (11th with 6.72), with starting quarterback Baker Mayfield making obvious progress in protecting the football.

Having thrown 21 interceptions in 2019, Mayfield was picked off only eight times in 2020, his touchdown to interception ratio of 3.25 good enough for ninth in the NFL.

Yet the upside of Cleveland's passing game still appeared limited. Mayfield was a disappointing tied for 17th with 43 completions of 20 yards or more.

However, with the Browns' signal-caller ranking sixth in the NFL in passer rating (118.4) on throws of 21 air yards or more among quarterbacks with at least 25 such attempts, there is reason to believe that Cleveland's offense could offer a significantly greater downfield threat if Mayfield and Stefankski are willing to be more aggressive in 2021.

That change in approach may only come if the offense gets better support from the defense.

Defense

A defense blessed with one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL should be better at stopping opposing aerial attacks.

Despite the best efforts of Myles Garrett, named a first-team All-Pro for the first time in his career, quarterbacks had it too easy against the Browns in 2021.

Garrett racked up 12 sacks, sixth-most in the NFL, 18 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles. He was fifth in combined knockdowns and hurries with a total of 70.

But the Browns failed to properly capitalise on the pressure he created across the course of the season.

They allowed 31 passing touchdowns, the eighth-most in the league, with 11 of those scores coming on throws of at least 20 yards. Only five teams gave up more passing touchdowns of that distance.

Injuries in the secondary did not help the Browns' cause - rookie safety Grant Delpit did not play a snap in his rookie year and a nerve injury in his shoulder robbed Greedy Williams of his 2020 campaign.

That meant a stellar season from former fourth overall pick Denzel Ward was somewhat undermined by the lack of talent around him in the secondary, Ward tied second in the NFL with 18 pass breakups.

Where the Browns did excel was in preventing big plays from opposing rushing attacks.

They were tied seventh for the fewest opponent running plays of 10 or more yards, giving up 43, with the average distance of those carries (14.8), the fourth-lowest in the league.

Even with their efforts in keeping running backs in check, the Browns were a lowly 26th in opponent touchdown efficiency, allowing teams to find the endzone on 48 of 165 defensive drives.

The Browns will not legitimately threaten the AFC's elite without an improvement in pass defense, and their offseason to this point suggests they recognise that.

Offseason

Cleveland made one of the best signings of free agency when they inked safety John Johnson to a three-year, $33.75milion deal.

The price may have been slightly rich in a safety market that was predictably slow, but Johnson certainly justified it over the course of his four years with the Rams.

Johnson had 32 pass breakups between 2017 and 2020, tied for the eighth-most among safeties, and that total would almost certainly have been higher had he not missed 10 games through injury in 2019.

Joining Johnson in Cleveland is former Rams team-mate Troy Hill, the cornerback arriving on a two-year deal, while the Browns also took a flier on edge rusher Takkarist McKinley on a one-year deal.

The secondary and the pass rush could still use reinforcement, especially with interior defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi leaving for the Cincinnati Bengals, but it is the middle of the defense that stands out as the most pressing area of concern for the Browns.

Signing Anthony Walker Jr. to a one-year deal and retaining Malcolm Smith and Elijah Lee should not prohibit the Browns from targeting a linebacker in the draft, with a lack of athleticism at that position coming to the fore as Chiefs backup Chad Henne's fourth-quarter scramble effectively sealed their playoff elimination.

Athletic linebackers who can excel in coverage and play sideline to sideline against the run are a must in the modern NFL. The Browns have a deficiency there but, beyond that position, they have few obvious holes and their performance in Kansas City was reflective of a team ready to become a consistent contender in the AFC.

Years of struggle and stockpiling draft picks are finally beginning to bear fruit and, if the Browns can add the final piece of the puzzle on defense and give Mayfield more licence to go downfield in 2021, there is no reason they cannot threaten to go deeper into the playoffs next season.

Trevor Lawrence is heading for the Jacksonville Jaguars and will be the number one pick in the NFL Draft next month barring a late change of heart, coach Urban Meyer confirmed.

The quarterback shone in college football for Clemson and has been tipped as a prospective superstar in the professional game. He threw for 3,153 yards in 10 games for Clemson in 2020.

Meyer told NBC Sports that Lawrence is the player the Jaguars are focusing on as they look to reinforce a team that finished with a dismal 1-15 record last season, describing the 21-year-old as fitting the required bill of being a "competitive maniac".

The Jags have had a winning record just once since 2007, losing the AFC Championship Game to the New England Patriots in 2017 following a 10-6 regular season.

Asked about tying up a deal for Lawrence, Meyer said: "I'd have to say that's the direction we're going. I'll leave that up to the owner when we make that decision official. But I'm certainly not stepping out of line that that's certainly the direction we're headed."

Meyer's comments would appear to indicate owner Shahid Khan is in agreement that Lawrence is the standout choice for the Jaguars, ahead of the April 29 big decision.

"Trevor checks all the boxes," Meyer added in the NBC interview.

"The number one common quality of every great player, not just quarterback, is competitive maniac. He's 34-2. Won a national title as a true freshman. Is a winner. I've seen him up close and in person compete.

"And then character. I see him and I witness with my players, when the guys get drafted high, a lot of people ... they have influences in their life. Whether it be social media, whether it be other things that really don't pertain to winning. What I'm really pleased with and I don't want to say surprised, but him, his agent, his family, they're focused on one thing. He wants to become the best version of himself for the National Football League. It is somewhat refreshing."

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