The Seattle Seahawks' Wild Card round exit in the playoffs was a result that underlined the need for significant changes, but they may be about to head down a path nobody expected or would advise. 

Frustrated by the level of punishment he has taken behind an offensive line the Seahawks have failed to properly upgrade, quarterback Russell Wilson this offseason reportedly provided Seattle with a list of teams to whom he would accept a trade. 

On that list are the Dallas Cowboys - who are out of the running having re-signed Dak Prescott - New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears and Las Vegas Raiders. 

If speculation is to be believed, the Seahawks are fielding offers for Wilson and do not appear dead against trading one of NFL's elite quarterbacks, with the Bears said to be the team in that quartet most interested in striking a trade. 

It would be a franchise-altering decision for a team that has consistently been in the playoff mix because of the heroics of Wilson. 

The likely outcome remains that Wilson is still a Seahawk in 2021, but what do Seattle need to do this offseason to ensure this same drama is not repeated next year? 

Using Stats Perform data, we reflect on another year in which regular-season optimism gave way to postseason frustration for the Seahawks and the moves they will need to make to be better placed to challenge for the Lombardi Trophy in 2021. 

Offense 

The Seahawks dispensed with the services of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer following the loss to the Rams, a move that appeared unlikely early in the season as the Seattle thrived after Schottenheimer and head coach Pete Carroll heeded the widespread calls to 'let Russ cook'. 

Yet there was an evident decline in the second half of the season. Of the 56 plays of 20 yards or more Seattle produced in 2020 - putting them a disappointing 23rd in the NFL - only 20 of them came in the final eight games of the campaign. 

It is perhaps no coincidence that the drop-off came in the wake of a 44-34 defeat to the Buffalo Bills in Week 9 that, combined with a subsequent loss to the Los Angeles Rams - a pair of games in which Wilson committed seven turnovers - sparked a change in approach from Carroll and a disagreement with his quarterback about how to fix the offense. 

Carroll reverted to type, relying on the running game and the strength of a defense that made strides down the stretch as Seattle clinched the NFC West title. 

From Weeks 1-9, only three teams registered fewer rushing attempts than the Seahawks' 193. However, from Week 10 onwards they attempted the 12th-most rushes in the NFL (218). 

And the difference in the Seahawks' performance on offense in those two timeframes could hardly be starker.

Between Weeks 1-9, Seattle led the league in scrimmage yards per game (434.5). From Weeks 10-17, they dropped to 24th with an average of 342.5. 

The numbers clearly point to an aggressive approach through the air being Seattle's best route to offensive success. 

Wilson's statistics on deep throws also support the argument that letting him 'cook' is in Seattle's best interests. Indeed, of quarterbacks to have attempted at least 25 throws of 21 or more air yards last season, Wilson led the way with 13 touchdowns on such passes. 

Yet for him to have the opportunity to make a strategy built around his remarkable deep ball prowess succeed, the Seahawks must do a better job in pass protection. 

Among quarterbacks to have at least 100 dropbacks, Wilson's sacks per pass play percentage of 7.77 was tied for the ninth-highest with Cam Newton. 

When given licence to do so, Wilson torched defenses. Allowing him that freedom, and reinforcing the offensive line, is the best way for the Seahawks to take the burden off a defense not without his holes despite a strong finish to the 2020 regular season. 

Defense 

Seattle's big splash last year was to strike a blockbuster trade for All-Pro safety Jamal Adams that caused excitement and raised eyebrows in equal measure. 

The decision to trade two first-round picks to acquire Adams from the New York Jets was met with scepticism from many. He may fail to ever live up to that price tag, but he did make a tangible impact on the success the defense enjoyed in 2020. 

Adams posted 9.5 sacks, the most by a defensive back in a single-season in NFL history, providing a significant boost to a Seahawks' pass rush that lacks dominant players up front. 

His efforts in that regard helped the Seahawks finish in the top 10 in opponent negative play yardage, Seattle forcing 109 negative plays for minus 393 yards. 

Yet the Seahawks were still extremely susceptible to the passing game. 

Seattle allowed 55 pass plays of 20 yards or more, tied for seventh in the NFL, indicating Adams had little positive impact in coverage. 

Where the Seahawks' defense consistently excelled was in defending the run. 

Only four teams allowed fewer runs of 20 yards or more than Seattle (7), and the Seahawks did not give up a single touchdown run of 20 yards. 

Finishing the year 12th in opponent yards per play allowed (5.48), the Seahawks will be out to join the league's elite on defense in 2021. 

To do that they will likely need better production from the defensive line in terms of turning pressure into sacks, of which they put up 46. 

That tally was good enough for seventh in the NFL, but plenty of opportunities clearly went begging with Seattle leading the league in hurries (190) and tied for sixth in knockdowns (104). Defensive tackle Jarran Reed was second behind Adams for sacks on the team with 6.5 and Carlos Dunlap (5) is no longer a Seahawk. 

The Seahawks cannot rely on a safety to carry the pass-rushing load on a regular basis, and finding a dominant edge player who can convert on the pressure they create should be top priority on defense in an offseason where they will have to perform a financial balancing act. 

Offseason 

Seattle must face up to the same challenge that beckons for the rest of the league, improving the roster by acquiring new talent and trying to keep their own while dealing with the issues presented by a declining salary cap. 

The Seahawks are scheduled to be $21.4million under the salary cap of $182.5m, that is more wiggle room than just under half the league and is little enough to raise doubts over how many free agents they can retain. 

Shaquill Griffin is likely to be the Seahawks' priority in terms of keeping their own players, Griffin having developed into an impressive starting cornerback for Seattle. 

He could command significant money on the market, potentially limiting Seattle's ability to re-sign veteran linebacker K.J. Wright. 

Seattle drafted linebacker Jordyn Brooks in the first round last year and he should slot in as the successor if Wright departs. 

Without a first-round pick because of the Adams trade, the Seahawks will need to get creative if they are to fill their most pressing needs on both sides of the trenches. 

General manager John Schneider has long been one of the best in the league at manoeuvring up and down the draft board. 

The onus is on him to do so and find financially viable solutions in free agency to ensure the pass rush improves and that the Seahawks do a better job of keeping opposing pass rushes away from Wilson. 

Should he fail to do so, Wilson's dissatisfaction may lead to some franchise-changing consequences next offseason. 

Tom Brady has signed a contract extension with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that will keep him with the team through 2022.

Brady agreed a two-year deal with the Buccaneers last offseason after making the stunning decision to end his two-decade spell with the New England Patriots, which saw him win six Super Bowl titles.

Even more staggering was Brady's success in his first year in Tampa, where he won his seventh Lombardi Trophy as the Bucs became the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl at their home stadium, ending the Kansas City Chiefs' hopes of retaining the title in a 31-9 rout.

And he will stay with the Bucs for at least the next two seasons.

Brady has officially signed a four-year extension; however, three years of the deal are voidable ones included to help spread the cost of the contract.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, it is a move that saves the Buccaneers $19million in salary cap space in an offseason where the cap has shrunk from $198.2m to $182.5m because of the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Brady will be 45 when the 2022 season, effectively the final year of this deal, begins. He has previously stated his desire to play until 45, though has also said he is open to continuing further into his forties.

After intially struggling to hit the ground running, Brady enjoyed a stellar maiden season with the Bucs.

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).

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.

In the playoffs, he helped the Bucs come through a gauntlet, winning three games on the road to get to the Super Bowl. By defeating Mahomes and the Chiefs, the Bucs became the first team to win three games against former Super Bowl MVPs in the same postseason having also seen off Drew Brees and the Saints and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Brady won his fifth Super Bowl MVP at Raymond James Stadium and will hope the extra financial flexibility his extension has given the Bucs can help him add to that tally over the next two seasons.

Tom Brady has signed a contract extension with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that will keep him with the team through 2022.

One of the most interesting offseasons in modern NFL history is on the horizon, with free agency set to begin next week.

Teams can negotiate with free agents from Monday, and franchises will be able to announce signings from Wednesday when the new league year begins.

The drop in salary cap, which is set at $182.5million, means many teams will have limited financial means with which to pursue their potential targets.

Yet there is a select group of players that will be able to command top dollar regardless of the economic challenges the coronavirus has presented.

Here we look at some of the players in that category by ranking the top 10 players set to hit the open market.

 

1. Shaquil Barrett - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

With the Buccaneers franchising wide receiver Chris Godwin, Barrett is set to hit the open market and will earn a long overdue payday. Pivotal to Tampa's success in Super Bowl LV, only T.J. Watt (29.5) has more sacks over the last two seasons than Barrett's 27.5.

2. Trent Williams - San Francisco 49ers

It is extremely rare for left tackles of Williams' calibre to hit free agency. Williams would not be doing so had the Niners agreed not to franchise tag him. There have been positive noises about him re-signing with San Francisco, but Williams will likely command over $20million a year. He has not allowed more than 3.5 sacks since the 2014 season when he gave up six.

3. Kenny Golladay - Detroit Lions

Golladay was not franchised by the Lions following an injury-hit 2020, but that should not cloud what he did in his first three years in the league. One of the league's top big-play threats, Golladay's 33 receptions of 25 yards or more ranked fifth in the NFL between 2017 and 2019.

4. Aaron Jones - Green Bay Packers

That the Packers elected not to pay Jones $8million for one season on the franchise tag is not reflective of the running back's tremendous skill set. He has 43 touchdowns from scrimmage since entering the league in 2017, the eighth-most in the NFL in that time.

5. Carl Lawson - Cincinnati Bengals

One of the most underrated pass rushers on the market, the sack numbers have not quite been there for Lawson. He had only 5.5 last season but was tied-ninth in the NFL in hurries and knockdowns with 65.5. Lawson should flourish playing on a superior defense to that of Cincinnati.

6. Joe Thuney - New England Patriots

Franchised last year, Thuney could become the league's highest-paid guard and deservedly so. The picture of reliability, he has allowed just 1.5 sacks over the past three seasons in New England, playing in every regular season game.

7. Bud Dupree - Pittsburgh Steelers

Dupree has 19.5 sacks in the last two seasons, but his free agency value will be hurt by the torn ACL that brought his 2020 to a premature end. He has shown a nose for the football during his surge in production, Dupree's six forced fumbles from 2019-20 the fourth-highest total in that span.

8. Corey Linsley - Green Bay Packers

Linsley's pending free agency may have influenced the Packers' decision not to franchise Jones. They will surely make effort to bring the center back, Linsley having allowed one sack this season. For the second time in three seasons, he did not commit a single holding penalty and played a pivotal role in a rushing attack that finished eighth in yards per game.

9. Trey Hendrickson - New Orleans Saints

Hendrickson enjoyed a breakout year for a Saints team mired in salary cap hell. He won't be back in New Orleans, but should have no shortage of suitors at the age of 26 after finishing tied-second in the NFL with 13.5 sacks. 

10. Curtis Samuel - Carolina Panthers

Samuel perfectly fits an era where there is an increasing emphasis on wide receivers who can operate out of the backfield. He was second in rushing yards among wideouts with 200 and finished the year 11th in scrimmage yards per touch (8.9).

Cam Newton is returning to the New England Patriots on a one-year contract.

The former NFL MVP spent the 2020 season with New England, who went 7-9 in a disappointing first year after the departure of Tom Brady.

Quarterback Newton often struggled in a new offense with a poor supporting cast that had also hindered Brady in his last season with the Pats.

However, he will get the chance to improve in 2021 after agreeing a new deal with the team ahead of free agency, according to reports from NFL Network and ESPN.

Newton's deal is reportedly to be worth up to $14million, having surprisingly agreed to a $1m contract last year.

At that price he still represents a more affordable option after a flurry of QB moves earlier in the offseason saw Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz find new teams.

The renewal of Newton ends speculation he will link up with the Washington Football Team, who are led by his former coach at the Carolina Panthers, Ron Rivera.

With the Buffalo Bills reaching the AFC Championship Game and the Miami Dolphins rebuilding quickly with extensive draft capital, New England are suddenly under pressure in the AFC East.

And the scrutiny on their performances in 2021 will intensify after Brady won the Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This move sees the Pats secure a starting QB ahead of free agency but will not preclude them from exploring other options at the position, according to reports.

Newton, 31, played 15 games (7-8) for New England – missing just one due to coronavirus - after injuries restricted him to playing only twice in his last of nine seasons with Carolina.

He threw for eight touchdowns to 10 interceptions with 2,657 yards through the air, though he did add 592 yards and 12 scores on the ground.

Newton also caught a TD pass from his leading receiver Jakobi Meyers in a win over the New York Jets.

After a painful year, the Patriots go into the offseason with Newton signed, one of the best salary cap situations in the league and the number 15 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Another offseason sees another scramble for quarterbacks in the NFL.

Last year, Tom Brady was among those on the move and he ended the 2020 season with his first Super Bowl title in Tampa Bay and seventh in total.

Already in 2021 there have been significant deals at the position again, including the Los Angeles Rams' big play for Matthew Stafford, deeming him a significant upgrade on the expensive, underperforming Jared Goff.

There are big names remaining on the board, though, and we take a look at the state of play.

 

DESHAUN WATSON

It is not every day a QB of Watson's quality becomes available – and the Houston Texans might still argue he is not. But the 25-year-old was bogged down by a poor team last year, finishing 4-12 despite leading the league in overall passing yards (4,823).

Watson wants out, and the Texans would be well advised to listen to any serious offers if the alternative is to let one of the league's top talents sit on a massive contract.

The asking price will surely be high. Stafford, 33, threw for 4,084 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2020 – beaten by Watson across the board – and set a precedent when he went to the Rams for Goff, two first-round picks and a third.

What does that make Watson worth? Well, his desire to depart might bring the value down slightly, but Houston would surely expect picks as well as a QB prospect.

TUA TAGOVAILOA

Tagovailoa was the fifth pick just a year ago, but the Miami Dolphins might already be interested in moving on, especially if that means a trade for Watson.

Although there were signs of Tagovailoa's promise as he won his first three NFL starts, 2020 ended with his benching in a Week 16 comeback win and then three costly picks in a Week 17 defeat that saw the Dolphins miss the playoffs.

Miami might feel a move for Watson would make them contenders, while the Texans could use a talent like Tagovailoa in their rebuild.

There is a complication, however. The draft picks Houston would receive alongside Tagovailoa in return for Watson would be the same selections they spent themselves in a deal for offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. In order to save face, an alternative package might appeal.

SAM DARNOLD

Such an offer may well materialise elsewhere in the AFC East. The New York Jets are likely to have an interest in Watson if they move on from Darnold and do not want to try again in the draft with the second pick.

That would have been the first selection had the Jets not inexplicably rallied to two wins, gifting Trevor Lawrence to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The signing of Watson would significantly soften that blow, but it would most likely mean the Texans taking on Darnold, who has played for two more years than Tagovailoa and is still to show he is really up to the task. A career tally of 45 TDs and 39 interceptions for a passer rating of 78.6 does not compare favourably.

His team even failed when apparently tanking. Houston would hope a Darnold-led rebuild would fare better.

JIMMY GAROPPOLO

This busy market might have piqued the interest of San Francisco 49ers fans looking for a more reliable option at QB, where Garoppolo has started only 30 games in four years. It could be time for him to move on.

The landing spot for the 29-year-old would seemingly be New England, a place he knows well having previously served as Brady's understudy on the Patriots.

Brady stuck around longer than expected, so Garoppolo moved to San Francisco and performed well in 2019, starting all 16 games for the only time in his career and throwing 27 TDs before making the Super Bowl.

That proved the peak, however, with defeat in the big game, although the Pats look to be interested again having failed to properly replace - yes – Brady.

CAM NEWTON

Newton was the man Bill Belichick initially turned to, agreeing a one-year deal with the former MVP that makes him a free agent again this year.

A return to New England cannot be entirely ruled out, although a team and coach used to Brady's brilliance never really adjusted to a QB who threw only eight TDs.

Newton might have other options. Washington head coach Ron Rivera knows the player well from their time together with the Carolina Panthers and could be more appreciative of his other talents, notably a running game that brought 592 yards and 12 TDs on 137 carries in 2020.

JAMEIS WINSTON

Winston, once a number one overall pick, is another man heading for free agency. He spent last season with the New Orleans Saints but found himself third choice, behind utility player Taysom Hill, and participated in only 51 plays.

It was a far cry from the previous year when Winston was Tampa Bay's starter and involved in just about everything, remarkably throwing 33 TDs and 30 interceptions.

That 2019 campaign encapsulated how chaotic the 27-year-old can be, but he would argue he deserves to at least be competing for a start somewhere. If not back to New Orleans, Winston could be headed for somewhere like Washington and a team looking to change things on the cheap.

RUSSELL WILSON

Wilson certainly would not come cheap. And it seems improbable he would come at all, regardless of the suitor.

But noises of unhappiness in Seattle, where the Seahawks failed to give their superstar quarterback the help he needed, were followed by Wilson's agent saying only moves to the Saints, Dallas Cowboys, Las Vegas Raiders or Chicago Bears would appeal.

Dak Prescott's new deal in Dallas closed that avenue, while the Saints and Bears are already set to be way over the cap. Any blockbuster move for Seattle's most prized asset could change the entire complexion of this offseason, though.

The Buffalo Bills have re-signed star linebacker Matt Milano as they eye another run at the Super Bowl, the NFL team announced on Thursday.

There were concerns the Bills could lose Milano in free agency due to cap pressure following Buffalo's AFC Championship Game appearance last season.

But Milano has signed a four-year contract extension reportedly worth $44million in Buffalo.

Milano missed six games in 2020 as the Bills eventually fell to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC title decider.

The 26-year-old has started 39 of 55 games with Buffalo and produced 265 tackles, 6.0 sacks and five interceptions in his career.

Milano – drafted by Buffalo in 2017 – tallied 100 tackles in the 2019 regular season, joining Tremaine Edmunds and Jordan Poyer as the only Bills with 100-plus tackles.

He finished the 2018 campaign as the only player in the NFL with 75-plus tackles, three-plus interceptions and three-plus fumble recoveries.

Houston Texans head coach David Culley said the NFL franchise are "very committed" to quarterback DeShaun Watson amid speculation over his future.

Watson reportedly requested a trade to a new team, having grown extremely dissatisfied with the direction the Texans have been heading in over the past year.

The three-time Pro Bowler is reported to have been frustrated at his lack of input during the team's search for a new coach, which resulted in the hiring of Culley.

Watson, who was drafted 12th by the Texans in 2017, has been linked to the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers.

But speaking on Thursday, Culley told reporters: "We are very committed to Deshaun as our quarterback.

"He is our quarterback. He's the only guy we got under contract at this time, right now."

Asked if the Texans are going to trade Watson, Culley replied: "Deshaun Watson is a Houston Texan. And we're committed to him."

Culley added: "Right now, there is no contingency plan."

Watson led the NFL in passing yardage with 4,823 in the 2020 season and threw 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions as the Texans finished 4-12.

Since making his debut in 2017, Watson is third in the league in yards per attempt with an average of 8.32, trailing only Patrick Mahomes (8.39) and Jimmy Garoppolo (8.33).

Eric Fisher, the former number one overall draft pick, has been released by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Reigning AFC champions Kansas City, who were defeated by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, have also released starting right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.

It has been reported by NFL sources that the Chiefs will save between $12million and $18m against the salary cap by cutting the duo.

Left tackle Fisher was the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. He has played a key role in the Chiefs' success in recent seasons, with Kansas City reaching the playoffs in seven of his eight campaigns with the franchise.

After helping the Chiefs to a Super Bowl win in the 2019 season, Fisher was missing as Kansas went down 31-9 to Tom Brady's Tampa last month, having torn his Achilles tendon in the AFC Championship Game.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for both Eric and Mitchell," Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said.

"With Eric, obviously he was the very first player that we drafted when we got to Kansas City, and we were able to watch him grow into a solid tackle for us for many years.

"With Mitchell, his durability and toughness is remarkable and he certainly left his mark on our team. These decisions are never easy, especially with guys like these, but both of these players will forever be a part of our history."

Fisher made a total of 117 appearances, with 113 coming as starts – 11 of those starts were in postseason games.

He made two Pro Bowl selections, in 2018 and 2020, while Schwartz – who struggled with a back injury last year – spent five seasons with the Chiefs after joining from the Cleveland Browns in 2016.

Schwartz started 70 regular-season games, and played from the off in Kansas City's Super Bowl triumph.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott insisted he was "healthy" after undergoing ankle surgery.

Prescott needed surgery after suffering an ankle injury in October last year and he made just five appearances last season.

The 27-year-old's long-running contract saga came to an end earlier this week, signing a four-year deal reportedly worth $160million.

Prescott said he was getting closer to being completely healthy as preparations continue for the new season.

"I thought about jogging out here and jumping up on the stage, but I don't know if y'all are ready for that," he told a news conference on Wednesday.

"I'm healthy. I control what I can control, I followed the doctor's orders the whole time, put in my own work ethic to it. You saw me walking out here. I've been on that field back there [rehabbing]. I'm healthy and I'm getting close."

Prescott added: "I'll be ready when it matters and I'll be more healthy and better than I was before."

Since taking the starting role as a rookie in 2016 from an injured Tony Romo, Prescott has thrown for 17,634 yards with 106 touchdowns and 40 interceptions.

He has also rushed for 1,314 yards and a further 24 touchdowns.

Though he missed most of last season, Prescott is 10th among qualifying quarterbacks in yards per attempt (7.69) and 12th in passing plays of 25 yards or more since 2016.

Prescott needed a second surgery on his ankle and he explained why he decided to undergo another operation.

"Obviously the first surgery with an open wound, you want to get that and eliminate any risk of infection," Prescott said.

"We got a month or so down the road and said it would be best if we went in there and did do that [second surgery] now so as Mr [Jerry] Jones said, 10 years, 15 years, I can be playing still and not have to deal with something bothering me.

"We might as well knock it out and get it straight now while I'm already missing time. That was obviously the thought behind that."

For the teams that have to watch the confetti fall on their opponent at the end of an arduous season, the Super Bowl hangover is no myth.

Ask any number of teams to have come up short on the biggest stage and then gone on to endure a nightmare subsequent campaign, they will confirm its legitimacy.

The 2020 San Francisco 49ers experienced perhaps the most severe hangover of any Super Bowl runner-up in the modern era, and little of it was their own doing.

San Francisco suffered from an utterly remarkable injury crisis. In a year where every team in the league was impacted by the coronavirus, the Niners had to deal with the core of one of the most talented rosters in the league being decimated.

Having seen three opt out before the start of the season, the Niners had 40 players placed on either the injured reserve, physically unable to perform, or reserve/COVID-19 list over the course of the year.

The scale of the injury crisis left head coach Kyle Shanahan and those on his roster who stayed healthy fighting an uphill battle to reach the postseason.

It was a fight they ultimately lost despite a very admirable effort, finishing 6-10, leaving San Francisco with significant questions to answer this offseason.

Using Stats Perform data, we look back on a season defined by misfortune and look ahead to what the 49ers must do in free agency and the draft to ensure they are back in the postseason in 2021.

Offense

Keeping your starting quarterback healthy is imperative to success on offense, but the 49ers rarely had their top option, Jimmy Garoppolo, available at 100 per cent in 2020.

Garoppolo suffered a high ankle sprain in a fateful Week 2 win over the New York Jets and never truly recovered.

He featured in only six games and did not build a convincing case that he deserves to remain the starter long term.

The former New England Patriot completed 94 of his 140 passes for 1,096 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. Garoppolo's interception percentage of 3.6 was the third-highest among players to have attempted at least 100 throws.

One of the two players above him on that list was his backup, Nick Mullens (3.7), whose turnovers helped end San Francisco's hopes of qualifying for the playoffs.

Mullens committed 16 giveaways, 12 of those coming on interceptions, with no team conceding more takeaway points than the Niners' 124.

Those turnovers tilted contests in which the undermanned Niners were generally competitive in their opponents' favour and limited the upside of an offense that still finished in the top half in yards per play (5.66) and passing yards per play (6.62) despite the absences of Garoppolo, All-Pro tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel for much of the season.

Yet the fact Mullens still managed to finish the season 15th among qualifying quarterbacks in yards per pass attempt (7.48) is illustrative of the ceiling of Shanahan's offense.

Samuel (12.09) led the league in yards after catch per reception among receivers with at least 10 catches, while no rookie caught more red-zone touchdowns than Brandon Aiyuk (5).

When it is healthy, the Niners' offense can still be one of the most dynamic in football.

However, it requires a durable quarterback who takes care of the ball and, in 2021, will need more of a boost from a running game that was minus NFC Championship Game hero Raheem Mostert for most of the year, San Francisco finishing 16th in yards per rush (4.32) having been ninth in 2019.

Ensuring the 49ers possess those offensive necessities in 2021 will be paramount given the amount of turnover their top-10 defense looks set to experience.

Defense

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh earned a head coaching job with the Jets on the back of the efforts of his depleted defense in 2020.

Minus 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa, who tore his ACL against the Jets, Saleh kept a defense that saw its cast of characters consistently rotate due to injuries and Covid issues in the top 10.

The 49ers ranked fifth in opponent yards per play allowed (5.05), with San Francisco extremely stingy against the run, giving up an average of 3.96 yards per carry that only five teams bettered.

Though the offense's tendency to turn the ball over consistently put the defense in bad positions, the 49ers were the fourth-best team in the league at keeping opposing offenses out of the endzone.

San Francisco gave up touchdowns on 37 of the 183 offensive drives faced in a season where the Niners' opponents had the eighth-best average starting field position in the NFL.

The 49ers' secondary consistently rose to the task when challenged by opposing passing attacks, with the 44 passing plays of 20 or more yards San Francisco gave up tied for the sixth-fewest in the league.

Their efforts in keeping opposing passing attacks in check were helped by the performances of unheralded edge rusher Kerry Hyder, who compensated somewhat for Bosa's absence with 8.5 sacks and a combined total of 53.5 knockdowns and hurries, tied for 20th in the league.

However, that was some way short of the 81.5 Bosa had a year ago, and the fact the Niners were still one of the better pass defenses in the NFL despite finishing 22nd in sacks (30), 28th in hurries (144) and 27th in knockdowns (68) speaks to the high level of performance from the secondary.

Yet the odds of keeping that secondary together in a pivotal offseason look slim.

Offseason

The 49ers have been publicly supportive of Garoppolo despite his struggles in staying on the field, but there is still significant doubt as to whether Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will double down on that backing and stick with him as their signal-caller in 2021.

Having said to have been interested in Matthew Stafford before he was traded to NFC West rivals the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers are also reported to have called about the availability of Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Frequently mentioned as a possible destination for disgruntled Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson and Sam Darnold of the Jets, the Niners at the very least appear to be open to the possibility of putting a fresh face at quarterback, and they would have significant financial motivation for moving on from Garoppolo.

The Niners are in a better position than most when it comes to the salary cap. They are scheduled to be over $26million under the $182.5m salary cap, but parting ways with Garoppolo would free up just shy of $24m in extra room and give San Francisco additional flexibility with which to keep hold of a plethora of free agents.

Thirty-one members of the 2020 roster are scheduled for free agency, including every cornerback who took a defensive snap last season.

Re-signing All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams is the priority for San Francisco, with corner Jason Verrett likely to be next on the list following a superb comeback season after years of injury frustration.

Richard Sherman is not expected to be back and the futures of key contributors like Kyle Juszczyk and Jaquiski Tartt are more clouded.

San Francisco's list of needs in the draft could therefore be long but the upside of their hangover is that it landed them the 12th overall pick.

That puts the Niners potentially in the conversation for one of the top quarterbacks in the class should they indeed want an alternative to Garoppolo, and they are in an excellent spot to land a premium player at a number of positions, with corner, edge rusher and interior offensive line all areas in need of reinforcement.

Getting Bosa back and hopefully avoiding an astronomical level of injuries will go a long way to putting the Niners back in playoff contention.

Yet with several departures likely on defense and first-time coordinator DeMeco Ryans taking over for Saleh, the 49ers may not be able to rely on that side of the ball to do the heavy lifting as it has often done over the past two years.

That means the 49ers can ill-afford more uncertainty at quarterback and puts the wisdom of keeping a signal-caller who has missed 23 games with the team due to injury into serious question. Garoppolo's durability concerns have held back what should be one of the most consistently devastating offenses in the NFL.

With clear avenues to make a change at the most important position, how far the Niners go in 2021 hinges largely on their level of belief in a quarterback who had them seven minutes from Super Bowl LIV glory.

The Los Angeles Rams have never been afraid to take big swings, and they will be hoping the one they took back in late January will get them over the hump.

Los Angeles handed the keys to an offense that can be one of the most explosive in football to Matthew Stafford, parting ways with Jared Goff and some significant draft capital to acquire him from the Detroit Lions.

Stafford joins a team that was two wins away from the Super Bowl last season, the Rams undone by league MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The Rams are gambling that Stafford's arrival gets them back to the sport's grandest stage.

However, the financial pressures facing Los Angeles mean the Rams' roster is likely to look very different in 2021.

What will their remodelled group need to do to realise their ambitions next season?

Here we try to answer that question by looking back at the Rams' 2020 campaign using Stats Perform data.

Offense

It is not difficult to see why Sean McVay lost patience with Goff, the number one overall pick of the Rams in the 2016 draft.

The Rams finished the season 18th in yards per play with 5.54, their second successive year outside the top 10 in that regard having been second in 2018 (6.36) when they reached the Super Bowl.

Goff's inability to hang on to the football played a contributing role in their struggles to move the ball more efficiently.

His 17 giveaways were tied for the fourth-most in the NFL while 73 of his 182 incompletions were down to poor throws. Only nine quarterbacks delivered more poor throws in 2020.

Just 14 of Goff's incompletions were drops, tied for 20th among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts, indicating his receivers were relatively reliable.

Goff had decent success going downfield. His passer rating of 103.4 on throws of 21 or more air yards ranked 10th among quarterbacks to have attempted 25 such throws.

Stafford, however, ranked fifth with a rating of 118.5 and attempted 57 such passes to Goff's 36 at a better completion percentage (35.1 to 33.3), illustrating his greater willingness to push the ball deep and his superior prowess as a downfield thrower.

The Rams will want to give Stafford more support than Goff received from the running game, which averaged 4.27 yards per attempt last year, putting them 17th in the NFL.

Cam Akers' progress could be key in that regard. The 2020 second-round pick came on strong down the stretch and proved himself a big-play threat.

He had four rushes of at least 20 yards with his average distance of 41.8 yards on those carries the most among rookie running backs to have more than one such attempt.

But any progress the offense makes may be cancelled out if the defense takes a step back from its position among the league's elite.

Defense

By many measures, the Rams had the best defense in football last season.

Los Angeles ranked first in opponent yards per play allowed (4.56) in 2020, with their dominance encompassing both the passing game and the run game.

Indeed, the Rams allowed the least passing yards per play (5.08) and the third-least rushing yards per play (3.76).

Just 46.8 per cent of offensive plays run against them were successful, with only three defenses performing better by that measure. The Rams were the third-best team in the league at stopping teams on the critical third and fourth downs, allowing a success rate of 35.9 per cent.

Their numbers in terms of takeaways were not quite as impressive, the Rams finishing with 22, seven shy of the league-high 29 set by the Miami Dolphins.

Though the Rams perhaps did not take the ball away as much as they would have liked, Los Angeles still excelled at preventing opponents from scoring.

Los Angeles finished the year first in opponent scoring efficiency, allowing scores on 51 of 183 opponent drives.

The Rams' defense was led by another Defensive Player of Year effort from star defensive lineman Aaron Donald.

Donald's sack total of 13.5 was a low number by his lofty standards, but he was the clear leader in knockdowns and hurries, his combined total of 94.5 comfortably outstripping the man he beat to the DPOY award, T.J. Watt (83).

There is little to suggest Donald will not continue to dominate but, for the Rams to remain the league's best on defense, they will need to adapt to the loss of coordinator Brandon Staley - who was replaced by Raheem Morris - and the likely departures of several key pieces.

Offseason

The Rams' move to land Stafford came at a high price, leaving them with a distinct lack of capital with which to furnish the roster around him.

Los Angeles traded a third-round pick this year along with first-rounders in 2022 and 2023 to acquire Stafford, leaving them without a first-round selection until 2024.

With Donald and Jalen Ramsey in place for the long term, the defense looks in pretty good hands, but it may be a little top-heavy given the talent the Rams look likely to lose on that side of the ball.

Safety John Jonson, cornerbacks Darious Williams and Troy Hill, and edge rusher Leonard Floyd are all set to hit the market in a year where the Rams are projected to be nearly $30million over an assumed salary cap of $185m.

Replenishing those positions, and sourcing a replacement for unrestricted free agent guard Austin Blythe, will be priorities for the Rams, along with finding a deep threat who can help them harness the most of Stafford's upside throwing the deep ball.

The problem is that the Rams, as it stands, only have three picks in the 2021 NFL Draft with which to add to their group.

That number will go up when compensatory selections are factored into the equation, but the reality is that the Rams will not be as deep as in previous years.

Los Angeles will need to get creative to bolster the roster this offseason, yet the fate of the Rams' 2021 campaign rests predominantly on the success of their bet on Stafford to be a significant upgrade on the quarterback they were so eager to ship out.

Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have opted to apply the franchise tag on wide receiver Chris Godwin.

Godwin was poised to become one of the top available options at wide receiver when free agency opens next week.

But the Bucs have kept one of Tom Brady's key weapons around by tagging him before Tuesday's deadline, according to widepsread reports.

Godwin caught 65 passes from Brady for 840 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 regular season games last season.

He played all four games in the Bucs' postseason run too, catching 16 passes including nine for 110 yards and a score in the vital NFC Championship Game win over the Green Bay Packers.

Godwin, 25, was a third-round draft pick in 2017 and forms part of a formidable group of Bucs receivers that includes Mike Evans and Antonio Brown.

He is expected to earn around $16.4million on the franchise tag, with the decision to apply it on him meaning Bucs pass-rusher Shaquil Barrett, another pending free agent, will hit the open market next week.

The Bucs will try to strike a long-term deal with Godwin, though the cost should be high for a productive receiver who is yet to hit his prime.

It is a busy period for transactions in the NFL, with quarterback Dak Prescott agreeing a new four-year, $160m contract with the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.

Safeties Justin Simmons and Marcus Maye have received the tag from the Denver Broncos and New York Jets respectively, with the New York Giants doing the same for defensive lineman Leonard Williams.

Offensive linemen Taylor Moton and Brandon Scherff are expected to be tagged by the Carolina Panthers and Washington Football Team.

Cam Robinson has been tagged by the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the New England Patriots have struck a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders to bring back their former star tackle, Trent Brown.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, meanwhile, will reportedly not apply the tag to Bud Dupree, allowing the pass-rusher to test free agency.

As was the case a year earlier, Derrick Henry's tremendous performances on the ground could only take the 2020 Tennessee Titans so far in the playoffs.

Running back Henry was once again the star as the Titans returned to the postseason with an 11-5 record, their best since 2008 – also the last time they had won the AFC South.

But having come up short against eventual champions the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2019 AFC Championship Game, Tennessee fell at the first hurdle this time.

The Baltimore Ravens, still hurting from their shock defeat against Henry and Co the previous season, prevailed 20-13 in the Wild Card round.

So the Titans must regroup again ahead of the 2021 campaign, surely again looking to Henry to provide their spark while negotiating a challenging offseason.

The league's Offensive Player of the Year will certainly need some help, as our study with Stats Perform data shows.

Offense

It came as no surprise that the Titans ranked as high as second in rushing yards last season (168.1 per game) given Henry's incredible consistency.

There was not a rushing metric in which Henry did not lead the NFL, attempting 378 rushes, at 23.6 per game, for 2,027 yards (126.7 per game) and 17 touchdowns – league-high marks across the board.

Tennessee rushed on 50.5 per cent of plays – ranking third – and Henry carried the load almost single-handedly. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was next for total yardage with 266.

But the flaws in this approach were laid bare by the Ravens, who got to grips with Henry.

He was restricted to 18 attempts for just 40 yards. Only once in his NFL career – in a Week 17 win over Jacksonville in 2017 – had Henry previously averaged less than 2.2 yards with 18 rushes or more.

This reliance on Henry in their biggest games ultimately proved damaging, even as the rest of the offense also largely performed well.

Tannehill finished the year with a passer rating of 106.5 – fifth in the NFL – but he threw fewer passes (481) than any other QB to start 16 games, while the Titans were 23rd in net passing yards (228.3 per game).

Wide receivers A.J. Brown (70 receptions for 1,075 yards and 11 TDs) and Corey Davis (65 receptions for 984 yards and five TDs) each put up impressive career-best numbers, yet they ranked joint-32nd and joint-38th respectively for catches.

With the focus on Henry, their season stopped when he was slowed.

Defense

Even with Baltimore impressively handling Henry, a rare bad game might have been less of an issue had the defense been able to hold up.

Across the regular season, the Titans ranked 28th for opponent yards per game (398.3), including 277.4 net passing yards per game, 29th best in the league.

The franchise paid the price for some big free agency misses in the form of edge rushers Vic Beasley Jr. and Jadeveon Clowney, who signed one-year contracts worth a combined $22.2million and failed to contribute a single sack between them.

Clowney played eight games before he was placed on injured reserve due to a knee injury, while Beasley showed up late to training camp and played just five times before he was released.

A defensive unit that shared a locker room with the best running back in the sport was at least slightly better at disrupting their opponents' ground game, but they still allowed 120.8 rushing yards per game (19th in the league).

As a result, too often Tennessee could not get their opponents off the field and put the ball in Henry's hands.

Opponents spent 31 minutes and 32 seconds in possession on average (27th in the league), while the Titans recorded only 19 sacks, ranking 30th.

Even on the rare occasions they did successfully put teams under pressure, the Titans were dead last in third-down stops. A massive 51.9 per cent of third downs against them were converted, including 42.6 per cent of attempts of six yards or more and 37.7 per cent of 10 yards or more.

Offseason

There is lots to do before the new season starts if the Titans are to be competitive again. Indeed, the scale of the task might well mean a Super Bowl run is beyond them in 2021, even with Henry a force once more.

Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith's departure to Atlanta, where he will be the Falcons' head coach, prompted the promotion of Todd Downing to a role he has served in for only one year previously, with the Raiders in 2017.

And he will have his work cut out if the Titans are to come close to maintaining last season's standard.

The team declined Davis' fifth-year option prior to his career-best year, making him an unrestricted free agent, while tight ends Jonnu Smith (eight TDs in 2020) and Anthony Firkser are also leaving. Slot receiver Adam Humphries, injured and expensive last year, will be less of a miss.

It means Brown is the only remaining Titan to have posted more than 200 receiving yards for the team in 2020.

On defense, meanwhile, the short-lived failures of Clowney and Beasley mean there is again a gaping hole at the edge position.

Tennessee have just $10.6m of cap room to work with and, although they at least still have their draft picks, some tough weeks and months lie ahead.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.