Denver Broncos general manager George Paton said the NFL franchise want eight-time Pro Bowler Von Miller back for the 2021 season.

Broncos star Miller, 31, missed the entire 2020 campaign due to an ankle injury, while he has a contract option guaranteeing $7million of his $18m salary for 2021.

The Broncos have until March 16 to exercise the option on Super Bowl champion Miller, who signed a six-year, $114.5m deal in 2016.

New Broncos GM Paton said the team are working with Miller's agent amid suggestions of a potential contract re-structure.

"We want to bring Von back; we're still working through that," Paton told reporters on Thursday.

"I don't want to get into everything, but we want to bring him back."

There is also a legal issue involving veteran linebacker Miller, with Paton insisting he would let the process "play out" and would not discuss the topic.

"Obviously the legal process, what he's going through, it's a serious situation obviously," Paton said.

"I don't know all the details, but we respect what's going on. We do want Von back."

The Broncos finished bottom of the AFC West Conference in 2020, with a 5-11 record.

Ben Roethlisberger has agreed a new restructured contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers to keep him as the team's starting quarterback for 2021.

A $41.25million cap hit on Roethlisberger's previous contract meant his future with the team was in doubt as the offseason began.

After a meeting with the QB last month, Steelers president Art Rooney II issued a statement indicating the team's desire to have Roethlisberger back for an 18th season with the franchise.

Roethlisberger had also said he was willing to have his cap hit lowered and the two teams confirmed on Thursday – under two weeks before the start of free agency – that a deal had been done.

"It is my greatest honor to be a Pittsburgh Steeler and give my all for this organization," Roethlisberger said after the new contract was confirmed. 

"I am grateful to be at this stage of my career and more than happy to adjust my contract in a way that best helps the team to address other players who are so vital to our success. 

"I love this game and love to compete, and I believe in this team and my ability to deliver when called upon. 

"It all starts with great preparation and I am ready to go."

Roethlisberger helped Pittsburgh – who have one of the best defenses in the NFL - to an incredible 11-0 start last season.

But they ran out of steam badly down the stretch, losing four of their last five to finish 12-4 before a stunning 48-37 Wild Card playoff defeat to divisional rivals the Cleveland Browns.

Roethlisberger, 39, was coming back from a serious elbow injury which saw him miss all but two games of the 2019 campaign.

His play was steady but unspectacular, leading a Steelers offense that averaged 250.5 net passing yards per game, 15th best in the NFL.

Roethlisberger threw for 3,803 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 games, with a 94.1 passer rating (19th among qualifying QBs).

At 9.65 yards per completion – the lowest rate in the league – the veteran was more of a game manager than the downfield threat of old.

But despite fellow 2004 draftee Philip Rivers joining Eli Manning in retirement, Roethlisberger will play on in pursuit of a third Super Bowl.

"We are excited we were able to come to an agreement with Ben Roethlisberger on a new contract for him to return to the Steelers in 2021," said general manager Kevin Colbert. 

"We know that Ben can still play at a high level and do special things for this team. 

"Our goal remains the same – to put together a roster that will compete for another championship. 

"We are happy that Ben will be one of our leaders to help us accomplish that goal."

Rebuilds require patience and a willingness to accept growing pains and, initially, quite a lot of losing.

The Carolina Panthers experienced a lot of that in 2020 but, such was their competitiveness in their first year under Matt Rhule, the franchise now appears ready to accelerate the timeline.

Carolina went 5-11 but a 3-2 start and a lack of blowout defeats fostered hope they can soon be back in postseason contention.

Where do they need to improve to make that ambition a reality?

We reflect on their campaign using Stats Perform data and looked ahead to a pivotal offseason that will go a long way to determining whether they will be back in the playoff mix in 2021.


Offense

After ending the Cam Newton era, the Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater to be a placeholder at the quarterback position. 

Reports suggest the Panthers may view his job as the bridge quarterback as being completed, as they are seemingly looking to a potentially more exciting future under center. 

That is not surprising given how limited the Panthers' passing attack was in 2020. 

Only two teams had fewer touchdown passes than Carolina's 16, with Bridgewater completing only 41 per cent of his attempts of 21 air yards or more for three touchdowns and five interceptions. 

Bridgewater was a quarterback more reliant on his receivers' abilities after the catch than his arm strength. The Panthers had 4,129 gross passing yards and 50.7 per cent of that tally was made up of yardage after the catch, well above the league average of 45.6. 

That is not necessarily a criticism in an NFL where several teams rely heavily on short passing games that focus on the strengths of their receivers in the open field, but it is evident through the lack of downfield success that the Panthers need a more dynamic quarterback if they are to contend. 

Carolina lost eight games by one score in 2020, with Bridgewater failing to author a single game-winning drive. 

He threw one touchdown to three interceptions in the fourth quarter last season, further illustrating the need for the Panthers to find a more physically gifted quarterback who can make the clutch throws in the waning moments. 

Of course, the Panthers might have been more successful in that regard had Christian McCaffrey been available for more than three games. 

Bereft of the talents of a running back who led the league in scrimmage yards and touchdowns in 2019, the Panthers were 21st in rushing yards per game. 

They actually slightly improved in terms of rushes of 10 yards or more, recording 47 to the 45 they registered in 2019. However, with Carolina's 64 scoring drives ranked 23rd in the NFL, the Panthers evidently gave defenses little to fear in 2020. 

That has to change if they are to make the second-year leap under Rhule.

Defense

The Panthers spent every pick of the 2020 NFL Draft on defense and, at least in terms of their pass defense, that decision paid dividends. 

Carolina allowed 6.23 yards per pass play, the 12th-best average in the NFL, but the Panthers were dragged down by a below-par run defense. 

Indeed, the Panthers gave up 4.75 yards per rush, with just four teams faring worse than Carolina in that regard. 

And, while teams did not move the ball efficiently through the air against Carolina, the Panthers struggled to keep opponents out of the endzone. 

Of the 161 opponent drives versus the Panthers, 74 resulted in either a touchdown or a field goal, giving Carolina an opponent scoring efficiency of 46.0 that ranked 27th in the NFL. 

Yet this youthful unit still showed enough for Rhule and the Panthers to be encouraged going into 2021. 

Carolina finished 2020 tied-10th in takeaways with 22, third-round pick Jeremy Chinn contributing three of those in an impressive rookie season from the versatile safety. 

The expected development from him and first-round defensive tackle Derrick Brown provides reason for optimism, though the onus will be on Brown and edge rusher Brian Burns to do more to pressure the quarterback after the Panthers recorded 29 sacks in 2020, only good enough for tied-23rd in the NFL. 

This inexperienced group was asked to do too much by the offense last season but, if the likes of Chinn, Brown and Burns make the anticipated strides, the defense will have a much better chance of winning games for the Panthers in 2021.

Offseason

It's all about the quarterback in Carolina. After reportedly making an offer to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford before he was traded to the Rams, the Panthers are expected to aggressively pursue a deal with the Houston Texans to acquire Deshaun Watson. 

With the young core they have, the Panthers would instantly become playoff contenders with Watson under center. Failing that, Carolina stands out as a likely destination for one of Zach Wilson, Justin Fields or Trey Lance in the draft. 

Regardless of whether it is Watson or one of that group of rookies under center in 2021, the Panthers will also need to reinforce their offensive line. 

Both starting tackles from last season, Russell Okung and Taylor Moton, are scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. 

Thankfully, the Panthers are in a decent position to re-sign free agents and pursue those from other teams. They will be nearly $40million under an assumed salary cap of $185m. 

Having gotten little production from the position last season, tight end should be an area the Panthers look to address. Ian Thomas led Carolina tight ends with just 145 receiving yards in 2020. 

The defense is not the finished article but, after focusing on that side of the ball last year, this offseason is one in which Carolina needs to load up on offense to help the Panthers make the next step.

The New Orleans Saints are in limbo.

Until Drew Brees reveals whether his playing career will continue into a 21st season, New Orleans will not be able to finalise a plan of attack for an extremely challenging offseason.

With or without Brees, the Saints need to make some significant changes, New Orleans left facing a balancing act between staying competitive and getting under a shrinking salary cap.

They are under that pressure after one of most talented rosters in the NFL again came up short in the postseason, their playoff hopes ended in the Wild Card round by their NFC South rivals and eventual Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The lessons learned from that failure will dictate how the Saints attack free agency and the draft this year.

What can be gleaned from another season in which the Saints excelled but ultimately fell short of expectations? We reflect on their 2020 using Stats Perform data.

Offense

The numbers tell a very clear story. In 2020, the Saints' passing offense was not the force it has been in previous years.

After finishing seventh in net passing yards per game (265.3) in 2019, the Saints finished 19th (234.9) in the same category in 2020.

They also had nine fewer passing plays of 25 yards or more, recording just 24 having put up 33 in 2019.

Indeed, this was a season in which the increasing limitations of Brees' arm restricted the upside of the New Orleans attack.

Brees was 14th in passing yards gained per attempt (7.54) in 2020 but his impact as a downfield thrower was minimal.

He attempted just 21 passes of 21 air yards or more in his 12 games and completed only nine of them, though five went for touchdowns.

Should Brees retire, head coach Sean Payton may be tempted to go with Taysom Hill as his replacement in 2021 after he filled in for the 42-year-old in four games in 2020.

Utility man Hill attempted nine passes of 21 air yards or more and completed five of them for 170 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 140.0, offering hope he could be an upgrade on Brees in that area.

Though there are concerns over the explosiveness of the passing game, there should be no such worries about their ground attack.

The Saints ranked eighth in the NFL in rushes of 10 yards or more (60), with 27 of those coming from Alvin Kamara.

Kamara finished fourth among running backs in scrimmage yards per game with (112.5).

With or without Brees, the Saints need to find a way to maximise the potency of their passing game so not to waste the prime years of one of the top running backs in the league and ensure they have the firepower to compete in the NFC.

Defense

One of the main reasons the Saints were able to contend despite the conservative nature of the passing offense was the strength of their defense.

The Saints were one of the premier defensive teams in football, allowing opposing offenses to move the ball at a rate of 5.01 yards per play, with only three teams bettering them in that regard.

New Orleans also had one of the most opportunistic defenses in the league, their 26 takeaways tied for third in the NFL.

The 92 points scored off those turnovers provided a substantial boost to Brees and the offense, with that resulting in the league's sixth-best tally.

The Los Angeles Rams (2) were the only team to allow fewer touchdowns of 20 yards or more than the five the Saints conceded, while New Orleans was exceptional at keeping opposing run games in check.

New Orleans forced 50 negative run plays in 2020, the negative yardage total of minus 121 fourth in the NFL behind the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.

Between their ability to limit big plays, take away the football and make offenses one dimensional through shutting down the run game, the Saints boasted an elite defense last season.

With uncertainty at the quarterback position, keeping that group together is likely to be pivotal to the Saints' hopes of staying in contention in 2021.

But for a team whose salary cap situation is the worst in the NFL, that will be easier said than done.

Offseason

Assuming the most optimistic estimate of the salary cap being $185million, the Saints are set to be $65m over it as things stand.

New Orleans look set to suffer after years of stretching the cap to its extreme, and that pain is coming in a year where they have 22 unrestricted free agents.

Brees has restructured his contract in advance of his expected retirement, helping the Saints significantly, yet their odds of keeping around defenders such as Marcus Williams, P.J. Williams and pass rusher Trey Hendrickson - who was third in the NFL with 13.5 sacks in 2020 - still look slim.

Linebacker Kwon Alexander and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who carry a combined cap hit of over $23m and can be released for a dead cap charge of just $4m, stand out as obvious potential casualties of the financial issues facing the Saints.

Should Brees indeed ride off into the sunset, New Orleans will need to decide whether to gamble on Hill or bring back Jameis Winston on an affordable deal and make him the successor.

The draft could also be an avenue by which the Saints could find Brees' heir, however, it seems more likely they will use their draft capital to reinforce a defense that could lose talent at all three levels.

Their decision-making in resolving the issue at quarterback and minimising the impact of the potential departures on defense will define whether the Saints stay at the sharp end of the NFC in 2021.

A permanent residency in Las Vegas. It's what so many performers around the world dream of getting, but in 2020 the Raiders were left delivering a mediocre performance to a non-existent audience in their first year in the desert. 

Their mammoth new Allegiant Stadium home was left empty due to restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Raiders again flattered to deceive, an exciting opening act giving way to an underwhelming finale that ended hopes of a postseason encore. 

Under normal circumstances, a third successive season in which the Raiders missed the playoffs would lead to pressure on Jon Gruden. 

But because the Raiders rolled the dice by giving Gruden a 10-year contract, the head coach is a long way from the hot seat during his second spell with the franchise. 

Playing in a division alongside Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, plus Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers, the Raiders face a tough challenge to contend in the AFC West. 

The pressure on Gruden may finally come should they miss the postseason again in 2021, but what can the Raiders do to ensure their first season with fans in Vegas results in a playoff berth? 

Here, with the help of Stats Perform data, we reflect on the Raiders' 2020 season and assess what they can learn from an 8-8 year.

Offense

The Raiders failed in their pursuit of a Wild Card spot despite an impressive year from much-maligned quarterback Derek Carr, who threw for a career-high 4,103 passing yards and finished the season in a three-way tie for fifth in yards per attempt with an average of 7.94. 

Where Carr made clear and significant strides was as a deep-ball thrower. 

On passes of 21 air yards or more, Carr had a passer rating of 124.2, throwing for 10 touchdowns and one interception. Among quarterbacks to have attempted at least 25 such passes, his rating put him fourth in the league, behind only Daniel Jones, Aaron Rodgers and Kyler Murray. 

The exciting thing for the Raiders is there is clear room for him to grow in that area. 

While Carr was much improved pushing the ball downfield, his rapport with Raiders speedster Henry Ruggs III still needs work. 

Carr had 54 completions of at least 20 yards but first-round pick Ruggs registered only eight receptions of 20 yards or more. 

The average distance on those Ruggs receptions was 40.4 yards, putting him fifth among receivers to have had at least five catches of 20-plus yards. 

If Carr and Ruggs can develop their downfield chemistry, opposing defenses will have more reason to fear the passing game, potentially opening things up further for Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller underneath and a running game that underwhelmed in 2020. 

Though Josh Jacobs scored 12 touchdowns, the Raiders averaged 4.19 yards per rush, the 19th-best mark in the NFL.

There will be onus on Jacobs and the offensive line to improve drastically in that regard but, should Carr make further progress going deep and force defenses to focus on the pass, everyone else's jobs will become a little bit easier.

Defense

Save for occasional flashes - the shackling of Mahomes and the Chiefs in the second half of their Week 5 win at Arrowhead Stadium being the most prominent example - the Raiders defense failed to live up to the significant investment in that side of the ball.

Indeed, the Raiders continued to struggle to contain opposing offenses in 2020, allowing 5.99 yards per play, the seventh-worst mark in the NFL.

They were one of just six teams to give up over seven yards per pass play, with the Raiders' issues on defense leading to the firing of coordinator Paul Guenther.

Las Vegas will hope that Gus Bradley - Guenther's replacement - will be the man to oversee a turnaround.

To do that, Bradley will need to help deliver a significant upturn in production from the Raiders' pass rush. They finished the season with 21 sacks - just three teams had fewer - with edge rusher Maxx Crosby seeing his numbers drop from 10 sacks as a rookie to seven in 2020.

A first-round pick in 2019, Clelin Ferrell had just 2.5 sacks, with the Raiders' inability to get consistent pressure a factor in them allowing a passer rating of 108.9 on opponent throws of 21 air yards or more.

That number also raises questions about a young and exploitable secondary that has found it difficult to produce turnovers.

Las Vegas ranked 30th in takeaways with a meagre 15, with their 10 interceptions tied for 23rd.

Having consistently failed to pressure quarterbacks and to take the ball away, there is significant room for improvement on defense, but the Raiders do not have the financial flexibility with which to add players who can aid their cause.

Offseason

Even after one of the best seasons of his career, there has again been talk about the Raiders trading Carr in the hope of finding an upgrade at quarterback. 

The more likely scenario is that the Raiders parlay Marcus Mariota's one appearance last season, in which he excelled in relief of the injured Carr, into a trade that can net them more draft capital. 

With the Raiders poised to be over $9million above an assumed salary cap of $185m, potentially limiting their options in free agency, those extra draft picks would be welcomed. 

Regardless of how many picks the Raiders end up with, the areas of need are obvious. 

Pass-rush help both on the edge and on the interior of the defensive line is a must, as is an infusion of athleticism at linebacker, last year's free-agent signings Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski proving ill-equipped to help the Raiders stop the threats posed by modern passing attacks. 

Making those additions to the front seven will be crucial to the progress Gruden and the Raiders hope they can make in the fourth year of his tenure. 

Should the Raiders fail to identify the correct players at those spots, the ceiling of this team may again be limited in 2021 irrespective of any further strides from Carr.

New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas still believes Sam Darnold can be a franchise quarterback, but cannot guarantee it will be for his organisation. 

Speaking to reporters in a videoconference on Wednesday, Douglas stated he would listen to teams inquiring about the availability of Darnold, whose future with the Jets has been under constant speculation since the team completed its 2020 season with a dismal 2-14 record.  

"I will answer the call if it's made," Douglas said. "Like I've said, Sam is, we think, a dynamic player in this league with unbelievable talent who really has a chance to hit his outstanding potential moving forward. But like I've said earlier, if calls are made, I will answer them." 

Darnold's struggles this past season, combined with the Jets being flush in cap space and owning the second overall pick in the upcoming draft, have triggered talk they are considering a change at quarterback.

Unless the Jets decide to exercise a 2022 option expected to be in the range of $25million, the 23-year-old will be entering the final year of his rookie contract. 

Even with the draft's top quarterback prospect, Trevor Lawrence, expected to land with the Jacksonville Jaguars with the first overall selection, the Jets are well-positioned to grab a new future signal-caller if they so choose.

BYU's Zach Wilson and Ohio State's Justin Fields are widely considered the next two best prospects at the position and potential top 10 picks.  

Douglas is still evaluating all his options and is in no rush to make a definitive determination on the Jets' plans. The draft is scheduled to begin on April 29. 

"We feel like we're really in no hard timeline in the immediate future to make a decision," he added.

The Jets have also been mentioned as a possible destination for Deshaun Watson should the Houston Texans grant the disgruntled quarterback's trade request.

Though New York have the draft capital and cap space to conceivably make such a move, Douglas said he would be hesitant to give up several prime assets for one player. 

"We're better positioned than we were this time last year. Our philosophy and stance has not changed, however," Douglas explained. "Our goal is to be a team that builds through the draft. 

"Ultimately for us to get to where the great teams are, the most consistent teams are, you do that through the draft. It's the most team-friendly market in sports." 

Darnold would likely add to the Jets' stockpile of prime draft picks despite a disappointing 2020 season. The third overall pick in 2018 threw 11 interceptions with only nine touchdown passes while missing four games with a shoulder injury, and his 72.7 passer rating ranked 35th among qualifying quarterbacks.  

ESPN reported last month that a number of quarterback-needy teams had contacted the Jets about Darnold, believing his struggles could be attributed to a poor supporting cast and the offense's instability under former head coach Adam Gase.  

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are Super Bowl champions. So job done for Tom Brady and company, right?

Wrong.

In the aftermath of their crushing 31-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, Brady was already speaking on the podium about running it back for another year.

And, having added a seventh Lombardi Trophy to his impressive collection, it's impossible to question the 43-year-old's confidence in pushing for number eight.

However, the reality is that, regardless of how dominant their playoff campaign was, the Bucs have significant issues to resolve if they are to emerge triumphant again next February.

Here we reflect on the season that delivered the Buccaneers' second Super Bowl title and examine the offseason challenges that will be critical to their hopes of successfully defending their crown. 

Offense

Though Brady's first season in Bruce Arians' offense was not without its growing pains, things eventually clicked for the Bucs through the air.

Brady was third in passing yards per game (289.6), behind only Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.

Over the last four weeks of the regular season, however, Brady led the league in pass yards per game, racking up 333.3 as they surged into the postseason.

The move from New England to Tampa Bay also revived Brady's fortunes as a deep-ball thrower. Tampa had 67 completions of 20 yards or more, the third-most in the NFL behind the Houston Texans and the Chiefs.

Where they will hope to improve next year is in the explosiveness of the running game.

Leonard Fournette was the top running back in the postseason, rushing for 300 yards and three touchdowns, including one in the Super Bowl. 

He had five rushes of 10 yards or more in the playoffs but, in the regular season, it was a different story.

The Bucs ranked 29th in the NFL with an average of 94.9 yards per game, while their 34 runs of 10 yards or more were tied for second-last in the NFL.

If Tampa can improve in that regard in 2021, it will take a lot of the pressure off Brady's shoulders.

Defense

Brady may have won Super Bowl MVP for the fifth time, but it was the Bucs' defense that ensured the Chiefs had no way of coming back into the contest.

They pressured Mahomes 33 times in an effort that derailed the Chiefs' offensive game plan, with that performance reflective of the dominance the Bucs' defensive front produced throughout the season.

Indeed, Tampa Bay registered 48 sacks in the regular season, with the 366 negative yards those sacks produced second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers (-384).

Given the pressure they consistently generated, it is no surprise that the Bucs produced the fourth-most takeaways in the NFL (25).

A talented young secondary capitalised significantly on the disruption the front seven created, vindicating investment in the defensive backfield that had previously been questioned.

Safety Antoine Winfield enjoyed a stellar rookie year but the star of the show in the secondary was cornerback Carlton Davis, who had four interceptions and 18 pass breakups.

As a result of their ability to create pressure and turnovers, the Bucs ranked eighth in pass yards per play allowed (5.93).

The rush defense was even stronger, Tampa Bay leading the league as they gave up just 3.6 yards per run play.

Excelling at shutting teams down through the air and on the ground, the Bucs were sixth in opponent scoring efficiency and 10th in successful plays allowed.

Todd Bowles' defense was critical to the Bucs emerging from the 2020 season with the Lombardi in their possession, but difficult decisions loom as they attempt to keep the group together for another run in 2021.

The offseason

In a year where the salary cap could fall from $198million to, at the most optimistic estimate, $185m, the Bucs find themselves in a better position than most teams.

Assuming a $185m cap, the Bucs have nearly $28m to spend, yet the sheer number of free agents they have means Tampa will likely be bidding farewell to some key names from their championship team.

Shaquil Barrett, the edge rusher who had 13 pressures of Mahomes, is an unrestricted free agent in line for a monster payday. Veteran linebacker Lavonte David is also set to hit the open market, along with wide receivers Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Fournette.

Gronkowski has already vowed to return and, given that the Bucs triumphed over the Chiefs with Godwin making just two catches, Tampa may be willing to say goodbye to the former third-round pick to facilitate them paying others.

Barrett and David figure to be the toughest players to re-sign, with the former likely to command something at least in the region of Joey Bosa's market-setting contract for edge rushers, which has an average annual value of $27m.

David may be willing to take a discount after nine seasons with Tampa, but the Bucs might have to face up to the possibility of throwing rookies into the mix on the edge and at linebacker, meaning there could be more pressure on that talented defensive backfield to deliver without the same level of play in the front seven.

Having won it all, the Bucs are effectively playing with house money - at least to those outside the building - and have several options with the 32nd overall pick in the draft.

But edge, linebacker and wide receiver all stand as potential areas of focus for a champion team that may have to revise their expectations of keeping the core of the band together.

The Minnesota Vikings terminated the contract of two-time NFL Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph after 10 seasons.

Minnesota released veteran tight end Rudolph, who was selected in the 2011 NFL Draft, on Tuesday.

The 31-year-old was set for the second season of a four-year, $36million deal, but Rudolph is headed for free agency for the first time in his career as the Vikings save more than $5m in cap space.

"I got so lucky, because -- I didn't just get drafted by some team who 'had a need at tight end,' Rudolph wrote in a story published by The Players' Tribune.

"I didn't just get drafted as, like, the nameless, faceless '#1 tight end on the board.' I got drafted by a team that was all set in terms of need ... but then drafted me anyway.

"I'll always remember that: how the Minnesota Vikings wanted me -- and wanted to bet on my potential."

In his time with the Vikings, Rudolph started 132 of 140 games, tallying 453 catches for 4,488 yards and 48 touchdowns – all those numbers in the top 10 in franchise history.

Rudolph's touchdowns are the most for a Vikings tight end in their history, while his catches and yards only trail Steve Jordan.

A Pro Bowler in 2012 and 2017, Rudolph had 28 receptions, 334 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings last season.

"Kyle has been a leader and mentor for us on and off the field from the first day I arrived in Minnesota," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said in a statement.

"He has been such an important part of this team and community throughout his career and it has been an honour to coach him the last seven seasons. He will be missed, and we wish him and his family nothing but the best."

J.J. Watt said all signs kept pointing towards the Arizona Cardinals after joining the NFL franchise in free agency.

Watt signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals following his release by the Houston Texans in February.

The three-time Pro Bowler, who was drafted by the Texans in 2011, was linked with the likes of the Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers.

But Watt opted to make the move to Arizona, where the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year will reportedly earn $31million.

"I give them credit; they attacked from all angles," Watt told reporters during his introductory news conference on Tuesday.

"There was, I think, [general manager] Steve [Keim] and [owner] Michael [Bidwill] and everybody did a great job of, I mean, there were players, there were coaches, there were non-football people whatsoever that reached out and were in my ear and trying to convince me to come down here and tell me all the great things about it, and not only on the field but sending me pictures of Paradise Valley and everything off the field as well.

"So, their recruiting pitch was strong and heavy, but, at the end of the day, I told my wife, you know all signs just kind of kept pointing back down here to Arizona, and in my short time here on the ground, I can tell you that I'm absolutely pleased and couldn't be happier with my decision."

Watt is Houston's all-time leader for sacks (101), including posting 20.5 in the 2012 season as he was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year for the first time. 

The 31-year-old went on to win the honour in both 2014 and 2015, while he has also been named first-team All-Pro on five occasions, most recently in 2018. 

Watt has endured injury issues in his career, though he played in all 16 games this past season, logging 52 tackles, five sacks and one interception. 

He will now team up with star Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who guided Arizona to an 8-8 record in the NFC West last season.

"It's pretty wild now to be on the same team," Watt said. "But, yeah, I've obviously seen his career. He's had an unbelievable career. He's an incredible athlete, and what he's been able to accomplish, he's been a winner at every stage of his life, and that's not a coincidence.

"You're a winner because of the way that you work and because of the aura that you give off and because of the talent that you have, and I think that he has all those things and he's going to continue to win and continue to have success."

The Chicago Bears need a new quarterback.

One of the better all-round rosters in the NFL once again suffered frustration in 2020.

A second consecutive 8-8 season was enough to creep into the expanded playoffs, but a tame 21-9 Wild Card defeat to the New Orleans Saints soon followed.

Mitchell Trubisky started the season at QB, and later regained his place after being benched in place of trade arrival Nick Foles, who also underwhelmed.

Ultimately, despite a late flurry from Trubisky, neither QB could propel the Bears into contention in the NFC North, which was dominated by the Green Bay Packers. A meaningful postseason run never looked likely because of those limitations under center.

Head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace know their jobs likely hang in the balance based on how they fare in 2021, with their ability to find a solution at the game's most important position crucial to the Bears’ prospects of success next season.

Here we have looked at some of the best Stats Perform data from their 2020 season to determine whether taking that next step is possible.

Offense

Despite being a playoff team, only six teams had a worse yards per game total than the Bears on offense (331.4), while 23.3 points per game was better than just nine franchises.

The Bears’ rushing offense was 25th in the NFL (102.9 yards per game), while 228.4 net passing yards per game was good for the 22nd best mark and 5.62 yards per passing play had them ranked 26th.

Continuing the trend of bottom-half offensive statistics, Chicago averaged 27.4 yards in their big passing plays of 20+ yards – the worst in the NFL - and only seven teams produced fewer than their 42 in that category.

Any struggles in the passing game cannot really be put on the two quarterbacks’ supporting cast. Bears receivers only dropped 12 of 414 catchable passes this season, an impressive rate second only to the Arizona Cardinals (nine from 296) in the league.

Fifth-round draft pick Darnell Mooney looked a steal as he registered 61 catches in 631 yards in support of Allen Robinson, who passed 100 catches (102) for the first time in his NFL career.

But generally this was an offense lacking dynamism despite the past success of Nagy offenses.

Aside from their passing problems, more could have been expected from the rushing game and a once dominant offensive line.

Running back David Montgomery had the fourth-most rushing attempts in the NFL (247) but just the 14th-most rushes of 10+ yards (24) and the 46th highest yards per carry (4.33) average.

Montgomery had a steady but unspectacular 1.8 yards after first contact, 34th in the league among rushers who had at least 50 attempts.

He also had 11 broken tackles, breaking a tackle on 4.4 per cent of plays (the 15th highest percentage in the league), though he did add 54 catches through the air. 

As a team, the 40 rushes of 10+ yards was only 25th in the league, so not much was working on this side of the ball.

Defense

The Bears still had a strong defense, though the unit fell short of the peak play it has produced in years gone by.

They ranked 11th in yardage (344.9), 14th in points allowed (23.1) and 12th in scoring efficiency, allowing 68 scoring drives out of 179.

Opponents tallied 5.41 yards per play (11th), while 18 takeaways put them in a tie for 15th, so they were in the top half of the league in all key metrics.

A sack total of 35, though, was 17th in the NFL.

Khalil Mack posted below 10 sacks (9.0) and 15 QB hits (13) for a second straight year, having not done so in either category in four years between 2015 and 2018.

But that is a reflection of the Bears front seven looking like it needs an infusion of youth, rather than an alarming drop off from Mack. Robert Quinn (2.0 sacks, 6 QB hits) had a quiet year rushing the passer opposite Mack.

The secondary, led by Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson, allowed 10 big play TDs (tied for 14th) and 59 total big plays (16th).

Offseason

Trubisky is out of contract and a return has not been ruled out, while Foles has two years left. But if either of those players are starting at QB then it is hard to see the Bears challenging.

Potential trade options Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz have already found new teams. With the Bears picking in the bottom half of the draft and the cupboard relatively bare in terms of remaining free agent options, Pace is going to have to pull something special out of the bag at QB.

Beyond that critical position, number one wide receiver Robinson is set to hit free agency and is among the NFL's most interesting names to watch after racking up 200 catches and 2,397 receiving yards over the past two years.

The Bears have the franchise tag at their disposal, so could get extra time to work out a long-term deal or consider a tag-and-trade if Robinson expresses a desire to depart.

Chicago enter the offseason approximately $2million over the estimated cap ($185m), putting them around the middle of the league.

They will likely have some room for manoeuvre without being able to embark on a significant free agency splurge.

Having not picked in the first round since 2018, several areas of the roster are in need of attention in addition to the drama at QB. Despite the stellar play of Mack, trading for him has not produced the desired results.

With those issues to overcome at a time when Aaron Rodgers' play is putting divisional rivals Green Bay up there with the NFC's best, the Bears find themselves in an undesirable position.

It was a memorable season for the Green Bay Packers, but one that ultimately ended similarly to the last.

The Packers went down to a frustrating NFC Championship Game defeat to eventual champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one year on from losing at the same stage to the San Francisco 49ers.

In between those events, Aaron Rodgers put together a sensational season to be named NFL MVP for the third time.

Rodgers responded perfectly to the Packers trading up and drafting his potential replacement, Jordan Love, in the first round of the 2020 draft, puzzlingly eschewing the help at wide receiver he appeared to need.

Consecutive 13-3 seasons under Matt LaFleur are to be applauded.

But one Super Bowl ring seems an unfair return for a quarterback of Rodgers’ quality, so it is time for the Packers front office to do more to get him over the hump as his career enters its latter years.

We have used Stats Perform data to scrutinise how they might go about doing it on the evidence of their 2020 campaign.

Offense

Led by a remarkable season from Rodgers, who threw for a career-high 48 touchdowns and just five interceptions, the Green Bay offense was rolling.

There were calls ahead of the season for further receiving threats to be brought in to complement number one option Davante Adams.

While those did not arrive, passing to the first-team All-Pro was a cheat code in 2020, with Adams racking up 115 catches, 1,374 yards and a league-leading 18 touchdowns in 14 regular season games.

The Packers were ninth with 256.6 net passing yards per game, but that figure came with them having the least attempts (526) of any top-10 passing offense, suggesting they often had much more in the tank if it was needed.

Similar can be said for their 57 completions of 20+ yards, which ranked ninth in the league. When Rodgers did go deep, they were highly effective and the average yards gained on those throws was 33.1, third best in the NFL.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling emerged as an impressive deep threat, averaging 44.8 yards per catch on the 10 of those 20+ yard plays he accounted for. His overall record of 20.9 yards per reception from 33 catches was the NFL's best.

The Packers' run game was strong, with 134.2 yards per game good for eighth in the NFL, while they were 16th for runs of 10+ yards with 49 such plays. Running backs contributed in the pass game too, with only Adams and tight end Robert Tonyan having more catches for the team than Aaron Jones' 47.

There may still be calls for Rodgers to be handed a stronger supporting cast, but after such an impressive year they may not be as loud this offseason, with attention perhaps better focused on other areas of the roster.

Defense

The Packers' defense was better than average in 2020 and, with a rampant Rodgers leading the offense, a defensive unit like that is all you need to contend.

In terms of headline numbers, they were ninth in yards allowed (334) and 13th in points allowed (23.1). The pass defense was seventh in yards per game (221), while they were 13th against the run.

Green Bay registered 41 sacks (10th), allowed 5.49 yards per play (14th) and their opponents’ scoring efficiency was 16th in the NFL, so you need to dive deeper to before finding anything alarming.

One area for improvement is the need for more game-changing plays. The Packers had 18 takeaways, putting them in a tie for 25th, while they only forced 26 rushing plays to result in negative yardage (tied for 28th).

A bend but do not break defensive strategy appears to have largely fared well, but playmakers can change those one-off postseason games where the margins are so fine, and the Packers do not have too many of those.

On the plus side, the defense allowed just 48 big plays of 20+ yards (third in the NFL).

However, nine of those went for TDs and Green Bay fans will not forget cornerback Kevin King's struggles against the Bucs in a hurry.

Pass-rusher Za'Darius Smith was not as productive as last year but still registered team-leading figures of 12.5 sacks, 12 TFL and 23 QB hits.

He could do with improved support up front, while the spot opposite lockdown cornerback Jaire Alexander looks like one which could do with reinforcing.

On the whole, there is room for improvement but a solid base to build from.

Offseason

Green Bay are not flush with cash as they enter the offseason around $4.5million over the estimated cap ($185m).

On the plus side, they do not have too many top contributors hitting free agency.

Retaining or replacing one of the NFL's top centers, Corey Linsley, is a key priority.

Both running backs, Jones and Jamaal Williams, are also poised to hit the market, so it may be difficult to retain both of them, especially if they want to justify drafting AJ Dillon in round two a year ago. He only played 97 offensive snaps in the regular season.

King did his free agency hopes few favours in the playoffs, while offensive line may be an area of focus after the departure of tackle Rick Wagner, who played in every game and started nine.

In terms of incomings, with limited funds Green Bay will need to pick their spots but will know a star veteran could make all the difference.

With Rodgers in fine fettle and with LaFleur overseeing a team proven to be contenders, you can expect them to be connected with any high-profile free agents who hit the open market.

That has already been the case with recently released Houston Texans icon J. J. Watt, who ultimately joined the Arizona Cardinals.

After his heroics last year, Pack fans will think any impactful signings the front office can make will be a deserving reward for Rodgers, who is back at the top of his game.

J.J. Watt has revealed he is joining the Cardinals, reuniting him with former Houston Texans team-mate DeAndre Hopkins in Arizona.

Defensive end Watt became a free agent after his request to be released by the Texans - the team who drafted him in the first round back in 2011 - was granted in February.

Speculation over his next destination had been rife since his departure from Houston, but the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year has now confirmed his new home for the 2021 season.

Posting a picture while working out in a Cardinals shirt, Watt simply wrote: "Source: me."

According to sources, Watt will sign a two-year, $31million contract with the Cardinals. It is reported that the deal includes $23m in guaranteed money.

Watt, who turns 32 this month, has only previously played in the NFL for the Texans, who selected him with the 11th pick a decade ago. 

He is the franchise's all-time leader for sacks (101), including posting 20.5 in the 2012 season as he was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year for the first time. 

Watt went on to win the honour in both 2014 and 2015, while he has also been named first-team All-Pro on five occasions, most recently in 2018. 

The former Wisconsin Badger has endured injury issues in his career, though he played in all 16 games this past season, logging 52 tackles, five sacks and one interception. 

Despite having one year remaining on his deal, Watt and the Texans came to an agreement to mutually part ways as the franchise appears set to go through a rebuilding process. 

Watt will be back on the same roster as Hopkins, the wide receiver having been part of a blockbuster trade between Houston and Arizona almost a year ago. 

Hopkins had 115 receptions for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns as the Cardinals posted an 8-8 record in the highly competitive NFC West, not enough to seal a return to the postseason for the first time in five years.

J.J. Watt has revealed he is joining the Cardinals, reuniting him with former Houston Texans team-mate DeAndre Hopkins in Arizona.

Defensive end Watt became a free agent after his request to be released by the Texans - the team who drafted him in the first round back in 2011 - was granted in February.

Speculation over his next destination had been rife since his departure from Houston, but the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year has now confirmed his new home for the 2021 season.

Posting a picture while working out in a Cardinals shirt, Watt simply wrote: "Source: me."

According to sources, Watt will sign a two-year, $31million contract with the Cardinals. It is reported that the deal includes $23m in guaranteed money.

Watt, who turns 32 this month, has only previously played in the NFL for the Texans, who selected him with the 11th pick a decade ago. 

He is the franchise's all-time leader for sacks (101), including posting 20.5 in the 2012 season as he was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year for the first time. 

Watt went on to win the honour in both 2014 and 2015, while he has also been named first-team All-Pro on five occasions, most recently in 2018. 

The former Wisconsin Badger has endured injury issues in his career, though he played in all 16 games this past season, logging 52 tackles, five sacks and one interception. 

Despite having one year remaining on his deal, Watt and the Texans came to an agreement to mutually part ways as the franchise appears set to go through a rebuilding process. 

Watt will be back on the same roster as Hopkins, the wide receiver having been part of a blockbuster trade between Houston and Arizona almost a year ago. 

Hopkins had 115 receptions for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns as the Cardinals posted an 8-8 record in the highly competitive NFC West, not enough to seal a return to the postseason for the first time in five years.

Alex Smith will need to find a new home if he wants to carry on playing as the Washington Football Team reportedly plan to release the quarterback.  

Smith's return to action from a gruesome leg injury was one of the feel-good stories of the 2020 NFL season; the 36-year-old was named Comeback Player of the Year by the Associated Press after throwing for 1,582 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions.  

However, according to a report by NFL Network duo Ian Rapoport and Kim Jones, Washington are expected to part ways with the player in the coming days. 

His career had previously appeared in serious jeopardy after he suffered a compound fracture of his right leg during a game against the Houston Texans in November 2018. Following initial surgery, Smith developed necrotising fasciitis – a rare but serious bacterial infection – and sepsis.  

After a total of 17 operations and having avoided the need for the leg to be amputated, he went through a lengthy and arduous rehabilitation regime before returning to the active roster last year.  

Smith was called to duty when Washington starter Kyle Allen was hurt in the Week 5 game against the Los Angeles Rams. His family were there to witness him play again too, though it proved to be a tough outing: he was sacked six times while completing nine of his 17 pass attempts for 37 yards in a 30-10 defeat.  

Allen resumed starting duties before a serious ankle injury against the New York Giants in Week 9 put an end to his campaign. Smith again stepped in, throwing for one score and three interceptions in a 23-20 defeat. There were career-high numbers for passing attempts (55), completions (38) and yards (390) the following week in a loss to the Detroit Lions, at which stage the franchise had a 2-7 record.  

Yet Smith celebrated a first win as a starter in 754 days against the Cincinnati Bengals, the first of five in a row for Washington under his stewardship as they rallied to clinch the NFC East title.  

A calf issue denied him the chance to play in the Wild Card playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, though. Taylor Heinicke started instead and, having done well in his limited opportunities under head coach Ron Rivera, was handed a new two-year deal in February.  

Smith - who previously played for the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs - will seemingly not be back for the 2021 season. 

Even in the wake of a devastating blowout loss on the biggest stage in football, there remains utmost confidence in the Kansas City Chiefs.

The 31-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV has not shaken faith in Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid and company.

Indeed, you would be hard-pressed to find many doubting their ability to get back to the same stage next season.

Their humbling defeat came as a combination of especially poorly timed bad luck on the injury front and the sheer dominance of a stacked Tampa Bay defense.

Being overwhelmed to that degree is not something the Chiefs have dealt with regularly.

But that does not mean they can ignore the lessons from their failure to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

Kansas City's 2020 campaign was another in which they frequently produced the spectacular, yet their tumble at the final hurdle has left the Chiefs with some obvious holes to address in the offseason.

Offense

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That certainly was the case for Kansas City's explosive passing offense in 2020, the Chiefs continuing to shred teams through the air amid a backdrop of mostly empty stadiums.

Mahomes led the NFL in passing yards per game with 316.0, well clear of Deshaun Watson (301.4) in second.

Watson's Houston Texans were the only team in the league to produce more passing plays of 20 yards or more (70 to 69) and more touchdown throws of at least 20 yards (16 to 15).

Their efforts through the air were backed up by underrated production on the ground.

The Chiefs ranked 12th in rushing yards per attempt (4.46), but were in the top 10 for rushes of 10 yards or more with 57.

However, just 21 of those came from rookie first-round running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Edwards-Helaire did not quite live up to his billing, averaging only 1.7 yards after contact with a defender per attempt.

Evading defenders and attempted tackles was an area in which he was expected to excel.

Yet the fact the Chiefs still finished fifth in offensive scoring efficiency despite his underwhelming efforts in that regard suggests Kansas City has scope to be even more potent if he makes the leap in his second season.

Defense

Going into Super Bowl week, there was plenty of chatter about Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo putting together a gameplan to stop Tom Brady, as he did twice for the New York Giants to help capture the Lombardi with wins over the New England Patriots.

Any plan Spagnuolo had did not bear fruits, with a talented and opportunistic defense failing to slow down a well-balanced Buccaneers' attack.

The fact Kansas City did not succeed in slowing down Tampa Bay is not entirely surprising.

Though they were tied-10th in takeaways with 22 and ranked ninth in opponent scoring efficiency, the Chiefs were often generous to opposing offenses in the regular season.

Kansas City's finished the year 18th in yards per play allowed with 5.61, that average inflated by their vulnerability against the run.

The Chiefs gave up 122.1 yards per game on the ground, putting them 21st in the NFL. Excluding kneeldowns, Kansas City stopped 19 run plays for negative yardage, the fewest in the league.

Reid's team does not appear to put too much emphasis on defending the run, treating giving up yardage on the ground as an occupational hazard of focusing on the pass.

But the flaws of that strategy were laid bare in the Super Bowl as they gave up 145 rushing yards, with Leonard Fournette's 27-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter the back-breaking play of the game.

Kansas City boasts talent on the defensive front and in the secondary but, for a team with few limitations, it may be prudent for those running the show to focus on minimising the factors that have held the Chiefs back in terms of shutting down the ground game.

Offseason

The elephant that made its presence in the room felt during the Super Bowl was the offensive line, which arguably stands as Kansas City's most pressing need going into the offseason.

Those looking to counter that suggestion will point to the absence of starting tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher against the Bucs and the Chiefs' insistence on sticking with five-man protection, the lack of help provided to the O-Line from running backs and tight ends helping doom them to a heavy defeat as Mahomes was left to try to evade 33 pressures.

There is a case to be made, therefore, that in 2021 a more flexible approach from the coaching staff is the key rather than personnel reinforcements up front.

But the interior of the line was just as much of a problem as the tackles in the Super Bowl and, with center Austin Reiter and guard Kelechi Osemele each set for unrestricted free agency, replacements may need to be found.

And, in a year where the Chiefs are scheduled to be $18million over the salary cap at the most optimistic estimate, those replacements may have to come in the draft rather than free agency, though the return of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif from a year out fighting the pandemic in his native Canada will help fill the void.

Receivers Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson look unlikely to be re-signed, meaning younger weapons to supplement Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce may be on the way.

Linebacker Damien Wilson and strong safety Daniel Sorensen are also free agents, and the events of Super Bowl may lead to the Chiefs letting them go and attempting to find faster replacements who are less exploitable in coverage and whose speed can aid Kansas City's cause in run defense.

Whether it's improving the pass protection or adding more thump against the run, the offseason of one of the NFL's most expansive teams may be defined by them adding players who can restrict the space for their opponents.

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