For the first time since 2005, neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo will be involved in the Champions League quarter-finals.  

While Barcelona's exit to last season's runners-up Paris Saint-Germain was perhaps not too much of a surprise, few saw Juventus coming out on the wrong end of an upset against Porto in the last 16.  

So, could we be witnessing a changing of the guard in the competition? Is it a case of out with the old, in with the new? 

While Messi and Ronaldo have dominated in Europe through the years, a collection of some of the most promising talents in the world game have the chance to take centre stage now.

 

Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)

Even by his own prolific standards, Haaland has been in sensational scoring form in the tournament so far.

His 10 goals in six games includes scoring a brace in each leg of the last-16 tie with Sevilla, helping Borussia Dortmund progress to the quarters.  

The Norwegian striker managed the same number in a Champions League campaign last season that saw him represent both BVB and Salzburg. Forget just breaking the record as the fastest to 20 goals, he has shattered it. Harry Kane was previously the quickest to reach that number, doing so in 24 games – Haaland managed it in just 14. 

His big chance conversion rate this season sits at a clinical 81.9 per cent, while he has also demonstrated his all-round impact by creating eight chances for his BVB colleagues.  

Next in his sights is Manchester City, a team with family ties as his father, Alf-Inge, played for the English club in the early 2000s. Haaland has been linked with them too, along with plenty of other clubs, and Pep Guardiola has been suitably impressed by a player who does not turn 21 until July.  

"The numbers speak for themselves, of course he is one of the best strikers in the world right now at his age," said Guardiola, who will be well aware that Haaland has the potential to ruin City's hopes of European glory. 

 

Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

Mbappe has six goals to his name in European outings in 2020-21, the same tally team-mate Neymar has managed for a PSG squad aiming to go one better than last year.

The France international hit a hat-trick in a 4-1 thrashing of Barcelona at Camp Nou, joining Faustino Asprilla and Andriy Shevchenko as the only players to record a Champions League treble against the Spanish heavyweights.  

He was also on target when scoring a penalty in the drawn second leg, in the process becoming the youngest player to reach 25 goals in the competition, aged 22 years and 80 days. Messi was on the same pitch at the time his record was broken. 

Mbappe has also demonstrated how he can provide for others, too. No forward from any of the teams still in contention can top his three assists, while only Karim Benzema (15) has bettered his total of 14 chances created. 

PSG will be hoping the forward can continue his fine form when they take on Bayern Munich in a repeat of last year's final.

Phil Foden (Manchester City)

After three starts in the Champions League last season, Foden has risen from the periphery to become a prominent figure for Guardiola.  

Only goalkeeper Ederson has played more minutes in the campaign so far for City than the versatile 20-year-old, who has contributed a goal and two assists to help ensure smooth progress to the last eight.  

Foden has created the most chances for City during his appearances, his tally of 12 putting him just ahead of Kevin De Bruyne (11), while he has also been successful with 64.7 per cent of his attempted dribbles.  

The playmaker is set to feature in the Champions League knockout stage for a fourth season before turning 21 – a feat only previously achieved by Cesc Fabregas (2004-05 to 2007-08) and Theo Walcott (2006-07 to 2009-10).  

In the Premier League, Foden's 20 goal involvements (11 goals, nine assists) is comfortably the most by anyone aged 21 or under, showing just why he is no longer one to watch for the future but a player for the present, both for club and country.

Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)

It is not often a full-back catches the eye to the level that Davies managed during Bayern's triumphant Champions League run in 2019-20.  

The most eye-catching moment of all surely came in his side's 8-2 rout of Barcelona in a quarter-final result that sent shock waves across European football, as he initially beat two opposing players before breezing beyond poor Nelson Semedo to set up a goal for Joshua Kimmich, one of his three assists in the competition.  

Having arrived at the Bundesliga club as a left winger, the conversion to defence was made as quickly as he sprints up and down his flank (he clocked a top speed of 36.51 kilometres per hour in a Bundesliga game against Werder Bremen last year, the quickest speed recorded since such data began to be collected).  

His participation in the group stage this season was limited by an ankle injury, with the 4-1 first-leg victory over Lazio in the last 16 just his second start.  

However, the Canada international had no problems upon his return, having 101 touches (second only to team-mate David Alaba) while topping the list for Bayern in terms of tackles (four) and number of times possession was gained from the opposition (seven).

Not for the first time during his run as a Sky Sports pundit, Roy Keane looked like he might combust. 

Manchester City had raced into a 3-0 lead against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, piling more pressure on under-fire boss Frank Lampard, but Keane had an expensively assembled attack in his crosshairs. 

"The attacking players need to show up," he said of a line-up boasting big money close-season arrivals Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner. Kai Havertz could only make the bench. 

"We spoke before the game, we said they have a lot of quality, but to me they don't look like they're up to it. What do Chelsea need? 

"They need a miracle to get back into this game. They've been shocking, particularly the attacking players." 

Alongside him, former Liverpool great Graeme Souness had an issue with Ziyech's tracking back – or lack thereof – on Kevin De Bruyne's goal. 

"Just watch Ziyech, he takes the free-kick, he wanders in and watch him. Big players don’t act like that," he said. "Sprint back as fast as you possibly can, you don't stand and watch the game like this. 

"I'm sure when Frank sees that, he'll point out to Ziyech that you cannot do that in our football."

When Lampard was sacked a little over three weeks later, his uncle Harry Redknapp was similarly and more bluntly parochial about the biggest story in "our football".

"When you look at the players, people say he's spent all this money, did he bring the players in? Did he bring the Germans in?" he rhetorically asked on talkSPORT.

"The two German players have been massive disappointments, massive. I'm not even sure Timo Werner is cut out for Premier League football, the physical side is too much for him."

Perhaps it is a function of the frequent changes in Chelsea's dugout that narratives around goodies and baddies are so hastily constructed. Remember Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard as the "three rats" after Jose Mourinho's 2015 demise?

In that context, the role Ziyech and the two Germans played in Thomas Tuchel's Blues comprehensively downing Atletico Madrid gave a stark demonstration how much Werner and Havertz's compatriot has entirely changed the mood and trajectory of this talented team.

KAI HOPES

It said much of Havertz's woes since joining from Bayer Leverkusen for an initial £72million that Redknapp didn't actually use his name when he was the focus of his opprobrium. 

One Premier League goal set against 12 in his final Bundesliga campaign suggests there is still plenty of ground to make up, but in a couple of blurring seconds, Havertz showed exactly what made him one of the most sought-after talents in Europe. 

He was alert to move in front of Kieran Trippier and bring the ball under his spell. In that instant, Atleti were on the receiving end of the sort of lethal counter-attack that has become their Champions League calling card. 

Then it was time to marvel at the pace, power and poise as he approached halfway before shovelling possession into Werner's path. 

Under Tuchel, Havertz's shots per 90 minutes are up 2.3 from 1.4. The goals will surely come, but for now he had played his supporting role to perfection.

TURNING ON THE AFTER-WERNERS

However much Havertz will be keen to hit the back of the net, his desire must pale next to Werner's.

The former RB Leipzig star was simmering with intent from early on against Atleti, bustling in behind their defence early on.

That famous pace was put to its best use when he galloped onto Havertz's 34th-minute pass. Head up and on high alert, Werner assessed the scene, took a touch with the outside of his right foot and then lined up a low cross with his left.

The 25-year-old had fired wide a little earlier after Ziyech missed a kick, but he backed his team-mate to get it right this time.

Werner drew a brilliant save from Jan Oblak early in the second half and lashed into the side netting after his speed had again tormented Atleti.

Part of a collective also going at full tilt, he only has one goal under Tuchel so far, but 10 overall and seven assists this term are more goal involvements than any other Chelsea player in 2020-21.

There lies one of the joys of this 13-match unbeaten run for Tuchel. He has had a watertight defence in place from the get-go. Now, an all-star attack is just starting to shine.

HAKIM LIVING THE DREAM AGAIN

When he delighted on Ajax's phenomenal run to the semi-finals in 2018-19, Ziyech showed he loved this stage. 

He particularly loves to grace it with his sumptuous left foot, but Werner's cross was so immediate and so precise, he had to stick his weaker right on the end of it. 

Oblak could not keep the shot out and four of Ziyech's Champions League goals have arrived against Spanish opposition. Roll on Real Madrid in the quarters? 

The 27-year-old was evidently enjoying himself when he jinked into space on halfway and released Werner early in the second period – his three key passes in the match level best for Chelsea alongside Reece James, whose deliveries from right-back were majestic.

That was actually a touch under recent par for Ziyech, who is creating an average of 3.6 chances per game in the Tuchel era – taking his 2.4 under Lampard up a notch. 

By the time substitute Emerson Palmieri thundered home in stoppage time to seal a 3-0 aggregate triumph, there could be no question Chelsea's attacking stars had shown up. 

Maybe they could go all the way – a Champions League miracle form the rubble of the Lampard era. 

The NBA's top-ranked defense will be aiming to slow down the leading offense when the New York Knicks make the short trip to play the Brooklyn Nets. 

The in-form Nets have won 12 of their previous 13 games to rise up the Eastern Conference, the impressive run of form leaving them just a game back of the Philadelphia 76ers, who lead the way in the standings. 

But while they were always expected to be near the summit, particularly following the arrival of James Harden from the Houston Rockets, the Knicks have been one of the surprise packages so far. 

A first playoff appearance since 2013 is a distinct possibility, with coach Tom Thibodeau building solid foundations for a franchise that has chopped and changed in the hope of finding success.

TOP PERFORMERS

New York Knicks - Julius Randle

Randle has excelled since moving to the Big Apple, leading to a first All-Star appearance this year. The seventh overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2014 averages 22.9 points and 11 rebounds through 39 games, as well as 5.7 assists.  

His 375 defensive rebounds puts him inside the top three in the league, while he has also contributed 31 steals as the Knicks have tightened up under Thibodeau.  

Having registered a season-low seven points as the Knicks returned from the All-Star break with a lopsided loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Randle bounced back with 26 in a resounding triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.

Brooklyn Nets - James Harden

Since joining the Nets, Harden has recorded nine triple-doubles, the latest of them coming in a 100-95 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Saturday that saw him score his team's final 10 points of the contest.  

While he was the focal point for Houston, the two-time MVP no longer has to carry the offensive burden in the same way for star-studded Brooklyn. He is shooting at a career-high 48.9 per cent from the field though, while his improved success from deep (39.7 per cent) has been noticeable.  

Harden has also demonstrated his ability as a passer too, his tally of 363 assists comfortably the most by any player, averaging out at a whopping 11 a game.

KEY BATTLE - A CASE FOR THE DEFENSE

The continued absence of Kevin Durant has not prevented the Nets from putting up points. They average 120.6 a game, while their combined field goal percentage of 49.9 is also the best by any team in the NBA.  

However, the Knicks have given up a league-low 105 points per outing. Randle and his fellow big men will look to dominate when it comes to rebounding, while the visitors will hope to get better at capitalising on turnovers – their average of 14 points when gaining possession in such circumstances ranks them 29th out of 30 teams.  

"It starts with our effort, our defense, those are the most important things," Immanuel Quickley, who has impressed in his rookie season, averaging 12.5 points, said ahead of the game. 

"We try to have that defensive mindset coming into games, then let everything take care of itself. The little things – defense, rebounding, energy, effort – give you a chance to win every night." 

HEAD TO HEAD 

These neighbours have met in 200 regular-season games, the Knicks narrowly leading 101-99 overall. 

Last season's four-game series was split 2-2, while the Nets prevailed 116-10 in January of this year, Durant – who has missed Brooklyn's last 11 games due to a heal issue – leading the way with 26 points in the absence of Kyrie Irving and with the Harden trade yet to be completed.  

Stephen Curry has "revolutionised basketball" as the point guard continues to show he is back to his best for the Golden State Warriors this season.  

Curry saw his 2019-20 campaign ruined by a hand injury, restricting him to just five games. Already without Kevin Durant, who had left to join the Brooklyn Nets, and Klay Thompson, the Warriors unsurprisingly went from NBA finalists to bottom of the pile in the Western Conference.  

However, the return of their talismanic point guard has helped improve fortunes for a franchise that has become accustomed to challenging for the title.  

Still without fellow 'Splash Brother' Thompson, who is sidelined again for another season, Curry has stepped up to carry the load.  

He is averaging 29.3 points while playing 34 minutes per game. His tally of 176 made three-pointers is comfortably the most in the league, and he is shooting an impressive 41.1 per cent from deep, even while having a target on his back as opposing teams focus on shutting him down.  

What makes it so hard to keep a lid on Curry, though, is his ability to get a bucket from anywhere, including from off the court during pre-game warm-ups.

Anderson Varejao believes his former Golden State team-mate has changed the game by extending the range for shooters, starting a trend that others have since followed in the league. 

"Steph Curry is a guy who trains so much," Varejao, who played for the Cleveland Cavaliers for over a decade before joining the Warriors, told Stats Perform News. 

"All that stuff he does, shooting the ball from mid-court, he revolutionised basketball.   

"In the past, if a player, in a counter-attack, stopped and shot, the coach would look at him, if not take him out.

"Many times, players left the game even after hitting the ball in the basket, like, 'hey, what are you doing? Are you crazy? We don't play like that'.   

"But nowadays he is a guy that shoots all the time, and you have to understand it, as a coach. He shoots three, four, five steps before the three-point line."

Curry turned 33 on Sunday and is fast approaching 750 regular-season games for the Warriors, a team who hit the jackpot when selecting the Davidson standout with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft.  

However, having had an enforced year off, there is little sign of him slowing down. Indeed, his numbers this season have seen him included in the MVP conversation, an award he won in 2015 and 2016.  

He celebrated his birthday with six three-pointers in the Warriors' impressive win over the Utah Jazz, finishing with 32 points and nine assists to help the team bounce back from a disappointing defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers following the All-Star break.  

"It's like that ageing wine, right? Keep it in the cellar and watch it get stronger and better. I'm just enjoying the ride," he told NBC Sports after silencing the Jazz, the last team to reach double digits for losses this season.  

Curry's play has the Warriors hovering around .500 and in the playoff picture. There is still a long way to go yet this season, but the face of the franchise is certainly all the way back after a lost year in his hall-of-fame career.

All eyes were on the Emirates Stadium on Sunday for the north London derby and there was a lot of comforting familiarity on display.

A red card, Erik Lamela attempting a rabona (and scoring it!) instead of using his right foot, and, of course, Spurs throwing away a lead.

Elsewhere, Manchester United remained on course to finish second as they ensured David Moyes' continues to dread returning to his former employers, while Sheffield United's first game since Chris Wilder's exit arguably proved just how good the Yorkshireman was as manager.

There was also a potentially vital win near the bottom of the table for Brighton and Hove Albion, and we have taken a look at all the best Opta facts from those games.

Arsenal 2-1 Tottenham: Spurs surrender once again in a north London derby

Lamela's opening goal will be shown in north London derby highlight reels for years – his rabona finish was so good, so audacious.

But even with that being the opening goal, it never really looked like being decisive, so underwhelming were Spurs otherwise from an attacking perspective – the fact they went on to lose meant they have now dropped 45 points from winning positions against Arsenal in the Premier League, the most of any team against a specific opponent in the competition.

After Martin Odegaard levelled, becoming just the fourth Gunners player to score in his first top-flight north London derby, Alexandre Lacazette's second-half penalty secured Arsenal the points.

It was Spurs' ninth league defeat of the season, the joint-most Jose Mourinho has ever suffered in a single season, and Lamela's sending off certainly did not help their situation.

In collecting two bookings, he became only the fifth substitute in Premier League history to score and be sent off in the same game.

His goal will be the enduring moment from the match, but in the grand scheme it was meaningless for a Spurs side in increasing danger of missing out on the top four.

Manchester United 1-0 West Ham: Moyes' Old Trafford misery continues

It was not an occasion for the neutral at Old Trafford as Man United scraped an unconvincing win thanks to an own goal by Craig Dawson.

The defeat means only Harry Redknapp (15) has managed more Premier League games away to United without winning than former Red Devils boss Moyes (14 – four draws, 10 losses).

The Hammers' difficulties in front of goal were partly to blame as none of their seven attempts were on target, the highest number of shots they have had in a league game without a single accurate once since August 2013 (nine shots).

On the flipside, Man United kept a fourth straight Premier League clean sheet for the first time under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with the club last achieving that feat in January 2018 under Mourinho.

They have also lost just one of their previous 23 league outings having suffered three losses in their opening six games this term.

Leicester City 5-0 Sheffield United: Blades suffer bruising defeat as they venture into the Wilder-less wilderness

Less than 24 hours on from confirmation of Wilder's "mutual" departure as Blades manager, many were likely left wondering why the club did not fight harder to keep him.

While seemingly doomed for relegation anyway, Wilder retained significant respect for the job he presided over at Bramall Lane, and Sunday's result showed why.

With interim boss Paul Heckingbottom taking over for the first time, he has already shipped five goals in a single game as many times as Wilder did in 227 matches (a 5-4 defeat to Fulham in 2017). Their former manager was never beaten by more than a three-goal margin.

Heckingbottom also became only the third manager in Premier League history to lose by five or more goals in his first game, but this should not take credit away from Brendan Rodgers' ferocious Foxes.

Kelechi Iheanacho scored his first hat-trick and also netted in three successive top-flight games for the first time. Jamie Vardy set up two of those goals and in doing so became only the sixth player to register 100 or more goal involvements in the Premier League after turning 30.

Those to achieve this before him were Teddy Sheringham, Frank Lampard, Ian Wright, Alan Shearer and Gianfranco Zola – esteemed company indeed.

Southampton 1-2 Brighton and Hove Albion: Seagulls remember their shooting boots as Saints sink

Much has been said and written about Brighton's woes in front of goal this term, but they got the job done here.

Their 2-1 win at St Mary's is only the second time in 2021 that they have scored twice or more in a single Premier League game – the other instance was their 3-3 draw with Wolves in their first match of the year.

This was their 11th outing since.

The win took Graham Potter's men three points clear of the relegation zone and just four behind Saints, who are in a difficult spot.

It is 10 defeats in the past 12 Premier League games now for Southampton, with Ralph Hasenhuttl coming under increasing pressure – their previous 10 losses came across a 38-match spell.

As expected, Drew Brees has announced his retirement, a decision that puts the full stop on a 20-year story that has seen the quarterback set numerous NFL passing records. 

Pick number 32 in the 2001 draft, Brees started out with the San Diego Chargers but will be best remembered for his time with the New Orleans Saints. 

He sits as the all-time leader with 80,358 passing yards, though should not get too comfortable on top of the pile, considering Tom Brady sits right behind him on the list.  

While Brady is to keep on playing after winning the Super Bowl in his first year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his fellow forty-something has decided the time is right to move on to a new chapter. 

After 10,551 passing attempts (of which he completed 67.7 per cent), 571 touchdowns throws and 172 wins - plus one Super Bowl ring, of course - Brees bows out an undoubted great of the game. 
 

SAINTS GO MARCHING ON

It could have all been so different, though. Brees suffered a painful end to the 2005 season, injuring his shoulder in Week 17. When it became clear his future would lie away from the Chargers, who had a young Philip Rivers waiting in the wings, there were two possible destinations: Miami or New Orleans.  

The Dolphins, however, had concerns over Brees' recovery. They traded for Daunte Culpepper instead, the first of 15 different quarterbacks they have started since 2006.  

Meanwhile, the one they let get off the hook formed an alliance with head coach Sean Payton, one that turned the Saints from perennial strugglers to persistent winners. 

A franchise that had only made the playoffs five times previously has enjoyed nine postseason trips since 2006, including an unforgettable run in the 2009 season that culminated in winning Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, of all places.  

In the stadium he could well have called home, Brees completed 32 of his 39 attempts for 288 yards and two scores. Those numbers were good enough to see him named MVP as the Saints were crowned champions for the first time in franchise history.


SEVEN IN ONE AND THE HOT STREAKS

Brees' play has been central to the prolonged success for the Saints. He had five seasons with over 5,000 passing yards, a feat no other quarterback has accomplished more than once. Not Brady, not Peyton Manning, not Patrick Mahomes (yet).  

His total of 5,476 yards in 2011 saw him break Dan Marino's longstanding NFL record for a single campaign, though Manning squeezed above him by one solitary yard to take top spot on the all-time list two years later.  

The former Purdue Boilermaker has the record for most seasons with at least 30 touchdown passes per year (10). There were once seven in a single game in 2015, against the New York Giants, a feat only eight players have ever achieved in the league's history. 

However, no signal-caller has had more career games with at least three scores through the air than his total of 97. Same goes for four or more (37). And five (11), too.  

Brees' 54-game stretch with at least one touchdown pass from 2009 to 2012 is also an NFL record, while there were twice nine-game streaks where he posted 300 or more passing yards in each outing.


THE TWILIGHT YEARS, COMING CLOSE TO PERFECTION

From 2006 to 2017, Brees threw for over 4,000 yards in each and every season. While there was a downturn in his output in that category in the closing chapters of his NFL tale, he also became more careful with the ball. 

Indeed, in his final 54 starts there were just 23 interceptions, demonstrating his efficiency as part of a Saints offense that began to lean more heavily on the run game. 

In 2018, a 74.4 per cent completion rate for the campaign raised the bar. The following year, in a 34-7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts, all but one of his 30 passes found a fellow Saint. That 96.7 per cent success on his throws is the best posted in a game for a player with at least 20 attempts. 

While his impact as a passer may have dipped, his importance to the Saints remained high. The 42-year-old did not get to ride off into the sunset as a Super Bowl champion, thanks in part to fellow golden oldie Brady, but he can be absolutely certain that he is destined to end up in the NFL's Hall of Fame.

It is about far more than the numbers with Brees, too, as Saints owner Gayle Benson made clear: "Drew is so much more valuable than all the records, awards and accolades that he amassed through a 15-year career with the New Orleans Saints and 20-year NFL playing career, one of the greatest in our league's history."

Next stop: Canton, Ohio.

For the last 15 years, Drew Brees and the city of New Orleans have been synonymous. 

He helped give an emotional lift to the city following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, transformed the franchise from a pushover to a perennial contender and delivered the city its only professional championship. 

And now after being a part of New Orleans for a generation of Saints fans, the 42-year-old Brees announced on Instagram on Sunday that he is retiring from football after 20 seasons.

"After 20 years as a player in the NFL and 15 years as a Saint, it is time I retire from the game of football. Each day, I poured my heart and soul into being your quarterback. Until the very end, I exhausted myself to give everything I had to the Saints organisation, my team, and the great city of New Orleans. We shared some amazing moments together, many of which are emblazoned in our hearts and minds and will forever be a part of us. You have moulded me, strengthened me, inspired me, and given me a lifetime of memories. My goal for the last 15 years was striving to give to you everything you had given to me and more," he wrote in his post.

"I am only retiring from playing football, I am not retiring from New Orleans. This is not goodbye, rather a new beginning. Now my real life's work begins!"

The future Hall of Famer leaves the game as the NFL's all-time passing leader with 80,358 yards and ranks second only to Tom Brady in touchdown passes with 571 and second in completion percentage (67.7). 

While Brady followed in the footsteps of Boston legends like Ted Williams, Larry Bird and Bobby Orr, Ben Roethlisberger is held in similar esteem in Pittsburgh with the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Roberto Clemente and Mario Lemieux, and Aaron Rodgers shares the Green Bay spotlight with Brett Favre, Brees is New Orleans' most celebrated professional athlete. 

New Orleans was a one-sport city for the first 35 years of the Saints' existence, and while Archie Manning was the face of the franchise in the 1970s, the team never found success with him at quarterback. 

That changed when Brees came to town. 

Brees joined the Saints in 2006 after not being guaranteed a starting job with the San Diego Chargers – the team that drafted him with the 32nd overall pick of the 2001 NFL Draft – after he suffered a devastating shoulder injury in the 2005 season finale. Despite helping the Chargers capture the 2004 AFC West title while earning his first of 13 Pro Bowl selections, his future with the franchise was uncertain with a shoulder to rehab and a young Philip Rivers waiting in the wings. 

The Saints offered him a starting job, and Brees not only seized that opportunity in rebuilding a struggling franchise, he also took it upon himself to help a proud city rebuild from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. 

In one of the most intense storms in United States history, Katrina decimated New Orleans when it made landfall in August 2005. A damaged Superdome initially served as a shelter to displaced residents and was in no shape to host NFL games, forcing the Saints to play home games in San Antonio, Baton Rouge and even New York. 

Shortly after arriving in New Orleans, Brees and his wife, Brittany, created the Drew Brees Dream Foundation, raising millions of dollars for rebuilding efforts from Katrina, as well as programmes for children and adults with special needs, and child-care facilities. 

While aiding in the relief efforts of Katrina, his first season in New Orleans coincided with Sean Payton's first as coach, and the two teamed up to create one of the league's most dangerous offenses and galvanize a city that had been battered. 

After the Saints went 3-13 during their nomadic 2005 season, Brees led them to a seven-win improvement and an NFC South Division title, while throwing for a league-leading 4,418 passing yards – his first of seven seasons to lead the NFL in passing yards. Only two other QBs have led the league in passing yards more than once in this span – Brady in 2007 and 2017 and Roethlisberger in 2014 and 2018. 

Brees and the Saints brought joy to a community that had been through so much, but their storybook season ended at the hands of the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game. 

Three seasons later, however, Brees would finally bring a championship to the title-starved city. 

Led by the NFL's number one scoring offense, the Saints were nearly unstoppable, winning their first 13 games while exciting an already excitable city. They marched all the way to the Super Bowl, rallying for a 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts on February 7, 2010.  

Brees was named the game's MVP after tying Brady's Super Bowl record with 32 completions while throwing two touchdowns without an interception.  

If winning a title was not enough for a fervent fanbase, Brees further endeared himself to the people of New Orleans when he popped up in a bar packed with Saints fans after the team's Super Bowl parade and taught them the words to the cheer he would lead his teammates through before every game of their championship season. Video of the call-and-response chant between the quarterback and the fans went viral as he worked the crowd into a frenzy with Brees exchanging high-fives and handshakes. 

Less than 10 months after winning the Super Bowl, Brees was honoured as Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year, a culmination of sorts for his play on the field as well as his charitable work off it. 

In the magazine's Sportsman of the Year article, Saints tackle Jon Stinchcomb was quoted as saying, "People come up to Drew and don't say, 'Congratulations.' They say, 'Thank you. Thank you for coming here.'" 

While Brees was never able to lead the Saints back to a championship, the franchise has consistently been one of the NFL's best. 

Since 2006, only three teams have more regular-season wins than the Saints' 150 – the Patriots (181), the Packers (153) and the Steelers (153) – and New Orleans' 49 victories since 2017 are the most in the NFL. 

Despite being a quadragenarian for the past few seasons, there had been little statistical drop-off in Brees' production. He led the league in completion percentage in 2017, 2018 and 2019 before finishing second this past season, and finished in the top two in passer rating in 2017, 2018 and 2019 before a sixth-placed finish in 2020. 

This past season, however, was one of the most trying for Brees. Although he got off to a stellar start to his 20th professional season, he suffered multiple rib fractures and a collapsed right lung in Week 10, putting his future in the NFL into question. Although he missed only four games and played well at times during the final three weeks of the regular season, he had one of the worst performances of his postseason career in New Orleans' 30-20 loss to Brady the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Divisional Round game on January 17. 

Hours after throwing three interceptions and a playoff career-low 134 yards, Brees was back on the Superdome turf in street clothes with his wife and four children soaking in what would be the end of a long and emotional ride with the Saints.   

Brees achieved sainthood in New Orleans through his inspirational work in the community in helping a city rebuild, along with transforming the city's beloved football team into a winner. 

An iconic image from the Saints' celebration on the field following their Super Bowl win was Brees lifting his one-year-old son Baylen – who was wearing giant noise-cancelling headphones and a Saints jersey with his dad's name and number on the back – high over his head as confetti fell on them.  

Nearly 11 years later, Brees and Baylen shared another poignant father-son moment. 

Following the playoff loss to the Buccaneers, the quarterback dad played catch with his kids on the Superdome turf - a lasting images of Brees before he exited the Superdome leaving behind an unparalleled legacy.

Sergio Reguilon's reaction to Erik Lamela's utterly audacious opening goal in the north London derby said more than any words could.

Faced with Arsenal defenders in front and a Lucas Moura pass just slightly behind him, Argentina international Lamela pulled an impudent rabona out of his bag of tricks to send the ball spinning into the bottom right corner, beyond a helpless Bernd Leno.

Reguilon, whose career at parent club Real Madrid means he will be well-versed when it comes to experiencing excellence first hand, ran off in pursuit of the goalscorer open-mouthed, with his hands seemingly glued to his head.

The left-back's expression was one of near-delirious shock at what will surely come to be remembered as one of the great Premier League strikes

Sport's capacity to surprise and delight is its greatest joy. Such moments have an incredible capacity to galvanise, but before and after Lamela's intervention, Tottenham produced some all-too-predictable sludge.

The goalscorer was only on the pitch because Son Heung-min pulled up with an early injury and his improvised finish was Spurs' only shot of any description during the first half.

Their next arrived by way of a looping Lamela header in the 71st minute, by which point Arsenal were deservedly 2-1 to the good. Either side of his second effort on goal, the winger collected a pair of petulant yellow cards and was sent off.

From seek and destroy to sleep and destroy

A Jose Mourinho masterclass this was not. His self-fulfilling acts of arch-pragmatism have become such a cliche.

Since becoming Manchester United boss in 2016, he has three wins in 20 attempts away from home against 'big six' foes. It is easy to forget it was not always like this.

Seven years ago this month, in his second spell at Chelsea – the other side of his imperial period at Inter and that tumultuous stint at Real Madrid – Mourinho faced up to Arsenal for Arsene Wenger's 1,000th game in charge. An evisceration ensued.

"We came to kill and in 10 minutes we destroyed," Mourinho said coldly of brutal 6-0 win at Stamford Bridge.

Faced with a talented but vulnerable Arsenal line-up on Sunday, the only thing in danger of being destroyed was the consciousness of any television viewers who filled up on a Sunday lunch before settling down on the sofa for kick-off.

Son's unfortunate departure left Harry Kane and Gareth Bale, both of whom scored twice to down Crystal Palace 4-1 in Tottenham's previous league game, isolated and forlorn.

All momentum from five consecutive wins in all competition was wantonly jettisoned. Bale managed 18 touches in the first half, seven more than Kane.

The Wales international was substituted with the score 1-1 and looked exactly as impressed as you'd imagine to see Moussa Sissoko taking his place, a player Mourinho tends to use for spoiling and harrying tasks in midfield. It was a statement of dubious intent.

Fundamental flaws

Of course, such moments grease the wheels of the Mourinho Show and its tired formats. Expect a terse response to Bale's apparent unhappiness, just cryptic enough to take up a decent chunk of the Sunday and Monday phone-in shows.

Then there was Mourinho's finger-wagging disagreement when VAR confirmed referee Michael Oliver's assertion that Davinson Sanchez had haphazardly blundered into Alexandre Lacazette for the decisive penalty.

Predictably, the Tottenham manager railed against it, too, telling reporters: "The only thing worse than our first half was the decision to award the penalty."

But even allowing for the mitigation of an injured star forward, an anonymous star forward and a seventh penalty goal conceded in the Premier League this season, everything else around those incidents was not remotely good enough.

Arsenal's skittish efforts in seeing out victory against 10 men – time must have stood still for Mikel Arteta as he waited for the linesman to rule out Kane's header before the England captain thundered an effort against the post – underlined the folly of Mourinho reverting to type.

Furthermore, Tottenham's attacking gifts stack up favourably when compared to their affectations for defensive solidity.

Sanchez managing to foul Lacazette as the striker launched into a near air-shot was pure comedy. Nobody managing to track Martin Odegaard's run for Arsenal's equaliser was no particular surprise, given the way everyone in white watched Cedric Soares take a long run at a drive against the upright a few moments earlier.

Tottenham lack the fundamentals their manager desires and he does not have the gumption to effectively harness moments of open-mouthed magic such as the one produced by Lamela. That is a combination that makes the six-point deficit to a revitalised Chelsea in fourth look like a yawning gap that is only set to get bigger.

Whenever boxing's matchmakers put together a bout that promises fireworks and destructive drama from the opening bell, pundits and fans alike spit out the same three syllables.

Hagler-Hearns.

Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns shared seven minutes and 52 seconds of unfathomable brutality in Las Vegas in April 1985, setting an impossible bar for every all-action fight ever since.

Hagler and Hearns met in their primes as two stars of a golden age in the sport's middle weights. The celebrated "Four Kings" were completed by fellow greats 'Sugar' Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran.

There were nine fights in all between the quartet, spanning 1980 to 1989. Leonard and Duran met three times, with both men going the distance against Hagler. Hearns and Leonard shared 26 rounds over the course of two enthralling bouts separated by almost eight years.

And yet, the comparatively brief period Hearns and Hagler spent in one another's violent orbit stands as the high watermark of the era for many.

After Hagler died aged 66 on Saturday, we look back at three rounds that shook the world.

 

ROUND ONE

An elongated promotional tour taking in 21 cities whipped up severe animosity between the two fighters, with long-reigning unified middleweight king Hagler brooding over the perceived higher public standing afforded to fellow Americans Leonard and Hearns, along with the latter's withdrawal from their proposed 1982 meeting with a hand injury.

Hearns had showcased terrifying power at welterweight and light-middleweight. He demolished Duran inside two rounds in 1984, at the same Caesars Palace outdoor arena that staged his clash with Hagler.

Therefore, the expectations were of a measured start from the older man, who would draw the sting from a 26-year-old Hearns at a then-unfamiliar weight before taking him into deep waters.

Hagler was not reading from that script.

After eyeballing his foe throughout the introductions, he tore out of his corner at the opening bell and unleashed a wild and winging right hand that Hearns just managed to duck. The tone was set and there would be no let-up.

Hagler's gameplan – insofar as it could be deciphered from underneath the red mist – was to negate Hearns' three-inch reach advantage by attacking the younger man to the body.

Initially, that was a march straight into trouble as Hearns caught him with a left hand coming in and followed up with a right hook to shake Hagler.

The champion held for the briefest of respites before leather began to fly in centre ring – Hagler unleashing his chopping left hook and locating Hearns' chin to force a retreat to the neutral corner.

Hurt, Hearns shot back under heavy fire to escape the peril Hagler had planned on the ropes.

There was a minute gone.

The hunter and hunted patter was established. Hearns clipped Hagler with a left off the back foot to draw him on to a short right. Worryingly for the 'Motor City Cobra', 'Marvellous' was entirely unperturbed.

Hagler's booming straight right was working effectively, but Hearns' blurring fists continued to punctuate a fight in fast forward. A pair of rights found the jaw, still Hagler came. A flashing uppercut, still he came. But there was blood. A lot of it.

"There's blood all over Marvin Hagler's face, I can't tell where it's coming from," yelped commentator Al Bernstein

Seemingly spurred on by the change in circumstances, Hagler forced Hearns into the red corner and got to work, pounding the body. Hearns was sharp in the eye of the storm, soaking up two crunching left hooks and fighting his way out of trouble.

Well, until that unerring Hagler straight right sent him tottering backwards with nine seconds left in the round. By the time the bell sounded, they were trading once more.

Hearns landed 56 of 83 punches in the first round as Hagler connected with 50 of 82. It still beggars belief.

ROUND TWO

"Don't worry about the cut, Marvin," said his cornerman Goody Petronelli, unknowing that there were bigger problems afoot on the other stood.

At some point in the fury of the first three minutes, Hearns had broken his wrecking ball right. This perhaps explained his willingness to begin the second on the jab – that tool of relative conservatism largely lost in the maelstrom of round one.

Hagler met this adjustment with a change of his own. The switch-hitter turned to an orthodox stance for the first time in the fight and landed with a left-right combination.

Regardless, there would be no backwards step from Hagler. Back he went to southpaw, a right jab leaving Hearns disorganised and opening up more opportunities to the body.

A straight right was Hearns' retort along with crisp lefts to head and body, but Hagler shrugged them off and continued to bore forwards with blood all over the place.

His left hook was working like a dream and shuddering rights had Hearns in trouble on the ropes.

When the bell sounded, Hagler's bloody mask and Hearns' exhausted body gave both men the look of beaten fighters.

ROUND THREE

"Just box him, stay away and box him," Emanuel Steward implored Hearns, although the great tactician had reason to sense the bout was slipping away.

Aghast, Steward found one of Hearns' entourage giving him a leg massage before the fight. Combined with the concussive head shots Hagler had landed at will, the result was rubbery limbs that did not convince as the Kronk Gym favourite looked to get on the balls of his feet and skip away at the start of round three.

Hagler's eyes never deviated from a moving target, but his problems were also stacking up.

Referee Richard Steele was increasingly zealous when it came to breaking the fighters up, preventing Hagler from doing the work he wanted to on the inside. After one of the official's interventions, he called the ringside doctor to have a look at the champion's increasingly gruesome cut.

Given Hearns opened the cut with a punch, a TKO defeat was on the cards for Hagler if he was deemed unfit to continue.

But no referee or no doctor was stopping this fight. Hagler decided it was time to take care of adjudication himself.

He had started to measure Hearns' increasingly predictable retreats, and a right to the side of the head saw his opponent stagger sidewards across the right, almost turning his back. Hagler knew the time was now.

A follow-up right to the temple robbed Hearns of any remaining equilibrium and another to the jaw saw him sag back before collapsing downwards, the breeze of Hagler's superfluous follow-up shots doing nothing to rouse him.

Flat on his back, Hearns tried valiantly to beat Steele's count, but a valedictory triumph belonged to Hagler after a cacophony of violent mayhem and savagery that remains celebrated to this day.

In France, they still speak joyously of Philippe Saint-Andre's wonder try at Twickenham, that majestic blue wave that swept from one end of the great stadium to the other, resulting in a score under the posts.

What a score that was, voted many years as Twickenham's 'try of the century', Blanco to Sella to Camberabero to Saint-Andre. The punch of the air, the high fives, the hugs. The wanton joie de vivre of it all.

But it came in a losing cause, on the final day of the 1991 Five Nations, in a championship decider. Some consolation, but a consolation nonetheless.

It was Geoff Cooke's team who lifted the trophy, Will Carling the beaming captain, the champagne spraying in England's dressing room.

France were a joy to watch, those great names still resonate, and they were so close to sashaying and side-stepping their way to a glorious Grand Slam.

So close. They finished second. The first losers.

Thirty years on from that March classic and there was nothing at Twickenham on Saturday that will be remembered quite so fondly as that vintage Saint-Andre moment, but there was so nearly an outcome that could have banished many bleak French memories from trips to London. Instead, England added to that long list.

Before Maro Itoje burrowed over in the 76th minute, this was poised to be a tale of a great French win, after a captivating clash. It would have been a third win in three games in this year's championship, talk would have turned to the Grand Slam.

Delightful tries from Antoine Dupont and Damian Penaud, stemming from that great Gallic brand of running rugby, were of the sort Blanc, Sella and co would have been proud.

Suspicions of a Twickenham hex hanging over Les Bleus were about to be banished. England had won nine of their 10 previous home games against France in the Six Nations, including the last seven in a row, but their dominance was about to be halted by a French side with bulldog spirit to match their silky skills.

Fabien Galthie was on the brink of getting one over on Eddie Jones, who was facing the prospect of his Red Rose losing a third match in four.

It would have been an eighth win in their last nine Six Nations games for France.

And then along came Itoje. England were over.

Weren't they?

France clung to the hope Teddy Thomas had held Itoje up. Referee Andrew Brace felt Thomas may have done just that, but the TMO knew better.

After what felt like an age, the try was given and French hearts broke. They lost 23-20.

What an achievement it would have been for Galthie's side to cross La Manche and return to Marcoussis triumphant.

Last month's major COVID-19 outbreak in their camp was worrying from a health perspective but came in tandem with questions about conduct and protocol too, with Galthie eventually exonerated despite leaving the squad bubble to watch his son play a rugby game, and no blame apportioned.

This France side re-emerged and played with verve from the first minute - Dupont crossed after just 65 seconds following lovely work from Thomas - before Anthony Watson replied as England reined in their visitors.

France struck again in the 32nd minute, electric play from the backs in blue ending with Penaud dancing in on the right.

Owen Farrell and Matthieu Jalibert kept the score ticking along from the kicking tee, then with time running out Itoje had the determining say.

"We are playing lovely rugby," France back-rower Gregory Alldritt told ITV after the final whistle. "We are enjoying playing all together on the pitch.

"We will go back to work on Monday and have a big, big game next week and we need to prepare for this game."

France went down in this game, but they are not out. The Six Nations title could yet be heading to Paris, even if the Grand Slam will not.

Wales, now the only team left in contention for a clean sweep of wins, will aim to complete a perfect campaign in Paris next Saturday night.

Given how they took this game to England, and how close they came to a famous victory, expect Galthie's men to rise again for the challenge of the arriving Red Dragons.

This was England's day in the end, but you still got the feeling this might be a French side who in the near future won't have to settle for consolation prizes or being the first losers. That Wales game will be titanic, and revealing.

Rarely has it been more important for teams to spend their money wisely in free agency. 

With the NFL salary cap dropping from $198.2million to $182.5m, those close to the limit will have to be especially prudent with their resources, while teams that have more to spend will have to make sure not to waste it on ineffective players. 

There are still several options for those front offices that are likely to be shopping in the discount aisle. Those whose pockets are more flush must be wary of expensive players that may not live up to their price tag. 

Here we look at some of free agency's best bargains, as well as identifying those players that teams should perhaps be wary of giving a lucrative contract.

Bargains

Justin Houston - Indianapolis Colts

Houston has been productive through stops in Kansas City and Indianapolis and proved he still had plenty in the tank with an eight-sack season for the Colts last year. The 32-year-old is 2.5 sacks away from becoming the 36th player to reach 100. He may be willing to take a one-year deal with a contender at this stage in his career. 

Jaquiski Tartt - San Francisco 49ers

Tartt has had some injury issues in his career. However, when he has been on the field, he has proven himself a versatile and physically imposing safety. In seven games last season, he did not miss a single tackle for the 49ers and, in a deep safety free-agent class, could prove a steal if he can stay healthy. 

Gerald Everett - Los Angeles Rams

Everett was never quite able to carve out a defined role in Los Angeles. Since entering the league in 2017, he ranks 22nd in yards per reception among tight ends. His average of 10.9 yard per catch in that time is only slightly below that of Hunter Henry (11.5) and Jonnu Smith (11.4), with that duo sure to command a higher price on the open market.

Mike Hilton - Pittsburgh Steelers

K'Waun Williams of the 49ers might get the most money of any nickel cornerback in free agency, but Hilton could provide as much value at a cheaper cost. He had three interceptions last season and his 32 pass deflections are the second-most by any Steelers player since 2017.

Kenyan Drake - Arizona Cardinals

Still only 27, Drake has been an asset as both a runner and a pass-catcher in his career, with the former Miami Dolphins back having compiled three successive seasons with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Investing in running backs can be risky, but Drake should come at a price that represents excellent value for money. 

Buyer Beware

Leonard Floyd - Los Angeles Rams

Floyd took the Dante Fowler route in signing a one-year deal with the Rams and benefiting greatly from playing on the same defensive line as Aaron Donald, posting a career-high 10.5 sacks. Potential suitors should heed the cautionary tale of Fowler, who cashed in after an 11.5-sack 2019 season but recorded just three in his first season with the Atlanta Falcons.

Juju Smith-Schuster - Pittsburgh Steelers

Smith-Schuster looked like one of the best wide receivers in football as recently as 2018, when he racked up 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns. However, since Antonio Brown made his acrimonious exit from Pittsburgh, Smith-Schuster has struggled to produce his best, ranking 98th among wideouts with a yards-per-catch average of 9.9. Teams should be wary of getting caught up in the name value here.

Yannick Ngakoue - Baltimore Ravens

Ngakoue has gradually declined since his 12-sack season with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017. Traded twice last year, he failed to impress with either the Minnesota Vikings (5 sacks) or the Ravens (3). The limitations to his skill set are such that he would be better landing with a team that can use him as a rotational edge player, rather than as somebody who is expected to lead the pass rush.

Chris Carson - Seattle Seahawks

It's difficult to argue too much with Carson's production, his 4,045 scrimmage yards since 2017 are 14th among all running backs. However, he has yet to play a full 16-game schedule in his career, with durability concerns exacerbated by his extremely physical style of play.

Will Fuller - Houston Texans

Issues staying on the field have defined the career of a player who is one of the most dangerous deep threats in the NFL. Add on a four-game suspension for violating league policy on performance-enhancing substances and Fuller represents a massive gamble for teams looking for receiver help.

"I'm just excited to be somewhere that I know wants me and appreciates me."

The Detroit Lions are about to find out if that factor alone can restore Jared Goff to the player he should have been.

Goff was the first overall pick in 2016 and led the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl at the end of the 2018 season. In September 2019, he signed a four-year contract extension in LA, including $110million in guaranteed money - then the most in NFL history.

But that deal does not kick in until this 2021 season and the Rams have long since lost faith in the quarterback.

So disappointing has been Goff's form, his former team had to send two future first-round picks and a third as well as him to the Lions to get Matthew Stafford in return.

Rather than their underrated stalwart QB, Detroit are set to head into the new campaign with Goff under center, starting a new era.

But the Lions must hope the struggling 26-year-old will not make their offense significantly worse, because their defense does not leave a lot of room for error, as Stats Perform data shows.

Offense

If there is a huge drop-off in Detroit's offensive output in 2021, it might not necessarily all be down to Goff.

There are understandable fears the QB might struggle to an even greater degree without the aid of Sean McVay's scheme – his passer rating in 2016, the year before the Rams changed coaches, was an awful 63.6 – but it is not only the system that looks an issue right now.

Wide receivers Marvin Jones Jr., Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola are all set for free agency. The Lions surprisingly opted against franchise-tagging Golladay, who played only five games last season due to injury but still led the team in yards per game (67.6) and had gone for 1,190 yards and 11 touchdowns the previous year.

Veteran running back Adrian Peterson will not be back after his 156 carries in 2020 either.

Detroit ranked 20th with 350.2 yards per game last season and have since lost their QB, three WRs and their most-used RB – and the defense is supposed to be the problem!

However, the departure of Peterson has at least cleared space for D'Andre Swift, whose rookie year included 10 total TDs, with 521 rushing yards and 357 receiving yards.

At tight end, there is talent, too, in the form of T.J. Hockenson, behind only Jones with 67 catches for 723 yards and six TDs.

Tyrell Williams has already been brought in as the task to rebuild the receiving corps begins. Barring some huge, unexpected investment, Hockenson and a top draft pick will be Goff's top targets.

Defense

If Goff was already feeling a little disorientated by the lack of depth in the offense, just wait until he gets off the field.

With the Rams, the QB would know errors could often go unpunished, with his defensive team-mates capable of making huge stops. In Detroit, the opposite is likely to be true.

Where LA conceded the fewest total points (296), fewest yards per game (281.9) and fewest yards per play (4.56) in 2020, the Lions were at the other end of the spectrum, ranking 32nd in all three categories.

The new QB has gone from sharing a locker room with the best defense around to the very worst.

And Detroit are actually set to get worse on this side of the ball, at least on paper.

They registered only 24 sacks in 2020, tied for 26th in the league, and Romeo Okwara contributed by far the greatest share of those with 10.0, ranking 10th. Just like Golladay, the defensive end was not tagged ahead of the deadline and is set instead for free agency, seemingly leaving his brother Julian – six games last year – as a starter.

Everson Griffen, the veteran signed from the Dallas Cowboys in a midseason trade, was next behind Romeo for sacks (3.5) and QB hits (eight). He is also a free agent.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Okudah had an incredibly difficult season at cornerback after being picked at number three overall.

The Lions were also not helped by 2020 signing Jamie Collins Sr.'s form falling off a cliff after agreeing a three-year, $30m contract. From his 2019 season with the New England Patriots, the linebacker was down 6.0 sacks, seven QB hits and two interceptions.

Offseason

So the Lions approach 2021 paying $6.5m more than last year at QB for an inferior player, while the cap has fallen to $182.5m. They have lost key players on offense and defense, having started from the low base of a 5-11 record.

It leaves general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell – both new hires – with just $9m of cap space to play with.

They need multiple wide receivers and cornerbacks just for starters, with drafting a QB of the future also in play.

Campbell did not exactly encourage optimism when he spoke of looking for "free agents that maybe aren't quite as talented but, man, they are gritty, salty guys that know how to compete". They "will help us in the meantime", he said.

Detroit retain the seventh pick in this year's draft – a vital asset – but the first-round selections received in the Stafford-Goff deal will not come into play until 2022 and 2023.

Looking some way short of a competitive NFL roster, Holmes and Campbell will be kept busy in their preparation for the new season, but this will realistically be a rebuild across multiple years.

For two-time Pro Bowler Goff, looking to recover his reputation, that might make for a painful 2021.

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. 

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).

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