Another offseason sees another scramble for quarterbacks in the NFL.

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

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

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

 

DESHAUN WATSON

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

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

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

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

TUA TAGOVAILOA

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

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

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

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

SAM DARNOLD

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

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

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

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

JIMMY GAROPPOLO

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

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

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

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

CAM NEWTON

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

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

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

JAMEIS WINSTON

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

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

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

RUSSELL WILSON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offseason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Saleh warned there would be "no shortcuts to success" for the New York Jets after he was confirmed as the team's new head coach.

The Jets, who last reached the NFL playoffs in 2010, finished the 2020 season with a 2-14 record and fired Saleh's predecessor Adam Gase in December.

Saleh, 41, joins from his previous role as defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers and becomes the Jets' 20th head coach.

He has also held roles with the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars and now becomes a head coach for the first time.

His task of improving the Jets is one that Saleh vowed to embrace, but he knows he is walking into a challenging job.

Jets general manager Joe Douglas described Saleh as "an exceptional teacher, motivator and communicator" as he welcomed him to New York.

"There are no shortcuts to success," Saleh said, "and I am committed to working with Joe to build this team the right way: with talented players that play fast and smart, and a staff that supports and helps develop them through it all.

"To Jets fans, your passion and commitment are priceless. I understand your expectations and embrace them. We have a lot of work to do and can’t do it without your support. Thank you for your warm welcome and please stay safe and healthy."

Douglas is convinced Saleh has rich potential as a head coach.

"We spoke to some tremendous coaches, but Rob is the right partner and leader for us," Douglas said.

"His vision for this team aligns with what we have been working to establish here the last two years. Coach Saleh's energy, knowledge and focus are contagious and will serve our team well as we continue to develop our culture, our foundation, and move this organisation in the right direction."

The New York Jets have reached an agreement in principle with San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to become their head coach.

Saleh will become the Jets' 20th head coach, taking the helm after Adam Gase was fired earlier this month.

The 41-year-old joined the 49ers in 2017 after previous spells in the NFL with the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Jets confirmed on Thursday they had "agreed in principle" for Saleh to become head coach.

ESPN reported Saleh was expected to make 49ers passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur his offensive coordinator at the Jets.

Defensively, the 49ers ranked fifth for total yards allowed (5,030), seventh in rushing yards (1,703) and fourth in passing yards (3,327) in 2020.

The Jets, who last reached the playoffs in 2010, finished the 2020 season with a 2-14 record.

The Green Bay Packers secured the NFC's top seed on Sunday, while Derrick Henry led the Tennessee Titans to the AFC South title.

Aaron Rodgers again powered the Packers, throwing four touchdown passes in a win over the Chicago Bears.

Despite their loss, the Bears clinched a playoff spot, as did the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Rams.

Meanwhile, Henry made history as the Titans won the AFC South, while the Washington Football Team claimed the NFC East.

 

RODGERS DOMINATES AGAIN AS PACKERS CLINCH TOP SEED

Rodgers completed 19 of 24 passes for 240 yards and four TDs in the Packers' 35-16 victory over the Bears.

The Packers quarterback connected for TDs with Robert Tonyan, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Dominique Dafney and Davante Adams.

Rodgers finished the regular season with 48 TD passes. Alongside Peyton Manning, they are the only players in NFL history with 45-plus TD passes in multiple seasons, according to NFL Research. They won the NFL MVP in each of the previous three instances.

While Green Bay finished with a 13-3 record, the 8-8 Bears also reached the playoffs.

 

HISTORY FOR HENRY AS TITANS WIN AFC SOUTH

The Titans claimed the AFC South for the first time since 2008 after a thrilling 41-38 win over the Houston Texans.

Henry became the eighth player in history to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a single season.

He had 250 rushing yards and two TDs against the Texans. Of the eight players to achieve the feat, Henry was the only one who needed 200-plus yards in his last game to get there, according to Stats Perform.

A.J. Brown had 151 receiving yards, but the Titans needed Sam Sloman's 37-yard field goal as time expired to edge the Texans.

The Titans became the first team in NFL history to have a 250-yard rusher and 150-yard receiver in the same game.

 

WASHINGTON WIN NFC EAST AS COLTS, RAMS REACH PLAYOFFS

The Washington Football Team claimed the NFC East thanks to a 20-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes and two interceptions as Washington (7-9) claimed the division.

The Colts (11-5) reached the playoffs thanks to a 28-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Los Angeles Rams (10-6) are also into the postseason after beating the Arizona Cardinals 18-7.

 

Week 17 scores:

Minnesota Vikings 37-35 Detroit Lions
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 44-27 Atlanta Falcons
New England Patriots 28-14 New York Jets
Buffalo Bills 56-26 Miami Dolphins
Cleveland Browns 24-22 Pittsburgh Steelers
New York Giants 23-19 Dallas Cowboys
Baltimore Ravens 38-3 Cincinnati Bengals
Indianapolis Colts 28-14 Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans 41-38 Houston Texans
Los Angeles Rams 18-7 Arizona Cardinals
New Orleans Saints 33-7 Carolina Panthers
Green Bay Packers 35-16 Chicago Bears
Los Angeles Chargers 38-21 Kansas City Chiefs
Seattle Seahawks 26-23 San Francisco 49ers
Las Vegas Raiders 32-31 Denver Broncos
Washington Football Team 20-14 Philadelphia Eagles

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