Wed Jan 27 6:26pm ET
By JOHN WAWROW
AP Sports Writer
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) runs from Buffalo Bills linebacker Matt Milano (58) after catching a pass during the second half of the AFC championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) stands on the field at the end of the AFC championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs won 38-24. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, right, hugs teammate Stefon Diggs during the second half of the AFC championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) After three straight offseasons of making big splashes in transforming the Bills into AFC contenders, Brandon Beane isn't making any big promises this year.
Though the Bills have needs, with the general manager specifically emphasizing a desire to bulk up Buffalo's defensive line and improve a sputtering running attack, Beane stressed he's going to have to be more creative - and frugal.
Like many NFL teams, the Bills will have less room to maneuver because the NFL's salary cap is expected to shrink as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Beane said the Bills already have close to $175 million committed to salaries next season, which is near the lowest projection of where the cap could be set once the league's new business year begins in March.
''This is not going to be a free agency that we can be aggressive,'' Beane said, in an hour-long, season-ending video news conference on Wednesday. ''We'll fill in here and there some holes. But I would not anticipate any blockbuster moves.''
He's enjoyed many of those over a series of franchise-altering moves which began with Buffalo trading up to select quarterback Josh Allen in the first round of the 2018 draft, followed by signing receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown in free agency a year later, and ending with the acquisition of receiver Stefon Diggs in a trade with Minnesota in March.
The moves were critical in building the foundation of a team that enjoyed a breakthrough season in which Buffalo (15-4) won its first AFC East title in 25 years and appeared in its first conference championship since 1994.
And yet, the Bills received a sobering reminder of how much still separates them from reaching the Super Bowl following a 38-24 loss to the defending champion Kansas Chiefs on Sunday.
''They're the gold standard,'' Beane said, referring to the Chiefs. ''They were clearly better than us. We definitely have work to do.''
Last offseason, following a 22-19 overtime loss at Houston in a wild-card playoff, Beane placed a priority on scoring more points, which led him to acquire Diggs for a first-round draft pick.
The move paid off immediately, with the Bills setting a team record by scoring 501 points and Diggs becoming Buffalo's first player to lead the NFL in catches (127) and yards receiving (1,535).
This offseason, Beane cited the loss to the Chiefs as exposing Buffalo's season-long deficiencies in being unable to consistently run the ball, and an undersized defensive front that had difficulty stopping the run and pressuring quarterbacks.
''Maybe a little more balance of the run game, and I'm not saying run it 20 times, throw it 20 times,'' Beane said. ''I'm just saying the ability to run it when you have to.''
Take away Josh Allen's 88 yards rushing on Sunday, and the Bills managed just 41 against KC. Overall, Buffalo topped 100 yards rushing just nine times, including playoffs, this season, after doing so 13 times in 17 games the previous year.
Beane was careful to not fix the blame solely on running backs Devin Singletary and rookie Zack Moss, who missed the final two games with an ankle injury, by saying it was an overall team issue. Buffalo's offensive line spent much of the season in flux as a result of injuries and production.
As for the defensive line, Beane said: ''We were probably still a little light for my comfort.''
The Bills were forced to retool their front after losing Jordan Phillips in free agency and with top run-stuffing tackle Star Lotulelei unexpectedly opting out for COVID-19 reasons in July. The lack of size led to linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano having to fight through more blockers to stop the run.
Coach Sean McDermott expressed similar concerns a day earlier by immediately saying, ''we've got to be able to run the football better.''
As for the defense, he expected a drop-off in production based on the offseason personnel losses and focus Buffalo placed on improving its offense and special teams. And yet, McDermott acknowledged the defense failed at times to play a complementary role.
Beane declined to get into specifics on contract-related issues regarding pending free agents or when he might open negotiations with Allen, who is entering the fourth year of his rookie contract. Buffalo also has the right to retain Allen through the 2022 season by picking up his fifth-year option this spring.
Allen is coming off a season in which he set numerous franchise scoring and passing records, and finished fourth in the NFL with a 69.2 percent completion rate, which marked a 10.4% jump over last year.
Milano is Buffalo's most high-profile player eligible to enter free agency this offseason, followed by starting offensive linemen Jon Feliciano and Darryl Williams.
''We'd love to be able to get Milano back. He knows that,'' Beane said, while noting the player has missed time because of injury in each of his past three seasons, including five games this year. ''There's going to be some tough decisions unfortunately for us, whether it's letting guys go on this roster or having to watch guys leave.''
2020 King of the Mountain Winner
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said that he would love to have impending free-agent wide receiver T.Y. Hilton return in 2021. The 31-year-old had 56 catches, 762 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 15 games for the Colts in 2020. The four-time Pro Bowler had a stretch from 2013-16 where he had four straight seasons of 1,000 yards receiving, but he's been in decline the last two years, combining for 101 receptions, 1,263 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019 and 2020. Losing Andrew Luck under center certainly didn't help and Hilton's decline in production has certainly hurt his fantasy stock heading into the 2021 season, but he did have a three-week stretch from Week 12 to Week 14 where he reminded us of the Hilton of old. He's unlikely to be anything more than a WR3 for fantasy managers next season, but it will depend on whether he stays in Indy and who the quarterback is, or where he winds up in free agency if he departs.
Las Vegas Raiders tight end Jason Witten is retiring from the NFL and plans to sign a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Dallas Cowboys in March when his deal with the Raiders expires. The 38-year-old played 16 seasons for the Cowboys and spent the 2020 campaign with the Raiders. No tight end in history has played more than his 271 career games, with only Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez recording more catches and yards at the position. Witten was a third-round pick in 2003 and developed into one of the best tight ends in history. The 11-time Pro Bowler is the Cowboys all-time leader in receptions (1,215) and yards (12,977) and is second in touchdown catches (72). Witten had four 1,000-yard seasons and played in a team-record 255 games, including a franchise-record 245 starts. The future Hall of Famer missed just one game in his career due to a broken jaw as a rookie.
New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis knows it will be a "daunting" offseason if the team has to replace quarterback Drew Brees, who is expected to retire, but Loomis made it clear that the club isn't going into rebuilding mode after winning the last four NFC South titles. The Saints could also be close to $100 million over the salary cap. There is no official word yet on whether Brees will retire, but the Saints plan on waiting for his decision before deciding on how they will approach the position in 2021 and beyond. Quarterback Jameis Winston, safety Marcus Williams, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and tight end Jared Cook are all scheduled to be free agents. But the Saints could save at least $13.5 million in cap space if Brees retires. They could also consider a blockbuster trade to free up cap space and add draft picks like they did in the past with Jimmy Graham and Brandin Cooks.
The Buffalo Bills will have very little wiggle room and are unlikely to make any big free-agent signings or trades this offseason with a projected salary cap space of less than $2 million (with a projected cap of $180 million). "We'll fill in here and there some holes, but I would not anticipate any blockbuster moves of Stefon Diggs type, or some of the moves we made the year before in free agency," general manager Brandon Beane said Wednesday. Buffalo will hope to retain some of their players this offseason while continuing to build through the draft as they hope to catch the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021. According to Spotrac, the Bills are expected to have the 19th-most cap space heading into next season, and they'll have the 30th overall pick in the first round after not having one in 2020 because of the Diggs trade.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff has 45 wins since 2017 (second-most behind Tom Brady), but he was wildly inconsistent in 2020, and the Rams are expected to have an open quarterback competition between Goff and John Wolford during training camp this summer, according to sources. Wolford was much more mobile and added a new dynamic to LA's offense late in the regular season when Goff's thumb was injured, so they will give him another chance to impress this summer. If Goff isn't traded and remains with the Rams, he'll have to show more explosiveness and limit the turnovers in order to keep his starting job. The former first overall pick had his moments in 2020, but he just wasn't consistent enough for fantasy managers and did very little with his legs. If he wins the job in training camp, he'll be a middling QB2 target in fantasy drafts.
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree (knee), who tore his ACL in a Week 12 win over the Ravens on Dec. 2, said that he plans to be ready for training camp and is ahead of schedule in his rehab. "I'm feeling great right now," Dupree said. The star pass-rusher had eight sacks and 31 tackles before suffering the season-ending injury and had formed a two-headed pass-rushing monster with teammate T.J. Watt. After Dupree's injury, Pittsburgh's defense fell off the rest of the way. The 27-year-old played the 2020 season on the franchise tag for $15.828 million and will hit the free-agent market this offseason. The Steelers are unlikely to tag Dupree again, as they are projected to be well over the 2021 salary cap. Dupree should be in play in IDP leagues, if he's healthy, wherever he winds up playing next season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said he doesn't plan on retiring from the NFL if he wins Super Bowl 55 over the Kansas City Chiefs. "Hell no. I'm going for two. If the Glazers will have me back," Arians said. The 68-year-old already retired following the 2017 season with the Arizona Cardinals due to medical concerns, but returned to coach the Buccaneers in 2019 after a year away from the game. If Arians were to retire, he'd likely leave the head-coaching job in the capable hands of either defensive coordinator Todd Bowles or offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. But with future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady on a two-year deal with Tampa, Arians might see things out for one more season in 2021.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Jordan Whitehead (shoulder), who is dealing with labrum and additional shoulder issues he suffered during the NFC Championship win over the Green Bay Packers, has not been ruled out for the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs, according to a source. Whitehead is going to try and play, but his practice status will be something to keep an eye on next week. The Buccaneers Defense, particularly their secondary, is going to need all the help they can get in order to try and slow down the Chiefs high-flying offensive attack. Standout rookie Antoine Winfield Jr., who missed the NFC Championship, is expected to return, so that's a plus for the Bucs defense. Whitehead had 74 combined tackles (nine for loss), two interceptions, two sacks, and a fumble recovery in 16 regular season games for Tampa.
The Seattle Seahawks are planning to hire Los Angeles Rams passing-game coordinator Shane Waldron as their offensive coordinator, according to a source. Waldron will take over for Brian Schottenheimer in Seattle. This is also notable for the Rams, as they are losing Waldron, Brandon Staley, Brad Holmes, Ray Agnew, Joe Barry and Aubrey Pleasant as assistant coaches this offseason. Head coach Pete Carroll said he'd like Seattle's offense to get back to more of a run-first approach next season, which is part of the reason why they parted ways with Schottenheimer after the offense crumbled in the second half after putting up huge passing numbers earlier in the year. Waldron was the Rams pass-game coordinator for the last three seasons, and he'll work closely with quarterback Russell Wilson to find out why he regressed late in the 2020 season.
The San Francisco 49ers re-signed restricted free-agent running back Jeff Wilson Jr. to a one-year deal on Tuesday. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The 25-year-old has 974 rushing yards in his three seasons with San Francisco and posted career- and team-highs of 126 carries, 600 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020. He saw more playing time throughout the year due to injuries to Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman, but Wilson also played in just 12 games (three starts) due to ailments of his own. He finished with 733 total yards and 10 touchdowns. Wilson could have a bigger role to begin the year next to Mostert, as both Coleman and Jerick McKinnon could leave in free agency. If Wilson is sharing backfield touches only with Mostert, he'll be an RB3/flex with more upside in PPR formats.
Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph expressed unhappiness with his role in the offense over the last two seasons and isn't willing to accept a pay cut heading into the 2021 season. Rudolph went from being the team's second- or third-leading receiver from 2015-18 to being an afterthought in the passing attack. The Vikings would gain $5.1 million in salary cap space if they were to release Rudolph, and they are projected to be $12.8 million over the cap. He has three years remaining on his deal, so they could also look to restructure his deal. The 31-year-old played in just 12 games in 2020 and finished the year on Injured Reserve with a Lisfranc sprain in his foot, while fellow tight end Irv Smith finished third in receiving with 365 yards and five touchdowns. Rudolph had 28 catches on 35 targets last season, his lowest output since 2014. With Smith on the rise, Rudolph is off the fantasy radar in redraft leagues heading into 2021 if he remains in Minnesota.
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores said that Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith's size -- he's listed at just 175 pounds on Alabama's roster -- is not a concern. "If you're a good player -- I mean, you can nitpick all you want about a guy's size -- good players are good players are good players," Flores said. Flores is coaching Smith's national team in the Senior Bowl this week. Smith won't practice or play this week due to a finger injury he sustained in the national championship against Ohio State, but the young pass-catcher is arguably one of the most productive college football wideouts and won the 2020 Heisman Trophy Award. He's an excellent route-runner with incredibly strong hands and could be an option for Miami at No. 3 overall in the draft, although he's expected to go a little later in the top 10 of the first round.
Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi plan to build the Chargers offense in 2021 around second-year quarterback Justin Herbert. But Herbert will also be learning a new offense with a new head coach and offensive coordinator in just his second season. The Oregon product finished sixth in passing yards (4,336), 10th in touchdown passes (31), 12th in passer rating (98.3) and had only 10 interceptions in his rookie season. "He has a skillset that is elite," Lombardi said. "It appears that there's nothing that he can't do. He has an incredibly strong arm, good accuracy and he is very athletic." Herbert's 31 passing touchdowns was the most for a rookie QB. With his arrow pointing firmly upward, the 22-year-old will be a midrange QB1 with upside in 2021.
Teams are already reaching out to the Detroit Lions to initiate trade talks to figure out what it will cost to acquire quarterback Matthew Stafford, according to sources. With a new general manager in place and a new coaching staff for 2021 and beyond, it was reported last weekend that the Lions have mutually agreed to part ways with Stafford, so teams are already reaching out for the 32-year-old. Stafford missed eight games due to injury in 2019, but he was able to play a full 16 games this season despite dealing with multiple injuries. He finished the year with 4,084 yards on a 64.2 completion percentage with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Stafford doesn't have a ton of upside at this stage of his career, but the 2014 Pro Bowler could offer some nice value in fantasy drafts in 2021, depending on where he winds up. Stay tuned.
Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead was non-committal on quarterback Jared Goff's future when asked if Goff might not be on the team next season. "Not going to get into specifics on those. That's the beautiful mystery of the future. Jared Goff is a Ram at this moment. It's way too early to speculate," Snead said. The Rams could add a veteran at the position to push Goff in 2021 if he's still on the roster. While Goff wasn't terrible last season -- 67 completion percentage, 20-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a passer rating of 90 -- he was too inconsistent in both real life and fantasy. It's unclear who Goff will be playing for in 2021, but if he stays in LA, he'll be a midrange QB2 for fantasy managers unless proven otherwise.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens (elbow) underwent successful elbow surgery in late December, according to a source. The damage wasn't as extensive as initially feared and did not require Tommy John surgery. Mullens is expected to be 100 percent recovered for the start of training camp. It's great news for the 25-year-old, as Tommy John surgery would have likely kept him out for most, if not all, of the 2021 season. He was forced into eight starts with Jimmy Garoppolo injured last season, throwing for 2,437 yards, 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a QB rating of 84.1 in 10 overall games. Mullens will be a restricted free agent in 2021, but if he returns to San Francisco, he'll continue to hold the clipboard for Jimmy G.
Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner and one of the top prospects in the 2021 NFL draft, declined to be weighed or measured for height at the Senior Bowl weigh-in on Tuesday. However, he plans to do so at Alabama's pro-day workout this spring. He was listed at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds during the season, and his size is his lone scouting concern heading to the next level. Smith has 9 3/8-inch hands, 31 1/3-inch arms and a wingspan of 78 1/2. The talented pass-catcher injured a finger in the national championship game against Ohio State and will not compete in practices or the game this week. Smith caught 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior and is projected to be a top-10 pick in the first round because of his exceptional route-running skills and strong, sure hands.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was uncertain about his future with the team after the NFC Championship loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday, but chief executive officer Mark Murphy said the team won't let him go. "There's no way in heck Aaron is not gonna be on the Packers," Murphy said. "He's going to be the MVP of the league, might have had his best year ever, he's our unquestioned leader, and we're not idiots." Rodgers is 37 years old and has three years left on his deal after the Packers drafted his expected successor, Jordan Love, in the first round last year. Green Bay won't take on a huge dead salary cap number in 2021, but they could go in another direction in 2022 when his number drops to $17.2 million. After his MVP season, Rodgers isn't going anywhere just yet and will be more expensive in 2021 fantasy drafts as a QB1 than he was heading into the 2020 season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) and rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle) are expected to be ready to play in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 7, according to sources. Both players missed the NFC Championship win over the Packers. Brown was injured in the Divisional Round against the Saints and played just a handful of snaps in the second half. The 32-year-old had five touchdowns in his last five games and will be a touchdown-dependent fantasy play in the Super Bowl. His return could mean fewer looks for Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller. Winfield was injured in practice late last week and was unable to play on Sunday. His return to Tampa's secondary will be a welcomed addition as the Bucs attempt to slow down KC's high-flying aerial attack with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Le'Veon Bell (knee) and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf) are expected to be ready to play in the Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Feb. 7, according to sources. Both players were inactive for the AFC Championship win over Buffalo. Watkins played in just 10 games during the regular season and also missed time with a sore hamstring and didn't play in either of KC's playoff games. He finished the regular season with 37 catches for 421 yards and two touchdowns and will be a boom/bust dart throw in DFS for the big game. Mecole Hardman will be a much more attractive play than Watkins. Bell had 254 rushing yards in nine games for the Chiefs and will likely see scraps behind rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams against Tampa.