While championships are not won in the offseason (remember the Eagles’ “Dream Team“?), teams can use the layoff to build a foundation for the coming season. Whether it’s by retaining key free agents, plugging holes with new players, and adding impact talent through the draft, there are multiple ways for teams to have successful offseasons. With that in mind, let’s review some of the 2021 NFL offseason winners.
2021 NFL Offseason Winners: Which Teams Improved The Most?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2020: 11-5, 2nd in NFC South, won Super Bowl LV)
Having already reaped the benefits from signing Tom Brady last offseason, the Buccaneers smartly opted to prioritize continuity above all else this year as they look to defend their Super Bowl title.
Accordingly, Tampa Bay re-signed two of Brady’s favorite weapons from last year, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. Brady’s long-time tight end Rob Gronkowski was also brought back, as were Leonard Fournette, Shaquil Barrett, and Lavonte David. After learning a new system last year, Brady should be far more comfortable this year.
As for the draft, the Bucs couldn’t do much after being relegated to the last pick of the first round, which they used on promising linebacker Joe Tryon. They also wisely grabbed quarterback Kyle Trask in the second round, because you can never have too many insurance policies when your signal caller is about to turn 44. Fourth-round speedster Jaelon Darden could also have an immediate impact in the return game and develop into an effective slot weapon over time.
So after appearing on many of these types of lists last year, the Bucs will likely find themselves highly rated on many of the 2021 NFL offseason reviews as well.
Cleveland Browns (2020: 11-5, 3rd in AFC North, lost in AFC Divisional Round)
Cleveland’s 2020 renaissance began last offseason with the hiring of head coach Kevin Stefanski, who’s already proved to be a monumental upgrade over his predecessors. After enjoying their first winning season since 2007 and their first playoff win since 1994, the Browns are trying to capitalize with another productive offseason.
Already well-equipped on offense, Cleveland prioritized defense in free agency, adding two former lynchpins of the Rams’ elite secondary in safety John Johnson and cornerback Troy Hill. Both are under 30, making the investment in them at this point in the team’s trajectory all the more prudent.
Cleveland added another big name to an already formidable pass-rushing unit in Jadeveon Clowney as well. While injuries have prevented the three-time Pro Bowler from maximizing his immense talent, he could bounce back on an incentive-heavy one-year deal. The Browns also inked Takkarist McKinley, a former Falcons first-rounder, in what could turn out to be an excellent value signing.
Cleveland addressed its defense during the 2021 NFL Draft as well, taking defensive players with its first two selections. With so much defensive talent coming in, the Browns appear poised to take another step forward this year.
Miami Dolphins (10-6, 2nd in AFC East, missed playoffs)
Following a prolonged stretch of mediocrity, the Dolphins finally seem to be heading in the right direction under head coach Brian Flores. Miami improved dramatically on both sides of the ball last year, going from 5-11 with a -188 point differential in 2019 to 10-6 with a +66 point differential in 2020.
After narrowly missing the postseason, the Dolphins made several moves in free agency to remain competitive in the suddenly formidable AFC East. Their biggest splash was signing receiver Will Fuller on a one-year deal to provide another weapon for Tua Tagovailoa, who showed promise as a rookie last year but lacks elite receiving options. Miami also bolstered its running game by bringing in Malcolm Brown and added to its defense as well, enhancing the overall roster.
The Dolphins also made several wise selections in the draft, such as using their first pick on Jaylen Waddle — one of Tagovailoa’s receivers at Alabama. Miami used the draft to bulk up its defense as well, ensuring that its unit will remain elite on that side of the ball this year.
All told, the Dolphins got their young quarterback a couple of desperately-needed weapons while also supplementing their stellar defense, paving the way for another successful campaign in 2021.
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