Filling The Voids Left By Key NFL Opt Outs

67 NFL players have decided to opt out from the 2020 NFL campaign due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly every team was affected, as only the Steelers, Chargers, and Falcons didn’t have a player who elected to sit out.

Some players’ absences will be felt more than others. Teams that are losing starters or other key pieces of their roster will feel an outsized impact during the upcoming campaign. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most important players who are opting out in 2020, and how their respective clubs could look to replace them for the season ahead.

Buffalo Bills

  • Opted out: DT Star Lotulelei
  • Filling the void: Aside from possibly Jerry Hughes, the Bills don’t necessarily have a star along their defensive line, but general manager Brandon Beane has built one of the deepest front fours in the NFL. On the interior specifically, Buffalo will turn to Quinton Jefferson, Vernon Butler, Harrison Phillips, and Vincent Taylor to play more snaps opposite 2019 first-round pick Ed Oliver. Jefferson, who inked a two-year, $13.8MM deal to leave the Seahawks, is a top-notch run-stuffer but also notched 39 pressures in just 589 snaps a year ago. He is the favorite to soak up the majority of Lotulelei’s projected playing time.

Chicago Bears

  • Opted out: DT Eddie Goldman
  • Filling the void: Goldman is something of a relic, a true 3-4 nose tackle in a league that no longer prioritizes that potion. The Bears thought of enough of Goldman’s recent efforts to reward him with a four-year, $42MM extension in 2018, but they’ll have to go without him for the 2020 campaign. Chicago will likely first look internally to replace Goldman, and John Jenkins is an underrated player who could surprise in extended action. But if the Bears go to the free agent market, Damon Harrison could be of interest, as the 31-year-old has indicated he’s open to continuing his career.

Green Bay Packers

  • Opted out: WR Devin Funchess
  • Filling the void: To many, it was nearly inconceivable the Packers didn’t use a single draft pick on a wide receiver, and it could be even more unthinkable if Green Bay doesn’t acquire another pass-catcher now that Funchess has opted out. Taylor Gabriel is probably the best free agent wideout left on the market, but a trade could make even more sense for the Packers. Veterans like Kenny Stills (Texans) and Keelan Cole (Jaguars) may be available, but a more intriguing option may be Broncos second-year WR DaeSean Hamilton, who could be without a role after Denver drafted both Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler earlier this year.

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Opted out: G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, RB Damien Williams
  • Filling the void: The defending champions have already made one low-cost move in an attempt to replace Duvernay-Tardif, inking former All-Pro Kelechi Osemele to a one-year pact reportedly worth up to $2MM. Osemele is now 31 years old and hasn’t been fully healthy in a few years, but he’s as good a guard as a club is going to find on the open market at this point in the summer. The loss of Williams will sting as well, but Kansas City spent its first-round pick on fellow running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who now figures to take the lion’s share of the Chiefs’ backfield action.

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

  • Opted out: DT Michael Pierce
  • Filling the void: The Vikings lured Pierce away from the Ravens on a three-year, $27MM deal with the hope that he’d replace Linval Joseph, who defected to the Chargers. Now, Shamar Stephen, Jaleel Johnson, and Jalyn Holmes are the top-three options to start at defneisve tackle. Minnesota will likely turn to the free agent market to add another body, and former No. 3 overall selection Marcell Dareus could make for a solid Pierce replacement. Dareus missed most of last season with an injury and doesn’t offer much a pass-rusher, but he could fill Pierce’s projected role as a run-stuffer.

New England Patriots

New York Giants

  • Opted out: T Nate Solder
  • Filling the void: The Giants have a ready-made replacement for Solder in first-round pick Andrew Thomas, whom New York made the first offensive lineman to be chosen within the top-four overall selections since 2014. Thomas should step in immediately on Daniel Jones‘ blindside, leaving right tackle as the biggest question on the Giants’ offensive line. Fellow rookie Matt Peart is now projected to take over on the right side, and he’s probably the best option for Big Blue unless they want to invest in an older free agent like Cordy Glenn.

New York Jets

  • Opted out: LB C.J. Mosley
  • Filling the void: Not only is Mosley out for the 2020 season, but fellow veteran linebacker Avery Williamson could be traded or released. Perhaps the Jets will be more amenable to retaining Williamson now that Mosley has opted out, but either way, it probably doesn’t make sense for general manager Joe Douglas to use draft capital or cap space to bring in another ‘backer. The Jets don’t look like 2020 contenders, and after trading safety Jamal Adams, the club is looking towards the future. New York should see what 2019 fifth-rounder Blake Cashman can do with more playing time rather than acquiring a veteran.

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Opted out: WR Marquise Goodwin
  • Filling the void: The Eagles spent all offseason acquiring weapons for Carson Wentz, spending three draft picks on wideouts (including first-rounder Jalen Reagor) while also trading for Goodwin, who had fallen out of favor in San Francisco. Clearly, Philadelphia was looking for more speed in picking up Goodwin, but another trade candidate could offer the same sort of game-breaking ability. Robert Foster posted 541 yards for the Bills in 2018, but wasn’t a part of Buffalo’s offense last season and certainly won’t be in 2020 after the club added Stefon Diggs. The Eagles could likely pick him up for a late-round draft selection.

Purdue WR Rondale Moore Opts Out

Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore will opt out of the 2020 collegiate football season, as he announced via his Twitter account.

It’s still unclear whether a college football season will even take place this fall, but we’ve already seen a number of prospective stars decide that taking the field isn’t worth the risk. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s entirely reasonable to assume that more NCAA stars will join Moore, Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, Minnesota wideout Rashod Bateman in sitting out the year.

Moore was a breakout star during his freshman year in 2018, posting 114 receptions for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns while also adding value in the rushing game and on special teams. Dane Brugler of The Athletic currently ranks Moore as the third-best wideout in the 2020 class, noting the ex-Boilermaker has accrued an amazing two-thirds of his yardage after the catch.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Buccaneers Waive CB M.J. Stewart

The Buccaneers are parting ways with a recent high draft choice. Tampa Bay is waiving cornerback M.J. Stewart, whom the club selected with the 53rd overall pick in the 2018 draft, per Jenna Laine of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Stewart was named second-team All-ACC during his final season at North Carolina, and he was expected to be a valuable long-term contributor to a Tampa Bay secondary that desperately needed reinforcements. But injuries continually kept Stewart off the field — a foot problem cost him six games during his rookie campaign, and he missed five more games in 2019 while dealing with a knee issue.

Still, Stewart is still only 25 years old and has played 614 snaps over the past two seasons. Thanks to his second-round pedigree and his rookie contract, it’s entirely possible Stewart could be claimed off waivers, or if not, at least find a new club in the near future.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons Expected To Re-Sign J.J. Wilcox

The Falcons are expected to re-sign free agent safety J.J. Wilcox, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (Twitter link). It will be a one-year deal, tweets Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. Wilcox will first need to pass both a physical and a COVID-19 test. 

Wilcox, 29, originally signed with Atlanta last spring, but a torn ACL prematurely ended his season in July. Presumably, he’s know healthy enough to resume play in 2020. A third-round pick in the 2013 draft, Wilcox began his career with the Cowboys (appearing in 58 games over four years), but has since bounced around the league, spending time with the Buccaneers, Steelers, Jets, and Colts.

Atlanta is already three-deep at safety with Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, and Damontae Kazee, so Wilcox will likely be viewed as depth. However, he boasts enough experience that he could be called into action due to injuries on the Falcons’ depth chart.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans Host LB Brandon Marshall On Visit

Free agency stalled for many players when the NFL put the kibosh on visits for months amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But the outset of training camps has begun to produce some action for mid-level targets.

Former Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall is visiting the Texans, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. This marks the first Marshall-related news this offseason. He has not played in a regular-season game since his five-plus season Denver tenure ended after the 2018 slate.

Marshall, 30, was a key player for one of this century’s defining defenses. He started all 19 games the 2015 Super Bowl champion Broncos played and was a five-season starter in Denver. In the 2016 offseason, Marshall signed an $8MM-per-year extension to stay in Denver. However, injuries plagued the veteran linebacker for much of that deal. The Broncos released Marshall in 2019.

While Marshall’s 2019 Raiders stay did not work out, with an injury ending that brief partnership, the Texans have shown interest at multiple junctures. They worked out Marshall last season. A Houston pact would surely mean Marshall would compete for a depth spot behind starters Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham.

Dolphins Meet With WRs Chester Rogers, Ricardo Louis

Two members of the Dolphins’ receiving corps (Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson) opted out of the 2020 season. Another (Preston Williams) is not certain to be ready by Week 1.

The Dolphins are picking up the pieces. They are hosting former Colts wideout Chester Rogers and one of their recent cuts, Ricardo Louis, on a visit, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets.

A former Browns rotational cog, Louis was a Dolphins cut less than two weeks ago. But Miami’s equation has changed, potentially opening the door for a Louis comeback effort. He has not played in a regular-season game since 2017.

Rogers has delivered more in the way of production, playing in 53 games for Indianapolis from 2016-19. The former UDFA caught 53 passes for 485 yards and two touchdowns in Andrew Luck‘s final season, which featured the Colts making a surprise divisional-round run.

Rogers, however, is coming off a season in which he suffered a knee fracture in December. Both receivers are expected to be given physicals, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald (on Twitter), so Rogers’ examination figures to be critical.

Jets WR Josh Doctson Opts Out

A late opt-out: Jets wide receiver Josh Doctson. The former first-round pick notified his new team he will opt out, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets.

Doctson signed with the Jets in February as a street free agent, doing so after the Vikings cut him during the 2019 season. The former Washington first-rounder’s bounce-back opportunity will have to wait until 2021.

Doctson’s one-year Jets pact will toll to 2021, though it is certainly not a lock he will be in Gang Green’s plans for the ’21 regular season. As a Viking in 2019, Doctson suffered a leg injury in September but was one of Minnesota’s IR-return designations. He did not, however, make any catches for the Vikings.

While Doctson did not deliver on Washington’s investment, he did post multiple 500-plus-yard seasons from 2017-18 and profiled as a somewhat interesting candidate to factor into the Jets’ wideout mix this season. Instead, he will join C.J. Mosley and offensive lineman Leo Koloamatangi in opting out.

Top LB Prospect Micah Parsons To Opt Out, Enter 2021 Draft

The 2021 first round may not feature too many highlight reels from the 2020 season. Another first-round prospect will opt out, with Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons announcing (Instagram link) he will not play this season.

Parsons will enter the 2021 NFL draft. He is expected to be a surefire first-round pick. The two-year Nittany Lions contributor rates as the No. 6 overall prospect on Todd McShay’s initial list. While Joe Burrow illustrated how much draft stocks can change in a season, Parsons appears a safe bet to be selected in next year’s first round.

Despite working as an off-ball ‘backer, Parsons registered 14 tackles for loss and five sacks as a sophomore last season. The 245-pound defender also forced four fumbles in his second college campaign.

A previous trend saw first-round-caliber players choosing not to play in bowl games. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the equation and forced players to factor in draft-stock damage ahead of their final college seasons.

The list of opt-outs so far: Parsons, Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman and Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau. There will almost certainly be more players who choose to bypass the coronavirus-altered 2020 season to prepare for the draft.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Miami DE Gregory Rousseau Opts Out

The 2021 NFL draft may feature a player with one season of college experience. Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau informed coach Manny Diaz he is opting out of the 2020 season, per Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald (on Twitter).

Rousseau broke out last season and landed on the draft radar. He registered 15.5 sacks — tied for the third-most in ACC single-season history — and a conference-best 19.5 tackles for loss. Technically, Rousseau saw action as a true freshman but not enough to use up a year of eligibility. As a result, he stands to go from his redshirt-freshman season to the NFL draft — in all likelihood.

The 6-foot-7 pass rusher would be eligible for the draft, due to being out of high school for three seasons. ESPN’s Todd McShay rated the Miami talent as his top edge defender prospect, with Rousseau coming in at No. 13 overall.

After Virginia Tech cornerback prospect Caleb Farley opted out, others are following suit. While the NFL season will be defined by the coronavirus, the pandemic is wreaking greater havoc at the college level. The Power 5 conferences have all changed their schedules, with lower-level football leagues either postponing or cancelling seasons. It will certainly not be a surprise if more first-round prospects pass on playing this season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/6/20

Here are Thursday’s minor moves, with the list being updated throughout the day:

Las Vegas Raiders

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Waived: Aca’Cedric Ware

NFL News & NFL Rumors