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What if The NFL Had A 2021 Expansion Draft?

By Nathan Cooper

 

The NHL’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken, were welcomed into the league on July 21 during their Expansion Draft. Four years following the successful Expansion Draft of the Vegas Golden Knights, the Kraken were allowed to select one player from each team, minus Vegas, to begin compiling their inaugural roster. 

Without getting too deep into the guidelines, basically every NHL team was allowed to protect a certain number of players, with others automatically protected due to them only being in the league for a year or two. Each team was allowed to protect either 9 or 11 players depending on how many of each position they chose to protect. 

What if the NFL did something similar? How could it look? We decided to try it out – and you can too.

 

Roster Submission Form

 

Protection Rules

In a perfect world, this would take place in March before the NFL Draft and Free Agency gets started, like the NHL, but that’s not the case. So, using the current Training Camp rosters (as of approximately July 28), we came up with a set of guidelines to protect players for each team.

The guidelines are as follows:

  1. All players who entered the league in 2021, drafted or undrafted, are automatically protected and are not counted toward protection limits
  1. Players who already have season-ending injuries (e.g. Cam Akers) are automatically protected and are not counted toward protection limits
  1. Aside from those players, 12 total players can be protected
    • 6 must be from the offensive side of the ball, which includes Kicker
      • Only 1 QB can be protected
    • 6 must be from the defensive side of the ball, which includes Punter
      • There are no positional restrictions for defense

It’s that simple. With those guidelines, we took our best shot at protecting twelve players from each team, taking into account salary, remaining years on contracts, age, and other factors. It’s not a perfect science, and I’m sure teams or you, the reader, would choose differently in some cases.

In fact, we’re going to give you the chance to build your own team by going to this link, using the protections lists below, and following the listed guidelines.

 

Roster Submission Form

 

Protection Lists

Now that the rules are set, who was protected? Let’s go in alphabetical order and start with the Arizona Cardinals. The number in parentheses is their Total Points number in 2020.

 

Arizona Cardinals

Offense Defense
QB Kyler Murray (87) DE J.J. Watt (38)
WR DeAndre Hopkins (37) LB Chandler Jones (8)
WR Christian Kirk (5) LB Isaiah Simmons (15)
OL D.J. Humphries (30) LB Markus Golden (34)
OL Rodney Hudson (31) CB Byron Murphy Jr. (24)
OL Kelvin Beachum (41) S Budda Baker (50)

Arizona has a good mix of offensive weapons and line talent, and that’s apparent in its protection list. A.J. Green just signed to give Kyler Murray another weapon, but it’s only a 1-year deal and he’s 33 with injury concerns. Second-Round pick Rondale Moore would help ease the blow if Green were to get selected. 

J.J. Watt is a top player in the league when healthy, so Arizona chooses to protect him and hope that’s the case. Malcolm Butler put up respectable numbers in 2020, but was targeted by far the most in the NFL as a member of the Titans, and his 1.3 Yards Allowed Per Coverage Snap was among the worst in the league.

Atlanta Falcons

Offense Defense
QB Matt Ryan (107) DT Grady Jarrett (28)
RB Mike Davis (25) LB Deion Jones (38)
WR Calvin Ridley (30) LB Foyesade Oluokun (61)
OL Jake Matthews (31) CB A.J. Terrell (15)
OL Chris Lindstrom (26) CB Kendall Sheffield (4)
OL Kaleb McGary (14) S Duron Harmon (11)

The Julio Jones trade was a blow to the Falcons receiving corps, but it allowed them to protect newly acquired starting RB Mike Davis, who broke out last year with Carolina, filling in for the injured Christian McCaffrey. Additionally, 1st-round pick Kyle Pitts should soften the blow of losing Jones. 

On defense, Dante Fowler Jr. is a consistent pass rusher that puts up numbers, but a bit of a down year in 2020 and a large cap number turn the organization away from him being on the list. Atlanta feels it has enough depth on the front seven that it chose to keep three players in the secondary to pair with 2nd-round safety Richie Grant.

Baltimore Ravens

Offense Defense
QB Lamar Jackson (75) LB Patrick Queen (34)
RB JK Dobbins (10) LB Tyus Bowser (40)
TE Mark Andrews (12) CB Marlon Humphrey (57)
OL Ronnie Stanley (12) CB Marcus Peters (47)
OL Bradley Bozeman (43) S Chuck Clark (39)
K Justin Tucker (22) S DeShon Elliott (29)

On the offensive side, Gus Edwards and Marquise Brown are two vital pieces to the offense, but Dobbins is younger and the team just drafted Rashod Bateman. 

On defense, the Ravens led the league in sacks by DBs and were Top-2 in pressures while blitzing, but were 5th-lowest in sacks and pressures by DL and 40% of those pressures came while the team was blitzing. So even though the Ravens do have rushers that they value, most of their pressure value comes from their blitz packages. Combine that with the Ravens propensity to play man-to-man defense and it makes sense to focus their defensive protections on the secondary.

Ravens protection list provided by: Segev Goldberg

Buffalo Bills

Offense Defense
QB Josh Allen (155) DT Ed Oliver (26)
WR Stefon Diggs (49) LB Tremaine Edmunds (22)
WR Gabriel Davis (10) LB Matt Milano (23)
TE Dawson Knox (3) CB Tre’Davious White (61)
OL Dion Dawkins (28) S Micah Hyde (30)
K Tyler Bass (13) S Jordan Poyer (35)

Tyler Bass is questionable here, but he made the SIS All-Rookie Team this past season with consistent production. Gabriel Davis had a good rookie season and will be a featured weapon for years to come. Other possibilities would’ve been choosing an average offensive lineman or protecting one of the backs with injury concerns. 

On defense, with five easy selections, Oliver got the sixth spot due to his youth over some of the aging veterans along the defensive front.

Bills protection list provided by: Evan Butler

Carolina Panthers

Offense Defense
QB Sam Darnold (-8) DE Yetur Gross-Matos (13)
RB Christian McCaffrey (7) DE Brian Burns (39)
WR DJ Moore (29) DT Derrick Brown (21)
WR Robby Anderson (19) LB Haasan Reddick (46)
OL Taylor Moton (30) LB Shaq Thompson (35)
OL Matt Paradis (21) LB Jeremy Chinn (29)

The offense in Carolina doesn’t have a ton of pieces to build around. Outside of the six protected players, there weren’t many others who warranted being protected. 

On the defensive side, the tough choice came down to picking two of the three between Reddick, Thompson, and Donte Jackson. Jackson has been solid for the Panthers, but gave up five touchdowns in 2020 and was outside the Top 100 in Yards Allowed Per Cover Snap. Carolina instead chooses to make sure the front seven is rock solid.

Panthers protection list provided by: Jordan Edwards

Chicago Bears

Offense Defense
RB David Montgomery (30) DE Akiem Hicks (25)
WR Allen Robinson II (26) DT Eddie Goldman (N/A)
WR Darnell Mooney (17) LB Khalil Mack (47)
TE Cole Kmet (10) LB Roquan Smith (64)
OL James Daniels (8) CB Jaylon Johnson (32)
OL Cody Whitehair (26) S Eddie Jackson (8)

With Justin Fields now on the roster, the organization decides not to protect a QB knowing they’ll at least roll out with Andy Dalton or Nick Foles if Fields isn’t ready. In addition, they’re able to keep a trio of young playmakers in Montgomery, Mooney, and Kmet with the hope they can convince Robinson to sign back on after 2021. 

There’s a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball in Chicago. It is able to keep their top guys, but have to offer up Bilal Nichols, Danny Trevathan, and Robert Quinn to the expansion team. Eddie Goldman is back after opting out and the team expects big things from him.

Cincinnati Bengals

Offense Defense
QB Joe Burrow (49) DE Trey Hendrickson (24)
RB Joe Mixon (-2) DE Sam Hubbard (28)
WR Tyler Boyd (17) DT D.J. Reader (7)
WR Tee Higgins (24) LB Logan Wilson (11)
OL Jonah Williams (10) CB Chidobe Awuzie (10)
OL Trey Hopkins (31) S Jessie Bates III (29)

The Bengals have a strong starting group of playmakers. The questions come on the offensive line. While they look to be improved, it’s clear why four of the six players protected were skill players. 

The defense has a couple of strong, core players at each level of the defense. Big names such as Trae Waynes and Vonn Bell in the secondary are possible protection list candidates, but it’s likely they view a younger player with more contract control in Chidobe Awuzie a better option for the long-term outlook.

Cleveland Browns

Offense Defense
QB Baker Mayfield (83) DE Myles Garrett (38)
RB Nick Chubb (44) LB Anthony Walker (20)
WR Jarvis Landry (33) CB Denzel Ward (43)
TE Austin Hooper (10) CB Troy Hill (30)
OL Jedrick Wills Jr. (21) S John Johnson II (42)
OL JC Tretter (25) S Grant Delpit (N/A)

The biggest question involving the Browns offense is: Odell Beckham Jr. or Jarvis Landry? Both have high cap numbers and both are solid NFL receivers, but Odell missed half of last season while Landry has only missed one game in his entire career. While Odell is a Top 10 receiver in the NFL when healthy, the Browns opt for consistency here. Unfortunately, that still leaves stalwarts Joel Bitonio and Jack Conklin exposed, as the team protects Wills and Tretter instead.

On defense, the secondary stays strong and guys like Jadeveon Clowney, Sione Takitaki, and Ronnie Harrison are left off the list. Grant Delpit missed all of last season due to injury, but the Browns feel like he could replace Harrison at safety if he were to be selected.

Dallas Cowboys

Offense Defense
QB Dak Prescott (22) DE DeMarcus Lawrence (40)
RB Ezekiel Elliott (-4) DE Randy Gregory (23)
WR Amari Cooper (26) DT Neville Gallimore (10)
WR CeeDee Lamb (6) LB Jaylon Smith (28)
OL Zack Martin (23) LB Leighton Vander Esch (9)
OL Tyron Smith (6) CB Trevon Diggs (21)

The Cowboys offense is littered with weapons. Even with injuries taken into account all six of these players are staples in the offensive plans of the future. There are questions about Smith and Vander Esch on that defense with injuries and underperformance, but Dan Quinn wants them in the middle. 

Trevon Diggs had plenty of trouble as a rookie last year, but still managed 21 Total Points. Randy Gregory has had his fair share of issues, to say the least, but could finally be turning the corner and hitting his stride.

Cowboys protection list provide by: Chad Tedder

Denver Broncos

Offense Defense
WR Courtland Sutton (-3) DE Dre’Mont Jones (18)
WR Jerry Jeudy (6) LB Bradley Chubb (24)
TE Noah Fant (20) LB Von Miller (N/A)
OL Garett Bolles (35) LB Alexander Johnson (38)
OL Dalton Risner (24) CB Kyle Fuller (54)
OL Graham Glasgow (21) S Justin Simmons (31)

In the midst of a quarterback battle, the Broncos choose not to protect either one of Drew Lock or Teddy Bridewater, opting to take the stance of “if one is selected, it helps make our decision.” Melvin Gordon III is on the block, but 2nd-round pick Javonte Williams eases that blow if selected. 

On defense, Shelby Harris and Josey Jewell go unprotected, as well as rising young pass rusher Malik Reed. This protection list allows for most of the front seven to stay strong while plenty of youth and depth in the secondary could handle the blow if the expansion team looks in that direction.

Detroit Lions

Offense Defense
QB Jared Goff (51) DE Michael Brockers (20)
RB D’Andre Swift (5) LB Romeo Okwara (31)
TE T.J. Hockenson (13) LB Trey Flowers (11)
OL Taylor Decker (34) CB Jeff Okudah (10)
OL Jonah Jackson (24) CB Amani Oruwariye (24)
OL Frank Ragnow (30) S Tracy Walker (15)

With as bad as the roster is in Detroit, there aren’t many other options on the offensive side of the ball. Vaitai is a possibility, but he underperformed in 2020 with an injury. Plus, the large contract from a previous regime likely steer the Lions away. 

The defensive side features talented young starters in John Penisini and Will Harris with a rookie Pro Bowl punter in Jack Fox, but the last spot goes to Oruwariye with his size, length, and potential at the cornerback position.

Green Bay Packers

Offense Defense
QB Aaron Rodgers (155) DT Kenny Clark (13)
RB Aaron Jones (31) LB Za’Darius Smith (29)
WR Davante Adams (37) LB Krys Barnes (8)
WR Allen Lazard (12) CB Jaire Alexander (63)
OL David Bakhtiari (30) S Adrian Amos (41)
OL Elgton Jenkins (30) S Darnell Savage (32)

If the Packers protect Rodgers in our hypothetical scenario, that exposes their 1st-round pick from a year ago. If they protect Love, they undoubtedly lose Rodgers for nothing in the Expansion Draft. They opt to protect Rodgers so they can ensure a return if they do trade him after 2021. The organization keeps all the main pieces together with this list, though recently acquired Randall Cobb is unprotected. 

On defense, De’Vondre Campbell would be tough to lose, but his 12.6% Broken/Missed Tackle Rate and the play of rookie Krys Barnes in 2020 makes Green Bay feel better about it.

Houston Texans

Offense Defense
QB Deshaun Watson (173) DE Shaq Lawson (26)
RB David Johnson (6) DE Charles Omenihu (11)
WR Brandin Cooks (26) DE Whitney Mercilus (3)
OL Laremy Tunsil (26) DT Ross Blacklock (0)
OL Max Scharping (13) LB Zach Cunningham (26)
OL Tytus Howard (25) S Justin Reid (20)

Even if the team decides to trade Deshaun Watson, it guarantees it can get a return by protecting him. A possible suspension is a concern but in our scenario, the Texans keep him. They did trade for Marcus Cannon during the offseason, but opt to protect their younger line talent and Cannon’s returning after opting out last season is a concern. 

There are a few different ways the team can go on defense. Christian Kirksey is a reliable linebacker, Vernon Hargreaves III leads a depleted corner group, and Eric Murray is a young safety with a high cap hit. Hargreaves and his 1.4 Yards Allowed Per Cover Snap (11th worst) make the team feel easier about the decision. Bradley Roby’s cap hit is put up for the expansion team to take it off the books.

Indianapolis Colts

Offense Defense
QB Carson Wentz (-20) DT DeForest Buckner (35)
RB Jonathan Taylor (37) DT Grover Stewart (20)
WR Michael Pittman Jr. (11) LB Darius Leonard (30)
OL Quinton Nelson (33) CB Kenny Moore II (49)
OL Ryan Kelly (28) S Julian Blackmon (9)
OL Braden Smith (32) S Khari Willis (31)

The Colts have a strong, young nucleus on both sides of the ball. T.Y. Hilton has been a mainstay in Indianapolis, but protecting him at 32 years old with only one year left on his deal at nearly $9 million means missing out on a valued key piece to the offense. 

Darius Leonard is the headliner, but the other five form a strong interior DL tandem and a promising secondary. Xavier Rhodes is another big name not protected, but similar to Hilton, he’s 31 and is on just a 1-year deal.

Colts protection list provided by: Jeremy Percy

Jacksonville Jaguars

Offense Defense
WR DJ Chark Jr. (15) DE Josh Allen (4)
WR Marvin Jones Jr. (18) DE K’Lavon Chaisson (7)
WR Laviska Shenault Jr. (12) LB Myles Jack (44)
OL Andrew Norwell (24) LB Joe Schobert (29)
OL A.J. Cann (28) CB CJ Henderson (14)
OL Jawaan Taylor (13) CB Shaquill Griffin (38)

With the drafting of Trevor Lawrence, that means international superstar Gardner Minshew II goes unprotected. Breakout rookie RB James Robinson also misses the cut with Travis Etienne coming in. Cam Robinson is a big omission by notoriety, but has consistently been one of the worst OL in the league in terms of blown blocks. 

With a bunch of turnover on the roster, the organization protects their big pieces, including offseason signing Shaquill Griffin. He was targeted 12th most in 2020 and gave up six touchdowns, but the Jags are betting on his career-high three interceptions.

Kansas City Chiefs

Offense Defense
QB Patrick Mahomes (171) DT Chris Jones (27)
RB C. Edwards-Helaire (13) DT Jarran Reed (17)
WR Tyreek Hill (35) LB Anthony Hitchens (19)
TE Travis Kelce (57) CB L’Jarius Sneed (16)
OL Orlando Brown (43) S Tyrann Mathieu (44)
OL Joe Thuney (39) S Juan Thornhill (15)

It’s obvious the Chiefs have a great offense, with the downfall being they can only protect six of them. Young speedster Mecole Hardman is an odd man out as is Laurent Duvernay-Tardif on the line. The young depth along the line could make the team feel better if someone gets swiped by the expansion team. On defense, Frank Clark is the big name not protected. His recent off-field trouble and $25+ million cap hit make him a tough sell to make the list.

Las Vegas Raiders

Offense Defense
QB Derek Carr (101) DE Maxx Crosby (23)
RB Josh Jacobs (2) DE Yannick Ngakoue (28)
WR Henry Ruggs III (-3) LB Cory Littleton (10)
WR Hunter Renfrow (15) CB Trayvon Mullen (34)
TE Darren Waller (31) CB Damon Arnette (-1)
OL Kolton Miller (27) S Johnathan Abram (23)

One of the big debates here is between Renfrow and fellow receivers Bryan Edwards and John Brown. Derek Carr is comfortable with Renfrow out of the slot and likes knowing he’s there as a security blanket. Edwards had a down year as a rookie and Brown is a 31-year old veteran in on a 1-year deal. It’s clear Clelin Ferrell hasn’t taken the next steps in his progression that a former Top-5 pick should after two seasons. Maxx Crosby has clearly outplayed him and that’s the route the organization goes when selecting its list.

Los Angeles Chargers

Offense Defense
QB Justin Herbert (116) DE Joey Bosa (34)
RB Austin Ekeler (24) DT Jerry Tillery (10)
WR Keenan Allen (33) LB Kenneth Murray Jr. (9)
WR Mike Williams (13) CB Chris Harris Jr. (17)
OL Corey Linsley (21) S Derwin James Jr. (N/A)
OL Bryan Bulaga (11) S Nasir Adderley (13)

There’s not much to dispute here. The Chargers are able to protect their main six players on the offensive side of the ball with 1st-round pick Rashawn Slater stepping in on the offensive line as well. The defense has playmakers, but just needs to stay healthy. 

The team decides to give Derwin James one more chance to stay healthy and bring the production he did in 2018. Linval Joseph is a consistent, reliable force inside, but is on the last year of his deal as a 33-year old and didn’t record a sack for the first time in his career in 2020.

Los Angeles Rams

Offense Defense
QB Matthew Stafford (88) DT Aaron Donald (50)
RB Darrell Henderson Jr. (9) LB Leonard Floyd (35)
WR Robert Woods (14) LB Troy Reeder (26)
WR Cooper Kupp (33) CB Jalen Ramsey (54)
TE Tyler Higbee (15) CB Darious Williams (51)
OL Rob Havenstein (46) S Jordan Fuller (25)

With Cam Akers going down with injury, the team is able to protect Darrell Henderson to ensure it has a starting-caliber RB in 2021. DeSean Jackson is a popular name available to the expansion team as is starting LT Andrew Whitworth, but both are nearing the end of their careers. Van Jefferson was expected to be the No. 3 receiver, but couldn’t win the job in 2020. The defense has talent, so the organization is forced to leave players like A’Shawn Robinson, Kenny Young, and Taylor Rapp unprotected. Darious Williams had a breakout year in 2020 allowing the 3rd-lowest Passer Rating Against (39.7) and 4th-lowest Completion% (45.2).

Miami Dolphins

Offense Defense
QB Tua Tagovailoa (25) DE Emmanuel Ogbah (40)
WR DeVante Parker (12) DT Christian Wilkins (26)
TE Mike Gesicki (18) DT Raekwon Davis (9)
OL Austin Jackson (16) LB Andrew Van Ginkel (27)
OL Solomon Kindley (19) LB Jerome Baker (20)
OL Robert Hunt (21) CB Xavien Howard (67)

What a draft Miami had in 2020 on the offensive line. Jackson, Kindley, and Hunt all proved to be reliable starters moving forward. Myles Gaskin was productive last season, but not enough for the team to tab him as being protected. DeVante Parker and Will Fuller is an interesting debate, and while Parker has a high cap, he’s put up numbers the last two seasons and is under control until 2024. 

Xavien Howard wants out and he made that publicly clear. He’s likely to bring a good return in a trade and if unprotected, he’s almost a guarantee to be selected and lost for nothing. Byron Jones is a household name, but the team has the depth at corner and it would be fine with unloading that contract.

Minnesota Vikings

Offense Defense
QB Kirk Cousins (88) DE Danielle Hunter (N/A)
RB Dalvin Cook (34) DE D.J. Wonnum (11)
WR Justin Jefferson (45) LB Anthony Barr (2)
TE Irv Smith Jr. (10) LB Eric Kendricks (53)
OL Ezra Cleveland (15) CB Cam Dantzler (43)
OL Brian O’Neill (34) S Harrison Smith (35)

The big name omitted from this list is Adam Thielen. While it’d be a big blow to lose him, he’s on the wrong side of 30 with an expensive contract and has been subpar as a whole for the last couple of years. With no more Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith looks to have an expanded role where he has just been scratching the surface of his potential. 

Outside of the easy Top-4 selections on defense, the Vikings choose to keep Wonnum and Dantzler. Both provided promising rookie seasons in 2020 and look to be part of the future in Minnesota. That means 2021 1st-rounder Jeff Gladney and two impactful interior linemen in Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson go unprotected.

Vikings protection list provided by: Jeff Dean

New England Patriots

Offense Defense
RB Damien Harris (8) DE Lawrence Guy (15)
WR Jakobi Meyers (21) LB Dont’a Hightower (N/A)
TE Hunter Henry (18) LB Matt Judon (25)
OL Mike Onwenu (29) CB J.C. Jackson (55)
OL Shaq Mason (29) S Devin McCourty (13)
OL David Andrews (22) S Kyle Dugger (14)

Jakobi Meyers just keeps getting better every year. He’s gone from late-round draft pick to the potential go-to receiver in New England. Even with Mac Jones automatically protected, the Patriots opt to not protect Cam Newton as well. He’s begun to regress and it’s obvious there are concerns about his health. Jonnu Smith was a huge offseason get, but Hunter Henry being protected leaves him as the odd man out. 

The big name not on the list for the defense is Stephon Gilmore. Though a former DPOY, Gilmore has a huge cap hit with one season left on his contract paired with enough other young stars in the secondary for New England to feel okay with leaving him unprotected.

Patriots protection list provided by: Stephen Marciello

New Orleans Saints

Offense Defense
QB Taysom Hill (21) DE Cameron Jordan (34)
RB Alvin Kamara (25) DE Marcus Davenport (18)
WR Michael Thomas (13) LB Demario Davis (46)
OL Terron Armstead (32) CB Marshon Lattimore (29)
OL Erik McCoy (32) CB C. Gardner-Johnson (34)
OL Ryan Ramczyk (40) S Malcolm Jenkins (58)

With Drew Brees retiring, the Saints felt good enough about Jameis Winston being their starter they kept him in New Orleans on a 1-year deal. However, they gave swiss army knife Taysom Hill a huge contract and feel he’s too valuable to leave exposed. Hill, Kamara, and Thomas are all must keeps, but that exposes a very good offensive line. Andrus Peat and Cesar Ruiz draw the short end of the stick. 

On defense, Marcus Williams is a candidate for protection, but ultimately the high cap hit and him being on the last year of his deal factor in. His 3rd-lowest Broken/Missed Tackle Rate among safeties will be a big draw for the expansion team.

New York Giants

Offense Defense
QB Daniel Jones (36) DE Dexter Lawrence (14)
RB Saquon Barkley (-3) DE Leonard Williams (39)
WR Kenny Golladay (6) LB Blake Martinez (32)
WR Darius Slayton (15) CB James Bradberry (48)
OL Andrew Thomas (17) CB Logan Ryan (28)
OL Nick Gates (28) S Jabrill Peppers (19)

Evan Engram has had his troubles catching the ball, and while he finally played a full season in 2020, he had the worst drop rate in his career at 10.6%. It’s clear the organization is ready to move on. Nate Solder is another big name left unprotected on offense, but his regression since coming to New York and him opting out in 2020 help the Giants decision. 

Offseason pickup Adoree’ Jackson is the odd man out in the secondary, but didn’t prove much in Tennessee to warrant him making the list.

New York Jets

Offense Defense
WR Corey Davis (25) DE Carl Lawson (30)
WR Denzel Mims (9) DE John Franklin-Myers (18)
TE Chris Herndon (1) DT Quinnen Williams (33)
OL Mekhi Becton (21) LB C.J. Mosley (N/A)
OL Morgan Moses (25) CB Bryce Hall (18)
OL Connor McGovern (28) S Ashtyn Davis (6)

The six players on the offensive side of the ball put rookie Quarterback Zach Wilson in the best position to succeed. Additionally, with Alijah Vera-Tucker and Elijah Moore automatically protected as early 2021 draft picks, the offense could see drastic steps forward with this core. Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole are solid veterans, but are on the outside looking in due to the young playmakers the team must protect. 

Marcus Maye is the biggest name left off the defensive list, mainly due to a huge cap hit and him likely not being around after 2021 anyway. Franklin-Myers was the selection over Sheldon Rankins and Foley Fatukasi because of his pass-rush versatility.

Jets protection list provided by: Alec Mallon

Philadelphia Eagles

Offense Defense
QB Jalen Hurts (2) DE Derek Barnett (26)
RB Miles Sanders (13) DE Brandon Graham (35)
WR Jalen Reagor (8) DE Josh Sweat (22)
TE Dallas Goedert (10) DT Fletcher Cox (26)
OL Andre Dillard (N/A) CB Darius Slay (28)
K Jake Elliott (5) S Anthony Harris (22)

The third and final kicker on the protected lists, Jake Elliott has been one of the most consistent pieces for the Eagles offense over the last couple years. In regards to 2020 1st-Round pick Jalen Reagor, the organization feels it can’t abandon him after one season. Andre Dillard’s bicep rehab may have been a blessing in disguise to give him the added strength he’s needed since coming into the league. 

On defense, the core stays intact with Cox, Graham, Barnett, and Slay. Sweat is due for a breakout season and Harris gives the safety position stability coming off a 2020 campaign where he played every defensive snap in Minnesota.

Eagles protection list provided by: Ben Hrkach

Pittsburgh Steelers

Offense Defense
QB Ben Roethlisberger (51) DE Cameron Heyward (50)
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (8) DT Stephon Tuitt (31)
WR Chase Claypool (21) LB T.J. Watt (62)
TE Eric Ebron (12) LB Devin Bush (9)
OL Kevin Dotson (10) LB Alex Highsmith (23)
OL Trai Turner (14) S Minkah Fitzpatrick (35)

This is likely Big Ben’s last year, so the team will protect him to give the team one last shot with him. JuJu and Claypool are the weapons on the offense. Najee Harris was automatically protected and will man the RB position. The offensive line had some turnover during the offseason and Kevin Dotson was a huge get in the draft in 2020. 

The defense has a lot of pieces, but it’s a mix between aging veterans and young stars. So, the team needed to keep most of their young stars plus Heyward. The team is fine with aging vets Tyson Alualu and Joe Haden being left unprotected, though Haden’s Deserved Catch Rate was Top 20 last season.

San Francisco 49ers

Offense Defense
WR Deebo Samuel (12) DE Nick Bosa (4)
WR Brandon Aiyuk (23) DE Arik Armstead (19)
TE George Kittle (18) DT Javon Kinlaw (16)
OL Trent Williams (29) LB Fred Warner (55)
OL Mike McGlinchey (27) LB Dre Greenlaw (27)
OL Alex Mack (19) S Jimmie Ward (38)

With Trey Lance coming in, Jimmy Garoppolo’s time could be done in San Francisco if he were to be selected. Raheem Mostert is coming off an injury-riddled season, but if he reverts to 2019 form, he could be an intriguing name left unprotected. The do-it-all FB Kyle Juszczyk is left off the list as well, but it’s hard to find a spot for him. 

Dre Greenlaw up against Dee Ford or Jason Verrett is a tough decision. However, both are 30, Ford is coming off a back injury that cost him most of 2020, and Verrett was middle of the pack in most coverage stats. Plus, Greenlaw is a young, productive linebacker who averaged 6.3 Tackles Per Game last year and only allowed 0.4 Yards Per Coverage Snap.

Seattle Seahawks

Offense Defense
QB Russell Wilson (124) DE Carlos Dunlap II (22)
RB Chris Carson (18) DE Kerry Hyder Jr. (30)
WR DK Metcalf (28) LB Bobby Wagner (30)
WR Tyler Lockett (21) LB Jordyn Brooks (27)
OL Damien Lewis (16) S Jamal Adams (34)
OL Gabe Jackson (30) S Quandre Diggs (40)

The core of the offense is protected with this group. Tackles Duane Brown and Brandon Shell go unprotected, but Brown has a massive cap hit for a mediocre, aging veteran and Shell hasn’t been totally reliable and has battled injuries. 

Kerry Hyder Jr. is an interesting name that made the list. After a breakout in 2016, Hyder struggled until his career-best season in 2020 in which he amassed 8.5 sacks and a 14% Pressure Rate in San Francisco. Poona Ford gets omitted despite a 1.6 Average Tackle Depth in 2020 which ranked him tied for 11th among DTs with at least 10 tackles.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Offense Defense
QB Tom Brady (158) DE Ndamukong Suh (32)
WR Mike Evans (23) LB Jason Pierre-Paul (52)
WR Chris Godwin (13) LB Devin White (39)
TE Rob Gronkowski (23) LB Shaquil Barrett (46)
OL Tristan Wirfs (36) LB Lavonte David (56)
OL Ali Marpet (30) S Antoine Winfield Jr. (29)

The offensive line in Tampa is good, but there are other pieces that need protection. That leaves guys like Ryan Jensen and Alex Cappa as odd men out. Donovan Smith has improved, but has been too inconsistent for the organization to turn a blind eye to his overall body of work. Another big name is O.J. Howard. Howard is an intriguing, young tight end who just still hasn’t put it all together, and the team feels one more go with Tom and Gronk is the right move. 

The defense is all about the linebackers. None of Vita Vea, Jordan Whitehead, Carlton Davis, or Sean Murphy-Bunting make the cut. Murphy-Bunting had a poor 97.9% Deserved Catch Rate in 2020 which was worst among all corners. Unfortunately with Vea, the team chooses production in Suh and JPP.

Tennessee Titans

Offense Defense
QB Ryan Tannehill (107) DE Jeffery Simmons (25)
RB Derrick Henry (56) LB Bud Dupree (26)
WR A.J. Brown (28) LB Harold Landry III (22)
WR Julio Jones (21) CB Kristian Fulton (7)
OL Taylor Lewan (5) S Kevin Byard (18)
OL Nate Davis (28) S Amani Hooker (10)

With these six selections on the offensive side of the ball, the core pieces stay intact. Though he’s been extremely durable over the last handful of seasons, Rodger Saffold has a hefty cap number and is 33. Nate Davis really took a significant step in his progression in his second NFL season in 2020 and looks to be a star in the making. On defense, Rashaan Evans has been consistent, but is in the last year of his deal. While productive, Jayon Brown is also on the last year of his deal and has missed games recently. The Titans are buying into Kristian Fulton being a strong piece at corner.

Titans protection list provided by: Dan Foehrenbach

Washington Football Team

Offense Defense
RB Antonio Gibson (11) DE Chase Young (38)
WR Terry McLaurin (20) DE Montez Sweat (46)
WR Curtis Samuel (16) DT Jonathan Allen (27)
TE Logan Thomas (15) DT Daron Payne (38)
OL Brandon Scherff (26) CB Kendall Fuller (54)
OL Chase Roullier (32) S Kamren Curl (36)

Brandon Scherff may not be around after 2021, but the organization franchised him for a reason. Whether he leaves for nothing after this season, Washington delays the inevitable and keeps him around for one more season. Logan Thomas broke out in 2020 leading to a contract extension in recent days, ensuring he’s the likely face of the TE room. 

The front four is this team’s strength, so they were an easy selection. Kamren Curl was a late-round gem in 2020 who’s a versatile defender that can play as a big nickel, in the box, or as a true safety. Matt Ioannidis is a tough call leaving unprotected, but coming off an injury in 2020 is a factor. Landon Collins is the biggest name omitted, but is on a bad contract and is coming off an Achilles tear.

Washington protection list provided by: John Todd

What’s Next?

Now that the protection lists for each team have been determined, the next step is actually selecting the inaugural roster for the new franchise. 

The link to do so is at the top of the article as well as here

Roster Submission Form

With available stars such as Cam Newton, Odell Beckham Jr., Adam Thielen, Dante Fowler Jr., Jadeveon Clowney, Stephon Gilmore, and Patrick Peterson, just to name a few, who are you going to choose? 

Our next article will feature our selections and your selections. Please get them in by Sunday, August 8.

If you love fantasy football, roster building, drafts, or are just a fan of football, this is your chance to put your General Manager hat on and show us if you have what it takes. Good luck!

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