With the initial free-agency rush now concluded, this is the perfect time to revisit our NFL Power Rankings for the 2021 season. It’s been a unique offseason to say the least, as a reduced salary cap has altered business for both players and front-office personnel.
So as we ranked the teams, we decided that looking at free agency alone wasn’t enough to determine how the 2021 offseason has gone. While there have been key pickups of players from other teams (we see you, Giants) and re-signings of players (49ers, Broncos, etc.), we’d be remiss to neglect talking about trades (especially for quarterbacks that were picked high in the 2016 draft) and the hiring of head coaches and front-office management. It’s all a factor and all included.
So here’s how we see next season now — from 1 to 32 — with our NFL Nation writers identifying the best offseason moves the teams they cover have made thus far, from trades to hirings to yes, free-agent signings.
How we rank: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluated how teams stack up throughout the season.
Way-too-early ranking: 1
The Chiefs’ long-time starting offensive tackles were good players but with both coming off surgeries, there were too many unknowns for the team to count on them in 2021 or beyond. The Chiefs cleared $18 million of cap space in moving on, giving them some help in acquiring the resources (such as Joe Thuney) to fix their crumbling offensive line. These moves would have looked even better had the Chiefs landed a left tackle like Trent Williams in free agency. — Adam Teicher
Marcus Spears isn’t sold on the Buccaneers winning back-to-back Super Bowls despite them bringing back Ndamukong Suh.
Way-too-early ranking: 4
Best offseason move: Extending Tom Brady
The Bucs get Brady for an extra year, through the 2022 season, and by structuring the deal with three voidable years, they were able to clear up a whopping $19 million in salary cap space for 2021. That enabled them to re-sign star pass-rusher Shaquil Barrett, future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski and kicker Ryan Succop — all core pieces they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford after franchise-tagging Chris Godwin. Inside linebacker Lavonte David also took a deal with voidable years, so despite earning an average of $12.5 million per season on his new deal, he’s only counting $3.36 million against the 2021 cap. — Jenna Laine
Way-too-early ranking: 3
Best offseason move: Changing defensive coordinators
Whether he hired the right guy (Joe Barry) is to be seen but after what happened in the NFC Championship Game, coach Matt LaFleur had no choice but to move on from Mike Pettine. It made it a cleaner break that Pettine decided to let his contract expire rather than sign an extension before last season. A defense can’t give up a last-second, deep-ball touchdown to end the first half of a game with a Super Bowl berth on the line — and then have questions over whether the playcall was misunderstood — and not make a change. This had to be done, and LaFleur did it. — Rob Demovsky
Way-too-early ranking: 2
Best offseason move: Re-signing LB Matt Milano
Buffalo’s defense simply didn’t have a replacement if Milano were to leave in free agency. As one of the first draft picks under Sean McDermott, the converted safety is a foundational piece of the Bills’ roster and is their best cover linebacker. He and middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds play well off one another and for GM Brandon Beane to move the proper money around to sign not only Milano, but also Jon Feliciano and Daryl Williams, is a form of gymnastics reserved for the Olympics. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Jamison Hensley breaks down the signing of offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler for the Ravens.
Way-too-early ranking: 6
Best offseason move: Signing guard Kevin Zeitler
The Ravens jumped to make Zeitler their first free-agent signing because they never really replaced perennial Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, who retired last offseason. Zeitler is a strong, durable presence on the interior of the offensive line, where Baltimore used four players for 200-plus snaps at guard (tied for the most in the NFL). There were too many times when Lamar Jackson couldn’t step up in the pocket because of pressure up the middle. Zeitler is a perfect fit for Baltimore’s powerful offensive line and comes at a bargain price (three years, $22.5 million) when compared to fellow free-agent guard Joe Thuney (five years, $80 million). — Jamison Hensley
Way-too-early ranking: 5
Best offseason move: Trading for QB Matthew Stafford
Acquired in a trade that sent quarterback Jared Goff, a 2021 third-round pick and 2022 and 2023 first-round selections to the Lions, Stafford is expected to reinvigorate coach Sean McVay as a playcaller, ignite an offense that slowed the past two seasons and help return the Rams to the Super Bowl. “He’s got great wide-field vision, sees the field,” McVay said. “He’s able to speed it up if he has issues. You’re watching a guy that if you watch the film, the game makes sense to him and I really respect the lens that he sees it through.” — Lindsey Thiry
Way-too-early ranking: 7
Best offseason move: Filling the hole at safety
Safety was a problem spot for the Browns last season. They addressed that by snagging arguably the top safety in this free-agent market, signing John Johnson III to a three-year deal worth $33.75 million, including $24 million guaranteed. The former Rams standout brings the versatility and instincts paramount in defensive coordinator Joe Woods’ scheme. Johnson is also the type of leader who figures to stabilize the secondary, which now could be on the way to becoming a strength for Cleveland. — Jake Trotter
Way-too-early ranking: 10
The Titans needed to add a jolt to their pass rush, which is exactly what they did when they added Autry and Dupree. The two players had 15.5 sacks between them in 2020. Both players excelled with their previous teams in an abundance of ways, including executing stunts along the defensive front. Autry and Dupree should be able to find a high degree of success on twists and games upfront. Both players are also hard-nosed, physically tough football players that will set the tone from the start in Tennessee. — Turron Davenport
Way-too-early ranking: 8
Best offseason move: Managing their pass rush
It’s actually a series of related moves, starting with the release of Carlos Dunlap. Some observers thought that would be unwise given the impact Dunlap had on Seattle’s pass-rush last season. But the Seahawks correctly predicted that he wouldn’t command the $14.1 million he was set to make on the final year of his contract. After waiting out the pass-rusher market, general manager John Schneider got Dunlap ($8.5 million guaranteed) and Benson Mayowa ($4.1 million guaranteed) back and added Kerry Hyder Jr. ($3.65 million guaranteed) all at team-friendly prices. The combined guaranteed money in their two-year deals is only $2.15 million more than what Seattle would have owed Dunlap in 2021 by keeping him on his last deal. — Brady Henderson
Way-too-early ranking: 15
Best offseason move: Trading for quarterback Carson Wentz
This could be a risk by the Colts since Wentz is coming off a 2020 season where was sacked 50 times, threw 15 interceptions and was benched after 12 games. But the Colts look at the move as a risk worth taking because Wentz had his best season — 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2017 with the Eagles — when Colts coach Frank Reich was his offensive coordinator. If the trade works out, the Colts will have their franchise quarterback for years to come because Wentz is only 28 years old. — Mike Wells
Way-too-early ranking: 11
Best offseason move: Moving on from Randy Fichtner
Nothing about the offense was working down the stretch — the Steelers finished last in rushing yards and in the bottom half of the league in passing yards — and Fichtner often lacked the creativity necessary to jumpstart things. It’s clear the Steelers need a different voice calling the plays, but it remains to be seen if Matt Canada will be the right one to lead the offensive turnaround. Even so, the Steelers needed to make a dramatic change offensively. Even though they’re keeping the same quarterback and receiving weapons, tweaking the scheme and bringing in new ideas are moves in the right direction. — Brooke Pryor
Way-too-early ranking: 14
Best offseason move: Signing K Matt Prater
The Cardinals were a game away from making the playoffs last season and happened to lose two during the season because of missed field goals. Just one of those would’ve put Arizona in the postseason. The Cardinals didn’t re-sign Zane Gonzalez, instead opting for the 36-year-old Prater, who’s one of the best kickers in NFL history. Giving themselves that kind of talent at kicker could end up being the difference between going to the playoffs or missing them for the sixth-straight season. — Josh Weinfuss
Way-too-early ranking: 9
Best offseason move: Re-signing LT Trent Williams
The 49ers accomplished most of what they set out to in free agency, but keeping Williams was the one thing they absolutely had to do and they were able to pull it off. In keeping Williams, not only do the Niners retain one of the game’s best tackles but they maintain flexibility in the draft, which likely wouldn’t have been the case had left tackle suddenly become a pressing need. — Nick Wagoner
Way-too-early ranking: 12
Best offseason move: Signing WR Will Fuller
Miami desperately needed to get Tua Tagovailoa more weapons with speed and playmaking ability. Fuller adds both. The Dolphins’ top three receivers (DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki, Preston Williams) all finished in the bottom 10 in separation yards per route last season. Fuller averaged 5.9 yards after catch and three yards of separation in 2020, which would have ranked first and second, respectively, for Miami. Getting Fuller on a one-year, $10.625 million deal is good value and protects the team from his injury concerns. — Cameron Wolfe
Way-too-early ranking: 16
Best offseason move: Starting with defense in free agency
The key for a bounce back rests with the Vikings defense. Mike Zimmer was adamant that LB Anthony Barr stick around, so the team found a way to restructure his contract. Minnesota created the salary cap space needed to go after free agents like Dalvin Tomlinson and Patrick Peterson. These moves don’t answer every question about the defense (can Danielle Hunter bounce back, can Tomlinson improve the pass rush and can Peterson still be a shutdown corner) but the Vikings faced their biggest problem head on by finding plug-and-play pieces instead of betting on rookies to be drafted in April. — Courtney Cronin
Way-too-early ranking: 13
Best offseason move: Minimizing losses
Let’s face it, the Saints did a lot more subtracting than adding — losing Drew Brees to retirement and a handful of other starters because they were about $100 million over the salary cap. But they made it a priority to keep as much elite talent as possible, including pending 2022 free agents Ryan Ramczyk and Marshon Lattimore. And they kept critical 2021 free agents Jameis Winston and Marcus Williams. QB is obviously the biggest wild card, but this roster is still loaded enough to compete for a fifth-straight NFC South title. — Mike Triplett
Way-too-early ranking: 18
Best offseason move: Hiring Brandon Staley away from the Rams
Staley provides a much-needed shot of enthusiasm and after coordinating the league’s No. 1 defense last year with the Rams, he brings with him coordinators who will do the same. He has already invested in offensive linemen such as All-Pro center Corey Linsley to protect franchise quarterback Justin Herbert, who should be even better after throwing an NFL rookie record 31 touchdown passes last season. — Shelley Smith
Mike Tannenbaum and Dan Graziano discuss Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy and his job security.
Way-too-early ranking: 19
Best offseason move: Adding Dan Quinn
Really, it’s Dak Prescott signing a four-year, $160 million deal, but we knew Prescott would be back in some form in 2021. Given how the Cowboys have operated in free agency so far, especially on defense, it is clear they are putting their biggest reason for improvement on Quinn. He will be installing a defense similar to what the Cowboys ran from 2014-19 with the hopes that it allows key players such as DeMarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch to bounce back and the newcomers in free agency (Keanu Neal, Brent Urban, Damontae Kazee) and the draft to play fast without overthinking. — Todd Archer
Way-too-early ranking: 20
The Patriots had the lowest percentage of snaps in the NFL with two TEs on the field at the same time (just 3%). Playing with two or more TEs has long been a staple of Bill Belichick’s Patriots, as they have scored 271 touchdowns with two tight ends on the field since 2010, by far the most in the NFL (Vikings are next at 217). Smith and Henry now bring that back — in a potentially big way. — Mike Reiss
Way-too-early ranking: 17
Best offseason move: Signing Yannick Ngakoue to a relatively friendly contract
The Raiders, who were 29th in the NFL with 21 sacks last season, not only addressed a specific need by adding an established edge rusher in Ngakoue, who has 45 sacks in five seasons, but got him for a decent bargain at $26 million for two years. Which could mean Ngakoue is not only motivated by a change of scenery — Las Vegas is his fourth team since last August — but the potential for a blockbuster new contract extension in the near future. It could be a win-win in a town known for making gamblers go bust. — Paul Gutierrez
Jeremy Fowler breaks down Kenny Golladay’s deal with the Giants and what the reaction has been around the NFL.
Way-too-early ranking: 25
Best offseason move: Paying up for WR Kenny Golladay
This was a move the Giants needed to make. They have a young quarterback that needed a No. 1 receiver, and Golladay was the only real option on the market. So while the Giants might have overpaid giving Golladay (a player that comes with questions) a strong deal that pays him $18 million per season, this is about making sure they give Daniel Jones a legitimate chance to succeed. That might not have been possible without landing the former Lions receiver, who has a knack for making contested catches. — Jordan Raanan
Way-too-early ranking: 21
Best offseason move: Hiring GM Martin Mayhew/VP of Personnel Marty Hurney
Washington let talented young executive Kyle Smith leave this offseason — he worked well with Ron Rivera — but added two experienced front-office men, plus a third in former GM Chris Polian, to help Rivera. The short-term gains by new signings, such as WR Curtis Samuel, will provide a big boost. But for this team to build a sustainable winning situation it needed more front-office help. Mayhew is adept at dealing with agents and Hurney knows Rivera well. For many years, Washington’s front office and coaching staff weren’t on the same page. If this group meshes well over the long haul, Washington has a shot. — John Keim
Way-too-early ranking: 23
Best offseason move: Signing DE/OLB Haason Reddick
Pressuring the quarterback was an issue for the Panthers last season and adding a player who can play in multiple formations as an edge rusher such as Reddick (12.5 sacks 2020) opens up all kinds of possibilities for DC Phil Snow. That Snow coached Reddick at Temple and developed him into a first-round pick makes this move even better in terms of understanding his strengths. This, along with other additions, allows 2020 Rookie of the Year candidate Jeremy Chinn to play more safety, with the ability to move up to OLB. That will make it tough for opposing offenses to game plan. — David Newton
Way-too-early ranking: 22
Best offseason move: Hiring Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith
The Falcons haven’t been able to do much in free agency due to salary-cap constraints and they haven’t made any other flashy moves. But they did settle on their new regime, one with a clear plan of offensive attack from Smith and an experienced pro personnel man in Fontenot to run the front office. It was a quiet offseason in Atlanta, but the draft will likely change that. — Michael Rothstein
Way-too-early ranking: 24
Best offseason move: Franchise tagging WR Allen Robinson II
Slim pickings for the Bears. The decision to tag Robinson stands out because it allowed the Bears to keep arguably their best player on offense — at least for one more year. Robinson still wants a long-term deal and this story is far from over, but the Bears could not afford to lose Robinson for nothing in free agency. At 27 years old, Robinson is one of the league’s more reliable receivers and managed to put up impressive numbers over the past three seasons despite the Bears’ struggles on offense. — Jeff Dickerson
Way-too-early ranking: 26
Best offseason move: Signing S Anthony Harris
The Eagles needed to bolster their secondary — especially with Jalen Mills leaving for the Patriots — and accomplished that with the signing of Harris. The Eagles get a proven playmaker at a reasonable rate (one year, $5 million) and Harris gets a chance to re-establish himself as one of the top safeties in the game after a down season. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon coached Harris when he was assistant defensive backs coach of the Vikings. That familiarity should make for a smooth transition into Philly’s defense. — Tim McManus
Way-too-early ranking: 28
Best offseason move: Re-signing S Justin Simmons
The Broncos put together a tidy little defensive run in the first few days of free agency, as they exercised the option in linebacker Von Miller‘s contract, re-signed defensive end Shelby Harris and signed cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller. With the Simmons deal — at just over $15 million per year — it makes him the league’s highest-paid safety. The Broncos retained one of the most important players on defense and in the locker room. But the Broncos also showed their returning players that they’ll reward one of their own for quality play on the field and work in the community. — Jeff Legwold
Way-too-early ranking: 27
Best offseason move: Hiring Frank Pollack
Pollack was re-hired as Cincinnati’s offensive line coach, a position he held in 2018. Pollack could be the spark to fixing an offensive line that ranked 29th in Pass Block Win Rate. Cincinnati added offensive tackle Riley Reiff in free agency to give the Bengals a viable starting tackle combo of Reiff and Jonah Williams. And if Pollack can restore some confidence in players, give the line a more stable rotation with fixed roles and get an upgrade at guard between now and the start of the season, that could be enough to improve quarterback Joe Burrow‘s protection. — Ben Baby
Way-too-early ranking: 29
Best offseason move: Hiring coach Robert Saleh
The Jets have added some nice free agents, but it starts at the top. Saleh has an upbeat personality with natural leadership skills, qualities that will help eradicate the losing culture that has permeated the organization for several years. Some free agents cited Saleh as one of the big reasons why they picked the Jets. Ultimately, Saleh won’t succeed unless he wins games, but he already is helping the Jets get over the Adam Gase hangover. — Rich Cimini
Way-too-early ranking: 31
Best offseason move: Hiring Urban Meyer
Meyer, in addition to being one of the most successful college football coaches in history, was probably the one person whose name could energize the fan base. More importantly, he’s doing a re-evaluation of the franchise. He made one huge mistake — hiring Chris Doyle, who was released from the University of Iowa after multiple players accused him of using racial slurs and bullying and belittling players — but it was fixed a day later when Doyle resigned. Meyer is an excellent evaluator of talent and has done a good job of surrounding himself with experienced NFL assistants as well as others that he’s worked with before and trusts. — Michael DiRocco
Mina Kimes details why Sean McVay and Jared Goff ultimately weren’t able to make it work together with the Rams.
Way-too-early ranking: 30
This was the big move the Lions made in the offseason, picking up two first-round picks (2022, 2023), a third-round pick (2021) and Goff in exchange for Stafford. The picks alone make it a good move for a team reconstructing itself. If Goff ends up being more the player he was in 2017 and 2018 as opposed to the last two years, it’s a massive win for Detroit. It’s just part of a bunch of new faces around the Lions organization. — Michael Rothstein
Way-too-early ranking: 32
Best offseason move: Hiring Nick Caserio
The new Texans general manager inherited a team with a lot of question marks and seemingly not a lot of resources to fix it. Since he was hired in January, Caserio has made more than 30 moves to reshape the team. Of course, time will tell whether Caserio has put together a good roster that will translate into winning (especially not knowing the status of quarterback Deshaun Watson), but so far it appears he has made more level-headed decisions than former general manager Bill O’Brien. — Sarah Barshop
Tom Brady, champion Bucs get glitzy Super Bowl LV rings honoring historic hometown win
TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are sporting brand new Super Bowl LV rings to pay tribute to the NFL’s first league championship won in a team’s own stadium in front of hometown fans.
The rings, unveiled Thursday night in a private ceremony for players, coaches, front office members, team employees and their families, feature a removable top of the ring which allow you to see an entire replica of Raymond James Stadium, with everything from the 50-yard line to seats.
The 319 diamonds, which include 15 karats of white diamonds and 14 karats of yellow diamonds, reflect the 31-9 final score. The twist-off removable top is a first of any Super Bowl ring. On the bottom of the removable top, laser-etched in gold, is the word “HISTORIC,” to commemorate the accomplishment. The top also features two Lombardi trophies as a nod to the Bucs’ 2002 Super Bowl win — the first in franchise history.
Around the top of the stadium on each of the four sides are four game scores from the Bucs’ four postseason wins over the Washington Football Team, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. Inside the band are the words “Trust, Loyalty, Respect,” their team motto.
We’ve got a really big team and they need some really big rings 💍
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) July 23, 2021
“We wanted it to represent the camaraderie and sacrifice that our players and coaches experienced along the way,” co-owner Darcie Glazer-Kassewitz said. “This ring tells the story of that journey, it reflects the heart and soul of a team like none other before it. We know it will be an emotional touchstone for everyone involved for many, many years to come.”
— 7⃣ Leonard Fournette (@_fournette) July 23, 2021
The Bucs’ previous Super Bowl rings were manufactured by Tiffany’s. But most NFL teams have used Jostens, which designed all six of Tom Brady’s Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots and the rings worn by the Kansas City Chiefs after winning Super Bowl LIV following the 2019 season. But the Glazer family, who own the Buccaneers, wanted something different.
“They said, ‘Listen, we are not doing what is expected of us. We are going rogue with you guys. We want to do something different. We don’t want to follow the herd,'” said Jason Arashben, founder of Jason of Beverly Hills, who has produced championship rings for the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors, but had never produced Super Bowl rings.
“This is the most hands-on ownership group we’ve had,” said Arasheben, who has also created custom pieces for celebrities like Drake, Jennifer Lopez, Dwyane Wade, Rihanna and Matthew McConaughey. “They really, really wanted to design a ring that the team and the city would love. They put their blood, sweat and tears – and most importantly, their time into it, to make sure it was exactly the way they envisioned in the end.”
Players like Lavonte David had input in designing it and even got a sneak peek, while coach Bruce Arians, who has won two Super Bowl rings as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers and chose not to see the final design, had just a simple request: “I wanted to be able to wear it,” Arians said.
“We have multiple messages in there. Everything from the final score of the Super Bowl to the fact that it was the first Super Bowl championship in a home stadium, the fact that they had eight consecutive wins leading up to the Super Bowl, the fact that they held their opponent to only 9 points – which is one of the fewest ever,” Arasheben said.
“We paid homage to each individual playoff win, each individual opponent. I think that’s what makes this special,” Arasheben said. “I don’t recall a ring in Super Bowl history that has this many storylines to it. That is why this ring took so long to conceive, because they weren’t happy just making a diamond ring. They wanted a diamond ring that was going to tell a whole story and in multiple ways – to the design to the stone count – they wanted to do a ring that was something special.”
The design alone took 2 ½ months to finalize and included sometimes three phone calls a day with Bucs’ ownership. The rings are yellow and white gold and are made up of over 140 grams of gold and 15 karats of ethically-sourced diamonds, something that was very important to the Glazer family. Each individual ring is comprised of 11 different pieces that needed to be manufactured and then assembled, which took 40-50 hours of labor from seven different specialists. Each ring is personalized with the players’ name, along with their number, set in diamonds.
Was there additional pressure coming up with a design for Brady, knowing he’s already got six other rings? Arasheben said he had a similar experience creating the Lakers’ ring for LeBron James.
“This one, I felt the same pressure, if not more. Tom Brady has six previous Super Bowl rings. I was like, ‘You know what? This one has to supersede the expectations, to exceed every other one he’s had in the past. And I feel more than confident that we succeeded in doing that.”
Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott hopes to rebound with focus on nutrition, quickness
“Just having the year I had last year, you don’t need more motivation than that,” Elliott said after the Cowboys’ first training camp practice. “I just know the type of player I am. I don’t think I showed that last year. I got a lot to prove. I just made sure I didn’t leave any doubt out there that I didn’t do as much as I needed to do.”
In addition to the work in the Cowboys’ offseason program, Elliott trained with a personal running backs coach, Josh Hicks, for the first time in his career. The goal was to improve his short-area quickness that will help him get more than just the two carries of 20 yards or more he had in 2020. He had just two games with more than 100 yards rushing, topping out at 105. He had 26 100-yard games in his first four seasons.
“I think it’s definitely something I needed to work on,” Elliott said. “It’s definitely something I needed to improve, so I went and got in the lab and got better.”
He improved his nutrition with his personal chef that helped get him down to 218 pounds, 10 pounds lighter than he was listed at last year. The last time he was 218 pounds, he was a freshman at Ohio State.
“I’ve heard as you get older in this league you want to start losing weight and nutrition has played a big part of that,” Elliott said. “Shoutout to my chef, Chef Hoppie, for getting me right and getting me lean and ready for the season. I feel good where I am.”
Elliott signed a six-year, $90 million extension in 2019 that guaranteed him $50 million. He is set to make $9.6 million this year and his $12.4 million base salary in 2022 is already fully guaranteed.
His goal is not to prove doubters wrong.
“Prove it to myself. I do it for my teammates. I think the hardest part about last year is you feel like you let your teammates down. That hurts,” said Elliott, who also fumbled six times in 2020. “I want to make sure I put my best step forward and do everything I need to do to help this team win.”
Elliott celebrated his 26th birthday Thursday. Dak Prescott gave him a diamond bracelet as a present. The fans in attendance for practice sang, “Happy Birthday.”
“It goes by fast. You hear it all the time (but) until you get to year six you don’t realize it,” Elliott said. “It goes in a flash of an eye. I have had a great time. Doing it with great people. I look forward to being here a lotta more years.”
‘Fresher’ Ben Roethlisberger says arm feels ‘really good’ at Pittsburgh Steelers’ first day of training camp
PITTSBURGH — Entering his 18th season, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger feels “fresher” than he did this time a year ago. Roethlisberger had a normal offseason for the first time since his season-ending elbow surgery in 2019, and he felt the effects of it Thursday at the Steelers’ first training camp practice.
“This time last year, I had thrown thousands of footballs trying to get ready for this,” Roethlisberger said. “This year, this was the first time I’ve thrown a ball since minicamp, other than throwing to my son in the backyard. It just feels more normal of an offseason, if you will.
“My arm feels really, really good.”
Roethlisberger, 39, admitted during OTAs earlier this offseason that his arm bothered him at times last year. This year, though, he enters training camp another season removed from the surgery having taken fewer reps — something that’s important as the team embarks on a preseason with an additional week of training camp followed by a 17-game regular season.
Roethlisberger, though, is focused on more than just his elbow. He also used the offseason to hone in on his body’s specific needs as an aging quarterback.
“I think as you get older, we all have to find ways to exercise more, eat better, do all the things. I’ve been doing that for a few years now,” he said, also refuting the report that he was on a diet stricter than Tom Brady‘s infamous regimen.
“You work on your diet. You work on your exercise. You work on yourself to get ready to play this game at this age and for this many years. You find ways to do it.”
For Roethlisberger, the offseason training extended beyond the physical components. In the offseason, the Steelers promoted quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to offensive coordinator, and in doing that, ushered in an overhauled offensive scheme filled with misdirection, jet sweeps and new verbiage. To help navigate all the newness, Roethlisberger enlisted the help of his daughter, who made flashcards and quizzed him on Canada’s terms.
“We’ve done that together,” Roethlisberger said. “There have been some quizzes at home. It’s become as much of a mental offseason as it has physical in terms of learning new things. If you talk about the percentage of new, the run game formations, everything, it’s a high percentage of new. It’s a challenge.”
But even if the terms were different, many of the plays still looked the same — including a bubble screen pass to Diontae Johnson that the wide receiver turned into a long touchdown.
“The play looked familiar, but not one thing was called the same,” Roethlisberger said. “The blocking was different. Plays may look the same but they’re going to be called differently. But hopefully, we’ll see those results a lot.”
To execute plays like that in Canada’s scheme, Roethlisberger admitted to referencing the cheat sheet on his arm, a crutch that will likely disappear as he gets more and more comfortable in the offense.
“If you notice, I’m looking at the wristband quite a bit,” Roethlisberger said. “We all are. All of the quarterbacks are trying to look at it and figure it out. “New isn’t always bad, new is new.”
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