The NFL 2021 Free Agency Frenzy: Best Fits, Who's Staying Put, and Top Studs
Since its inception in 1993, free agency has become one of the craziest periods during an NFL offseason. Before then, players could not move on to another team by choice. Players had three options: play for the same team, get traded or retire (this was called the reserve rule). This lasted from 1920 until 1946, until the one-year option rule was put in place. Under this rule, teams had the right to use a one-time reserve clause after the expiration of a player's contract. The option year could not contain the reserve clause, which gave players the ability to negotiate and enter a contract with any team. This allowed players to become free agents and sign with any team with no restrictions. Since then, smaller rules were added and taken away, teams were compensated with draft picks when they lost a free agent to another team, and there may have been one or two lawsuits over the years - but more on that for another day.
In 1993, the NFL moved to four year contracts - with a fifth year option - for new players joining the league. Any veteran with more than five years of experience, and had an expiring contract within the next year, were given the option to pursue free agency. This created one of the craziest offseasons at the time, with almost 100 players given the option to change teams; and most did. Since then, the NFL has followed this plan, as it has allowed the implementation of a steady salary cap, and has prevented teams from keeping loaded rosters. Fast forward to 2021, we're anticipating one of the craziest offseasons in recent memory.
Some free agents are expected to re-sign with their current team, either through a long term deal, or a franchise/transition tag. Some other players may look to move to find a new identity or become a franchise player. Whatever the case may be, there will be a lot of moving pieces this offseason.
Best Fits on the Move
QB: Mitch Trubisky - Pittsburgh Steelers
Hear me out, Mitch Trubisky is a starting QB in the NFL. Don't believe me? Look at the tape and look at his stats. He's a decent QB that is missing talent around him. Besides 2018, his best season so far, his defense has not played up to it's expectations, his offensive line has been riddled with injuries and inconsistency, he's had only one true receiving threat, and a non-existent rushing attack until the second half of 2020. As a starter in 2020, he posted a 6-3 record, and he's 29-21 in his career. If he gets a year to develop and learn under Ben Roethlisberger, he could have a big 2022 season.
HB: Todd Gurley - Miami Dolphins
Todd Gurley had a sneaky good season. The veteran back rushed for 678 yards and 9 TDs, with 0 TDs after Week 9. He had one game over 100 yards and was benched towards the end of the season after posting 4 straight games with less than 3 yards per carry. A lot of that dealt with injuries he faced and poor offensive line play. The Dolphins offensive line isn't much better, but maybe a free agent signing and a draft pick could have a significant impact on that unit, thus giving Gurley a great system to run in.
FB: Kyle Juszczyk - Carolina Panthers
The best fullback in football joins up in Matt Rhule's scheme, creating a great tandem between him and Christian McCaffrey. The 49ers stud has transformed the fullback position and can do anything a coach asks him from any spot on the field. If McCaffrey goes down again in 2021, Juszczyk can be a reliable receiving option, while getting a few carries out of the gun as well.
Photo: Associated Press
WR: Allen Robinson - Baltimore Ravens
I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Allen Robinson, with a competent QB, is a top 3 receiver in the NFL. Per PFF, Robinson saw 61 uncatchable targets!!! If he catches half of those, he leads in almost every receiving category. Pair that with his great size, strength and athleticism, he would make a great fit in the Ravens offense that hasn't had a true #1 receiver since Torrey Smith or Steve Smith. Not only would this greatly help their passing game, but would help open up the run game more as well.
TE: Jonnu Smith - New York Jets
The Jets are a dumpster fire. This team is in rebuild mode and needs to slowly add playmakers for good value. Jonnu Smith is one of those players that they could get at a bargain, and he could make their offense a vertical threat. Pair him with Justin Fields, and Travis Etienne (see my mock draft below if you haven't yet), this offense starts to head in the right direction.
OL: Brandon Scherff - Cincinnati Bengals
Scherff has been one of the best guards in the league since coming into the NFL in 2015. Seeing as the Bengals have had one of the worst offensive lines over the past few seasons, Scherff would be an instant upgrade, and may also help improve the play of the other linemen they already have there.
Photo: Washington Times
IDL: Leonard Williams - Las Vegas Raiders
Williams is about to get paid. After a slow start with the Giants, he turned it up a notch and finished 2020 strong, recording 7.5 sacks over the last 8 games (Aaron Donald put up 4.5 over that same stretch against worse offensive lines). With the Raiders needing interior and pass rush help this offseason, Williams will fit the bill and be a monster for Vegas in 2021.
Edge: Matt Judon - Tennessee Titans
Judon is one of the most versatile edge threats in the league. He has incredible strength and solid speed, but is surprisingly effective in coverage. He dropped back on over 100 snaps and post a 73 coverage grade per PFF, making him one of the most efficient edge rushers in coverage. He generated only 6 sacks and 32 pressures, but played solid in the run game. Any 3-4 team should give Judon a look, and the Titans would be the perfect suitor for him.
LB: Denzel Perryman - Cleveland Browns
After a season of awful linebacker play, the Browns are in need of a serious upgrade. Denzel Perryman, who has battled injuries throughout his career, is a dominant run defender who can also play well against the pass. If not for his injuries, Perryman could be a top 20 linebacker in the league at this point. Seeing he hasn't been on the field much of his career, the Chargers will let him walk and the Browns will pick him up at great value.
CB: Desmond King - San Francisco 49ers
King is an interesting player. In 2017 and 2018, he proved to be one of the best slot corners in the NFL. His run defense has gotten better over the years, but his coverage has seemed to taken a step back. Seeing as the 49ers are most likely losing Richard Sherman and Emmanuel Moseley to free agency, King would be a perfect replacement, assuming the 49ers get Caleb Farley or Patrick Surtain in the draft.
Photo: Tennessee Titans
Safety: Anthony Harris - Washington Football Team
One of the best safeties in football finds himself in free agency. After a down year in 2020 - mostly due to the entire Vikings defense playing bad - the safety will have the option to look elsewhere. With a young and rising defense, the Washington Football team finds a spot for Harris, putting him over the top on running downs, and in the box on passing downs. The trio of Harris, Landon Collins, and Kamren Curl could be a scary sight to see in 2021.
K: Daniel Carlson - Arizona Cardinals
Please, for the sake of my sanity, go after this kicker Arizona. Arizona one of the worst kicking performances all year long and could use a consistent kicker. Carlson would be pricey, but it'd be worth it in order to help them win games. Don't mess this up AZ.
P: Jack Fox - Jacksonville Jaguars
Jack Fox was a top 3 punter in the league last season. The kids got a cannon for a leg, but I don't think the Lions will bring him back. He'll get a big deal with the Jags, most likely making him one of the highest paid punters in the league. Expect big things from Fox for years to come.
LS: Morgan Cox - New York Giants
Cox is one of the best long snappers in the league, and has been one of the best since his rookie year. The Ravens cut him to save a few million dollars, but that doesn't diminish his playing ability. His transition from snap to block and downfield release is one of the smoothest in the league, and he has the tackles to back it up. He'll go to the Giants, who could use veteran presence at the position.
Photo: 247 Sports
Who's Staying Put
QB: Dak Prescott - Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys made a mistake last offseason by not giving Dak the money he deserves. The former 4th round pick has been the perfect replacement for Tony Romo, as the offense has been productive with both Dak and Ezekiel Elliott on the field. In my opinion, I believe both are in the top 10 at their position when they are on the field together. If Dak is healthy, the Cowboys win the NFC East in 2020 and that offense is near the top of the league.
HB: Aaron Jones - Green Bay Packers
If Green Bay wants to do right by Aaron Rodgers, they need to bring back the best running back he's ever had. Aaron Jones is the perfect back for the Packers offense, with the speed to scoot past defenses, strength to break a few tackles, and precise route running to get open out of the backfield. Given Rodgers has not had that many weapons as of late, keeping Jones will be paramount for the Packers to make another deep playoff run.
Photo: Associated Press
FB: Michael Burton - New Orleans Saints
Easily a top 5 fullback in the league. Even though the fullback position is fading from the NFL, guys like Burton are still needed for offensive schemes like the Saints. Considering Taysom will probably get less playing time at skill positions next season, Burton will have opportunities to be on the field more often, thus making him a need for the Saints.
WR: Chris Godwin - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The second best receiver on the market has stated he wants to come back to Tampa, but he also wants to be paid. There have been rumors the Bucs are reworking Brady's contract, with a pay cut this year, but also extending his contract for one more season. This will allow the Bucs to have more time to find a QB, and also be able to pay one of the best young receivers in the league.
TE: Dan Arnold - Arizona Cardinals
This guy was a stud for Arizona. He didn't do much early in the season, but the 6'6 tight end saw plenty of targets come his way in the second half, and he made the most of them. He's not the best tight end out there, but he gives the Cardinals offense another identity when he's on the field.
OL: Trent Williams - San Francisco 49ers
Hands down the best left tackle in the league in 2020. He mauled defenders in the run game and kept the circus of 49ers QBs protected all year long. He proved that he can be dominant, even after sitting out a year after things went south in Washington. If you want Jimmy G to be productive, you need to give him protection, and Trent provides just that.
IDL: Dalvin Tomlinson - New York Giants
Not a whole lot of people know about this guy, but with the imminent departure of Leonard Williams, the Giants will need to keep at least one piece on the interior of their defense. Tomlinson is a great run stuffer, but is even better when pass rushing. His 3.5 sacks may not pop out on a stat sheet, but when you consider he's a nose tackle and he generated 25 additional total pressures, it's clear to see why the Giants need to bring him back - in the event they can't re-sign Williams.
Photo: Big Blue View
Edge: Leonard Floyd - Los Angeles Rams
Floyd looked like a completely different player with the Rams than he ever did during his time in Chicago. The edge rusher posted career highs in sacks, QB hits, TFLs, and total tackles. The Rams will have to do a lot of work adjusting other players contracts, but keeping Floyd will be worth it.
LB: Matt Milano - Buffalo Bills
Milano doesn't get talked about enough. He is one of the anchors to a very good Buffalo defense. He wasn't great against the run, but was one of the more efficient blitzers and pass rushers in the league, and did decent in coverage. The tandem between him and Tremaine Edmunds has proven to be productive, as the two have different skill sets that compliment each other.
CB: Shaquill Griffin - Seattle Seahawks
One of the more underrated defensive backs in the NFL, Shaquill would be a number 1 corner on most defenses. His blazing speed and incredible man coverage skills are hard to find in the NFL. For a Seattle defense that looked lost until the last few games of the year, he was one of the players that remained solid. Bringing him back will give Seattle one less thing to worry about for this offseason.
Safety: Justin Simmons - Denver Broncos
One of the best safeties in the league, Simmons has improved every single year he's been in the league. Denver can play him wherever they like, and he'll always find a way to get his nose to the football. Expect a big pay day for the safety as he generated career highs in both interceptions and solo tackles.
Photo: Denver Post
K: Randy Bullock - Cincinnati Bengals
One of the few bright spots for the Bengals this year was Randy Bullock. He didn't post his best career FG%, but he did his job when called upon. He went 8 for 10 from 30-39 yards, 7 for 8 from 40-49 yards, and 3 for 5 from 50-59 yards. Good kicking has become harder and harder to come by in the NFL, and re-signing Randy to a one or two year deal would only help the Bengals.
P: Matt Haack - Miami Dolphins
The 26 year old, left-footed punter is one of the most consistent in the league. After posting 44.7 yards per punt and 26 punts inside the 20, he showed the Dolphins he has great ability to flip field position and pin offenses deep in their own territory if need be.
LS: Patrick Scales - Chicago Bears
You never hear Scales's name get mentioned; that's a very good thing for a long snapper. He has been nearly perfect his entire career in Chicago, and has been on one year deals for the past 3 seasons. Expect that to happen again this offseason and the Bears look to keep some consistency in their special teams.
Top 25 Free Agents
Will Fuller V
Photo: USA Today
For any current or former football players, especially defensive linemen, we can all appreciate the bend and that rip move Bud Dupree is doing above.
In all seriousness, this free agency is going to be nuts. Im assuming more players, especially veteran household names, will be cut before free agency starts in order to free up some cap space (i.e. Jurrell Casey on 2/25). There's probably going to be a team that will spend big and end up falling short of playoffs next year. There's gonna a team who will absolutely miss on every move this offseason and still make playoffs. We're here for the ride and look forward to one of the most exciting offseasons in years.