Most of the top NFL free agents of 2021 have already signed their new contracts. This includes some notable quarterbacks who could potentially change teams.
However, it seems like the wide receiver position is the most-stacked of the bunch. That includes the likes of Allen Robinson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chris Godwin. None of those players have signed new deals. They are among the top-40 remaining NFL free agents of 2021
40. Carlos Dunlap, EDGE, Seattle Seahawks
This 32-year-old two-time Pro Bowler is more than likely looking at a short-term contract during free agency. Dunlap was acquired by Seattle from the Cincinnati Bengals during the 2020 season. He responded by recording five sacks in eight games. From 2013-19, he tallied 177 quarterback hits and 61.5 sacks.
39. Keanu Neal, safety, Atlanta Falcons
Injuries have plagued Neal’s career since the former first-round pick dominated with a Pro Bowl appearance back in 2017. From 2018-19, he played in a total of four games. With that said, Neal returned back to play a near-full season in 2020 and showed some flashes of his earlier-career form. An ability to play both safety spots and linebacker could be big for him on the free agent market. One team comes to mind.
38. Adoree Jackson, cornerback, Tennessee Titans
Bust. That’s the best way to describe Jackson after a less-than-stellar four-year career with the Titans prior to his release earlier this offseason. The former top-20 pick from USC recorded all of two interceptions in 41 starts in Tennessee. He proved to be an inconsistent cover guy and is coming off an injury-plagued 2020 season. Even then, Jackson is still only 25. He’ll get some play on the NFL free agent market.
37. Malcolm Butler, cornerback, Tennessee Titans
Here’s a guy who can still play at a high level despite his release from the Titans. Last season alone, Butler recorded 100 tackles, 14 passes defended and four interceptions while yielding a sub 75 passer rating when targeted. At 31 and with a somewhat regressing skillset, a move to safety could also be in the cards here.
36. Quinton Dunbar, cornerback, Seattle Seahawks
Despite an injury-plagued 2020 season with Seattle after being acquired from the Washington Football Team, Dunbar remains one of the top NFL free agents remaining in the defensive backfield. From 2018-19 in the nation’s capital, the physical 6-foot-2 corner recorded 17 passes defended and six interceptions while yielding a sub 70 passer rating when targeted. He should get some play in the second wave of free agency.
35. Kyle Rudolph, tight end, Minnesota Vikings
Limited over the past two seasons due to Minnesota going away from him in the passing game, Rudolph still has a ton of desirable assets. He’s caught a resounding 78% of his targets over the past three seasons and remains a very-willing blocker. Those qualities will lead to interest in the two-time Pro Bowler following his release from the Vikings.
34. Rashard Higgins, wide receiver, Cleveland Browns
Once Odell Beckham Jr. went down to injury a season ago, Higgins stepped it up big time. The former fifth-round pick from Colorado State ended up recording 37 receptions for 599 yards and four touchdowns for Cleveland. While he isn’t the biggest-name free agent wide receiver on the market, the 26-year-old boasts tremendous upside.
33. Aldon Smith, EDGE, Dallas Cowboys
Returning after a four-year suspension for off-field issues (you read that right), this former All-Pro dazzled for the Dallas Cowboys in 2021. In part-time action, the 31-year-old Smith recorded 14 quarterback hits and five sacks. Sure it’s going to be on a short-term, prove-it deal. But Smith will find a team during NFL free agency.
32. Malik Hooker, safety, Indianapolis Colts
What could have been. A first-round pick of the Colts back in 2017, Hooker shined big time over the course of his first seven games as a rookie. Unfortunately, a torn Achilles midway through that season has impacted him big time. He’s started 29 games in the past three years, but has recorded only one more interception than in those first seven outings. He’s also coming off another serious injury.
31. Sammy Watkins, wide receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
While Watkins has not necessarily panned out since the Buffalo Bills made him a top-four pick back in 2014, he can still be productive. He caught 67.3% of his targets from Patrick Mahomes in part-time action with the Chiefs last season. If Watkins is able to prove he can stay healthy and be consistent, some team will be getting a steal on the cheap.
30. Riley Reiff, offensive tackle, Minnesota Vikings
A salary cap casualty of the Vikings earlier in the offseason, Reiff could be of interest to multiple teams looking for either a right tackle or a left tackle. He’s started 127 games over nine seasons with Detroit and Minnesota. The former first-round pick has also played at a near Pro Bowl level recently. He’ll get a solid look during the second wave of free agency.
29. Troy Hill, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams
The 5-foot-11 Hill is definitely underrated in the grand scheme of things. Last season alone, he led the NFL with two interception returns for a touchdown. He also recorded 10 passes defended and three picks while allowing a low 74.3 passer rating when targeted. Limited to the slot, his market will dictate how much teams view that position.
28. Mitchell Trubisky, quarterback, Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears are set to move off this former No. 2 pick after he struggled in four seasons with the team. Despite that, there’s some upside for interested teams. Trubisky led Chicago to a surprise playoff appearance a season ago and has thrown 27 more touchdowns than interceptions in his career. Likely to be signed as a backup or to compete for a starting job, this North Carolina product could be a steal should he land in the right situation.
27. Kyle Van Noy, linebacker, Miami Dolphins
A surprise release of the Dolphins earlier in the offseason, Van Noy is now among the most-underrated NFL free agents on the market. The former BYU standout has been exceptional over the past three seasons. In stints with Miami and New England, he’s racked up a combined 217 tackles (22 for loss), 35 quarterback hits, 16 sacks and six forced fumbles. He’s going to be a steal for some team.
26. Justin Houston, EDGE, Indianapolis Colts
A potential future Hall of Famer, there’s going to be a strong market for Houston as a part-time pass rusher. Despite his advanced age of 32, Houston still recorded 12 quarterback hits and eight sacks a season ago. Expect him to get play from contending squads should Indianapolis not retain the four-time Pro Bowler
25. Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE, Tennessee Titans
Vastly overrated in the grand scheme of things, Clowney has recorded a combined 19 quarterback hits and thee sacks in 21 games over the past two season. Despite this, his status as a former No. 1 pick coupled with the production we saw with Houston from 2016-18 will lead to a ton of interest on the open market. Buyer beware
24. Jayon Brown, linebacker, Tennessee Titans
A four-year pro, this former UCLA standout has morphed into a solid starting linebacker during his time in Nashville. Back in 2019, Brown recorded 105 tackles (69 solo), eight passes defended, two forced fumbles and an interception. He also yielded a sub 70 passer rating when target. While the 26-year-old Brown missed six games to injury this past season, he’s still a darn good option for teams looking to upgrade inside.
23. Haason Reddick, EDGE, Arizona Cardinals
A first-round pick out of Temple back in 2017, the Cardinals did not use Reddick the right way earlier in his career. He’s more of a natural pass rusher. Instead of utilizing that talent, the 26-year-old Reddick played more inside linebacker than first envisioned. That changed in 2020. He ended up recording 16 quarterback hits, 15 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. Whether Reddick is a one-year wonder remains to be seen. After all, he recorded just 7.5 sacks in his first three NFL seasons.
22. Russell Okung, offensive tackle, Carolina Panthers
A two-time Pro Bowl performer, the 32-year-old Okung continues to play at a high level when on the field. Unfortunately, he’s missed 16 of a possible 32 games over the past two seasons. Despite playing in just seven games this past season, Okung was one of the primary reasons Teddy Bridgewater was sacked just 31 times. He should land a decent, short-term contract in free agency.
21. James Conner, running back, Pittsburgh Steelers
To say it has been somewhat of a struggle for Conner over the past two seasons would be an understatement. After jumping on to the scene replacing Le’Veon Bell in 2018, the former mid-round pick has gained 1,651 total yards at a clip of 4.7 yards per touch since the start of the 2019 campaign. Even then, Conner is still only 25 years old and is averaging north of 1,000 total yards with 26 touchdowns over the past three seasons.
Top 20 remaining NFL free agents
20. Chris Carson, running back, Seattle Seahawks
After racking up a combined 2,810 total yards and 18 touchdowns over the previous two years, Carson dealt with injuries in Seattle last season. He missed four games, tallying a mere 968 total yards. However, there’s a lot to like here. The former seventh-round pick averaged 5.4 yards per touch in 2020 while scoring nine touchdowns. He’ll have a strong market.
Other top NFL free agent running backs
- Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals
- Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons
- Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Adrian Peterson, Detroit Lions
- Le’Veon Bell, Kansas City Chiefs
19. T.Y. Hilton, wide receiver, Indianapolis Colts
After tallying 1,000 yards or more in five of his previous six seasons, this four-time Pro Bowler has fallen on hard times. In fact, Hilton has put up less than 1,300 receiving yards over the past two years. At 31 years old, there’s some concern about him being in full-scale regression mode. Even then, latching on with a contending team could help this veteran pass-catcher turn things around big time.
18. Antonio Brown, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Troubled. Enigmatic. Whatever term we want to use for the 32-year-old Brown, he provides a ton on the field. That was magnified during Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl run this past season. The seven-time Pro Bowler caught 73% of his targets from Tom Brady during the regular season. He also recorded a touchdown in the Buccaneers’ 31-9 win over Kansas City in Super Bowl LV. Look for Brown to remain with the Bucs after the pending NFL free agent had a nice amount of success with the team in 2020.
17. Eric Fisher, offensive tackle, Kansas City Chiefs
Shockingly released by the Kansas City Chiefs, Fisher now hits the open market after suffering a torn Achilles late last season. It’s a less-than-ideal scenario for the former No. 1 overall pick. With that said, there’s going to be interest in the two-time Pro Bowler’s services. While not truly elite, his been a stabilizing force in protecting Patrick Mahomes blindside. Throughout his eight-year career, Fisher has started 113 of the 117 games in which he’s appeared.
16. Desmond King, cornerback, Tennessee Titans
An All-Pro performer with the Chargers back in 2018, it was surprising to see King traded from Los Angeles to Tennessee at the deadline this past season. He had been one of the top slot corners in the NFL since the Chargers made him a fifth-round pick in 2017. Even then, some regression on King’s part over the past two seasons will likely lead to a team getting a steal once the market opens.
15. Richard Sherman, cornerback, San Francisco 49ers
At this point, it’s highly unlikely that the 32-year-old Sherman will return to the 49ers next season. They are in a less-than-stellar cap situation and have other priorities outside of re-signing a veteran who missed all but five games in 2020. Should Sherman leave the Bay, there’s going to be a market for him. The future Hall of Famer is one year removed from earning a Pro Bowl appearance in San Francisco and can act as a veteran leader on a contending team.
14. Melvin Ingram, defensive end, Los Angeles Chargers
After nine tremendous seasons with the Chargers, it looks more and more like the 31-year-old Ingram will be moving on to another team. He recorded exactly zero sacks in seven games this past season after tallying 43 quarterback take downs from 2015-19. Even at 31 and in decline, this three-time Pro Bowler will find a market once NFL free agency opens.
13. Curtis Samuel, wide receiver, Carolina Panthers
After some struggles earlier in his career, this former first-round pick dominated under Matt Rhule for the Panthers in 2020. The electric Samuel caught 77 passes for 851 yards. He also hauled in an absurd 79% of his targets. For a 24-year-old receiver set to hit free agency, Samuel is going to get paid big time once free agency starts.
12. Casey Hayward, cornerback, Los Angeles Chargers
It just didn’t seem to be a fit for Hayward and new Chargers head coach Brandon Staley on defense. Hence, why Los Angeles opted to release the two-time Pro Bowl performer recently. But make no mistake about it, he’s still a top-end cover guy and will have a solid market from teams looking for a slot corner. While he did struggle a bit this past season, Pro Football Focus graded the 31-year-old Hayward out as the fourth-best corner in the NFL back in 2019.
11. Ryan Kerrigan, EDGE, Washington Football Team
Washington selected fellow edge pass rusher Chase Young No. 2 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. It also picked Montez Sweat in the first round of the 2019 draft. Needless to say, the Skins are preparing for a future without this four-time Pro Bowler. That showed up this past season. Kerrigan played in 40% or less of Washington’s defensive snaps in 10 of 16 regular-season games. Despite this, the stud veteran recorded 5.5 sacks. He should be in line for a decent short-term contract.
Top 10 NFL free agents of 2021
10. Will Fuller, wide receiver, Houston Texans
Even though he’s injury prone and is serving a six-game suspension for PED use, this former first-round pick is still only 26 years old and provides a ton of upside in free agency. Prior to being suspended, Fuller caught 53 passes for 879 yards and eight touchdowns in 11 games. He has game-breaking ability. Some team will pay for it.
9. Patrick Peterson, cornerback, Arizona Cardinals
The subject of trade rumors in recent years, it seems that this future Hall of Fame corner will ultimately finish his career in the desert. Peterson, 30, has played all 10 NFL seasons with the Cardinals since they made him a top-five pick in 2011. He’s earned eight Pro Bowl appearances during that span, the only exception being the past two seasons. Should Peterson and the Cardinals head for a divorce, this could impact his open market.
Other top NFL free agent cornerbacks
- Logan Ryan, New York Giants
- Xavier Rhodes, Indianapolis Colts
- Quinton Dunbar, Seattle Seahawks
- Richard Sherman, San Francisco 49ers
8. K.J. Wright, linebacker, Seattle Seahawks
One of the more consistent linebackers in the game, an argument can be made that Wright has performed at a higher clip than better-known fellow Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner in recent years. The nine-year veteran recorded 86 tackles to go with 10 passes defended, and an interception last season. That was a downtick in production from the 31-year-old former Pro Bowler, likely leading to a smaller payday in free agency.
7. Anthony Harris, safety, Minnesota Vikings
Yet another former undrafted free agent, this Virginia product came out of nowhere in 2019. Harris, 28, recorded 60 tackles and 11 passes defended while leading the league with six interceptions. He’s seen as a single-high safety with broad coverage ability. However, Harris saw a downtick in play-making ability in 2020, failing to record a single interception or takeaway. This could potentially have an impact on one of the top defensive NFL free agents in 2021.
6. JuJu Smith-Schuster, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
Smith-Schuster followed up a 1,400-yard performance back in 2018 by struggling big time with injuries in 2019 (552 yards in 12 games). There’s no excuses in terms of what we saw from the young receiver during the 2020 regular season, especially with Ben Roethlisberger back at 100%. JuJu recorded 97 catches but averaged a disastrous 8.6 yards per reception in 16 games. How might that impact him as one of the top NFL free agents at wide receiver?
The best NFL free agents 2021
5. Kenny Golladay, wide receiver, Detroit Lions
A third-round pick of the Lions back in 2017, most figured that Golladay would be among the top-five NFL free agents this coming March. Issues with injuries might impact that moving forward. The former Northern Illinois star dealt with a hip injury that limited him to 20 receptions in five games this past regular season. This came after Golladay tallied nearly 1,200 yards while leading the NFL with 11 touchdown receptions in 2019. At 27, he’s still going to have an extremely solid market.
4. Chris Godwin, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Elite. That’s what we’ve seen from Godwin since he entered the NFL with Golladay back in 2017. The Penn State product recorded 86 receptions for 1,333 yards with nine touchdowns while catching north of 71% of his targets last season. Godwin remains productive with Tom Brady under center for the Buccaneers this year. He’s 24 years old and has not yet reached his ceiling. The Buccaneers are already thinking of signing him to a long-term extension after Godwin helped lead the team to the Super Bowl LV title.
3. Allen Robinson, wide receiver, Chicago Bears
Vastly underrated. Forced to catch passes from Mitchell Trubisky, among other horrible quarterbacks in recent years, Robinson continues to produce. The still-young 27-year-old pass catcher hauled in 98 receptions for 1,147 yards in 2019. This past regular season saw him record 102 receptions for 1,250 yards while catching 68% of his targets . Robinson is going to get paid big time once free agency starts. Just don’t expect a return to the Bears.
Other top NFL free agent wide receivers
- A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
- T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
- Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2. Justin Simmons, safety, Denver Broncos
Update: Broncos place franchise tag on Justin Simmons (March 6)
Denver’s decision to place the franchise tag on this 27-year-old safety will cost the team $11.44 million in 2020. It’s a bargain considering that four other players at his position are earning $14 million annually. This won’t be the case following the 2020 season. A third-round pick out of Boston College back in 2016, Simmons has recorded 19 passes defended and seven interceptions over the past two seasons. This past season saw Simmons record 96 tackles, nine passes defended and a whopping five interceptions. He’s as elite as they come.
1. Alejandro Villanueva, left tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers
A two-time Pro Bowler, this military veteran has quickly morphed into one of the best blindside protectors in the entire NFL. He’s earned two Pro Bowl appearances in four seasons as Pittsburgh’s starting left tackle. Now 32 years old, it’s not yet known whether Villanueva will get a long-term deal in free agency next March. What I do know is that he’ll get a significant raise from the $6 million he’s earning annually on his current deal.
2021 NFL free agent signings
Alex Mack, center, San Francisco 49ers
Update: Alex Mack signs with the San Francisco 49ers (March 17)
Perhaps not the player he was earlier in his career with the Browns and Falcons, Mack still provides a wealth of experience and can play at a high level. We’re talking about a dude who has started all 179 games in which he’s appeared in 12 NFL seasons. Mack also played under Kyle Shanahan with both Cleveland and Atlanta. He’s a perfect fit in the 49ers’ scheme.
Trent Williams, left tackle, San Francisco 49ers
Update: 49ers sign Trent Williams to record-breaking contract (March 17)
Acquired by San Francisco during the 2020 NFL Draft, Williams replaced the recently-retired Joe Staley as Jimmy Garoppolo’s blindside protector. Despite sitting out all of the 2019 season with Washington due to a contract dispute, Williams remains one of the best left tackles in the game. In fact, the seven-time Pro Bowler graded out as the best overall left tackle in the NFL this past season. That led to him returning to the 49ers on the richest contract for an offensive lineman in NFL history.
Marvin Jones, wide receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars (March 17)
Update: Marvin Jones signs with the Jacksonville Jaguars (March 16)
Among the most-underrated receivers over the past decade, Jones still has a lot left in the tank. Over the course of the past five seasons with a bad Lions team, the former CAL standout is averaging 58 receptions for 860 yards while catching an eye-opening 61% of his targets. Despite just turning 31, he has the upside to be a solid WR2 for likely Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence.
Emmanuel Sanders, wide receiver, Buffalo Bills
Update: Emmanuel Sanders signs with the Buffalo Bills (March 16)
Yet another surprise release earlier this offseason, New Orleans moved off Sanders after one season. In no way does this mean the 11-year pro can’t be a solid starter-caliber receiver moving forward. Sanders, 33, caught 61 passes for 726 yards while hauling in 74.4% of his targets a season ago. He’s a safety valve, and will work wonders with star Bills quarterback Josh Allen moving forward.
William Jackson, cornerback, Washington Football Team
Update: William Jackson signs with the Washington Football Team (March 16)
Inconsistent. That would be the best way to describe Jackson’s tenure with the Bengals after they made him a first-round pick back in 2016. He yielded a 50% catch rate this past season. However, opposing receivers also caught four touchdowns with Jackson intercepting a single pass. Washington hopes he can be more consistent in replacing Ronald Darby in the defensive backfield moving forward.
Andy Dalton, quarterback, Chicago Bears
Update: Andy Dalton signs with the Chicago Bears (March 16)
A full-time starter with the Bengals for nine seasons, Dalton took on the Cowboys’ backup job in 2020. Once Dak Prescott went down five games in, he performed extremely well. The veteran completed 64.9% of his passes for 2,170 yards with 14 touchdowns against eight interceptions in nine starts. With that said, the Bears struck out on adding potential franchise quarterbacks. Having Dalton and Nick Foles competing for a starting job can’t be seen as a good thing.
Dalvin Tomlinson, defensive tackle, Minnesota Vikings
Update: Minnesota Vikings sign Dalvin Tomlinson (March 15)
We go from overrated to underrated in one fell swoop. Tomlinson, excelled as a run-stuffing defensive tackle with Alabama before the Giants made him a second-round pick back in 2017. He’s since morphed into a solid two-way player, putting consistent pressure on the quarterback. Last season alone, the still-young 27-year-old recorded 10 quarterback hits and 3.5 sacks. He’s going to be a huge cog for a potentially dominant Vikings defensive line in 2021.
Trey Hendrickson, EDGE, Cincinnati Bengals
Update: Cincinnati Bengals sign Trey Hendrickson (March 15)
A former mid-round pick from Florida Atlantic, Hendrickson dominated big time for the Saints this past season. He recorded 25 quarterback hits, 13 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks This came after Hendrickson tallied a mere 6.5 sacks in his first three NFL seasons. The question heading into NFL free agency is whether he was a one-hit wonder. Cincinnati will find out first-hand after losing Carl Lawson in free agency.
Shaquill Griffin, cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars
Update: Jaguars sign Shaquill Griffin to a three-year contract (March 16)
Previously, a candidate to have the franchise tag placed on him, Griffin earned a Pro Bowl appearance with Seattle in 2019 after recording 13 passes defended and yielding a sub 70 passer rating when targeted. Whether it was due to the nagging injuries he suffered through in 2020 or something else, he did not play at that same level. Even then, Griffin was able to tally 12 passes defended and a career-high three interceptions. He will now take over as the Jaguars’ top corner on a revamped defense.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, quarterback, Washington Football Team
Update: Washington Football Team signs Ryan Fitzpatrick (March 16)
The 38-year-old Fitzpatrick just isn’t going to go away. Splitting time with rookie Tua Tagovailoa last offseason, Fitzpatrick completed 68.5% of his passes for 2,091 yards with 13 touchdowns against eight interceptions. A backup earlier in his career, expect Fitzpatrick win the Washington starting job during training camp.
Hunter Henry, tight end, New England Patriots
Update: New England Patriots to sign Hunter Henry as spending spree continues (March 16)
After dealing with injuries in both 2018 and 2019, Henry returned to form for the Chargers this past season. He acted as a safety valve for rookie Justin Herbert, catching 60 passes for 613 yards in 14 games. Henry, 26, also hauled in 64.5% of his targets. He’s going to be a tremendous asset with Jonnu Smith for Cam Newton in 2021.
Leonard Williams, defensive tackle, New York Giants
Update: Giants sign Leonard Williams to massive contract extension (March 16)
A lot of skeptics gave embattled Giants general manager David Gettleman crap for trading for Williams during the 2019 season, only to place the franchise tag on the former Jets No. 6 overall pick. Those skeptics are quiet right now. Williams was absolutely dominant in his first (and perhaps only season) with the Giants. He racked up a resounding 30 quarterback hits and 11.5 sacks. After initially placing the tag on Williams, the Giants were able to come to terms on a long-term deal with the stud lineman. It’s a major win for general manager David Gettleman.
Corey Davis, wide receiver, New York Jets
Update: Jets sign Corey Davis to a three-year, $37.5 million contract (March 15)
One of many top-end wide receivers that hit free agency, I bet the Titans rue the day they decided against picking up the fifth-year option on Davis’ rookie deal. The former No. 5 overall pick from Western Michigan is coming off a career-best regular-season performance that saw him catch 65 passes for 984 yards while hauling in 70.7% of his targets. If Zach Wilson is indeed under center for the Jets as a rookie next season, he’ll have an ideal target.
Bud Dupree, EDGE, Tennessee Titans
Update: Titans sign Bud Dupree (March 15)
After struggling through his first four NFL seasons, this former first-round pick has picked it up big time recently. Dupree recorded 17 quarterback hits, 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 2019. This past season, the Kentucky product had eight sacks in 11 games. In an unfortunate turn, Dupree suffered a torn ACL in Week 12 and missed the remainder of the season. That didn’t stop the pass-rush starved Titans from inking him to a five-year, $82.5 million contract.
Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE, Las Vegas Raiders
Update: Raiders sign Yannick Ngakoue to a two-year, $24 million contract (March 25)
Ngakoue wanted out of Duval before the 2020 season started. The former Maryland standout was promptly traded to the Minnesota Vikings. And after just a handful of games in Minnesota, the impending NFL free agent was dealt to the Baltimore Ravens. Through it all, Ngakoue has been able to keep up his production A third-round selection back in 2016, he recorded 71 quarterback hits and 29.5 sacks in the three seasons prior to 2020. During the 2020 regular season, Ngakoue had eight sacks in 15 combined games. The Raiders now get their man.
Rob Gronkowski, tight end, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Update: Buccaneers re-sign Rob Gronkowski to one-year, $10 million contract (March 15)
After scoring two touchdowns in the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl LV victory, there was very little reason to believe Gronkowski would be leaving the team in free agency. That came to fruition on the first day of the NFL free agent tampering period with Gronk signing a one-year deal to return to Tampa.
Carl Lawson, EDGE, New York Jets
Update: Jets sign Carl Lawson to a three-year, $45 million contract (March 15)
One of the most-underrated pending NFL free agents, Lawson is coming off a 2020 campaign that saw him record an absurd 32 quarterback hits. While it translated to a mere 5.5 sacks, this is a clear indication that the 25-year-old former Auburn star is ready to take his game to the next level. Now set to play under defensive-mind head coach Robert Saleh in New York, expect Lawson to thrive.
Jameis Winston, quarterback, New Orleans Saints
Update: Jameis Winston re-signs with the Saints on a one-year, $12 million contract (March 15)
Winston is one season removed from throwing 30 interceptions. He’s also just 27 years old and still boasts elite talent. Will it lead to a starting job for what was one of the top NFL free agents at quarterback? Time will tell on that front. He will now compete with Taysom Hill in New Orleans following the Drew Brees retirement.
Leonard Floyd, EDGE, Los Angeles Rams
Update: Floyds re-signs with the Rams on a four-year, $64 million contract (March 15)
Seen by some as a first-round bust in his four years in Chicago, the 28-year-old Floyd is coming off a career-best performance with the Rams. He tallied 19 quarterback hits, 11 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. That’s the type of production Chicago figured it was going to get from the former top-10 pick. Los Angeles is now banking on that after overpaying for the veteran pass rusher.
Ronald Darby, cornerback, Denver Broncos
Update: Ronald Darby agrees to three-year, $30 million contract with Broncos (March 15)
Darby, 27, remains one of the most-underrated corners in the NFL. Last season in the nation’s capital, the 27-year-old recorded 16 passes defended. Pro Football Focus graded him as the eighth-best defensive back in the league. He also yielded a sub 80 passer rating when targeted. He’ll start for Denver in 2021 and seems to be a perfect fit in head coach Vic Fangio’s defense.
Jason Verrett, cornerback, San Francisco 49ers
Update: 49ers re-sign Jason Verrett (March 15)
If it weren’t for Alex Smith, Verrett likely would have won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in 2020. A Pro Bowler with the Chargers all the way back in 2015, he played a total of five games over the next four seasons due to numerous injuries. That changed in 2020 with Verrett acting as the 49ers’ best cover guy. He recorded seven passes defended and two interceptions while yielding a sub 60 passer rating when targeted. The 49ers have now retained Verrett on a smallish one-year, $5.5 million contract.
Corey Linsley, center, Los Angeles Chargers
Update: Signed a five-year, $62.5 million contract with the Chargers (March 15)
Coming off his first career All-Pro performance, the 29-year-old Linsley is hitting NFL free agency at the best time. Center has taken on new importance in today’s pass-first league. After starting all 99 games in which he’s appeared since entering the league in 2014, Linsley gives the Chargers an immediate replacement for the recently-retired Mike Pouncey.
John Johnson, safety, Cleveland Browns
Update: John Johnson signs three-year, $34 million contract with the Browns (March 15)
On a defense that includes Aaron Donald, others don’t necessarily get a ton of play. That includes this former mid-round pick from Boston College. Johnson, 25, recorded 105 tackles, eight passes defended and one interception in 2020. According to Pro Football Focus, he was also the fourth-highest graded safety in the NFL. If Johnson performs up to that level in 2021, he will be a boon for the Cleveland Browns.
Matt Judon, EDGE, New England Patriots
Update: Patriots sign Matt Judon to four-year, $56 million contract (March 15)
This is an absolutely huge move for Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Judon, 28, hit free agency having tallied a combined 93 quarterback hits and 30.5 sacks over the past four seasons. The former Grand Valley State star has been among the most consistent pass rushers in the NFL during that span.
Joe Thuney, guard, Kansas City Chiefs
Update: Chiefs sign Joe Thuney to five-year, $80 million contract (March 15)
Thuney, 28, has been among the best guards in the NFL since his now-former New England Patriots team made him a third-round pick back in 2016. In fact, he’s started all 80 games over the course of the past five seasons. This is a huge get for Kansas City after the team moved off starters Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher earlier in the NFL offseason.
Jonnu Smith, tight end, New England Patriots
Update: Patriots sign Jonnu Smith to a four-year, $50 million deal (March 15)
Still only 25 years old, there’s a whole heck of a lot to like about Smith. The former third-round pick recorded career-highs in receptions (41), yards (448) and touchdowns (eight) this past season. He’s also improved in each of his first four NFL seasons and is catching an absurd 68% of his targets during that span. The New England Patriots find their replacement for Rob Gronkowski in signing Smith to a four-year, $50 million deal. This is perfect for both sides.
Shaq Barrett, EDGE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Update: Buccaneers re-sign Shaq Barrett on a four-year, $72 million contract (March 15)
Barrett came out of nowhere in his first season with Tampa Bay after moving on from the Denver Broncos. The former undrafted free agent recorded a league-high 19.5 sacks to go with 37 quarterback hits and a whopping six forced fumbles. This forced Tampa to place the franchise tag on the Colorado State product. Barrett, 28, was somewhat of a disappointment during the regular season, recording 16 quarterback hits and just eight sacks. However, he picked it up big time in the Buccaneers run to the Super Bowl — tallying four quarterback hits and three sacks in as many games. He now returns on a huge long-term contract.
Romeo Okwara, EDGE, Detroit Lions, EDGE, Detroit Lions
Detroit held on to its leading pass rusher from a season ago on a three-year, $36 million contract. A product of Notre Dame, Okwara recorded 18 quarterback hits and 10 sacks in 2020. While this comes with a risk given his lack of production the four years prior, the rebuilding Lions must keep as much of the young talent that they have. He’s still only 25.
Kevin Zeitler, guard, Baltimore Ravens
Zeitler’s salary made it nearly impossible for the New Giants to retain him. After all, he was set to count $14.5 million against the cap. New York saved $12 million be releasing 31-year-old guard. But make no mistake about it, he can still play at a Pro Bowl level. After just a few days on the free-agent market, Zeitler landed with the Baltimore Ravens on a three-year, $22 million contract. This is a major early free-agent coup for Baltimore.
Kyle Juszczyk, fullback, San Francisco 49ers
Update: 49ers re-sign Kyle Juszczyk to a five-year, $27 million contract (March 14)
The last in a lost breed of traditional fullbacks, the 29-year-old Juszczyk is coming off his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. He isn’t simply a lead blocker, either. The Ivy League grad tallied 1,212 total yards and nine touchdowns in four seasons with the 49ers. The game’s best fullback will now run it back in San Francisco.
Aaron Jones, running back, Green Bay Packers
Update: Packers re-sign Aaron Jones to four-year, $48 million contract (March 14)
It’s was looking more and more like the Packers had no plans to retain Jones in free agency. Shockingly, something changed behind the scenes between the two sides during the tampering period. Jones now returns on a four-year contract. Last season saw the 26-year-old Jones record 1,459 total yards and 11 touchdowns.
Matt Milano, linebacker, Buffalo Bills
One of the most-underrated NFL free agents this cycle, Milano opted against hitting the open market by signing a four-year, $44 million contract with the Bills. A core special teams player earlier in his career, the 26-year-old Milano has morphed into a legit starting linebacker in Western New York. Prior to missing six games to injury in 2020, the Boston College product played at a Pro Bowl level the previous season. He’s now going to get paid like it.
Lavonte David, linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A two-time Pro Bowl performer, David has now re-signed with the Buccaneers on a two-year, $25 million contract. He entered the 2020 campaign having recorded 100-plus tackles in seven of his first eight seasons. David, 31, then followed it up with the best single-season performance of his career. He recorded 117 tackles (16 for loss) and an interception in a brilliant all-around performance. David is one of the primary reasons Tampa earn its second Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have signed Dak Prescott to a four-year, $160 million extension with the most fully-guaranteed cash in the history of the NFL. This comes with Dallas facing a franchise tag deadline and Prescott coming off a serious ankle injury. Prior to suffering said injury, Prescott had tallied over 7,100 total yards with 45 total touchdowns and 15 interceptions in his previous 21 starts. He’s a franchise quarterback. He is now getting paid like it.
J.J. Watt, EDGE, Arizona Cardinals
Houston’s decision to release Watt early in the offseason led to the future Hall of Famer finding a new city in short order. He signed a two-year, $28 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to team up with fellow stud pass rusher Chandler Jones. The deal also reunites Watt with former Texans teammate DeAndre Hopkins.
NFL players who signed franchise tag
Cam Robinson, offensive tackle, Jacksonville Jaguars
Seen by some as a top-flight talent coming out of Alabama in 2017, Robinson fell to the second round due to some concerns about his conditioning. Boy, has he proven the skeptics wrong. Robinson, 25, has played at a Pro Bowl level the past two seasons. He can also line up at both right tackle and left tackle. That’s going to lead to a huge market for the young pass protector.
Brandon Scherff, guard, Washington Football Team
Updated: Washington places franchise tag on Brandon Scherff (March 8)
Washington placed the franchise tag on this former top-five last March, paying Scherff north of $15 million in 2020. That’s a lot of cash to pay out to an interior offensive lineman. The team then doubled down and did the same thing this year, paying him another $18.04 million. That represents the most a guard will make over a two-year span in NFL history.
Taylor Moton, offensive tackle, Carolina Panthers
Update: Taylor Moton signs $13.75 million franchise tag tender (March 11)
A total of 48 games and 48 starts over the past three seasons. Continuing to excel at both right tackle and left tackle. Still only 26 years old. Yeah, Moton is among the most underrated NFL free agents of this cycle. He’s played at a Pro Bowl level since becoming a full-time starter in 2018. If the Panthers are unable to re-sign the former second-round pick, expect a huge market once March comes calling.