The trading period began last Monday with big deals for pass rushers on the market, and last Wednesday was the official opening of free agency. Leading the way are the New England Patriots, who signed new contracts for tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, two wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, bass rusher Matthew Judon and defensive back Jaylen Mills, among others. Are they the winners of the free period?
Our team of experts takes a look at free agency, including the biggest surprises, undervalued trades, the most curious approaches teams are taking, the Patriots busy week with their checkbook, the Bucks’ chances of a repeat after the return of Shaquille Barrett and others, what to do with the massive trades we’ve seen so far for pass rushers, and how some quarterbacks might fare with new contracts in 2021. Come back all week for more reactions to this offseason free agent stuff.
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Tracing transactions | Estimates
Predict Kenny Golladay’s 2021 stats with the Giants.
Matt Bowen, NFL Analyst: 65-767-8. Golladay has the ability to break free vertically, and he will give the Giants a leg up on deep inside linebackers and contested throws. There is body control and a wide range of grappling. However, given the inconsistent play of quarterback Daniel Jones, I see Golladay finishing with about 60-70 receptions.
Mike Clay, NFL analyst: 73-1,128-7 … and I say 126 targets. Golladay will be a clear target in New York, with Sterling Shepard as the best slot option, Darius Slayton as a situational deep threat, and Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, and Saquon Barkley who will do most of the remaining work with short and intermediate phases. Golladay is the tallest receiver on the team at 6-foot-1 and will be busy at the goal line.
Jeremy Fowler analyzes Kenny Golladay’s deal with the Giants and the reactions in the NFL.
Kevin Seifert, NFL National Writer: 52-633-6. The two most important players in the passing game are the receiver and the quarterback. We know Galladay is capable of great performance and great numbers. But last season, Jones missed in 16.8 percent of his throws, the ninth highest percentage in the NFL. It’s far from clear that Jones is a quarterback capable of generating a big season for a receiver.
Seth Walder, Sports Analyst, Author: 70-1,100-8. I’m a Galladay fan and can imagine his controversial catching abilities coming to fruition in New York. Sure, he takes a step back in terms of QB play, but he’ll also be focused on the pass. And don’t forget it: Matthew Stafford has played in just eight games in 2019 and in that time Golladay has scored 11 touchdowns and 11 yards.
What is the most underrated move in Free Agency’s existence so far?
Bowen: Kevin Zeitler, G, Ravens. Zeitler is an upgrade for the inside of the offensive line and fits Baltimore’s system with his attributes. He has the ability to move around, find holes in schemes and brings a physical approach to the point of attack. Also, a veteran can build his base in a pro pass to keep the inside brush away.
Clay: William Jackson III, BC, Washington. In his first five NFL seasons in Cincinnati, Jackson didn’t attract much attention. But the previous first round was one of the best corners in the league. Washington’s defense took a big leap forward in 2020, but improvements are needed on the back end to reach the next level – and perhaps the elite level. Jackson’s combination with Kendall Fuller at cornerback gives Washington one of the best CB duos and places them in the top 10 in the league.
Jeremy Fowler, NFL National Writer: Gerald Everett, TE, Seahawks. Everett was considered the third-best player in free agency, and the two players before him – Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry – received a combined $32 million in their first year. Seattle got Everett for $6 million. Smith and Henry are certainly better players, but the difference isn’t as big as you think. Many in the league think Everett is a top-10 talent at this position, if he can get it all done.
Seifert: Andy Dalton, QB, Bears. There is so much vitriol in this sign that its positive aspects are buried. (At least that’s my definition of underrated today.) Dalton is the best quarterback the Bears have had to do without over the past five seasons, from Mitch Trubisky to Mike Glennon to Nick Foles. He has led five Bengals teams to the playoffs and could do the same with the Bears. He’s no Russell Wilson, who the Bears couldn’t buy in a trade, but his merits were ignored in the debate.
Walder: Daryl Williams, OT, Bills. He’s not a star, but you could do worse than Williams, who had a slightly above average success rate last season. A three-year contract averaging $8 million per year is a good deal for a solid 28-year-old tackle like Williams, especially considering Buffalo can walk out of the deal after the first year for less than $10 million if things don’t go as planned.
What surprised you the most in free agency, outside of Patriots spending?
Bowen: The duration of contracts with freelancers. We see more two- and three-year contracts with players in their best years than four- and five-year contracts. But as the cap is expected to rise due to a new TV deal, these players will be able to return to Free Agency during their remaining earning years.
Clay: The Indianapolis Colts, a playoff team in 2020 and a potential AFC contender in 2021 who leads the league in cap space, have done nothing. So far, Indianapolis has suffered a net loss as Denico Autry (division rival Titans) and Jacoby Brissett (Dolphins) have signed elsewhere. I know general manager Chris Ballard is not known for his irresponsible spending, but the Colts have a rare opportunity to add star players to an already strong team. I’m curious to see what they’ll do in the coming days.
Seifert: I’m surprised almost no one raises an eyebrow when it comes to the legitimately huge contract figures the San Francisco 49ers have given leftback Trent Williams. He’s undoubtedly a great player, but he’s also turning 33 this summer and hasn’t played a 16-game season since 2013. At the very least, we have to take into account that this deal could hurt the 49ers in the long run.
Dan Graziano explains why it was important for the 49ers to sign Trent Williams to a long-term contract.
Walder: The receiver market is evolving slowly. I’ve got it: A large group of freshmen is entering. But we’re talking about probably the second most important position in the sport, so I’m surprised that someone as talented as Kenny Golladay is out of work on a Wednesday afternoon.
Which team has had the most confusing approach to free agency so far?
Bowen: Las Vegas Raiders. The addition of defenseman Yannick Ngakoue should be considered a plus for Vegas. They need a wide hitter, and Ngakoue has disruptive qualities as a baseball player. But I’m still trying to figure out why the Raiders dismantled the offensive line. With Trent Brown traded to New England and the Raiders looking to say goodbye to Gabe Jackson and Rodney Hudson, Vegas now has key positions to fill for an offense looking to get back on track under Jon Gruden.
Clay: Las Vegas Raiders. One of the strengths of the 2020 Raiders, a team on the brink of the playoffs, was their offensive line. They’ve practically demolished it in the last few days, including the luxury store on Hudson. They also have yet to replace Hudson, Jackson, Richie Incognito or Brown. Ngakoue and receiver John Brown are good acquisitions, but holes remain throughout the team, including defensive tackle, cornerbacks, safeties, offensive line depth and, of course, the offensive line. GM Mike Mayock has a lot of work to do.
Seifert: New England Patriots. They were partially capitalized in a depressed market during the year when they had a surplus of marginal land. But if Bill Belichick wasn’t in charge, the condemnation would be almost universal. Downloading expensive free agents like that rarely works. The Patriots have managed to identify some targets in the past, most notably cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but they’ve never tried this hard, and for good reason.
Adam Schefter reports that the Seahawks are reluctant to trade Russell Wilson at this time, adding that the Bears have asked several questions about the QB.
Walder: Chicago Bears. The unsubtle statistics – plus the $10 million spent for Andy Dalton – show that this team is far from competitive. Signing Russell Wilson was worth it, but Plan B had to blow everything up (I’d start by selling Khalil Mack) to be ready for 2022 and beyond. Instead, they show a remarkable commitment to below-average football.
What is your intuition regarding the Patriots’ spending?
Bowen: It is highly unusual for the Patriots to spend much money early in Free Agency. Yet they are there to meet critical needs on both sides of the ball. Tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith allow New England to disrupt the 12-man defense, while wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourn allow the Pats to stretch the field vertically. Defensively, Matthew Judon has the skills to be a productive player on multiple fronts in Bill Belichick’s scheme, while linebacker Jaylen Mills can play at multiple positions in New England’s defense.
Clay: I’m a little disappointed, but it reminds me of what Buffalo has been doing the last few years, which is building a successful team by adding solid role players. Of course, the Henry-Smith duo is intriguing. But players like Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Bourne and Agholor have been mostly rotation/depth players in their careers. Mills’ play was inconsistent and Judon’s was solid, but not impressive around the edges. The Patriots are better on paper, but I’m not convinced they’re a playoff team. It will probably depend on how Cam Newton plays.
Fowler: It had to be done. This is New England’s way of making amends and admitting that the lineup won’t be enough to fix this team. And some of these contracts will be obsolete in two years when the game starts. I’m not sure about all the contracts, but if you get two top tight ends, the defense can run and pass without replacement.
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Mike Reiss, Patriots reporter: Is there a balance between them, are they smarter than the rest of the NFL? And will they regret having strayed so far from the recruiting, development and design philosophy that has proven to be the best approach for sustained success? I understand their strategy: The cap is dropping, so better players are entering the market, there is less competition to contract them, they have plenty of room. So I’m ultimately giving Belichick the benefit of the doubt. He deserved it.
Seifert: They acknowledged the one-off buyers’ market caused by the (alleged) one-off reduction in the salary cap. The Patriots knew their team needed improvement, but this seemed like nothing more than an attempt to capitalize on market forces.
Walder: Two good finishes to New England’s offense already? Yes, of course I’m fascinated. Overall, this was a necessary restructuring due to the lack of a register. I’m not happy with all the moves – that’s a high average for Agholor – but overall, it makes sense to be a buyer when so many teams are at their maximum. I particularly like Judoon’s signature.
Field Yates, NFL analyst: They are definitely a more talented team than they were 24 hours ago. I’m waiting for all the details of the transactions before I can make a full judgment, but the Patriots weren’t interested in waiting to upgrade the roster where needed.
Are the Buccaneers the favorites to win the Super Bowl now that they have their full core back?
Bowen: The Bucs should be considered one of the favorites for another Super Bowl run, especially after re-contracting key defensive players Shaquille Barrett and Lavonte David. But with just one day of free agency and over a month until the NFL Draft, we’ll have to see how the rest of the season plays out here before committing kickers for the 2021 season.
Clay: At this time? Yeah, I think on paper they are the best team in the league. They re-signed their key players, including Ndamukong Suh, Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette, Stephen McLendon and Ryan Succop, who are their best unsigned free agents to date. Even if none of them return, Tampa Bay’s roster will be complete and they’ll be in the running for a second consecutive Lombardi Trophy.
Fowler: Nah, let’s go to the AFC. The Kansas City Chiefs are the favorites after bolstering their offensive line, and the Buffalo Bills have taken a big leap forward each of the past two years. The next jump – the AFC championship – may be bigger. After two consecutive defeats in the NFC Championship game, the Green Bay Packers need a shot. Tampa is one of four or five teams.
Jenna Lane, Buccaneers Reporter: I’m not ready to call them Super Bowl favorites yet, because we’ll have to see how their running backs, defensive line and footwork develop in Free Agency. In particular: What’s going on with Fournette, Su and Succop? And while the Bucs are overloaded at the receiver position, Brown led the Bucs in targets during the final five weeks of the regular season before suffering a knee injury in the postseason. The Bucks talk to everyone, but there’s only so much money you can give up.
Adam Schefter explains what will happen to the Buccaneers after Shaquille Barrett signs on.
Seifert: Hey. I can’t name a team that I think has a better chance of winning the Super Bowl, but in football, getting the band back together is usually not a good thing. What can they do to improve and have they already done so?
Walder: No. Just because they are running backs with the same players doesn’t mean we should expect the same results, especially when Tom Brady is a year older. One prediction we can be sure of is that Patrick Mahomes will be the best quarterback in the league in 2021, and that makes the Chiefs a favorite for the Super Bowl.
Yates: That’s for sure. A team that took a step forward in the second half of the season has a clear path to the division title, a goal on the way to a possible first round bye and another deep run.
Which fringe defender will prove to be the best in two years?
Bowen: Shaquille Barrett, Buccaneers. Pass-rush production is already underway in Todd Bowles’ system. Fronting and running allows Bowles to create one-on-one situations for Barrett to generate offense in the pocket.
Clay: Carl Lawson, Jets. He may not be the best of the bunch, but he may be the biggest improvement over his previous team. It seems like we waited a decade for New York to add a shock wave, and Robert Saleh’s regime has finally done its job. Lawson, whose 32 QBs were only pushed around by T.J. Watt last season, has a chance for a full breakout year in 2021 and beyond.
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Fowler: Bud Dupree, Titans. He’s probably the most talented baseball player of the bunch, so if he can get it all together in Tennessee, he has a chance to dominate. Expect a slow start to the 2021 season due to his torn ACL in December, but the Titans are playing for the long haul with a big five-year, $82.5 million contract. His unique combination of power and speed will age well.
Seifert: Shaquille Barrett, Buccaneers. His insane 19.5 sack performance in 2019 was no fluke, as he proved in 2020. By playing at least one more season under Bowles, Barrett should be able to continue to get good results.
Walder: Shaquille Barrett, Buccaneers. He was seventh on the Redskins in pass rush victories the last two seasons, so I think he’s the safest bet to be productive in the short term, despite scrambling with the Sacks last season. But, Detroit’s Romeo Okwara deserves an honorable mention. I’m excited by his rise to Patricia’s non-material defense.
Yates: Denico Autry, Titans. While he won’t play exclusively as an edge rusher, I think the Titans adding Autry is a good thing. It is rare for a player to get his first big contract after the age of 30. Watching Autry age, but Autry has aged well and is just a ridiculously solid player. Tennessee has improved.
Which rookie quarterback will have the best 2021 season, Ryan Fitzpatrick of Washington or Jameis Winston of New Orleans?
Bowen: Winston. I think Taysom Hill will be used as a quarterback in special packages for the Saints this year. But I’m going for Winston because of his throwing ability and second reaction ability in Sean Payton’s very schematic passing game.
Clay: Fitzpatrick. As long as things fall into place, I’ll give him the edge. Winston will have real competition in Hill and may not even start in New Orleans, while Fitzpatrick is a heavy favorite against Taylor Heinicke in Washington. Fitzpatrick has also played much better than Winston in recent years, even replacing him as Tampa Bay’s starter two years ago.
Fowler: Fitzpatrick. Winston has a shot at Peyton’s offense. But there is no solid evidence that he can handle the turnover problem, and you can’t ignore the Hills factor. Hill’s first tackles can be removed by Winston. Fitzpatrick played the best football of his career on the athletic fields last year and is transferring to a team on the rise.
John Keim, Washington Reporter: Winston. I think there’s still a lot to learn about the situation in Washington. – What’s next? — before you say Fitzpatrick will have a better year, although I think he will have a good year. Winston has the advantage of playing in an offense where the players have been together for a long time and playing for one of the best offensive minds in the NFL.
John Keim reflects on Washington’s decision to contract quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Seifert: Winston. Assuming he wins the starting job over Hill, which is likely, but not certain. In this case, I predict better numbers for Peyton’s offensive quarterback, not Ron Rivera’s. I like my chances.
Mike Triplett, Saints reporter: Winston. The only thing I doubt is that Winston realistically has to secure a spot against Hill in camp, and I think it will be a legitimate battle. But Winston is a leader, and he will find himself in a fantasy situation surrounded by players like Payton, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, not to mention the offensive line.
Walder: Winston. He really wasn’t that bad in Tampa Bay. Even with 30 stoppages in the 2019 season, Winston finished 16th in the CBI. I love his chances in Peyton’s offense, and he gives Peyton the luxury of calling the plays under him as well.
frequently asked questions
Which NFL players will become free agents in 2021?
Free Agency 2021: NFL Top 250 Free Agent Rankings …
Who did the Patriots contract with in 2021?
Hunter Henry, TE The Patriots will sign the former Los Angeles Chargers tight end to a three-year, $37.5 million contract, including $25 million in guarantees, source Adam Schefter tells ESPN.
What do SBC freeholders look like in 2021?
NFL 2021 free agents: Top 10 quarterbacks who could be available…
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