We are less than two weeks away from the start of NFL free agency, which figures to be much more chaotic than years past!
First off, no one seems to know exactly what the cap number will be for 2021, but it is likely to be around $180 million, much less than previous seasons. Thus, teams will have to cut ties with veterans they may not have had to previously, while it is difficult to predict the overall market for players. Add in that this is an offseason where there figures to be a lot of quarterback movement, paired with a deep receiver and defensive back class, and we are in for a fun ride!
A common question that NFL fans and analysts like to ask with free agency is how much each free agent WILL make. However, what if we posed this question differently: how much should they make?
To answer this questions, we will have to accomplish a few tasks. First off, we need to determine how productive a player is, and from there, need to map at their overall value. To accomplish the first part, I have crafted hand-made projections of each player’s Pro Football Focus grade, using a traditional system of projection by taking into the account the past four-five years of their body of work, depending on the player. From there, using what the data we have available, I was able to project their Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
In terms of player valuation, rather than pay a player based on their talents at a position, one can make just as strong of a case that we should pay them based on their overall WAR. Based on the great distinction in WAR produced at each position, I believe that taking the middle ground of the two approaches is optimal, but I am against paying, for instance, a quality edge rusher just because he’s a good player at his position. In baseball, Freddie Freeman won’t make more money because he’s the best first baseman compared to Manny Machado, who many have ranked as the fifth-best third baseman. Rather, both players are paid based on the value they bring to their teams, and although we won’t likely be able to get to that level in football, allocating your cap space in valuable areas is critical when it comes to building a strong roster.
Today, we will be looking at between 350-400 free agents projected to be replacement-level players or better. As more veteran cuts are made, this list will continue to be updated. Furthermore, since “ranking” free agents isn’t particularly important when the focus is projecting contract worth, we will just use a traditional ranking system for the top-60 players, who are all projected to be worth $10 million or more on a total contract value. We will start with the players near replacement-level that are mainly useful for depth purposes, and will work our way to the top!
PROJECTED CONTRACT VALUE UNDER $1 MILLION
The following players are projected to be worth under $1 million. They may not be trusted as backups moreso as those who compete for the last roster spots.
- TE James O’Shaughnessy
- WR Zay Jones
- WR John Ross
- EDGE Charles Harris
- LB Elandon Roberts
- LB Brennan Scarlett
- TE Tyler Kroft
- CB Fabian Moreau
- CB Jamar Taylor
- LB Kwon Alexander
- WR Trent Taylor
- QB Jacoby Brissett
- IDL Rakeem Nunez-Roches
- RB Dion Lewis
- S Terrence Brooks
- S Will Parks
- OT Le’Raven Clark
- IOL JR Sweezy
- EDGE Cassius Marsh
- EDGE Kyler Fackrell
- EDGE Jeremiah Attaochu
- EDGE Barkevious Mingo
- EDGE Jihad Ward
- EDGE Steven Means
- LB Nicholas Morrow
- LB De’Vondre Campbell
- IDL Maliek Collins
- IDL Jonathan Bullard
- CB Phillip Gaines
- TE Derek Carrier
- LB Will Compton
- TE Dan Arnold
- IDL Adam Butler
- IDL Sylvester Williams
- RB Samaje Perine
- RB TJ Yeldon
- RB Brian Hill
- S Arthur Maulet
- S Jahleel Addae
- IOL Kelechi Osemele
- S Sean Davis
- LB Jarrad Davis
A lot of third or fourth edge rushers, as well as overall front-seven depth on defense, make out this list. John Ross is obviously an intriguing player as a former top-ten pick and his 4.22 40-yard dash, but he also hasn’t shown much signs of progress, and thus is more of a dart throw than anything else. He’s one of the most exciting players on this list, as well as Alexander (has shown flashes of coverage ability), Osemele, Collins (strong 2019 season as a pass rusher), and Sean Davis (productive as a deep safety in 2019). Meanwhile, Brissett offers value as a backup quarterback given his mobility, but also projects for a PFF grade around 60, which isn’t quite inspiring.
PROJECTED CONTRACT VALUE BETWEEN $1 MILLION and $2 MILLION
- RB Corey Clement
- WR Demarcus Robinson
- WR Dez Bryant
- S Dean Marlowe
- CB Nevin Lawson
- LB Kevin Minter
- OT Marshall Newhouse
- IDL Montravius Adams
- IDL Morgan Fox
- S Andrew Sendejo
- IOL Matt Skura
- IOL Brian Winters
- LB Kamu Grugier-Hill
- CB Buster Skrine
- CB Kevin King
- TE Luke Stocker
- S Adrian Colbert
- LB Jalen Reeves-Mabin
- TE Virgil Green
- CB Dontae Johnson
- EDGE Taco Charlton
- CB Dre Kirkpatrick
- EDGE Jordan Willis
- S Matthias Farley
- LB Patrick Onwuasoar
- LB Nick Bigil
- CB Daryl Worley
- IOL Austin Blythe
- IOL Tyler Larsen
- IOL Tom Compton
- IOL Denzelle Good
- IOL Michael Schofield
- IDL Larry Ogunjobi
- IDL DeMarcus Walker
- IDL Xavier Williams
- RB Ty Montgomery
- EDGE John Simon
- EDGE Aaron Lynch
Once again, here we say a lot of trench depth, particularly on the interior. I’m expecting Kevin King to earn more than this based on his age (25) and the fact he was a coveted draft prospect, but his tenure in Green Bay was shaky. Actually, the player I’d target from this list is Ty Montgomery, who offers running back/receiver flexibility, which is quite useful as one of the last members of a roster; he also allows you to not have to spend much on running back depth, which is always a plus.
PROJECTED VALUES BETWEEN $2 MILLION TO $3 MILLION
- LB Craig Robertson
- LB Reuben Foster
- RB DeAndre Washinton
- EDGE Alex Okafor
- WR Damiere Byrd
- RB LeSean McCoy
- RB Frank Gore
- RB Malcolm Brown
- LB Anthony Walker
- IDL Hassan Ridgeway
- RB Devontae Booker
- IOL Mike Pouncey
- IOL Quinton Spain
- IOL Brett Jones
- QB Mitch Trubisky
- IDL Christian Covington
- CB Cre’Von LeBlanc
- EDGE Ronald Blair II
- LB Sean Lee
- OT Cam Robinson
- EDGE Ryan Anderson
- OT Kendall Lamm
- IDL Solomon Thomas
- CB Darryl Roberts
- RB Lamar Miller
- RB Adrian Peterson
- CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson
- LB Reggie Ragland
- IDL DJ Jones
- IDL Marcus Hunt
- RB Devonta Freeman
- RB Chris Thompson
- S Chris Banjo
- S Andrew Adams
- OT Cedric Ogbuehi
- EDGE Dion Jordan
- EDGE Bruce Irvin
- IOL Joe Haeg
- CB Ryan Smith
If this was 2010, this would be quite the running back class!
I’m curious to see how the market develops for Mitch Trubisky. Former first-round picks are usually afforded second chances, but the narrative with the former Bear seems to be much worse, and I’m not sure he’ll match the $7.5 million he’s projected to make. Speaking of former coveted prospects, offensive tackle Cam Robinson has athleticism, but showed little overall progression throughout his time in Jacksonville, while defensive linemen Solomon Thomas could be intriguing as a versatile chess piece. Down the list further, Quinton Spain is a quality pass protector, while Anthony Walker has shown flashes as a coverage linebacker
PROJECTED CONTRACT VALUE BETWEEN $3 MILLION AND $4 MILLION
- RB Wayne Gallman
- RB Todd Gurley
- RB Cordalle Patterson
- QB Joe Flacco
- LB Brandon Copeland
- IOL John Miller
- EDGE Samson Ebukam
- EDGE Adam Gotsis
- EDGE Al-Quadin Muhammad
- LB Eric Wilson
- IDL Davon Godchaux
- S Sharron Neasman
- IDL Damion Square
- IOL Germain Ifedi
- IOL Chris Reed
- OT Ty Sambrailo
- OT DJ Fluker
- LB Raekwon McMillan
- RB Theo Riddick
- IDL Justin Ellis
- OT Jason Spriggs
- TE Marcedes Lewis
- WR Phillip Dorsett
- WR Chris Conley
- WR Mohamed Sanu
- WR Taywan Taylor
- IDL Austin Johnson
- IDL Mike Pennel
- IOL Ethan Pocic
- RB Leonard Fournette
- CB Artie Burns
- OT Roderick Johnson
- TE Jacob Hollister
- EDGE Benson Mayowa
- EDGE Vince Biegel
- EDGE Deatrich Wise Jr.
- EDGE Takkarist McKinnley
- RB Tevin Coleman
- S Daniel Sorenson
- EDGE Ezekiel Ansah
- IDL Vincent Taylor
- S Deon Bush
- TE Trey Burton
- IOL Mike Iupati
- IOL Jon Feliciano
- TE Richard Rodgers
- OT Zach Banner
- OT James Hurst
- S Erik Harris
- RB Carlos Hyde
- IDL Sheldon Rankins
Now we are starting to identify players with legitimate upside! If Sheldon Rankins is healthy, he could turn out to be a steal in free agency; he was productive before tearing his Achilles in 2018 but never got back to form after that. Meanwhile, players like Mike Pennel and Austin Johnson offer cheap support against the run, while players like Zach Banner and James Hurst are nice versatile pieces on the offensive line. However, of these players, keep an eye out for Taywan Taylor. He’s still only 25-years-old and simply hasn’t gotten a chance to prove his college production was legitimate, and if given said opportunity, he could definitely flourish. The same can be said about former first-round pick Artie Burns, though at valuable positions, both certainly profile as bench players rather than players with an actual chance of starting.
PROJECTED CONTRACT VALUE BETWEEN $4 MILLION AND $5 MILLION
These players are best served as backups, but you won’t feel uncomfortable with them as your “worst” starter/someone who has to fill in if injuries persist.
- OT Cameron Fleming
- CB Rasul Douglas
- CB Ross Cockrell
- IDL Tyrone Crawford
- S DJ Swearinger
- IOL Stefen Wisniewski
- TE Delanie Walker
- IDL Johnathan Hankins
- IDL Damon Harrison
- LB Avery Williamson
- LB Alex Anzalone
- CB Tramon Williams
- CB Jourdan Lewis
- RB Duke Johnson Jr.
- CB AJ Bouye
- WR Tyrell Williams* (Signed For 1 Year, $6M w/DET)
- IDL Malik Jackson
- RB Marlon Mack
- WR Adam Humphries
- CB Corn Elder
- CB Cameron Sutton
- LB Malcom Smith
- IOL Ben Garland
- IOL Ted Karras
- WR Dede Westbrook
- WR Keenan Cole
- EDGE Ryan Kerrigan
- RB Rex Burkhead
- IDL Brent Urban
- IDL Corey Peters
- CB Jonathan Joseph
- IDL Roy Robertson-Harris
- EDGE Denico Autry
- IOL Trai Turner
- WR Isaiah McKenzie
- IDL Abry Jones
- IDL Mike Daniels
- S Shawn Williams
- IDL Chris Wormley
- IDL Mario Edwards Jr.
- CB Michael Davis
- RB Matt Breida
- OT Ty Nsekhe
- CB TJ Carrie
- CB Akhello Witherspoon
- CB Mackenzie Alexander
- RB Mark Ingram
- LB Denzel Perryman
There is A LOT of quality interior defensive line depth in this class, and with depth on the defensive line being a better approach that going all-in on one trench player, that is really important! I’m not against paying defensive linemen as much as allocating resources properly, and this is where the value for them lies, as well as with interior offensive linemen. Meanwhile, if you’re in the market for a young cornerback, you’re in luck! Michael Davis and Akhello Witherspoon are strong targets for rebuilding teams looking to hit big, while Mackenzie Alexander and Cameron Sutton are quality players defending the slot. Then, you add versatile weapon Isaiah McKenzie, Dede Westbrook, Adam Humphries, and the now-signed Tyrell Williams, and there is a lot of wide receiver depth as well to add necessary insurance.
PROJECTED CONTRACT VALUES BETWEEN $5 MILLION AND $6 MILLION
- IOL Daniel Kilgore
- IOL Lane Taylor
- IDL Henry Anderson
- LB Mychal Kendricks
- LB BJ Goodson
- LB Josh Bynes
- S Jaquiski Tartt
- RB Jamaal Williams
- S George Illoka
- IOL Gabe Jackson
- CB DJ Hayden
- RB Kenyan Drake
- EDGE Jabaal Sheard
- EDGE Pernell McPhee
- LB Todd Davis
- S Bradley McDougald
- CB Sidney Jones
- IDL Ndamukong Suh
- WR David Moore
- WR Josh Reynolds
- WR Larry Fitzgerald
- WR Willie Snead
- EDGE Vinny Curry
- CB Gareon Conley
- CB Bashaud Breeland
- EDGE Trent Murphy
- EDGE Kerry Hyder
- EDGE Jordan Jenkins
- EDGE Aldon Smith
- IDL Malcom Brown
- S Ricardo Allen
- RB Le’Veon Bell
- RB Mike Davis
- QB Andy Dalton
- QB Alex Smith
- WR Alshon Jeffery
So much value, particularly on the defensive front seven! I’d much rather sign Jordan Jenkins, Trent Murphy, Kerry Hyder, and Pernell McPhee to fill a rotation on the edge than the more well-regarded players in this class, and the same can be said with the linebackers and running backs on this list. In terms of perimeter talent, how can you not be intrigued by Sidney Jones, who is coming off of a productive season with Jacksonville and just needs to stay healthy, as well as Gareon Conley, who could thrive in a press-man scheme?
If there was a player I could also see blowing up from this list, it’s David Moore. The former Seahawk is a big-body receiver who can stretch the field vertically, but has also rated out well after the catch. That overall diversity in his skillset should make him appealing as a fourth receiver or as a starter for a rebuilding organization.
PROJECTED CONTRACT VALUES BETWEEN $6 MILLION AND $7 MILLION
- S Tavon Wilson
- TE Jordan Reed
- OT Demar Dotson
- WR Nelson Agholor
- RB James White
- EDGE Tarrell Basham
- IDL Tyson Alualu
- S Keanu Neal
- QB Tyrod Taylor
- S Malik Hooker
- IDL Kawaan Short
- IOL Alex Mack
- CB Quinton Dunbar
- S Tashaun Gipson
- TE Kyle Rudolph
- OT Mike Remmers
- CB Terrance Mitchell
- WR Sammy Watkins
- EDGE Leonard Floyd
- LB Kevin Pierre Louis
- CB Darqueze Dennard
- IDL Steve McLendon
- S Jalen Mills
- IDL Derek Wolfe
- EDGE Everson Griffen
- S Rayshawn Jenkins
- RB James Conner
- CB Josh Norman
- CB Xavier Rhodes
- WR Golden Tate
If I can sign 24-year-old Malik Hooker to a cheap one-year deal, given his production and talents as a deep safety, I am doing that everyday of the week; his stock could blow up if he proves to be healthy after tearing his ACL. Speaking of injuries, Kawaan Short has barely played over the past two seasons, but also was a premier interior defender before then, and the potential of him getting back to peak form on a cheap contract is quite appealing. He’s much better value on the defensive line than edge rusher Leonard Floyd, who benefitted a lot from playing with Aaron Donald and doesn’t have a great track record of production, especially when players like Everson Griffen and Tarrell Basham could be had at a cheaper price. Need improved pass coverage? Keep an eye on linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, who has shined when given the chance, and slot corner Darqueze Dennard, who continues to succeed playing one of the most difficult positions in the NFL. Heck, at running back, James White and James Conner actually are decent values given their price range!
If you want a receiver with peak talent but will frustrate you with inconsistency, might I direct your attention to Sammy Watkins and Nelson Agholor! They win at the most valuable areas of the field, though I’d much rather have a reliable pass catcher for the $9-$10 million they are projected to earn.
PROJECTED CONTRACT VALUES BETWEEN $7 MILLION AND $8 MILLION
- IDL Lawrence Guy: One Year, $7.01M
Guy plays only about 500 snaps per season and is now 31-years-old, but he is a consistent anchor against the run and had 20 pressures in the five seasons prior to this year. He’s likely to earn a contract around this amount and will allow a defensive coordinator to not have to stack the box against the run.
- OT Kelvin Beachum: One Year, $7.13M
Beachum hasn’t been great as a run-blocker, but he has earned a PFF pass-block grade above 72 in each of the past eight seasons. I’d much rather sign him than spend top dollar on an offensive linemen, given that being average is the main goal on the offensive trenches.
- WR Desean Jackson: One Year, $7.17M
If Jackson can stay healthy, he can still be an effective vertical threat, though he profiles much better as a #3 or #4 receiver. I’d love to see him reunite with head coach Andy Reid in Kansas City.
- QB Cam Newton: One Year, $7.24M
The shine that was around Newton as a former MVP has now faded, but he is far from a poor quarterback. He has earned around a 70 PFF grade in each of his last two healthy seasons, and certainly played with a poor supporting cast in New England. He could project as a low-end starter than competes for a job in Denver, Washington, or Chicago, though you’d ideally set your sights higher at the game’s most important position.
- OT Rick Wagner: One Year, $7.29M
Wagner’s overall production, outside of 2019, has been strong, but he also hasn’t played a full season in each of the past two seasons, which could hurt his value at a position where liabilities need to be avoided (him getting hurt could cause a team to start a lesser backup). Still, he’s an appealing option and is likely to be undervalued.
- EDGE Romeo Okwara: Two Years, $7.52M
Okwara earned a PFF pass-rushing grade of 85.2 this season, but that number was below 60 for the first four years of his career. It’s unclear what to make of this development, though by all his account his market suggests he’ll be better value than some of the other breakout edge rushers in this class.
- WR Rashard Higgins, WR Kendrick Bourne, WR Breshad Perriman: One Year, $7.56M
Higgins was productive as the Browns’ #2 receiver after Odell Beckham Jr. got hurt last season, but barely played in 2019 as he fell out of favor in the lineup. Bourne had his best season (72 PFF grade) with a career-high 72 targets in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Perriman has blossomed outside of Baltimore as a deep threat, and is probably the most intriguing player of these three.
- IOL Nick Martin: Two Years, $7.75M
Martin offers very little from a run-blocking perspective, but is a quality pass-blocker on the interior, so a team like the Chiefs or Cardinals may be interested in him.
- S Karl Joseph, S Damarious Randall: $7.82M
These two players are entirely different. Joseph is more of a traditional box safety, whereas Randall is a converted cornerback with deep safety skills. I’m not sure why Randall bounced around to different teams this season, but his production has been strong.
- IDL Jurrell Casey: One Year, $7.85M
Casey only got to play one month in Denver before going down with a season-ending injury, but he still projects to earn around a 78 PFF grade, so outside of the injury and being 31-years-old, he honestly may be better than almost every other interior defender available in free agency.
- WR Danny Amendola: One Year, $7.92M
Amendola is a slot-only receiver, but he also posted 1.82 yards/route run this season, so at that point, why not exploit the fact he’ll be undervalued because of his limitations?
- CB Jason McCourty: One Year, $7.95M
McCourty was very productive with the Patriots, which is a tough defense to play in as a defensive back. That should ease concerns about his age (33)
- OT Jason Peters: One Year, $7.99M
Speaking of age, Jason Peters is 38-years-old and struggles to stay healthy, but before this season, was one of the top players at his position. I don’t expect him to earn much in free agency, which could make him great value for teams like the Dolphins and Giants, as he can compete with younger players on the roster.
PROJECTED CONTRACT VALUES BETWEEN $8 MILLION AND $10 MILLION
- CB Jason Verrett: One Year, $8.17M
Verrett played just 67 snaps between 2017 and 2019, but had previously been a premier cornerback, and managed to stay healthy with the 49ers this season while earning a 77.6 PFF grade. The durability is a concern, but he makes a lot of sense on a one-year deal.
- S Damontae Kazee: One Year, $8.29M
- S Tre Boston: One Year, $8.36M
Whether it’s defending the slot or as a deep safety, Kazee is a versatile player who fits with any defense. Boston, meanwhile, is coming off of his worst season as a pro, but was asked to play a more versatile role, and has been one of the better deep safeties in the NFL for a long period of time.
- EDGE Olivier Vernon: One Year, $8.42M
- EDGE Haason Reddick: One Year, $8.54M
- EDGE Bud Dupree: Two Years, $8.54M
It’s crazy how the narrative can be so different for two players coming off of torn ACLs. Vernon is seen as a low-end player, whereas Dupree is seen as an ascending talent. Yet, Vernon has outproduced him in every stable metric, while Dupree has benefitted from being the fourth-best pass rusher on his team. Reddick is an interesting case as a college edge rusher who struggled as an off-ball linebacker before moving back to his normal position. Was his ascent this year due comfort or a flash in the pan? That will be a difficult evaluation.
- QB Ryan Fitzpatrick: One Year, $8.63M
There isn’t enough buzz around Fitzpatrick as there should be. He has earned a PFF grade above 75 in each of the past three seasons, and that’s while playing in a very suboptimal supporting situation in Miami. If I’m Washington, the Broncos, or the Bears, he is a player I’d be targeting.
- TE Jared Cook: One Year, $8.64M
Cook is now 33-years-old and wasn’t very productive last season, but he still is an above-average player at a talent-scare position. With this being a weaker tight-end class in the draft, he’s a lower-tier options if teams don’t want to break the bank at the position.
- EDGE Matthew Judon: Two Years, $8.81M
Judon has a strong reputation and will likely seek a massive contract, but the reality is he has only had over 42 pressures in one season, and that’s while playing in a favorable blitz-heavy scheme that manufactures pressure. He’s my pick for the worst-value free agent of this class.
- S Duron Harmon: One Year, $8.92M
Harmon isn’t a flashy player, but he is one of the few players on the Lions’ defense to play competent last season, and plays a key role as a deep safety that limits negative plays.
- CB Nickell Robey-Coleman: One Year, $8.94M
Robey-Coleman is coming off of his worst season in the NFL, but he had previously been arguably a top-five slot cornerback. Given the volatility of playing defensive back, why not take a chance on him?
- OT Russell Okung: One Year, $9.15M
Okung has been strong in pass protection for a long time, but he also has played a combined 663 snaps over the past two seasons and is 33-years-old. That makes him questionable value at his projected $17 million per year.
- RB Chris Carson: One Year, $9.38M
Carson has managed to be one of the better running backs behind one of the worst offensive lines, so he creates a lot of yardage on his own. I’m not giving him a multi-year deal if I’m an NFL team because of his position, but he’s certainly a quality player.
- CB Patrick Peterson: One Year, $9.55M
Peterson obviously in his prime was one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, but he relied a lot on his 4.31 speed and he has now been a below-average cornerback for two-straight seasons. Given that his pedigree will likely cause him to seek a lofty deal, I’d probably look elsewhere for secondary help.
- QB Jameis Winston: One Year, $9.81M
Winston is interesting in that turnovers are supposed to be volatile, but it’s a never-ending corner with him. Quarterbacks who can create air yardage like he can are the types that can help elevate an offense, and I’m very intrigued by him remaining with the Saints and pairing with head coach Sean Payton.
- TE Rob Gronkowski: One Year, $9.83M
Gronkowski remained a quality tight end even after coming out of retirement. I’d put the chances he’s not on the Bucs next year at about “0”.
- EDGE Justin Houston: One Year, $9.89M
Houston earned a PFF pass-rush grade above 80 in both 2019 and 2018, but that number went down to 64.4 last year. Is that due to regression with age? I’d still take a chance on the 32-year-old on a one-year deal, but it certainly depends on the price.
PROJECTED CONTRACT VALUES BETWEEN $10 MILLION AND $25.5 MILLION
#59: WR AJ Green: One Year, $10.57M
Going back to 2018, Green was one of the top receivers in the NFL. However, after being injured for all of 2019 and being one of the least-efficient receivers in 2020, his outlook moving forward is quite murky. The “upside” with him finding his previous form with a new team is enticing, but he’s also now 32-years-old, so is that a reasonable expectation.
#58: IOL Austin Reiter: Two Year, $10.58M
According to Pro Football Focus, Reiter has been a top-15 center in the NFL based on WAR. He’s essentially a better version of Nick Martin who doesn’t bring much to the running game , but is athletic and above-average as a pass protector. His ability to play center definitely should appeal to teams.
#57: WR Antonio Brown: One Year, $10.8M
Brown is so difficult to project in that due to character issues, he might not even play next season, but he’s also one of the most talented players in the NFL. He’ll likely be back in Tampa Bay on a relatively affordable deal.
#56: EDGE Trey Hendrickson: Two Years, $11.81M
Hendrickson is coming off of a double-digit sack season, but his peripheral metrics didn’t match it and it was his first notable season of production. He’s a classic “buyer beware” at edge rusher, especially given the luxurious situation he was in playing with so much defensive line talent in New Orleans, and probably will be stronger in the run game than rushing the passer moving forward.
#55: TE Gerald Everett: Two Years, $12.85M
There is a lot of appeal with Everett, and this excerpt from Pro Football Focus says it best:
“He has averaged more than 5.0 yards after the catch in his career and broken 30 tackles on 130 catches in his career. Given his age and upside, as well as his relatively small workload throughout his NFL career, he could be an intriguing option for a team looking to get more athletic at the position and expand its passing game options.“
How could you not be intrigued? For around $5 million per year, teams like the Bengals, Titans, Colts, and Jets should be all-in on signing him.
#54: EDGE Jadeveon Clowney: One Year, $12.94M
Clowney was seeking a $20 million a year last offseason as a former #1 overall pick and the game’s third-best most valuable edge rusher in 2018, based on PFF WAR. Instead, he settled for a one-year deal and got injured in the middle of the 2020 season with the Titans, and now likely will once again have a modest market. He’s a much better player than some of the other edge rushers (Judon, Dupree, Floyd, Hendrickson) in this free agency class, though, so he could present value.
#53: CB Mike Hilton: Two Years, $13.3M
Slot cornerbacks play one of the most difficult positions in the NFL and one of the most valuable, yet their market couldn’t reflect that any less. Hilton is a versatile player who thrives in blitz packages and also is a playmaker overall, which should appeal to several defensive coordinators.
#52: CB Shaquill Griffin: Two Years, $13.5M
Griffin went from being a below-replacement level cornerback in 2018 to the seventh-most valuable in 2019, and settled in as the 40th-most valuable in 2020, per PFF WAR. That’s quite the fluctuation for the former Seahawk, which makes him one of the more worrisome targets from a value perspective at the cornerback position.
#51: EDGE Tyus Bowser: Two Years, $14.26M
Bowser has been a part-time player in Baltimore, but has graded similarly to Matt Judon, and has the versatility to drop back in coverage. I’d love to see him go to a multiple scheme like Miami, the Giants, or New England, though a return to the Ravens would be optimal as well. Remember, he still is only 25-years-old.
#50: IOL Matt Feiler: Two Years, $14.37M
Feiler has the ability to play tackle and guard at an above-average level, which makes him one of my “gems” of the free agency class. There isn’t exactly a better place to play him, though you’re getting better value from him at tackle if he only earns about $6 million per year. I’m not sure there is a team in the NFL that wouldn’t be better with him on their team.
#49: IDL DaQuan Jones: Two Years, $14.9M
Jones is a quality run defender who now has progressed as a pass-rusher, posting 24+ pressures in each of the past seasons. He’s projected to be worth right around what he’ll likely earn on the open market.
#48: IOL David Andrews: Two Years, $14.91M
Andrews missed all of 2019 with a heart condition, and wasn’t as productive in 2020. That said, he was still a top-ten center by most metrics, and should be strong value for teams in need of interior offensive line depth: Dolphins, Giants, Broncos.
#47: LB KJ Wright: Two Years, $14.93M
Wright has played nearly 1,000 snaps in each of the past two seasons and was quite strong in coverage this past season. He is 31-years-old, but he also played in a very difficult scheme in Seattle than asks their linebackers to defend the slot in base packages, and coverage players over the middle are always needed.
#46: WR TY Hilton: One Year, $15.58M
Hilton wasn’t super productive last season, but hasn’t been dealt a great hand in terms of vertical passing talent he’s played with in the past two years. He is at his best working down the field, so if he signs with a team that asks him to work vertically, he should have much more success. I could see him returning to Indianapolis, though I like him as a potential fit with the Cardinals, Bengals, Dolphins, Packers, and Browns.
#45: EDGE Kyle Van Noy: Two Years, $16.17M
Van Noy’s overall grade was worse this season, but he remained as productive as a pass rusher; it was his coverage ability and run defense that was much worse. His best season came when he was used exclusively as a pass rusher in 2019, and although his versatility is nice, it’s also more of a luxury than something that needs to be maximized. In a less difficult role, he should be more productive than a lot of the other edge rushers in this free agency class.
#44: LB Matt Milano: Three Years, $16.88M
Being a coverage linebacker is good, but at some point when you are such a liability against the run, it is an issue; it limits the snaps you can play, and thus, your value. Add in his regression in coverage in 2020, and Matt Milano becomes much less appealing as a free agent. This profile is very similar to Joe Schobert, who signed a big deal with the Jaguars last offseason and struggled mightily in 2020.
#43: CB Brian Poole: Two Years, $17.2M
Poole has been around an 80 PFF coverage grade in the slot over the past two seasons, and also has been useful throughout his career rushing the passer. Remember, slot defenders are incredible valuable!
#42: CB Chidobe Awuzie: Three Years, $17.23M
Awuzie struggled this season, and doesn’t have a strong track record, so he’s essentially a league-average zone cornerback. Thus, he’s a much better fit for teams like Washington, the Colts, the Broncos, the Chargers, and Jets, who won’t ask him to do responsibilities he’s not built to do.
#41: CB K’Waun Williams: Two Years, $17.3M
Back to the slot cornerbacks! Williams has been productive defending the nickel for his entire career, has played in different schemes, and is yet projected to earn $4 million? I will never quite understand why slot cornerbacks are so undervalued.
#40: EDGE Melvin Ingram III: Two Years, $17.93M
Ingram is coming off of an injury-shortened season, but he remains a strong bet to post 50-60 pressures, though his age (almost 32) may deflate his market enough to provide value as a productive pass rusher.
#39: IDL Shelby Harris: Two Years, $18.6M
Harris’ efficiency has always been strong both from rushing the passer and defending the run, though last year was the first time he eclipsed 500 snaps in a season. If he can maintain his efficiency over a larger body of work, he could be very useful for whoever signs him in terms of interior pressure and allowing a defensive play-caller to utilize his resources to stop then pass.
#38: S Xavier Woods: Two Years, $18.61M
I’ve thought that Woods was underrated for a while now, and although he is coming off of a poor season, he remains a very versatile player who can line up as a free safety or in the box. He’s also only 25-years-old, which should increase his market.
#37: EDGE Carl Lawson: Three Years, $18.63M
Inconsistency has been an issue for Lawson, who has multiple seasons with a PFF pass-rushing grade over 80, but that number dipped to 64.3 in 2019, while his poor run defense and injury history limits the amount of snaps he’ll play for his new team. That said, he’s the one edge rusher I could make a case for paying more than my projections deem him to be worth.
#36: CB Troy Hill: Two Years, $19.29M
Hill isn’t even a slot-only cornerback, as he has been proficient as both an outside corner and working in the nickel, which is very impressive versatility. Meanwhile, per PFF WAR, he was the 16th-most valuable cornerback in the NFL last year; I want a player like that on my team. He’ll get much less than his projected worth and should be a massive steal.
#35: RB Aaron Jones: Two Years, $19.44M
Jones has been productive since he came into the league as an explosive rusher and was PFF’s second-most valuable running back in the NFL last season. Unfortunately, he is also a running back on his second contract, and as an explosive rusher that benefitted from a strong offensive line, one has to question his ability to sustain his production for a new team, or how much his ability to do so truly matters.
#34: CB Ronald Darby: Two Years, $19.86M
Darby was atrocious in 2019, but for the most part his production suggests that he’s been a quality cornerback throughout his career, albeit one who has some issues when it comes to durability. He has had to settle for one-year deals over the past two offseasons, but given his age (27) and his ability to thrive in man coverage, something that not many cornerbacks can do so effectively, he should finally get a multi-year contract.
#33: WR Curtis Samuel: Two Years, $19.93M
Samuel went from being a deep threat to a weapon after the catch in the slot in 2020, and although he has been effective in both roles, I think he fits better in the latter. There a lot of offenses that can use his strengths to add an extra wrinkle to what they want to do, and given that he’s just 24-years-old, I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to adding a third year to his contract. He doesn’t quite have as long of a track record as some of the other players on this list, but it’s hard for a receiver to succeed when he isn’t used properly.
#32: WR Juju Smith-Schuster: Two Years, $21.13M
Smith-Schuster is also 24-years-old and is quite popular, yet his production hasn’t matched his popularity. He is effective after the catch, but it’s alarming his best two seasons came as a complementary threat, and although his quarterback play has been poor over the past two seasons, he also simply hasn’t been a big-play threat like he was supposed to be. How he fares in 2021 and beyond depends greatly with how his new team uses him. If they have a #1 WR and want him to stretch the field, he’ll be more effective than as the intermediate target out of the slot that Pittsburgh tried to market him as.
#31: TE Jonnu Smith: Three Years, 21.16M
I’m a major fan of Smith’s skillset after the catch, though it’s hard to judge his efficiency statistics when he hasn’t had the volume that other tight ends have had, which has limited his value. This is a common problem with free-agent tight ends, and the track record of them panning out isn’t great. That being said, we’re talking about a tight end who can line up out wide and in-line while being a big-play threat, which is something that every offense could use.
#30: OT Alejandro Villanueva: Two Years, $22.04M
Villanueva has been a staple of the Steelers’ quality offensive line for six seasons, and has consistently been tremendous in pass protection. That said, he does have his limitations, which limits his scheme diversity, while he also is 32-years-old and was protected somewhat by a quick passing game. I’m worried about his play falling off in a longer developing offense with more complicated pass sets, though I also understand the value of competent tackle play.
$29: EDGE Yannick Ngakoue: Three Years, $23.2M
Ngakoue is a poor run defender, which makes him suited best as a situational pass rusher. That’s fine, but when that’s the case, the bar is higher, and he hasn’t quite reached that bar outside of a tremendous sophomore season in Jacksonville. Given his overall limitations, it’d be puzzling to pay him the $17 million he’s projected to get, especially since he won’t ever accumulate much WAR due to his lack of snaps played.
#28: WR Marvin Jones: Two Years, $24.14M
If you’re looking for overall consistency and reliability, you’ll get that from Jones, who is very effective working a vertical route tree. You’re always going to be wary of a receiver about to turn 31-years-old, but on a two-year deal, I wouldn’t be . I love his fit with Baker Mayfield in Cleveland, though practically every team could use his skillset.
#27: CB Desmond King: Two Years, $25.17M
King is puzzling in that his best years came at the beginning of his career (5th in PFF WAR in 2018), but he has regressed since then. He remains a versatile chess piece that can line up in the slot or at safety, and with how many teams need to improve their slot coverage, he should be appealing for about $5-$6 million. Just from a need and scheme standpoint, the 49ers, Raiders, Cowboys, and Bills all make a lot of sense.
#26: OT Daryl Williams: Three Years, $25.22M
Williams is a microcosm for how to attack free agency, as the Bills picked him at his lowest point after he was asked o play on the interior, moved him back to tackle, and saw him protect Josh Allen tremendously. Now that he’s healthy and playing his natural position, there’s a chance he ends up being a shrewd signing and my projections are too low for him, with a reunion in Buffalo being optimal for all parties.
PROJECTED CONTRACT VALUES BETWEEN $25 MILLION AND $60 MILLION
All of these players project to be high-impact starters for their new teams, and although not game changers, their low range of outcomes still likely involves them not being a complete free-agent bust.
#25: TE Hunter Henry: Three Years, $25.5M
After emerging as an elite tight end over the first two seasons of his career, Hunter Henry has failed to get back to those levels after missing all of his third season due to a torn ACL. That being said, he has still been a top-ten tight end in terms of PFF WAR, so he’ll get paid well. He doesn’t beat single coverages and isn’t a big-play threat, so he’s a “buyer beware” for sure, but he can still be a sure-handed target for a quarterback, meaning that my opinion on him from a value standpoint comes completely down to price.
#24: IDL Dalvin Tomlinson: Three Years, $27.31M
Tomlinson is as reliable as it gets from a run defense standpoint, but this was the first season where he rated above-average as a pass rusher, and, as a nose tackle, isn’t a sure thing to be an every down player. He likely will get the $13M annual value that DJ Reader got last offseason, which, in my opinion, would be an overpay for a player with a skillset that isn’t difficult to find at a cheaper price; run defense isn’t moving the needle. Still, if his market doesn’t develop as anticipated, he’d be a fine signing given his consistency and the extra value of run-stopping interior defenders when it comes to not sacrificing extra resources against the run.
#23: LB Jayon Brown: Three Years, $27.33M
Matt Milano is going to be the second-best paid linebacker on the open market, but that honor should go to former Titan Jayon Brown. He has been very consistent in coverage, and outside of this season, has been much better than Milano against the run. He is coming off of an injury-shortened season, but he can definitely help shore up a team’s middle-of-the-field coverage.
#22: CB Richard Sherman: Two Years, $29.66M
How big of a deal is age when signing a free agent? That will be key when addressing Richard Sherman. In 2019, the soon-to-be 33-year-old was the most valuable cornerback in the NFL, per PFF, but the two seasons around there were different results. In 2020, he dealt with multiple injuries, while he also was closer to average in 2018 coming off of a major Achilles injury.
Obviously, you’re not signing Sherman to play single coverage. He doesn’t shadow opposing receiver, but rather lines up on his side of the field and thrives in a traditional cover-three scheme. Usually, his limitations could be an issue, but when you are so tremendous at what you do, does that matter? Given his age and injury history, teams should proceed with caution, yet the following teams all make sense from a need and schematic standpoint: Raiders, Jets, Colts, Chargers, Broncos, Cowboys.
Heck, why not a reunion with the Seahawks?
#21: EDGE JJ Watt: Two Years, $30.8M
Watt got signed to a contract by the Cardinals worth slightly less than this. His age and injury history is a concern, but he was also the third-most valuable edge defender in football last season (per PFF), and his production would’ve been much better had the Texans not had such a depleted secondary. Add in his versatility, and there is a lot to like about him.
However, this is still not optimal for Arizona. As of now, they don’t have a starting cornerback on the roster, need extra receiver talent, and simply don’t have roster depth. They’re the epitome of a “stars and scrubs” roster, which simply is not the proper way to build a roster. It’s great to have a strong pass rush, but when it’s coming at the expense of pass coverage, your defense is going to struggle. Also, with this being such a huge year for the pairing of Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury, perhaps you want to make sure there are no potential excuses if things go poorly?
Watt is still a fantastic player, and it would’ve been great to see him land closer to winning a Super Bowl and/or with better pass coverage (Titans, Bills, Browns, Colts). He definitely demonstrates how free agency isn’t just about the overall $/WAR value, but also the player-team fit.
#20: S Anthony Harris: Two Years, $31.13M
As the second-most valuable safety in 2019 (per PFF), Anthony Harris could have had quite the market had he become a free agent. However, he has hit by the franchise tag, and regressed last season with the Vikings. Playing in head coach Mike Zimmer’s split-safety defense, he’s a traditional deep safety that is strong in coverage and produced at a high level even when he was a role player, so he’s got a better track record than you might think. Then again, his regression was concerning and he’s older (29) than some of the other free-agent safeties, so it’s hard to get a read as to how much he’ll earn. Still, given how safeties are undervalued, he’ll still provide surplus value.
#19: EDGE Shaquil Barrett: Three Years, $35.9M
Barrett’s excellent postseason has boosted his stock tremendously, and he’s set to earn around $20 million per year. If that’s the case, whoever signs him may look back at that decision as a mistake. The 28-year-old, similarly to Harris, was excellent as a role player with the Broncos, and maintained his efficiency when he signed with the Bucs prior to the 2019 season in a larger role. However, his 20-sack season in 2019 wasn’t backed up by his underlying metrics, and he still wasn’t even a top-20 graded edge defender from PFF. Add in the lack of value that singular pass rushers have, and it’s clear that teams shouldn’t break the bank on him. The Bucs would be much better off re-signing their other free agents and keeping him in town, especially since a major reason for Barrett’s success has been playing in a blitz-happy scheme with an excellent coverage unit.
#18: CB William Jackson: Three Years, $36.3M
According to Pro Football Focus, here are Jackson’s WAR totals by year:
- 2020: 0.49, 22th Among CBs
- 2019: -0.04, 192nd Among CBs
- 2018: 0.4, 17th Among CBs
If that doesn’t demonstrate the volatility of playing defensive back, I don’t know what does; Jackson earned a 90+ PFF grade in his first season too! Given that he’s played with very little else around him, in a unfavorable defensive scheme, and has been a high-end player in three of the past four years, I’d bank on him being worth the $12-$14 million he’ll likely earn. However, as with every well-regarded free-agent cornerback, he’ll certainly come with great risk.
#17: IOL Corey Linsley: Four Years, $42.81M
Linsley was arguably the best center in the NFL last season, especially in pass protection, allowing a pressure on under 1% of his pass-blocking snaps last season. Even at 30-years-old, I’d be comfortable giving him a four-year deal at the right price given his consistency and how many teams could benefit from quality center play- the $11M AAV he’s projected for sounds about right.
#16: IOL Joe Thuney: Four Years, $45.19M
Thuney was supposed to be a free agent last offseason, but was surprisingly brought back on the franchise tag by the Patriots. He has been, by most metrics, a top-five interior offensive lineman in the NFL over the past few seasons, as he’s elite in pass protection and also above-average as a run blocker. It’s so hard to find consistent offensive line play, and for teams with a rookie quarterback, such as the Bengals, Dolphins, and Chargers, it might make sense to even slightly overpass for him on a contract structured around the rookie contract. That might seem strange for me to say given the stance I’ve held, but if there is one position I’d slightly overpay for, it’s a supporting cast for a rookie quarterback, and Thuney is unlikely to command an unreasonable contract.
#15: IOL Brandon Scherff: Four Years, $46.06M
Between Linsley, Thuney, and Scherff, it’s your pick of preference as to who your top target would be on the interior offensive line. After being the fourth-highest graded guard from PFF, that honor, per my projections, goes to Scherff, and his underlying metrics, as cited by PFF, are quite encouraging:
“Over the last three seasons, Scherff ranks among the league’s best guards in nearly every key metric, including a 97th percentile ranking on true pass sets and 90th percentile ranking in percentage of positively graded plays. Both numbers are among the most important when projecting interior offensive linemen from year to year.“
Scherff’s durability has been a question at times, but he was fully healthy in 2020 and it’s hard to be as consistently productive as he has been. He might cost slightly more than Thuney and Linsley, making them better values, but the same teams I listed for Thuney apply to Scherff.
#14: LB Lavonte David: Three Years, $52.45M
Paying 32-year-old linebackers is a risky proposition, but in David’s case, it will likley be worth it. Not only was he the second-most valuable linebacker (per PFF WAR) and was worth as much as William Jackson last season at a position where it’s much harder to accumulate WAR. That’s thanks to his coverage ability, which has been quite impressive at a time where playing linebacker has never been more difficult.
The Bucs, according to reports, likely won’t retain David, and if that is in order to pay Shaquil Barrett, then I think that is a massive mistake. He’s projected to earn $13-$14 million, which may turn out to be a bargain, and explains why generally responsible teams like the Colts and Browns have been rumored to be interested in him. It’s rare to find value in signing a top-tier linebacker, but David’s contributions to a team’s pass coverage cannot be overstated, and if Tampa Bay lets him leave, they will miss him greatly.
#13: IDL Leonard Williams: Four Years, $52.45M
Given his high pedigree as a former top draft prospect, it’s not a surprise that Williams is in line to earn potentially $20 million per year on his next deal. Yet, he’s a limited player, as Pro Football Focus refers to:
“Williams is an average pass-rusher and even with a career-high 13 sacks this season, he’s yet to break a 72.0 pass-rush grade for his career.”
He’s tremendous as a run defender, but is this the type of player I want to have earning superstar money? I don’t see much difference between him and DJ Reader from last offseason, and, ironically, his projected contract worth is exactly what Reader received. That seems like a much more reasonable amount of money to spend than what the 26-year-old will actually receive, likely to stay with the Giants.
#12: S Justin Simmons: Four Years, $55.29M
In 2018, Simmons was a below-replacement level cornerback. So, naturally, in a contract year in 2019, he led all safeties in PFF WAR. That limited track record made it an easy decision for the Broncos to franchise tag him, and, to his credit, he remained one of the premier players at his position. The 27-year-old has the length and playmaking ability to constantly make plays on the ball, but he’s more than a prototypical deep safety, as he has also performed well overall in run support. Thus, he’s very scheme diverse, adding to his value. I think there are better values out there on the safety market that performed better than he did last year, but he can definitely be a difference maker for whoever signs him; given his success in Denver with head coach Vic Fangio, it makes sense for all parties for him to be retained.
#11: OT Trent Williams: Three Years, $59.86M
Williams is quite the story. After dealing with a cancerous tumor and missing all of the 2019 season, he returned in 2020 to be the most valuable tackle in football, according to PFF. That simply doesn’t happen every day.
There has never been a point in his career where Williams wasn’t one of the best players at his position. His reliability in pass protection and his ability to thrive at the second level in the running game makes him as well-rounded as it gets, and I’d love to see him remain in a zone-rushing offense. His age (32) may limit his market, but he’s also potentially the best offensive tackle in the NFL, and he won’t be the first offensive tackle to age tremendously well. The 49ers have other areas of their roster to address, but, once again, teams with a rookie quarterback (Bengals, Chargers, Jags) should definitely be interested in him.
PROJECTED CONTRACT VALUES WORTH OVER $60 MILLION
These are the premier free agents, as all play valuable positions and legitimately can move the needle; they are all worth four-year contracts at the minimum.
#10: S Marcus Maye
Projected Value: Four Years, $63.1M
Best Fits: NYJ, JAX, CLE, MIA, BAL
Jamal Adams wasn’t the only elite safety during his time with the Jets.
After missing most of his sophomore season due to injury and struggling as a rookie, Marcus Maye has burst onto the scene. The 26-year-old has earned coverage grades from PFF over 77 (85.8 this season), was the fifth-most valuable safety in the NFL this past season, and was an overall very well-rounded skillset. In New York, he played both as a deep safety as well as versatile hybrid safety, and his overall versatility makes him a fit on almost any defense. A reunion in New York is optimal, but, given his versatility, I’d love to see what he could do in a defense that would embrace his skillset, such as Baltimore or Miami. Either way, he’s an ascending player that many teams should be intrigued by.
#9: S John Johnson III
Projected Value: Four Years, $63.08M
Best Fits: CLE, BAL, JAX, MIA, DAL
Sticking with young, talented safeties, John Johnson III is the type of player you want to build your secondary around. PFF’s third-most valuable safety last year, he has earned a coverage grade above 82.9 in all three of his healthy seasons, and also rated elite against the run this year. Whether it’s in the box, as a deep safety, or defending the slot, he can truly do it all, which makes him a fit in any defense.
Ideally, he’d be your traditional versatile strong safety, which is a role that cover-three defenses like the Browns, Cowboys, Jets, and Raiders can guarantee him. Yet, I’d LOVE to see him end up in Baltimore, who’d embrace his versatility and could stand to bolster their secondary further with an upgrade at safety. Wherever he signs, he’s going to make a difference, and I’m very surprised he hasn’t garnered more attention as a top-tier free agent.
#8: OT Taylor Moton
Projected Value: Four Years, $64.8M
Best Fits: CAR, LAC, NYJ, CIN, JAX
In his three seasons as a starter, Taylor Moton has earned a PFF grade between 76.2 and 81.2 and has ranked 11th or 12th in PFF WAR. That is the model of consistency, which is quite valuable on the offensive line.
Despite blocking for a different quarterback in every season as a pro, he has continued to rank as an all-around tremendous player, especially as a pass protector. Given that he’s just 26-years-old and has practically zero red flags, it wouldn’t make much sense for the Panthers to let him leave with the franchise tag on the table. They have zero depth behind him at either tackle spot, and with them potentially drafting a rookie quarterback, it would be quite optimal to not have any liabilities along the offensive line. Even if it’s a fourth different quarterback under center in Carolina in 2021, they can definitely count on Moton doing his part.
#7: WR Will Fuller V
Projected Value: Four Years, $68.32M
Best Fits: GB, ARI, NYJ, MIA, CIN
Usually, it’s hard to find five fits for a free agent. Will Fuller, on the other hand, fits with practically every offense in the NFL; the Patriots, Chargers, Colts, Seahawks, Ravens, Giants, and Washington are all also strong fits.
Fuller isn’t going to win you over with consistency. He hasn’t eclipsed 640 snaps in a season since his rookie year, and his game-to-game consistency doesn’t match up with other high-end receivers. However, what he provides to a team far outweighs any of those concerns.
The 26-year-old is a true deep threat (career 14.8 average depth of target) and creates plays after the catch (5.4 YAC/REC 2020). Thus, his ability to create big plays allows his overall production to be very strong even without a lot of targets coming his way. What type of offense doesn’t need a player like that? Plus, for all the concerns about his drops, he only had two in 2020, and had his best season even after the Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins.
The Packers have been interested in Fuller for a while, and he would be the perfect complement to Davante Adams, while the Cardinals desperately need more speed on their offense. Speaking of speed, teams like the Jets, Chargers, Dolphins, and Bengals all need that to complement their bigger-body receivers and help out their young quarterbacks. Given his injury history and the fact he’ll miss the first game next season due to a PED suspension, I could see his market being lower than expected. If that’s the case, one very lucky team is going to be able to take advantage.
#6: WR Corey Davis
Projected Value: Four Years, $69.26M
Best Fits: IND, BAL, TEN, WSH, NYG
Corey Davis is a great example of how draft position can completely dictate the narrative about one’s career. The 26-year-old has ranked above-average in practically every metric over the first four seasons, of his career, but as the former 5th overall pick in the draft, many seem as a disappointment.
Yes, Davis may have not developed into an elite #1 receivers, but he’s as high-end of #2 receiver as it gets. He’s been very effective working a vertical route tree, and has never had more than four drops in a season. He might not have blazing speed or be an elite separator, but with his ability to win at the catch point, he is incredibly reliable, and is coming off of a year in which he averaged 2.46 yards/route run and earned an 86.9 PFF grade.
Davis fits best with teams that have other weapons and can utilize him as a big-body vertical threat. That makes staying with the Titans a tremendous fit, while he’d pair well with Terry McLaurin in Washington. However, with how much Carson Wentz relies on his receivers to win at the catch point, it would behoove the Colts to be a top suitor for him, while the Ravens also desperately need size with their receiving corps. Davis might not be on the same level as the three “elite” receivers in this class, but don’t discount the value of a strong complementary receiver; he can definitely move the needle for an offense given the significance of the receiver position.
#5: S Marcus Williams
Projected Value: Four Years, $72.59M
Best Fits: JAX, MIA, LV, CLE, BAL
Age is a critical variable when it comes to draft analysis. Players who can perform while younger than their peers in college tend to translate well to the NFL level, which is something that more analytically-inclined front offices certainly value.
Marcus Williams is an example of this. He entered the league as a 20-year-old rookie, and even then, earned an 89.2 PFF coverage right away. Despite dealing with the volatility of coverage play, he has never graded below-average in any area, while he has multiple seasons of elite production on his resume as well, as PFF notes:
“Since entering the league in 2017, Williams has ranked near the top of the league in every significant category for safeties. He has a coverage grade that ranks in the 90th percentile to go with the highest rate of forced incompletions“
That is ridiculously impressive, and it’s a shame Williams doesn’t get more recognition, due in large part due to the infamous “Minneapolis Miracle”. Despite being seen as a lightweight player, he has earned a run defense grade over 80 from PFF in three of the four seasons of his career, and missed just two tackles last year. Them, you add in his clear playmaking ability, and he’s everything you could ask for from a deep safety.
Williams’ age can appeal to teams that simply want to add a young building block for the future, making him a natural fit with the Jaguars. Furthermore, teams like the Dolphins and Ravens could continue to go all-in on their coverage unit by adding him to the back-end of their defense, while the Browns could pair him with youngster Grant Delpit for the future. Just from a need standpoint, there are plenty of other qualifiers that should look into him.
The safety market is far more suppressed than it should be. Players like Williams move the needle as much as any defensive player, yet his next contract won’t reflect that, to the point where the cap-strapped Saints may even be able to retain him. In my opinion, he’s pretty clearly the most valuable free agent that isn’t a quarterback or receiver.
#4: WR Kenny Golladay
Projected Value: Four Years, $80.35M
Best Fits: WSH, BAL, IND, NYG, JAX
A lot has been made about the idea that quarterback Matthew Stafford had little to work with in Detroit, but he also was able to throw to: Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay. That’s quite an impressive group.
With his tremendous contested-catch abilities, Golladay meshed very well with Stafford’s aggressiveness tendencies. His average depth of target is the same as Fuller, and has gotten only better as he has played less in the slot. Yes, he missed a majority of the 2020 season due to injury, but he also was Uber-productive (2.46 yards/route run) before getting injured, and he’s now earned a PFF grade of 79.9 or higher in three straight seasons. In other words, he’s as reliable as it gets, wins at the most valuable areas of the field, and has succeed as a high-volume receiver even when Stafford has been injured. That’s quite the profile.
We’ve mentioned how Washington, Baltimore, and Indianapolis need to add size and a vertical threat to their receiving corps. The problem is that Golladay is likely to be franchise tagged, which means whoever wants to acquire him also may have to give up a draft pick; Indianapolis already traded their third-round pick for Wentz, and the Ravens don’t have their third-round pick as well. Thus, Washington stands out as the premier suitor, and I’d definitely keep an eye on the Jaguars. They have so much mid-round draft capital, and if they strike out on potential receiver targets, then why not Golladay? Him, DJ Chark Jr., and Laviska Shenault would be quite the receiving corps for presumed first-round pick Trevor Lawrence, after all.
Golladay needs to be paired with an aggressive quarterback, but if you don’t have that, then this is an issue in it of itself. Expect him to be in high demand.
#3: WR Allen Robinson
Projected Value: Four Years, $90.07M
Best Fits: WSH, BAL, MIA, IND, JAX
Can Allen Robinson be paired with a competent quarterback?
That’s the question everyone is wondering. After all, here are the quarterbacks he has caught passes from since college:
- Christian Hackenburg
- Blake Bortles
- Mitch Trubisky
- Nick Foles
Yikes! Unfortunately for Robinson, teams with elite quarterbacks don’t exactly have a lot of money to spend, but it’d be hard for him to not upgrade with his next team. Despite this all, he has earned a PFF grade over 77.7 in each of the past three seasons, and ranked 8th and 3rd in PFF WAR among receivers in 2019 and 2020, respectively. He doesn’t create much yardage after the catch and isn’t a speedster, but with just one drop last season and elite contested-catch skills, his reliability cannot be overstated.
Robinson is the perfect complement to Terry McLaurin in Washington, as McLaurin has the speed but doesn’t posses the size that Robinson has. Meanwhile, the Ravens desperately need a trustworthy option in the passing game, and that’s exactly what he can be.
Those are definitely Robinson’s best fits, but the Colts, Dolphins, and Jaguars (reunion?) all could use true #1 receivers and have the cap space to afford him. Given the Bears’ financial situation, it’s unlikely they retain him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they used the franchise tag to trade them. If that’s the case, the chances of him ending up in Miami and Jacksonville would definitely increase.
Robinson isn’t going to “wow” you, but he is going to be as reliable as it gets, which is exactly what you need from a #1 receiver. He definitely has the lowest bust rate of any free agent in this class, and I expect him to be worth of every penny of the next contract he signs. It isn’t as though he could be put in a worse position to succeed than what he has worked with previously!
#2: WR Chris Godwin
Projected Value: Five Years, $113.84M
Best Fits: TB, MIA, NE, JAX, NYJ
Robinson is fantastic, but in my eyes, it is pretty clear who the top non-quarterback in this year’s free agency class is.
That would be Chris Godwin, who is the epitome as to why the Bucs are coming off of a Super Bowl-winning season. Few teams attack the draft by adding as many talented prospects at valuable positions as they do, and in the case of Godwin, he was quite the third-round pick. Despite not being given an extraordinary amount of targets, he still has averaged over two yards per route run in the NFL, is excellent after the catch, has proven to be capable of working down the field, and can win on the slot and outside. That is quite the resume for PFF’s most valuable receiver in 2019.
Worried about Godwin’s nine drops in 2020? Well, that’s what happens when you play with a broken finger. Considering that he had just four drops in his first three seasons as a pro, citing drops as a concern would be silly, and the fact of the matter is that Godwin is one of the few receivers in the NFL without a noticeable weakness. Players like him don’t come around often.
Unfortunately for the 31 other teams, the Bucs are almost certainly going to retain Godwin by any measure possible, which is a no-brainer decision. When healthy, he’s arguably a top-five receiver in the NFL, and is undoubtedly Tampa Bay’s most valuable non-quarterback. Oh, and he’s only 25-years-old! Few players can actually add nearly a win above replacement, yet Godwin nearly did that in 2019. If you’re looking for a needle-mover, that’s him, and he’ll continue to be a foundational piece for the Bucs, even when Tom Brady is done playing (if that day actually every comes).
#1: QB Dak Prescott
Projected Worth: Four Years, $134M
Best Fits: DAL, DEN, SF, CAR, NE
Listing other fits for Dak Prescott doesn’t mean much; he’s going to be a Cowboy next season.
The question is, on what contract? The two sides have been negotiating for over two years now, and it’s clear that Dallas is reluctant to pay him. Unfortunately for them, his price has only gone up, and Prescott now wants a contract worth over $40 million.
As PFF’s third-most valuable player in football during the 2019 season, Prescott definitely is a quality quarterback. He was on pace for his best season yet before he went down with an ankle injury in Week 5 of the 2020 season, so now, he’s definitely backed up his reputation.
At the same time, when you’re paying a player $40 million, the bar is very high. That means a quarterback with PFF grades in the 90s, a big-time throw rate over 4.6% and a turnover-worthy play rate below 3.2%. Prescott didn’t accomplish any of that is his career-best season, and he has been helped out with an excellent supporting cast. Without said support, his production hasn’t been the same.
If Prescott is earning such a massive contract, Dallas won’t be able to retain talent around him. Thus, he’ll have to elevate a lesser roster, and I’m not sure he can do that. Thus, I do think Dallas was right to acknowledge that. The problem is they failed to forecast the growth of the quarterback market, and also decided to spend a combined $50 million per year on a running back (Ezekiel Elliot), edge rusher (Demarcus Lawrence), and linebacker (Jaylon Smith). That is not a proper allocation of funds.
Thus, the organization is in a lose-lose scenario. Pay Prescott and have zero margin of error when it comes to roster building, continuing to play hard ball, or trade him? If trading him could help them secure a top quarterback on a rookie quarterback, that isn’t a bad idea, and they should aggressively look into acquiring Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson. At $40 million per year, I can justify paying him, as it’s not a passive overpay. The farther it gets from that, however, the greater the consequences may be, which is a shame considering that Dallas could have avoided all of this with better decision-making over on.
The top free agents in this class likely won’t hit the open market, but there is still a lot of talent on the perimeter, which is critical: talent there translates to wins.
However, teams may not realize this, and instead will likely continue to overpay for mid-tier players at non-valuable positions, mainly the defensive front seven. This is where the premier front offices can take advantage. Free agency is often “fool’s good” in the sense that players tend to get paid more than their actual value, but by shopping at the lower levels of free agency, teams can find similar talent. The Bucs, for instance, paid Shaquil Barrett just $5 million initially, and lower-level signings like that complemented a strong collection of young players through the draft. This is also how teams like the Patriots, Packers, Steelers, Colts, and Ravens have been sustainably successful in the past, as they retain their valuable players, and use free agency to add finishing depth. Conversely, the Jaguars, Lions, Raiders, Bears, and Jets have demonstrated the issues with trying to build a team through free agency.
In terms of value, the rotational edge rushers, slot cornerbacks, safeties, and lower-level offensive tackles will likely provide teams with the best bang for their back. On the other hand, there are a lot of “buyer beware” defensive linemen, which is where the most irresponsible signings likely will be made.
This is going to be a chaotic offseason as teams try to navigate a lower salary cap at a time where there is so much valuable talent available, including Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson being available potentially via trade. When there’s chaos, there’s fire, and, thus, this could be a time where teams can really set themselves apart from others. In others, get ready for a time in football like no other!
Statistics via Pro Football Focus