This is the last weekend before the NFL 2021 league year begins. Our last weekend, for quite some time, before there is largely limitless transaction possibilities. Our last weekend before pre-arranged trades become official and other trades are consummated.
Can you dig it?
I certainly can.
This is by no means the most overwhelming free agent class we have ever seen. And everything related to the business of the NFL is still colored, at least to some degree, by the financial parameters of a falling cap due to the pandemic and an opportunity for ownership to try to tamp down the earning potential of players due to lost revenue (which is not actually a loss, fiscally speaking, just not making as much profit as they expected). Regardless, you get the idea. Things still ain’t normal, by a long shot.
Craving even more NFL coverage focusing on previews, recaps, news and analysis? Listen below and subscribe to the Pick Six podcast for a daily dose of everything you need to follow pro football.
But there will be a slew of signings by the middle of next week, and I suspect the NFL free agency period will dominate the sporting landscape and draw more headlines and attention than the NCAA tournament and the NBA and NHL regular seasons – combined – and that isn’t some sort of stretch. We are mere days away from obsessing over which teams didn’t do enough and who spent too much and who got a steal and who won the offseason. It’s here.
And, well, let’s just say I have a hunch or two, and an opinion or three, on which players make the most sense for which teams, and how this first wave of free agency might just play out. And I’m ready to share. Here are some players and teams that I believe could make a great match:
It’s been a looong time since Dan Snyder made a true free-agent splash. His former team president, Bruce Allen, seemed all about saving money and, well let’s just say Snyder could use a distraction or two. They were all over Amari Cooper a year ago – albeit under different front office management – and with Terry McLaurin still a year away from being able to get paid on his rookie deal and whoever the WFT QB ends up being in need of some help, and the defense already loaded with young, cheap assets, Golladay could really unlock some stuff downfield. He and Scary Terry would be as good a 1-2 punch as there is in the NFL. You add a guy like this, with an air back like Gibson and with Logan Thomas emerging as a pass-catching TE a year ago, with that defense, and you might win the crappy NFC East again.
Jacksonville is trying, desperately, to trade a $13M guard who is getting up there in age, but will eventually cut Andrew Norwell. They just put a $15M franchise tag on a middle-of-the-road starting left tackle who probably gets $10M a year on the open market (numerous teams told me they had Cam Robinson evaluated that way). Let’s make this clear: Urban Meyer don’t care about Shad Khan’s money and how much of it he spends. With Trevor Lawrence coming to town, and a decent array of WRs in place with a solid RB, adding the best interior offensive lineman on the market will be very appealing to their new head coach/football overlord.
They should have tagged him for a second straight year. They tend to be a little more pound foolish than they should be. But this guy makes all the sense in the world to stay with Justin Herbert and I suspect what is out there for him on the open market – $11M a year or so – is within reason for the Chargers.
This team wants to win, ASAP. They are close. The QB has almost every creature comfort he could want except a move TE who can separate and open up the field for others. You add this guy with Cole Beasley and Stefon Diggs and things could get really interesting. Smith is very physical and a tough matchup and while the Bills don’t have unlimited resources this offseason, this just feels like their kind of move.
OLB Shaq Barrett – Buccaneers
I don’t think the Bucs do the Lavonte David deal – and Lavonte does the deal – without them having an idea that they can keep this stud pass rusher. I don’t think the Bucs put the tag on Chris Godwin, and not Barrett, if they don’t feel good about their ability to retain this difference-making talent. Tom Brady is redoing his deal specifically with this kind of transaction in mind. This is a great defense, and the defense just won the Super Bowl for them with a 43-year old QB, and he is arguably the most important player on that defense, so I am going to assume that GM Jason Licht is going to continue his hot streak.
I have become increasingly convinced that the Ravens are moving by far their best guard – Bradley Bozeman – to center. He played it at Alabama at a high level and there is a strong feeling in that organization he could solve their center problem and they want to extend him. But guard is an issue, otherwise. They know Zeitler well from his time in the AFC North with Cincy, and he was just cut, which means there is no draft-pick compensation tied to signing him. He could step into leadership the role Marshal Yanda once held on what is now a very young offensive line and help stabilize the unit in front of Lamar Jackson.
He is the best edge player on the open market outside of Barrett and the Jets GM, Joe Douglas, was a part of the front office that originally drafted him out of Grand Valley State for the Ravens. Former Ravens MLB C.J. Mosley is finally ready to play for the Jets after missing all of 2019 due to injury and opting out of 2020, and Judon would be the perfect piece to add to this defense. He was tagged by the Ravens in 2020 for good reason – he can rush, inside and out, and set the edge and drop back in coverage – and the Jets have more cap space and payroll space than they could ever fill, so winning a bidding war against them won’t come easy.
The Ravens currently have one edge player under contract on their entire roster – Jaylon Ferguson – and he was a healthy scratch in their final game of last season. Yeah, not good. A year ago they paid Judon, Yannick Ngakoue and Derek Wolfe a combined (prorated) $32M to aid their pass rush. So, um, yeah, it’s a need. Ingram has been hurt a bunch the last few years, but has a great pedigree and is top 10 in QB hurries the last 10 years. He could give them much more than Ngakoue did a year ago for around $10M a year. Kinda reminds me of when they added Elvis Dumervil.
They need outside pass rush, desperately. They traded for Jadeveon Clowney and they traded for former Bengal Carlos Dunlap and still this issue persists. They cut Dunlap hoping to upgrade, and Lawson is an upgrade with a lot more upside. They should make the Bengals regret not putting the franchise tag on him by signing him next week. He is far removed from his surgery now and he was a beast in the second half of the season – check out his pressures per drop-back numbers – despite being part of a Cincy defensive line in which he was the only dude you had to worry about.
They want to keep him, desperately. And coach Kyle Shanahan drafted him in DC with his dad back in the day, then traded for him last year and desperately does not want to lose him. Williams seemed to love the Bay Area and is obviously a perfect scheme fit, and while the 49ers have some cap issues, I just see this being the rare reunion that works this time of year.
DE Yannick Ngakoue – Raiders
GM Mike Mayock is under massive pressure to improve what has been a horrible defense. Like, across the board. All three levels. Pathetic. This seems like the kind of guy they would be drawn to. Now, he only played 33% of the reps for Baltimore and could not hold up a smidge against the run. He quickly fell out of favor, does not have a diverse skillset and has a limited arsenal of pass rush moves … but if you look at his gross stats you could make a case he could kinda sorta start to fill the massive void there since they dealt Khalil Mack to Chicago. There is no doubt in my mind they are prepared to spend on a pass rusher, bigly.
Did I mention the Raiders stink on all three levels of defense? Like brutally bad? Jon Gruden has taken a shine to Sherman. He has leadership skills and loves being in the Bay Area with the 49ers and is one of the better corner available. He represents himself and, yeah, I could totally see this.
Do you think the Browns would love to weaken the Steelers? After like decades of being under their thumb? Of course they would. And the Steelers are stifled by their previous spending and the suppressed cap. The Browns have a ton of cap and Myles Garrett under contract for his entire prime and a desperate need to upgrade from Olivier Vernon on the other side of their defensive line. Yes, Dupree suffered a season-ending injury in November, but he should be good by Week 1. He has been an elite pass rusher the past two years and it could further cripple their foe and this is someone headed for $19M a year who you could now NFL teams now think you can buy-low on at around $15M a year. The Browns should be all over this.