news 2021 NFL free agency: Best contracts given out so far –

Trent Williams returning to San Francisco: The No. 1 player on my Top 101 list deserves his own section. Peeking under the hood of Williams’ record-setting deal, the $45 million in guarantees he received is fair for such a difference-maker. It could easily turn into a three-year, $60 million contract, or a four-year, $80 million contract, which sounds plenty reasonable. The price of left tackles will likely skyrocket by then. (If the 32-year-old Williams gets to Years 5 and 6, consider that a major victory for both sides.)

JuJu Smith-Schuster going back to Pittsburgh: So many of the best signings of the last week were re-signings. There is no mystery as to how Smith-Schuster fits in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers know better than any team the 24-year-old receiver is more than worthy of a one-year, $8 million contract. The Steelers valued JuJu so much they reportedly let another starting veteran (cornerback Steven Nelson) look for a trade out of town to make room on their cap-strapped roster.

It seems like JuJu is among the most misunderstood players in the NFL. Yes, Antonio Brown was right that his ex-teammate isn’t a true No. 1 receiver. But if you need someone to make a tough grab over the middle, block in the running game or break a tackle to pick up a first down, there are few more capable than Smith-Schuster. He has the reputation of a diva because he’s good at social media, but his play would fit in any era of football. With QB Ben Roethlisberger presumably in his final year in Pittsburgh, the Steelers’ offense may as well go for it. 

Speaking of those re-signings: There is so much less risk when it comes to bringing quality players back in the fold. Re-signings don’t get the same attention as new additions, but I loved the Titans bringing back underrated linebacker Jayon Brown on a one-year, $5.3 million contract, despite Brown coming off an injury. Bills linebacker Matt Milano returned for a deal similar to what former All-Pro Lavonte David received in Tampa (Milano is getting $41.5 million over four years, with $21.5 million in the first two, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, and David is getting $25 million over two), despite the 26-year-old Milano just entering his prime. Romeo Okwara’s deal in Detroit (three years, $37 million), Jason Verrett returning to the 49ers (one year, $5.5 million, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport) and Shelby Harris getting a long-term contract in Denver (three years, $27 million, per Rapoport and Garafolo) also made a lot of sense. 

Carl Lawson to the Jets: Lawson was my personal favorite of the edge rushers available. He fills a need for the Jets going back more than a decade, and he’s set up for success, playing next to Quinnen Williams in coach Robert Saleh’s scheme. Ultimately, I think he brings more juice to the pass rush than other, similarly priced signings like the Bengals’ Trey Hendrickson, the Raiders’ Yannick Ngakoue, the Patriots’ Matt Judon and the Lions’ Okwara. And if the Jets and I both happen to be wrong, Lawson’s three-year, $45 million contract could ultimately be for just two years and $30 million. 

DeSean Jackson to the Rams: The money doesn’t matter to me here. My football-watching life is just more fun with DeSean Jackson in it, and I’m not ready for the 34-year-old receiver to go out after two seasons lost to injury. He is the perfect pick for a low-risk, high-reward deal, because D-Jax always looks fast when he’s on the field, including on an 81-yard touchdown from Jalen Hurts in Week 16. 

The Browns importing the Rams’ secondary: Safety John Johnson has been a leader and glue guy since entering the NFL in 2017. His three-year contract, including $24 million guaranteed, makes so much sense for Cleveland because the Browns were so poor at the position. I’d expect Johnson to see the end of this deal.

I always thought Johnson’s teammate in Los Angeles, Troy Hill, was annually underrated with the Rams. He battles and will give up some plays, but the Browns got him under contract for $4.5 million guaranteed (per beat reporter Mary Kay Cabot). He essentially has a two-year deal worth $9 million, which is a bargain for a likely starting cornerback.

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