The NFL for Rookies – Free Agency 2021 and Beyond

Now that the mad rush of Franchise Tagging is done, it is time to look forward to Free Agency

Free Agency – What is it?

Put simply, free agency is the period before the season starts where teams have an opportunity to improve their roster. They do this by offering new deals to out-of-contract players. Some players go into free-agency by choice by not agreeing to new terms with their team. They then ‘test the market’ to look for a big payday. Others head into free agency after not being offered a new deal or by being cut from the team’s roster. 

The first few days of free agency tend to be the most manic. However, there will be daily deals done in the coming weeks, so there is plenty to watch out for!

Hidden Rules

Like most things to do with the NFL, there are a LOT of hidden rules. The free agency formally begins on the 17th March. However, teams can start negotiating with unrestricted free agents a couple of days before this. Free agency finishes on the 15th July. It may actually be April 19th for certain players and there are ways teams can “claim” free agents throughout the season. We’ll stick to the basics for now!

Each year there are some big names that end up getting traded or hitting free agency. Some of the players are referred to as ‘Cap Casualties’. This means they have been cut from their previous team due to them struggling to keep within the salary cap. This is the total contract value that the team have to stay within for the coming season. I’ll be writing an article on this in the coming weeks for those who are unsure how salary capping works. So that moves can be made during free agency, teams may restructure contracts with existing players. This gives them a bit more wiggle room when negotiating to bring in new players.

The coming few days and weeks will be packed full of team news; ins, outs, trades and new contracts, here are some of the names to look out for:  


Andy Dalton – Former Bengals and Cowboys. Dalton is back in Free Agency – a similar situation to Jameis Winston. I expect him to re-sign with the Cowboys but he will definitely be open to offers. I don’t think anyone will offer him a starting QB contract anywhere so he may stay put, in a team where he knows the system and see if he gets another crack of the whip if Dak Prescott gets injured again. 

Jameis Winston – Following Drew Brees retirement, the Saints may well want to bring Winston back for the 2021 season. The question is, will someone offer more than the Saints are willing to pay?

Also keep an eye out for possible upcoming trade moves for Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson! 

Wide Receivers

There are some amazing WRs available in free agency this year, I’ve tried to limit the list!

Kenny Golladay – After an injury impacted 2020 Golladay is hitting free agency. He is potentially the best receiver on offer. The Giants are the front-runners and Golladay would definitely provide an excellent outlet to help Daniel Jones prove himself as a franchise QB.

Corey Davis – His latest, and probably last season at the Titans was his best yet – a near 1,000-yard season. This WR would make a superb #2 for any team, but does sometimes go missing when used as a #1?

Juju Smith-Schuster – A very similar story to Corey Davis! He doesn’t necessarily have the skills to be an out-and-out #1 receiver. However, alongside another strong receiver, you are going to be causing any defence a LOT of issues.

Will Fuller – Fantastic receiver when healthy! He will be missing for the first game of the season due to a suspension picked up last year. This was due to a performance-enhancing drug violation. Likely to be going somewhere on the cheap (or at least cheaper than the others I’ve mentioned!) A definite option for a team who already have a reasonable WR set-up and are just wanting a depth piece in the attempt for a Super Bowl push. 

As mentioned, there are plenty more solid WRs on offer. Also free agents: Sammy Watkins, Antonio Brown, Nelson Agholor (EDIT* since signed by the Patriots), AJ Green, TY Hilton and Curtis Samuel, to name a few!


Hunter Henry – With Jonnu Smith already signed up with the Patriots, Hunter Henry is now the main Tight End available. After another solid season with the Chargers, it’s safe to assume he’s going to be earning himself a big payday. My money would be on either the Jaguars or the Bengals. Both teams are wanting to add to their offence to help support and build a new era with their quarterbacks.

Running Backs

Kenyan Drake – a couple of decent (but not great) seasons have seen Drake go into free agency expecting to land himself a decent contract. The Jaguars are apparently interested but I am unsure where this RB will land.

Leonard Fournette – 2020 worked out fairly well for Fournette. Cut by the Jaguars, picked up by the Bucs and went on to earn himself a Super Bowl ring! Likely to find himself a new team in need of a power running back – potentially the Dolphins or Jets.


The big names to look out for here are Trent Williams, Joe Thuney (EDIT* since signed by the Chiefs), Alejandro Villanueva and Corey Linsley (EDIT* since signed by the Chargers.) Any of these would massively help bulk out a team’s O-Line and give their QB extra protection. Expect moves by the Jets, Bengals, Giants, Eagles and Texans to try and reduce the number of sacks they allowed last season! 


Bud Dupree – A torn ACL put an abrupt end to Dupree’s 2020 season, so teams will be tentative to offer him too big of a contract in case he ends up not being the same player as before the injury. Browns are thought to be considering offering this proven Edge-rusher a contract. (EDIT* since signed by the Titans.)

Jadeveon Clowney – Hitting free agency after an injury-plagued season with the Titans. He’ll be hoping to get his career going again and will be likely taking a pay-cut and a 1-year contract somewhere to do so. Worth a punt, but don’t expect too many sacks, he’s more of a disruptive type player.

Carl Lawson – I really like Lawson and hope he gets a decent payday. He’s fairly likely to stay put at the Bengals but might be lured away if he gets an offer he can’t refuse! (EDIT* since signed by the Jets.)

With Shaq Barrett, JJ Watt and Matt Judon now tied up with new contracts, the D-Lineman and Edge-rush options are looking a little slimmer for teams looking to improve at this position.


Jayon Brown – Goes under the radar at times, but these last couple of seasons he’s improved no end. He would be a reliable member of any linebacker corps. I’m expecting him to be wanting a 4-year contract, averaging out around the $9-$10million a year marker.

Eric Wilson – another very good linebacker coming off the back of his best season so far. Expect a similar deal to Jayon Brown’s.


Will Jackson – Bengals will be wanting to hang on to Jackson if they can, and they do have a decent chunk of their salary cap left. It is likely this CB could be looking for around $15m a year, so they’ll need it! 

Xavier Rhodes – After only one season at the Colts, this CB is on the look-out for a new team again. There is still plenty of life in the 30-year-old yet. Potentially heading to the Bills for a one or two-year contract.

Malcolm Butler – Overall it was a poor season for Titan’s defensive backs, but out of all of them, Butler was the only one that stood out as worthy of his salary. So because of that, they’ve cut him from the roster! I sincerely wish him all the best in the future – I can see him picking up a one-year contract somewhere, but unsure where! 


Kenny Vaccaro – Yet another Titans player hitting free agency. Vaccaro is far from the best safety but he plays his part and will provide a good depth piece for any roster. A good personality to help build a culture in a young fired-up defence. 

Earl Thomas – Past his best and probably still reeling after Derrick Henry’s stiff arm, he might pick up a one-year contract somewhere. If you can get him motivated, maybe, he can add some quality experience to the secondary.

Also available is HaHa Clinton-Dix, worth considering signing for his name alone.

Right that’ll do! Free agency tends to move pretty quickly and by the time this article goes live, half my predictions will probably already be proved wrong! 

Enjoy the next couple of weeks, it’ll be the draft before we know it. There will be an article explaining how this works in due course.



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