NFL Free Agency Preview


(Photo by: Ric Tapia/AP)

Connor Easterday

This year’s NFL free agency class is loaded with talent across the board. We’re expecting to see a Quarterback and Wide Receivers frenzy with names such as Dak Prescott, Allen Robinson, and JuJu Smith-Schuster potentially hitting the market. With a lowered salary cap number, teams are going to be more cautious than ever to re-sign their own players to long-term deals, resulting in a vast pool of free agent studs. I’ll be breaking down the best of them position by position.


Top Free Agent Quarterbacks:

    1. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
    2. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
    3. Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
    4. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
    5. Andy Dalton, Dallas Cowboys
    6. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Miami Dolphins
    7. Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts
    8. Tyrod Taylor, Los Angeles Chargers
    9. Robert Griffin III, Baltimore Ravens
    10. Kyle Allen, Washington Football Team


Will Dak Prescott be a member of the Dallas Cowboys in 2021?

While it would be madness if Prescott hit the market, in all likelihood, he’ll be wearing silver and blue next year as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. The two parties have been in player-team limbo for a year now, with both sides failing to reach a long term deal. Prescott played through the 2020 season on a franchise tag, which is a designation that teams can apply to any player about to hit free agency and forces them to come back on a one year deal with a price tag averaged out between the salaries of the five highest paid players at that position. If no new deal is struck in the coming weeks, Jerry Jones and company will likely franchise tag Prescott for the second year in a row.


Is Cam Newton’s career as a starter over?

It’s been a rocky road for Cam Newton ever since his mysterious shoulder injury in 2018. However, it may not be as bad as some suggest. While Newton did have a down year in New England this past season, it wasn’t all bad. Before missing one game due to contracting COVID-19, he was performing quite well. Starting the season off by beating a solid Miami Dolphins team, taking the Seattle Seahawks to the wire in a shootout, and blowing the brakes off the Las Vegas Raiders in a 36-point rout, Newton looked good as new. However in a four-week span after the COVID-19 infection, his play went from great to abysmal. Going 1-3 and throwing for zero touchdowns and five interceptions, Newton’s season tanked. However, I implore fans to take a breather and not overreact. For starters, Cam’s rushing ability was on display the entire year. In 15 games, he ran for 592 yards and scored twelve touchdowns, which ranked third and first league-wide, respectively. It’s also important to remember that this Patriots team gave Newton little-to-nothing in the way of targets. With Julian Edelman injured and Rob Gronkowski winning Lombardi’s in Tampa Bay, the Patriots old core has all but disintegrated. Any quarterback who has to rely on Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry as their top two wide receivers is doomed from the get-go…even Tom Brady. Now, I’m not saying Cam Newton is going to ever return to the 2015 MVP player we once knew. However, it’s important to look at his past season with perspective. I’m not sure which teams will take a shot on him. The Broncos? The Steelers? The Washington Football Team? Maybe the Patriots will give him one more shot. But wherever he goes, I have a feeling that Newton will surprise some people.


Top Free Agent Running Backs:

    1. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
    2. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks
    3. Phillip Lindsy, Denver Broncos
    4. Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts
    5. Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals
    6. Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    7. Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons
    8. James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers
    9. Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens
    10. Mike Davis, Carolina Panthers


Do Running Backs have any value anymore?

The running back position was once the livelihood of an NFL team. Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson, Walter Payton; these players were often the sole reason for their team’s success. Well, times have changed and running backs just don’t hold the same weight that they once did. It is becoming increasingly popular to take a “running back by committee” approach, utilizing three or even four different backs, ensuring that none are relied on too much. Injuries are an obvious catalyst here. Over the years it’s been made clear that the single most hurt position in the NFL is the running back. This is only logical when the job of the player is to run straight into a herd of 250-to-300 lb men. Another reason is the increased focus on the pass over the run. As statistics have become more prevalent in sports, the “aerial attack” has proven to be successful, leading to an increased focus on Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers. So what does all this mean? Well, most importantly, it damages the price tags of all these players. Despite Aaron Jones and Chris Carson being two of the best at what they do, it’s unlikely that either are hotly contested on the open market. They’ll definitely find suitors, but not offering the numbers they’d like to see. While it is unfortunate, this is how football works. With the changing of how the game is played, certain positions get phased out and phased in. At some point, things are sure to flip again. However, for now, the running back is at a disadvantage.


Top Free Agent Wide Receivers:

    1. Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
    2. Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions
    3. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    4. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
    5. Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans
    6. Will Fuller, Houston Texans
    7. Marvin Jones Jr., Detroit Lions
    8. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
    9. Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers
    10. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts 


Who will be franchise tagged?

As previously mentioned, the franchise tag is a powerful tool that every team has up their sleeve. In such a loaded wide receiver class, expect to see a few names in the conversation here to be tagged. Firstly, Kenny Golladay. The Lions are at a turning point in their franchise. With a new quarterback, new head coach, and new front office, much of the Lions’ “old guard” will surely be left behind. However, when you have a top-line wideout such as Golladay, it’ll be hard to resist. Another name is Allen Robinson, a player who some perceive to be the bell of the ball in this wide receiver class. Robinson’s consistent production over the past three years has earned him top billing, and he’ll be rewarded handsomely for it if he hits the open market. However, the Bears’ offense is lacking just about everywhere. Without a stellar quarterback or offensive line, the Bears will likely be inclined to bring back “ARob” for at least one more year.


Top Free Agent Tight Ends:

    1. Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
    2. Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans
    3. Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers
    4. Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    5. Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Rams
    6. Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints
    7. Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts
    8. Jordan Reed, San Francisco 49ers
    9. Dan Arnold, Arizona Cardinals
    10. Trey Burton, Indianapolis Colts


What contenders could use a Tight End to take them to the next level?  

The tight end position is an interesting one. While it is seemingly going out of style in the traditional sense, offensive coordinators such as Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay are constantly finding new ways to incorporate them into their offense. So with quite a stacked tight end class, what teams could use one? The first that comes to mind is the Los Angeles Chargers. Unlikely to bring back Hunter Henry, LA will be on the prowl for a tight end who can serve as a deep threat up the seam for Justin Herbert. Another team in a similar position is the Buffalo Bills. While Dawson Knox has proven to be a reliable option, he’s best served as a number two for now. Providing Josh Allen with a playmaker such as Jonnu Smith or an endzone threat like Robert Tonyan would potentially elevate the Bills to the next level.


Top Free Agent Offensive Linemen:

    1. Brandon Scherff, Washington Football Team
    2. Trent Williams, San Francisco 49ers
    3. Corey Linsley, Green Bay Packers
    4. Joe Thuney, New England Patriots
    5. David Andrews, New England Patriots
    6. Alex Mack, Atlanta Falcons
    7. Alejandro Villanueva, Pittsburgh Steelers
    8. Russell Okung, Carolina Panthers
    9. Taylor Moton, Carolina Panthers
    10. Lane Taylor, Green Bay Packers


Who is staying and who is going?

Offensive line won’t get much shine because it’s somewhat of a boring position. However, this may be the best position group of all. With names such as Brandon Scherff, Trent Williams, and Corey Linsley, there are All-Pro caliber players across the board. So where are they going? Well, Scherff and the Washington Football Team will look to strike a long term deal. However if that doesn’t work, a franchise tag is to be expected. Trent Williams, on the other hand, may be looking for the place that can provide him with top dollar. San Francisco has a stable of young offensive line talent, and may choose to let Williams walk despite his immense talent. Corey Linsley, arguably the best center in football, will likely return to Green Bay for another shot at a Lombardi. Joe Thuney and David Andrews of the New England Patriots are sign-and-trade candidates. Meaning, teams with less salary cap may acquire them through trade, after being re-signed with their original teams. Alex Mack very well could retire or come back to Atlanta for one more year. Lastly, Alejandro Villanueva and Russell Okung are undervalued offensive tackles that may want to bet on themselves in the open market.


(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Top Free Agent Defensive Players:

    1. Von Miller, Denver Broncos
    2. Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    3. Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    4. Leonard Williams, New York Giants
    5. Melvin Ingram, Los Angeles Chargers
    6. Jadeveon Clowney, Tennessee Titans
    7. Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos
    8. Matt Judon, Baltimore Ravens
    9. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
    10. Yannick Yngakoue, Jacksonville Jaguars
    11. Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints
    12. Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh Steelers 
    13. Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
    14. Anthony Harris, Minnesota Vikings
    15. A.J. Bouye, Denver Broncos


Where will the top players in this elite class wind up?

There is some massive defensive talent in this free agency class. From EDGE rushers to linebackers to cornerbacks and safeties, the awards and accolades stand out. Most prominently is Von Miller, a player who’s been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons recently, due to a criminal investigation. Miller, in all likelihood, will not be returning to the Denver Broncos next season. While he is onto the latter half of his career, he’s only 31 years old. Look for super bowl contenders who will be intriguing to Miller on a short one-year “prove it” deal. Both Shaquil Barrett and Lavonte David will be heading into free agency with super bowl rings. These are just two of the many key players that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be looking to re-sign for another run. However, with limited cap space, they’ll likely have to pick and choose. If David or Barrett are available, they’ll be hotly contested by teams with money, such as the New York Giants and the New York Jets. A player of much intrigue is J.J. Watt, who was recently let go by the Houston Texans. Despite a rough injury history, Watt is still a more-than capable player who can line up all over the defensive front and play in any scheme. It’s already been suggested that the Green Bay Packers and the Cleveland Browns are in hot pursuit to acquire the five-time All Pro.


Only one word is apt to describe this coming free agency class; mania. Teams will be scrambling to jump on some of these elite players at every position, while also having to balance the lowered salary cap number. It’s going to be a frenzy the whole way around, and will surely be something to track through all of March.