By Christopher Farbolin
With free agency being mostly finished for the 2021 offseason, we have a much better idea of how all 32 teams will look come September. NFL free agency gives some fanbases optimism and hope, while giving others a harsh wake-up call for their team’s short-term future. Everyone tries to guess the winners and losers of free agency, but the truth is we won’t have the slightest clue until the fall. The Buccaneers owned last year’s offseason, and it paid off with a Vince Lombardi Trophy, however the Browns took over the 2019 offseason by signing big name after big name and were rewarded with a 6-10 season to follow it up. Free agency isn’t about getting big name players, it’s about addressing needs on the roster and not overpaying for players. Big signings are hit-and-miss, but when they do hit they can change the fortune of a franchise. Drew Brees just retired 15 years after being picked up by New Orleans. Little did the Saints know they just landed the greatest free agent in NFL history. With all of that being said, let’s get into the teams that have won and lost so far this offseason.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – What’s the best way to follow up a Super Bowl winning season? Bring back virtually all your key players set to hit free agency. Tom Brady restructured his two-year contract to decrease his cap hit, letting Tampa retain several key players it wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Tampa Bay brought back Shaquil Barrett on a 4-year, $68 million deal, which is well worth it considering Barrett is one of the premier pass rushers in football. The Bucs also bring back longtime team captain and leader on defense Lavonte David for two years on a contract worth $25 million. David’s contract has three voidable years lowering his cap hit. Future Hall of Famers Rob Gronkowski and Ndamukong Suh are also back on respective one year deals, and the Bucs placed the franchise tag on Chris Godwin, keeping the receiving core intact. The Bucs also brought back Leonard Fournette on a one year deal after Fournette went off during Tampa Bay’s playoff run. Tampa may not have made any notable acquisitions, but they didn’t need to with an already loaded roster.
New England Patriots – After a disaster of an offseason in 2020 that saw several key players depart, the Pats reloaded their roster for 2021. 2020 was a reboot year for Bill Belichick and the Patriots after losing the guy that led them to six Super Bowls and the greatest dynasty in NFL history. The Patriots had plenty of cap space, and they put it to good use in free agency. The tight end position was the biggest weakness on the Patriots roster since losing Gronk, so they made Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry two of the highest paid TEs in football. The Patriots also needed a reliable deep threat to make their offense more dynamic, which they addressed with the signing of Nelson Agholor, who had a career year with Las Vegas in 2020. The Patriots also added Kendrick Bourne to their receiving core and brought Trent Brown back at right tackle from the Raiders via trade. New England also upgraded their pass rush with Matthew Judon being signed to a four year, $56 million deal and replaced the recently retired Patrick Chung with Jalen Mills at Safety. New England also added Kyle Van Noy, Lawrence Guy and Davon Godchaux all at a reasonable price. The team did lose Joe Thuney, however that was expected. Bill Belichick did what he has for 20 years, which is addressing needs in free agency without overpaying. After a down 2020 expect the Pats to push for a wild card spot in the AFC.
New York Giants – The Giants are 18-46 over the past four seasons, tied with the Jets for the worst in football over that span. With that being said, things are looking up for the G-Men entering year two of the Joe Judge era. The Giants went 5-3 to end the regular season and should build off of that with several new additions in 2021. The biggest acquisition for the Giants is star receiver Kenny Golladay, who they signed to a 4-year deal worth $72 million. Golladay led the NFL in touchdown receptions in 2019 before dealing with injuries in 2020. Golladay gives the Giants a true number one receiver they have been lacking since trading away OBJ. Daniel Jones also got a couple more weapons in John Ross and Kyle Rudolph. Ross is on a one year contract that’s just $2.5 million and Rudolph is on a two year, $12 million contract. Ross is a good deep threat and Rudolph is more consistent and reliable than Evan Engram at tight end. New York also brought back Leonard Williams on a 3-year, $63 million deal and linebacker Reggie Ragland on a one year deal. Williams is one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in football and will play a huge role in this Giants defense that looks to continue improving. The Giants also picked up Adoree Jackson at corner to line up alongside James Bradberry.
Chicago Bears – This feels fairly obvious as the Bears continue to confuse the rest of the league with some decisions that are questionable at best. For starters, the Bears were heavily linked to Russell Wilson in a trade and packaged several high draft picks and a couple of starters in a potential trade with Seattle. Seattle, however, declined, and Houston has shown no interest in trading Deshaun Watson. So, with that being said, what did the Bears decide their next move was? Did they decide to give up a second/third round pick for Sam Darnold who is still on his rookie contract, has a high ceiling and shown promise despite the Jets dysfunction? Nope. Instead, the Bears signed Andy Dalton to a one year, $10 million deal. Signing Dalton is an underwhelming move which is made worse by the fact Chicago had hopes of landing Wilson. Being the lead candidate to land Russel Wilson in a trade just to settle for Andy Dalton is like promising your kid a sports car for their birthday and then giving them an old go kart that’s been in the garage for 20 years. Dalton has had success in the NFL and can take a team to the playoffs with the right support around him, however he isn’t the franchise quarterback that can save Ryan Pace’s and Matt Nagy’s job after back-to-back 8-8 seasons.The Bears also released corner Kyle Fuller who is one of the best players on a talented Bears defense. Fuller reunited with Vic Fangio in Denver after Fuller was a First-Team All Pro and was tied for the most interceptions during the 2018 season. On the brightside, Allen Robinson signed his franchise tag and appears to be returning to Chicago, but the Bears roster continues to get worse and their two quarterback options are Andy Dalton and Nick Foles.
New Orleans Saints – The Saints entered free agency with the worst cap situation in the NFL, so it’s no surprise they are one of the biggest losers of the offseason. First off, their greatest player in franchise history retired, leaving the Saints uncertain at quarterback for the first time in 15 years. Drew Brees may have been on the downturn last year, but was still efficient and led New Orleans to a fourth consecutive NFC South title and a playoff win. New Orleans does have a viable replacement in Jameis Winston, who should cut down on his turnovers in Sean Payton’s west coast style offense. New Orleans also had to let several key players on both sides of the ball to get under the cap. On offense the Saints had to release Emmanuel Sanders who served as a reliable second option to Michael Thomas and has made a career of being one of the best number two receivers in football over the past decade. The Saints also let veteran tight end Jared Cook walk after two solid seasons with New Orleans. Defensively, the Saints won’t look the same in 2021, as many of their high caliber players left in free agency. The biggest loss for this Saints defense is Trey Hendrickson, who is coming off a season in which he recorded 13.5 sacks and has quietly emerged as one of the best young pass rushers in football. The Saints also lost cornerback Janoris Jenkins and linebacker Kwon Alexander. The good news for the Saints is that they still have elite players at all of these positions, with Cam Jordan at defensive end, Demario Davis at outside linebacker and Marshon Lattimore at cornerback. Still, these free agent losses, paired with the retirement of Drew Brees, means the Saints are falling even further behind a Tampa Bay who brings everyone back.
Las Vegas Raiders – The Raiders’ first season in Vegas was looking promising before a late season collapse resulted in an 8-8 finish. The Raiders have improved in record every year under Jon Gruden and have made some good personnel decisions since hiring Mike Mayock as General Manager. With that being said, this free agency period could have gone a lot better for Las Vegas. The Raiders’ most notable signing was running back Kenyan Drake on a 2-year, $11 million deal. Although Drake is a good back and the price isn’t unreasonable for a running back, the Raiders already have a great back in Josh Jacobs who is just getting into his prime. Las Vegas didn’t need another back, and if they wanted more depth at the position they could have gone with a cheaper option in free agency or get a running back in the draft. Recent history has shown that you can draft a running back in the later rounds and get good production without spending anything. What really hurt the Raiders is their losses on the offensive line. The Raiders lost three of their starting lineman from last season. Losing three-time Pro Bowler Rodney Hudson at center is a major loss, along with losing guard Gabe Jackson and right tackle Trent Brown in a trade with New England. Derek Carr isn’t the most mobile QB in the pocket and will now enter 2021 with a depleted offensive line. The Raiders also didn’t add anybody to their secondary, which is among the worst in football last season. Las Vegas has to go up against the Chiefs’ loaded offense, the Chargers’ talented offense with a rising star in Justin Herbert and a talented receiving core in Denver twice a year, and that secondary isn’t gonna be able to match up with them. The Raiders have Derek Carr, who can elevate the roster around him, but Carr can only do so much and it will be harder to do so with a worse offensive line.
Edited by Emma Moloney