With the 2020 NFL regular season officially in the books, it's almost team-building season for most franchises around the league. So let's get our first look at the 2021 free agent class.
The PFF free agent list is based upon our player evaluations and positional value — and it's a fluid list, as the 2020 season is still unfolding. We will continue to update this list as we head toward the March free agency period.
1. T Trent Williams
After not playing a snap in 2019, Williams is back in his rightful place as one of the league’s best offensive tackles. He can play in any scheme, moving defenders at the point of attack or cutting them off on the backside of zone plays, while linebackers must keep their head on a swivel because he attacks the second level with a vengeance.
Williams has basically never had a bad season in the NFL, with his rookie year being by far the lowest overall PFF grade he has posted (63.4). He hit at least a 75.6 mark in every other season and 2020 is now the third time he’s led all offensive tackles in PFF grade (91.9). He has shown elite-level play in multiple schemes and now multiple cities, and he looks capable of being the next great left tackle to play well into their 30s at a high level.
Contract Analysis: Williams quietly has regained his All-Pro form in San Francisco following a lengthy holdout with the Washington Football Team. He’s been as patient as an individual can be, and he’ll finally be cashing out as a reward.
Prediction: 49ers sign Williams for four years, $80 million ($20M APY): $62.5 million total guaranteed, $45 million fully guaranteed at signing.
2. G Brandon Scherff
One of the most dependable guards in the league, Scherff has never posted a PFF grade below 72.5 in his six-year NFL career. Over the last three seasons, Scherff ranks among the league’s best guards in nearly every key metric, including a 97th percentile ranking on true pass sets and 90th percentile ranking in percentage of positively graded plays. Both numbers are among the most important when projecting interior offensive linemen from year to year.
In the run game, Scherff can do it all, showing the power at the point of attack and the quickness to make any block in space. He’s also one of the most polished pass protectors in the league, and he stands out as the best interior offensive lineman in this free agent class.
Contract Analysis: The NFC East currently has the NFL’s No. 1, 2, and 3 highest-paid right guards on an annual basis in Brandon Brooks (Eagles), Zack Martin (Cowboys), and Kevin Zeitler (Giants). Scherff’s 2020 franchise tag amount of just above $15M will likely serve as the floor for what he’s looking for on an annual basis in an extension, which would make him the highest-paid guard in the NFC East (and NFL).
Prediction: Washington signs Scherff for four years, $60M ($15M APY): $37.5M total guaranteed, $25M fully guaranteed at signing.
3. T Taylor Moton
Moton has been the model of consistency over the last three years, grading “in the green” every year as a starter. He performs well in the parts of offensive line play that translate well moving forward, including ranking in the 90th percentile in PFF pass-blocking grade on true pass sets since 2018. As a run-blocker, Moton is scheme diverse. He can move defenders at the point of attack as well as making the necessary backside cutoffs in a zone-heavy scheme. He ranks well above average at avoiding negatively graded plays in the run game, another one of the more stable measures of offensive tackle play. Dependability is the name of the game for Moton, who has quietly been one of the most valuable tackles in the league since 2018.
Contract Analysis: Carolina traded their former right guard Trai Turner this past offseason to the Los Angeles Chargers for left tackle Russell Okung, yet Taylor Moton’s play has improved from 2019 after losing a high-quality player next to him on the offensive line. That trade ultimately should clear the way for a nice extension in Carolina for Moton.
Prediction: Panthers sign Moton for five years, $82.5 million ($16.5M APY): $45M total guaranteed at signing, $30M fully guaranteed at signing.
4. G Joe Thuney
A starter from Day 1 as a rookie, Thuney has yet to miss a game in his five-year career while showing continual improvement. He transitioned smoothly from college offensive tackle to left guard, showing well in New England’s versatile run scheme. In pass protection, Thuney struggled with power players early in his career, but he’s improved every season and his 88.0 pass-blocking grade ranked third among guards in 2019. Thuney ranks in the 83rd percentile in overall pass-blocking grade since entering the league, though that drops to the 70th percentile when isolated to true pass sets, showing that there has been some protection for him in the New England scheme. Regardless, Thuney has developed into one of the best guards in the game and should fit in well in any system.
Contract Analysis: With the gift of hindsight, the Patriots probably trade Thuney before the 2020 season, as Patriots sixth-round draft pick Michigan G/T Michael Onwenu finished the season with an 84.3 PFF grade that tied for eighth among qualifying players at his position.
Prediction: Cardinals sign Thuney for four years, $57 million ($14.25M APY): $35M total guaranteed, $20M fully guaranteed at signing.
5. C Corey Linsley
Linsley is the best center on the market. He’s been one of the most dependable pivot men in the league since 2014, and he’s been at his best in 2020.
Linsley has been outstanding in pass protection this season, allowing just four pressures on 437 pass-blocking attempts in 2020. He is also a strong run-blocker, ranking in the 84th percentile in the percentage of positively graded blocks and the 85th percentile when it comes to avoiding negatives.
Contract Analysis: The Packers made left tackle David Bakhtiari the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history in the middle of the 2020 season, and that probably closed the book on any Linsley extension in Green Bay. However, PFF’s top-ranked center could be a highly sought-after free agent for teams who want a veteran player to step in and take some of the pressure off a young, developing quarterback.
Prediction: Chargers sign Linsley for three years, $33M ($11M APY): $16.5M total guaranteed, $10M fully guaranteed at signing.
6. T Russell Okung
The former No. 6 overall pick of the Seattle Seahawks has more than lived up to the billing. Now in his 11th season and on his fourth team, Okung hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down when healthy. Over the last three years, Okung ranks as a slightly above-average pass-blocker and an above-average run-blocker, and he remains a valuable player at an important position.
The veteran has earned a pass-blocking grade above 70.0 — with five grades above 75.0 — in five of the six games he started in 2020. Coincidentally, he’s also recorded a pass-blocking grade of 71.0 or higher — with five grades above 75.0 — over his last six seasons.
Contract Analysis: Okung is now 33 but appears to be one of the many recent stalwart pass-protecting tackles who age very well and play long into their 30s. He was one of the original players in recent years to negotiate his own contract (with help from advisors), so perhaps an unorthodox structure wouldn’t be surprising as his career winds down.
Prediction: Panthers sign Okung for three years, $50 million. ($16.67M APY): $32.5M total guaranteed, $22.5M fully guaranteed at signing.
7. T Alejandro Villanueva
There’s immense value in solid, mid-tier offensive linemen, and that’s exactly what Villanueva has been throughout his career. He’s graded between 74.0 and 82.0 in each of his last five seasons; he ranks in the 54th percentile in PFF pass-blocking grade and the 46th percentile in pass-blocking grade on true pass sets during that time.
There’s a similar level of dependability to Villanueva’s game as a run-blocker. He ranks in the 74th percentile at avoiding negatively graded plays but just the 23rd percentile in positively graded plays. NFL teams must avoid having disastrous options at offensive tackle, and Villanueva’s profile makes him a valuable asset.
Contract Analysis: Villanueva has had a remarkable NFL career after serving in the U.S. military, going undrafted and then working his way to becoming one of the league’s best left tackles. Nevertheless, the Steelers will have a very tough time retaining Villanueva after pushing all their chips in on 2020. We wouldn’t be surprised if Villanueva, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Bud Dupree are all playing elsewhere in 2021, purely for salary cap reasons.
Prediction: Chargers sign Villanueva for three years, $45 million ($15M APY): $30M total guaranteed, $20M fully guaranteed at signing.
8. T Daryl Williams
Daryl Williams is having a career-reviving season in Buffalo after signing a one-year, $2.25 million deal this offseason following a disappointing 2019 campaign with the Carolina Panthers. Williams was recovering from a torn right MCL and dislocated patella that knocked him out of the 2018 season, and perhaps that helps in part to explain his struggles. The issue for potential suitors is that he has just two high-end seasons under his belt as a pass protector through six years in the league. It took him three seasons to show the talent the Panthers were convinced was there before injuries derailed his career until his 2020 rebound season. His peak is very high, but it’s a gamble for any team to chase it.
Contract Analysis: Bills general manager Brandon Beane was the assistant general manager in Carolina in 2015 when the Panthers made Williams their fourth-round selection, and the reunion has been a huge success for both parties. One could make a case that Daryl Williams is on one of the best value contracts in the NFL this season. He was originally drafted to block for Cam Newton, and with Josh Allen having a similar playing style, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Beane lock up Williams for a few more years.
Prediction: Bills sign Williams for three years, $31.5 million ($10.5M APY): $18.75 million total guaranteed, $15 million fully guaranteed at signing.
9. C David Andrews
After missing the 2019 season, Andrews bounced back to grade out at 67.7 in 2020, good for 16th among centers. He has now ranked in the top 16 in his past three full seasons, doing his best work in pass protection. He ranks in the 87th percentile in pass-blocking grade on true pass sets since 2015. He did take a step back in that department, posting a career-low 56.4 pass-blocking grade in 2020. In the run game, Andrews has one of the lowest negatively graded play percentages in the league, and that dependability should be valued among a thin group of centers.
Contract Analysis: Andrews missed the 2019 NFL season while dealing with blood clots in his lungs, a frightening condition for the ascending center. His 2020 campaign was very promising considering his health situation, the fact there was no offseason and because Andrews had to learn to play with a new quarterback in Cam Newton. There’s certainly reason for optimism going forward.
Prediction: Patriots sign Andrews for three years, $18 million ($6M APY): $8 million total guaranteed, $5 million fully guaranteed at signing.
10. C Austin Reiter
Austin Reiter flashed ability in limited playing time early in his career before getting a chance to start in Kansas City, where he has become a quality starter for a championship-caliber team.
Reiter is a better pass blocker than he is in the run game, with PFF grades of at least 78.0 in every season of significant playing time in that facet. In 2020, he allowed just seven total pressures and wasn’t flagged for a penalty all season.
Contract Analysis: Reiter’s market will likely be determined by how much teams value the run game, but he is certainly a steady hand at a spot that can be a problem position for some teams.
Prediction: Bears sign Reiter for two years, $9.5 million ($4.75M APY): $4 million total guaranteed, $3 million fully guaranteed at signing.