NFL News & Analysis

Best remaining 2021 NFL free agents: Reported visits/interest, team fits and updated contract projections

Feb 2, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman (25) reacts during Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The first, second and even third waves of free agency have come and gone, but that in no way means there aren’t still impact players available. Some big names have bided their time and waited for things to settle down as they mull over competing offers. Furthermore, veterans successfully bargained for a smart change to the newest CBA, shifting the timeline of the final free agency wave up in the offseason calendar. 

Historically, unrestricted free agents would count against the compensatory formula all the way into June. Now, at 4:01 p.m. EST on the Monday following the 2021 NFL Draft, they no longer factor in. That means there is no penalty to a team signing an unrestricted free agent, and their compensatory pick situation will be unchanged. As a result, there should be a mini-wave of free agency right after the draft concludes.

If your favorite team misses out on top prospects at positions of need, they can immediately sign a veteran in the aftermath. With that in mind, here are the 40 best free agents still available, along with any team they’ve visited or had official interest from and team fits.

1. CB RICHARD SHERMAN

Reported Visits/Interest: 49ers, Browns, Raiders, Saints

Team Fits: 49ers, Browns, Cowboys, Raiders, Saints

One of the best cornerbacks of his generation, Richard Sherman is still playing the game at a high level, but his age and relative lack of scheme diversity will scare off a lot of potential suitors.

In 2019, once fully recovered from an Achilles injury, Sherman had one of the best seasons of his entire career, allowing just 227 receiving yards. He surrendered just a 46.8 passer rating before things fell apart a little in the 49ers' Super Bowl 54 loss to Kansas City. In 2020, Sherman recorded a 67.2 coverage grade on just 210 such snaps, the lowest grade of his career.

His intelligence and tape study gives him a mental edge over most offenses he faces, and that more than makes up for less-than-stellar straight-line speed. In the kind of defense he played in San Francisco, he can remain a valuable player at his age and could be an attractive short-term option for a number of teams in need of a quick fix.

Contract Analysis: Sherman is at the stage of his career where he can sign short-term deals with contenders until he decides to hang up his cleats, much like Darrelle Revis, who signed a one-year, $12 million deal with the Patriots in 2014 that included a $20 million option for 2015 (the option was declined, and Revis returned to the Jets). Sherman has already discussed how the 49ers have too many priority free agents, so he appears to be preparing for a change of scenery.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $10 million (up to $12 million)

2. T MITCHELL SCHWARTZ

Reported Visits/Interest: Chiefs

Team Fits: Bears, Chiefs, Packers, Raiders, Ravens, Steelers, Titans

Coming off a back injury, which is sure to scare some teams, Schwartz has nonetheless been arguably the best right tackle in the game over the past several seasons. If he checks out medically, he could be a steal for a team willing to be patient. Schwartz has never had a bad NFL season, and his playoff run on the way to Kansas City’s Super Bowl 54 victory was one of the greatest postseason performances of all time, having allowed just one hurry despite his team being in a near-constant state of obvious passing situations.

Contract Analysis: While Schwartz missed the majority of the 2020 season to injury and there are rumors he may retire, he'll immediately become one of the best free agents available if he chooses to play in 2021. His one-year, $11.255 million extension signed for 2021 was near the top of the market at right tackle and still probably a discount, even though injuries prevented him from playing out the new year. He’d be a great addition for any team and may come at a discount as he continues to recover.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $5.75 million

Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (81) smiles after scoring a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

3. WR ANTONIO BROWN

Reported Visits/Interest: Buccaneers, Ravens, Seahawks

Team Fits: Buccaneers, Ravens, Saints, Seahawks, Titans

Even after an extended absence from football, the 32-year-old Brown returned for the final nine games of the regular season and ranked seventh among all wide receivers over that span (min. 100 snaps) in receiving grade (86.0). Brown has one sub-80.0 receiving grade in his entire career — a 79.0 mark in 2018.

His 9.4-yard average target depth and 10.7 yards per reception marks from 2020 were both the lowest since his rookie season in 2010, but in contrast, his 5.6 yards after the catch per reception was his highest mark since 2013. With Mike Evans and Scotty Miller taking more of the deep targets, Brown produced in a different way than he’s accustomed to — but still quite efficiently. He forced eight missed tackles on 45 receptions, with that 17.8% rate being the highest since his rookie season in 2010. Brown is still one of the NFL’s best wide receivers.

Contract Analysis: The list of potential suitors for Antonio Brown’s services likely isn't very long. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers presumably top the list as Brown looks to return and chase another Super Bowl ring in Tampa Bay. The Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens were reportedly at least considering bringing Brown aboard at various points, though both offenses will likely be very run-heavy in 2021. Brown is still playing at a very high level, but it’s hard to imagine a team feeling comfortable paying him much more than the minimum at this point.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $4.25 million (up to $6 million)

4. T RUSSELL OKUNG

Reported Visits/Interest: Chiefs

Team Fits: Chiefs, Colts, Steelers, Vikings

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 past three years, he ranks as a slightly above-average pass-blocker and an above-average run-blocker, and he remains a valuable player at an important position.

Okung was traded from the Los Angeles Chargers to the Carolina Panthers before the 2020 season and filled in seamlessly when available.

The veteran earned a pass-blocking grade above 70.0 — with five grades above 75.0 — in six of the seven games he started in 2020. Coincidentally, he also recorded a 71.0-plus pass-blocking grade — with five grades above 75.0 — in each of his past seven seasons.

Contract Analysis: Okung is now 33 years old 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.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $7.75 million

5. T ALEJANDRO VILLANUEVA

Reported Visits/Interest: Colts, Ravens, Steelers

Team Fits: Chargers, Colts, Ravens, Panthers, Steelers, Vikings

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 past five seasons while ranking in the 54th percentile in 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 to become one of the league’s best left tackles. Nevertheless, he remains on the market. He'll likely find a new team after the draft when the compensatory formula doesn't factor in.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $8 million

6. CB BRIAN POOLE

Reported Visits/Interest: Browns, Jets

Team Fits: Browns, Cardinals, Falcons, Jets, Steelers, Titans

At 5-foot-9, Brian Poole very much fits the mold of a slot cornerback at the NFL level, and he has always been solid in that role. After moving to the Jets, he was better than solid, posting one of the highest PFF coverage grades from the slot over the past two seasons. He allowed just one touchdown and a passer rating of under 70.0 when targeted over that stretch. There are more spectacular players around the NFL, but Poole has proven to be an impressively consistent and solid defender at one of the most undervalued positions in the league.

Contract Analysis: The Jets inking Poole to a one-year, $5 million contract for 2020 was one of the better value signings across the NFL, as he was playing some really good football before heading to injured reserve with shoulder and knee ailments. Following consecutive one-year flier deals from the Jets, Poole will look to cash in on a multi-year extension.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $2 million

7. EDGE MELVIN INGRAM III

Reported Visits/Interest: Chiefs

Team Fits: Colts, Chiefs, Giants

Ingram’s second contract went a lot better than his first in terms of his level of play. Once seen as a first-round disappointment, he blossomed into an extremely effective NFL pass-rusher, only enhanced by Joey Bosa‘s arrival to the Chargers‘ defensive front.

Ingram racked up three straight seasons with 70 or more total pressures before an injury in 2019 broke that streak, and 2020 featured his best PFF pass-rushing grade since 2017, even if sacks never materialized.

Ingram is a productive pass-rusher, but he was limited to just 361 snaps this season. And at this point in his career, he isn’t going to be the primary source of pass rush for anything other than a bad pass-rushing football team. Teams that already have a primary stud up front could dramatically improve their rush with the addition of Ingram as a second threat, however.

Contract Analysis: Ingram briefly held out of training camp before the 2020 season, presumably looking for an extension of some kind. But after making Bosa the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, the Chargers were willing to guarantee only Ingram’s 2020 salary and didn't add any years onto his deal. He appeared in just seven games total in 2020, with injuries keeping him out of Los Angeles' final six contests.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $8.5 million

8. T RICK WAGNER

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Bears, Chiefs, Packers, Raiders, Ravens, Steelers, Titans

Wagner proved to be one of the better signings last offseason, finishing 2020 with a 78.2 overall grade — good for 24th among offensive tackles. He’s been consistently effective since entering the league in 2013, grading above 70.0 in five of his seven full seasons. Since 2017, Wagner ranks above the 60th percentile in pass-block grade on true pass sets as well as avoiding negatively graded plays in the run game, and he profiles as a viable starter at right tackle for his next team.

Contract Analysis: The Packers let former right tackle Bryan Bulaga head to the Los Angeles Chargers and are slated to earn a fifth-round compensatory pick as a result. Wagner graded a good bit better in every facet in 2020. That’s how smart franchises, such as Green Bay, stay good for so long. Nevertheless, Wagner struggled a bit against speed, and his $6 million price point was a bit too much for the Packers, who needed to cut costs to get under the cap. There should still be a decent market for Wagner’s services.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $3.5 million

9. LB K.J. WRIGHT

Reported Visits/Interest: Seahawks

Team Fits: Cardinals, Chargers, Cowboys, Dolphins, Seahawks, Football Team

Wright has been one of the league's most consistent linebackers over his NFL career, and as he gets toward the end of it, he still provides a lot of value as a solid all-around player at the position. He finished the 2020 regular season with the eighth-best overall grade among linebackers (75.3).

The Seahawks had their annual shock pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft when they took Texas Tech linebacker Jordyn Brooks at 27th overall. And while he’s slowly coming along in a Will linebacker role — which has been Wright’s spot in Seattle for nearly a decade — his presence may not necessarily mean Wright is completely done with the Seahawks.

Contract Analysis: Wright was solid after transitioning into the strongside linebacker role following Bruce Irvin’s season-ending injury, and it suits him as he gets a bit older. His 53.9 coverage grade in 2019 was the worst of his career, so playing closer to the line and setting the edge in run defense works for him at this stage of his career. Irvin is also a free agent but is two years older and will be coming off a torn ACL, so perhaps Wright carves out a role in Seattle because he can contribute at either spot going forward.

Updated Contract Projection: Two years, $10 million

10. S MALIK HOOKER

Reported Visits/Interest: Cowboys

Team Fits: Cowboys, Jaguars, Panthers, Raiders

Hooker has dealt with significant injury after significant injury, and this concern existed even before the 2020 season, which was lost to a torn Achilles. He’s never really provided the intended playmaking ability in the middle of the field, but he’s also played in a Colts scheme that has been heavy on two-high safety coverages.

Hooker still may be a better fit in a true single-high safety role where he takes good angles on downfield throws. He’s looked out of place when forced into one-on-ones with receivers or when needing to react quickly from two-high alignments. His best season saw him grade out at 81.6 in coverage in 2018, though the other 1200 or so snaps have him graded in the mid-60.0s. He's worth a look in a new system that could get the most out of his downfield playmaking skill set.

Contract Analysis: The Indianapolis Colts were the last team in the NFL to make a decision on their 2017 first-round pick’s fifth-year option, waiting until the very last day to ultimately decline Hooker’s $6.7 million for 2021, which looks smart in hindsight. Hooker will likely need to take a near-minimum “prove-it” deal to get his career back on track.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $1.25 million

11. T BOBBY MASSIE

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Chiefs, Packers, Raiders, Ravens, Steelers, Titans

Starting-caliber tackles are difficult to come by, and Massie has been a mid-tier starter for the majority of his career. Since 2017, he has earned a solid 73.4 pass-blocking grade, including a 57th percentile rank on true pass sets, showing that he will provide at least adequate play at a position group that suffers massively from glaring holes. Massie has been less effective in the run game, grading above 60.0 just twice in his five years with the Bears, so his best fit may be in a pass-heavy attack.

Contract Analysis: Massie’s four-year, $32 million extension in 2019 had a team option for 2021, which Chicago chose to decline, making him a free agent ahead of the 2021 offseason. Massie has been a solid, if unspectacular, right tackle in Chicago the past two years but has missed 14 games over the same span.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $2.5 million

12. C AUSTIN REITER

Reported Visits/Interest: Packers

Team Fits: Dolphins, Falcons, Packers, Steelers

Austin Reiter flashed ability in limited playing time early in his career before getting a chance to start in Kansas City, where he became 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 77.0 in every season of significant playing time in that facet. In 2020, he allowed just 11 total pressures and wasn’t flagged for a penalty until the playoffs.

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 problem position for some teams.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $3.5 million

Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) against Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman (31) at State Farm Stadium. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

13. CB NICKELL ROBEY-COLEMAN

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Cardinals, Falcons, Jets, Steelers, Titans

Now infamous for the non-call on a blatant defensive pass interference in the 2018-19 NFC Championship game against the New Orleans Saints, Robey-Coleman hasn’t been quite as fortunate recently. An important piece of a stingy secondary in Los Angeles became expendable and ended up signing a one-year, $1.35 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles for 2020. Robey-Coleman’s defensive grade and coverage grade in 2020 were both five-year lows, and those marks will raise some questions about how much of his grade in Los Angeles was due to the system rather than the player. 

He has shown flashes this year that he can still be an aggressive and feisty slot corner, but he gave up a 124.2 passer rating when targeted while allowing 11.6 yards per reception this past season — high figures for an inside defender.

Contract Analysis: Robey-Coleman will land somewhere as a tried-and-true veteran at slot cornerback, but another one-year deal near the minimum is probably in order.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $1.25 million

14. RB DUKE JOHNSON JR.

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Bengals, Broncos, Chiefs, Giants, Titans

Johnson epitomizes what the modern running back should look like: an excellent receiver who can create mismatches in the pass game. Since entering the league, Johnson has a 90.7 receiving grade, ranking in the 90th percentile during that time. He’s also tied for 10th in yards per route, at 1.46, and tied for ninth in missed tackles forced per rushing attempt, at 0.2. Johnson can create on his own as a runner and add value to the passing game, so teams in need of a pass-catching complementary option should take note.

Contract Analysis: Johnson’s three-year, $15.61 million ($5.203M APY) extension signed with the Cleveland Browns in 2018 was a market-setter for a player primarily considered a third-down back. Dion Lewis, James White and Giovani Bernard have all since signed for just beneath Johnson, who was then traded a year later to the Houston Texans for a conditional fourth-round pick that became a third-rounder.

Johnson isn’t just a scatback, though. In fact, he’s the all-time leading rusher at the University of Miami — topping a list that includes Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee. Now set to play for his third NFL team, Johnson is only 27 years old, and questions remain as to whether he’s ever truly been used effectively.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $1.5 million

15. WR DANNY AMENDOLA

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Bears, Cardinals, Chargers, Colts, Eagles, Panthers, Ravens, Saints, Seahawks

Despite approaching the age of time itself (35 years old), Danny Amendola has quietly been as productive as ever over the past few seasons. He hasn’t been as big a part of the offense as he once was, with his last 100-target season coming in New England, but for a team that needs a safe pair of hands or someone who runs a lot of routes from the slot, Amendola can still be a useful member of an offense. He has had six straight seasons with a 65.0-plus PFF receiving grade.

Contract Analysis: While Amendola’s usage has naturally declined, he managed to post his best season grade (74.9) since 2017. He signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Lions this past offseason, and he’ll most likely keep signing similar contracts until he retires.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $3 million

16. RB LE’VEON BELL

Reported Visits/Interest: Bills, Dolphins, Patriots (all reported during 2020 season when released)

Team Fits: Bills, Dolphins, Falcons, Patriots, Seahawks

The great Le’Veon Bell that was once arguably the best running back in the NFL is long gone, but he is still a capable player in the backfield with a well-rounded skill set. His trademark “patient” rushing style that was so successful in Pittsburgh seems to have morphed into a general lack of explosion over time, and he hasn’t had a carry longer than 20 yards since his time with the Steelers

In 2020, Bell ended with a 73.9 overall PFF grade, averaged more than three yards per carry after contact and dropped just one pass. He won’t break the bank anymore and could be a useful addition to a backfield lacking in talent.

Contract Analysis: Le’Veon Bell’s tenure with the New York Jets ended with an unceremonious breakup after never really getting off the ground, as he was more or less phased out of the offense in favor of 37-year-old Frank Gore. Bell will certainly benefit from performing on the biggest stage in the playoffs with the Kansas City Chiefs, and perhaps a few big performances can entice a team to take another chance on him.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $3.75 million

17. CB GAREON CONLEY

Reported Visits/Interest: Browns

Team Fits: Browns, Cardinals, Chargers, Chiefs, Colts, Cowboys, Eagles, Falcons, Lions, Packers, Saints

A former first-round pick, Conley has had his ups and downs, grading out at 64.5 and 64.0 in his two full NFL seasons. He missed all of the 2020 campaign. Conley is better in man coverage, as he’s graded in the 69th percentile in single coverage compared to just the 37th percentile in zone since entering the league. He’s also forced incompletions on 22.2% of his targets, the second-best rate in the NFL since 2017. Conley is worth a look in a man-heavy system.

Contract Analysis: The former 2017 first-round pick of the then-Oakland Raiders was traded to the Houston Texans for a third-round pick after just two seasons. Conley is a perfect candidate to be 2021’s Ronald Darby, as he profiles similarly — and that’s what his selling point should be to potential suitors.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $1.75 million

18. CB BASHAUD BREELAND

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Browns, Cardinals, Chargers, Chiefs, Colts, Cowboys, Eagles, Falcons, Lions, Packers, Saints

Breeland’s play at cornerback is something of a roller-coaster ride. In some games, he plays well and holds his own on the outside against even decent receivers, but when the wheels come off, they tend to do so spectacularly.

The veteran cornerback had three games with a PFF coverage grade above 80.0 this past season, but he also had marks of 32.2 and 43.1 as well as two games in the 50.0s. Overall, he was beaten for a 90.3 passer rating and earned a solid coverage grade, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

Breeland is now 29, and though he can certainly play and start in this league, he represents the kind of starter who teams will always have an eye out to upgrade upon.

Contract Analysis: Breeland began the season with a four-game suspension following an arrest in April 2020, but he made his presence felt immediately in Week 5 against the Las Vegas Raiders with an interception. He excelled as the right cornerback in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s system.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $2.5 million

19. DI GENO ATKINS

Reported Visits/Interest: Bengals, Vikings

Team Fits: Bengals, Bills, Cardinals, Chargers, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Raiders, Titans, Vikings

At his peak, Geno Atkins was one of the best pass-rushing interior linemen in the game, but his recent decline is apparent and injury limited him in 2020. If he can get healthy and recapture some of his better play, he can still succeed with a team short on disruption inside, but his best play may be a long way in the rearview mirror.

Contract Analysis: Atkins played just 127 snaps in 2020 and graded out at 54.0, both marks that were by far the lowest of his career. The career Bengal had played at least 775 snaps and graded at 76.2 or better in five straight seasons before his first-ever bad year, but it’s fair to wonder if age is catching up to the 33-year-old. Atkins was a dominant force for the better part of a decade, though, and could have some spark left in a better situation.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $5 million (up to $7 million)

20. DI JURRELL CASEY

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Bengals, Bills, Cardinals, Chargers, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Raiders, Titans, Vikings

Limited to just 156 snaps in 2020, Casey kept his streak alive of never grading below 70.0 overall, highlighting how he’s been consistently good since entering the NFL in 2011. Casey had five straight years with 50-plus pressures from 2013 to 2019, but his pass-rush production has slowed a bit in recent years. He’s still a plus run defender who should still be on many teams' radars.

Contract Analysis: The Broncos acquired Casey for a seventh-round pick before the 2020 season, but he missed the majority of the year to injury. Casey’s 2021 salary was slated to be $11,874,750, with $0 dead money on a release. There’s no reason to think he can’t be a productive player going forward; this move was more about the financial implications. He should still have a handful of suitors and can provide good value as a run-stuffing 3-technique who will generate the occasional quarterback pressure.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $4.5 million (up to $6.5 million)

21. WR ALSHON JEFFERY

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Jets, Patriots, Ravens, Football Team

Jeffery’s Eagles career will always be remembered for the team's great playoff run in 2017, capped by his spectacular touchdown grab on a jump ball in the back of the end zone over the out-stretched hand of Patriots defensive back Eric Rowe. His tenure in Philadelphia ended in a far less exciting fashion; marred by injury, he missed 20 total games over the 2019-20 campaigns. Now at 31 years old, Jeffery may not be much more than a big-bodied red-zone target.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $3 million

22. CB CASEY HAYWARD JR.

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Cowboys, Raiders, Seahawks

Hayward, one of the best cornerbacks of the past decade, is coming off the worst season of his NFL career and will be 32 years old entering the 2021 season. He earned a mere 59.5 overall PFF grade in 2020 and surrendered five touchdowns. It was the first season of his career that has been anything but very good, but expecting a bounceback year is a risk at his age.

Contract Analysis: Even with some risk associated with this move, Hayward has a better resume than most cornerbacks hitting the market this offseason. The position is known for volatility, so teams have to hope he’ll return to his elite form after a down season.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $6.5 million

Charlotte, NC, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) looks to pass as Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short (99) pressures in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

23. DI KAWANN SHORT

Reported Visits/Interest: Panthers

Team Fits: Bills, Cardinals, Chargers, Panthers, Raiders

Short has multiple elite years on his resume, but he’s played just 199 snaps over the past two years, finishing 2020 with a 45.4 overall grade in his limited time on the field. When healthy, he’s been an excellent run defender, peaking with a 91.7 grade in 2017, as well as an effective pass-rusher, grading above 80.0 in both 2015 and 2017. The main question is what he has left at this point in his career, but he’s worth a flier to see if he can regain his prior form in a defensive line rotation.

Contract Analysis: Short has been one of the best interior defenders in the NFL since being drafted in 2013, playing a large role in the Panthers’ 2015 Super Bowl run, which culminated in a massive five-year, $80.5 million contract extension in 2017. He got off to a great start on his new deal, recording the fourth-highest grade among interior defenders over the 2017-18 seasons (91.3) — trailing only Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox and Damon Harrison Sr. Unfortunately, injuries in 2019 and 2020 limited him to just 199 snaps. Short was set to make a $12.5 million 2021 base salary. Now at 32, his football future is something of a mystery.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $4.25 million

24. EDGE JUSTIN HOUSTON

Reported Visits/Interest: Colts, Ravens

Team Fits: Colts, Falcons, Giants, Ravens

The big question for Houston is what he has left at this point after 10 years in the league. He doesn’t possess the same burst and power that made him the fifth-best pass-rushing edge defender in the NFL during the past decade, and he finished 2020 with the lowest pass-rush grade of his career.

Houston still flashes useful ability, as he can put offensive tackles off-balance with his length and good technique, but his days of accumulating 50-plus pressures in a season appear to be in the past. Even in the run game, Houston took a step back in 2020. On the other hand, he is just one year removed from an 87.1 overall grade while playing just over 40 snaps per game, and he may have something to offer in a rotational role.

Contract Analysis: Houston's 2021 free agency has been underwhelming. The market for older players at expensive positions like edge rusher has taken a hit due to the salary cap constraints ahead, and guys in the same boat as Houston — Everson Griffen and Vic Beasley Jr., for example — didn’t exactly do him any favors.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $8.25 million

25. CB JASON MCCOURTY

Reported Visits/Interest: Giants

Team Fits: Cardinals, Chargers, Eagles, Giants, Jets, Raiders

After an incredible start to his New England tenure, Jason McCourty has played a reduced role but still technically started 11 games in 2020. He played a versatile part within the New England defense, lining up at safety or in the slot on occasion in addition to his usual spot out wide. He is now 33 years old and coming off his lowest PFF coverage grade (51.8) since 2015. This season, he allowed a 135.0 passer rating when targeted. His versatility is useful, but McCourty isn’t transforming anybody’s secondary.

Contract Analysis: One of the first extensions of the 2021 “offseason” (signed in December) was 33-year-old Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith agreeing to a one-year, $2.5 million extension worth up to $5 million with incentives. McCourty and Smith have both started to play less wide corner and more at safety and in the slot, relying on their advanced football knowledge and instincts to make up for a loss in athleticism. Smith’s contract provides a perfect blueprint.

Updated Contract Prediction: One year, $2.5 million (up to $4 million)

26. S TRE BOSTON

Reported Visits/Interest: Football Team

Team Fits: Chargers, Colts, Cowboys, Jaguars, Football Team

An annual staple on the free agent market, Boston has been one of the better free safeties in the league in his seven NFL seasons. In 2020, he produced a career-low 53.8 grade that included a career-high 16 missed tackles. After playing almost exclusively at free safety in previous seasons, Boston played about half of his time in the box in 2020, and his 50.6 coverage grade ranked just 55th out of 64 qualifiers. He does his best work on the back end in both one- and two-high safety looks, so a return to more of a true free safety role should get him back on track.

Contract Analysis: Boston finally landed the multi-year contract he deserved after several seasons of quality play on one-year deals, but his three-year, $18 million contract with the Panthers just ended up becoming his latest one-year deal. Though Boston is a good player, no position market was more flooded with talent this offseason than free safety, so another one-year deal may be in store for him.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $2 million

27. T DENNIS KELLY

Reported Visits/Interest: Ravens

Team Fits: Bears, Chiefs, Jets, Packers, Raiders, Ravens, Steelers

Dennis Kelly was called upon to start at right tackle for the Titans in 2020 due to their crisis at the position and acquitted himself reasonably well. He didn't allow a sack all season and had average or better PFF grades as both a pass-blocker and in the run game. He is best suited to the role of a backup swing tackle but proved he can start and be solid if called on.

Contract Analysis: After a strong year filling in as a reserve for now-released 2020 first-round pick Isaiah Wilson, Kelly earned himself another role as a swing tackle at the least. There will always be a market for tackles who aren’t one-dimensional in their contributions and can log snaps on either side of the line. Kelly was a surprise cap casualty, but Tennessee had a difficult salary cap situation that resulted in the departures of wideout Corey Davis, tight end Jonnu Smith and cornerback Malcolm Butler.

Updated Contract Projection: Two years, $5.5 million

28. EDGE ADRIAN CLAYBORN

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: 49ers, Bengals, Bills

A first-round pick in 2011, Clayborn has been a surprisingly productive pass-rusher for hire over the past several years but is coming off his worst season in a long time. He generated just 27 total pressures and a 46.4 PFF run-defense grade. He'll be 33 years old by the time the season rolls around.

Contract Analysis: Clayborn is looking for his fourth team in as many seasons despite being a pretty solid rotational player on the edge. While he’ll be 33 this upcoming season, he played more snaps in 2020 than he had since 2017. However, he also earned his lowest grade (57.8) since 2016.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $2 million

29. TE TREY BURTON

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Bengals, Colts, Jets, Panthers

Trey Burton was an impressive player in small sample sizes with limited opportunities as an Eagle early in his career before failing to make the same kind of impact when handed a bigger role in Chicago. He then fell completely out of favor and dealt with injuries. Burton remains an intriguing tight end, but at this point, he will be little more than a backup or relief option until he proves otherwise.

Contract Analysis: The fabled “Philly Special” play in Super Bowl 52 where Burton threw it to Nick Foles in the end zone will forever be the tight end's legacy, and that playoff run played a large role in him securing a substantial second contract from the Bears. Now facing his age 30 season and having dealt with various ailments, which is significant at the tight end position, Burton will likely sign a one-year deal again in 2021.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $2 million

30. CB DARQUEZE DENNARD

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Cardinals, Falcons, Jets, Steelers, Titans

Darqueze Dennard never really showed solid enough play at the NFL level to justify his first-round draft stock, and he hits free agency after an average season in Atlanta. Primarily a slot corner, Dennard can play outside in a pinch but has allowed a 96.4 passer rating for his entire career and rarely makes plays on the football, with 18 pass breakups and four picks in seven seasons.

Contract Analysis: Dennard agreed in principle with the Jacksonville Jaguars on a three-year, $13.5 million contract ($4.5M APY) with $6 million guaranteed in March of the 2020 offseason, but the two sides were unable to hammer out the details. Dennard eventually signed a one-year, $1.01 million deal with the Falcons, appearing in eight games. The former 2014 first-rounder is a solid slot corner against both the pass and run but has dealt with nagging injuries in three straight seasons. He will be 30 years old in 2021.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $2.5 million

31. EDGE OLIVIER VERNON

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Colts, Chiefs, Falcons, Ravens

While we’re a few years removed from Vernon’s best play, he’s been one of the NFL's better pass-rushers over the past few seasons. A Week 17 Achilles injury in 2020 puts his 2021 status in doubt, but a healthy Vernon graded at 74.6 last season to go with 51 pressures, so he is still a capable No. 2 rusher assuming a return to health.

Contract Analysis: The timing could not have been worse for Vernon, suffering his Achilles injury on January 4 — just two and a half months out from free agency. The 2021 season is a recovery year for the proven veteran edge rusher. It could work out all right for him if he can get back on the field toward the end of the year, show he has no lingering issues from the injury and then hit free agency in a potentially better market.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $1.575 million

32. T ERIC FISHER

Reported Visits/Interest: Vikings

Team Fits: Colts, Steelers, Vikings

Fisher was putting together the best season of his NFL career in 2020 before it was derailed by an injury in the AFC Championship game. The Chiefs' offensive line was subsequently overwhelmed in the Super Bowl. Fisher allowed just three sacks across almost 800 pass-blocking snaps, but a ruptured Achilles so late in the season will make for a difficult decision for any prospective new team.

Contract Analysis: The No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Fisher earned the best regular-season grade of his career in 2020 (80.0). His injury caused him to miss a second straight Super Bowl trip, putting his availability for Week 1 of 2021 in doubt. Nevertheless, Fisher is just 30 years old and could have more good football ahead of him once healthy. 

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $5 million (up to $8 million)

Kansas City, MO, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills (12) runs with the ball against the Kansas City Chiefs during the third quarter in a AFC Divisional Round playoff football game at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

33. WR KENNY STILLS

Reported Visits/Interest: Bills

Team Fits: Bears, Bengals, Bills, Colts, Eagles, Jets, Football Team

Stills has been a productive deep threat with each of his NFL teams, though his PFF grade has rarely matched that assessment. His résumé includes just one season with a receiving grade higher than 71.0 despite five years where he generated a passer rating north of 100.0. He is inconsistent and largely one-dimensional, but that dimension is valuable.

Contract Analysis: Stills came along to Houston as a part of the Laremy Tunsil blockbuster and eventually got lost in the shuffle in a deep wide receiver room. He can still be a productive deep threat when healthy, and you can’t teach speed. He ended the season on the Bills' practice squad after getting waived by the Texans late in the year.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $1.25 million

34. WR DAMIERE BYRD

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Bears, Bengals, Bills, Colts, Eagles, Jets, Football Team

Byrd does one thing really well: He brings his 4.27-second speed to work the vertical route tree. He can clearly get behind a defense, but that also opens up curls and hitches on the outside. Even with that speed, Byrd has averaged just 12.0 yards per catch in his career. He must cut back on five drops on only 52 catchable passes in 2020.

Contract Analysis: With opportunities somewhat scarce in the New England Patriots‘ run-first offense, Byrd still managed a few big outings when the team did choose to air it out. He's a willing blocker even though he didn’t exactly excel as one, and head coach Bill Belichick trusted him enough to keep trotting him out there — something he’s not always going to do if he feels a guy is a weak link.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $1.75 million

35. S EARL THOMAS III

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Colts, Cowboys, Jaguars, Football Team

Earl Thomas was the single-high free safety prototype for years, and he showed in Baltimore he could be more than that and disrupt a game from all safety alignments before getting cut and remaining teamless for the entire 2020 season. Thomas may not be signed at all, but the league is always willing to overlook a lot for talent, and he can likely still make a big impact.

Contract Analysis: Thomas is still engaged in an ongoing grievance process with the Baltimore Ravens over money from 2020 after he was released for conduct detrimental. He went unsigned the rest of the season while plenty of teams could have used the help in the secondary, so he may have to prove he’s worth the investment before any team shells out a big-money contract again.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $2 million

36. LB B.J. GOODSON

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Lions, Jets, Ravens, Texans, Rams

Goodson played a career-high 937 snaps in 2020, and his 66.0 overall grade ranked 24th among NFL linebackers. He was best suited for an early-down run-stopping role in his first few years, but he rounded out his game with a career-high 66.1 coverage grade to go with four pass breakups last season. The rest of Goodson’s career suggests that a limited role is still the best bet for his production, but he’s a sure tackler and a solid overall player who should get a look from teams still in need of linebacker help.

Contract Analysis: The Browns were missing many of their defensive players, particularly on the back end, for much of the 2020 season, but Goodson was ever-present and relatively solid throughout their march to the playoffs. A strong performance against the Steelers in the wild-card round was followed by a tough outing against the speedy Chiefs, but Goodson proved he can handle a larger workload if it becomes necessary. 

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $2.5 million

37. S BRADLEY MCDOUGALD

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Colts, Raiders

McDougald has two season grades above 70.0 in his seven-year career, though last year saw him bottom out with a 41.0 overall grade on just 432 snaps. He does his best work in the box, where he has a 66th percentile coverage grade since 2018 to go with a mid-level grade against the run. When McDougald lined up at free safety, his 45.7 coverage grade ranked just 75th out of 81 qualifiers, so his usage is crucial for his next team.

Contract Analysis: McDougald was sent to the New York Jets as part of the Seahawks’ package for safety Jamal Adams, and he played out the final year of his three-year, $13.5 million contract signed in 2018. He’ll likely have to look to bounce back in 2021 playing on a one-year flier and potentially hit the market again.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $1.25 million

38. OG JAMES CARPENTER

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Chargers, Lions, Football Team

Carpenter's past two years looked a lot like his first two in the NFL when he was on his way to being viewed as a first-round draft bust. He earned overall PFF grades of just 45.0 and 56.0 in those campaigns and hasn’t produced an above-average year in pass protection since 2018.

Contract Analysis: Carpenter was one of several higher-priced guards cut before the 2021 season as teams looked for ways to free up cap space. Atlanta cleared a little over $4 million with his release, with the team looking to get under the cap and get younger along the interior offensive line.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $1.075 million

39. WR DEDE WESTBROOK

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Cardinals, Chargers, Chiefs, Eagles, Panthers, Ravens, Titans

Despite dealing with ugly quarterback situations in Jacksonville, Dede Westbrook flashed ability and the talent to be a useful receiver in the NFL. He played just 16 snaps in 2020 before injury shut him down, but he earned a 71.3 grade in 2018 on 805 snaps. Primarily a slot receiver, Westbrook could benefit from a change in scenery and upgrade a team’s receiving corps inside.

Contract Analysis: For the most part, Westbrook could get on the field in 2020 only on special teams, and after fumbling a kick return earlier in a game, he suffered a gruesome leg injury on the next. His 2021 campaign will be about recovering.

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $1.25 million

40. EDGE TRENT MURPHY

Reported Visits/Interest: N/A

Team Fits: Bills, Colts, Dolphins, Giants, Titans

Murphy played a career-low 369 snaps in 2020, but he’s graded above 70.0 in three of his six NFL seasons. He's reached that mark in only two of the past three seasons, though, proving to be inconsistent against the run through the years. Overall, Murphy projects as a rotational edge defender who has ranked in the 50th percentile as a pass-rusher over the past three years and in the 51st percentile as a run defender.

Contract Analysis: Murphy projected as a potential cap casualty coming into the 2020 season but managed to stick in Buffalo along a defensive front that was sorely lacking playmakers. Buffalo looks likely to get younger at the edge rusher position in 2021. 

Updated Contract Projection: One year, $4 million

Know tomorrow, today. Western Southern Financial Group.
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