NFL Players Who Need a Change of Scenery in 2021

Tyler Brooke@TylerDBrookeSenior Analyst IINovember 13, 2020

NFL Players Who Need a Change of Scenery in 2021

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    Some of the NFL's biggest names aren't in ideal situations, and it might be time for a 2021 change of scenery.

    Expiring contracts play a major factor, but so do situations in which the players aren't matching previous production. A current or future positional battle could also play a role, whether it's competing with younger players or waiting for their team to draft a replacement.

    A number of big names fall under this umbrella. Let's take a look at a few of them.

A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    After nine-plus seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, A.J. Green needs a new home.

    He missed the 2019 campaign because of a severe ankle injury, but the Bengals retained the star receiver last offseason via the franchise tag. That gave them time to evaluate how Green would fare with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow before deciding if they wanted to offer the 32-year-old a contract extension.

    Unfortunately for them, Green hasn't had much of an impact. Through eight games, he's caught just 31 passes for 316 yards and zero touchdowns, struggling to carve out a bigger role. Meanwhile, young receivers Tyler Boyd, 25, and rookie Tee Higgins, 21, are getting comfortable with Burrow and overshadowing the seven-time Pro Bowler.

    As an unrestricted free agent in 2021, Green could leave the only franchise he's ever known. He may not get the money he's looking for, considering his age and injury history, but Green should still have a number of teams calling, given his track record.

    A team like the New England Patriots, who desperately need more reliable talent at wide receiver, could make a lot of sense for Green. Young players like N'Keal Harry, 22, and Jakobi Meyers, 24, could learn a lot from Green while still allowing the veteran to get his fair share of touches.

    Best Fit: New England Patriots

Anthony Harris, S, Minnesota Vikings

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    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings will have some tough decisions to make this offseason, including what to do with safety Anthony Harris.

    Harris has come a long way since going undrafted in 2015, establishing himself as a starter alongside Harrison Smith. He had a career year in 2019, snagging a personal-best six interceptions, which was tied for the most in the NFL. 

    That was enough for Harris to earn another year with the Vikings under the franchise tag. However, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported in March that Minnesota had considered trading the safety after tagging him.

    He has done little to solidify his future in Minnesota this season. The 29-year-old has yet to register an interception through eight games, while opposing quarterbacks have posted a concerning 133.2 passer rating when throwing his way. 

    It's unlikely the Vikings will be willing to re-sign Harris to a sizable extension given his drop-off in play. That won't stop a team like the Dallas Cowboys, however. They need help in their secondary, and a bet on Harris' returning to peak levels could give the defense a much-needed lift in 2021.

    The Cowboys still need to figure out if they'll re-sign quarterback Dak Prescott. If they do and enough of their projected $34 million in cap space is left over, it would be smart to make a run at Harris.

    Best Fit: Dallas Cowboys

Allen Robinson II, WR, Chicago Bears

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    As one of the NFL's more talented wide receivers, Allen Robinson II has spent the first six-plus seasons of his career without an elite quarterback throwing him the ball. The Chicago Bears star could have an opportunity to change that this offseason.

    Robinson will be an unrestricted free agent after 2020, but talks regarding a potential extension stalled as of early October, per CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora. Even some of Robinson's teammates took to Twitter to pressure the team to extend the 27-year-old. 

    Robinson continues to play at a high level regardless of who is playing under center. Through nine games, he has caught 57 passes for 712 yards and three touchdowns.

    If the Bears and Robinson can't agree on a long-term deal, then there will be a lot of interest around the league for the one-time Pro Bowler. He's on pace for his second straight season with at least 1,000 yards despite playing in an offense that ranks 29th in total yards, which speaks volumes about Robinson's playmaking ability.

    A team with a high-powered offense and a need at wide receiver could make a strong offer. The Texans might be in the market for a new weapon for Deshaun Watson after trading DeAndre Hopkins and potentially losing Will Fuller V to free agency.

    A lack of early draft picks could also make signing a No. 1 receiver a top priority for Houston. Although the Texans are projected to be $12 million over the cap next season, whoever takes over as the new GM will likely want to clean house and offload as many overpriced contracts as possible.

    Robinson's price tag might be high, but if the Texans can clear enough cap space, they could make finding a No. 1 receiver one of their top priorities.

    Best Fit: Houston Texans

Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Washington Football Team

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    Daniel Kucin Jr./Associated Press

    Ryan Kerrigan will go down as one of the best defensive players in Washington Football Team history, but it might be time for the 32-year-old to move on in 2021.

    As the franchise's all-time sack leader with 94.5, Kerrigan is still getting to opposing quarterbacks in his 10th NFL season. He has picked up 4.5 sacks in eight games this year despite not being a full-time starter.

    Washington has found younger players to replace Kerrigan, as it has used first-round picks in each of the past two drafts on defensive ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young. The two have combined for 8.5 sacks this year, and both are promising long-term pass-rushers.

    Their emergence has signaled the end of an era for Kerrigan. The four-time Pro Bowler had even requested a trade before the Nov. 3 deadline, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    Kerrigan will enter free agency this offseason, and a handful of teams will look to add a veteran pass-rusher. The Carolina Panthers are one to keep an eye on though. Kerrigan could mentor a young player such as Brian Burns, 22, while still playing a significant role on the opposite side of the defensive line.

    Best Fit: Carolina Panthers

Phillip Lindsay, RB, Denver Broncos

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Once the undrafted star of the Denver Broncos backfield, Phillip Lindsay has seen a reduced role with Melvin Gordon III in town. That alone might be enough for Lindsay to want to play elsewhere.

    He came out of seemingly nowhere in 2018, running for 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns while becoming the first undrafted offensive rookie in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl. Even after Lindsay ran for another 1,000-plus yards last year, the Broncos brought in Gordon, a two-time Pro Bowler, during the offseason.

    Now, Lindsay is seeing significantly fewer carries. He's only had more than 10 rushes in one game, carrying the ball 23 times for 101 yards in Week 6 while Gordon was out with an illness. Lindsay has also missed a few contests because of a toe injury, but his role has been limited when both he and Gordon are healthy.

    That's surprising, considering how efficient Lindsay has been. He's already run for 310 yards on only 53 carries, averaging an impressive 5.8 yards per rushing attempt.

    Lindsay is set to be a restricted free agent this offseason, so it's no guarantee that someone can sign the running back without Denver matching the offer. However, with both Gordon and Royce Freeman locked up next year, the Broncos could survive without Lindsay.

    It's unlikely Lindsay would become a workhorse back elsewhere, but he could find a sizable contract. A team like the New York Jets could be an ideal fit. After dropping Le'Veon Bell, the Jets could use another talented back and have the second-most projected cap space in 2021.

    Best Fit: New York Jets

K.J. Wright, LB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    As one of the longest-tenured members of the Seattle Seahawks, K.J. Wright has seen the team's defense fall apart in 2020. That could be a warning sign that it's time for a fresh beginning.

    Wright has been a full-time starter for the Seahawks since 2011, playing in both of Seattle's Super Bowl appearances while being named a Pro Bowler in 2016. He's coming off a personal-best season in which he racked up a career-high 132 combined tackles and three interceptions.

    His production has dropped in 2020, but the Seahawks defense has been awful. Not only does the unit rank last in the NFL in total defense with 455.8 yards allowed per game, but it's also on pace to shatter the record for passing yards allowed in a season.

    Playing on a historically bad defense would be reason enough for the impending free agent to want to play elsewhere, but Seattle also took Jordyn Brooks in the first round of the 2020 draft, likely to succeed Wright.

    Given his experience and production, the 31-year-old should have no problem getting offers from multiple franchises. If he wants to take on a leadership role on a team that's quickly developing into a playoff-caliber squad, Wright would be a great fit with the Miami Dolphins, who could use another starting inside linebacker.

    Best Fit: Miami Dolphins

Will Fuller V, WR, Houston Texans

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    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller V has a few more months before he has to decide whether he wants to play for a new team.

    The 26-year-old is in the middle of his best season, partially because he's stayed healthy after never having played a full 16 games in four previous campaigns. In eight contests, he's caught 36 passes for 590 yards and six touchdowns and is on his way to his first season with at least 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns.

    A strong start made Fuller a hot name in the rumor mill before the Nov. 3 deadline. The Green Bay Packers were reportedly discussing a deal for the wide receiver, per ESPN's Dianna Russini, but the organization couldn't agree on giving up assets for a short-term weapon, since Fuller will be a free agent after this season.

    The rumors caused him to send a cryptic tweet that some interpreted as a sign he was waiting to get out of Houston. Given that the Texans don't have a general manager or head coach in place for 2021 and beyond, it's understandable Fuller would want to leave a franchise preparing for a regime change.

    As long as Fuller stays healthy and continues his career season, he'll be one of the biggest names in free agency. That could lead to a bidding war, so a team with plenty of cap space is a likely candidate to snag the former Notre Dame star.

    The Indianapolis Colts make sense given that they have the third-most projected space for 2021. They could be in the market for a new deep threat, considering T.Y. Hilton has struggled this season and will also hit free agency. Replacing Hilton with Fuller could set up Philip Rivers—or his replacement—for success next year.

    Best Fit: Indianapolis Colts

Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold is the only player on this list who won't be a free agent in 2021, but he might deserve a fresh start more than anyone else.

    Darnold was 2018's No. 3 pick, and he has had to endure some tough seasons with the team. This year has been particularly brutal, with the Jets struggling offensively and sitting at 0-9 as the league's only winless squad.

    Still, the 23-year-old's numbers are hard to look at. He's completing just 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,045 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions. His 65.9 passer rating is the worst of his career, but that could also be attributed to bad coaching and a lack of talent around him.

    The Jets are on pace to land the No. 1 overall pick, which will make it hard for them to pass on drafting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who is the consensus choice to be the first player drafted should he declare.

    If the Jets take Lawrence, then Darnold will be on his way out via trade. There will be a handful of teams interested in him, most likely as a backup with a chance to contend for a starting job in the future.

    Given that 43-year-old Tom Brady's career will end soon, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be an ideal landing spot for Darnold. It would give him the chance to learn from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time while also putting him in position to start once Brady retires.

    Best Fit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

                      

    Salary-cap info via Spotrac.

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