NFL Free Agents Most Likely to Be Overpaid in 2021 Offseason
Part of the fun of NFL free agency is the overpays.
Big names headed to market and bidding wars that erupt for players at premium positions create annual offseason must-see entertainment for fans.
Not all overpays are created equal, though.
When the Cincinnati Bengals gambled three years and $42 million on cornerback Trae Waynes, hoping he'd play better in new surroundings, they didn't anticipate him not taking the field at all through Week 11 as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't going to complain about allegations of an overpay on Tom Brady, who received two years and $50 million.
Given the high-stakes nature of the market, overpays will again happen at premium and scarce spots (quarterback, edge-rusher, cornerback) next offseason. They typically involve players who are outperforming their current contracts, won't match such levels of production again or earn inflated deals because multiple teams have an interest in them.
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Indianapolis Colts
It's only fitting Trae Waynes got a mention in the intro because his former Minnesota Vikings running mate, Xavier Rhodes, seems headed for a similar free-agency fate.
Rhodes, a first-round pick in 2013, settled for a prove-it deal worth $3 million with the Indianapolis Colts this offseason. He's responded with a 77.3 Pro Football Focus grade, allowing just 21 catches on 46 targets with two interceptions.
Teams figure to inflate Rhodes' value based on this one season, especially compared to older, struggling fellow free agents like Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson.
Potential Suitors: San Francisco 49ers, Washington Football Team
Matt Judon, Edge, Baltimore Ravens
Matt Judon feels like the latest Baltimore Ravens edge-rusher to get overpaid on the open market.
Judon hit on a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2019, earning a franchise tag from the Ravens. But he has just four through 10 games this season, and his PFF grade has regressed from a 70.5 last season to a 58.6 this year.
Still, teams on the open market might hope Judon can be the next Za'Darius Smith, who joined the Green Bay Packers and erupted while earning a $16.5 million average annual value. The 28-year-old is earning just about that on the franchise tag this year despite not matching it with his production, but that likely won't stop teams from putting him in that range during free agency.
The rule is simple: NFL teams overpay for pressure because it's the one surefire way to stop the current wave of quarterbacks. The allure of Judon's upside will create a bidding war.
Potential Suitors: New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts
Bud Dupree, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Elsewhere in the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a similar situation with Bud Dupree.
The 22nd pick in the 2015 draft erupted with a career-high 11.5 sacks on a 77.7 PFF grade in 2019. That earned him a prove-it franchise tag from a team that had watched him generate just 5.5 sacks on a 60.4 grade in 2018.
Dupree has since evened out. He has eight sacks through 10 games, but he's regressed to a 58.8 PFF grade. Blitzing 71 times over 10 games compared to 98 over 16 last year might explain the elevated sack count.
Either way, a Steelers team with a negative cap balance in 2021 figures to be out of the running for Dupree, creating a bid-happy trip to the open market. Regardless of his dip in play, teams might be more comfortable paying up for a 27-year-old potential franchise player than pursuing Von Miller, Melvin Ingram III or Justin Houston, all of whom are 31 years old.
Potential Suitors: Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets
Trent Williams, OT, San Francisco 49ers
Trent Williams seemingly bet on himself on his way out of Washington and wound up traded to the San Francisco 49ers over the offseason.
He has played at an elite level after a year off the field, posting an 89.7 PFF grade with just four sacks surrendered over 604 snaps.
The 32-year-old veteran ranks 19th among offensive linemen in average annual salary this season, and to say that's going to change is a dramatic understatement. Quality offensive linemen are hard to find, and that's especially the case with left tackles.
If the 49ers want to keep Williams, they won't be able to franchise-tag him due to a clause in his contract, according to ESPN's Field Yates, which means one of the biggest bidding wars of the offseason could unfold around the rights to his services. It isn't hard to see him approaching first place on the aforementioned list and falling in the $23 million range.
Potential Suitors: San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins
Anthony Harris, S, Minnesota Vikings
Elite-level safety play isn't an easy thing to find in today's NFL, which explains why the Minnesota Vikings didn't hesitate to slap a franchise tag on Anthony Harris last offseason.
Over 14 games in 2019, Harris picked off six passes and allowed just 15 receptions on 23 targets en route to a 90.5 PFF grade. But the 29-year-old has regressed over 10 appearances this season with 12 receptions permitted on 21 targets, no interceptions and a 68.3 PFF grade.
Still, teams on the open market might attribute that to crumbling surroundings, not Harris himself. His 2018 season was closer in production to 2019 than this year, too, and he's not out of his prime just yet.
Putting Harris on a new team for the first time in his carer could backfire, but scarcity (Justin Simmons is the only other major free agent at the spot) and the possible number of suitors will drive his price up.
Potential Suitors: Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions
Shaquil Barrett, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Shaquil Barrett is a persistent name on overpay lists.
He inked a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019 and responded with an NFL-leading 19.5 sacks. That earned him a franchise tag even though his previous season high, dating back to 2014, was a paltry 5.5.
But Barrett has recorded just five sacks over 10 games while playing on the tag. There was always going to be a regression, but barring a jaw-dropping sprint to season's end, he'll settle short of the expectations set by the franchise tender.
Either way, the Bucs might not want to keep pace with the numbers attached to offer sheets this offseason since other teams will likely be willing to bid them out of the competition. Barrett is a 28-year-old prime pass-rusher with intriguing upside even if his one breakout season does smell like an anomaly.
Potential Suitors: Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals
Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals
The NFL has seemingly been more careful about overpaying running backs as of late, shying away from doing so with Melvin Gordon III.
But there are always exceptions. Ezekiel Elliott's fumbling issues (five this year) in Dallas on a six-year deal worth $90 million come to mind. So does the four-year extension worth $48 million for Joe Mixon in Cincinnati, where he's appeared in just six games since putting ink to paper.
But Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake might be an exception. After coming over via trade in 2019, he rushed for 643 yards and eight scores on 5.2 yards per carry over eight games. Through nine games this season, he's rushed for 641 and five on 4.4 yards per carry.
Drake is only 26 years old and was underused over three-plus seasons with the Miami Dolphins, so there might be a sense he's got a lot left in the tank as a three-down workhorse. That could encourage teams with droves of space to ramp up the price despite the consistent warning signs about the position.
Potential Suitors: Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins
Cam Newton, QB, New England Patriots
It feels like New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton is going to go from underpaid to overpaid in a hurry.
Newton settled for a one-year deal with the Patriots after an odd trip to free agency that seemed derailed by questions about his long-term health after he appeared in just two games for the Carolina Panthers in 2019.
Fast forward to now and the former MVP has appeared in nine contests, completing 68.1 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and seven interceptions while adding another 341 yards and nine touchdowns as a rusher.
Quarterback is the most important position on the field, and Newton—again, a former MVP—is only 31 years old. Both contenders in need of a stop-gap solution or pretenders looking for help at the position won't have a problem paying up big for the unlikely chance he can experience a resurgence in their system.
Suitors: Washington Football Team, Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots