NFL Free Agency 2021: Best Potential Bargain at Every Position
It doesn't seem likely that any NFL free-agent bargain or steal can top what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got when they signed linebacker Shaquil Barrett to a one-year deal worth $4 million in 2019.
He responded with 19.5 sacks, received the franchise tag ahead of the 2020 season and just helped Tom Brady and Co. win the Super Bowl. Funnily enough, Brady himself could've been considered a bargain too given what lesser quarterbacks make.
Generally, though, most bargains aren't going to be future Hall of Famers and potential best-evers. They are players with production that hint at steady production (or even more), won't cost much compared to the rest of their positional market and should dramatically outplay what they do earn.
These are the biggest potential bargains at each position in free agency this offseason.
QB: Andy Dalton
One offseason ago, Andy Dalton quickly settled on the Dallas Cowboys as his destination after being cut by the Cincinnati Bengals. It was a shrewd move that could have given him the chance to prove himself on a strong team as Dak Prescott's backup.
The plan didn't unfold as expected though. Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury, but the first year of a new coaching staff produced an implosion, especially on defense. Dalton was concussed in Week 7 and was then held out until Week 11 after testing positive for COVID-19. He never gained his footing en route to just 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions over 11 appearances.
Dalton simply isn't going to outshine a market that includes Prescott, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston and even Jacoby Brissett. But he is a notable veteran with a long-running winning record and playoff experience under his belt.
That means that while he might not get a guaranteed starting shot, Dalton probably lands somewhere he can play the mentor role and compete for the job with a QB-needy team.
Best fit: Denver Broncos
RB: Todd Gurley
Todd Gurley is a great example of how easy it is to find a bargain at running back these days.
During the 2020 offseason, Melvin Gordon had to settle for a two-year deal worth just $16 million in a crowded Denver backfield, and Gurley signed a one-year deal worth $5.5 million in Atlanta. That came just two years after signing a four-year extension worth $57.5 million with the Los Angeles Rams.
Gurley was still plenty productive for the Falcons amid a lost season. While his 3.5 yards per carry could have been better, he ran for 678 yards and nine touchdowns with another 25 catches through the air over 15 games.
While Gurley isn't a three-down workhorse anymore, he's a second- or third-wave guy behind the likes of Kenyan Drake, Aaron Jones, James Conner or maybe even Leonard Fournette. Despite this, he's got the upside of outperforming most, especially in the right spot (think: Green Bay if the Packers don't want to pay Jones).
Best fit: Green Bay Packers
WR: Curtis Samuel
Wideout is an incredibly stacked class this year, which could allow a guy like Curtis Samuel to become a bargain.
Seriously, notables include Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay, Corey Davis, Marvin Jones, T.Y. Hilton, Will Fuller, A.J. Green, JuJu Smith-Schuster and even wild cards like Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon.
Then there's Samuel, a 2017 second-round pick who has yet to break the 1,000-yard mark in a season. Yet he averages 11.3 yards per catch and has scored 14 times, comes equipped with blinding speed and is plenty versatile.
Samuel has been stuck in middling passing attacks throughout his career and over the last two seasons had to deal with ho-hum performances by Kyle Allen and Teddy Bridgewater as his primary quarterbacks. On a better offense, Samuel has breakout star written all over him.
Best fit: San Francisco 49ers
TE: Gerald Everett
When it comes to the projected free-agent market, Gerald Everett isn't Hunter Henry, Rob Gronkowski or even Jared Cook.
But the 2017 second-round pick creates mismatches, and his limited usage hints at plenty more possibilities in a new locale.
Over four seasons, Everett averaged 10.9 yards per catch and totaled eight touchdowns while playing more than 40 percent of the offense's snaps just once. An uptick in usage with better quarterback play (the Rams just went all-in to find a new starter) could lead to a breakout.
Any number of teams should have interest, though someone on the Sean McVay coaching tree such as Zac Taylor makes the most sense.
Best fit: Cincinnati Bengals
OL: Austin Reiter
Austin Reiter has flown under the radar his entire career since arriving in the NFL via the seventh round in 2015.
After two seasons in Cleveland, Reiter ended up with the Kansas City Chiefs and has been the starter at center for several years now. Even so, he plays a position that doesn't normally break the bank on the open market, and even there, he's likely behind Corey Linsley and David Andrews.
All the better for the team that signs him, though. Reiter has been solid or he wouldn't have started for a Super Bowl team, and he posted a 70.9 Pro Football Focus grade last year over 867 snaps.
Maybe the best fit is more of the same, but either way, Reiter looks like one of the bigger potential bargains on the market.
Best fit: Kansas City Chiefs
DL: Romeo Okwara
Romeo Okwara is quickly becoming one of the bigger sleeper names making the rounds in free agency.
And for good reason.
He just posted 10 sacks and 31 pressures over 16 games. Some might consider it a fluke after he had just 1.5 sacks over 14 appearances the year prior, yet he put up 7.5 over 15 in 2018.
It equates to there being some risk with Okwara, but the 2016 undrafted free agent has played more than 70 percent of the defense's snaps just once over three years in Detroit. A better team and an uptick in usage could lead him to easily outplay a contract that will fall well behind those of Matt Judon, Shaquil Barrett and many more.
Best fit: New York Giants
LB: Denzel Perryman
Talk about linebackers on the open market tends to veer toward pass-rushers, yet centerfield thumbers can be major bargains too.
Think, Denzel Perryman. The Los Angeles Chargers standout has been relatively healthy over the last two seasons after a bumpy start to his career. And last season over 13 games, he posted an 83.3 PFF grade while enforcing from the middle.
Even so, Lavonte David and K.J. Wright, to name a couple, dominate the conversation at linebacker in the more traditional role.
Inside thumpers like Perryman don't usually get paid, but he is coming off the best season of his career and is a known commodity as a two-down guy. The role hasn't gone full-dinosaur like fullback, so a team in need will get a cheap investment with a guaranteed payoff.
Best fit: Green Bay Packers
CB: Mike Hilton
It's easy to find bargains on the cornerback market these days, largely because the slot position has been so undervalued.
Mike Hilton could be this year's Mackensie Alexander, who just put in a productive year of work for Cincinnati on a one-year deal worth $4 million. He's just 26 years old and has been solid over four seasons, posting a 68.9 PFF grade last year with 32 receptions allowed on 46 targets.
Hilton isn't a Patrick Peterson or a Xavier Rhodes on this year's market. He's instead a 2016 undrafted player and practice squad mainstay.
Given his trajectory so far, the best could be yet to come for Hilton, whose do-it-all nature makes him strong against the run and pass close to the line of scrimmage.
Best fit: Pittsburgh Steelers
S: Keanu Neal
Keanu Neal could be back on the upswing.
Neal, a first-round pick in 2016, had looked legit before injuries limited him to just four games over the 2018-2019 seasons.
He was back on the field for 15 games last year, picking off a pass while producing a strong 68.2 PFF grade. He was active all over the field as well, posting 100 combined tackles while playing 85 percent of the snaps.
Neal is a risk and won't come close to generating the hype of big names in this class such as Anthony Harris, Justin Simmons and Marcus Williams. But he's a huge-upside gamble at an affordable cost.
Best fit: Atlanta Falcons