Realistic Landing Spot Predictions for T.Y. Hilton in 2021 NFL Free Agency
It's almost easy to forget about T.Y. Hilton when browsing the potential free-agent wideout class.
A productive No. 1 since he entered the league in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft, he sits firmly under the proverbial radar on a market headlined by Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson II, Kenny Golladay, Corey Davis and more.
While Hilton hasn't breached the 1,000-yard mark since 2018, he's scored 10 times over his last two seasons and averages 15.4 yards per catch for his career. Still, the market—especially strange this year due to a reduced salary cap—might push the 31-year-old into a smaller-than-expected deal.
The best fits for Hilton have ample cap room, seek to add talent at wideout and make sense schematically. Once the big dominoes start to fall, he could come off the board quickly as a fallback plan.
The Tennessee Titans are in a tough position at wideout, which could make them a notable potential landing spot for Hilton.
Tennessee currently has $5.1 million in free cap space but can surely make more via restructures and potential cuts such as cornerback Malcolm Butler ($10.2 million in savings). Whether it will want to get in a bidding war for Corey Davis after his contract-year breakout is hard to say.
Perhaps more likely is the Titans settling for a fallback plan like Hilton on a veteran prove-it deal until the leaguewide cap gets back to normal. They also cut Adam Humphries, and tight end Jonnu Smith is a free agent, so they need a running mate for No. 1 wideout A.J. Brown (1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2020).
On paper, Hilton stretching the field for Brown would be a nice move to keep things humming. If the price is right, he'd help the team allocate draft assets to other positions, too.
While the Jaguars will likely pursue top-tier free agents such as Chris Godwin, the front office and new head coach Urban Meyer should be in by-any-means-necessary mode when it comes to building around probable No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence.
That could mean adding Hilton, whether as the standout in their free-agent class or alongside someone else. DJ Chark Jr. has some upside and led the team in receiving with 706 yards last year, and Laviska Shenault Jr. appears on the upswing, as well. But getting some proven producers in the building to help a rookie passer is a must.
These Jaguars are quite familiar with what Hilton can do thanks to his days in the AFC South, and his cap hit would be almost imperceivable while the team builds around a rookie quarterback contract.
Unlike the Jaguars, the Dolphins already have their possible long-term passer with Tua Tagovailoa (provided they don't make an unlikely blockbuster trade).
It's all about beefing up the roster around that quarterback. Last year, DeVante Parker led the team in receiving with 793 yards and four scores, but no other wideout was able to sneak past the 400-yard mark through the air.
Hilton would certainly be one way to open up the offense, creating space for Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki. He'd also be a reliable target for a developing passer considering he hasn't dropped more than four passes in each of his last three seasons.
While the Dolphins aren't hurting for draft picks, freeing them up to address other spots while getting a veteran in the wideout room to help Tagovailoa would be a nice bonus.
New England Patriots
They haven't been strangers to veteran gambles like Antonio Brown in the past, but last year was especially poor. N'Keal Harry, a first-round pick in 2019, only managed 309 yards and two scores, and Jakobi Meyers led the team in receiving with 729 yards and zero scores.
Granted, some of this was skewed by Cam Newton's shaky performance as a passer during his first season with a new team. But if all else fails, the quarterback could be back and in need of help from his wideouts. Newton or not, it doesn't seem like the Patriots can continue to skimp at such a prominent skill position.
Hilton is a reliable veteran who won't break the bank like some of the market's top names, and his skill set could potentially assist some of the struggling players on the New England depth chart. He would also fill a need while giving the Patriots the wiggle room to address the quarterback position in some fashion, such as trading draft picks.
If all else fails, Hilton could return to the team that drafted him all those years ago.
After all, he could find a muted market given his production downswing and advanced age in a deep free-agent crop and alongside a stacked draft class. And these Colts need to do whatever it takes to make sure Carson Wentz succeeds during his reunion with head coach Frank Reich.
Hilton did end up leading the Colts in receiving last year with 762 yards and five scores, converting 11 plays of 20-plus yards and averaging a team-high 50.8 yards per game. He's still an ideal veteran to have in the locker room and on the field with Michael Pittman Jr., a 2020 second-round pick.
While a reunion might seem like the most boring outcome, the context of the salary cap and free agency itself could lead to a short-term re-up between the two sides, keeping Hilton in town to ease the transition into a new quarterback era while the Colts look to build on an 11-win season.