The 1 Player Every NFL Team Should Sign in the 2021 Offseason

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 8, 2021

The 1 Player Every NFL Team Should Sign in the 2021 Offseason

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    In less than two weeks, the free-agent floodgates will open in the NFL. Scores of players will sign with new teams. Hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts will be doled out.

    However, free agency in 2021 won't be like other recent years. With the salary cap coming down this year relative to 2020, many teams don't have much to spend on new players—or even re-signing their own. Nine teams are still over the projected salary cap, and four teams are over $20 million in the red.

    However, while some teams are hurting for scratch, every team in the league has a weakness that needs to be addressed. A hole that must be filled. A player who should be signed.

    That's what this article is about. You won't see any players here re-signing with their old teams—that's a different story altogether. You won't see any "dream" signings—the New Orleans Saints don't have the cash for Allen Robinson II, and the Philadelphia Eagles can't afford to bring in Trent Williams. You also won't see Dak Prescott, because there's less than no chance he leaves Dallas.

    What you will find is one player for each team that meets a need and can reasonably be fit under that team's cap.

    One player who makes sense.

             

    Salary-cap data courtesy of Over the Cap and accurate as of Sunday morning.

Arizona Cardinals: CB Desmond King

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals have already made one big splash in free agency, agreeing to terms on a two-year deal with three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.

    That move strengthened the front seven, but they still need to fortify the secondary, especially with cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick set to hit the open market. Unfortunately, the Watt signing also drained the Cardinals war chest, as they have just $12.6 million in cap space.

    That leaves the top-end free-agent corners out of Arizona's reach, but the Redbirds can still get better at the position with a lower-priced option like Desmond King of the Tennessee Titans.

    In three-plus seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, King never quite lived up to his potential. But the 26-year-old played better down the stretch last year after joining the Titans in a midseason trade.

    Capable of playing both on the boundary and in the slot, King would add youth and talent to the Arizona secondary without completely wrecking the team's cap space.

Atlanta Falcons: Edge Markus Golden

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    There's no denying that the Atlanta Falcons need to boost a pass rush that managed just 29 sacks in 2020. Last March, they signed edge-rusher Dante Fowler Jr. to a three-year, $45 million deal, and he posted a career-low three sacks. 

    However, there's also no denying that Atlanta's cap situation is going to make adding an impact free agent problematic. The Falcons are in the fifth-worst position in the NFL relative to the cap, sitting $19.6 million in the red.

    Once the team works its way into the black, it will have to target affordable options—like a soon-to-be 30-year-old pass-rusher coming off a down season in which he was traded mid-year and managed just 4.5 sacks.

    That's exactly what happened to veteran Markus Golden, who began the year in New York before being dealt to Arizona. But Golden has also logged two 10-sack campaigns in six years, including one as recently as 2019.

Baltimore Ravens: WR Corey Davis

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens need help at wide receiver. Per Jeff Kerr of CBS Sports, no team in the league had fewer catches (137) and yards (1,729) among wideouts in 2020.

    However, the Ravens are also in a salary-cap bind. They have just over $18 million in available cap space, and their top two edge-rushers (Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue) are both about to become free agents.

    Given the team's financial situation, general manager Eric DeCosta has indicated that it's unlikely the Ravens will pursue an A-list free-agent receiver like Allen Robinson II or Chris Godwin.

    Still, the team can add talent at wide receiver without breaking the bank. Corey Davis of the Tennessee Titans hasn't quite lived up to his status as a top-five draft pick. But the four-year veteran is coming off the best season of his professional career (65/984/5) and would provide an excellent big-bodied complement to speedster Marquise Brown.

Buffalo Bills: LB Reuben Foster

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills are in a tough spot in free agency. They are tight against the salary cap, with just under $2 million in wiggle room. Buffalo also has some key players about to hit the open market, including the team's starters at right tackle (Daryl Williams) and weak-side linebacker (Matt Milano).

    For argument's sake, we'll assume here that the Bills prioritize keeping Josh Allen's protection intact and re-up Williams. That likely means Milano will move on, leaving Buffalo with a hole at linebacker and not much cash to spend on it.

    However, if the Bills are willing to gamble a bit, they might be able to procure a quality starter at a deep discount.

    It's been a while since Reuben Foster looked the part of a Butkus Award winner and first-round pick. He played in just six games for the San Francisco 49ers in 2018 before being released for a series of off-field incidents and missed the last two seasons with a serious knee injury.

    The upside for that long layoff is that Foster will all but certainly be forced to sign a "prove it" deal this spring, which would fit in Buffalo's limited budget.

Carolina Panthers: LT Alejandro Villanueva

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers haven't been even a little shy about their desire to upgrade at the quarterback position. With just under $30 million in cap space, they have the room to both add a quarterback and upgrade at another spot.

    Given how Russell Okung played (or more appropriately didn't) in his lone season with the Panthers in 2020, left tackle might not be a bad idea.

    The price tag for a higher-end free-agent tackle like Alejandro Villanueva of the Pittsburgh Steelers won't be small. Spotrac estimates that the 32-year-old two-time Pro Bowler could receive a contract that averages $16.5 million a season.

    With just five sacks allowed (in over 2,000 snaps) over the past two seasons, Villanueva would be a significant upgrade on the blind side of whoever is under center for the Panthers in 2021.

    And given how much draft capital and/or cap space Carolina appears ready to invest at quarterback, that kind of insurance policy would be wise.

Chicago Bears: WR Kenny Golladay

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Frankly, the Chicago Bears have bigger concerns than shopping for outside free agents. Their starting quarterback (Mitchell Trubisky) and No. 1 wide receiver (Allen Robinson II) are both set to hit free agency, and with Chicago upside down against the salary cap to the tune of almost $7 million, GM Ryan Pace has his work cut out for him.

    The Bears haven't ruled out moving on from Trubisky, but most pundits expect them to. Robinson is a candidate for the franchise tag, but if the veteran wideout hits the open market he's likely a goner.

    If the latter comes to pass, wide receiver skyrockets to the top of Chicago's wish list.

    Kenny Golladay of the Detroit Lions is coming off the worst season of his NFL career, recording just 20 catches for 338 yards and two scores in five games. But in two seasons preceding last year, the 27-year-old combined for 135 catches, 2,253 yards and 16 touchdowns. 

Cincinnati Bengals: OG Joe Thuney

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    There may not be a team in the league with a more pressing need to bolster the offensive line than the Cincinnati Bengals. Whether it's at guard, tackle or center, Cincy badly needs to bolster the protection in front of Joe Burrow.

    With the fifth overall pick in the 2021 draft, the Bengals can add an elite tackle prospect like Oregon's Penei Sewell. That would free them up to use a big chunk of their $40.9 million in cap space on an interior lineman. However, the Bengals have long shied away from offering fat contracts to guards and centers.

    Maybe Burrow's arrival will change that, spurring the team to take a run at a difference-maker inside.

    The odds that the Washington Football Team let first-team All-Pro Brandon Scherff anywhere near the open market are slim, though, so the best available guard in this class will probably be Joe Thuney of the New England Patriots, a five-year veteran who gave up just two sacks in 980 snaps in 2020.

Cleveland Browns: LB Lavonte David

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    Tori Richman/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns finally appear to be headed in the right direction. In 2020, they won 11 regular-season games and a playoff game, achieving both feats for the first time since 1994. 

    If the Browns are going to take the next step in 2021 and become a legit Super Bowl contender, then they have to shore up their weaknesses. And on defense, the linebacker spot is easily the biggest need, especially with 2020 tackle leader B.J. Goodson set to hit free agency.

    Among this year's crop of free-agent off-ball the linebackers, the best is easily Lavonte David of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who piled up 117 total tackles last year. It marked the eighth time in nine years that David hit triple digits in tackles, and over that nine-year career David has missed just seven games.

    Bringing in the 31-year-old would be a massive boon for the Browns defense. But it won't be cheap. Per Spotrac, David's next contract is estimated to be in excess of $12.5 million per season. With $20.6 million in cap space, the Browns can afford it. 

Dallas Cowboys: S Damarious Randall

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    It's tempting to violate my own "rules" for this column with the Dallas Cowboys, because there's only one pending free agent they should focus on. 

    Lock up quarterback Dak Prescott. By any means necessary. Preferably long-term, but with the franchise tag if need be.

    Bringing Prescott back is going to do a number on Dallas' salary cap. The $20.3 million the Cowboys are sitting on will be gone and then some. That's going to leave precious little cash to find improvements on the offensive line. Or in the defensive secondary.

    So, it's off to the discount rack we go.

    Damarious Randall's career hasn't gone as planned even a little. The 2015 first-round pick was decent for the Cleveland Browns in 2018 and 2019, but after signing with the Raiders in free agency last year, Randall was released before spending most of last season playing special teams in Seattle.

    Still, he has experience playing all over the back end. He topped 80 tackles for the Browns in 2018 and should be available at or near the veteran minimum as he tries to resuscitate his NFL career.

    It's not a sexy signing. But if the Cowboys get Prescott under contract, they will need to hit on a couple bargains.

Denver Broncos: CB Shaquill Griffin

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    The potential for the Denver Broncos to add a quarterback to challenge (or replace) Drew Lock has been the dominant storyline in the Mile High City of late. But that's not their only area of need, and it's one (barring a blockbuster deal for a Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson) better addressed in the draft.

    Denver also needs help on defense. That's especially true in the secondary. Denver ranked 21st in the league against the pass last season and cut veteran cornerback A.J. Bouye in an effort to free up some cap space.

    Thanks in part to that move, the Broncos have $30.7 million in cap space. That's enough to be in the running to sign one of this year's higher-end free-agent cornerbacks, and among that group, the best combination of production and potential might be Shaquill Griffin of the Seattle Seahawks.

    Griffin struggled a bit in 2020 as he battled nagging injuries. But two years ago the 25-year-old allowed just 57.1 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed and made the Pro Bowl.

Detroit Lions: Edge Dawuane Smoot

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions have already dipped a toe in the free-agent waters, signing veteran wide receiver Tyrell Williams to a one-year deal. But that signing is indicative of the financial bind that taking on the Jared Goff contract has put them in. They are almost $7 million over the projected salary cap for 2021.

    The Lions have plenty of holes on both sides of the ball. But there isn't going to be much retail shopping to fill them, especially if they have any hope of keeping in-house free agents like wide receiver Kenny Golladay or edge-rusher Romeo Okwara from bolting.

    After Okwara's breakout 10-sack season, he's likely to command a hefty contract. Losing him means the Lions will have to replace their top pass-rusher in 2020 without many resources with which to do it.

    It went largely unnoticed last year, but in his fourth NFL season Dawuane Smoot of the Jacksonville Jaguars paced the team with 5.5 sacks. The 26-year-old had six the year before. 

    Smoot is young. Ascending. And could be available on a reasonable contract.

Green Bay Packers: WR Marvin Jones Jr.

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers have long needed a dependable secondary wide receiver to complement Davante Adams. Or at least just about everyone not named Brian Gutekunst believes that.

    The problem for the Packers in free agency this year is that adding an impact wideout (or any high-end free agent) won't be easy. Green Bay is $11.4 million over this year's projected salary cap, and it has some prominent in-house free agents, including running back Aaron Jones and center Corey Linsley.

    Given those rather depressing financial realties, the Packers could look to convince a 30-plus-year-old veteran to take a below-market deal in the hopes of being part of a deep playoff run.

    That is the sort of proposal that just might appeal to Marvin Jones Jr. of the Detroit Lions. In nine NFL seasons, Jones has played in four playoff games, losing them all. The last came in the 2016 season, Jones' first in the Motor City.

    Jones has only one 1,000-yard campaign on his pro resume, but he's caught at least nine touchdown passes four times and recorded a career-best 76 receptions in 2020.

Houston Texans: CB William Jackson III

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    The Houston Texans have all kinds of problems. Their best defensive player (J.J. Watt) is in Arizona after requesting (and receiving) his release. Star quarterback Deshaun Watson hasn't wavered at all in his reported demand to be traded.

    Those aren't the only issues in Houston, either. Thanks to the trade that brought tackle Laremy Tunsil to town, Houston doesn't have a first- or second-round pick in the 2021 draft. It has multiple needs on both sides of the ball and only $16.8 million with which to address them. But with Gareon Conley, Vernon Hargreaves III and Phillip Gaines all about to hit free agency, cornerback has to be considered the most pressing one.

    William Jackson III of the Cincinnati Bengals isn't a star, but the 28-year-old has started at least 13 games each of the past three years. In 2020, Jackson allowed just 51.4 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed and posted a passer rating against of just 88.2.

    The last time the Texans pilfered a corner from Cincy, they wound up with Johnathan Joseph.

Indianapolis Colts: OT Trent Williams

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts are in "win-now" mode after making the postseason in 2020. They made an aggressive move to address Philip Rivers' retirement by acquiring quarterback Carson Wentz in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.

    That wasn't the only retirement that hit the Colts hard this offseason. Longtime left tackle Anthony Castonzo also hung up the cleats.

    It's possible that the Colts move all-everything guard Quenton Nelson to tackle. But with $44.7 million in available cap space, Indy general manager Chris Ballard also has the resources to be a player on the free-agent market.

    Signing eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams wouldn't be cheap. Spotrac estimates that Williams could land a contract that averages $18.2 million a season. Part of the reason the Colts have so much room under the cap is Ballard has been reluctant to bring in outside free agents on big deals.

    But while Williams' annual salary will be robust, thanks to his age (32) the term of the deal might not be. And Ballard can offer Williams an opportunity at the deep playoff run that has eluded him to this point in his career.

Jacksonville Jaguars: DL Leonard Williams

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    Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

    After a one-win season that included a 15-game losing streak, the Jacksonville Jaguars have needs galore on both sides of the ball. With $85.2 million, they also have more cap space to play with than any team.

    The Jaguars are expected to make Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft. And a chunk of that cap space could be used to retain the services of left tackle Cam Robinson. But the Jacksonville defense needs attention just as much as the offense, especially along the defensive line.

    For most of his professional career, Leonard Williams was something of a disappointment. But in his first full season with the New York Giants, Williams exploded for 57 tackles and a career-high 11.5 sacks.

    That big season sets Williams up for a monster payday as one of the most sought-after defensive linemen in this year's free-agent class. With the reduced salary cap, there aren't a ton of teams who can offer Williams a long-term deal worth upward of $15 million a season.

    The Jags can, and pairing Williams with edge-rusher Josh Allen would give the team an interesting inside-outside duo.

Kansas City Chiefs: OG Gabe Jackson

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs don't have a lot of holes on the roster, as evidenced by their run to a second straight Super Bowl last year. That's good, because Kansas City also doesn't have many resources with which to fill said holes. There isn't an AFC team with less cap space. 

    The Chiefs also have quite a few in-house free agents to worry about, including a pair of starters on the offensive line in center Austin Reiter and guard Kelechi Osemele. Add in the injuries suffered by tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher last year, and the line in front of Patrick Mahomes could need quite a bit of work in 2021.

    In 2017, the Las Vegas Raiders thought enough of guard Gabe Jackson to him a five-year, $56 million extension. But a combination of injuries and a drop in play led to the Raiders releasing the 29-year-old recently in a cost-cutting move.

    Jackson may not be an elite player, but he has experience at both guard spots and didn't allow a sack in 1,062 snaps in 2020.

    He'd be an upgrade on Osemele, and Jackson would likely welcome the opportunity to begin the second stage of his pro career with a contender.

Las Vegas Raiders: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders have already begun to remake their shaky wide receiver corps. Tyrell Williams was released by Vegas before landing in Detroit. Raiders GM Mike Mayock told reporters recently the team has considerable interest in binging back free agent Nelson Agholor after his career year.

    But even if the Raiders do bring Agholor back, they still have the weakest assemblage of talent in the AFC West at the position. It's a stable that lacks a true "go-to" receiver.

    A receiver like JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Smith-Schuster hasn't cracked 1,000 receiving yards since his breakout second season in 2018. But after an injury-marred 2019 campaign, Smith-Schuster rebounded to post a 97/831/9 line for the Steelers in 2020. Those nine scores were a career high.

    The problem for the Raiders (as it is for so many teams) is finding the room to sign a high-priced free agent like Smith-Schuster. Vegas has just $3.9 million in cap space.

    However, according to Andy Patton of Trojans Wire, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler indicated on SportsCenter that the Raiders are already trying to figure out how to free up cash for a run at Smith-Schuster.

Los Angeles Chargers: OT Kelvin Beachum

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Chargers are set up to be players in free agency in 2021. They have $25.3 million in salary-cap space, the eighth-most in the NFL.

    The Bolts also have a glaring need along the offensive line in front of young quarterback Justin Herbert. Per Ben Linsley of Pro Football Focus, the Chargers had the lowest-ranked O-line in the league last year. Center Mike Pouncey retired in the offseason. Guard Trai Turner could be traded or released. And left tackle Sam Tevi was a turnstile last year who is set to hit free agency.

    Despite those weaknesses, Chargers GM Tom Telesco said he isn't putting all of his focus on improving the offensive line. But whether it's with the 13th overall pick or a chunk of that cap space, the Bolts badly need to get better on Herbert's blind side.

    Kelvin Beachum of the Arizona Cardinals isn't a world-beater. But the 10th-year veteran has started 115 games over his NFL career, played reasonably well in the desert last season and won't command the gonzo contract of this year's high-end free-agent tackles.

Los Angeles Rams: Edge Tyus Bowser

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    Brett Carlsen/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Rams made it abundantly clear that they are all-in on a Super Bowl run in 2021 when they sent two first-round picks and young quarterback Jared Goff to Detroit for Matthew Stafford.

    But in addition to not having a first-round pick until the end of time, the Rams are in miserable position relative to this year's projected salary cap. Only the New Orleans Saints are deeper in the red.

    That's going to make it awfully hard for them to bring back their own free agents, especially with players like safety John Johnson III and edge-rusher Leonard Floyd likely to command a hefty salary on the open market.

    Whether it's with Floyd (who exploded for 10.5 sacks last year) or Dante Fowler Jr. the year before, the Rams have had a lot of success with reclamation projects on the edge. Maybe they can goad similar progress out of Tyus Bowser of the Ravens, who managed just 10.5 sacks over four years in Baltimore.

    He fits a similar mold as Floyd and Fowler, in that he's young, wildly athletic and hasn't met expectations. Most importantly, he isn't going to warrant the sort of contract that the Rams just don't have room for under the cap.

Miami Dolphins: WR T.Y. Hilton

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins were the league's most aggressive team last offseason. They had three picks in the first round of the 2020 draft and spent big money on free agents on both sides of the ball.

    Not all of those moves paid off, as the Dolphins will trade or release outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy just one season into his four-year deal. But the progress Miami made in 2020 can't be ignored. It jumped from 5-11 in 2019 to 10-6 in 2020 and just barely missed the playoffs.

    The rebuild in South Florida has moved from building a foundation to finish shoring up areas of weakness. And among those, a speedy wide receiver to complement DeVante Parker is right at the top of the list.

    In theory, the Dolphins have the cash to take a run at Allen Robinson II or Chris Godwin. But signing an elite free agent would wipe out most of the team's $23 million in cap space and make keeping in-house free agents like center Ted Karras tougher. 

    A wiser course of action could be to re-up Karras (or sign another lineman) and take a run at a second-tier free agent like T.Y. Hilton of the Indianapolis Colts. The 32-year-old South Florida native's numbers have been down the last two years, but he showed in 2020 that he can still take the top off a defense.

Minnesota Vikings: CB Nickell Robey-Coleman

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Making any kind of major signing in free agency will take some doing by the Minnesota Vikings. As things stand, the Vikes are $3.6 million over the projected cap for the upcoming season. Minnesota also has some tough decisions to make on its own free agents, including linebacker Eric Wilson and safety Anthony Harris.

    Losing those players would be a significant blow for a Minnesota defense that struggled in a big way at times last season, especially against the pass. And if there are going to be any additions on that side of the ball, it will have to be someone available at a discount.

    Say a cornerback coming off a terrible season in 2020.

    Nickell Robey-Coleman was a mess in Philadelphia last year, allowing almost 80 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed with a passer rating against of 125.2. But before that, the 29-year-old was considered one of the better slot corners in the game, surrendering a passer rating against under 90 in two straight seasons with the Rams in 2018 and 2019.

New England Patriots: TE Hunter Henry

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    There are a couple undeniable truths with the New England Patriots in 2021.

    The first is that there isn't a team in the league more in need of passing-game talent than the Pats. It's especially true at tight end, where the team leader in 2020 was Ryan Izzo, who caught 13 passes for 199 yards.

    The second truth is that the Patriots are well-positioned to be players in free agency. In-house players like guard Joe Thuney and center David Andrews could eat up a chunk of the team's resources, but the Pats are currently sitting on the third-most room in the league with $66.5 million.

    That should be more than enough to pursue a significant upgrade at tight end, and of this year's group the top dog is likely Hunter Henry of the Los Angeles Chargers.

    Injuries have been an issue for Henry, who has never played all 16 games in a season. But when healthy, the five-year veteran has been a dependable option underneath, catching at least 55 passes and topping 600 receiving yards each of the last two seasons.

    He'd be the best pass-catcher on the team the moment he got to Beantown.

New Orleans Saints: DE Everson Griffen

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints have quite a few problems—about $49 million of them to be precise.

    That's the staggering amount of money the Saints are over the projected salary cap for 2021, and that's without considering that the team either has to find the money to sign a veteran quarterback or roll out Taysom Hill in 2021 (assuming Drew Brees retires).

    With no real money to work with, the Saints in house free agents are likely moving on. That includes edge-rusher Trey Hendrickson, who exploded for a team-leading 13.5 sacks last year.

    With Hendrickson gone, the Saints are going to need to find a reserve option to platoon opposite Cameron Jordan—one that can be had on the cheap.

    Everson Griffen is no longer the player who piled up double-digit sacks in three of four seasons from 2014-2017. But the 33-year-old amassed six sacks with the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys last year and is an excellent run defender.

    Given that New Orleans is presently in the fifth circle of cap hell, Griffen would be a solid get.

New York Giants: WR Curtis Samuel

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    It's hardly a state secret that the New York Giants are looking to upgrade the passing game weapons at Daniel Jones' disposal. That was the case before the team released wide receiver Golden Tate in an effort to free up some cap space.

    However, it's going to be difficult for Big Blue to engage in a bidding war for one of this year's top free agent pass-catchers. New York only has about $6 million to work with and some big names (and salaries) to re-up, including defensive linemen Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson.

    Still, with a little creative accounting the Giants should be able to free up enough room to take a hard run like a player like Curtis Samuel of the Carolina Panthers. At less than six feet tall, Samuel doesn't have ideal size, but he's a versatile receiver, dangerous with the ball in his hands and coming off the best season of his professional career.

    The fifth-year pro was also a second-round pick of Giants general manager Dave Gettleman back in 2017, and as a Brooklyn native he'd probably enjoy coming "home."

New York Jets: QB Alex Smith

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The New York Jets figure to be major players in free agency this year. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars have more cap space to play with than the $77.1 million the Jets possess.

    That's good, because there appear to be big changes afoot in the Big Apple—especially if the Jets (as many expect) move on from Sam Darnold at quarterback and draft a signal-caller second overeall in April's draft.

    However, whether it's Ohio State's Justin Fields, BYU's Zach Wilson or someone else, there's no guarantee that young passer will be ready to take the reins of the Jets offense right away. The team would be well-served into exploring a "bridge" starter who could ostensibly hold down the fort in the short term.

    Well, one of those just recently became available, when the Washington Football Team agreed to part ways with 2020 Comeback Player of the Year Alex Smith.

    At 36 years of age and a couple years removed from the horrifying injury that almost cost Smith his leg, it's clear he's no longer the player he once was.

    But Smith is tough as they come, knows the ins and outs of playing quarterback in the NFL as well as anyone and is a "pro's pro" in every sense of the word.

    Having Smith on the roster to start until their rookie QB is ready and mentor him after can only help a Jets franchise that has been searching for a long-term answer under center for literally decades.

Philadelphia Eagles: WR Josh Reynolds

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Trading Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts caused the Philadelphia Eagles to eat a massive dead cap hit in 2021. Due in large part to that cap hit, the Eagles are in a terrible bind, with the third-worst salary situation in the league--$33.9 million in the red.

    Heads are going to roll to get the team under the cap. One of them is expected to belong to veteran wideout Alshon Jeffery, who will reportedly be released once the new league year begins in an effort to provide salary relief.

    Still, once the dust settles the Eagles are going to have two problems. Even more holes on the roster than there are now, and precious little money with which to fill them.

    With some work though, there should be enough money to obtain a wideout who's a bit farther down the pecking order—especially if the free agent market in 2021 is softer than in recent years.

    Josh Reynolds isn't a superstar receiver by any means—his career high in receiving yards is 618 this past year. But at 6'3" and 198 pounds, Reynolds can play both on the boundary and in the slot, and the fifth-year pro could add an inexpensive boost to a receiving corps that desperately needs it.

Pittsburgh Steelers: C Joe Looney

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers got some much-needed cap relief recently when Ben Roethlisberger restructured his contract. But in addition to having a trio of key contributors about to hit the open market in tackle Alejandro Villanueva, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and edge-rusher Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh also has the third-least cap space in the AFC—just $3.6 million.

    By the time the Steelers try to keep those players in the Steel City, there's not going to be much left to address other needs—like the hole created when starting center Maurkice Pouncey announced his retirement.

    The 2021 draft is one avenue with which to shore up the O-line. But there are veteran centers available on the open market who won't cost an arm and a leg.

    At 31 years of age, Joe Looney of the Dallas Cowboys is on the downslope of his career. He's not an elite center by any means either—the nine-year veteran allowed three sacks last year in 764 snaps. But Looney is a tough, experienced lineman who has made 13 starts over the past two years in Dallas.

San Francisco 49ers: CB Gareon Conley

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers are under quite a bit of pressure in 2020 to show that last year's disappointing season was a fluke born of injuries. That the Niners remain a true contender in the NFC.

    But there are issues that need to be addressed in the offseason. Cornerbacks Richard Sherman, K'Waun Williams and Ahkello Witherspoon are all about to hit the open market, as is safety Jaquiski Tartt. And with only $23.5 million in cap space (and other in-house free agents, including star tackle Trent Williams), bringing all those defensive backs back in 2021 won't be easy.

    What the Niners need is a young cornerback with some upside who the team can sign relatively inexpensively. And Gareon Conley of the Houston Texans fits that bill.

    Conley hasn't come close to living up to his draft slot, and the former Ohio State standout missed all of the 2020 season with an ankle injury. But Conley is a former first-round pick who would likely relish the opportunity to compete for a starting job.

Seattle Seahawks: OT Rick Wagner

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    The offseason buzz in Seattle has been all about the (maybe) feud between the organization and star quarterback Russell Wilson and the (highly unlikely) possibility that Wilson could be traded.

    The odds of Wilson playing anywhere but Seattle in 2021 are beyond remote. But in Seahawks GM John Schneider would like to mend fences with the veteran signal-caller, then upgrading Wilson's protection has to be a priority.

    There's a problem, of course—Seattle has less than $5 million in cap space and a defense that could have holes all over the place if guys like cornerback Shaquill Griffin and linebacker K.J. Wright leave in free agency.

    What the Seahawks need is an upgrade over right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who has been a turnstile for most of his NFL career and is about to hit free agency. A veteran player who has already cashed in on a robust contract who might be willing to sacrifice a little cash to play for a contender.

    A tackle like Rick Wagner, who allowed just one sack in 608 snaps in 2020 with the Green Bay Packers before being released in the offseason to clear cap space. Wagner is not the player he once was, but he'd still be a substantial step up from Ogbuehi, who hasn't played over 300 snaps since 2017 (when he allowed a jaw-dropping eight sacks in 665 snaps).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Edge Melvin Ingram III

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    Doug Murray/Associated Press

    As the defending champions of the National Football League, the top priority for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is to keep the band together. But that's not going to be easy. The Bucs only have about $12 million in cap space, and linebacker Lavonte David, edge-rusher Shaquil Barrett and wide receiver Chris Godwin are all about to get fat new contracts.

    Per ESPN's Jenna Laine, the Buccaneers appear headed toward franchise-tagging Godwin if a long-term deal can't be worked out. David has been the heart and soul of the Tampa defense for a decade. As well as Barrett has played for the champs these past two years, it appears he could be the odd man out, and that will leave Tampa with a hole opposite Jason Pierre-Paul.

    Melvin Ingram III of the Los Angeles Chargers isn't the player he once was—the 31-year-old missed over half the 2020 season and failed to record a sack for the first time in his nine-year career.

    But that injury-marred season should drive down his price point, Ingram may take less still in Tampa if it means a chance at a Super Bowl run and as recently as 2019 Ingram tallied seven sacks (one fewer than Barrett's 2020 total) on the way to the Pro Bowl.

Tennessee Titans: Edge Bud Dupree

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans are in the black relative to the salary cap. But not by a lot—the Titans currently have about $6.4 million in wiggle room, and free agents of their own like edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, wide receiver Corey Davis and tight end Jonnu Smith set to hit the market.

    Clowney's potential departure only further exacerbates Tennessee's issues regarding rushing the passer. Last year, the Titans managed just 19 sacks as a team. It was the third-fewest in the NFL and 13 fewer than any other team that advanced to the postseason.

    Simply put, the Titans absolutely have to figure out a way to add an impact pass-rusher if the team is to repeat as AFC South champions.

    Adding a pass-rusher of the caliber of Pittsburgh's Bud Dupree won't be easy. Despite an ACL tear that stopped the 28-year-old short of a second straight 10-sack season, Dupree could easily command upward of $15 million a season.

    But that injury could also lower Dupree's price tag a bit, and provided he's healthy in 2021 he would be the Titans best pass-rusher (by a mile) from the moment he stepped on the field.

Washington Football Team: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team posted a 7-9 record in 2020, and while that was good enough to win a terrible NFC East, the team still has work to do to be considered a legitimate contender.

    It's not that the team doesn't have anything going for it. The defensive line in D.C. is as good as any in the NFL. Washington has some weaponry on offense in running back Antonio Gibson, wide receiver Terry McLaurin and tight end Logan Thomas.

    What Washington needs above all else is a capable starting quarterback—especially with the franchise moving on from veteran quarterback Alex Smith.

    Ryan Fitzpatrick wouldn't be any kind of long-term solution under center in the nation's capital. But the 38-year-old showed in winning four of seven starts for the Miami Dolphins that he still has something left in the tank, completing a career-high 68.5 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns against eight interceptions and a passer rating of 95.6.

    With $54.2 million in cap space, Washington has plenty of cash to bring in "Fitzmagic," and signing the king of the journeyman quarterbacks would make the WFT front-runners in the division in 2021.

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