2021 NFL Free Agency: Rumors and Predictions for Top Players Set to Hit Market

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 11, 2021

2021 NFL Free Agency: Rumors and Predictions for Top Players Set to Hit Market

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    The NFL salary cap for the 2021 season has been set at $182.5 million. Some players now have new contracts, such as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott's four-year, $160 million deal, and others have received the franchise tag from their team. The start of free agency is right around the corner.

    With the league's free-agent period set to begin Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET (with the legal tampering period starting two days earlier), rumors continue to circulate about where the top players on the market will end up.

    There are a bunch of talented free agents in this year's class, and it will be interesting to see where each will be heading into the 2021 season.

    Here are some of the latest rumors regarding top free agents, along with predictions for where they will sign.

Will Jones Be Coming Back to Green Bay?

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Aaron Jones has spent his first four NFL seasons with the Green Bay Packers, but the team opted not to use their franchise tag on the running back, so he'll be hitting free agency next week. Unless the Packers can work out a deal to bring back Jones before then, that is.

    According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Green Bay has interest in a reunion with the 26-year-old, even though it also has 2020 second-round draft pick A.J. Dillon already on its roster. And it's a situation that could lead to a new deal for Jones before free agency begins.

    "This is a player, from what I understand, the Packers do want to keep, do want to sign. I know they had extension talks late, late into the season, offering him more than $9 million per year," Rapoport said during an appearance on NFL Total Access. "... Those talks have continued. I know this is someone the Packers would like to sign before the free-agent window actually opens."

    Jones has emerged as a top NFL running back over the past two seasons. In 2019, he played in all 16 games for the only time in his career, rushing for 1,084 yards and a career-high 16 touchdowns. And he ran for a career-high 1,104 yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games this past season.

    If the Packers are going to try to make a Super Bowl run at this stage in quarterback Aaron Rodgers' career, they need to add as much offensive talent as possible, not lose it. Expect Green Bay to work out a deal with Jones, bringing its starting running back back into the fold.

    Prediction: Jones re-signs with Packers.

Thuney Likely to Sign with New Team This Offseason?

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    For the first time in his NFL career, Joe Thuney could be playing for a new team when the 2021 season arrives. The New England Patriots opted not to use their franchise tag on the guard (after they had tagged him last offseason), so the two sides could be parting ways.

    In fact, it appears that's the most likely scenario. Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer recently reported that there's been "very minimal conversation" between the Pats and the 28-year-old and that the team has "made no progress" on a new deal with the five-year NFL veteran.

    New England is going to have a lot of cap space (about $68.5 million, per Over the Cap), but perhaps it's going to use that money elsewhere.

    If that's the case, Thuney is sure to have plenty of suitors. He hasn't missed a game since the Patriots selected him in the third round of the 2016 NFL draft, and he's helped them win two Super Bowls during that span.

    One potential fit for the North Carolina State product could be the Cincinnati Bengals, who will likely be looking to bolster their offensive line this offseason.

    The Bengals will want to better protect franchise quarterback Joe Burrow, and Thuney would immediately provide a boost up front. Plus, he is from Centerville, Ohio, which is less than 50 miles north of Cincinnati.

    Prediction: Thuney signs with Bengals.

Which Edge-Rusher Will the Browns Land?

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    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns already have one of the top pass-rushers in the NFL in Myles Garrett, but they could be losing fellow defensive end Olivier Vernon. So it makes sense that the team may want to sign a pass-rusher to help keep its defensive front strong, assuming it doesn't bring back Vernon.

    According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, the Browns have "at least a dozen" edge-rushers on their radar for free agency, a group that includes Carl Lawson and Von Miller. However, Miller may not make it to the free-agent market, as Cabot noted the Denver Broncos are "trying to rework" his deal to bring him back for 2021.

    The Bengals opted not to franchise-tag Lawson, so the defensive end may be hitting free agency for the first time in his NFL career, which began when Cincinnati selected him in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft. He has gone on to record 81 tackles and 20 sacks in 51 games over his first four seasons.

    If the Browns sign the 25-year-old, not only would they be strengthening their defense, but they'd also be taking away from the AFC North-rival Bengals, who are still interested in bringing him back, per Cabot.

    However, Lawson may want to join a Cleveland team that appears poised to make the playoffs again in 2021, and that could lead to him switching Ohio teams.

    Prediction: Lawson signs with Browns.