The 10 Best NFL Players Who Are Most Likely to Play on New Teams in 2021

Alex KayContributor IMarch 13, 2021

The 10 Best NFL Players Who Are Most Likely to Play on New Teams in 2021

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The NFL is defined by parity, with a revolving door of teams contending each year largely thanks to the salary cap and free agency.

    Plenty of players will be finding new homes this offseason, perhaps more than usual with a lowered salary cap forcing organizations to scramble to make trades and release players prior to the start of the new league year.

    Some of the players set to star for a new team this coming season are amongst the best in the league. Whether their current team is looking to move in a different direction, the player wants a change of scenery or the organization simply cannot afford them any longer, here is a ranked list of the best players who will be wearing a different uniform in 2021.

10. Richard Sherman, CB

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Predicted 2021 Team: Green Bay Packers

    Richard Sherman may be entering the twilight of his career, but he remains one of the best cornerbacks of the era. He's lost a step in recent years and isn't the shutdown corner he once was, but a smart defensive coordinator can still get plenty of mileage out of the 32-year-old before his career wraps up.

    Sherman just concluded the final season of the three-year, $27 million deal he signed in San Francisco and should be hitting the open market with a decent amount of interest in his services. The defensive back could still command upwards of $10 million per season on a short-term deal, which will likely come from an organization poised to compete for a Super Bowl in 2021.

    A team such as the Green Bay Packers, who will likely be parting ways with free agent Kevin King this offseason, is a great fit for Sherman on paper. The five-time Pro Bowler will not have to shoulder the heaviest burden in Joe Barry's defense, as Jaire Alexander—one of the top emerging talents at the position—can handle man-to-man coverage on top receivers better than almost anyone in the NFL right now.

    Sherman, whose top assets at this stage of his career are his intelligence and understanding of the game, would be a great fit for zone coverages. His veteran presence in the locker room is an added bonus, and he can help Green Bay get over the hump next year after back-to-back losses in the NFC Championship Game.

9. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Predicted 2021 Team: New York Jets

    JuJu Smith-Schuster once appeared to be Pittsburgh's long-term option for a No. 1 receiver, but things changed after back-to-back mediocre seasons and the emergence of some younger prospects.

    Just two years removed from a breakout 111-catch, 1,426-yard, seven-touchdown sophomore outing, Smith-Schuster heads into free agency for the first time having failed to breach the 1,000-yard mark in either of the last two seasons, failing to live up to the hype that surrounded him after the 2018 campaign.

    Pittsburgh has gotten incredible production from younger receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, so the club isn't likely to offer Smith-Schuster market value, around $16 million per year over multiple seasons. His exit is all but certain at this point, so it just remains to be seen which organization believes in the wideout enough to commit a big chunk of change in free agency.

    The New York Jets, flush with the third-most cap space in the league this offseason, are a potential landing spot for Smith-Schuster. The 24-year-old would reunite with quarterback Sam Darnold after the pair played together at USC. A familiar weapon could assist in developing the signal-caller into the player they hoped he would become when he was drafted No. 3 overall in 2018.

    While Smith-Schuster still must prove he has what it takes to be a legitimate No. 1 WR in the NFL, the Jets can give him that chance during these low-stakes, rebuilding years.

8. Will Fuller, WR

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Predicted 2021 Team: Washington Football Team

    Will Fuller is one of the top athletes at the wide receiver position in the NFL right now, using his game-breaking speed to make plays—when he's actually on the field. Unfortunately for the Texans, Fuller struggled to do exactly that during his five seasons in Houston, playing in just 53 of 80 regular-season games.

    While injuries kept him sidelined for much of his first four years in the league, Fuller finally appeared healthy before being hit with a six-game PED suspension that cut his breakout 2020 campaign short. With the Texans now on the verge of a complete rebuild, it's unlikely the franchise will make any serious effort to retain the speedy wideout in free agency.

    It remains to be seen how the market will materialize for Fuller in the wake of this suspension, but the receiver could command around $17 million per year on a long-term deal. A club in need of a field-stretching, No. 1-caliber wideout that is willing to overlook the injuries and suspension may net itself a great value if Fuller can stay active.

    Fuller makes perfect sense for the Washington Football Team, who struggled to create big gains through the air, finishing with the sixth-fewest passing plays of 20 or more yards last year. The free-agent receiver would pair nicely with emerging star Terry McLaurin to form one of the more exciting wideout tandems in the league, as either can break games open with their playmaking abilities at any time.   

7. Hunter Henry, TE

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Predicted 2021 Team: New England Patriots

    Henry is the top tight end available this offseason and is likely to be paid as one of the best players at his position because of it. While Henry has yet to play a full 16-game season during his five-year career with the Los Angeles Chargers, he has still been a steady producer when active in an offense that hasn't exactly relied heavily on its tight ends.

    The 6'5", 250-pound Henry has prototypical size for the position and brings plenty of athleticism and savvy to the table, but he still hasn't shown he can put up the type of numbers that the transcendent tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce do. A torn ACL cost Henry his entire 2018 campaign and set him back a bit, but the 26-year-old still has some upside and could blossom at his next stop.

    Where he ends up remains to be seen, but there is no shortage of organizations that should be interested in Henry. While it will likely cost a bit over $10 million per season to acquire the Arkansas product, the potential for a strong return on investment is undeniable.

    Under Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots have a long history of utilizing their tight ends creatively, and Henry would be a great fit for the cash-flush club.

    The organization struggled to get much of anything from their incumbent TEs in 2020, meaning Henry would step into a situation with loads of opportunity. If he fails to take the next step while wearing a Patriots uniform, it's almost certain he never will.

6. Anthony Harris, S

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    Predicted 2021 Team: New York Jets

    The Minnesota Vikings have brought along Anthony Harris from an undrafted free agent to one of the top safeties in the NFL during the last six years. Harris played out the 2020 campaign on the franchise tag after recording a league-best six interceptions in 2019.

    While he wasn't able to put up those same ball-hawking numbers this past season with quarterbacks less likely to look his way, Harris showed he is one of the best coverage safeties in the game while also being a solid tackler (104 in 2020) and limiting mistakes. He's now ready to hit the open market and should command upwards of $14 million per year.

    While he'll be turning 30 in October, he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down and should have little trouble remaining one of the best safeties in the game for the next few years.

    The New York Jets are a team that can easily afford to bring in the defensive back, employing him as a replacement for Jamal Adams, the safety they traded to the Seattle Seahawks last summer.

    The Vikings almost dealt Harris to the New York Giants last year but ultimately decided against it, so this signing would finally send the safety to the Big Apple. The Jets shouldn't miss out on the opportunity to bring aboard a rock-solid defender to shore up a big hole on defense.

5. Kenny Golladay, WR

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Predicted 2021 Team: Miami Dolphins

    Kenny Golladay is the best receiver on the open market this offseason and likely won't return to Detroit after the Lions elected to jump-start a rebuild by trading longtime quarterback Matthew Stafford. The wideout is in line to command a huge payday, with estimates of his value somewhere in the range of $17 million per year, a hefty price for a team looking to get younger and build for the future.

    The 27-year-old Golladay projects to be one of the better wideouts in the game over the life of his next deal, but he has to prove he can bounce back from an injury-plagued 2020 campaign. He played in just five games last year, hauling in 20 receptions for 338 yards and two touchdowns. The hip injury was hopefully just a fluke for Golladay, who had back-to-back 1,000-plus-yard seasons from 2018-19 and amassed 16 touchdowns during that span.

    One organization that's reportedly heavily interested in signing a marquee receiver this spring is the Miami Dolphins. Presumably, they want to give second-year signal-caller Tua Tagovailoa—or potentially Deshaun Watson, if they can trade for him—a legitimate top target in 2021.

    At 6'4", 214 pounds, Golladay has the big frame and impressive athleticism to be a serious threat to score on every possession. He led the league in receiving touchdowns just two seasons ago and should hit paydirt wherever he signs in free agency.

4. Joe Thuney, G

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Predicted 2021 Team: Cincinnati Bengals

    The New England Patriots declined to franchise-tag Joe Thuney this week, opening the door for his exit. Thuney has developed into one of the best interior offensive linemen during his half-decade in New England and will likely get paid as such in free agency.

    Thuney has started every game since he was drafted in the third round back in 2016 and hasn't missed a single contest to date. He's been a steady run-blocker since he first took the field and has evolved into one of the better pass protectors the league has at the guard spot after some struggles early in his career.

    There should be a ton of interest around the league in signing Thuney now that the Patriots are letting him hit the open market, with plenty of competing clubs likely to jump at the chance to ink him to a long-term contract in the range of $15 million per season.  

    One team that will be especially desperate to improve its offensive line is the Cincinnati Bengals, who must commit more resources to protecting 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow. The rookie quarterback took plenty of hits last year before going down with a season-ending torn ACL, so investing in the offensive line is the No. 1 priority in Cincinnati this offseason.

    Thuney is a great fit for almost any offensive line, but the Bengals have the most need, and with the fifth-most cap space in the league, they should be able to get a deal done.

3. Shaquil Barrett, OLB

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    Predicted 2021 Team: Cleveland Browns

    Shaq Barrett helped guide the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl as part of one of the league's most dangerous defenses. Both parties would be best served staying together to make another run in 2021, but there's a chance the two cannot come to terms on a longer deal after Barrett played out the 2020 campaign on the franchise tag.

    The Bucs declined to franchise Barrett again—which would have cost them close to $19 million for the upcoming campaign—and instead opted to use the tag on wideout Chris Godwin. That decision opened the door for Barrett's exit a bit wider, especially since he has made it quite clear he wants to sign a big contract for the first time in his career.

    "I'm most definitely looking forward to getting a long-term deal done," Barrett recently told Mad Dog Sports Radio's Adam Schein (h/t NFL.com). "I feel like it's time for me to break the bank now, and I most definitely want to do that to be able to set my family up better and most definitely going to keep producing, so it's not like anything is going to fall off."

    While it won't actually break the Tampa bank to keep the star pass-rusher, it will likely cost the club in the neighborhood of $20 million per season.

    One team that would love to acquire a talent of Barrett's caliber is the Cleveland Browns, who are coming off their first postseason appearance in nearly two decades.

    Cleveland must find a way to pair another strong edge-rusher with Myles Garrett. The Barrett-Garrett duo is not only fun to say but would also significantly improve Cleveland's ability to pressure opposing QBs in 2021, one of its biggest needs this offseason.

2. Trent Williams, T

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Predicted 2021 Team: Los Angeles Chargers

    Trent Williams is proving to be an ageless wonder at the left tackle position, coming back from sitting out the 2019 season to play at an extremely high level during his first year with the San Francisco 49ers in 2020.

    Williams is the ideal anchor for any offensive line with his incredible strength, massive size and surprising athleticism for a 6'5", 320-pound tackle. He's been one of the true greats at his position since coming into the league as the 2010 No. 4 overall pick and should continue performing at the highest level throughout the life of his next contract.

    Plenty of teams will be coming out of the woodwork with offers for Williams, who should make over $18 million per year on his next contract. While the Niners would obviously like to retain him after trading a pair of draft picks for his services in the final year of his deal, the superstar LT is poised to break the record for an offensive lineman contract in free agency.

    If San Francisco can't hammer out a deal to keep Williams in the Bay Area, he'll likely have his pick of contenders to sign with. One such team that can't afford to miss out on Williams is the Los Angeles Chargers, who had the worst offensive line in football this past season, according to Pro Football Focus.

    The Bolts appear to have found their heir to Philip Rivers in Justin Herbert, and now that they have the cornerstone of the franchise under center, they must do a better job of protecting him. Avoiding a situation like the Bengals suffered with Joe Burrow should be a top priority for the club, making it a no-brainer to go all in to get Williams in a Chargers uniform in 2021.

1. Deshaun Watson, QB

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    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    Predicted 2021 Team: Carolina Panthers

    Deshaun Watson may not be a free agent, but he's undoubtedly the top player in the league likely to find a new home for the 2021 NFL season.

    The disgruntled Texans quarterback apparently no longer has any faith in the organization to surround him with a winning team and wants out, demanding a trade that should take place sooner rather than later if Houston wants to get the most value out of the superstar signal-caller.

    NFL Media reporter Jim Trotter recently spoke with new Texans head coach David Culley, and it appears inevitable a trade will take place before the 2021 campaign kicks off. "Based on the conversation [with Culley], I firmly believe Deshaun Watson will be traded," Trotter tweeted. "Culley didn't explicitly say that, but when using terms like on the roster 'right now' and 'we want guys who are all in'—writing is on the wall."

    There are several organizations linked to Watson in trade rumors, including the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers. It's exceedingly rare that a team wouldn't immediately dismiss any offer for a 25-year-old franchise quarterback, but Houston doesn't seem to have a choice in the matter and will likely need to take the best deal on the table.

    The Panthers are one of the more intriguing spots for Watson to land, as the club can offer up a strong package that includes star running back Christian McCaffrey, a capable stopgap quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, young standouts who are still on their rookie deals and a plethora of picks highlighted by the No. 8 overall selection in the upcoming draft.

    Even if the Panthers can't get the deal done, another team almost certainly will, and Watson will be starting Week 1 of the upcoming campaign in a new city, ending this saga and the quarterback's four-year tenure in Houston.

      

    Salary-cap figures and contract projections courtesy of Spotrac.

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