NFL Free Agent 2021 Signings: Assessing Most Notable Deals to Start Offseason

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2021

NFL Free Agent 2021 Signings: Assessing Most Notable Deals to Start Offseason

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    We've reached the doorstep of 2021 NFL free agency. While the new league year won't kick off until 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the legal tampering window will open at 12 p.m. ET on Monday. This means that in the next few days, many of the league's top free agents will effectively come off of the market.

    As has often been the case, several free agents have recently come off the market on the eve of free agency.

    While some 11th-hour deals may be the result of illegal tampering—players probably aren't eager to re-sign without accurately knowing their market value—several typically emerge at this point in the offseason. This year has been no different, as a few noteworthy agreements were reached over the weekend.

    Here you'll find a look at the latest free-agency-related moves.

49ers Sign Kyle Juszczyk to New 5-Year Deal

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    While fullbacks may be falling out of fashion in the modern NFL, the San Francisco 49ers love the one they have in Kyle Juszczyk. He is a versatile player capable of contributing as a blocker, a runner and a receiver.

    Juszczyk has also made the Pro Bowl in each of the past five seasons.

    Therefore, it was no surprise when 49ers general manager John Lynch seemed to hint Sunday that a new deal for the 29-year-old fullback was looming.

    "I'm thirsty," Lynch tweeted. "Niners fans, you want some 'Juice?'"

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the 49ers and Juszczyk have agreed to a new five-year, $27 million contract. While this is a hefty contract for a fullback, it makes sense for San Francisco. The 49ers are one of the few teams that still heavily employ a fullback on offense.

    Juszczyk played 43 percent of the offensive snaps in 2020 and finished with 266 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns. He's an important part of what head coach Kyle Shanahan wants to do offensively, and he's in his playing prime. Keeping Juszczyk off the open market is a huge win for San Francisco.

Andrew Norwell Agrees to Restructured Deal

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    Jacksonville Jaguars guard Andrew Norwell was an All-Pro before he joined the team, but he hasn't replicated his previous level of play. This led to some speculation that he would be traded or released to the open market this offseason.

    CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reported in early March that teams anticipated Norwell's release, along with that of New York Giants guard Kevin Zeitler. While Zeitler did reach free agency (more on him shortly), Norwell appears to be staying in Jacksonville.

    Norwell's agent, Drew Rosenhaus told ProFootballTalk that the guard has agreed to a restructured one-year deal worth "up to" $12 million with $9 million guaranteed. According to Spotrac, Norwell had been scheduled to carry cap hits of $15 and $16 million in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

    With roughly $65 million in projected cap space, Jacksonville didn't necessarily need to make a cap-saving move here. However, the restructured deal does give the Jaguars a little more financial flexibility while keeping a starting-caliber lineman in the fold.

    With Jacksonville widely expected to grab its new franchise quarterback with the first overall pick in the draft, keeping Norwell for at least another season was probably the smart move.

Ravens Sign Kevin Zeitler to a 3-Year, $22M Deal

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    Larry Maurer/Associated Press

    Zeitler didn't stay on the open market for long. His release before the start of free agency left him free to immediately sign with a new team. He did just that, agreeing to a deal with the Baltimore Ravens.

    According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Zeitler's new contract is for three years at $22 million with $16 million guaranteed. This seems like a reasonable deal for the 31-year-old, especially given the dearth of offensive-line talent expected to be available in free agency.

    Zeitler has never been named to a Pro Bowl, but he's a starting-caliber guard who has missed only one game in the past six seasons. In 2020, he was responsible for just four penalties and two sacks, according to Pro Football Focus.

    This is a tremendous acquisition for the Ravens, who lost longtime starter Marshal Yanda to retirement last offseason. Zeitler should instantly be penciled in as a starter at guard, giving Baltimore some much-needed security along the offensive line.

    Baltimore has given right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. permission to seek a trade. According to NFL Media's Mike Garafolo, at least six teams are interested in acquiring him. While Zeitler wouldn't directly replace Brown, he could help ensure that the Ravens don't have multiple holes to fill along the line in the same offseason—assuming, of course, that Brown is dealt.

Packers Re-Sign Aaron Jones with 4-Year, $48M Deal

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers were set to lose both Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones in free agency this offseason. They will keep at least one of the two after agreeing on a new four-year, $48 million deal with the latter.

    "We anticipated bigger offers in free agency, but Aaron wanted to stay with the Packers," agent Drew Rosenhaus told Schefter.

    On the surface, this is a fair deal for the Packers. Jones has topped the 1,000-yard mark in each of the past two seasons and is equally adept as a runner and a receiver. He likely would have been the most coveted running back in free agency.

    However, $12 million per season is a lot for a position where younger, cheaper options are regularly found through the draft. It must also be noted that Green Bay used a second-round pick on running back AJ Dillon last offseason.

    It's fair to wonder how this deal will be viewed over the long term and whether Jones will get to the end of it. In the short term, though, it should help ensure that the Packers have a top-tier rushing attack and can maximize the remaining window it has with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

    Green Bay is in win-now mode. Locking up Jones is a win-now move.


    Cap and contract information via Spotrac.