NFL Free Agency 2021: Evaluating Top Contracts from Legal Tampering Period

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2021

NFL Free Agency 2021: Evaluating Top Contracts from Legal Tampering Period

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    The official start to 2021 NFL free agency is finally underway. The market opened at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, though the week's early flurry of contract agreements made the opening a mere formality.

    The "legal tampering" window opened at 12 p.m. on Monday, and several notable free agents came off the market over the next 8-plus hours. Some notable free agents—like wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster and pass-rusher Justin Houston—are still available. However, most of the biggest names have already agreed to new deals.

    Here, we'll evaluate some of the biggest agreements—both in terms of value and potential impact—to come out of the 2021 tampering window.

    Let's dig in.

Chiefs Sign Joe Thuney to Five-Year, $80 Million Deal

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    One of the first significant signings of the tampering period was the Kansas City Chiefs' addition of guard Joe Thuney. According to TheMMQB's Albert Breer, Thuney is set to earn $80 million over five years with $48 million in practical guarantees over the first three seasons.

    That's a lot of cash for a player who has never made a Pro Bowl, and Thuney could have a difficult time living up to the value of his contract.

    Still, the move should have a significant and positive impact on the Chiefs' offensive line. While Thuney has never been an elite lineman, he's been remarkably reliable. He never missed a start for the New England Patriots and played at least 97 percent of the offensive snaps every year.

    Kansas City still needs to replace starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, both of whom were released earlier in the offseason. By adding Thuney, however, they've established at least one long-term anchor along the line.

Buccaneers Sign Shaquil Barrett to a Four-Year, $72 Million Deal

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    Another early move involved the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and star pass-rusher Shaquil Barrett. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Barrett's pact is worth up to $72 million over four years.

    This was a huge win for the Buccaneers, who are looking to keep the core of their Super Bowl squad intact. They already re-signed linebacker Lavonte David and franchise-tagged Chris Godwin. Barrett represented the next big contributor to retain.

    He wasn't the last, though. Also per Schefter, tight end Rob Gronkowski is returning on a one-year, $10 million contract.

    Barrett was one of the top players available in this year's free-agent class, and Tampa's ability to retain him is a coup for the franchise.

4. Patriots Sign Hunter Henry to Three-Year, $37.5 Million Deal

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    In arguably the biggest deal of Day 2, the Patriots added tight end Hunter Henry. According to Schefter, the former Los Angeles Chargers tight end will earn $37.5 million over three years. The move came just a day after New England inked tight end Jonnu Smith to his own substantial contract.

    Smith will get a four-year, $50 million deal with $31.25 million guaranteed, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.

    Clearly, this sets up a return of a two-tight-end offense in New England. If that's the plan, then the signing of Henry doesn't look awful.

    However, the Patriots probably still overpaid here. Henry has never produced 700 receiving yards in a single season, and he's missed 26 games in five seasons. He's an above-average tight end, but he's also an injury risk and is being paid like an elite playmaker.

49ers Re-Sign Trent Williams with Six-Year, $138 Million Deal

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    One of the last big moves to come in during the tampering window was the San Francisco 49ers' re-signing of offensive tackle Trent Williams. According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the deal is for six years and $138.06 million.

    The deal makes Williams the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history. it's still a big win for the 49ers financially, though. According to David Lombardi of The Athletic, the contract is structured in a way where Williams will carry a cap hit of less than $10 million this season. Given the deflated salary cap, that's a massive factor.

    The reason for this deal not getting done until the last day of tampering is quite simple. According to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo (h/t Yahoo Sports), Williams was soaking in his first free-agency experience.

    "We're hearing that Trent Williams is taking his time. First time he's ever gotten to free agency. He's enjoying every second of it. From what I am told, he was actually in Mexico the last couple of days on vacation," Garafolo said on NFL Network.

    The patience paid off for both Williams and the 49ers.

Other Notable Deals

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Chicago Bears Sign QB Andy Dalton

    According to Rapoport, the Chicago Bears have agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal with quarterback Andy Dalton. The move gives Chicago some insurance at the position, though it doesn't necessarily provide the team with an upgrade over Nick Foles.

    Tennessee Titans Sign Edge-Rusher Bud Dupree

    The Tennessee Titans addressed their pass-rushing need by inking Bud Dupree to a five-year, $82.5 million deal, according to ESPN's Turron Davenport. Dupree has been a solid sack-producer over the past two seasons, but he's also coming off a torn ACL that he suffered in December.


    Cleveland Browns Sign Safety John Johnson III

    The Cleveland Browns are adding safety John Johnson III on a three-year, $33.75 million deal, according to Garafolo. Arguably the best safety to hit the open market, landing Johnson is a big get for the resurgent Browns.


    New Orleans Saints Re-Sign Jameis Winston

    The New Orleans Saints may have found their 2021 starter in Jameis Winston. He'll be coming back to New Orleans on a one-year deal worth $12 million, according to Schefter. A competition between Winston and Taysom Hill should be on the horizon.