NFL Free Agency 2021: Live Updates, Rumors and Signings for New League Year

Alex KayContributor IMarch 18, 2021

NFL Free Agency 2021: Live Updates, Rumors and Signings for New League Year

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    The 2021 NFL free-agency period has been an interesting one.

    Some of the biggest signings so far include the San Francisco 49ers' six-year, $138 million contract with Trent Williams, Bud Dupree's five-year, $82.5 million deal the Tennessee Titans, Joe Thuney getting $80 million over five years with the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers retaining Shaquil Barrett with a four-year, $72 million contract.

    You can check out the complete list of every free-agent signing and grades for each deal by clicking here.

    There are still some notable talents who have yet to come to terms, including safety Anthony Harris, defensive end Melvin Ingram and wide receiver Kenny Golladay—the latter being widely regarded as the best wideout in this free-agent class.

    For wide receivers, Corey Davis received the largest contract so far, earning a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the New York Jets. Curtis Samuel, meanwhile, received $34.5 million over three years from the Washington Football Team. Will Fuller V also inked a one-year, "prove-it" deal with the Miami Dolphins for $10.6 million.

    Read on for the latest rumors as free agency continues Friday.

Top Remaining Wide Receiver Wants Big Payday

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The NFL offseason began with an ice-cold wide receiver market, but as the weekend approaches, most of the top players at the position have managed to sign new deals. JuJu Smith-Schuster was one of the few good wideouts left going into Friday, but the 24-year-old re-signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers early Friday afternoon, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter

    There is still one notable receiver available, however. Kenny Golladay, who is widely regarded as the class of this free-agency crop, is still up for grabs.

    Golladay is apparently holding out for a big payday, with ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio reporting the wideout is asking for a hefty $18.5 million annually. While a handful of teams have made offers to Golladay, none of those deals are for the type of money he wants.

    The Chicago Bears are the latest team to make a run at him, with Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reporting the club floated a one-year deal worth up to $12 million. The team pitched the chance to work in the same receiving corps as Pro Bowl wideout Allen Robinson II. Unfortunately for Chicago, the situation under center is not amongst the league’s best, with Andy Dalton, who joined this offseason on a one-year deal, as the likely starter for 2021.

    Golladay has also received an offer from the Cincinnati Bengals. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the team made a “strong offer” for the wideout. The Bengals boast one of the league’s most exciting young quarterbacks in Joe Burrow and have a familiar offensive coordinator in Brian Callahan, who worked with the receiver in Detroit.

    The New York Giants are also in the running after bringing Golladay in for a visit on Thursday, but the day passed without a deal despite the wideout’s reported interest in the New York market. The Baltimore Ravens have emerged as a late contender as well, which is an intriguing destination for the 27-year-old.

    If any of these suitors decide to pony up over $18 million, they will likely land Golladay for the upcoming season. Until then, expect teams to continue to try to lure the wide receiver at a lower cost while he mulls his options. 

Cincinnati Bengals Release Former All-Pro Defensive Lineman

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals have been one of the most active teams out of the gate this offseason and just made another big move, albeit not one that improves their roster in the short term.

    According to The Athletic’s Paul Dehner Jr., Bengals head coach Zac Taylor revealed the club released veteran defensive tackle Geno Atkins on Friday morning.

    The MMQB’s Albert Breer reported this was a financial decision for Cincinnati, as the team didn’t want to pay the soon-to-be 33-year-old defensive lineman the $14.7 million he was due to make in the upcoming campaign. This release, which needed to occur before June 1, saves $9.5 million, as Atkins’ cap hit was just $5.2 million in 2021.

    While the Bengals were reportedly hoping to swing a trade to clear Atkins off their books, they were not able to find a partner over the last few weeks. The organization signed Atkins’ heir apparent on Thursday, inking Larry Ogunjobi to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

    Atkins, a two-time All-Pro, only missed seven regular-season games during the first decade of his illustrious career but was limited to just eight largely ineffective appearances during an injury-plagued 2020 campaign.

    Atkins suffered a shoulder injury in training camp last year and was never able to shake the ailment that ultimately led to him landing on injured reserve. Prior to that, the DT was being used sparingly and failed to record a single sack for the first time during a career that has seen him rack up 75.5 in total.

    Now that Atkins is a free agent, there should be no shortage of suitors looking to kick the tires on one of the most prolific interior defensive linemen of his generation.

    The Arizona Cardinals, who already boast two of the league’s best edge-rushers in the league after signing J.J. Watt earlier this month, would be a great landing spot considering the team has a glaring hole at the interior D-lineman spot. Atkins could also land with a former divisional rival in the Cleveland Browns, who let both Ogunjobi and Vincent Taylor hit the open market and need to find replacements before the 2021 campaign kicks off.

Philadelphia Eagles Have Quarterback Decisions to Make

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    Derik Hamilton/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles came into the offseason having one of the worst cap situations in the league and have had to make multiple cost-cutting moves. Unfortunately, the team still needs to plug holes in the roster and is looking at a bare cupboard going into the weekend.

    One of the biggest needs is at quarterback, with team brass clearly not sold on Jalen Hurts as the future of the franchise. General manager Howie Roseman said the following Thursday, per Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

    "We only have one quarterback on our roster, and it's definitely not going to stay that way. And we've always tried to value that position and to have depth at that position. I don't see any of that changing here as we go forward."

    With the Eagles opting to trade former starter Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts and not making a move for a free-agent signal-caller, their options are now limited outside of the draft or trade.

    Spotrac estimates that Philadelphia is still nearly $5 million over the cap, a major reason why the team has been one of the quietest in free agency. The organization has only made two signings thus far—retaining defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway and coming to terms with safety Andrew Adams—while letting a pair of defensive backs in Jalen Mills and Johnathan Ford walk.

    The Eagles have the No. 6 pick in the upcoming draft, and with it they may be able to acquire one of four prospects at the position who most believe are worthy of an early first-round selection. They could also package that pick in a trade for a disgruntled veteran star like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson, which would immediately give the team the franchise quarterback it covets, though it would potentially hinder the ability to grow the roster with early draft picks in future years.

    One other move the club could make is to wait for the Las Vegas Raiders to release Marcus Mariota. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Mariota declined to take a pay cut, opening the door for his release this offseason. He should have no shortage of suitors if he hits the open market, however, and the cash-strapped Eagles may struggle to put an enticing offer on the table for his services.

Jacksonville Jaguars Don't Want to Trade Gardner Minshew ... Yet

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars own the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft and are almost assuredly going to select Trevor Lawrence. That leaves them with a tough decision on incumbent starter Gardner Minshew.

    According to Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk, Urban Meyer was asked Friday if the club plans to entertain trade offers for Minshew. He replied, "At this point, no."

    It's uncertain if the Jaguars plan to utilize Minshew as a bridge starter at the beginning of the 2021 campaign and transition to Lawrence when they feel he is ready or just thrust the rookie into the starting lineup as early as Week 1.

    If he becomes available, Minshew would be an intriguing trade target for several quarterback-needy organizations, especially with almost all the notable free agents at the position having already signed new deals. A team like the Denver Broncos—who have expressed interest in finding a signal-caller to push Drew Lock for the starting gig—would be an interesting landing spot for Minshew.

    The Chicago Bears, who signed veteran Andy Dalton to a one-year deal this week, are also still seeking a long-term solution under center and could roll the dice on Minshew's upside by making a low-risk trade. Minshew is only 24 years old and will be going into his third season in 2021, making him an ideal buy-low candidate this offseason if the Jaguars do start talking shop soon.

Quarterback Market Dwindling

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The strength of the 2021 free-agent class was never at the quarterback position, but most of the top available players have managed to sign new deals this offseason. Now, with such a dearth of talent on the open market, organizations seeking a signal-caller may have to explore trades to find their guy.

    ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Mitchell Trubisky—arguably the best quarterback left without a new contract going into the third day of free agency—came to terms with the Buffalo Bills on Thursday. Organizations will now have to decide if they want to kick the tires on an aging veteran stopgap like Alex Smith or Chase Daniel, pursue a trade for a younger option with some upside or wait and see if a player currently under contract gets released.

    One of the quarterbacks who could fit either of the latter two options is Marcus Mariota, who has one year left on his current contract with the Las Vegas Raiders. His situation with the organization is an intriguing one that teams are likely monitoring closely.

    Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Raiders reportedly requested Mariota take a sizable pay cut to remain with the team. If the 27-year-old declines, Vegas would need to choose whether to release him and free up some immediate cash or hang onto him as potential trade bait.

    Given the 2015 first-round pick is due to make close to $11 million for the 2021 campaign, it may be tough to find a suitor willing to take on that contract and compensate the Raiders accordingly for his services.

    Mariota, who likely wanted an opportunity to start at his next stop, has dwindling options at this juncture. While he was linked with several franchises in trade rumors, many of those teams went on to sign quarterbacks at the onset of this free-agency period. The Washington Football Team, for example, elected to ink Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal.

    With the New England Patriots retaining Cam Newton and the Chicago Bears turning to Andy Dalton, the short list of clubs for which Mariota had a chance to start has rapidly dwindled. He could still end up taking on a big role for a squad like the Philadelphia Eagles—almost certainly as a post-release signing by the cash-strapped franchise—but that appears far less likely now than it did before the offseason began.

Los Angeles Chargers Quietly Building a Contender

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Chargers haven’t been making many headlines during this free-agency period, but they have made a series of moves to improve their roster for the 2021 season.

    After drafting Justin Herbert, who looks like a legit franchise quarterback following a stellar rookie season, the front office has been working to build up a contender around him.

    The Bolts showed some tenacity to begin the legal tampering period, notably signing top free-agent center Corey Linsley to a massive five-year, $62.5 million deal. That move alone better protects their young signal-caller, but they also added another quality offensive lineman in Matt Feiler, coming to terms on a three-year, $21 million contract with the right tackle.

    With the offensive line now shored up, Los Angeles has begun targeting some weapons to bolster its offense. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, it reportedly inked veteran tight end Jared Cook to a deal worth up to $6 million.

    Cook helps fill a massive hole left by the departure of Hunter Henry, the talented but injury-prone tight end who signed with the New England Patriots a couple of days ago.

    There are still some areas that need to be addressed on L.A.’s roster, but the club has plenty of money to play with in free agency. Spotrac estimates the Bolts are still $33 million under the cap, and that cash will allow them to make a few more key signings this offseason.    

New York Jets Talking to JuJu

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The New York Jets needed to improve their wide receiver corps this offseason and did exactly that by inking Corey Davis at the start of free agency. The club may not be done upgrading the position just yet, however, as it is being reported that Gang Green is currently in talks with one of the top wideouts still available.

    According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Jets are negotiating with JuJu Smith-Schuster, the star wideout who spent the first four years of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    New York would be an ideal landing spot for Smith-Schuster, who saw his production fade a bit in recent years after a dazzling sophomore outing. He’s been slightly overshadowed by the emergence of Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool in Pittsburgh, opening the door for his potential exit.

    Should he sign with the Jets, Smith-Schuster would reunite with Sam Darnold, his college quarterback at USC. He would give Darnold a familiar target who helped him become a top prospect with the Trojans, playing well enough to be selected No. 3 overall back in 2018.

    Smith-Schuster has been in Darnold’s corner for a while, stating this past season on CBS Sports’ All Things Covered podcast (h/t CBS Sports’ Tyler Sullivan), “I'm just saying he's a great kid. I played with him so he's one of my boys so I wouldn't mind playing with him again.”

    While Darnold hasn’t lived up to expectations in the Big Apple during his first three seasons, getting him a pair of new receivers this offseason could change his career arc.

    Darnold is already going to have a solid No. 2 option in Davis, and getting Smith-Schuster, who showed he could put up huge numbers in the right situation with the Steelers, would only make it easier for him to emerge as the player the Jets expected when they drafted him.

New York Giants Hosting Top Wideout

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    The New York Giants came into the offseason with a massive need to upgrade their receiving corps, and they may be on the cusp of signing the top wideout on the open market.

    According to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan, Kenny Golladay has a visit lined up with the G-Men, which basically amounts to a job interview as he gets set to play his fifth year in the NFL.

    Big Blue reportedly isn’t going all-out to ink Golladay, but it shouldn’t be too tough to top the current offers that have been floated his way. The Cincinnati Bengals are the only other suitor that has reportedly put a deal on the table, offering a one-year deal for his services, per The MMQB’s Albert Breer.

    The main reason Golladay’s market has been so cold is concern surrounding the hip injury that plagued him during the 2020 campaign. He was only able to suit up for five contests this past season, seeing his production fall off hard after he led the league with 11 receiving touchdowns in 2019.

    The Giants have emerged as a favorite not only due to their need at the position and the impending visit, but also because it is reportedly the destination the 27-year-old prefers.

    New York still has a bit of cap space to work with—Spotrac estimates it is currently about $5 million under the cap—after making a few minor signings this offseason. The club has acquired running back Devontae Booker, defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo and wide receiver John Ross so far, while guard Kevin Zeitler and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson have signed elsewhere.

    While Ross’ speed will bolster the Giants’ receiving corps a bit, they still have a major need for a quality starter like Golladay to give the offense the jolt it needs.

Cincinnati Bengals Have Puzzling Start to Free Agency

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    Al Drago/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals have been one of the most puzzling teams at the start of free agency.

    The organization came into the offseason with some massive needs along its offensive line, but it has yet to make the marquee signing for which fans were hoping. To make matters worse, it lost some of its key playmakers on the open market and has either overpaid for their replacements or has yet to address the issue.

    As of Thursday morning, the Bengals have signed defensive end Trey Hendrickson, cornerback Mike Hilton, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, running back Samaje Perine and cornerback Tony Brown. While those moves helped shore up a weak secondary, they have not exactly helped the team grow into a contender.

    One of the most head-scratching decisions was to let edge-rusher Carl Lawson walk in free agency as the 25-year-old signed a three-year, $45 million deal with the New York Jets. Cincinnati then went out and acquired Hendrickson—an edge-rusher who is about a year older and graded far lower in PFF’s rankings—on a four-year contract worth $60 million, paying him the same average annual value Lawson received from Gang Green.

    The Bengals have also watched top offensive line targets like Joe Thuney and Trent Williams sign elsewhere and have yet to pull the trigger on any improvements to a unit that was among the worst in the league last year.

    While there are still some options available to improve quarterback Joe Burrow’s protection—David Andrews and Riley Reiff are among the decent offensive linemen still seeking a new deal—none of the free agents left are considered among the best in the class.

    Cincinnati could also use a receiver to fill the void left by the A.J. Green, who signed with the Arizona Cardinals yesterday, but it has at least reportedly extended an offer to Kenny Golladay. It remains to be seen if the wideout will accept the one-year “prove-it” deal, but it would be a nice pickup for a club that has plenty of work left to do this offseason.