NFL Free Agency 2021: Players Now in Danger of Losing Starting Roles

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2021

NFL Free Agency 2021: Players Now in Danger of Losing Starting Roles

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    NFL free agency creates opportunities for some and puts others on the hot seat.

    Some teams cut notable players, leaving clear holes atop depth charts, but that's not always the case with roster turnover. Clubs also acquire upgrades with the previous year's starter still under contract.

    Typically, a highly paid free-agent acquisition takes over the first-string job and the incumbent starter either moves to a new position, accepts a demotion, loses his roster spot or lands elsewhere via trade. Coaching staffs may evaluate players with similar salaries and skill sets in a training camp battle.

    Let's take a look at six players most likely to lose their starting jobs to a free-agent addition. Each situation factors in production, salary and schematic fit as reasons for a probable change in the lead role.

OG Nick Allegretti, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    This past season, Nick Allegretti started nine games at left guard. With the addition or return of multiple offensive linemen, he seems like a long shot to retain his role in 2021.

    The Kansas City Chiefs added a surefire starter and depth to their offensive line group, signing Joe Thuney, and Kyle Long and re-upping Mike Remmers. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opted out of the 2020 campaign, but he'll be suiting up next season.

    Kansas City signed Thuney to a five-year, $80 million contract, so pen his name into a starting position. Primarily a left guard, he hasn't missed a start since the New England Patriots selected him in the third round of the 2016 draft. 

    The coaching staff can shift Allegretti to the right side, but he'd compete with Duvernay-Tardif, who started in 57 contests for the Chiefs between 2015 and 2019. Long has extensive experience at right guard, and Remmers has played both interior positions in his career. 

    According to the Kansas City Star's Herbie Teope, the Chiefs want to re-sign Austin Reiter, who became a full-time starter at center in 2019. His return would leave no room for competition at the pivot.

    With Thuney locked into one of the guard spots, Allegretti could battle against at least three more experienced teammates for a starting position at training camp.

DT Taven Bryan, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Taven Bryan hasn't met the expectations of a first-round pick, logging 71 tackles, 11 for loss and 3.5 sacks through 48 contests, which includes 17 starts. With a new regime in place, he could fall out of favor.

    Bryan has competition at his position. The Jacksonville Jaguars signed Roy Robertson-Harris to a three-year, $23.4 million deal. 

    Coming out of Florida, Bryan garnered buzz because of his impressive athleticism for an interior lineman. At 6'5", 291 pounds, his combination of strength and agility didn't translate into much pass-rushing production on the pro level.

    Robertson-Harris plays at a similar size (6'5", 298 lbs) and had more success as a pass-rusher, logging 7.5 sacks through his first three seasons.

    The Jaguars will likely rotate Tyson Alualu and Malcom Brown at nose tackle alongside Robertson-Harris, who can collapse the pocket but doesn't consistently reset the line of scrimmage against the run. 

    Expect the front office to decline Bryan's fifth-year option, which would put him on notice going into the 2021 campaign.

TE Will Dissly, Seattle Seahawks

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Will Dissly had bright moments in his first two seasons, but he finished those campaigns on injured reserve with a torn patellar tendon and a ruptured Achilles, respectively. This past year, the pass-catching tight end finally played a full 16-game slate. 

    Although Dissly avoided the injury bug through the 2020 campaign, he hauled in just 24 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns. The Washington product didn't have a consistent impact on the aerial attack, which likely explains why the club signed Gerald Everett earlier in March.

    Everett signed a one-year, $6 million contract, which doesn't suggest he's a starter upon arrival. The Athletic's Michael-Shawn Dugar believes the Seahawks' newest addition at tight end has upside but that Dissly could retain the featured role.

    "He's talented enough to be TE1 in this offense, though Dissly is in a contract year and coming off the first fully healthy season of his career," Dugar wrote. "Thus, Dissly may be in position to hold the top spot on the depth chart and flash the star potential he displayed in 2018 and 2019."

    Everett would probably have to beat Dissly in a training camp battle for the lead position, though he's certainly capable. The former Los Angeles Rams tight end recorded career highs in receptions (41) and yards (417) as a backup behind Tyler Higbee last season.

WR N'Keal Harry, New England Patriots

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    N'Keal Harry has performed well below expectations with the New England Patriots, recording just 45 receptions for 414 yards and four touchdowns through 21 contests, which includes 14 starts.

    This past season, Harry started in nine games and had the chance to take advantage of increased opportunities while wideout Julian Edelman missed 10 games after knee surgery. The Arizona State product eclipsed 49 receiving yards just once in 14 appearances. 

    Before the start of free agency, the Patriots received trade calls for Harry, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo (h/t's Kevin Patra). 

    According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Edelman's status for the 2021 term remains unclear. His uncertain short-term outlook coupled with Harry's underwhelming showing likely contributed to the Patriots' decision to overhaul the pass-catching group. This offseason, New England has signed tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry along with wideouts Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.

    At wide receiver, Agholor will likely start on the outside with Jakobi Meyers in the slot for three-receiver sets. The former became the Las Vegas Raiders' lead wideout this past season, logging 48 catches for 896 yards and eight touchdowns. The latter led New England in catches (59) and receiving yards (729) in 2020.

    Bourne started in just 13 out of 58 games through four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, but he recorded career highs in receptions (49) and yards (667) while playing 63 percent of the offensive snaps last year.

    The Patriots may accept a trade offer for Harry if they believe Bourne can handle an expanded workload in the upcoming season.

DB Eric Murray, Houston Texans

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    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    Eric Murray can play multiple positions across the secondary, though he lined up primarily at slot cornerback this past season. The versatile defensive back will face some competition for that spot, which may force him into a reserve role in 2021. 

    The Texans signed Desmond King, who's not quite as versatile as Murray, to a one-year, $3 million deal. He's played a majority of his snaps in the slot with some experience in the box as a safety. With that contract, he's not an automatic front-runner to claim the nickelback role. However, the 26-year-old has started in at least eight games in each of the last three seasons.

    On top of that, Murray struggled this past season, allowing an 80 percent completion rate and a 134.5 passer rating when targeted in coverage.

    With Justin Reid and Lonnie Johnson Jr. projected to play the safety spots, Murray seems like the odd man out after a rough campaign.

CB Isaac Yiadom, New York Giants

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    Larry Maurer/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos selected Isaac Yiadom in the third round of the 2018 draft. He spent one season under current head coach Vic Fangio before being traded to the New York Giants in exchange for a seventh-round pick.

    Yiadom had a chance to showcase his ability in a starting role after Week 7, but he gave up too much real estate on the boundary, allowing a 61.7 percent completion rate and a 120.1 passer rating in coverage.

    The Giants chose to upgrade the position, signing Adoree' Jackson to a three-year, $39 million deal. He can line up on the outside or in the slot but took most of his snaps out wide through four seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

    Yiadom has minimal experience in the slot. Barring a quick and impressive transition at training camp, he's unlikely to unseat 2020 fourth-rounder Darnay Holmes for the position. 

    Jackson's arrival essentially puts an end to Yiadom's run as a starter in New York.


    Player contracts courtesy of Over the Cap.