2021 NFL Free Agency: Which Teams Lost the Most Talent?

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2021

2021 NFL Free Agency: Which Teams Lost the Most Talent?

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Now that the first wave of NFL free agency is over, we have a good opportunity to reflect on the major moves that have been made thus far.

    Some teams—at least on paper—appear to have been significantly improved by the free-agent and trade markets. Those additions have to come from somewhere, though, and other teams have seen numerous losses over the past couple of weeks—exacerbated, in some cases, by this year's reduced salary cap.

    While it's always nice to look on the bright side of life, we're going the other direction here. We'll examine the seven teams that have been hit hardest in the talent department so far this offseason.

    We'll largely be looking at additions versus losses here, though individual talent will be a factor—adding a role player does not balance out the loss of a Pro Bowler. Teams are listed in alphabetical order.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Matt Judon
    Matt JudonBryan Woolston/Associated Press

    Notable Additions: OG Kevin Zeitler

    Notable Losses: LB Matt Judon, DE Yannick Ngakoue, DE Jihad Ward, C Matt Skura, LS Morgan Cox

    The Baltimore Ravens' biggest free-agency signing actually came before the "legal tampering" period. After guard Kevin Zeitler was released by the New York Giants, the Ravens swooped in and signed him to a three-year, $22.5 million contract.

    Baltimore proceeded to lose a pair of above-average pass-rushers in Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency, along with starting center Matt Skura, defensive contributor Jihad Ward and long snapper Morgan Cox.

    The addition of Zeitler does not offset Baltimore's talent loss, though as ProFootballTalk's Michael David Smith pointed out, this was largely the Ravens' intention:

    "The Ravens have made no secret of the fact that they wanted to beef up their offensive line this offseason, but they didn't want to do it by signing one of the many unrestricted free agents who will come on the market on Wednesday, because those players will all count toward the compensatory picks formula. Zeitler is a perfect fit for the Ravens because he doesn't count."

    The Ravens have historically used the compensatory-pick formula to bolster their draft capital—they received third- and fourth-round selections last year. So, while they did lose a lot of talent in free agency, the Ravens probably still feel like winners.

Chicago Bears

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    Kyle Fuller
    Kyle FullerKamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    Notable Additions: QB Andy Dalton, LB Jeremiah Attaochu, RB Damien Williams

    Notable Losses: CB Kyle Fuller, LB Roy Robertson-Harris, DE Brent Urban, LB Barkevious Mingo, QB Mitchell Trubisky

    The Chicago Bears' biggest departure also came by design—though that doesn't necessarily make it a good decision.

    After applying the franchise tag to wideout Allen Robinson II, the Bears found themselves in a dire cap situation. This led to the release of two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller. The 29-year-old, one of the better cover men in the NFL, was quickly gobbled up by the Denver Broncos. Chicago, meanwhile, remains over the salary cap.

    The Bears swapped middling quarterback Mitchell Trubisky for a similarly average quarterback in Andy Dalton. They added linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu and running back Damien Williams but lost solid defensive contributors in Roy Robertson-Harris, Brent Urban and Barkevious Mingo.

    The losses could end up being even worse, as notable role players like Cordarelle Patterson, Buster Skrine, and Tashaun Gipson remain unsigned—and the Bears aren't in a financial situation conducive to re-signing them.

    Still, Chicago's place on this list is largely about willingly dumping one of the team's best defenders over the past few seasons.

Green Bay Packers

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    Corey Linsley
    Corey LinsleyMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Notable Additions: None

    Notable Losses: C Corey Linsley, RB, Jamaal Williams, QB Tim Boyle

    To be fair, the Green Bay Packers haven't lost a high number of key contributors this offseason. However, they parted with two-year backup quarterback Tim Boyle and a pair of high-end players in running back Jamaal Williams and center Corey Linsley.

    The loss of Boyle isn't surprising, as 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love is in line to back up Aaron Rodgers. The losses of Williams and Linsley are big, though.

    Williams has topped 700 scrimmage yards in each of the past two seasons, while Linsley was a first-team All-Pro selection this past season. Right tackle Rick Wagner and wideout Allen Lazard remain unsigned but aren't officially gone yet.

    Overall, the Packers' place on this list is a product of what they've done in free agency. Aside from re-signing a few of their own—Aaron Jones, Marcedes Lewis and Kevin King—they've largely stayed away from market activity.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Anthony Harris
    Anthony HarrisAl Goldis/Associated Press

    Notable Additions: DT Dalvin Tomlinson, CB Patrick Peterson

    Notable Losses: S Anthony Harris, TE Kyle Rudolph, OT Riley Reiff, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo

    For the second offseason in a row, the Minnesota Vikings parted with a number of key contributors. Last year, defenders Mackensie Alexander, Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes and Everson Griffen all departed. This year, the Vikings lost quality players on both sides of the ball.

    Offensively, Minnesota watched Kyle Rudolph, Mike Boone and Riley Reiff walk. Rudolph has been an offensive mainstay since 2011, and Reiff was a four-year starter for the Vikings and a versatile lineman.

    "I've played guard in college, so wherever they ask me to play, I'll step in and play," the first-round pick out of Iowa told reporters (at the 4:30 mark) about his new team, the Cincinnati Bengals.

    Defensively, the big loss was Anthony Harris, who was good enough in 2019 to earn the franchise tag from Minnesota. Ifeadi Odenigbo contributed 35 tackles and 3.5 sacks this past season.

    While the additions of defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and cornerback Patrick Peterson are noteworthy, they don't quite make up for the volume of high-end losses the Vikings have experienced this offseason.

New Orleans Saints

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    Drew Brees
    Drew BreesBrynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Notable Additions: TE Nick Vannett, FB Alex Armah

    Notable Losses: QB Drew Brees (retirement), WR Emmanuel Sanders, TE Jared Cook, Edge Trey Hendrickson, DT Sheldon Rankins, LB Alex Anzalone, TE Josh Hill, CB Justin Hardee

    Arguably no team lost more talent this offseason than the New Orleans Saints.

    Even if we're not including the retirement of quarterback Drew Brees—which we definitely must—the Saints lost a slew of key contributors from 2020. Wideout Emmanuel Sanders and tight ends Jared Cook and Josh Hill were all important pieces of the New Orleans offense.

    Due in part to Michael Thomas' lingering injury issues, Sanders led all Saints players not named Alvin Kamara with 726 receiving yards last season. Cook was third on the team with 504 receiving yards.

    Defensively, New Orleans lost breakout sack artist Trey Hendrickson—who had 13.5 quarterback takedowns in 2020—linebacker Alex Anzalone, cornerback Justin Hardee and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.

    Brees, of course, is the biggest loss and one who is likely to spark at least some degree of rebuilding over the next couple of seasons. New Orleans' "big" additions of fullback Alex Armah and tight end Nick Vannett do not come close to offsetting the loss in talent the Saints have experienced.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    Notable Additions: S Anthony Harris, QB Joe Flacco

    Notable Losses: QB Carson Wentz (trade), S Jalen Mills, WR DeSean Jackson, DE Vinny Curry, DT Malik Jackson, P Cameron Johnston

    The Philadelphia Eagles are another team that experienced a high volume of departures and few additions. They traded away starting quarterback Carson Wentz and brought in journeyman Joe Flacco to back up 2020 second-round pick Jalen Hurts.

    While one could argue that the Wentz trade was addition by subtraction—assuming Hurts really can be the answer at quarterback—the addition of Flacco doesn't seem promising. He's an experienced quarterback but seems to have no interest in mentoring Hurts.

    "Your goal as a football player is to show people around you that you can play football," Flacco said, per Martin Frank of the Delaware News Journal.

    Philly also added Harris but lost wideout DeSean Jackson, defensive tackle Malik Jackson, defensive end Vinny Curry, punter Cameron Johnston and a budding young safety in Jalen Mills.

    In his first full season after switching from cornerback to safety, Mills allowed an opposing quarterback rating of just 82.0 in 2020.

    It's hard to view the Eagles as a better team than they were before the offseason.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Bud Dupree
    Bud DupreeGene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Notable Additions: None

    Notable Losses: Edge Bud Dupree, C Maurkice Pouncey (retirement), CB Mike Hilton, OT Mike Feiler

    As is the case with the Packers, the Pittsburgh Steelers largely make the list because they haven't added any significant external free agents this offseason. They did re-sign wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva remains unsigned—so there's a chance a couple of key pieces will be back.

    However, Pittsburgh's top-end losses are huge. Edge-rusher Bud Dupree is coming off a torn ACL but was been a major defensive contributor over the past two seasons. Cornerback Mike Hilton appeared in 12 games in 2020 and allowed an opposing quarterback rating of just 60.2.

    Right tackle Mike Feiler started 13 games and played 77 percent of the offensive snaps this past season.

    With nine-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey entering retirement this offseason, it's fair to say that Pittsburgh has lost a noteworthy amount of talent. The Steelers will have an opportunity to reload in the draft, but right now and on paper, this roster isn't as threatening as the one that went 12-4 last season.


    Free-agent tracking and contract information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.