NFL Free Agents 2021: Rumors, Predictions for Next Tier of Top Talent

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 29, 2021

NFL Free Agents 2021: Rumors, Predictions for Next Tier of Top Talent

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    We're in the second wave of NFL free agency, and while the signings aren't rolling in as furiously as they did two weeks ago, important pieces are still being added.

    Make no mistake, there are quality players remaining on the open market. Some of them, like oft-injured pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, carry risks. Others are simply solid role players who don't possess the star power to be early free-agency priorities.

    More free-agent signings are on the horizon, and some of them will be impactful. Here we'll dig into some of the latest buzz and make predictions for some of the best players still on the market.

Jadeveon Clowney

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Clowney is a bit of a boom-or-bust prospect. He missed significant time because of injury and produced just three sacks over the past two seasons. However, he's also a three-time Pro Bowler and is only 28. While he possesses a tremendous amount of upside, his medicals could be a sticking point for one interested team—the Cleveland Browns.

    "If Clowney, who turned 28 in February, checks out medically, I think he'd be a great acquisition, especially on an incentive-laden one-year deal somewhere around $6.5 million," Mary Kay Cabot of wrote. "The Browns liked him a lot last year and still like him if he's good to go."

    Cleveland was interested in Clowney last offseason, and it hosted him this year, though he left without a contract. If the Browns do indeed still like Clowney—if healthy and at the right price, of course—he could land with the team as a complement to Myles Garrett.

    However, price could be a significant factor here. Cleveland is down to just over $1 million in cap space and will need to create space just to sign its draft picks. If another team offers Clowney any sort of sizeable contract, the Browns will probably be unable to match.

    Prediction: Clowney does not sign with the Browns.

Ryan Kerrigan

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    While Clowney still has a fair amount of youth on his side, 32-year-old pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan is closer to the back end of his career. However, he can still be a productive contributor, as he showed with the Washington Football Team in 2020.

    Despite playing only 38 percent of the defensive snaps, Kerrigan still amassed 5.5 sacks as a situational edge-rusher.

    According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Kerrigan took a visit with the Cincinnati Bengals last week. Like Clowney, though, Kerrigan remains unsigned.

    Kerrigan's age and this offseason's deflated salary cap could be reasons why he's still without a team. At this point, teams may be more inclined to circle back to Kerrigan after the draft to address needs that weren't met over selection weekend.

    According to Rapoport, Washington still has interest in bringing back Kerrigan. They have a loaded defensive front—headlined by Chase Young, Montez Sweat and Jonathan Allen—but it never hurts to have a high-end situational pass-rusher on deck.

    If he's destined to get a second-tier free-agent contract, returning to the only franchise he's played for would make sense for Kerrigan.

    Prediction: Kerrigan re-signs with Washington.

Justin Houston

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    Another reason why teams haven't moved quickly on Clowney and Kerrigan may be the fact that multiple pass-rushers are still available. Justin Houston—who has logged 97.5 career sacks—is among them. While Houston is 32, he remains a productive defender, one who had eight sacks this past season.

    Houston also remains an option for the Indianapolis Colts.

    "Things remain fluid with veteran Justin Houston, who is still talking to the team and could be re-signed," The Athletic's Stephen Holder wrote. "The team is also in talks with several veteran edge players, according to a league source. A free-agent move before the draft is possible if not likely."

    Bringing back Houston would make sense. He's well-versed in Indianapolis' system, would help fill a need and would likely be affordable for the Colts. Indianapolis still has $14 million in cap space, eighth-most in the NFL.

    Houston would still have to take a relatively team-friendly deal, but that would be the case for most potential destinations.

    Prediction: Houston re-signs with the Colts


    Cap information via Spotrac.