NFL Free-Agent Signings That We're Still Waiting to Happen in 2021

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2021

NFL Free-Agent Signings That We're Still Waiting to Happen in 2021

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    Scot Tucker/Associated Press

    After the NFL draft, top free agents typically weigh their options as teams look to fill remaining roster holes.

    With a depressed salary cap this year, we'll likely see notable signings through the summer.

    While looking across all 32 depth charts, we pinpointed the best spots for top veterans. In some cases, player-team pairings stood as the perfect match because of a club's glaring need, past history or a combination of both factors. 

    As players go on visits and their representatives engage with potential suitors, let's go through six signings that seem inevitable in the coming weeks. 

LT Charles Leno Jr. to the Washington Football Team

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    Tyler Kaufman/Associated Press

    This offseason, the Washington Football Team made an effort to solidify their offensive line. They franchise-tagged right guard Brandon Scherff, acquired left guard Erick Flowers from the Miami Dolphins and selected offensive tackle Samuel Cosmi in the second round of the draft.

    Washington may be on the verge of adding another veteran to its offensive line group. The club hosted left tackle Charles Leno Jr. for a visit Monday after the Chicago Bears released him last week, per ESPN's John Keim

    Last season, Geron Christian Sr. and Cornelius Lucas split a majority of the snaps at left tackle for the Football Team. They're both headed into contract years, per Spotrac, and neither has an extensive resume as a starter. 

    Christian has started eight games across his three NFL seasons. Lucas, a seven-year journeyman, has 24 career starts.

    Leno, who started in 93 consecutive outings for the Bears, would be a proven commodity at a premium position. He could also spare Washington's coaching staff from having to rush Cosmi into action. 

RB Todd Gurley to the Kansas City Chiefs

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    Although Todd Gurley is only going into his age-27 season, he already has a lot of tread on his legs. In addition to 1,460 rushing attempts for 6,082 yards and 67 touchdowns, the two-time All-Pro has caught 243 passes for 2,254 yards and 12 scores.

    Despite the wear and tear on his body, Gurley can still fill a reserve role in a backfield committee, specifically in short-yardage and red-zone situations. With the Atlanta Falcons last year, eight of his nine rushing touchdowns came from within 10 yards of the goal line.

    The Kansas City Chiefs need a finisher in the backfield. Last season, rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire led the team with four rushing touchdowns. Kansas City has yet to re-sign Le'Veon Bell, while Damien Williams, who opted out of the 2020 season, signed with the Chicago Bears in March.

    The Chiefs did sign Jerick McKinnon in free agency, but he recorded only 81 carries last season with the San Francisco 49ers after missing consecutive seasons with knee injuries. Going into his age-29 campaign, the 5'9", 208-pound tailback isn't a reliable third-down or goal-line option coming off a year with limited rushing attempts. He's better served in a pass-catching role.

    Gurley recorded 195 rushing attempts this past season and would be a solid option as a power back on a short-term deal. By signing with the Chiefs, the seventh-year veteran would have a shot at a title on a team that went to the Super Bowl in back-to-back seasons.

Edge Justin Houston to the Baltimore Ravens

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    In April, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said free-agent edge-rusher Justin Houston "could come back." However, the Colts selected pass-rushers Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo in the first two rounds of the 2021 draft.

    At 6'2" and 261 pounds, Paye projects as the probable replacement for Houston on the edge. General manager Chris Ballard said the Colts viewed Odeyingbo as a "first-round talent," which suggests the Vanderbilt product could also have a big role on the defensive line once he recovers from a torn Achilles.

    Indianapolis also has high-potential depth across the front line with recent second-rounders Tyquan Lewis (2018), Kemoko Turay (2018) and Ben Banogu (2019) on the roster, which means Houston may have to start a new career chapter elsewhere.

    According to Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun, the Baltimore Ravens may become more active on the open market since free-agent acquisitions stopped having an impact on the 2022 compensatory-pick formula as of May 3. The following day, they signed offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

    The Ravens could focus on Houston, who visited with them before the draft, according to Shaffer. Over the last two years, he's recorded 19 sacks and would immediately become Baltimore's top edge-rusher following the offseason departures of Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue.

    Roster holdovers Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee logged five combined sacks last year, while rookie first-rounder Odafe Oweh didn't record a sack in his final season at Penn State. Houston would fill a major void in the Ravens pass rush.

CB Steven Nelson to the New York Jets

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The New York Jets have a glaring weakness in the secondary. They selected cornerbacks Michael Carter II and Jason Pinnock in the fifth round along with Brandin Echols in the sixth round of the draft, but they don't have a top-notch playmaker at the position.

    Third-year veteran Blessuan Austin is the most experienced first-string boundary cornerback on the roster with 16 starts. He has eight pass breakups in 18 NFL outings. 

    Bryce Hall spent half of his rookie campaign on the reserve/non-football injury list and suited up for eight contests, logging three pass breakups and an interception. However, he's still in the early stages of his development.

    Even if one of the young cover men impresses the new coaching staff at camp, the Jets should pursue a surefire starter who can match up against lead wide receivers for Week 1 of the season. Steven Nelson fits the bill.

    For each of the last three seasons, Nelson has allowed no more than a 58.2 percent completion rate when targeted in coverage. In 2020, he gave up seven touchdowns but also made some impact plays with two interceptions and nine pass breakups.

    Going into OTAs, the Jets don't have a proven lead cornerback, but they should add one in Nelson while they sort out the pecking order among their young talent at the position.

CB Richard Sherman to the San Francisco 49ers

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Back in December, Richard Sherman didn't expect to extend his career with the San Francisco 49ers. But times have changed, and he's had "preliminary discussions" with them about his possible return, per Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee.

    In 2019, Sherman signed a two-year deal with the 49ers. After a Pro Bowl campaign in 2019, he suited up for only five games because of a calf injury last season.

    In early February, Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden expressed interest in talking to Sherman. Instead, the Silver and Black signed 31-year-old cornerback Casey Hayward, who played four seasons under new Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley with the Los Angeles Chargers. 

    According to ESPN's Rich Cimini, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh would be open to bringing Sherman with him to the Meadowlands, but the 33-year-old wants to play for a contender.

    "Saleh is interested in reuniting with Sherman, I'm told, but that depends on a few factors," Cimini wrote. "From the Jets' perspective, it could hinge on how the draft turns out. As for Sherman, he seemingly would prefer a contending team in the West."

    Two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, San Francisco may still appeal to Sherman. From a team perspective, the 49ers need another savvy veteran on the back end of their defense.

    San Francisco selected Ambry Thomas in the third round, but he'll need to earn the coaching staff's trust. Injury-prone cornerback Jason Verrett had a solid 2020 season with two interceptions and seven pass breakups, but he's played more than six games in only two of his seven NFL seasons.

    If healthy, Sherman could share time with Emmanuel Moseley on the boundary opposite Verrett.

LB K.J. Wright to the Seattle Seahawks

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    K.J. Wright had no interest in taking a "hometown discount" to re-sign with the Seattle Seahawks, but he may not have many takers on the open market.

    Speaking to reporters prior to the draft, Seahawks general manager John Schneider came off a bit surprised that no team had signed Wright by that point.

    "Yeah, we talked to K.J.'s people before free agency, but quite frankly, there's so many coaches on our staff that were on our staff that are different places, we thought he would be signed by now," Schneider said. 

    Carroll said "the door is not closed" on communications with Wright, which suggests the team and player could come to terms on a new deal.

    Las Vegas Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, Wright's first play-caller, has a solid linebacker unit with Nick Kwiatkoski, Cory Littleton and Nick Morrow, who's coming off his best season.

    Between the 2015 and 2017 seasons, Kris Richard served as Wright's defensive coordinator. He's now the defensive backs coach for the New Orleans Saints, who just drafted linebacker Pete Werner in the second round.

    Wright had an interest in joining another former defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn, with the Dallas Cowboys. But according to's Mike Fisher, the team didn't have the 31-year-old linebacker on its list of free-agent targets.

    Don't expect the Cowboys to reconsider after they selected linebackers Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox with the 12th and 115th picks in the draft, respectively. 

    Wright seems destined to continue his career in Seattle. As the only player with 10 or more pass breakups and 10 or more tackles for loss last year, he's still a viable starter.