Best Remaining 2021 NFL Free Agents Available

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2021

Best Remaining 2021 NFL Free Agents Available

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    With training camps approaching, the biggest remaining NFL free-agent dominoes should start falling again. 

    Now that free-agent signings no longer count against the compensatory pick formula, teams may be less reluctant about bringing in additional reinforcements. On Monday, longtime Washington Football Team edge-rusher Ryan Kerrigan announced he'd be staying in the NFC East and joining the rival Philadelphia Eagles.

    While most of the big-name free agents are already off the market, a number of veterans on both sides of the ball could still make an immediate impact on whichever team they join.

    Based on past production and future outlook, these are the best remaining free agents on the market.

Mitchell Schwartz, OT

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    Doug Benc/Associated Press

    A few veteran offensive linemen slipped through the cracks in free agency, especially since the position was one of the strong points of the 2021 NFL draft. 

    Whichever team ends up signing Mitchell Schwartz will thus get one of the top steals of free agency.

    Schwartz was part of the roster purge in front of Patrick Mahomes this offseason in Kansas City. A back injury limited him to only six games last season, and the Chiefs saved $6.25 million in cap space by releasing him with his future up in the air. 

    But if Schwartz is healthy and wants to keep playing, he'll only be 32 in the 2021 season. He finished last year with a 74.7 Pro Football Focus grade, and he had a 84.0 grade over 1,046 snaps with no sacks allowed in 2019. 

    Schwartz had never missed a game until last season. He's a veteran who shouldn't need a ton of reps over the summer before coming in and providing an immediate upgrade. 

Justin Houston, Edge

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Now that Ryan Kerrigan is off the free-agent market, teams in need of a pass-rusher should turn their attention to Justin Houston.

    Houston spent the past two years with the Indianapolis Colts, where he racked up 19 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and 30 quarterback hits across all 32 games. He's had at least eight sacks in four straight years, and he's managed 25 or more pressures in each of the last three seasons, too. 

    Houston has mustered that production in diminished playing time. His snap count has fallen in each of the past three seasons, and he played only 59 percent of the defensive snaps in Indianapolis last year.

    The 32-year-old would be an instant boon to any pass rush, and his versatility to rush from the line or stand up all over formations should intrigue plenty of teams. 

Melvin Ingram, Edge

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    Doug Murray/Associated Press

    Melvin Ingram isn't Ryan Kerrigan or Justin Houston, but he has the potential to perform like them in a new home if he can stay healthy. 

    Ingram, 32, appeared in only seven games last year and had two different stints on injured reserve. He also missed three games the year prior, snapping a four-season streak of full 16-game campaigns.

    Ingram didn't tally a sack during last year's injury-marred season, but he finished with a 72.3 PFF grade. That's right in line with his 2019 grade of 74.7, where he got in on 69 percent of the Los Angeles Chargers' defensive snaps and managed seven sacks. 

    Ingram had hit the seven-sack threshold in five straight seasons before falling short last year. However, his play last year hinted that he's still effective when his body holds up.

    That makes him a high-upside, low-risk addition for a defense in need, which would explain why the Kansas City Chiefs were sniffing around him in March, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport

Russell Okung, OT

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    David Berding/Associated Press

    Offensive tackle Russell Okung is on the downswing of his career and struggled to stay healthy last year, too.  

    But he is starter material if he can stay on the field with his new team. 

    A calf injury limited Okung to only seven games with the Carolina Panthers last year. He posted a 73.0 PFF grade over 406 snaps, allowing three sacks.

    The 32-year-old veteran hasn't played more than 39 percent of his team's offensive snaps since 2018. But in that season with the Los Angeles Chargers, he played 866 snaps and allowed only three sacks, which earned him a 78.4 PFF grade. 

    It's unclear whether Okung can remain healthy enough to be a reliable contributor. He'll likely have to settle for a one-year, prove-it deal, which would make him a great value since he's a starting-caliber player.

K.J. Wright, LB

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Considering how productive and reliable K.J. Wright has been throughout his career, it's surprising to see him still on the open market.

    Wright isn't a flashy pass-rusher who posts big pressure numbers and commands top dollar. But he's been a steady presence in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks since 2011 and has only missed a big chunk of a season once (2018). 

    In his age-31 campaign last year, Wright finished with 86 total tackles, a pair of sacks, 10 passes defensed and one interception, which was good for a 75.3 PFF grade. He played in all 16 games and 86 percent of Seattle's defensive snaps.

    Wright isn't slowing down much, which means he isn't coming off the field often, either. Between that and his consistent production, he'd be an immense value for whichever team manages to sign him.

Richard Sherman, CB

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Richard Sherman was one of the best defenders of his generation. The five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 as part of the fearsome Legion of Boom secondary. 

    However, the 33-year-old played only five games last season and allowed a 72.4 percent completion rate in his coverage, which was his highest mark in three years.

    Although a calf injury hampered him in 2020, he missed only three games across the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. He's played at least 14 games in eight of his 10 NFL seasons, which should appeal to teams in need of reinforcements at cornerback.

    In 2019, Sherman appeared in 15 games and was mostly his usual self. He earned a 88.9 PFF grade by allowing only 27 catches on 51 targets with three interceptions. 

    Sherman's age and recent injury likely explains his extended stay on the market. But whichever team eventually lands him should be getting a steal.


    All statistics via Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.