Ranking the 7 Best Players Who Remain on NFL's 2021 Free-Agent Market

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJune 19, 2021

Ranking the 7 Best Players Who Remain on NFL's 2021 Free-Agent Market

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    We've surfed through several waves of NFL free agency, but many accomplished, talented players remain available.

    We're talking about potential difference-makers, some of whom may be waiting for the right opportunity, some of whom may be lingering while teams play chicken on the verge of training camps. 

    Here are seven in particular who stand out, ranked. 

7. LB K.J. Wright

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Superstar Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner is still holding out hope that his team will bring back veteran free agent K.J. Wright, who was a pillar within that linebacking corps for the last decade. 

    He's about to turn 32, but the 2016 Pro Bowler recorded 132 tackles in 2019 and had 86 more along with two sacks and an interception as a 16-game starter in 2020.

    He's not a future Hall of Famer or anything, but he's durable and consistent. That's extremely valuable in this league. 

    Head coach Pete Carroll said in May the door remained open for Wright to return to Seattle, but Wright told CBS Sports earlier in the offseason that he wouldn't be offering any discounts, and the Seahawks are rather low on salary-cap space. 

    Logical landing spots: Bengals, Chargers, Chiefs, Seahawks

6. OT Russell Okung

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    Tyler Kaufman/Associated Press

    Russell Okung has played just 13 games the last two years, but the 32-year-old two-time Pro Bowler still earned a tremendous 80.0 pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus in 2020, and he took just two holding penalties on 407 snaps

    The lack of recent durability will likely cause Okung to land a one-year, prove-it contract on the free-agent market, and it wouldn't be surprising if he were to wait for the right opportunity and dollar figure. After all, this is a guy who recently tweeted that the Pittsburgh Steelers couldn't afford him before stating he'd like to be paid in Bitcoin. 

    So yeah, he's not taking any old offer that comes his way.

    That said, he's a well-accomplished vet at a key position. Offers have likely already been made, and more should be expected to come now that Trent Williams, Eric Fisher and Alejandro Villanueva are all off the market. 

    Logical landing spots: Panthers, Dolphins, Bears

5. CB Steven Nelson

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    Kirk Irwin/Associated Press

    Veteran cornerback Steven Nelson struggled with seven touchdowns allowed in coverage with the Steelers in 2020, but he surrendered zero scores in 2019. At the age of 28, he's just a couple of years removed from a four-interception campaign with the Chiefs. 

    He has extensive experience both outside and in the slot, and only 10 qualified corners have earned higher grades from Pro Football Focus since the start of the 2019 season. 

    A salary-cap casualty beyond the initial wave of free agency, Nelson appears to be biding his time. ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported in May that 14 teams had expressed interest, but the reality is he might also be waiting for veteran star Richard Sherman to land somewhere first. 

    Whoever does land him will wind up with a durable top-four corner and possibly even a starter for several years to come. 

    Logical landing spots: Falcons, Cowboys, Seahawks, Washington, 49ers

4. Edge Justin Houston

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Justin Houston might not have a whole lot left at age 32, but the four-time Pro Bowler has put up at least eight sacks in each of the last four seasons with the Chiefs and Colts. 

    The key is you can no longer consider him an every-down player after he was on the field for just 59 percent of Indy's defensive snaps despite starting 16 games in 2020. But there's little reason to believe he can't continue to serve as an effective situational pass-rusher for a contending team that has some money to spend on a short-term deal. 

    Besides, he's far from a liability, having missed just four tackles the last two seasons combined.

    Colts owner Jim Irsay said in April the team could bring Houston back, but the club has since used two premium draft picks on edge defenders Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo, so there's a good chance he lands somewhere new in 2021. 

    Logical landing spots: Cowboys, Dolphins, Ravens, Vikings, Chiefs

3. OT Morgan Moses

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    Several respected veteran offensive tackles remain on the market. That includes relatively new arrival Morgan Moses, whose hefty salary was dumped by the Washington Football Team ahead of a walk year as that squad made major changes at the tackle positions. 

    The 30-year-old has never been a Pro Bowler, but he hasn't missed a start since 2014 and doesn't appear to be declining. In fact, he was PFF's sixth-graded qualified right tackle during the highest-graded season of his career in 2020. 

    The 6'6", 330-pounder is a top-of-the-line run-blocker who could start and remain effective for several years to come, ideally for a contender looking for a right tackle to help establish balance and stability on that side of the ball. 

    The problem is Moses might be jockeying with Russell Okung and Mitchell Schwartz, both of whom join him on this list. However, according to ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler, he might be getting close to a deal with the New York Jets.

    Logical landing spots: Dolphins, Broncos, Bears, Titans

2. CB Richard Sherman

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    A calf injury limited Richard Sherman significantly in 2020, but the three-time first-team All-Pro still allowed just 6.9 yards per target in limited action. He's no longer in his prime at 33, but he was a Pro Bowler in his last full season (2019), and his talent and experience still make him a starting-caliber outside corner. 

    Yet he remains unemployed, ostensibly by choice. 

    Sherman has apparently been in talks with the Seahawks, Saints and Raiders, he's been connected to the Cowboys and it looks as though we can't rule out a return to the 49ers. But it seems he's fine with waiting for the right offer.

    "I want to get to a team that's competing for a championship, so that's what I'm focused on and waiting for a right opportunity," he told Bloomberg last week. "When it comes, that's where I'll be."

    Logical landing spots: Cowboys, Seahawks, 49ers, Raiders, Chiefs, Bears, Saints, Titans

1. OT Mitchell Schwartz

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Teams likely want to be sure that veteran offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz is able to recover fully from the back problems that cost him most of the 2020 season and led to offseason surgery. It's the only explanation for why the incredibly reliable and consistent 32-year-old remains unsigned. 

    Schwartz didn't miss a single snap in any of the first seven seasons of his career and didn't miss a start until 2020. He was a first-team All-Pro in 2018, and his 88.3 PFF grade since 2019 ranks fifth among all qualified offensive tackles. 

    In terms of WAR (wins above replacement), only two tackles have been more valuable than Schwartz since he entered the league in 2012. 

    He's remarkably underrated, and if he can get past the back problems that plagued him last year, there's little reason to believe he can't excel for several years to come at a position with a long shelf life. 

    Logical landing spots: Dolphins, Broncos, Bears, Titans

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