Predicting Where Top Remaining 2021 NFL Free Agents Will Sign

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2021

Predicting Where Top Remaining 2021 NFL Free Agents Will Sign

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    The game of musical chairs among NFL free agents will continue in the weeks that lead up to training camps.

    Last Friday, the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets claimed two of the top offensive linemen off the market in guard Trai Turner and tackle Morgan Moses, respectively. The Steelers made their move after they released David DeCastro, who may consider retirement because of ankle issues.

    On Saturday, cornerback Steven Nelson posted a series of videos on Twitter to let everyone know he's prepared for the upcoming season.

    Let's play matchmaker and pair eight of the top unsigned veterans with realistic landing spots. We'll connect the dots between each player and a roster need or system fit. DeCastro, a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, isn't included because of his uncertain future.      

DE Everson Griffen: Kansas City Chiefs

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs may need reinforcements at defensive end. According to TMZ Sports, authorities in Los Angeles arrested Frank Clark for felony illegal possession of a firearm.

    Though Clark still has to go through the legal process, the league could suspend him, pending its investigation into the matter. For that reason, the Chiefs may consider a low-cost pass-rusher on the market. Kansas City has $7.9 million in cap space

    Heading into his age-34 term, Everson Griffen isn't an every-down player anymore. In 14 games with the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions last year, he played 528 defensive snaps, making two starts. Still, the veteran pass-rusher logged six sacks and 23 quarterback pressures

    The Chiefs won't have to break the bank for Griffen, who's on the downside of his career but still effective in spurts as an edge-rusher.

    Chris Jones isn't a proven outside pass-rusher, and he'll take some snaps on the perimeter in the upcoming campaign. Taco Charlton hasn't done enough to garner trust in a backup role, logging just 11 sacks in four seasons. Griffen would come in as a known commodity who can make an impact on passing downs.   

RB Todd Gurley II: Seattle Seahawks

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    Tyler Kaufman/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks have several running backs who could become the No. 2 option behind Chris Carson, but those players come with question marks.

    Rashaad Penny has battled injuries through three years, missing 21 contests. He underwent a cleanup procedure on his knee, and the Seahawks kept him out of spring practices.

    Travis Homer, a 2019 sixth-rounder, and DeeJay Dallas, a 2020 fourth-rounder, have fewer than 50 carries on their respective resumes. The former sat out through minicamp because of a calf injury

    Alex Collins generated some buzz during the spring, but he would have a lot to prove in his second stint with the team. The veteran had his best season with the Baltimore Ravens, rushing for 973 yards and six touchdowns in 2017. As a Seahawk, he has just 49 carries for 202 yards and three scores. 

    Todd Gurley II is familiar with new Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, who served as the Los Angeles Rams passing game coordinator between the 2018 and 2020 terms. 

    In 2018 and 2019, Gurley saw a fair number of targets, recording 90 receptions for 787 yards and six touchdowns. Despite his moderate decline in touches over the past few years, he could showcase his pass-catching ability under Waldron again. 

    More importantly, Gurley can complement Carson as a short-yardage ball-carrier. Last season, he averaged 3.5 yards per rushing attempt but logged 45 first downs (tied for 14th among running backs) and eight touchdowns within 10 yards of the goal line.    

DE Justin Houston: Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers saved $8.8 million when they cut David DeCastro. They'll have $12.3 million in cap space once Trai Turner's one-year, $3 million contract goes on the books.

    The Steelers can use their financial resources to acquire arguably the best pass-rusher on the market in Justin Houston. Pittsburgh wouldn't have to place immense pressure on second-year veteran Alex Highsmith to become a high-quality starter opposite T.J. Watt. 

    Houston and Highsmith would compensate for the loss of Bud Dupree, who signed with the Tennessee Titans this offseason.

    Secondly, the Steelers would keep Houston away from the Baltimore Ravens, who hosted him for a visit in April, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. Pittsburgh has more cap space than Baltimore, which would allow general manager Kevin Colbert to outbid a division rival if necessary.

    The Steelers cannot have enough pass-rushers in the AFC North. Houston could help chase down Lamar Jackson, break through Baker Mayfield's stout offensive line and lessen Joe Burrow's time to scan the field for his solid trio of Cincinnati wideouts in Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase.

    Houston recorded 19 sacks over the last two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. With him and Watt, the Steelers would have one of the top edge-rushing duos in the league.     

CB Steven Nelson: Buffalo Bills

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    While quarterback Josh Allen rises to stardom, the Buffalo Bills should go all-in on roster upgrades to increase their chances at a Super Bowl run. They have a solid cornerback tandem in Tre'Davious White and Levi Wallace, but general manager Brandon Beane can replace the latter with a more experienced starting veteran.   

    According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, the Bills are one of 14 clubs interested in Steven Nelson. He would replace Wallace, who's started 35 contests. Buffalo didn't offer Wallace a tender but signed the fourth-year veteran to a one-year deal worth less than the $2.1 million qualifying offer.    

    The Bills don't seem to be tied to Wallace, so no one should be surprised if the front office makes a strong move for Nelson, who hasn't allowed a completion rate above 59 percent in any of the past three campaigns.

    After adding rookie defensive ends Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham, Buffalo can improve its 13th-ranked 2020 pass defense with an upgrade at cornerback. The Bills must make strides in that area if they plan to even the playing field against the Kansas City Chiefs' high-powered attack in a potential playoff matchup.

OT Mitchell Schwartz: Tennessee Titans

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans released Dennis Kelly, who started in all 16 games at right tackle last season. The club signed Kendall Lamm and selected Dillon Radunz in the second round of April's draft.

    As the primary starter at left tackle through three terms at North Dakota State, Radunz may need time to find his footing on the right side. Since 2019, Lamm has started just three games.

    Unless Radunz proves he's ready to start Week 1, Tennessee should add a quality veteran to fill the void at right tackle. 

    Back in February, Mitchell Schwartz underwent back surgery, but he hopes to return healthy for the 2021 campaign. If he's progressed well following the procedure, the 32-year-old could line up for Week 1.

    Tennessee can allow Radunz to develop steadily and avoid using Lamm, a career backup, in a starting role for most of the term. 

    Schwartz made 134 consecutive starts before he went on injured reserve last season. If cleared for activity, he's a reliable tackle who may have a couple of good years left in him.     

CB Richard Sherman: San Francisco 49ers

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers can't seem to shake the injury bug. Over the past decade, they've struggled to stay healthy. During OTAs, safety Tarvarius Moore tore his Achilles, and offensive tackle Justin Skule tore his ACL. The team canceled the remaining spring practices, including mandatory minicamp.

    Clearly, the 49ers didn't want to risk losing more players to injury. Richard Sherman doesn't play safety or tackle, but San Francisco may want to bolster key positions on the roster, especially units with injury-prone starters.

    Unless the 49ers plan to rest Jason Verrett through the summer, they'll likely have some concerns about him on the field. He's suffered multiple season-ending injuries throughout his career and only played in 13 or more contests twice in seven years.

    Verrett hasn't even played through a full season, so the 49ers should have someone available to split snaps with him. As a rookie third-rounder, Ambry Thomas probably needs time to develop into a solid starter. 

    According to Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee, the 49ers have been "in preliminary discussions" with Sherman. In his return to San Francisco, he would solidify a cornerback unit with Emmanuel Moseley and Verrett as the team's top boundary defenders.             

OT Rick Wagner: Chicago Bears

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    The Chicago Bears made major changes at the tackle position, cutting Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie. They selected Teven Jenkins in the second round of this year's draft. He's set to start on the left side, but the unit has a big question mark on the right.

    Germain Ifedi projects as the likely starter opposite Jenkins. The 2016 first-rounder lined up at both spots on the right side last season. Keep in mind, he struggled with penalties as a full-time starting tackle with the Seattle Seahawks between the 2017 and 2019 seasons.

    If Ifedi cannot handle the job, the Bears would have to turn to Elijah Wilkinson, who's started more than seven games once in a season through four years, or rookie fifth-rounder Larry Borom.

    Rick Wagner would be an upgrade over Ifedi, Wilkinson and Borom. He's an eight-year veteran with 96 career starts.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Wagner allowed just one sack in 610 offensive snaps in 2020.

    The Bears should strengthen their offensive line with Andy Dalton slated to start the season. He's not the most mobile quarterback and may struggle to avoid constant pressure. Even if rookie signal-caller Justin Fields takes over at some point, he'll need reliable protection to ease his transition into the pros.   

LB K.J. Wright: Los Angeles Rams

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    Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Rams need a veteran leader in the middle of their defense.

    According to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic, the Rams rotated inside linebacker combinations through OTAs to gauge the collective talent at the position. The group has little starting experience.

    Last season, Micah Kiser moved into a starting role but only suited up for nine games before going on injured reserve with a knee injury. Troy Reeder took his place and played with the first unit for seven outings. He has 15 career starts.

    Through three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and Rams, Kenny Young has opened with the first unit in 12 contests.

    Coming off a campaign with 86 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, two sacks, 10 pass breakups and an interception, K.J. Wright would immediately improve Los Angeles' unit.

    Still able to cover the field sideline to sideline, Wright wouldn't just lead a young group as a mentor. He can perform at a high level and make plays on all three downs to shore up an unsettled position within the defense.

        

    Player salaries and team cap space courtesy of Over the Cap.

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