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10 Best NFL Free Agent Signings From Day 1

Even though the new league year hasn’t started yet, NFL free agency is in full swing. Agents and front offices are doing work behind the scenes to reach agreements, and those agreements will become official on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.

While there’s nothing set in stone yet — at least not for free agents joining new teams — we now know the landing spots for several of the market’s top players. So let’s talk about some of those expected signings.

Below are the top 10 free agent signings from Day 1 of the legal tampering period.

I should note that this doesn’t include players re-signing with their former teams. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers getting Shaq Barrett, Lavonte David and Chris Godwin back is fantastic, but it’s not new. I’m looking at 10 players who are changing teams and should make their new franchise better.

1. Joe Thuney, Offensive Guard

Old team: New England Patriots

New team: Kansas City Chiefs

This is a move that had to happen. After Patrick Mahomes ran for his life in Super Bowl LV because his usual offensive tackles, Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, were injured, the Chiefs chose to release both of them.

That decision was … worrisome, to say the least, but Thuney was one of the top interior offensive linemen available on the market. His presence will go a long way in getting Mahomes the protection that will keep him upright.

2. John Johnson III, Safety

Old team: Los Angeles Rams

New team: Cleveland Browns

I absolutely love this signing. Johnson was widely considered the best safety on the market, and the Browns had a glaring need on the back half of their defense. We’ll be talking a lot about the trio of Johnson, Ronnie Harrison and Grant Delpit in the near future.

Cleveland is already a Super Bowl contender, but they still had a few holes that needed to be addressed. This fills arguably the biggest hole with one of the most intelligent safeties in the league. Johnson will make the entire defense better.

3. Jonnu Smith, Tight End

Old team: Tennessee Titans

New team: New England Patriots

New England’s immediate plan for replacing Rob Gronkowski at tight end was terrible. There weren’t any effective pass-catchers in the group last season, which contributed largely to the offense’s struggles.

Needless to say, they’ve remedied that issue with the signing of Smith. He doesn’t get the love that he deserves, but he should flourish in Josh McDaniels’ offense. Cam Newton has to be thrilled to have more to work with in Year 2 with the additions of Smith, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.

4. Kevin Zeitler, Offensive Guard

Old team: New York Giants

New team: Baltimore Ravens

Marshal Yanda manned the right guard spot for Baltimore for many years. After he retired following the 2019 season, the team struggled to find a suitable replacement. They weren’t going to let that happen again.

Zeitler has familiarity with the AFC North after spending multiple seasons with the Bengals and Browns. Plus, it’s a similar situation to Mahomes in Kansas City. Lamar Jackson is the most elusive quarterback in the NFL, but he needs more consistent protection.

5. Bud Dupree, Edge Player

Old team: Pittsburgh Steelers

New team: Tennessee Titans

The Titans were a playoff team last season, but the defense was a huge liability. The secondary may have been part of the problem, but more consistent pass rush would help mask that. After the Jadeveon Clowney bust, Tennessee took a chance on another edge defender.

Dupree will be bolster the exterior pass rush, and the signing of former Indianapolis Colt Denico Autry will help Jeffery Simmons and that complementary interior pass rush. This addresses the team’s biggest weakness after only 19 sacks in 2020.

6. Corey Linsley, Offensive Center

Old team: Green Bay Packers

New team: Los Angeles Chargers

Justin Herbert has a bright future in the NFL. His immediate success — and probably future success too — will depend heavily on the effectiveness of his pass protection, however. The group wasn’t great in 2020, but almost the entire line is gone.

Maurkice Pouncey retired and Russell Okung, Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney, Sam Tevi, Ryan Grey and Cole Toner are all free agents. Yeah, that’s a lot of volatility, but at least signing Linsley locks in another starter with Bryan Bulaga and newly signed Matt Feiler. It’s a start, I guess.

7. Matthew Judon, Edge Player

Old team: Baltimore Ravens

New team: New England Patriots

New England’s defense was already supposed to be better in 2021. The return of opt outs Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung will boost the unit, and now reinforcements are being added in free agency. Jalen Mills and Davon Godchaux are nice additions, but Judon falls in the great category.

He’s been in back-to-back Pro Bowls even though he’s never had a double-digit sack season. Will he be that double-digit guy with the Patriots? Bill Belichick certainly hopes so, but even the 7-9 sacks and 25-plus QB hits will help. It might not be value, but it’ll help.

8. Yannick Ngakoue, Edge Player

Old team: Baltimore Ravens

New team: Las Vegas Raiders

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: the Raiders made a terrible move when they traded Khalil Mack. Their pass rush has suffered ever since, and it doesn’t look like Clelin Ferrell is going to be the answer. I’m a fan of Maxx Crosby, but more was needed.

This will be Ngakoue’s fourth team in the last year. He was with the Jaguars, Vikings and then Ravens, but at least we can say he was productive with all three. He’s a nice low tier-one/high tier-two pass-rushing option for the Raiders.

9. Corey Davis, Wide Receiver

Old team: Tennessee Titans

New team: New York Jets

Joe Douglas let Robby Anderson walk in free agency following the 2019 season, and Anderson put up a career year (95 catches, 1,096 yards and three touchdowns) in Carolina. That’s got to sting, but maybe Corey Davis can be the correction.

He’s probably never going to be that No. 1 receiver he was drafted to be back in 2017, but he can certainly be an effective No. 2 option. At the very least, he can get the Jets by until they can find a dominant option.

10. Carl Lawson, Edge Player

Old team: Cincinnati Bengals

New team: New York Jets

It seems like the Jets haven’t fielded an effective exterior pass rusher since John Abraham back in the mid-2000s. The front seven already had an emerging pass-rushing star in Quinnen Williams, but they needed a complementary piece.

Lawson fills that void. There are a few unknowns with the Auburn product handling a larger workload, but this has been a huge need for some time now. He’ll take pressure off the offense by consistently applying pressure on defense.

Honorable mentions: Dalvin Tomlinson, Minnesota Vikings; Ronald Darby, Denver Broncos; Nelson Agholor, New England Patriots

Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.

Written by Clint Lamb

Clint Lamb is a College Football Writer for OutKick. Managing Editor for Roll Tide Wire. Sports radio host for The Bullpen on 730/103.9 The UMP. Co-host for The 'Bama Beat podcast through The Tuscaloosa News and TideSports.com.

One Comment

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  1. I think Agholor will be a bust in New England. I think he’s proven he drops way too many passes in cold weather. He played at USC and was really good. He gets drafted to a cold, east coast team(Philly) and could barely catch a ball. He goes to Las Vegas and plays on the west coast and indoors and looks good again…..Now he’s going back to an even colder outdoor team. Good luck with that one New England. Sorry, proof’s in the pudding

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