Outkick’s Official NFL 2021 NFC Free Agency Preview

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The most exciting time of year for fans of bad football teams is fast approaching, as free agency in the NFL is upon us once again.

Fans look over lists of what players are available, with the hopes and dreams that their favorite squads will pick up players who can impact their rosters right away.

Now most of the time, those wants and needs never get met, but there have been plenty of times when players do join new teams and those teams improve greatly.

This year, the 2021 NFL free agency period will open when the new league year starts at 4 p.m. ET on March 17th, and you can bet that with the amount of quality players out there that will be available it will be ‘must see TV’ on St.Patty’s Day.

We’ll start with the NFC teams and what’s needed, give some predictions as to what players may go where, and also what squads will push to make their teams better for 2021.

Let us start with the NFC East, a division that was – to say the least – bad in 2020.

2020 NFC East Standings

Washington 7-9
NY Giants 6-10
Dallas 6-10
Philadelphia 4-11-1

Best NFC East Free Agent – Dallas QB Dak Prescott: The opportunity to score a 28-year-old franchise quarterback is something that most teams that are looking for long term stability cannot pass up.

Prescott and the Cowboys seem to have this ‘love/hate’ relationship going. One day, it seems evident that they will finally come to a deal, and the next day there’s rumors that there’s no way that Dallas will pay the quarterback $40 million, which has been the rumor since last year.

What Does New York Do at the D-Line Spot? – The Giants have two very good players on their defensive line who are set to be free agents, but if you’re looking at Dalvin Tomlinson and Leonard Williams, there’s no question that Tomlinson is the player New York needs to lock up for 2021 and beyond.

Tomlinson, 26, set career bests in sacks (11.5), tackles for loss (14), and quarterback hits (30) in 2020. Look for New York to do whatever they can to get Tomlinson under contract. Their offense is another story. They were one of the worst in 2020.

The Eagles Are in a Quandary – ‘Fly Eagles Fly’ is going to be tough this offseason as the club is right up against the cap, and unless they are willing to make some moves that will open up their pocketbooks, they are going to have to be creative in free agency.

They already made one move in trading QB Carson Wentz to the Colts, which basically gives the starting position to second-year QB Jalen Hurts. That is a huge risk, considering Hurts has played in fewer than five games.

Howie Roseman enters his 21st season as Eagles GM, and he’s seen it all over the last two decades, which means he’ll have to talk potential free agents into coming aboard.

Who Will Be the Starting QB in D.C. to Start 2021? – Earlier this week, Washington dumped veteran QB Alex Smith, who went 5-1 down the stretch to help WFT win the East on the final night of the regular season. Right now, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, and Steven Montez are the three listed QBs on the team’s depth chart, which means this franchise needs to go grab a QB either in free agency or the draft.

Other Big Name NFC East Free Agents:

DL Dalvin Tomlinson – Giants
DL Leonard Williams – Giants
G Dalvin Tomlinson – WFT
CB Ronald Darby – WFT
QB Andy Dalton – Cowboys
CB Chidobe Awuzie – Cowboys

2020 NFC North Standings

Green Bay 13-3
Chicago 8-8
Minnesota 7-9
Detroit 5-11

Best NFC North Free Agent – Chicago WR Allen Robinson: The 27-year-old is had 102 catches last season for 1,250 yards and six scores. Robinson is set to enter his prime, and there’s no doubt that he’s going to get plenty of interest from a number of teams that are looking for a top-flight wide receiver.

The Bears need a quarterback, so to put the cart before the horse and ink a wide out before a QB isn’t a smart move. So Chicago will either franchise Robinson or allow him to walk.

Is Green Bay RB Aaron Jones Heading for the Franchise Tag? – Packers GM Brian Gutekunst wouldn’t rule out the possibility of using the franchise tag on Jones when speaking to reporters, and Green Bay’s run game really revolves around Jones and his ability to have big games.

Over The Cap’s latest projections has the franchise tag for running backs sitting at a little over $8 million, which is solid for a player in Jones’ shoes. This last season, Jones put up 1,104 yards and nine scores, and his run style fits the Pack perfectly, so expect Green Bay to do whatever they can to get him to stick around.

Is Anthony Harris On His Way Out in Minnesota? – The Vikings have a number of needs on their 2021 roster, including the guard position, which means that keeping Anthony Harris is going to be tough.

Minnesota is currently 2-4 mil over the cap, so they will need to figure out what to do in order to sign the players and positions they need.

Harris has played at a high level as a starter the last few seasons, and after a six-pick season in 2019, he was shut out of the interception department in 2020. Despite all that, it would be great to see him return to Minnesota, but it’s a longshot based on money and the teams that are likely to offer the safety.

Will the Lions’ New Look Draw Any Big Name Free Agents? – New coach Dan Campbell and new quarterback Jared Goff have the Lions looking like a very different team, and the club has a number of potential cap casualty candidates, including Desmond Trufant, Justin Coleman, Nick Williams and Danny Shelton.

Right now, the Lions sit with about $9 mil in cap space and are working on their roster to open up more space that could help when it comes to signing players.

The team needs defensive tackles, wide outs and linebackers if they are ever going to compete with the likes of the Packers and Bears.

Other Big Name NFC North Free Agents:

WR Kenny Golladay – Lions
C Corey Linsley – Packers
WR Marvin Jones – Lions
Edge Romeo Okwara – Lions
OT Rick Wagner – Packers
Edge Everson Griffen – Lions

2020 NFC South Standings

New Orleans 12-4
Tampa Bay 11-5
Carolina 5-11
Atlanta 4-12

Best NFC South Free Agent – Tampa Bay WR Chris Godwin: Four years ago when the Bucs drafted Godwin, they were hoping that he would develop into a solid No. 1 or No. 2 receiver, and he’s proven his worth in a big way. Godwin made a name for himself this past season with 65 grabs for 840 yards and seven scores.

He was actually better number wise in 2019, making 86 grabs for 1,333 yards and nine TDs. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport says that it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Bucs franchise Godwin, and with a Super Bowl ring and a guy named Brady throwing him the ball, it would be smart for Godwin to stick around in Tampa unless he gets blown away by a deal from another team.

If Brees Leaves, is the Saints Dynasty Over? – Twenty years in the NFL is a long time, and no one would blame future HOF QB Drew Brees if he called it a career. He’s got a ton of NFL records, a Super Bowl ring, and will go down as one of the best QBs of all-time. The question now is what is Brees thinking?

If he decides to walk away, the Saints need a quarterback, and Jameis Winston is one QB that the team likes, but he is reportedly getting love from other teams, so the Saints would be in a bidding war for his services. Then there is Taysom Hill, who got a taste as a starter last year and was okay, but it’s asking a lot to put the entire offense in his hands.

It might be time to blow up this team, which is more than $75 million over the salary cap as free agency starts if Brees calls it a career.

Will Year Two of the Matt Rhule Era Be Better in Carolina? – The Panthers were an early surprise in the NFC South, but the bottom dropped out. The team struggled and eventually finished 5-11.

The team needs more playmakers, and there have been rumors that the Cats are going to make a big push for unhappy Texans QB Deshaun Watson. They would have to cut some players and create space to bring him in though. If they can do that, they immediately become a top team again in the NFC South. If Watson is out of reach, the team needs to decide if Teddy Bridgewater is worth another year, or if they are going to draft a QB or make a trade to bring one in.

No matter, this team has a number of tough decisions to make.

Can Arthur Smith Get the Falcons Back to Being Competitive? – The Falcons are another team that blew everything up in 2020 after a rough season, and they are hoping their new coach, former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, can get this team back to form in the South.

Atlanta started 0-5 but then won three of four to show again they have playmakers. They also need to figure out if they are going to franchise safety Keanu Neal. The 25-year-old was good last season, even though he played in only four games in 2019 due to injury.

In 15 games, Neal posted 100 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, two pass deflections and an interception. Expect him to be back with the franchise tag, and for this team to start being competitive again in the NFC South.

Other Big Name NFC South Free Agents:

LB Lavonte David – Bucs
S Marcus Williams – Saints
Edge Shaquil Barrett – Bucs
WR Antonio Brown – Bucs
QB Jameis Winston – Saints
WR Curtis Samuel – Panthers

2020 NFC West Standings

Seattle 12-4
Los Angeles Rams 10-6
Arizona 8-8
San Francisco 6-10

Best NFC West Free Agent – San Francisco OT Trent Williams: Williams was the 4th overall pick in 2010 by Washington and played his whole career in D.C. before playing in 2020 for the 49ers. Williams is as solid as any OL in the league, but he’s going to get plenty of looks from other teams in free agency. He’s 32 years old, so some feel he’s had better days, but he’s still going to get a lot of play around the league as free agency gets going.

How Serious Is the Tension with Russell Wilson and the Hawks Coaching Staff? – A lot has been made over the last month about Russell Wilson not being happy with how things are going in Seattle, but at the end of the day, he’s still one of the best QBs in the league when playing at a high level. This past season, he threw for 4,212 yards with 40 touchdowns and 13 picks and a QB rating of 105.1.

Expect the Hawks and Wilson to work to get on the same page and for Wilson to finally be happy. He and the coaching staff just need to be more in sync with the game plan on a weekly basis.

How Do the Cardinals Deal with 33 Impending Free Agents? – Talk about a lot of work to do. The Cardinals have to figure out how to take a bad cap situation and 33 free agents and put a competitive team on the field that they are hopeful can win double digit games.

Arizona’s biggest priority is Haason Reddick, but he’s not going to be easy to bring back with all the free agents already on the roster. The team also has to ink their draft picks and hopefully sign some of their younger players to longer deals.

Let the Matthew Stafford Era Begin – When the Rams decided to pull the trigger on moving Jared Goff to the Lions for Matthew Stafford, they felt they were getting a veteran quarterback who was ready to come in and be a star.

Stafford is anxious to become a star in L.A., and given the time and playmakers, he might be ready to finally be the QB that many have waited to see while he’s been stuck in Detroit the last 12 seasons.

The Rams won 10 games with Goff in 2020, and they expect to be even better in 2021 with Stafford and company ready to be a dark horse in the NFC.

Other Big Name NFC West Free Agents:

S Joe Johnson – Rams
CB Shaquill Griffin – Seahawks
Edge Leonard Floyd – Rams
RB Chris Carson – Seahawks
CB Troy Hills – Rams

Written by Matt Loede

Matt has been a part of the Cleveland Sports landscape working in the media since 1994 when he graduated from broadcasting school. His coverage beats include the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Cavaliers. He's written three books, and won the "2020 AP Sports Stringer Lifetime Service Award."

One Comment

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  1. Hey Matt,
    If Dak gets the franchise tag again, which is likely, it’s worth $37.68MIL…so he’s in the driver’s seat as far as straight pay…but of course everybody wants security and guaranteed future money. Dak’s franchise tag last year paid him $31.40MIL btw.

    Sorry Matt…an aside to #99: “Hey JJ…how’s the AZ Cards looking to you now, big guy, when you hear their #1 priority is bringing back OLB Hassan Reddick from among 33 free agents. Thinking you guys have a realistic shot at 4th in the NFC West!!! (Oh, right…there’s only 4 teams in the division…my bad.)

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