2021 NFL Free Agency - Best Remaining Players
For a league that never sleeps, mid-May to mid-June sure feels like a month-long snooze button for the NFL. After a frenzied free agency period followed by a calamitous draft, the current lull in the football calendar will dissipate thanks to 29 of 32 teams beginning training camp on July 27th. As depth charts begin to take shape and inevitable injuries occur, teams will look to further augment their rosters over the next coming months. Plenty of veteran free agents, from those with concrete Hall of Fame arguments to niche players, remain available and will find new squads soon. Let’s get you through the last few days of football’s dead period by taking a look at the best remaining free agents below.
Richard Sherman, Cornerback, 33 years old
The ever-loquacious defensive back is the best free agent still on the market and the one player available that would put a team notably closer to a Super Bowl appearance. Sherman declared in April that he would wait until after the 2021 NFL Draft to sign with a team so it remains little surprise that he hasn’t inked a deal with a new suitor as of yet. Following an injury-plagued 2020 season (a common theme throughout this article) that saw him play in just five games, the 33-year-old future Hall of Famer will certainly have his doubters. However, in 2019 Sherman bounced back from Achilles surgery to reclaim his spot among the top cornerbacks in the game and teams will be swayed by his tape from two seasons ago.
Along with the offensive line, cornerback remains the biggest hole for many teams – especially contenders. In a pass-heavy league, no team can have enough corner depth and plenty of teams don’t even have two competent starting corners. Though Sherman isn’t the most scheme versatile player at this point in his career, multiple teams have an interest in him and he will likely sign with a contender in the coming weeks. The 49ers remain weak at the position, though a reunion with Seattle or a move further south are the most probable outcomes.
Potential Fits: Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, Las Vegas Raiders, San Francisco 49ers
Mitchell Schwartz, Offensive Tackle, 32 years old
With the constant lack of competent offensive lineman in the league, any offensive tackle with a pulse is sure to draw interest. Schwartz has been significantly better than just competent, and though he’s coming off a season in which back injuries limited him to just six games he started every game from 2012-2019. A key cog in an offensive line that contributed greatly to the Kansas City Chiefs’ 2020 championship (Schwartz wasn’t responsible for a single sack in over 1,000 snaps) his track record has been very solid.
Though offensive line play can be hard to quantify, Pro Football Focus’ WAR rates Schwartz as the third most valuable offensive tackle since 2012 and grades him as the fifth-best tackle since 2019. The Chiefs have overhauled their offensive line this offseason and already spent significant financial and draft capital on their bookends, effectively nixing a return to Kansas City for Schwartz. Assuming his medicals check out, Schwartz is an intriguing fallback option for a team that realizes an upgrade at right tackle is necessary for a sustained playoff push or loses one to injury before the season starts.
Potential Fits: Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos
Geno Atkins, Defensive Tackle, 33 years old
Loyalty in the National Football League is a fickle beast as it may provide you with financial security but minimal team success. Atkins spent all 11 years with the Cincinnati Bengals as the fourth-rounder racked up eight Pro Bowl berths and two first-team All-Pro selections as the best player on an anonymous franchise at a position devoid of glory (though the transcendental Aaron Donald may soon change that). Once a true force of nature, Atkins is now merely a thunderclap – still a force to be reckoned with when surrounded by the right elements but hardly someone for offenses to fear on his own.
No longer a dominant interior pass rusher, Atkins played in just eight games last season and started none. Providing value as a part-time interior rusher and a strong locker room presence, Atkins will have no shortage of suitors. While landing spot speculation can be wildly overblown, this does feel like a situation where Atkins ends up signing with a legitimate Super Bowl contender looking to bolster their defensive tackle spot.
Potential Fits: Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns
Melvin Ingram, Edge Rusher, 32 years old
The 3x Pro Bowler has seen his play begin to decline over the past three seasons and has played just 20 of a possible 32 games over the past couple of years. At this stage of his career, he no longer has the upside to be the primary pass rusher on a team and fits in best as a complementary piece to an elite pass rusher or as a rotational pass rusher and an impressive depth piece. With minimal interest in free agency, a reunion with the Chargers isn’t out of the question – and neither is a union with the other Bosa brother or a move within the AFC West.
Potential Fits: Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Las Vegas Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs
K.J. Wright, Linebacker, 31 years old
The perennially underrated Wright is coming off of the most productive season of his decade-long tenure with the Seattle Seahawks and proved he had a lot left in the tank. As the only player with double-digit pass deflections and double-digit TFLs in 2020, Wright’s impact was felt all over the field as he started all 16 games. Seattle has high hopes for sophomore Darrell Taylor at SAM, meaning a reunion with Wright is likely not in the cards. Wright looks to fit best as a short-term fix and veteran presence for a team needing additional depth and security in their linebacking corps.
Potential Fits: Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, Los Angeles Chargers