2021 NFL Free Agency: Wide Receivers
Last week I walked you through the NFL's free agency when it comes to the quarterback position. This week we are keeping things rolling with the wide receivers. It's a great free agent class at the WR position this year which should make for some major changes in the NFL landscape for next year. So let's dive in.
Flash and spectacle are elements every fan and every team crave. And no position delivers this more than wide receivers, whether it’s Tyreek Hill turning a five-yard pass into an electric 90-yard touchdown or DeAndre Hopkins stabbing a one-yard fade route out of the air with his hands that have a seemingly magnetic attraction to the ball. Most importantly, wide receiver play can elevate a bad quarterback to average and push a good quarterback into the upper echelon of the position. This is the strongest free agent wide receiver class in years, and along with a spectacular wide receiver draft class it is certain to shape the offensive hierarchy in the NFL for years to come. Below, I take a look at the premier wide receivers available in free agency along with some polarizing names certain to impact 2021 NFL free agency.
Top Free Agent Wide Receivers:
Allen Robinson – Age: 27; Previous Team: Chicago Bears
Over his first seven years in the NFL, Robinson has caught passes from Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel and Nick Foles – not exactly a competent group of signal callers. Now, part of that (as fans on social media have eagerly reminded him) stems from his decision to choose the Chicago Bears over the Green Back Packers in 2018 and spurning the chance to play with Aaron Rodgers. Robinson has been very vocal about his desire to play with a solid quarterback and be paid handsomely, which greatly shrinks his list of potential destinations. However, Robinson has been very consistent throughout his career and has proven to be a top-10 wide receiver. So he can certainly afford to be choosy with what is likely his last big contract. Unless Chicago trades for Houston Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson, Robinson is surely on his way out of the Windy City.
With so much uncertainty at quarterback for many teams, predicting Robinson’s landing spot this early in free agency is a tricky proposition. I foresee him signing with the Colts, as they are one of the few teams flush with cap space and have a pressing need for a dominant wide receiver. The one prerequisite to this prediction is that Indianapolis makes a move to either trade for the Eagles’ Carson Wentz or move up to take a top rookie quarterback in the draft.
Contract Prediction: Robinson signs a four-year, $80 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts.
Chris Godwin – Age: 24; Previous Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Fresh off of a Super Bowl win, Godwin followed up an utterly dominant 2019 season with another solid, if unspectacular 2020. He missed more than two games in a season for the first time in his career, though he still put up a very solid stat line. Most importantly, he showed legitimate chemistry with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers certainly want Godwin to be part of their future. It should be noted that Brady is under contract for just one more season and that he will be 44 before the start of next season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem positioned for one more championship calibre season before they overhaul their team. Tampa Bay has a plethora of free agents on the defensive side of the ball, including stars Lavonte Davis and Shaquil Barrett that they will be looking to lock up long-term. So, unless Godwin is willing to compromise on the long-term value of his contract, a franchise tag this offseason seems like the most likely outcome for both sides as long-term contract negotiations wait for 2022.
Contract Prediction: Godwin is franchise tagged by the Buccaneers as no long-term deal is finalized (Over the Cap projects the 2021 wide receiver franchise tag to be worth $16,430,000).
Kenny Golladay – Age: 27; Previous Team: Detroit Lions
Kenny Golladay’s 2020 season was one to forget, as various lower body injuries led to him playing in just five games and a weekly “will he or will he not play” saga. However, Golladay’s camp will argue that he should be paid on the merit of his 2019 season, where he played all 16 games and had nearly 1200 yards while leading the league in receiving touchdowns. Golladay is a prototypical number one wide receiver as he has the size at 6’4, 218, speed, ball skills and deep threat ability, to dominate even the best cornerbacks. The Lions are a team in transition, as they have a few young pieces, plenty of veterans and just traded away their franchise quarterback of 12 seasons in Matthew Stafford. At 27 years old, Golladay may still fit into Detroit’s rebuilding timeline, though the new regime likely wants to give the current roster a full season of evaluation before fully committing to Golladay.
Contract Prediction: Golladay is franchise tagged by the Lions as no long-term deal is finalized.
Juju Smith-Schuster – Age: 24; Previous Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Few NFL players have a presence as captivating as Smith-Schuster’s as his social media presence arguably overtook his on-field presence during the 2020 NFL season. After a prolific 2018 season – notably his last season with Antonio Brown – Smith-Schuster’s performance over the last two years has been a disappointment. His ceiling is certainly up there with Golladay’s, but his floor is significantly lower than any of the other previously listed wide receivers. Pittsburgh has been one of the best teams at drafting wide receivers over the past few seasons, and their recent selections of Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool have furthered that trend. Their emergence likely ushers Smith-Schuster out of Pittsburgh, and at just 24 years old his next chapter remains to be written. He fits the New York Jets perfectly, as his personality will flourish in a big market and he will be paid handsomely. The Jets seem likely to enter next season with either Sam Darnold or a rookie at quarterback which, in either case, will give Smith-Schuster an opportunity to form a solid connection with a QB he could play with for years
Contract Prediction: Smith-Schuster signs a three-year, $57 million dollar contract with the New York Jets.
Other Notable Free Agent Wide Receivers:
Will Fuller V – Age: 26; Previous Team: Houston Texans
After rumors abounded of a potential Fuller trade to the Green Bay Packers during the 2020 NFL trade deadline, Fuller surprisingly remained a Texan. He saw his season truncated by a six-game suspension for PEDs (one game of which remains), which was a disappointing end to a year where he stayed healthy and proved his detractors wrong. A spectacular deep threat with game-breaking speed, Fuller is sure to get paid handsomely this offseason. With Houston Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson the subject of legitimate trade rumors and having requested a trade, it’s likely Fuller is on his way out of Houston as well.
Potential Fits: Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Washington Football Team
Curtis Samuel – Age: 24; Previous Team: Carolina Panthers
Under first-year head coach Matt Rhule and new offensive coordinator Joe Brady, Samuel timed his career year beautifully. After being sporadically mentioned in trade rumors the last couple seasons, Samuel had career highs in receptions and yards despite operating as Carolina’s third wide receiver. He proved his worth as a dynamic slot receiver and would fit in well as a number two wide receiver for a team looking for a speedy complementary receiving option.
Potential Fits: Miami Dolphins, Washington Football Team, Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers
Corey Davis – Age: 26; Previous Team: Tennessee Titans
After an up and down first three seasons in the league, Davis finally showed flashes of the talent that made him the fifth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He was an above average outside wide receiver and formed a dynamic duo with the explosive A.J. Brown. Ryan Tannehill had the best season of his career thanks in part to Brown and Davis, who the Titans would love to bring back. However, there will be at least a couple teams that become enamoured with Davis’ number one wide receiver ceiling and it’s unlikely the Titans will have the salary cap space to match their offer.
Potential Fits: Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens, Washington Football Team
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