NFL 2021 Free Agency: Ranking of the Five Best and Worst Signings of the Offseason

A week after the NFL’s free agency in 2021, most of the big names available – and many of the smaller ones – have found new homes or re-signed with acquaintances for the upcoming season. Despite salary restrictions stemming from losses related to the pandemic, dozens of teams handed out millions in lucrative deals to kick off their respective off-seasons. But which of the many transactions that have been posted since the opening of free agency stands out as smart … or not so smart? We are glad you asked.

Here is a writer’s take on five of the best and worst 2021 NFL free agency moves:

Top 5 free agent moves of 2021

1. Buccaneers re-sign OLB Shaquil Barrett

Contract: 4 years, $ 68 million
By year: $ 17 million

This is an absolute steal by the Bucs. Barrett is 28 with 27.5 sacks in two years with Tampa Bay, and he could have approached $ 20 million a year on the open market. Instead, Todd Bowles can keep his best passing runner for a Super Bowl encore, and Barrett can remain in a familiar system that guided his escape.

2. Chiefs sign OL Joe Thuney

Contract: 5 years, $ 80 million
By year: $ 16 million

Kansas City is paying a penny for a lineman who will play primarily indoors. In fact, if he stays in the left guard, he will be the highest paid there by a mile, averaging $ 4.5 million more per year than Andrus Peat of the Saints, who was overpaid. Still, protecting Patrick Mahomes is key, and Thuney can play literally every position in the trenches. If you’re going to spend a lot, do it in advance.

3. The Giants sign WR Kenny Golladay

Contract: 4 years, $ 72 million
By year: $ 18 million

Is this a lot of money for a guy who missed 11 games in 2020? Of course. But let’s not act like the Giants don’t have an urgent need for a No. 1 WR, which Golladay has definitely been in when he was healthy. General manager Dave Gettleman may be easy to criticize, but this bet is admirable. Golladay is only 27 years old, he can win at any point and it will be a huge boost for Daniel Jones.

4. Browns sign S John Johnson III

Contract: 3 years, $ 33.75 million
By year: $ 11.25 million

Cleveland has been seeking safety help for years. At Johnson, he’s landing this year’s best young free agent at a below-market price. Along with a secondary that should be healthier in 2021, he has a chance to be a game anchor for the Browns defense early on. Don’t look now, but Cleveland’s defensive backfield could be really good.

5. Jets sign WR Corey Davis

Contract: 3 years, $ 37.5 million
By year: $ 12.5 million

Some think New York overpaid here, considering Davis hasn’t necessarily lived up to his first-round pedigree. But its track record suggests that it offers even more advantages than, say, JuJu Smith-Schuster. He just turned 26, has been rock solid for three years, and instantly brings credibility to a Jets offense that lacked it.

Honorable mention:

Five worst free agent moves in 2021

1. Bears sign QB Andy Dalton

Contract: 1 year, $ 10 million
By year: $ 10 million

This has nothing to do with money, but has nothing to do with the implications. Dalton’s $ 10 million salary basically makes him a highly paid endorsement, but he’s apparently already been told it will start in 2021, which … ouch! Is it an improvement on Nick Foles? Maybe. But even Mitchell Trubisky would have offered more perks for crying out loud. Unless Chicago combines this with a surprise trade (Sam Darnold?) Or a quarterback addition early in the draft, it will likely cement the Bears into another year of fringe disputes.

2. Bengals signs DE Trey Hendrickson

Contract: 4 years, $ 60 million
By year: $ 15 million

Hendrickson’s profile is promising: He is 26, excelled in the Saints’ strong defense and is fresh off a 13.5-sack breakout. The problem is, the Bengals only added him because they let Carl Lawson, their own up-and-coming hometown, walk for less total money. Hendrickson may prove to be a good early lead presence, but the resource allocation here demands that he be excellent.

3. Giants sign CB Adoree ‘Jackson

Contract: 3 years, $ 39 million
By year: $ 13 million

If you’re still upset that you didn’t criticize Gettleman for throwing cash at Golladay, you’ll find relief here. Jackson is an intriguing find, just 25 years old and extremely athletic, and he will make the Giants defense better against James Bradberry. But lately he’s been far from long-lasting, with New York paying him almost as much as Bradberry ($ 14.5 million), Marcus Peters ($ 14 million) and Xavien Howard ($ 15 million).

4. Jaguars sign CB Shaquill Griffin

Contract: 3 years, $ 40 million
By year: $ 13.3 million

This is eerily similar to Jackson and the Giants. Griffin isn’t necessarily a bad bet on its own. He is only 25 years old, has shone in his prime and will almost certainly improve the Jaguars secondary. But this is why free agency rarely pays off: the market dictates overpayments. For Griffin to live up to this deal, he will have to be very close to blocking material on a rebuilding team.

5. Jaguars sign S Rayshawn Jenkins

Contract: 4 years, $ 35 million
By year: $ 8.75 million

The annual cost isn’t outrageous until you consider you’re in the same ballpark as Jordan Poyer ($ 9.75 million) and Malcolm Jenkins ($ 8 million). Not disrespectful to Rayshawn, who shined as a versatile piece for the Chargers, but wasn’t there another way to use $ 35 million in Jacksonville? Yes, the Jags were desperate for safety help, but why not give it to John Johnson or find a real left tackle?

Honorable mention:

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