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Winner of 2021 NFL free agency

Date: March 31, 2021

By: Louie Pasculli

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Jose M. Orio/Chicago Tribune

March 16 came and went, meaning the free agency window is officially open for all 32 teams. As the clock struck 12:00 p.m., teams were free to begin negotiations with the agents of players who are fresh on the market. Some teams used their finances extremely well while others were complacent in improving their squad. Here are two winners and two losers from the early stages of free agency.

 

Winner: New England Patriots

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David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots wasted no time in singing a plethora of players in the opening portion of free agency. Possessing more than $70 million in free cap room, the Patriots made a bunch of notable signings; five of which were offensive players and four of which were defensive players. I’ll begin by outlining the moves and break down the Patriots record money spent in free agency.

 

Two of the five offensive players were tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. Both players received a nice payday for inking a deal. Smith signed a four-year $50 million deal and Henry inked a three-year $37.5 million deal, making them the third and fourth highest paid tight ends in the NFL respectively. Another offensive acquisition the Pats secured on Tuesday was tackle Trent Brown. Ranked as the fourth best tackle according to Pro Football Focus, the 29-year-old agreed to restructure his contract after being traded to the Patriots. He will be making $11 million in 2021 which is an absolute steal for a lineman of his caliber.

 

Wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne round out the notable signings on the offensive side of the ball. Former Eagle and Raider, Agholor agreed on a 2-year $26 million contract. Kendrick Bourne who used to play for the 49ers is now a Patriot after singing a three-year $22.5 million contract. The Patriots definitely overpaid for these two players, but anyone who watched a Patriot’s game last year could tell they needed someone… anyone at WR to help out struggling QB Cam Newton.

 

The notoriously dominant Patriot’s defense of yesteryear was not as high powered in 2020. That will quickly change as the Pats acquired at least one player at all three levels of the defense. Beginning with the D-line, NT Davon Godchaux and DE Henry Anderson are fantastic additions to a previously lackluster line. Anderson took a massive pay cut after not being resigned by the New York Jets and Godchaux was signed to a very reasonable two-year $8 million contract after not being resigned by the Dolphins. Moving to the linebacker position, Matthew Judon signed a hefty contract totaling $14 million per year. The Pats were happy to pay him due to their thin linebacking core and Judon’s prior performance on the Ravens.

 

Finally, former Eagle Jalen Mills is a New England Patriot making $6 million per year. The Patriots secondary is never lacking talent and even with an underwhelming performance from the D last year, that secondary was a bright spot for the Pats. The addition of Mills will ensure the high level of play continues from corners and safeties. Why are the Patriots winners?

 

To put it simply, they maximized free cap space and inked an abundance of players. The Patriots not only signed a ton of players but addressed their needs and made signings based off their findings. Additionally, these players aren’t just run in the mill as most of them will have immediate impact when the 2021 season kicks off. This is one of the best of seasons a team has had in recent memory and do not be surprised if the patriots retake control of the AFC East next year. They had money and used it, something the next team listed failed to do.

 

Loser: Jacksonville Jaguars

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Picture this; you are the general manager of the youngest team in the NFL. You have the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and the best quarterback prospect since 2012 is destined to go first overall. You have just as much cap room as the New England Patriots. What are you going to do as GM? If you couldn’t think of anything off the top of your head congratulations, you did about as much as the Jaguars have done this free agency.

 

Now, before I berate their offseason moves, or lack thereof, I must analyze the few moves they have done. The Jaguars have made three significant moves thus far. The first of the three was to franchise tag offensive lineman Cam Robinson. This move is alright because Cam Robinson has been with the team since being drafted by them in the second round in the 2017 NFL Draft. He plays left tackle and finding a solid blindside tackle in the NFL is not an easy task. However, Robinson is average at best and committed five penalties and allowed five sacks in 2020 which is good for 19th and 12th, respectively. As a result of the franchise tag, the Jaguars are now paying a mediocre tackle about $14 million to protect the most anticipated QB prospect in almost 10 years.

 

If they Jags are willing to pay that much for an O-lineman, I believe they should have gone out and traded for one or really made a push a player such as Trent Brown. However, this will be Robinson’s fifth year with the team and again, finding a solid left tackle in the league is rather hard to come by so the move isn’t all bad. The next two moves that were made this offseason was signing veteran RB Carlos Hyde and veteran WR Marvin Jones Jr. Both players are valuable to have to the roster and neither of the 31-year-olds are being paid an exorbitant amount of money for their services.

 

Additionally, they will surely help the young offense adjust to the NFL. Hyde will be a solid backup for the Jags and serve as a mentor for breakout running back James Robinson. Jones Jr. is going to be a steady pass catcher in a receiving core that is in the bottom half of the league. I like these acquisitions more than the franchise tagged left tackle, but they are underwhelming. Why are the Jaguars losers? Exactly that… underwhelming offseason.

 

With an estimated 70 million dollars in cap room, the Jaguars seemed stingy in spending their absurdly high amount of money. I don’t think the Jaguars needed to emulate the Patriots to have a successful offseason, but I expected more from the organization. This is especially true when taking the number one overall pick into consideration. As previously mentioned, NFL experts are very confident in Trevor Lawrence’s ability in succeeding at the next level. I’m sure people would love to see this, but I don’t know how it’s going to transpire with the Jaguars being unable to adequately provide him with enough help on offense or improve a 31st ranked defense.

 

Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Is Tom Brady really playing another year? No, he’s playing two. Defending Superbowl champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Brady to a two-year $50 million dollar contract that keeps him in “Tompa Bay” until 2022. So what? They can’t keep all of their pieces together for another title run… right? Well, The Bucs began by franchise tagging WR Chris Godwin who will make nearly $16 million in 2021. The Buccaneers are paying a top five wide receiver top five wide receiver money, so this price tag is perfect.

 

Then, the Brady contract was signed and shortly thereafter, Rob Gronkowski signed a one year $8 million dollar contract with the Bucs. Linebackers Shaquille Barrett and Levante David both signed multi-year deals with the Buccaneers. Barret’s deal is a four-year $68 million dollar deal with only $5 million in total due at the end of 2021. David signed a contract which entails him receiving only $3 million this year, but a whopping $14 million or more next year.

 

Along the way, the Bucs resigned some offensive and defensive lineman such as Donavon Smith and Ndamukong Suh, and then resigned veteran RB Leonard Fournette. The fact that Tampa Bay was able to keep majority of the players that were destined to be free agents is astonishing. Essentially, they did exactly what the Patriots did. The only difference was instead of signing players in the market, it was with players that played in Tampa last year. I’m sure this is going to be a cap nightmare as all of these players warrant a ton of money going forward, but as of right now, the Buccaneers are all in on the “win now” mentality. Why are the Buccaneers winners?

 

Last year, the Buccaneers had one of the most talented 53-man rosters on paper and they were able to keep pretty much everything and everyone intact for another shot at a title. They have one of the greatest QB’s of all time in Brady leading a top five offense in the NFL. Being able to retain both Levante David and Shaquille Barret is huge for the Bucs as they are among the best linebackers in the NFL. Coached by the coolest cat in football Bruce Arians, this is a team that definitely made the most out of their finances and kept the necessary pieces together in order to be in a position to wreak havoc in 2021.

 

Again, they are most likely going to be so far over the cap after this next season that it is going to take an immense number of finagling finances to bring them back to Earth. Needless to say, this Buccaneers team is going to look very scary next year which is the polar opposite of the next team on the list.

 

Loser: Chicago Bears

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Da Bears. Unfortunately for Chicago natives, their beloved football team hasn’t made any moves in free agency that are significant enough to produce better results in 2021. I’ll outline the moves that were made by the organization during free agency and describe why I placed them in the loser’s category. The first thing the Bears did was franchise tag Allen Robinson II. The first thing Robinson II did was take to Twitter and like tweets that belittle the franchise tag.

 

He also stated, “I think I can get a long-term deal on 31 other teams…”

 

Now, paying a top-10 receiver in the NFL $17 million dollars for only one year is actually not a bad move by any means. I’m more concerned that because the Bears and A-Rob didn’t reach a long-term deal, if the Bears aren’t in the Super Bowl this year, it may be Robinson’s last year on the team. Regardless, Robinson II is still going to be a pass catcher for the Bears until at least the end of the season and he will still be catching passes from Nick Foles or Mitchell Tri- no it looks like Andy Dalton is going to be the Bears “QB 1” when 2021 kicks off.

 

The 33-year-old veteran quarterback better known by some as “The Red Rifle” will take the reigns as the starting QB. Chicago thought Dalton, who has only thrown for more than 3,500 yards three times in his career, was the man for the job and signed him to a one-year deal. This prompted the Bears social media team to post a picture of Dalton edited into a Bears unform with only the characters “QB 1” as the caption. Dalton will be throwing to Robinson or handing it off to Damien Williams. I actually like this move because I think Williams provides the offensive with more versatility when paired with David Montgomery or Tarik Cohen.

 

Then on the defensive side of the ball, the Bears released cornerback Kyle Fuller and signed cornerback Desmond Trufant to a one-year deal. This doesn’t do much for the unit as a whole as one above average corner is replacing another. It begs the question; Why are the Bears losers?

 

These moves aren’t great, and I can’t see the Bears elevating their game from mediocrity to being a real contender in 2021. The Bears did more replacing then improving. First off, I do not believe Andy Dalton is destined to lead Chicago to the promised land and immediately be leaps and bounds better then Trubiski or Foles. He is only a very small step up, if at all, to the two aforementioned quarterbacks and there is the huge risk of him not playing at a high level that comes with signing Dalton.

 

Additionally, the Bears did not provide Dalton any help in the receiving department outside of Robinson II as Darnell Mooney and Anthony Miller are the number two and three wide receivers. As for the 14th-ranked defense in 2020, Kyle Fuller was a big part of the ranking and now he plays for the Denver Broncos. Desmon Trufant is coming off an underwhelming season and will look to bounce back in 2021. Much like Dalton, there is a chance he doesn’t play to the standards the Bears would like him to and then the move looks very questionable. I don’t think these free agency signings have put the Bears in a good enough position to compete with the Packers in the NFC North, let alone advancing further than that.

Louie Pasculli can be reached at louis.paculli@student.shu.edu.

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