Every year there are teams that aggressively attack free agency while some patiently stay back and play the waiting game. Spending big in free agency hasn’t worked all too well recently but if teams want to stay competitive and build their roster they still need to go out and sign at least a few players every year. In order to separate themselves from the rest of the league, good general managers and front offices need to be skilled at navigating the free agency market. They need to go out and find good value signings among the low cost players and avoid making big mistakes by giving out too much money to players who can’t live up to those expectations.
Based on who has managed these signings the best (trades and draft considerations are not really being considered), here are my 5 winners and 5 losers of free agency so far.
5 Winners of Free Agency
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The main goal for the Buccaneers coming into this offseason was certainly to retain as much of their Super Bowl winning team as possible and they did just that. They still need to work out deals for Ndamukong Suh and Antonio Brown but, outside of those two, they will pretty much be returning the same roster plus whoever they end up drafting. They haven’t signed any outside free agents but impressively navigated having three high-profile free agents in Shaquil Barret, Chris Godwin, and Lavonte David. They managed to keep all three, which ultimately earns them the top spot on the list.
- Los Angeles Chargers: One of my favorite things to happen in free agency this year was the attention the Chargers gave to their offensive line. The offensive line was a major weakness for them last season and needed to be addressed. Corey Linsley was a high-end signing that should be relatively low risk as he’s been a steady player for a while now. Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi were under-the-radar signings that should set up the interior of the Chargers offensive line. Both Feiler and Aboushi had breakout seasons last year and will provide significantly more value than they cost if they maintain that level of play with the Chargers. Their free agency moves also set them up well to draft one of the top left tackles in this strong offensive line draft class.
- New York Jets: The Jets were one of the biggest spenders in free agency this year. Being a big spender isn’t always the best thing because lots of risk comes with lots of spending, but in this case the Jets seemed to have gotten good value in their big contracts. Carl Lawson and Corey Davis are the headliners for the Jets, however, both signed for less than many anticipated and both could very easily live up to their contracts with the Jets. The Jets also signed Sheldon Rankins, Jarrad Davis, and Keelan Cole to low-risk deals. Each of those players present varying degrees of potential at a relatively low overall cost.
- Cleveland Browns: The Browns attacked free agency with a good approach and ended up with signings similar to the Jets. They signed some really good players on deals that don’t break the bank and also went after some low-risk, high-reward players. John Johnson and Troy Hill are significant additions for the Browns and came at a good value. Rashard Higgins, Takk McKinley, and Malik Jackson are low-risk signings that could provide some real value to the Browns this season.
- San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers re-signed their top free agent in Trent Williams who was arguably the best free agent available this offseason. They also managed to re-sign a few other players like Jason Verrett and K’Waun Williams at a good cost. They weren’t big spenders but did manage to sign Samson Ebukam and Alex Mack to team friendly contracts, which are typically the kind of deals that end up paying off more than the market-setting deals.
5 Losers of Free Agency
- Houston Texans: The Texans signed a ridiculous amount of players and I’m not sure any of them provide much help this season let alone any real long-term value. They cut JJ Watt and Nick Martin, they lost Will Fuller in free agency, and there are serious allegations surrounding Deshaun Watson. Things are going all wrong for the Texans this offseason and their failure to add any legitimate long-term contributors in free agency will likely make rooting for them a miserable experience for Texans fans going forward.
- Chicago Bears: Andy Dalton is the answer at quarterback? Really? The Bears had to address the quarterback position and that’s the best they could come up with? There are of course reports claiming they went after Russell Wilson, but failing to have a real alternative plan is a significant failure considering there was no indication that the Seahawks ever had interest in trading Wilson. To their credit, they did retain Allen Robinson but didn’t really bring in many outside free agents that look like they will make any significant contributions.
- New Orleans Saints: The Saints had to get under the cap and didn’t have too many different ways to get there, but taking their lumps this season to reset the cap would’ve been a better approach than pushing more money down the road to win now with *Taysom Hill* as their quarterback. They restructured multiple contracts, re-signed a fair number of their own free agents, and even placed the franchise tag on Marcus Williams. These are all fine decisions for the short-term, but with Drew Brees no longer at quarterback I’m not sure the Saints should be taking a short-term approach with this roster.
- Las Vegas Raiders: I’m not sure why the Raiders blew up their offensive line. Whatever the reason, I’m not buying it as a good reason. Taking an area of strength and turning it over for no apparent reason seems like a pretty poor way to build a roster. The free agency period wasn’t all bad for the Raiders however. The signing of Yannick Ngakoue should help their pass rush and the signing of Nick Martin should help rebuild the offensive line they blew up. Kenyan Drake is a confusing signing considering they drafted Lynn Bowden to play a similar role and immediately got rid of him. Maybe a second attempt to fill that role will work?
- Carolina Panthers: The Panthers missed out on making moves to acquire a quarterback and haven’t necessarily set themselves up to be able to get one in the draft. They’ll likely have to trade for one if they want a good one. Not all of this is directly tied to pure free agency moves, but they are related and their free agency moves are uninspiring if their plan is to be aggressive in acquiring a quarterback in the draft. Losing Curtis Samuel is a big loss for whoever ends up being their quarterback and I’m not sure that their free agent signings (Haason Reddick, Morgan Fox, Pat Elflein, etc.) are going to be able to help this team win many more games in 2021.