As the 2021 NFL offseason nears its official kickoff, mock drafts are all the rage. Heck, they're a rage all year round. But all too often, we don't pay enough mind to the fact that an entire free agency period must take place before any rookies have their names called. Most major team needs can't be solved with veteran additions alone, and that could be doubly the case this offseason thanks to a reduced salary cap, but draft priorities can change significantly as a result of which holes are plugged in March.
With that said, we thought it'd be fun to apply the mock draft formula to free agency, which doesn't get its due. What if the veteran market were conducted like the draft, with all 32 teams getting to pick through available players based on their record? What if, instead of bidding with lucrative offers, you could simply "draft" a free agent's rights for the upcoming season? It's nonsensical, we know, but how often is NFL offseason buzz grounded in reality?
Let's exclude the obvious or expected franchise tag recipients (QB Dak Prescott, WR Allen Robinson, WR Kenny Golladay, OT Taylor Moton, DE Carl Lawson, S Justin Simmons) and project how the first round of this free agency draft might unfold:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Chris Godwin
No need to over-draft a veteran QB here. Trevor Lawrence is waiting. Instead, Urban Meyer keeps Godwin in Florida and ensures his soon-to-be rookie signal-caller has an explosive No. 1 pass catcher to grow with.
2. New York Jets: DE Shaquil Barrett
Like the Jags, the Jets can rest assured they'll have a QB in their hands in April. Robert Saleh, meanwhile, gets a young and nasty pass rusher as a key building block for his revamped New York defense.
3. Miami Dolphins: RB Aaron Jones
Trent Williams is awfully enticing here as a surefire blind-side blocker for Tua Tagovailoa, but the Dolphins want play-makers. Jones is exactly that, and he's young enough to be a focal point for the next five years.
4. Atlanta Falcons: DE Trey Hendrickson
Talk about a double whammy. Atlanta knocks out its dire need for edge help and weakens a division rival in the process. Hendrickson is still somewhat of a projection, but he has the makings of a Pro Bowler.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: OT Trent Williams
How about this for some protection, Joe Burrow? The Bengals convince themselves they can gamble on an older lineman because Williams remains in peak form into his 30s.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
A speedier weapon would give them the downfield athleticism they've lacked for years, but Smith-Schuster is the perfect safety valve for an inevitably young QB room. At 24, he's green enough to stick around the long haul.
7. Detroit Lions: DT Leonard Williams
A receiver or linebacker would be nice, but Williams is too hard to pass up as a penetrating starter in the middle. His presence alone takes some pressure off the subsequent levels of defense in Detroit.
8. Carolina Panthers: LB Lavonte David
New general manager Scott Fitterer doesn't care if this looks like a reach, considering David is 31. He just saw the feisty linebacker win it all for a rival, and Carolina is desperate for some fight in the middle of its "D."
9. Denver Broncos: OLB Bud Dupree
10. Dallas Cowboys: CB Shaquill Griffin
Jerry and Stephen Jones flirt heavily with yet another receiving weapon, but Griffin fills such a glaring need that the former Seahawks starter can't be dismissed. He's streaky, but he offers a lot more than Dallas had in 2020.
11. New York Giants: WR Will Fuller
Rather than use the pick to retain interior man Dalvin Tomlinson, Dave Gettleman makes a play for his QB, giving Daniel Jones one of the most dangerous wideouts of the class -- a home-run hitter who allows Sterling Shepard to bump back inside.
12. San Francisco 49ers: OG Brandon Scherff
After an injury-riddled 2020, the Niners aren't exactly drooling over Scherff's medical history. But his elite guard play convinces them to take the swing as a means of restoring Kyle Shanahan's top ground and play-action game.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: OG Joe Thuney
If Scherff were still on the board, he'd be the pick. Like the Niners, the Chargers just want O-line help. Thuney provides that in spades as a versatile starter capable of lining up at just about any position.
14. Minnesota Vikings: DT Dalvin Tomlinson
This pick is not as sexy as an edge rusher, but the Vikings have been trying for a while to get a true big man at the heart of their D-line. Tomlinson's huge frame would take some pressure off the rest of the line and LB corps.
15. New England Patriots: TE Hunter Henry
Sick of reviewing 2020 tape chock-full of offensive inadequacies, Bill Belichick adds a seamless pass-catching starter at the spot once held by Rob Gronkowski. At 26, Henry counts as a long-term piece for the rebuild, too.
16. Arizona Cardinals: CB William Jackson III
With Patrick Peterson's future in jeopardy and the secondary hurting for depth, Arizona bets on Jackson remaining a solid outside man for Vance Joseph's defensive backfield.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: DE Jadeveon Clowney
Tired of waiting for Clelin Ferrell to break out, Mike Mayock goes to the well of proven pass rushers. Clowney isn't posting elite numbers at this juncture of his career, but his presence alone can be game-changing.
18. Miami Dolphins: LB Matt Milano
Confident they'll be able to address receiver and offensive tackle in the draft, the Dolphins add an up-and-coming leader to their defense, with championship aspirations in mind. Milano represents a solid replacement for Kyle Van Noy.
19. Washington Football Team: WR Corey Davis
Ron Rivera and Co. ponder going QB here in order to secure a veteran stopgap, but Davis offers too much promise as a starter opposite Terry McLaurin. Finally, Washington has two quality pass catchers.
20. Chicago Bears: QB Jameis Winston
With no sure path to a top rookie QB and the veteran trade market unpredictable, Chicago pulls the trigger on a former No. 1 pick with hopes that Winston's big arm can breathe new life into an otherwise sputtering offense.
21. Indianapolis Colts: DE Yannick Ngakoue
Instead of using the pick to bring back Justin Houston, the Colts gamble for greater upside, putting Ngakoue next to DeForest Bucker and anticipating a potential double-digit sack breakout for the former Jags standout.
22. Tennessee Titans: OLB Matt Judon
Vic Beasley didn't work out, and Clowney offered mixed results. This time, they turn to the ex-Ravens edge man for a seamless move into a starting OLB role on Mike Vrabel's defense.
23. New York Jets: WR Curtis Samuel
With a future QB likely waiting in the draft, the Jets give him a new toy, adding Samuel to serve as a multipurpose pass catcher.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: C Corey Linsley
With Ben Roethlisberger returning, the Steelers bolster his protection for one last title run by replacing Maurkice Pouncey.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: S Marcus Williams
QB (draft) and WR (Chris Godwin) are taken care of. Now Jacksonville adds a play-maker to the back end of its rebuilt defense.
26. Cleveland Browns: S John Johnson III
Vikings vet Anthony Harris makes sense here, but Johnson is younger and offers more upside. Cleveland's secondary rejoices.
27. Baltimore Ravens: S Marcus Maye
Three straight safeties! After watching the Earl Thomas experiment burn out, Baltimore opts for a younger, more reliable solution.
28. New Orleans Saints: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Robbed of Jameis Winston earlier in the draft, the Saints pivot to seize the ageless Fitzpatrick, who is obviously no more than a short-term play but gives them a fighting chance of contending in 2021.
29. Green Bay Packers: WR T.Y. Hilton
30. Buffalo Bills: DE Romeo Okwara
There are splashier names on the board, but Okwara fits the Bills' 4-3 DE opening after touting career marks for Detroit in 2020.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Nelson Agholor
The Chiefs aren't desperate for weapons. In truth, they need defensive help more. But with Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson headed out, Agholor offers some big-play pop on the outside. As a bonus, this hurts the rival Raiders.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Justin Houston
With Barrett stolen early in the draft by the Jets, the Bucs bank on instant pass rushing help by taking the reliable, if unspectacular, Houston -- the perfect kind of veteran addition for a team bent on running it back.