A week into 2021 NFL free agency, most of the available big names -- and plenty of the smaller ones -- have found new homes or re-signed with familiar ones for the upcoming season. Despite salary cap restrictions stemming from pandemic-related losses, dozens of teams dished out millions in lucrative deals to kick off their respective offseasons. But which of the many transactions to hit the wire since free agency opened stand out as smart ... or not so smart? We're glad you asked.
Below, you'll find one writer's opinion on five of the best and worst moves of 2021 NFL free agency:
Five best 2021 free agent moves
1. Buccaneers re-sign OLB Shaquil Barrett
Contract: 4 years, $68 million
Per 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 might have approached $20M per year on the open market. Instead, Todd Bowles gets to keep his top pass rusher for a Super Bowl encore, and Barrett gets to stay in a familiar system that's shepherded his breakout.
2. Chiefs sign OL Joe Thuney
Contract: 5 years, $80 million
Per year: $16 million
Kansas City is paying a pretty penny for a lineman who'll primarily play inside. In fact, if he stays at left guard, he'll be the highest paid there by a mile, averaging $4.5M more per year than the Saints' Andrus Peat, who's overpaid himself. Still, protecting Patrick Mahomes is key, and Thuney can play literally every position in the trenches. If you're going to spend big, do it up front.
3. Giants sign WR Kenny Golladay
Contract: 4 years, $72 million
Per year: $18 million
Is this a ton of money for a guy who missed 11 games in 2020? Sure. But let's not act like the Giants weren't in dire need of a No. 1 WR, which Golladay has definitely been when healthy. General manager Dave Gettleman may be easy to criticize, but this gamble is admirable. Golladay is just 27, can win at any catch point and will be a huge boost for Daniel Jones.
4. Browns sign S John Johnson III
Contract: 3 years, $33.75 million
Per year: $11.25 million
Cleveland has been hunting for safety help for years. In Johnson, it's getting this year's top young free agent there at an under-market value. Coupled with a secondary that should be healthier in 2021, he has a chance to be a play-making anchor for the Browns defense right off the bat. Don't look now, but Cleveland's defensive backfield just might be really good.
5. Jets sign WR Corey Davis
Contract: 3 years, $37.5 million
Per year: $12.5 million
Some think New York overpaid here, considering Davis hasn't necessarily lived up to his first-round pedigree. But his trajectory suggests he offers even more upside than, say, JuJu Smith-Schuster. He just turned 26, he has quietly been rock solid for three years, and he instantly brings credibility to a Jets offense that sorely lacked it.
- Vikings sign DT Dalvin Tomlinson (2 years, $22M)
- Dolphins sign QB Jacoby Brissett (1 year, $5M)
- Bills sign WR Emmanuel Sanders (1 year, $6M)
- Bills sign QB Mitchell Trubisky (1 year, $2.5M)
- Raiders sign WR John Brown (1 year, $3.25M)
Five worst 2021 free agent moves
1. Bears sign QB Andy Dalton
Contract: 1 year, $10 million
Per year: $10 million
This has nothing to do with the money and everything to do with the implications. Dalton's $10M salary basically makes him a really highly paid backup, but he's apparently already been told he'll start in 2021, which ... yikes. Is he an upgrade over Nick Foles? Maybe. But even Mitchell Trubisky would've offered more upside, for crying out loud. Unless Chicago pairs this with a surprise trade (Sam Darnold?) or early-draft QB addition, it'll likely cement the Bears in another year of fringe contention.
2. Bengals sign DE Trey Hendrickson
Contract: 4 years, $60 million
Per year: $15 million
Hendrickson's profile is promising: He's 26, came up in the strong Saints 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 homegrown up-and-comer, walk for less total money. Hendrickson may prove to be a good starting edge presence, but the resource allocation here demands he be great.
3. Giants sign CB Adoree' Jackson
Contract: 3 years, $39 million
Per year: $13 million
If you're still upset we didn't knock Gettleman for dumping cash on Golladay, you'll find reprieve here. Jackson is an intriguing find, just 25 and supremely athletic, and he'll make the Giants defense better opposite James Bradberry. But he has been far from durable as of late, and New York is paying him almost as much as Bradberry ($14.5M), Marcus Peters ($14M) and Xavien Howard ($15M).
4. Jaguars sign CB Shaquill Griffin
Contract: 3 years, $40 million
Per year: $13.3 million
This is eerily similar to Jackson and the Giants. Griffin is not necessarily a bad gamble on his own. He's only 25, he's flashed at his best, and he'll almost assuredly improve the Jaguars secondary. But this is why free agency rarely pays off: the market dictates overpays. For Griffin to live up to this deal, he'll need to be darn near lock-down material on a rebuilding team.
5. Jaguars sign S Rayshawn Jenkins
Contract: 4 years, $35 million
Per year: $8.75 million
The per-year cost isn't outrageous until you consider that it's in the same ballpark as Jordan Poyer ($9.75M) and Malcolm Jenkins ($8M). No disrespect to Rayshawn, who flashed as a versatile piece for the Chargers, but there wasn't another way to use $35 million in Jacksonville? Yes, the Jags were desperate for safety help, but why not give this to John Johnson or go get a real left tackle?