By: Ian Evans (Twitter: @ianacevans)
The 2021 NFL Free Agent Class is loaded with talent–From wide receivers who need quarterbacks to solid offensive linemen who could help protect star players, this class is extremely impressive. There’s Dak Prescott and Phillip Rivers to AJ Green and Chris Godwin, there are both young talents and veterans who could fuel the drama & find a new change of scenery. This upcoming year for free agency will not be the first instance in which we have seen star players change teams.
In March of this year, we saw Tom Brady choose Tampa Bay as his destination of choice. The long time New England Patriots quarterback chose the Buccanneers after some believed he would stay in New England for the entirety of his career.
We also saw star cornerback Byron Jones receive the second-highest cornerback contract in the NFL by leaving the Miami Dolphins for the Dallas Cowboys. Outside of that, we even saw star defensive tackle Calais Campbell end his time in Jacksonville as he headed up north to play with the Baltimore Ravens. Besides those players, there are still many talented free agents hitting the market in 2021 once the regular season is over.
I believe there are five more interesting players in situations that could see them leave to better homes for their career as a whole.
1. Allen Robinson II, Chicago Bears
Allen Robinson has had an up-and-down tenure with the Chicago Bears as their star No. One wide receiver. He is on pace to beat the receiving stats that he put up in 2019 (1,147 yards, 11.7 YPR, 7 TD).
In the 2020 season, he has put up 1,110 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 12.3 yards per reception and has averaged nearly 80 receiving yards per game. Robinson also ranks seventh in receptions and ninth in receiving yards amongst wide receivers. He also averages 79.3 yards per game which is second-best in his career (career-high: 87.5). For a guy as talented as Robinson is, he is in desperate need of a quarterback who can give him the opportunity to bring out his true potential as a WR1.
Robinson, who is in his seventh year in the NFL, has had to deal with Blake Bortles, Mitch Trubisky, and Nick Foles as his quarterbacks. That’s rough. Nonetheless, Robinson has persistently struck gold with being a Top-12 WR for FF owners (and one of the lone bright spots on his squad).
Robinson might be the most highly coveted receiver in the 2021 free agency class. Where could he go? To a team that needs a star wideout to complement other already proven wideouts. Imagine Terry McLaurin next to Allen Robinson with a somewhat decent Alex Smith under center. It is possible that in the offseason we might see the Washington Football Team make many offseason moves to bolster their roster on the offensive end.
New Team: Washington Football Team
2. Jonnu Smith, Tennesee Titans
Jonnu Smith is a Top-5 tight end in the league and has made many major contributions to the Tennessee Titans offense.
In his fourth year in the league, Smith flaunts a career-high in receiving touchdowns (7) and is on pace to break his career-high in receiving yards (439) as he has 410 as of Week 15. He also has a career-high in yards per game with 31.5. In 2019, he broke 14 tackles on just 41 receptions as well.
Smith is a great addition to the Titans as he is a great pass catcher and a solid blocking tight end on the edge. He’s a tight-end that will play his role and add more to his contribution. However, he could leave Tennessee for a couple of reasons. Smith will be a valued commodity this offseason, especially after his dominant year in 2020.
He also has yet to be the focal point or high-volume target in the Titans offense. He ranks nineteenth in targets (56) amongst tight ends. For a player of his caliber, it should be more than that. If he wants to be the focal point of an offense, he’s going to have to leave a team that is lead by Derrick Henry, AJ Brown, and Corey Davis.
Smith is in the final year of his rookie contract. He could be eyeing a lucrative contract in his future and is a highly coveted tight end in the 2021 free agency class. And he could be going to a team that desperately needs a tight end in the passing game. Keep a keen eye on the NFC South for a landing spot for Smith in 2021.
New Team: Carolina Panthers
3. Will Fuller V, Houston Texans
Will Fuller V was already in deep trade talks with the Green Bay Packers before the trade deadline. But both sides were unable to strike a deal before it actually ended. It is evident that the Packers are interested in Fuller V, and rightfully so as they need a wide receiver on the opposite side to compliment Davante Adams.
The Notre Dame product has hauled in a career-best 879 receiving yards and 53 receptions before he was suspended for six games for PEDs. Fuller V also ranked tenth in receiving touchdowns and 26th in yards per reception before his suspension. He also has a career-best in receiving touchdowns (8), receptions (53), and yards per game (79.9) this year. Will Fuller V is as consistent and productive as they come.
Simply put, he is having himself a career year and is well-deserving of a generous contract. And if I’m Will Fuller, I’m leaving the Houston Texans who literally traded one of the best receivers in the game in DeAndre Hopkins for a second-round pick and a bag of chips.
I would leave a bad situation in Houston and collect a paycheck. Don’t be surprised if he lands with the team that was already interested in him in the first place.
New Team: Green Bay Packers
4. Joe Thuney, New England Patriots
Joe Thuney has been a starter for the New England Patriots ever since he was drafted. He has also yet to miss a game in his five-year tenure. That’s not only extremely consistent but highly impressive.
Thuney has struggled early in his career but quickly found his footing as he now ranks in the 86th percentile in overall pass-blocking grade according to PFF. Thuney in the 2020 regular season as only allowed 2 sacks, has only had 3 penalties called on him, and has played 865 snaps which rank 23rd in the league amongst linemen. Thuney has developed into one of the best guards in the NFL and will be a free agency linemen many teams are foaming at the mouth for.
For a team like the New England who really likes and looks to develop Michael Onwenu, Thuney could be looking elsewhere for a contract. Thuney will be a sought-after guard in free agency and should be going to a team with a quarterback that needs protection, specifically for a young quarterback on the rise.
He could be leaving the AFC in general. Kyler Murray could use his protection significantly as it would give him more time in the pocket. And Arizona has the cap space to allocate and move to sign Thuney as well. Joe Thuney could be heading out west.
New Team: Arizona Cardinals
5. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
Now this situation should be interesting. Not only because has Juju been getting dragged on social media for doing Tik Tok dances on opposing logos, but also because he has had a lackluster year.
JuJu will be 24 years old when he hits free agency in 2021. His best season came when he worked alongside Antonio Brown (when Smith-Schuster was the secondary target).
However, since Brown left the Steelers, Smith-Schuster has not had a 100-yard receiving game, which is rather shocking for a player of his caliber. This year he has garnered 670 receiving yards (third-best in his four-year career), 7 touchdowns (tying his career-best), and 8.3 yards per reception (worst in his career). His longest catch only went for 31 yards as well, which is the shortest in his career as well. Even though he’s having a rather disappointing year, he’s still a smart receiver who understands coverages well, has a solid release off the line, and still has great size. In the 2020 NFL season, he still ranks 13th in receptions (82), 18th in targets (107), and 20th in receiving touchdowns (7). He also has a catch percentage of 76.6% which is also a career-best for Smith-Schuster. JuJu is still a solid and reliable wide receiver who could boost his numbers as his career moves along.
Pittsburgh has found a hidden gem in Chase Claypool and still expect a lot from Diontae Johnson as well. JuJu could be looking elsewhere for a sizeable contract if Pittsburgh isn’t offering much for him to return, and there were already murmurs that this would be his last season as a Steelers.
He could be going to a team that needs more receiving threats as well as a team that needs a WR1. Don’t dance around his name once free agency comes.
New Team: New York Jets
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