Which Big Name Free Agents Are On The Move?
By Rod Villagomez
The 2021 NFL season has officially begun as the free agent market has officially opened its doors. There was a flurry of activity in the opening hours of the signing period as several big names were taken off the board. Whether it was to shore up a weakness, or to beef up a strength, teams offered big dollars to many talented players. Here are five of those players considered in the top of their positions to have new homes for the 2021 season.
LG Joe Thuney – Kansas City Chiefs; 5 Years, $80 million
A mobile quarterback can mask offensive line issues. It can also create problems for an offensive line. Such can be the case for the Kansas City Chiefs who consider the elusiveness of Patrick Mahomes a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it can create spectacular plays. On the other, it can wind up in a disastrous loss in sack yardage. Obviously, the goal is to try and keep your star quarterback comfortable enough in the pocket so as to limit the need for plays outside of it. Joe Thuney just became a major player in the Chiefs attempts to do just that.
Thuney comes to the defending AFC Champions already familiar with the situation. His time with the New England Patriots gave him prior championship experience. It also provided the necessary training to protect an all-pro quarterback. He represents a major upgrade to the position. He’ll replace Nick Allegretti, the third year guard who was the Chief seventh round draft pick in 2016.
As a member of the Patriots last season, Thuney ended the season ranked ninth among guards according to Pro Football Focus. In the two prior seasons, he came in as the 5th and 6th ranked guard respectively. Since 2018, he’s allowed only three sacks. In the last two seasons, he’s committed only three total penalties. Offensive lineman are usually best known for doing their job correctly if their name is not spoked during the game. That being the case, Thuney has done his job exceptionally well over the last few years. That should continue under Andy Reid.
OLB – Bud Dupree – Tennessee Titans; 5 Years, $85 million
A tough Titans linebacking corps just got tougher with the addition of Bud Dupree. He’ll be departing his only professional home he’s known in Pittsburgh and moving to Music City for the 2021 season. Last season, he played under the Steelers franchise tag, a move they chose not to implement a second time. It wasn’t easy to watch a marquee name walk out the door. Ultimately, Pittsurgh was up against it in terms of cap space and could not afford to pay Dupree what he was worth in the open market.
So, the Steelers loss is the Titans’ gain. They will inherit an edge rusher with some of his best years in front of him. In 2019, he registered 49 solo tackles, including 16 for losses. On top of that, he recorded 11.5 sacks. He had amassed eight sacks last season before having to exit with an ACL injury in December. Barring another setback, Tennessee has added a powerful defensive weapon to their arsenal.
WR Corey Davis – New York Jets; 3 Years, $37.5 million
A.J. Brown stole the show in Tennessee as far a wide receivers went last season. His shadow engulfed a terrific season from Corry Davis. The number two weapon enjoyed his best season as a pro in 2020. Davis caught 65 passes for 984 yards and five touchdowns. He was only five catches and 91 yards behind Brown overall. So in a sense, the Jets will now have two number one wideout options for their new quarterback (whoever that is) to target.
This contract is actually more than they inked Jamison Crowder for in 2019. Then, the former Washington receiver signed his three year contract for $28.5 million. Either inflation has driven the cost up at the position, or New York has placed that much faith in Davis’ abilities.
He has the potential to grab that top spot too as the corps he’s joining did not enjoy a fruitful 2020 season. Crowder led in every statistical category on the team despite batting with injuries at various points of the season. That may sound impressive except for the fact that he led with 59 receptions, 699 yards, and six touchdowns. As long as the Jets can find a decent arm to throw the ball next season and without Brown to slow him down, Davis should thrive in his new role in New York.
CB Ronald Darby – Denver Broncos; 3 Years, $30 million
All in all, the Broncos did not have that bad of a pass defense last season. They were middle of the pack in terms of passing yards per game. Not to mention, they were actually among the best when it came to passing touchdowns surrendered per game. This is impressive considering they had to deal with injury and suspensions in their secondary last season. Cornerback A.J. Bouye just vacated his position in Denver having contributed to both circumstances over the course of 2020. His departure paved the way for Ronald Darby to take his place.
Darby will give Denver a dependable cover corner who excels at deflecting passes. Last season, he knocked down 16 pass attempts with the Football Team. It was his highest total since his rookie season when he batted down 21 balls. He’ll join second year corner Michael Ojemudia who is coming back from a knee surgery.
TE Jonnu Smith – New England Patriots; 4 Years, $50 million
For a couple hours, the news of Bill Belichick signing Jonnu Smith was the belle of the free agency ball. With Cam Newton locked in as the signal caller for another season, surrounding him with competent pass catchers became an instant priority. Enter Smith. For years New England enjoyed the services of talented tight ends. The last of which, Rob Gronkowski, came out of retirement to follow his buddy and only quarterback, Tom Brady, to Florida for a ring. This left the work to a floating rotation of faces to fill the void. Ryan Izzo was the most successful among them last season with 13 catches and 199 yards on the season.
This is the situation in which Smith now finds himself. He’ll bring his 448 yard 2020 season into Foxborough where there is a desperate need for a big play threat in the receiving game. Newton now benefits from a solid presence at tight end much like he did when he and Greg Olson were together in Carolina. Under Newton, Olson enjoyed three straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2014-2016. Smith’s signing will shore up a sagging New England passing game and will go a long way to making Newtown feel more comfortable.
Of course, a few hours later, the Patriots signed Hunter Henry. This may muddy the waters for Smith as the position just became a little more crowded. It also could be another one-two punch at tight end tactic like the one they used for years when Aaron Hernandez and Gronkowski roamed the field.