NFL Free Agency Winners and Losers: The first three days of NFL Free Agency have quickly come and gone, so here are Marus Mosher‘s winners and losers of free agency this far. Keep track of all NFL free-agent signings, franchise tags and tenders.
NFL Free Agency Winners and Losers
NFL Free Agency Winners
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers aren’t usually a team that spends a ton in free agency, but things tend to change when you have a rising star at quarterback on a rookie contract.
The Chargers made it a priority to upgrade their offensive line early in free agency and they have certainly accomplished that. Their first big splash was signing All-Pro center Corey Linsley. Since 2014, he’s started 99 games for the Packers and has been one of the best interior offensive linemen in the NFL. He will turn 30 this summer, so he is a bit older. But the Chargers needed a veteran presence on that offensive line and he will help there.
Los Angeles also added veteran offensive linemen Matt Feiler on a three-year deal. Feiler has started 40 games at left guard and right tackle for the Steelers over the last four seasons and has done a good job at both spots. He certainly isn’t a dynamic or dominating player, but he fills a need and gives the Chargers more offensive line versatility.
The Chargers still have a few more moves to make in free agency and the draft, but they are making the right moves and decisions to eventually become a problem in the AFC West.
New England Patriots
No one spent more money in free agency than the Patriots. No one. So it’s hard not to include New England on this list. Some of their spending in free agency was… interesting, to say the least. But let’s focus just on the positives here, shall we?
Two of the first big moves Bill Belichick and the Patriots made were signing tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry to long-term deals. Both are unique players as Henry is a receiving tight end who does his best work in the middle of the field and down the seam. Smith is a flex-tight end that can play inline, outside or even as a fullback. He’s at his best when he’s on the move as he is dynamic with the ball in space. These two players will likely carry the load of the passing offense and their skill sets complement each other so well. Look for Smith and Henry to combine for over 100 receptions and double-digit touchdowns next season.
On defense, the Patriots loaded up an already good unit. They signed EDGE rusher Matt Judon away from the Ravens and he is expected to be a full-time player in New England. Judon is a reliable pass rusher (93 quarterback hits since 2017), but he’s also an outstanding run defender. The Patriots also brought back linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who they lost in free agency in 2020. He’s back on a two-year deal, and the kicker here is that the Patriots will receive a compensatory fourth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft after losing him in free agency last year. Not a bad deal for New England.
The Patriots did lose guard Joe Thuney to the Chiefs and that is a noteworthy setback. But with the team trading for Pro Bowl right tackle Trent Brown and signing veteran center Ted Karras, it offset that loss some. If other free-agent signings like Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Jalen Mills can provide anything this year, the Patriots will be a real contender in the AFC once again.
Sometimes, the biggest winners of free agency aren’t the teams that spend a ton of money on outside free agents. Instead, it’s the team that can retain their own. And that’s exactly what the Bills have done this offseason.
They started free agency off with a bang, resigning veteran right tackle Daryl Williams. The offensive tackle market was hot, and even backups were being paid a decent chunk of money. For the Bills to retain Williams and keep their offensive line together for another season was a huge win.
Buffalo was also able to extend linebacker Matt Milano, taking a very team-friendly contract. Much like the offensive line, the linebacker market exploded despite the overall talent level being low. Milano is one of the most underrated (and undersized) linebackers in the league, but he is a big reason why Buffalo’s defense has been successful. Getting him back for the foreseeable future is massive for this defense.
On top of those two moves, re-signing Levi Wallace and Jon Feliciano, the Bills also added Emmanuel Sanders to their wide receiver corps. At 34-years old, Sanders is a complementary player at this stage of his career. But he is still one of the league’s best route runners with the flexibility to play outside or in the slot. He will be a fantastic No. 3 or even No. 4 receiver in Buffalo, giving the Bills one of the best wide receiver units in the entire league. Everything the Bills did in free agency so far indicates that this team will be a Super Bowl contender for years to come.
NFL Free Agency Losers
Much like the Chargers, the Bengals have a young, franchise quarterback on the roster under a rookie contract. But unlike Los Angeles, Cincinnati has done nothing to help him so far in free agency despite a ton of cap space. The Bengals missed out on all the top offensive linemen, including Thuney, Linsley, Williams, Feiler, etc. For a team that desperately needs offensive line help, whiffing on all the top free agents is brutal.
On top of that, the Bengals allowed Carl Lawson to leave in free agency (Jets). They did replace him with Trey Hendrickson, but that is a fairly significant downgrade at the same average salary per year. They also lost cornerback William Jackson III, a first-round pick from the 2017 NFL Draft. He was the top cornerback and the team allowed him to leave, replacing him with Chidobe Awuzie. Awuzie, along with another free-agent cornerback signing in Mike Hilton, will help fill in for Jackson. But it’s a clear downgrade for a defense that was lacking high-end talent.
It’s just another offseason in which the Bengals got worse while the rest of the conference continues to improve. There is still time for Cincinnati to improve this team, but this roster is still a long way away from contending in the AFC North.
Entering free agency, the Texans didn’t have a ton of money to spend in free agency. But for a team that looks to be in a rebuild on paper, their front office certainly isn’t thinking that way. Houston spent money on a ton of older veterans, who have already seen their best playing days come and go. For example, they locked up running back Mark Ingram to a one-year, $3 million deal despite having David Johnson on the roster.
They signed not one, not two, not three, but four veteran linebackers in the first day of free agency alone. The youngest of them all is Kamu Grugier-Hill, who turns 27 in May. And he has started just 17 games in his NFL career, seven total since 2019. However, it wouldn’t be a shock if none of these players were on the roster by the start of the 2022 season. They’ve also spent a ton of money on special teams and reserve players rather than finding starters. Houston is spending a lot of money on older players searching for one last payday in the NFL. It’s pretty clear that the organization and front office believes they are a contender despite the roster looking anything but competitive.
For a team that is likely to finish at or near the bottom of the AFC in 2021, it’s certainly been a strange offseason already for Houston.
Now that you’ve read ‘NFL Free Agency Winners and Losers’:
- Keep track of all 2021 NFL Free Agents & Franchise Tags.
- Read the rest of our 2021 NFL offseason and 2021 NFL Draft coverage.