Stock up Stock down: Free agent edition.
Updated: Jan 18
The 2020-2021 NFL season is almost over which means the offseason is almost upon us. Outside of the draft, teams will try to construct Super Bowl-winning rosters through free agency. We will look at 10 players whose play this year could earn them a big payday or not.
The 2020-2021 NFL season is almost over which means the offseason is almost upon us. Outside of the draft, teams will try to construct Super Bowl-winning rosters through free agency. Due to COVID, the NFL is going to have to lower the salary cap down to around a minimum of $175 million dollars. There are some reports that the cap could potentially be higher than $175 million. Even so, there will still be a drop off from this season’s salary cap due to the money lost from COVID. We could possibly see more players being forced to take smaller salaries to stay on the roster, as well as roster cuts to generate cap space. This upcoming free agency class contains players who boosted their stock by their play this season, as well as players who hurt their stock. We will look at 10 players whose play this year could earn them a big payday or not.
1. Will Fuller: From a real-life and fantasy perspective, Fuller exceeded all expectations. Houston made the mind-boggling move to trade Deandre Hopkins this offseason leaving Deshaun Watson without a true #1 target. In his 5 years in the league, Fuller has never been able to play a full 16 game season. The oft-injured speedster was a great complement to Hopkins but struggled to stay on the field. Through 12 games, he stayed healthy and was top 10 in both yards and TD catches. Unfortunately for him, he got banned by the NFL for using PEDs, but he will only have to miss one game next season. When looking at Fuller, he used to be a big-play threat only but has evolved his game following the departure of Hopkins. This year he is 1st in yards per route run from the slot, 8th in yards on targets of 20 yards and more, and has a 132.5 passer rating when targeted. He was on pace to hit 1,000 receiving yards, 11 TD’s, and 67 receptions, all of which would have been career highs. Because of his stellar play so far this year, he will likely see multiple suitors.
Best fits: GB, HOU, MIA
Prediction: Fuller returns to Houston as they try to keep some weapons for Watson to use for the upcoming season. Due to his extensive injury history, he might not see that much-guaranteed money, but his APY will be high because of the upside he possesses.
2.Justin Simmons: Simmons really made a case for himself as one of the best FS in the NFL last year. He was rewarded by GM John Elway with the franchise tag. At the time, this was a very good move because Simmons had one great year, and the Broncos wanted to see if he could replicate that this year before doling out more money. Simmons has built on his strong 2019 season with a very good 2020 season so far. He has blossomed into being one of the best center fielders in the game using his rangy ability in coverage while being a good run stuffer as well. In fact, among all free safeties, he leads the league in defensive stops with 25, and has only missed 5 tackles. Additionally, he has matched last year's INT total of 4 already. The splash plays from last year aren’t there, but he has been more consistent as evidenced by his 85.9 PFF grade.
Best fits: DEN, DAL, JAC
Prediction: Simmons resigns with Denver and becomes a cornerstone of Vic Fangio’s defense alongside Bradley Chubb and Bryce Callahan.
3. Corey Davis: The Titans declined both Corey Davis and Jack Conklin’s 5th-year options. Conklin already left for more money. Davis could be following him this offseason. It seems that when the Titans decline the 5th year option on their first-rounders, they seem to bounce back and have a career year. That is exactly the type of resurgence that Corey Davis is having this year. Although he missed a couple of games due to COVID, he has been playing at a very high level this year alongside AJ Brown to form one of the better WR duos in the league. Davis is 2nd in the league in yards per route run, has only 1 drop, and has the 3rd best PFF grade this year for all eligible WR. The question with Davis is what his upside is. He has proved this year that he can be a very reliable #2 receiver, but he could command more money due to him being a former number 5 overall pick, as well as being relatively young (25 years old). In the 2 games, AJ Brown was out this year, Davis totaled a combined 8 catches for 105 yards. Not the most appealing numbers. But when Brown has played, Davis has had 4 100 yard games.
Best fits: NE, WFT, LV
Prediction: Davis goes to the Patriots and Belichick gives whoever his 2021 QB is a big-bodied receiver. I think due to Davis’s 1 year resurgence, he might get a 2 year deal with an opt-out after the first year just so there isn’t too much money being committed. However, I could also see WR needy teams going all in for him due to lack of talent this year on the market.
4. Corey Linsley: For a couple of years now, Linsley has been among the best centers in the NFL. This year, he has been arguably the top-ranked center in the league. The Packers have done a great job building their offensive line through studs like David Bakhtiari and Linsley as well. This year Linsley has given up a total of 2 pressures and only 1 sack allowed. Among all centers, he has the 3rd highest pass block win rate and the highest run block win rate this season. Linsley is the only center to be in the top 7 of both stats, showing how good he has played this year. He has been a model of consistency for the Packers which is why he will likely get a big payday just like Bakhtiari did.
Best fits: LAC, GB, MIA
Prediction: Green Bay has been able to replace Linsley when he’s hurt with the versatile Elgton Jenkins. Jenkins has shown the ability to play both guard and center. Because of all the money the Packers have invested in Bakhtiari, combined with the decrease in cap space, I think they let Linsley walk. I believe that he goes to Miami because they do have a decent amount of cap space as of right now ($21 million per spotrac). He could also join former teammate Bryan Bulaga in LA as well as his former offensive line coach in James Campen, but I think Miami will be more aggressive in negotiations and give him more money.
5. John Johnson III:The Rams have one of the best defenses in the NFL right now, and Johnson is a huge part of that. DC Brandon Staley has actually entrusted him with the green dot, so Johnson is making all the callouts during the games about what coverages to run. Johnson has been one of the more underrated safeties in the league ever since his rookie year. In 3 out of his 4 years in the league, he has had a top 12 PFF coverage grade among all safeties. What has been great about Johnson this year is his ability to play the run despite not being in the box as much as he used to. Per my colleague Tej Seth, the Rams have actually shown offenses the largest rate of 2 high safety looks this year. This means that Johnson and FS Jordan Fuller are playing outside of the box and are inviting teams to run. Despite the Rams using 6 or fewer defenders in the box on 85% of plays, Johnson has been able to record 23 run stops and has only missed 5 tackles. With him not playing in the box as much, he is on pace to break his season-high in PBU’s of 8.
Best fit: LAR, CLE, IND
Prediction: Given the Ram's tendencies to pay their star players, Les Snead will bring Johnson back. It will be interesting to see if Johnson will get a market-setting contract as his counterpart, Jalen Ramsey. However, Johnson is a very valuable piece to this defense, and the Rams should try and do everything they can to bring him back for next year.
1. Jadeveon Clowney: Before he signed with the Titans on a 1 year $13 million deal, Clowney was looking for upwards of $20 million per year. The issue with that was he never has shown the ability to command that type of money. He’s always had the intangibles (4.53 40 yard dash, 6’5, 83-inch wingspan), but the production has never followed. He is a very good run defender (4 seasons of 81+ PFF run-defense grade) but has never been able to put it together rushing the quarterback. Despite playing alongside star DE JJ Watt for 5 years in Houston, he never registered more than 9 sacks in one season. Now sacks don’t always tell the whole story. The most pressure he ever recorded in a season is 64 which was 14th in the league that year. This year hasn’t been great for Clowney. In 8 games, he registered 28 pressures, no sacks, and only 11 stops against the run. That type of production is not worthy of a $20 APY contract. Clowney was supposed to revitalize a dormant Titans pass rush, but it left them worse than where they were. With Clowney out for the year, and Vic Beasley released, the only Titans edge rusher with more than 14 pressures is Harold Landry.
Best fit: TEN, LV, NYG
Prediction: Clowney returns to the Titans on either a smaller deal or similar deal than the one he’s on right now. His production wasn’t great, but the Titans can’t pass up on Clowney since they have no other edge talent on their roster.
2. Melvin Ingram III: From 2016-2019, watching Ingram and Bosa play was like a symphony. Bosa was the technique-driven rangy edge rusher, while Ingram was more of a freestyle athletic edge rusher that could line up anywhere. Ingram on the same side of Bosa was tough to match up against. However, this year hasn’t been good for Ingram. Outside of missing the majority of the season with a knee injury, he has 0 sacks and has had games where he had 3 or fewer pressures. His age is a concern as well as he will be 33 next season, meaning his speed and explosiveness will likely decline especially with the knee injuries he suffered this year. His run defense has been a concern as well this year. Having only registered 6 stops in 7 games, on top of 0 TFL, his overall play has regressed as well. His backup, Uchenna Nwosu has more sacks on fewer pass rush attempts which isn’t a good look for Ingram.
Best fit: CAR, TEN, DET
Prediction: Ingram goes back to his college roots in Carolina and teams up with rising star Brian Burns to bring a veteran presence to a very young defensive group. Look for Ingram to receive a 1-year prove-it deal to show he still has juice left in the tank.
3. Quinton Dunbar: In 2019, Dunbar was among the NFL’s best cornerbacks. He had a passer rating of 56.9 when being thrown to, and had the 2nd highest coverage grade among all CB’s per PFF. When he got traded to the Seahawks, he was supposed to be a part of one of the better CB tandems in the league alongside Shaquill Griffin. He hasn’t been able to live up to the bar he set in 2019. Besides not being able to stay healthy, Dunbar has struggled to find his footing in DC Ken Norton’s scheme. He has allowed a 101.5 passer rating when targeted and has a 44.2 PFF coverage grade as well. Additionally, he has only 2 PBU’s and has allowed a catch rate of 63.8. Some of his regression can be attributed to injuries and not being able to have a full offseason with the Seahawks, but the drop off from last year to this year is worrying.
Best fits: KC, SEA, ARZ
Prediction: Dunbar goes to Arizona to replace the aging Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals take a shot at a CB with high upside to try and win a Super Bowl while Kyler Murray is in his rookie deal for the next 3 years.
4. Desmond King II: Once an all-pro in 2018, King has since fallen off in a big way. One of the premier slot corners in his first 2 years in the league, King was traded from the Chargers to the Titans due to disciplinary behavior as well as poor play. Fans of both the Chargers and Titans believed that he was worth more than a 6th round pick, but he hasn’t justified this with his play on either team so far. With the Chargers this year, he allowed a passer rating of 74.3. This number ballooned up to 117.0 with the Titans. In 2018, King was one of the best slot corners due to his ability to play the ball and limit YAC by receivers. This year, he has 1 PBU and has allowed the 2nd highest yards per reception of his career. In addition to his poor play, the slot cornerback market has not been very friendly. This past year, Brian Poole signed a 1 year $5 million deal with the Jets. 2 years ago, Justin Coleman signed a 4 year $36 million deal with the Lions. Both of them are slot cornerbacks. Because slot corners don’t play every snap or guard the best WR, they aren’t valued as much despite the NFL becoming a passing league. King’s all-pro status may inflate his contract value more than it should be.
Best fits: TEN, JAC, WFT
Prediction: King goes to the WFT. King’s best ability is his instincts and physicality. He thrives in a zone heavy scheme. Seeing that the WFT has run cover 3 over 32% of the time this year, he could be a great fit for that young defense. It will be interesting to see what market he commands given his former all-pro status despite his declining play the last 2 years.
5. Todd Gurley: Todd Gurley has had a very unfortunate drop off in his career since 2018. This year he is one of the worst starting RB’s in the NFL. He is averaging 3.6 YPC, but this number is inflated. If we take away his week 5 game against the Panthers where he rushed for 121 yards on 14 carries, his YPC drops to a paltry 3.14. That would be the 3rd worst in the league among all eligible RB’s. Another thing that Gurley has regressed at is his receiving. While Sean McVay’s offense on the Rams allows any RB to shine, Gurley caught at least 60 passes in back to back years from 2017-2018. This year he only has 19 catches for 98 yards. The only positive to take away is that Gurley has avoided 33 tackles on rushes this year which is the 10th best in the league. It is sad to see arthritis take away Gurley’s rushing ability that he possessed which allowed him to win the OPOY award in 2017.
Best fits: KC, HOU, ATL
Prediction: Honestly, the market for Gurley this year will be very small. Big-ticket RB’s usually get paid a lot by the team that drafted them or get paid much less by another team. Given that Gurley signed a 1 year $5.5 million deal this season and his play wasn’t all that spectacular, I could see him getting a 1-2 year deal with an APY of $3 million. I think KC is a good fit for him as he can back up Clyde Edwards-Helaire and be used in the red zone where he thrives. Despite his horrid YPC, Gurley has scored 9 rushing TD’s and would be another weapon for KC to use in the red zone instead of the tiny Edwards-Helaire.