The 2021 FA Market With Emphasis On TE & WR

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This free agent wide receiver group is extremely diverse in terms of playing styles, with a handful of true X receivers, great slot weapons, deep threats, after-the-catch specialists and so on. Whatever type of playmaker a team is looking for, they’re out there.

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Here’s how the top of the class stacks up over the 2019 and 2020 regular seasons, with a few notable position ranks (min. 75 targets) included in parentheses:


PlayerYards per route runExplosive Plays (15+ yards)Average depth of targetYards after catch / receptionContested catches
Chris Godwin2.10479.65.9 (8th)22
Kenny Golladay2.124015.8 (4th)4.136 (3rd)
Allen Robinson II1.9154 (4th)11.02.844 (1st)
Will Fuller V2.17 (8th)3413.95.014
JuJu Smith-Schuster1.36257.44.816
Corey Davis2.034212.24.519
Marvin Jones Jr.1.424413.52.132 (4th)
Curtis Samuel1.223111.43.711
T.Y. Hilton1.752511.34.111
Sammy Watkins1.41229.05.38
A.J. Green0.93813.71.718

The 2021 NFL Draft class at wide receiver is also as highly touted as they come, with five players currently in the top 20 on Mike Renner’s Big Board and fourteen players in the top 100. However, the same could be said about the 2020 class, which had no noticeable effect on the free agent market. Nevertheless, with so many wide receivers from the 2020 class already playing high-level NFL football, perhaps we do see some more trepidation from clubs.

Most likely playing for a new team in 2021​

WR Allen Robinson II, Chicago Bears

It has been quite the rollercoaster this season following the contract negotiations between Allen Robinson II and the Chicago Bears. After tensions seemed to reach a boiling point earlier in the year, several Bears players took to Twitter with the #ExtendARob movement, but to no avail.
Chicago once again focused its spending this past offseason on defense, which was as nonsensical as it's been disappointing. The Bears have the fourth-most money in the NFL currently invested on defense, and they rank 19th on offense.
Unsurprisingly, they rank 27th in expected points added per play on offense so far in 2020. To his credit, Robinson already has over 1,000 receiving yards on the season, good for his second consecutive 1,000-yard season while catching passes from some of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. No other Bears player has eclipsed 500 yards.
The Bears playing hardball with their only established receiving weapon is a bold strategy, and at this point, it may backfire with Robinson heading for greener pastures.

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

Even before the 2019 season ended, rumors were swirling that 2020 could be Smith-Schuster’s final campaign in Pittsburgh. The writing has been on the wall for a myriad of reasons, the most apparent being the Steelers’ cap situation in 2021 and beyond.
Pittsburgh attacked a Super Bowl window with Ben Roethlisberger much like the New Orleans Saints did with Drew Brees, and 2020 is really the final frontier for both. In addition to Smith-Schuster, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and edge rusher Bud Dupree are also set to hit free agency, among others.
Finally, Pittsburgh has taken a wide receiver in the top 66 draft picks three years in a row — James Washington in 2018, Diontae Johnson in 2019 and Chase Claypool this year. While Smith-Schuster primarily operates out of the slot, meaning his skill set would not necessarily be redundant, Pittsburgh has clearly prepared for life without him.
A big market like New York seems like a perfect fit for Smith-Schuster, already one of the more marketable players in the NFL. He’s also still only 24 years old, so teams shouldn’t be afraid to sign him to a long-term extension running for up to five years.

WR Marvin Jones Jr., Detroit Lions

The other Detroit Lions wide receiver is an interesting free agent case study for 2021 because the range of outcomes here is really wide. Marvin Jones Jr. has been his usual productive self for the Lions this season, stepping up and taking on a bit more of the load with Golladay’s absence. Even though more snaps on the outside would make sense with no Golladay, Jones has actually seen his slot snaps increase dramatically.
This could be for various reasons, but it’s a good sign that his receiving grade out of the slot (68.2) falls in line with his receiving grade out wide (70.5).

 
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Biggest stock risers in 2020​

WR Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans are once again deeply regretting their fifth-year option decision on a former first-round pick. Last offseason, the Titans elected to decline the fifth-year option for 2016 No. 8 overall pick Jack Conklin. The right tackle had a career year and signed a sizable deal with the Cleveland Browns.
Flash forward to the 2020 offseason, and 2017 No. 5 overall pick Corey Davis had his option declined, as well. Davis isn’t just having a career year compared to his own prior seasons, he’s having a career year at the wide receiver position, period. His 89.5 offensive grade ranks third in the NFL among wide receivers, and his 90.8 receiving grade on snaps lined up out wide is the best mark in the league.
After much discussion of Davis converting to more of a slot wide receiver, he’s excelled in the “Z” role as the outside wide receiver off the line of scrimmage. He’s been dominating on in-breaking routes and crossers all year because defenders can’t get a hand on him to jam him at the line, and he’s obviously a great athlete in space considering he was a top-five pick.
Tennessee may try to work out an extension, but A.J. Brown will be eligible for an extension after 2021 and will probably be looking for $20M per year at a minimum. That could be on the Titans' mind as they set their price point for Davis.

WR Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers

No player had more trade rumors centering on them coming into the 2020 season than Curtis Samuel. The 2017 second-rounder has arguably raised his stock more than any player this season, with Joe Brady — the Panthers' new offensive coordinator — deserving a lot of that credit.
When the Panthers signed Robby Anderson this offseason, the big question in Carolina was which player would be the primary “deep threat.” The answer is… neither. Samuel is being deployed in a completely different manner than in past years. He already has nearly as many carries (29) as he had in his first three seasons combined (31). He’s also logged more snaps in the slot (324) than any prior season with three games left to go.
Even more drastic, and perhaps one of the most jarring statistics in the NFL this season, is the difference in Curtis Samuel’s average depth of target from 2019. Samuel’s 2020 average depth of target is 6.3 yards, which ranks 111th out of 118 wide receivers with at least 25 targets. In 2019, Samuel’s 15.1-yard average depth of target ranked 16th out of 124 wide receivers with at least 25 targets. The new and improved Samuel is starting to look more and more like Deebo Samuel. And with many NFL offenses built around quick outs in the passing game, he becomes an extremely intriguing player.
D.J. Moore is still on his rookie contract through the 2021 season (2022 if the Panthers exercise his fifth-year option, which they will), so it actually makes some sense for Carolina to at least explore an extension with Samuel. What may ultimately prevent a move from happening here is the Panthers’ salary cap situation.

Carolina smartly decided to offload its big veteran contracts this past offseason as the team entered their rebuild, but as a result, the Panthers lead the NFL with $52 million in dead money. They don’t have as much cap room as one would think, so Samuel could be a luxury they can’t afford. Anderson signing a two-year deal that ran one year beyond Samuel’s deal expiring was probably not by accident, so that could be the plan going forward.

WR Will Fuller V, Houston Texans

Will Fuller V looked like he finally put all the pieces together in Houston this season — so much so that it almost made us forget about the DeAndre Hopkins trade (not really). Fuller hadn’t been healthy enough to appear in more than 11 games since his rookie season in 2016, and just when it looked like he could put together a 16-game campaign as a true WR1, a six-game suspension for PEDs derailed his year.
Fuller ironically was fresh off putting on a show on national television with a 171-yard, two-touchdown Thanksgiving day rout of the Detroit Lions. That apparently seemed too good to be true. And alas, it was.

No suspension is the same, and we have no idea what the specifics are with Fuller’s situation. But how it relates to his free agency is the big question. There’s no doubt that he was in the midst of a phenomenal season, and he took on a much more nuanced role after Hopkins' departure, but his inability to play a full season has to have teams wary. A reported trade deadline deal with the Green Bay Packers fell through in the end, and with so many less-risky options available to teams, Fuller may not have many suitors.

One thing working in his favor is that Deshaun Watson has made it clear he wants Fuller back in Houston next season. In that vein, his suspension may be a bit of a blessing in disguise for the Texans, who may now be able to agree to a lower price tag.

Former No. 4 overall picks looking for one last deal​

This is a very convenient category title for two players who have had polar opposite career paths since being drafted No. 4 overall. A.J. Green was a star right out of the gate, making seven straight Pro Bowls to open his NFL career. Watkins, on the other hand, needed a change of scenery before truly getting his career off the ground.

WR Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs

Watkins floated the idea of retirement before the 2020 season, instead agreeing to a pay cut to stay in Kansas City in hopes of winning back-to-back Super Bowls. This could turn out to be a really wise gamble, as we love a good narrative in the NFL.
Watkins has missed almost half the season due to injury, but he’s back in action now right as the Chiefs hold onto the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Watkins had a similarly pedestrian 2019 regular season before putting up at least 75 receiving yards in all three of Kansas City’s playoff games. His Super Bowl performance was impressive, with 98 yards on five receptions — including a handful of crucial first-down catches.
Perhaps if Watkins can once again play his best football on the biggest stage, a team or two will become more interested. Although he is playing in his seventh NFL season, he’s still just 27 years old.

WR A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

Green makes this list perhaps because of name recognition alone, as he is not the same player he once was. However, his inclusion is important if only to illustrate the dangers of using the franchise tag on an older wide receiver (especially for a team nowhere close to competing). Despite losing a step, Green can still win at the catch point and use his veteran savvy to box out.
A team looking for a reliable veteran leader at the position may talk themselves into a one- or two-year deal for Green as he closes out a potential Hall of Fame career.

Final thoughts​

The wide receiver market is most likely going to prove to be “recession-proof” as well as “huge-influx-of-young-talent proof.” That’s just the nature of the premium positions in the NFL. It also doesn’t hurt that a lot of the teams with ample cap space — the Jets, Dolphins, Colts, Patriots and Football Team are all top eight in projected 2021 cap space — are in desperate need of wide receiver talent.
If Godwin and Golladay do get franchise-tagged, that could create a bidding war for Allen Robinson II. If Robinson, Fuller and Davis also get franchise-tagged by their respective clubs, the market could go cold in a hurry as teams shift their attention to draft prospects.

PFF did the work.
 
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chevss454

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Any 1 of these WRs could help the Pats a lot.
Other than Green and Hilton (age for both), the rest could be more than BB is willing to spend.
My favorite would be Robinson but any of them would be a blessing.
 

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Any 1 of these WRs could help the Pats a lot.
Other than Green and Hilton (age for both), the rest could be more than BB is willing to spend.
My favorite would be Robinson but any of them would be a blessing.
I would just be shocked if he spent a lot on a receiver mostly because he never has. I just dont think he values that position much.
 

king of kings

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BB needs to address the huge weakness in passing game. That has been a issue for LAST 2 YEARS
 

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chevss454

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Hunter Henry seems to be the receiver BB favors. He would solve TE and have some carryover benefit for the WRs.
I'd be very content with Henry and an outside WR from the draft.
 

HSanders

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Watkins, something has always just been a little off with him to me. football wise and character wise. not that he's a bad dude, but he's a little different. i'll try to find the last story i read on him that made me think "wtf????"
Fuller drops too many balls for my taste. if i've noticed it with the amount of time he's on the field(not much) plus how much houston i've watched(not much), i'm projecting it is an issue.
i'm intrigued by green if he has anything left. always liked him. and if he wants to play for the goat hc, maybe he lowers his price.
 

SkiptoMyLou

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Watkins, something has always just been a little off with him to me. football wise and character wise. not that he's a bad dude, but he's a little different. i'll try to find the last story i read on him that made me think "wtf????"
Fuller drops too many balls for my taste. if i've noticed it with the amount of time he's on the field(not much) plus how much houston i've watched(not much), i'm projecting it is an issue.
i'm intrigued by green if he has anything left. always liked him. and if he wants to play for the goat hc, maybe he lowers his price.

He seems to have lost a step or the coordinators favor the younger receivers. That said, he's a candidate for that veteran flyer BB likes to take. On the cheap of course. Him and Hunter Henry would be an immediate upgrade. Also a receiver from the draft would work, too. I read somewhere that BB was after Justin Jefferson and when he was picked, he traded out of the first round. There is hope yet.
 

Mazz22

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It is hard to guess what Bill will do at the skill spots without knowing who our QB is first. I think if he goes with Cam for another season or two, he will not spend on any of the top receivers but he probably gets a solid TE. If we sign someone like Stafford or Jimmy then I could see him spend on the WR as you would have a QB that can the most of the position.
 

OSUBuckeye

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Watkins, something has always just been a little off with him to me. football wise and character wise. not that he's a bad dude, but he's a little different. i'll try to find the last story i read on him that made me think "wtf????"
Fuller drops too many balls for my taste. if i've noticed it with the amount of time he's on the field(not much) plus how much houston i've watched(not much), i'm projecting it is an issue.
i'm intrigued by green if he has anything left. always liked him. and if he wants to play for the goat hc, maybe he lowers his price.
The knock on Fuller at Notre Dame was exactly that. True burner but drops too many easy passes.
 

3 Point Stan

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Fuller dropped way too many easy passes imo. I wouldn't pay him very much.
He's suspended for game 1 of next season, right? Considering his injury history, it wouldn't surprise me if he has to tuck his tail between his legs and sign a 1-year incentive-laden deal somewhere to prove himself.
 

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He's suspended for game 1 of next season, right? Considering his injury history, it wouldn't surprise me if he has to tuck his tail between his legs and sign a 1-year incentive-laden deal somewhere to prove himself.

His vindication season was this year and he blew that up by taking PEDs, so more than likely that will be the case unless Al Davis pages his son from the grave to sign him because SPEEEEEEEED!
 

BostonTim

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His vindication season was this year and he blew that up by taking PEDs, so more than likely that will be the case unless Al Davis pages his son from the grave to sign him because SPEEEEEEEED!
Yes! SPEEEEEED! `And you just can't teach it!

Cheers
 

Hawg73

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Wow. That was pretty out there. Thanks for the link. I really didn't know any of that stuff, but did wonder why he didn't perform better in Buffalo, because I'd watched him since he was a Freshman at Clemson. He was so good that even my wife knew who he was and she pays zero attention to college ball.

It's not clear what Sammy's mental issues are in a clinical sense, but I'd bet that whatever diagnosis was settled on-- it would be really hard to spell.

I'm not sure if Bill would want a guy like him, because.......can you trust him to stick with the program? I think we've tried our hand at rehabbing troubled-yet-talented people like Josh Gordon and I'm not so sure that was worth the effort in the end. I will say that I rooted for Gordon to get through whatever was haunting him and believed he was a good person who was clearly struggling.

Maybe Sammy is like him in that regard and who doesn't have a few whacked-out ideas? And who decides what qualifies? I know I have some theories that are off the beaten path, but I wouldn't talk about those to a writer. I save those for the firepit with people I trust.

Still, I can't help but feeling that Watkins is dealing with PTSD and some form of mental illness and is likely not Foxboro material.

I'd really like to add a couple of talented skill players who are also mentally stable that we can count on for 2021. Is that too much to ask?
 

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I don’t see many FA WR worth top dollar. Better to wait till the last ones get desperate.

Maybe it’s mental with Watkins, but he’s also always banged up. He was always fighting some injury in Buffalo. Same in KC. He should probably take less for some guaranteed money and stay put.
 
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chevss454

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Wow. That was pretty out there. Thanks for the link. I really didn't know any of that stuff, but did wonder why he didn't perform better in Buffalo, because I'd watched him since he was a Freshman at Clemson. He was so good that even my wife knew who he was and she pays zero attention to college ball.

It's not clear what Sammy's mental issues are in a clinical sense, but I'd bet that whatever diagnosis was settled on-- it would be really hard to spell.

I'm not sure if Bill would want a guy like him, because.......can you trust him to stick with the program? I think we've tried our hand at rehabbing troubled-yet-talented people like Josh Gordon and I'm not so sure that was worth the effort in the end. I will say that I rooted for Gordon to get through whatever was haunting him and believed he was a good person who was clearly struggling.

Maybe Sammy is like him in that regard and who doesn't have a few whacked-out ideas? And who decides what qualifies? I know I have some theories that are off the beaten path, but I wouldn't talk about those to a writer. I save those for the firepit with people I trust.

Still, I can't help but feeling that Watkins is dealing with PTSD and some form of mental illness and is likely not Foxboro material.

I'd really like to add a couple of talented skill players who are also mentally stable that we can count on for 2021. Is that too much to ask?

I felt bad for the guy but I still chuckled as I read that crazy story about Watkins. Too bad the author didn't ask him if he was a flat-earther like Kyrie but I think I know the answer.
That eliminates Watkins for the Pats for certain. Football is hard enough without demons popping up on your screen during a catch.

The Pats need mental stability and physical health. Please, BB, no more skill players with an injury history longer than the US Tax Code.
 
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