With one month to go until the start of NFL 2021 Free Agency, all 32 teams have decisions to make about what their team could look like next season. Among them are players who could benefit from a different environment – free agents, strike candidates and players who could be traded – and who could flourish elsewhere.
Will Super Bowl champion Leonard Fournette, who excelled in the postseason for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, return? Are the Chicago Bears officially done with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky? What will the Houston Texans do in rebuilding with quarterback Deshaun Watson? What about Odell Beckham Jr. playing for the Cleveland Browns after tearing the ACL?
Maybe it’s the money, maybe it’s the production. Or maybe it’s both. Sometimes a player just needs to go somewhere else. Here are 32 players our NFL reporters say would benefit from leaving their current team:
ARI: ATL: BAL: BUF: CAR: CHI: CINCLE:
DAL: DEN: DET: GB: HOU: INDJAX:
KC: LV: LAC: LAR: MIA: MIN: NENO:
NYG: NYJ: PHI: PIT: SFSEA:
TB: TEN: WSH
Chidobi Awuzi’s corner
Teams don’t like to give up second-round picks, but sometimes they just go their own way. Avuzi has had four interceptions in four seasons and has started 42 games. The free agent could get more at another team than the Cowboys can afford, and he could have more success elsewhere. — Todd Archer
Engram won the Pro Bowl in 2020, but that doesn’t reflect the way his year went. He went through all the tough times with eight dropouts and failed to excel under Joe Judge and a new coaching staff. Despite his potential and enticing talent, things didn’t really work out for Engram in his four years with the Giants. A change of scenery can be good for everyone in this case. — Jordan Ranan
Zach Ertz, the tightrope walker.
Negotiations to extend the contract between Ertz and the Eagles overshadowed last season, and a trade now seems inevitable. Ertz, 30, is limited to 11 games in 2020 due to injury and has had a difficult year, but he has been one of the most productive players of his career. He will be doubly motivated next season as he tries to reestablish himself as one of the best at his position and prove to his new team that he is worth the investment. He has one year left and his contract is expected to be worth $8.25 million. — Tim McManus
Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan
That’s not just because his role changed last season with the arrival of rookie Chase Young alongside second-seeded Montez Pot. That means Kerrigan, Washington’s 95.5 sack leader, has become an infielder for the first time in his career. He will be an unrestricted free agent and still wants to get going. At the beginning of last season, he was frustrated with the number of snaps played; although his snaps have finally increased, he still thinks he can help out in a bigger role. To get that role, he would have to leave the franchise where he was recruited in the first round in 2011. – John Keim
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky
Bears and Trubiskies need a clean slate. Much of Chicago will never forgive the team for ranking second overall to Trubisky in 2017, ahead of true franchise players Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Trubisky is clearly not at their level, but he has played well at times over the past four years (especially against weaker opponents). Trubisky’s time with the Bears is effectively over. The 26-year-old quarterback should prefer a situation where he can compete for the starting position or be a key replacement. Chicago is no longer the place to be. Jeff Dickerson
The tight end Jesse James
It is unclear whether the new plan, which has a four-year, $22.6 million contract through 2019 signed by former CEO Bob Quinn, will be enforced. James is averaging less than one strike per game (30 strikes in 32 games) and has scored a total of two touchdowns in two seasons. With T.J. Hockenson clearly dominating the situation, it may be best for both sides to move on. The warning would be the new offensive coordinator, Anthony Lynn. If he prefers two ends, James can stay and start over. But it might be better for Detroit to consider another option. — Michael Rothstein
Kevin King, the cornerback
From the beginning, King was often criticized. The Packers could have taken the favorite T.J. Watt, but instead traded up in the first round and picked King with their first pick in the second round of the 2017 draft. Injuries kept King on the sidelines throughout his first two seasons and he never developed any consistency. In the meantime, Jaire Alexander blossomed on the other side. King, who is headed for free agency, is best known for his jersey grab that led to a penalty in the final minutes of the 2020 NFC Championship game that prevented Aaron Rodgers from taking the final shot in the race for victory. Cornerback will be a big need even if King doesn’t go to free agency, but it will probably be a mistake to bring him back. — Rob Demovsky
Wrong!!! Lovie is no specified.Kevin King, who was a second-round draft pick in 2017 and had a tough game against the Bucs in the NFC title game. He’s a free agent this season. Morrie Gash/AP Photo.
The veteran said in a podcast a few weeks ago that he wasn’t ready to restructure his contract for the 2021 season and that he “can’t sign for the role he’s played in the offense the past two years” because his targets were declining because he was no longer a red zone threat. Rudolph has been a part of the Minnesota landscape since 2011, but a split would benefit both sides. The Vikings could save up to $8 million, depending on when he’s released, and Rudolph, 31, would have the chance to end his career in a crime that can use him more than just his blocking abilities. — Courtney Cronin
The Return of Todd Gurley
Gurley has run for fewer than 695 yards in his career and averaged fewer than 3.5 yards per throw in 2020, despite playing in 15 games. However, he told reporters that he was happy to stay in Atlanta and play for new coach Arthur Smith, who has built the Titans’ offense around Derrick Henry. Gurley, however, has done nearly 1,500 carries in six years and suffers from arthritis in his left knee, which could end his day job with the horses. He has just 14 carries in his last three games, Brian Hill has 21 and Ito Smith 19. The Falcons may be able to call on other backs, meaning Gurley, who is expected to become a free agent in March, may be better off elsewhere. — Michael DiRocco
The tight end Ian Thomas
Thomas did not live up to his expectations to replace Greg Olsen. He caught only 20 passes for 145 yards last season and only 72 passes for 614 yards in three seasons. He was not a product of Joe Brady’s scheme and the Panthers need a tough game plan like Travis Kelce from Kansas City to take this offense to the next level, whether they stick with Teddy Bridgewater or trade him for a quarterback like Deshaun Watson. — David Newton
The Jared Cook Tight End
The Saints cannot contract all of their free agents because of high salary cap constraints, and Cook appears to be the most likely casualty. Although he hit 16 touchdowns in two seasons in New Orleans, his output declined in 2020, including a costly loss against the Saints in the playoffs. He turned 34 in April, and the Saints hired a likely replacement last year in the person of Adam Troutman. — Mike Triplett
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Leonard Fournette talks about how he reacted to being fired from the Jaguars and transferring to the Buccaneers.
The Return of Leonard Fournette
Don’t get me wrong, the Bucks love Lenny, who has now become Lenny Lombardi thanks to his integral role in all 448 postseason games and the Bucks Super Bowl. And the free agent will also consider a comeback. He loves Tampa Bay. But he doesn’t necessarily want to share forever, and it’s hard to blame him when he’s used to being that guy. — Jenna Lane
Robert Alford’s Corner
Alford has not played for the Cardinals since he signed a three-year contract through the 2019 season as a free agent due to an end-of-season injury. The Cardinals paid him $10.4 million during that time and plan to pay him another $7.45 million in 2021. Alford will receive $9 million, but only $1.5 million in dead money, so it makes sense to waive him and save the ceiling. And since it’s unlikely the Cardinals will call on cornerback Patrick Peterson again, it might be the right decision for the team to start from scratch. There’s no guarantee that Alford will be healthy this season. — Josh Weinfuss
In 2017, Everett made four second-round picks but failed to make them stand out despite some excellent performances. Last year, the Rams selected Brysen Hopkins in the fourth round, a decision that seemed to indicate that Everett’s time in the organization might be limited. Having spent his entire career behind starter Tyler Higbee, the new start might be the best for Everett, who has caught 127 passes for 1,389 yards and eight touchdowns in his career. — Lindsey Tyree
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Corner of Akello Witherspoon.
Witherspoon is expected to become a free and unrestricted runner after four seasons on the roller coaster in San Francisco. He has shown that he can be a good rookie in the league, but he has not been able to do everything consistently and has been a good pickup at times in 2020. If Witherspoon played well when he had the chance, a fresh start elsewhere might be what he needs to reach his potential if the Niners invest elsewhere to bolster their cornerback squad. — Nick Wagoner
End of defense Carlos Dunlap
Dunlap doesn’t need to change environments so much as he needs to explore the market for his services. The Seahawks want him back because he helped boost their passing rush with five sacks and 14 QB hits in eight games after he was acquired in October, but his $14.1 million cap is prohibitive. Dunlap has clearly enjoyed his stay in Seattle, but neither side will want to extend him without knowing how much the other teams are willing to pay for the 32-year-old setter. It would be no surprise if the Seahawks fired Dunlap before his $3 million bonus expires in March and then tried to fire him if the market didn’t give him what he was hoping for. Brady Henderson.
End of defense Trent Murphy
The Bills are sticking with Murphy despite his $9.7 million last year, in part because rookie AJ Epenesa needed time to acclimate. But Murphy was active in only 10 games in 2020 and missed almost the entire latter part of the Buffalo season, in which he played his best defensive soccer. He is a free agent this season and has probably played his last games in Buffalo. But he is only 30 years old and his playing days are not over yet. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
The Return of Matt Breida
The Dolphins’ fifth-round selection in the exchange against Breida initially created excitement, but proved to be a bust. He still has lightning speed and the ability to make plays in the backfield, but he had just 68 hits for 350 yards last season, as he fell behind second-year defender Myles Gaskin and finally rookie defender Salvon Ahmed to make plays in the backfield. Breida is a free agent and is expected to go to another team while the Dolphins try to regain their feature film, likely via the Draft. — Cameron Wolfe
The kicker Justin Rohrwasser
After the Patriots selected him in the fifth round of the 2020 draft, making him a first-round draft pick, Rohrwasser was unable to make it to training camp because veteran Nick Faulk was called up in his place. Rohrwasser, who made headlines with a tattoo from his time at Marshall University, was on the practice squad all season and now faces additional competition after bringing in Roberto Aguayo at the end of the season. It seems the situation is potentially threatening to him. Mike Reiss.
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Mike Reiss boldly predicts the Patriots reunion with 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Linebacker Jordan Jenkins
The free agent on standby is the longest serving member of the team (drafted in 2016), which means he has had many seasons of defeats – a record of 23-57. No player deserves such a big loss. Jenkins, who has been a 3-4 road defender throughout his professional career, does not fit the new 4-3 pattern, which means he will likely move on. He is a solid player when healthy, and he deserves a fresh start. Rich Cimini.
Matt Scura Center
Scura, who is a free agent this season, lost his starting job midway through last season after having problems with breaks in the Pistol formation. His family received several threatening messages from fans on social media after bad scrimmages led to the Ravens’ defeat against New England. Before taking the bench, Skura was considered one of the league’s most reliable starting centers in 2018 and 2019. — Jamison Hensley
A.J. Green Wide receiver
Green played his first season under coach Zach Taylor after missing the 2019 season due to an ankle injury. He received just 47 passes for 523 yards with two touchdowns. Green struggled to find a rhythm in the offense and talked about the challenges this system presents to him. Since Green received an official pass in the team’s final season, it makes sense that he would look for another team for his 11th season in the NFL. — Ben Baby
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Because of the injury coverage in his contract, it’s unlikely the Browns will break with OBJ this season. But since joining the Giants in 2019, he has struggled to get close to quarterback Baker Mayfield and stay healthy. Beckham has shown that he still has a lot of talent, but since the Browns were successful last season without him in the offense, it made sense for him and the team, at least financially, to find a replacement. — Jake Trotter
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Jeff Darlington analyzes the possibility of the Buccaneers acquiring Odell Beckham Jr.
The Return of James Conner
His return in 2018 was the subject of much discussion when he did a Pro Bowl season for Le’Veon Bell. Since then, however, Conner has been unable to match those numbers due to recurring injuries and a generally ineffective running game. In his four seasons, Conner has never played a full game with 16 players, and in his last four starts he has averaged just 28 yards per game. Conner is a free agent this season, and he and the Steelers could use a fresh start. Brook Pryor
Quarterback Deshaun Watson
Watson may not want to be traded to Houston, but he has made it clear to the Texans that he wants a change of scenery. Watson asked for a trade in January because he was dissatisfied with the way the team was being managed. Both publicly and privately, the Texans said they didn’t want to sell the quarterback’s franchise, but if he really doesn’t play for the team anymore and Houston refuses to move him, will he stay out the season? If they don’t trade him, the Texans will find out. Sarah Barshop.
Malik Hooker Security
Hooker, selected in the first round in 2017, showed promise in his first season with three interceptions before suffering an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in Week 7. Since then, however, he has been more flashy than creative. He has made just four interceptions in the last three seasons, including an incredible one-handed pick against Philip Rivers in the first round of the 2019 season. Hooker ended the 2020 season after two games due to a torn Achilles tendon. His injury history, combined with rookie Julian Blackmon’s emergence with two interceptions last season, paved the way for Hooker to try to continue his career elsewhere. — Mike Wells
Quarterback Gardner Minshew …
The Jaguars should be the first choice for Trevor Lawrence, so Minshew’s playing time in Jacksonville is over. The best he can hope for is to be Lawrence’s replacement. He is far from a finished product like a BQ and could eventually become a starter. Maybe the Jaguars can jettison him in exchange for a late pick so he can find a starting job elsewhere. — Michael DiRocco
Corey Davis Wide receiver
To be clear, this is not an assumption that the Titans will not fire Davis or that he will not be fit. He escaped last season, but he fell 16 yards short of the 1,000-yard mark. Imagining a player with Davis’ skills in a more passive offense conjures up visions of over 80 yards receiving and over 1,000 yards. Davis, the 5th overall pick in the 2017 draft, is a free agent at guard who should attract attention when he goes to free agent. — Turron Davenport
The return of Melvin Gordon
Yes, Gordon led the team in carries (215), running yards (986) and running touchdowns (9) last season, but he is suspended three games in 2021 after being arrested for drunk driving. Gordon also had a limited impact in the passing game – an area the Broncos thought he would help when he was signed – and led the team with four tackles in the loss. He will have the sixth-highest salary in 2021, unless the Broncos try to cut some of the guaranteed money in his contract because of an arrest. — Jeff Legwold
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The Return of Le’Veon Bell.
Bell had virtually no influence over the chiefs after he joined them at the beginning of the season. The Chiefs had a chance to ask him for help. Clyde Edwards-Helair was injured in the divisional round against the Browns, and the Chiefs chose Darrel Williams as their fullback. Bell wore the LV Super Bowl jersey but did not play. He is a free agent this season. — Adam Thacher
Quarterback Derek Carr
Make no mistake: this is not the Raiders’ parting with a player who holds nearly every pass record in Raiders history, but who has a poor record and has never played in the postseason. Any off-season that becomes Carr’s “drama” must be to his credit. As Carr said at the beginning of camp last summer, he was tired of being disrespected. And as many responded, he better play. Carr threw 27 nine-pound touchdown passes last season. Groundhog Day in Silver and Blackdom. Stay tuned, folks. — Paul Gutierrez
Mike Williams Wide receiver
Mr. Williams’ five-year option was revoked last April, which meant he would receive $15.7 million in 2020. That’s too much money for a receiver who has never made 50 catches and has scored only seven touchdowns in the last two seasons. Yes, the No. 7 pick in the 2017 draft is big and strong, and has all the tools to become a top wideout, but he doesn’t seem to match the strengths of rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. – Shelley Smith
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