NFL Free Agency: Biggest Winners, Losers After First Wave Of Signings

Patriots were among the winners while Bears among the league losers


Mar 19, 2021

NFL free agency is well underway, folks.

The league’s free agency period kicked off Wednesday, the same day the league’s 2021 campaign started, after Monday started the NFL’s legal tampering period.

We’ve seen a number of highly sought-after free agents agree to sign with teams during the first wave. So, while there remain some big names still on the open market, we have a feel for who’s done well (and who hasn’t) thus far.

With that said, let’s take a look at some of the biggest winners and losers to this point of NFL free agency:

New England Patriots
The Patriots have done something those in New England have never seen before, showing an aggressiveness through the opening hours/days of free agency. Perhaps it was a way for head coach and general manager Bill Belichick to make up for past draft struggles, and perhaps they overpaid in a few examples, but the Patriots were decisive with who they wanted and had plenty of money to spend.

The Patriots signed both of the top free-agent tight ends with Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, made a splash signing with edge rusher Matt Judon, signed two receivers in Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, stole Kyle Van Noy on an extremely affordable contract, re-signed David Andrews, Deatrich Wise and Cody Davis and much more.

New England improved its roster by leaps and bounds this past week, focusing on the major areas of need — tight end, receiver, run defense, pass rush — and it’s led them to be arguably the biggest winner of all winners.

Patrick Mahomes
The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback was forced to run for his life during Super Bowl LV behind a patchwork offensive line. The Chiefs, much to Mahomes’ approval, went out and signed arguably the best available interior offensive lineman in ex-Patriot guard Joe Thuney and enticed fellow offensive lineman Kyle Long out of retirement.

Washington Football Team
Washington signed journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year contract and added another offensive playmaker in Curtis Samuel. The ex-Carolina Panthers receiver will now pair with wideout, and former college teammate, Terry McLaurin along with running back Antonio Gibson and Logan Thomas to provide Fitzpatrick with a nice complement of weapons. And on the defensive side, William Jackson, one of the top cornerback’s available on the open market, will provide a solid boost for a team who already relies heavily on its pass rush.

Trent Williams
The San Francisco 49ers standout is now the highest-paid tackle in the league after agreeing to a monster NFL free agency deal for six-years and $138.05 million. Not bad for someone who bet on himself to the point he was willing to sit out the 2019 season.

AFC East Teams (In Addition To Those Named Patriots)
Here’s something you probably never thought you’d hear: It was a pretty good week for the entire AFC East. The New York Jets addressed their biggest need on each side of the ball with ex-Cincinnati Bengals pass-rusher Carl Lawson and ex-Tennessee Titans receiver Corey Davis. The Miami Dolphins added receiver Will Fuller on a low-risk, one-year deal, got a good price for ex-Patriot defensive lineman Adam Butler and added some depth with backup signal-caller Jacoby Brissett and running back Malcolm Brown. Lastly, the Buffalo Bills signed quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to back up Josh Allen and added receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who should complement No. 1 option Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley rather nicely.

Chicago Bears
Chicago dumped All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller in what was essentially a numbers crunch and, after holding out hope they could trade for Seattle Seahawks signal-caller Russell Wilson, replaced Mitchell Trubisky with Andy Dalton. Yes, this comes as both head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace should have their jobs on the line. A trade for Wilson, obviously, would turn this around.

The receiver market has been pretty dry throughout the first week. Kenny Golladay, who by many accounts was the No. 1 player at the position, was still available Friday evening before agreeing to a four-year deal with the New York Giants on Saturday. JuJu Smith-Schuster took a one-year deal to remain with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it’s fair to wonder if that could be because his value wasn’t what he expected due to the league’s cap. There were receivers who signed deals — Agholor, Bourne, Samuel, Fuller etc. — but it wasn’t the massive, long-term contracts we’ve come to see.

Derek Carr
The Raiders quarterback can’t feel great about Las Vegas letting his top receiver from 2020 (Agholor) hit the open market, and leave. Oh yeah, and the Raiders completely dismantled their offensive line, arguably one of their biggest strengths from the prior campaign. Those moves included Las Vegas trading former Pro Bowl tackle Trent Brown to New England and released center Rodney Hudson.

Thumbnail photo via Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports Images
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