Top 25 potential NFL free agents for 2021

The 2020 free-agency period continues, but it’s never too early to look at who could be among next year’s free-agent class. (And, no, we’re not including 49ers star George Kittle, who’s not going anywhere.) 

 

1 of 25

Keenan Allen | Chargers WR

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Pop quiz: Name the four wide receivers with at least 300 catches and 3,500 receiving yards from 2017-2019. Julio Jones, Michael Thomas and DeAndre Hopkins are the first three. Allen is the fourth. His overall numbers in that span trail slightly behind the other three, but Allen’s production was elite despite having to play with Philip Rivers, who sometimes was erratic. If he has a big season again in 2020, Allen will be coveted.


Possible destinations: Las Vegas, Seattle, Washington

 

2 of 25

Shaquil Barrett | Bucs LB

Shaquil Barrett | Bucs LB

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Barrett’s career is the story of several seasons of middling, unspectacular play, then an incredible breakout. He entered 2019 with 14 career sacks in five seasons, then led the league with 19.5 on a one-year “prove it” deal with Tampa Bay. If he has anything close to a repeat performance in 2020, he’ll break the bank – and the Bucs might be hard-pressed to keep him.


Possible destinations: Atlanta, Indianapolis

 

3 of 25

Joey Bosa | Chargers DE

Joey Bosa | Chargers DE

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

It feels ridiculous to even include Bosa here, as it would be a monumental story if the Chargers didn’t sign him to a long-term contract. But if he somehow hit the open market, it would be a bonanza the likes of which is rarely seen in the league. Bosa was healthy in 2019, and aside from an injury-shortened 2018, he has been one of the best pass rushers in the league.


Possible destinations: Baltimore, Las Vegas

 

4 of 25

Lavonte David | Bucs LB

Lavonte David | Bucs LB

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

David has been one of the better linebackers in football for the duration of his career, despite not receiving nearly as much recognition as players such as Luke Keuchly. David’s speed is his calling card, and while he’ll hit free agency at age 31, if his physical skills haven’t eroded, he’ll be a very useful player for whichever team lands his services.


Possible destinations: Cleveland, Tennessee

 

5 of 25

Kenyan Drake | Cardinals RB

Kenyan Drake | Cardinals RB

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Though Drake excelled in his brief time with the Cardinals in 2019, the team might be shy about committing significant money to a running back after the David Johnson fiasco. If Drake shows he can produce over the course of an entire season, his relative lack of wear and tear and versatility should have him in demand.


Possible destinations: Detroit, Kansas City

 

6 of 25

Bud Dupree | Steelers LB

Bud Dupree | Steelers LB

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Dupree is hard to figure. Most Steelers fans were ready to label him a first-round bust and send him packing, but he broke out in 2019, with 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles opposite T.J. Watt. The Steelers put the franchise tag on him, and seem inclined to keep him long term. But if his numbers wane in 2020, they might reconsider. 


Posssible destinations: Jacksonville, Washington

 

7 of 25

Will Fuller V | Texans WR

Will Fuller V | Texans WR

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Fuller is fast (4.33 in 40). What he doesn’t have is good health. He has played just 42 games in four seasons, though his per 16-game averages come out to 59 catches, 850 yards and six touchdowns. Fuller is facing a make-or-break year in 2020; if he has a big season without DeAndre Hopkins, he’ll likely find an enormous contract waiting for him. If not, a risk-taking team might just find themselves a bargain.


Possible destinations: Minnesota, Denver

 

8 of 25

A.J. Green | Bengals WR

A.J. Green | Bengals WR

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Assuming Green makes beautiful music with presumptive top overall pick Joe Burrow, Cincinnati will probably try to make him a Bengal for life. If for some reason that doesn’t happen, or owner/general manager Mike Brown poisons the well with Green, he’ll hit the open market. One of the league’s most gifted, underrated wide receivers, Green would be a major boon to any team looking for a top-end receiver without any high-maintenance drama.


Possible destinations: New Orleans, San Francisco

 

9 of 25

Hunter Henry | Chargers TE

Hunter Henry | Chargers TE

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The only question with Henry is whether he can stay healthy. He missed all of 2018 due to injury. When he plays, he’s a major matchup problem, and he still hasn’t reached his ceiling. A big season for the Chargers would force Los Angeles into a tough decision: Does it keep Henry or WR Keenan Allen? And remember: DE Joey Bosa also might get a massive deal.


Possible destinations: Arizona, Green Bay, New England, 

 

10 of 25

T.Y. Hilton | Colts WR

T.Y. Hilton | Colts WR

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Hilton battled injuries in 2019, but when Andrew Luck was still playing, the two were an excellent pairing. Hilton will be 31 when he hits free agency, but a big year with Philip Rivers would spike his value, and could lead to his departure from the Colts, particularly if their quarterback situation for 2021 is unsettled.


Possible destinations: Denver, New York Jets

 

11 of 25

Kareem Hunt | Browns RB

Kareem Hunt | Browns RB

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Hunt can obviously still play, but he’s also the clear backup to Nick Chubb in Cleveland. Unless Chubb goes down with an injury this year, Hunt figures to get a smaller piece of the pie in terms of touches. The biggest questions facing Hunt are his relative lack of usage and his off-field history that led to his release from the Chiefs. Any team that brings him in will have to weigh both.


Possible destinations: Chicago, Dallas

 

12 of 25

Chris Jones | Chiefs DT

Chris Jones | Chiefs DT

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most disruptive interior defenders in the NFL, with a combined 24.5 sacks in 2018 and 2019, Jones was franchise tagged by the Chiefs. Kansas City would doubtless love to keep arguably their most important defensive player, but with a mega-contract for Patrick Mahomes coming sooner rather than later, they might have to let him hit the open market.


Possible destinations: New England, Seattle

 

13 of 25

Kyle Juszczyk | 49ers FB

Kyle Juszczyk | 49ers FB

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Juszczyk is widely regarded as the best fullback in the league, and he is a versatile, important part of San Francisco’s offense. The four-time Pro Bowler is an adept blocker and a solid pass catcher, and has averaged 11.3 yards per reception his past two seasons with the 49ers.


Possible destinations: New England, New Orleans

 

14 of 25

Alvin Kamara | Saints RB

Alvin Kamara | Saints RB

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Kamara is one of the more dynamic running backs in the league. He’s an elite receiver out of the backfield, perhaps second only to Christian McCaffrey. Austin Ekeler got a nice deal from the Chargers largely on the strength of his receiving abilities, so Kamara should expect the same.


Possible destinations: Kansas City, Miami

 

15 of 25

Yannick Ngakoue | Jaguars DE

Yannick Ngakoue | Jaguars DE

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Ngakoue has been a consistent performer since entering the league in 2016. He has only topped 10 sacks once – he had 12 in 2017 – but has never had fewer than eight sacks in any season. He might well play somewhere other than Jacksonville this season, but if he isn’t traded, he should fetch a high price in free agency.


Possible destinations: Las Vegas, Tennessee

 

16 of 25

Patrick Peterson | Cardinals CB

Patrick Peterson | Cardinals CB

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Peterson is one of the best pure athletes in the NFL, but he’ll be hitting free agency past the prime age (30) for cornerbacks, and his play has taken a slight dip in recent years. A return to form in 2020 would assuage whatever concerns exist.


Possible destinations: Houston, Kansas City

 

17 of 25

Dak Prescott | Cowboys QB

Dak Prescott | Cowboys QB

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Franchise quarterbacks rarely hit free agency, and never in their prime. Still, imagine the Cowboys suffering through another frustrating season, one in which perhaps Ezekiel Elliott gets hurt and Prescott struggles in his absence. They wouldn’t let him walk, would they? Dallas is still seeking a long-term deal with him.


Potential destinations: Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles Chargers

 

18 of 25

Jalen Ramsey | Rams CB

Jalen Ramsey | Rams CB

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to imagine Los Angeles giving up so much to get Ramsey, only to let him walk not even two seasons later. But he currently does not have a long-term contract from the Rams, and if he somehow does make it to the open market, he’ll likely set off a major bidding war. He might be the NFL’s best corner. 


Possible destinations: Dallas, Seattle

 

19 of 25

Philip Rivers | Colts QB

Philip Rivers | Colts QB

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Rivers signed a one-year, $25 million deal with Indianapolis. His 2018 was great, his 2019, not so much. He’ll be 39 in December, so even if he plays well for the Colts, there’s no guarantee about his future. A strong season in Indy would likely lead to a big payday, which might well persuade Rivers to hang around for at least one more year.


Possible destinations: Jacksonville, Miami

 

20 of 25

Allen Robinson | Bears WR

Allen Robinson | Bears WR

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Robinson has two 1,000-yard seasons despite missing all but one game of his 2017 campaign due to injury. He also has played his six-year NFL career with subpar quarterbacks. Even if the Bears move heaven and earth to keep him, it’s hard to imagine Robinson not wanting to test the market. 


Possible destinations: New York Jets, Philadelphia

 

21 of 25

Richard Sherman | 49ers CB

Richard Sherman | 49ers CB

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Sherman’s incentive-laden deal with San Francisco was a big risk, but it has paid off in a major way for the former Seattle star. Sherman will hit the open market in 2021 at age 33, when most cornerbacks have fallen off precipitously or moved to safety. Another strong season for San Francisco would put him on a rare career trajectory, and set him up for another big payday.


Possible destinations: Carolina, Tampa Bay

 

22 of 25

Justin Simmons | Broncos safety

Justin Simmons | Broncos safety

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Simmons got the franchise tag for 2020, and is one of the most underrated safeties in the game. It’s hard to imagine him leaving Denver, but if for some reason he does, he will be the kind of offseason addition that could dramatically change a defense.


Possible destinations: Arizona, Dallas, New York Giants

 

23 of 25

JuJu Smith-Schuster | Steelers WR

JuJu Smith-Schuster | Steelers WR

Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Smith-Schuster is an interesting case; his proponents would point to his eye-popping numbers over his first two seasons – 169 catches for 2,343 yards and 14 touchdowns. His detractors would simply put on tape from last season, when Smith-Schuster dropped passes and struggled without Ben Roethlisberger. A huge season will set up Smith-Schuster for a big payday, but it likely won’t be with Pittsburgh.


Possible destinations: New England, Seattle

 

24 of 25

Laremy Tunsil | Texans left tackle

Laremy Tunsil | Texans left tackle

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to imagine many players wanting to be in Houston, given the damage head coach Bill O’Brien has done to the franchise. Tunsil has been as advertised since the Texans traded for him, but one more strong season would set him up to make a killing in free agency. 


Possible destinations: Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco

 

25 of 25

Trent Williams | Redskins left tackle

Trent Williams | Redskins left tackle

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Williams’ saga with Washington suggests that he’ll play somewhere else this season, and assuming he does, and performs well, he should be one of the most sought players in free agency. Williams has had trouble staying healthy – he missed 15 games from 2015-2018 – but he’s one of the NFL’s  best left tackles.


Possible destinations: Buffalo, Cleveland

Chris Mueller is the co-host of The PM Team with Poni & Mueller on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan, MondayFriday from 2-6 p.m. ET. Owner of a dog with a Napoleon complex, consumer of beer, cooker of chili, closet Cleveland Browns fan. On Twitter at @ChrisMuellerPGH – please laugh.

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