NFL

NFL free agency grades 2021: Live analysis of every free agent signing and trade

The NFL free agency and trading period is here for 2021 with the new league year set to go into effect on Wednesday, Although several players are staying off the market, either re-signed or franchise-tagged by their teams, many others are set to change teams, by either signing with or being traded to another team.

As the news happens, Sporting News will provide the latest analysis of the most significant moves around the NFL right here. 

NFL FREE AGENCY 2021:
Ranking the top 50 players overall, best by position, tracking signings

NFL free agency 2021: Grading the latest signings, trades

Patriots sign TE Jonnu Smith for 4 years, $50 million

Grade: A-

The Patriots finally splurge for capable experienced starter to help replace Rob Gronkowski with this strong former Titans blocker who also has high receiving upside. Smith is going into his only age 26 season and should use his athleticism to be a key pass-catcher all the way through the red zone for Cam Newton and/or a rookie QB. Smith’s also versatility fits well with Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick. The only concern is durability for such a high price.

Buccaneers re-sign EDGE Shaquil Barrett for 4 years, $72 million

Grade: A

The Buccaneers continue their mastery of the cap in making sure all the key pieces and top priorities in free agency stay from their Super Bowl 55 time. Barrett took a mild “hometown discount” to stay, too, and will continue to wreak havoc opposite Jason Pierre-Paul.

Lions re-sign DE Romeo Okwara for 3 years, $39 million

Grade: B

He was a bright spot in a disappointing season for the end of Matt Patricia’s defense with a breakout 10-sack season. The Lions may have overpaid a bit for limited sample size, but they are desperate to have a youn gfoundation up front for the Dan Campbell era.

49ers re-sign FB Kyle Juszczyk for 5 years, $27 million

Grade: A

His name is hard to spell and his role is hard to define, but with his blocking and pass-catching, he’s an invaluable versatile cog in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

Ravens sign G Kevin Zeitler for 3 years, $22 million

Grade: B

The Giants had to say goodbye to his services but the Ravens, hurting in the interior without Marshal Yanda, find their solid replacement right guard.

Packers re-sign RB Aaron Jones for 4 years, $48 million

Grade: A

The Packers avoided using the franchise tag on him and gave him a reasonable deal tied with his prime as a strong all-around back. He will form a nice punch with A.J. Dillon going forward to keep supporting Aaron Rodgers.

Colts trade for Eagles QB Carson Wentz

Grade: A-

The Colts made a calculated move for a young QB with a lessened contract for them, hoping Wentz will get his grove back with Frank Reich and a better support system overall.

Rams trade for QB Matthew Stafford

Grade: B-

The Rams gave up a lot hoping they got a big upgrade at the position, but Stafford isn’t exactly that and he’s a older QB with recent major durability issues and a notable history of not winning (or getting to) playoff games.

Lions trade for QB Jared Goff

Grade: A

Goff is a pretty decent bridge QB for a promising new offense with Anthony Lynn with some talented young skill players. Plus, the Lions also are in great shape with two extra first-rounders out of the deal and maybe didn’t downgrade all that much with a chance for Goff to rebound with a change of scene.

Cardinals sign DE J.J. Watt for 2 years, $28 million

Grade: A

The Cardinals got the Texans legend for pretty good market value coming off another strong all-around season. He’s a perfect fit for a 3-4 front that needed a player like him badly.

Cowboys re-sign Dak Prescott for 4 years, $160 million

Grade: A

Prescott got his needed big money now and a chance to break the bank in relation the market in not too much later. The Cowboys also won by getting big cap relief and locked up their young, elite long-term QB.

Buccaneers re-sign LB Lavonte David for 2 years, $25 million

Grade: A

The Buccaneers not only kept their top disruptive pass rusher, but they also made sure their defensive leader and second-level glue didn’t go anywhere.

Franchise-tagged players

Chris Godwin, WR, Buccaneers (tendered at 1 year, $15.9 million)

Grade: A

The Buccaneers weren’t about to let a key Tom Brady target — arguably his true new go-to guy — walk in their quest to repeat.

Allen Robinson, WR, Bears (tendered at 1 year, $18 million)

Grade: B

The Bears need to keep Robinson badly, but it doesn’t look like he’s thrilled to stay unless the QB situation improves. They’re also extended themselves cap-wise without a real QB solution.

Taylor Moton, RT, Panthers (tendered at 1 year, $13.75 million, re-signed)

Grade: A

This rebuilding team with a promising offense needed to keep a sturdy, young, all-around blocker for whoever the next starting QB is. This was a no-brainer at the price.

Justin Simmons, S, Broncos (tendered at 1 year, $13.7 million)

Grade: A 

Safety still has a favorable value to tag Simmons again, much needed for Denver because of other major secondary issues.

Cam Robinson, LT, Jaguars (tendered at 1 year, $13.75 million)

Grade: B

Robinson isn’t considered an elite blindside pass protector, but the Jaguars had plenty under the cap and needed to keep the edges intact for Trevor Lawrence.

Leonard Williams, DE, Giants (tendered at 1 year, $19.35 million)

Grade: B

The Giants got a big interior pass-rushing season from Williams, the former Jet, and needed him for the foundation of an improving defense. The price may be a little high, however.

Brandon Scherff, G, Washington (tendered at 1 year, $18 million)

Grade: A

Washington needed to keep some offensive line pieces as it tries to upgrade tackle for its next starting QB.

Marcus Maye, S, Jets (tendered at 1 year, $10.6 million)

Grade: C

Maye is about an average player at this point but the Jets showed some desperation here, still feeling the void of Jamal Adams.

Marcus Williams, S, Saints (tendered at 1 year, $10.6 million)

Grade: A

Williams was a big part of the Saints’ secondary — which is now in transition at cornerback — so working the cap to keep a key playmaker was huge.

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