Recap of 2021 NFL Free Agency

Colin McGee ‘22

NFL Free Agency has always been a very interesting time for fans. Following players going to new teams is always very fun. However, many feel as if big free agent spending doesn’t usually end positive for teams. This is due to many recent teams who have spent large amounts of money in free agency and it did not pay off. However the Tampa Bay Buccaneers changed this way of thinking recently to some extent. 

Last year, the Buccaneers were one of the biggest players in free agency signing players such as Tom Brady and trading for others like Rob Gronkowski. These huge acquisitions during the spring helped propel the Buccaneers to their 2nd Super Bowl Championship. The Buccaneers showed how as long as you play your cards right, being aggressive in free agency can lead to Super Bowl trophies. 

This brings us to the 2021 free agency period which was for sure not short on action. One huge common theme of this free agency was players restructuring their contracts. This was done by some players in an effort to help their team’s cap situation and help them sign free agents. Damages caused by COVID-19 have made the NFL salary cap decrease by 8% from last year. Due to this decrease, many players earned less money than normally would be expected. 

Surprisingly the biggest players in this free agency period were the New England Patriots. It has now been over a year since the Patriots have lost Tom Brady to the Buccaneers. Their first season in two decades without Brady had its ups and downs with the Patriots going 7-9. They re-signed their starting quarterback, former MVP Cam Newton, to a 1 year deal. They also went out and gave a lot of money to players such as Jonnu Smith, Matthew Judon, and Hunter Henry. The reason why this is very surprising is because spending big money in free agency was never the way in which New England as well as Bill Belicheck have conducted their business. They shored up a lot of their holes and look to be even better for next year as well as a playoff contender. As all NFL fans should know: you should never count out the Patriots as long as Bill Belicheck is on the sidelines. 

Another aggressive team was the New York Giants. The Giants started off free agency in not a great situation. However, they turned that situation into a huge spending spree. They started by resigning Leonard Williams to a huge 3 year, $63 million contract coming off a strong 2020 season. This move, along with other cuts and restructures, made way for more cap space. They signed many players with the most noticeable being Kenny Golladay, the top receiver on the free agent market. The Giants gave him a 4 year, $72 million contract to be their true #1 wide receiver going forward. Another notable signing was picking up Adoree Jackson from the Titans as well as Kyle Rudolph from the Vikings. 

The quarterback market during the free agency period was not as active as many imagined. Matthew Stafford and Carson Wentz were already traded to the Rams and Colts respectively a month prior. The only huge quarterback story from free agency came from Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. After over a year of negotiations and endless discussions, Prescott resigned with the Cowboys for a whopping 4 year, $160 million contract. This move ensures that Prescott will continue to lead the Cowboys for the near future.

Many teams, such as the Patriots and Giants, spent a lot of money in this free agency period. However, as is the case with all free agent classes, we cannot properly determine how good these classes for each team were until the season is underway. However if there is one thing to be learned from these moves it is that many teams are eyeing the 2021-22 season as their time to shine. As a fan, I cannot wait to see what the future holds for these teams and their newly signed free agents.