2021 NFL Free Agency: Biggest names on the free agent market

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Julius Long
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Biggest names of the 2021 NFL Free Agency originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

With the 2020 NFL season in the rearview, March 17 is the date circled on everyone’s calendar. The official start to free agency is just weeks away and with NBA-style trade requests, a game of quarterback roulette that has grown wilder every week, and a number of franchises trying to hold their cards tight until the very end, this has all the right ingredients for a most intriguing free agency frenzy.   

Here's a look at some of the biggest names set to hit the market this free agency period.

Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys

Dak Prescott tops the list. Why? Well because he’s Dak Prescott, that's why. There's virtually no chance that the Cowboys let him go, but his contract technically expires this year. That isn’t to say that keeping him in Dallas won’t come at a steep price.

Prescott is coming off a season-ending ankle injury and if the Cowboys were reticent about signing him to a long-term deal in years past, nothing suggests they’re eager to do so now. But slapping the franchise tag on Prescott for a second time would cost them roughly $37 million in cash and cap space in 2021, while all but guaranteeing that he’ll be a free agent in 2022.

J.J. Watt, DE, Texans

No one could have expected J.J. Watt’s legendary tenure in Houston to end with the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and five-time Pro Bowl edge rusher asking for a trade. He’s 32, but his production last year — 5 sacks, 17 quarterback hits and 14 tackles for a loss in 16 games— was probably more than enough to make him a hot target anytime looking to improve on their edge rush.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Buccaneers

There was hardly any indication that Rob Gronkowski had taken a year-long hiatus from football. His 2020 season saw the five-time Pro Bowl tight end link back up with Tom Brady for yet another Super Bowl-winning season, this time in unfamiliar waters. At 43, it still doesn’t seem like Brady’s going anywhere, but free agency could see the band break up perhaps for the final time in Brady’s career.

Cam Newton, QB, Patriots

Cam Newton made it known to the world that he has no interest in being anybody’s backup. After signing a one-year deal with the Patriots, Newton finished the 2020 season ranked 30th in QBR, putting him at the riskier end of a deep quarterbacking pool. He could very well end up competing for a No. 1 spot somewhere, but only time will tell what the 32-year-old’s future holds.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Steelers

At 24, Smith-Schuster is the youngest player in NFL history to reach 2,500 career receiving yards. His rookie deal with the Steelers is set to expire and a big payout is imminent for him this free agency period.

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Chiefs

Bell has fallen off of his perch as one of the best backs in the NFL since refusing to accept a second franchise tag from the Steelers and sitting out the 2018 season. After failing to improve his production with arguably the best offense in the NFL in Kansas City, the 28-year-old is a wild card going into this free-agency period. We’ll see who's willing to take a chance on him in March.

Jameis Winston, QB, Saints

After serving as a backup to Drew Brees last season, the former No. 1 pick is back on the market in 2021. On the rare occasions that his name was called, he performed and with one of the worst cap situations in the league, the Saints will probably look elsewhere for Brees’ successor. He’s a fixer-upper for sure, but he’s been linked with a number of teams with precarious situations under center, including the Washington Football Team.

Trent Williams, T, 49ers

Williams is one of the league’s best offensive tackles and in his 10 years in the NFL, you’d be hard pressed to find a season where that wasn’t true. At 32, he’s in a prime position for a big payout in 2021.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Dolphins

We were blessed to see another season of Fitzmagic in 2020, but the 38-year-old will likely spend the remainder of his career as a No. 2 option, maybe even a No. 3, wherever he lands this free-agency period. He knows how to do a lot with a little and teams were reportedly interested in trade deals for the Dolphins quarterback after his heroic performances this year.

Richard Sherman, CB, 49ers

Richard Sherman is in the latter stages of his career at 33. While a calf strain kept him on the sideline much of last year, he was a Pro-Bowl cornerback as recently as 2019. He’s one of the league’s greatest competitors and wherever he lands, he’ll have something to prove.