The 2021 free agency cycle—including the tampering period prior to the new league year—had its shocking signings and big-time moves, but for the most part, the wide receiver group has been a slow burn.
Going into the month of March, there were plenty of articles and podcasts that talked about the depth of this free agent wide receiver class, emphasizing how impactful the top of it could be. With names like Corey Davis, Kenny Golladay, Will Fuller, Curtis Samuel, T.Y. Hilton, A.J. Green, DeSean Jackson, Marvin Jones, Antonio Brown, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, the eyes of fans got wide thinking about the playmakers their teams could add.
With such a strong wide receiver group, we figured it would be a free-for-all frenzy right when the tampering period opened, but that was not the case. A few of those names listed above have agreed to contracts and signed now that the league year is open, but many of them still remain without teams. It appears as though the asking price from the receivers and the willing price from the teams is further apart than we thought. With so many big names not signed, it looks like it was less of a negotiation gap and more of a need for entirely new starting points.
But one by one the talented wide receiver group will sign. Here’s a summary and prediction for a few of the big-name wide receivers left on the market.
We knew that Smith-Schuster would be a polarizing case around the NFL, or at least we figured that would be the case. Would teams bidding for his services focus more on the 1,400-yard season he had in his second year as more of a slot player when the Steelers’ passing offense was at its best, or would they focus more on the lack of production that came when Smith-Schuster was asked to play more of a WR1 role, including playing on the line of scrimmage (being asked to get off press coverage) as an X receiver?
It appears they are more hesitant than hyped up.
Smith-Schuster would do well in an offense that would allow him to play off the line of scrimmage as either a slot player or a flanker receiver. The teams that make the most sense for him in that role are the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. The Jets just signed Corey Davis to be an X type, which would free Smith-Schuster up to play off the line of scrimmage with Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims (who can also play X). Perhaps they could even move Crowder for a draft pick or cut him to save a ton of cap space. As for the Dolphins, they already have their two outside guys with DeVante Parker and Preston Williams. Smith-Schuster would perfectly complement them in the slot.
Many of us went into the free agency cycle believing that Golladay would be in the mix with someone like Chris Godwin for future WR1 money. That was not the case at all. The Buccaneers didn’t even dare let Godwin hit free agency, as they gave him the franchise tag just before—and on the flip side, Golladay remains unsigned.
The Giants seem to be the team most interested in him, and that makes a lot of sense. Golladay, at 6-foot-4, is a big-bodied contested-catch receiver that the Giants do not have right now; most of their starting receiver room is short and quick guys. The Cincinnati Bengals are also interested, but reportedly just for a one-year deal.
Golladay has some injuries he’s had to deal with, but we didn’t think it would hold him back from signing a major deal this much. We’ve also read that at this point, Golladay might just want a one-year deal in order to hit the market next year when the cap is higher.
He’ll sign soon enough. I believe the best place is in New York.
Fuller is another surprise to see still available, but this one I can at least understand. Fuller has been fantastic when he’s on the field, but there have been too many times where he has been unavailable. Without DeAndre Hopkins opposite him, Fuller had the best year of his career as a WR1. However, he played in just 11 games because of a suspension that will linger into Week 1 of the 2021 season. He only played in 11 games in 2019 and seven games in 2018 due to injuries.
I think the Colts and the Packers make the most sense for teams that could lure him over—Green Bay was reportedly interested in trading for him last season. But at this point, I have no idea what that contract will look like.
Speaking of the Colts, they could use Fuller due to the likelihood they won’t be bringing back their long-time deep threat receiver in Hilton. Hilton will be 32 years old this upcoming season and has missed some time over the last two years, which has affected his availability and his impact. But, he is still a good veteran receiver who has some speed left in the tank.
I would have liked Hilton for both the Patriots and the Raiders, but they already made signings of Nelson Agholor and John Brown, so those spots are likely filled now. The Ravens make sense if Baltimore wants more of the same of what they already have (they might). Perhaps the Bears as well if they want to go more all-in in 2021 (which they kind of have to).
Brown is the true wild card. Four years ago he signed a four-year, $68 million deal with the Steelers as one of the best receivers in the NFL. Two years later he was signing a three-year, $50 million deal with Raiders, and then that same season, after being cut, he signed a one-year, $15 million deal with the New England Patriots. And just last year he signed a vet-minimum one-year, $1.6 million deal with the Buccaneers.
It looks like there is only one team in the NFL that trusts Brown right now, and that is the Buccaneers. I ultimately believe he’s back with Tampa Bay because I’m not sure any other team will offer him a contract. He won a Super Bowl in that offense last year; maybe he doesn’t want to go anywhere either.