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What Were The 3 Best Free Agent Signings of 2021?

  • The Draft Network
  • November 18, 2021
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NFL free agency can oftentimes be viewed as a crapshoot. Franchises guarantee hundreds of million dollars to acquire new players on an annual basis in hopes of improving their fortunes for the upcoming campaign. Good decisions may catapult a team to contender status, whereas other commitments can set a team back and cripple them financially.

Smart teams spend wisely and identify the right fits, and basement dwellers misuse their capital and live to regret their misguided decisions. The 2021 free agency period was no different. Now 10 weeks into the NFL regular season, we've identified three offseason investments that worked out beautifully for all parties involved.

CORDARRELLE PATTERSON, RB, ATLANTA FALCONS

The Atlanta Falcons have received excellent value on the one-year, $3 million shrewd contract they handed out to Patterson in the offseason. A 30-year-old veteran journeyman who once electrified college football audiences at Tennessee, Patterson has been a terrific dual-threat weapon for head coach Arthur Smith throughout the first nine contests of the season.

Lining up at both running back and wide receiver, Patterson has already set career-highs in rushing yards (303) and receiving yards (473) while matching his previous career-high in offensive touchdowns scored (7). Patterson is moving all over the offensive formation and opposing defenses are struggling to contain his big-play ability. With seven games to play, it's fair to say Patterson is experiencing the most fruitful season of his long and difficult NFL career.

MATTHEW JUDON, OLB, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots were the league's biggest spenders in the offseason, committing an astounding $163 million in guaranteed money to newcomers. The jury is still out on many of those acquisitions, but outside linebacker Matthew Judon has been a godsend for a revamped and rejuvenated defense. A fifth-round selection out of Grand Valley State, the Patriots secured Judon's services by signing him to a risky four-year, $56 million contract. Judon has repaid Belichick's faith in him by playing at the highest level imaginable in New England's fearful defensive front.

Judon has been outstanding while terrorizing opposing offensive tackles on a weekly basis, and has astonishingly already matched his career-high totals in sacks with 9.5 quarterback takedowns. New England has experienced a defensive renaissance in 2021 compared to last year's disappointing unit, and Judon is a big reason why they're having so much success.

DENICO AUTRY, DE, TENNESSEE TITANS

No defensive unit has made a more shocking and unexpected leap in 2021 than the one currently dominating in Tennessee. The 2020 Titans were truly abysmal at every level of the defense. Their inability to apply consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks (19 sacks in 16 games) was haunting. The pendulum has swung in the other direction this season and general manager Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Vrabel largely have the under-the-radar addition of Denico Autry to thank for their stark turnaround.

Autry's three-year, $21.5 million contract received little coverage nationally in comparison to the big bucks that were being handed out elsewhere, but the former Mississippi State Bulldog has had a profound influence on a fearful defensive front that is currently just two sacks (27) away from tying the league-lead in that category. While Autry has been in rather fine form himself, having totaled five sacks and 43 pressures (which ranks sixth in the NFL via Pro Football Focus), it's what he's done for his teammates that’s made the largest impact. The attention Autry is commanding from opposing offensive lines has helped unlock the full potential of Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry. Simmons leads all interior defensive tackles with a career-high 7.5 sacks, and Landry has also posted a career-high 10 sacks in just 10 contests. This front four is clicking right now and Autry is helping lead the way.

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