As NFL Free Agency 2021 Starts, These Are the Top Players Available

Edge rushers dominate the NFL free agency this year, while—a year after Tom Brady swapped New England for Tampa Bay—quarterbacks are at a premium.

Several high-profile players are already off the market, as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones both agreed multi-year extensions.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Chicago Bears franchise tagged wide receivers Chris Godwin and Allen Robinson, with the Denver Broncos applying the tag to star safety Justin Simmons.

Newsweek has listed 10 of the top free agents that will grab the headlines when free agency begins this week.

Shaquil Barrett

Barrett led the league in sacks in 2019 and while he was nowhere near as productive in the regular season last year—he recorded eight sacks, down from 19.5 the previous season—he was dominant in the playoffs.

The 28-year-old had three sacks in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers and one in Super Bowl LV, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs.

In a class loaded with edge-rushers, Barrett is arguably the pick of the crop.

Trent Williams

One of the best left-tackles in the NFL, Williams could become the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL as he hits free agency at a time when several teams are desperate to fill a gap at the position. While he turns 33 in July, potential suitors are unlikely to be put off as some of the best tackles in football have notoriously long careers.

Trent Williams
Trent Williams #71 of the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of a game against the Buffalo Bills at State Farm Stadium on December 7, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Trey Hendrickson

Hendrickson enjoyed a coming of age season last year, establishing himself as a starter in New Orleans and recording 13.5 sacks, the joint-second highest in the NFL behind only T.J. Watt. With the Saints cash-strapped and entering free agency already $9.4 million over the salary cap, Hendrickson's future may well lie away from New Orleans and he should not be short of suitors.

Kenny Golladay

Golladay could be one of the biggest gambles of this free agency class. The 27-year-old wide receiver has played 16 games just once in four seasons in the NFL and last year was limited to just five games due to a serious injury. On the flipside, the previous season he led the NFL in receiving touchdowns and was a constant downfield threat. With the Chicago Bears franchise-tagging Allen Robinson, Golladay is arguably the best receiver available on the market.

Carl Lawson

Another member of the edge rusher fraternity that headlines this free agency class, Lawson had a breakthrough season, recording career-highs in combined tackles, solo tackles and QB hits. The 26-year-old ranked second and sixth respectively in QB hits and pressures, as per Pro Football Focus and could should attract plenty of interest from teams looking to upgrade their defines.

Bud Dupree

Dupree recorded eight sacks and 15 QB hits last season, before tearing his ACL in Week 12 against the Baltimore Ravens. The injury is a major concern for a player who turned 28 last month and will probably lower his value, but Dupree's versatility should convince teams he is worth a contract.

While Dupree benefitted from playing in one of the most dominant defenses in the league last season, the opposite is also true and the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't look the same without him.

JuJu Smith-Schuster

Smith-Schuster's social media antics grabbed the headlines last season, overshadowing another year of solid production from the 24-year-old, who finished 38th among wide receivers in receiving yards and 10th in touchdowns with 831 and nine respectively.

While the former was the third-lowest return in his four seasons in the league, the latter represented a career-high, hardly something to be sniffed at given the dink-and-dunk nature of Pittsburgh's offense.

JuJu Smith-Schuster
JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on January 3 in Cleveland, Ohio. The 24-year-old is a free agent this offseason. Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Jameis Winston

Winston was Drew Brees' understudy in New Orleans last season and could only watch as Tom Brady, his replacement in Tampa Bay, led the Bucs to win the Super Bowl at the first time of asking.

By far the most high-profile quarterback on the market, Winston led the NFL in passing yards with 5,109 and set a franchise record with 33 touchdowns in 2019.

With Brees announcing his retirement on Sunday, could he take over as the starter in New Orleans?

Yannick Ngakoue

Ngakoue has recorded at least eight sacks in each of his five NFL seasons, but from a statistical standpoint his production has declined every season since 2017.

A somewhat underwhelming year spent with the Minnesota Vikings and the Baltimore Ravens highlighted Ngakoue isn't a universal fit in every defensive scheme as he struggled against the run. At the same time, Ngakoue's track record should be enough to convince teams needing depth at edge rusher to sign a cheque.

Richard Sherman

The veteran cornerback is again a free agent after three seasons in San Francisco. Sherman missed nine games with a calf injury last year, but was excellent in 2019 as the 49ers reached Super Bowl LIV when he recorded three interceptions and 61 tackles—respectively the third- and second-highest figures in his career.

Sherman will turn 33 at the end of the month but could be a valuable addition to a team looking for an experienced cornerback and a locker room leader.