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Who’s ready for 2021 NFL free agency? With Super Bowl LV in the rearview mirror, one of the strangest NFL offseasons ever is just getting started. We’ve already seen quarterback trades and other drama around star signal-callers, and the franchise tag window has come and gone with 10 players getting tagged.
Free agency kicks off next week. Teams can begin to negotiate with free agents Monday afternoon and officially sign them Wednesday, but they’re already striking deals to re-sign (and release) players and rumors are flowing on all the latest news across the league. Teams have to cut under the salary cap — $182.5 million — by Wednesday.
Which teams will sign the biggest free agents? Offensive tackle Trent Williams, pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue and tight end Hunter Henry are among the top players available. Which teams are most active in free agency? What are we hearing on the trade front? And will there be any surprise cuts?
We’re tracking every notable NFL free-agent signing, trade and cut of the offseason, with the most recent moves at the top.
Riley Reiff became the first domino to fall for the Minnesota Vikings this offseason and will allow the team more financial flexibility to go after unrestricted free agents. The left tackle was due a $5 million roster bonus on March 19, which was negotiated into his contract upon agreeing to a restructured deal last September. His release frees up $11.75 million in cap space to put Minnesota $8,730,584 under the cap.
The Tennessee Titans released safety Kenny Vaccaro and officially announced Malcolm Butler was being released. Releasing Vaccaro saves the team $3.9 million in cap space.
The Miami Dolphins released linebacker Kyle Van Noy just one year into his four-year, $51 million contract signed last March. The team tried to trade him over the last week but was unsuccessful and decided to move on.
The New York Giants released veteran guard Kevin Zeitler after two years with the team. Zeitler, 31, was the Giants’ best and most consistent offensive lineman last season. But he was set to earn $12 million and count $14.5 million against the salary cap.
The Carolina Panthers restructured the deals of running back Christian McCaffrey and linebacker Shaq Thompson to clear more than $11 million in salary cap space. They saved $5.6 million in space on McCaffrey, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, by converting his 2021 base salary of just over $8 million into signing bonus.
The Bills have released wide receiver John Brown as well as defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson, the team announced Wednesday. Buffalo’s decision to part ways with the 30-year-old receiver comes as little surprise; the Bills are $3.64 million under the NFL’s $182.5 million salary cap for 2021, but releasing Brown clears $7.93 million in cap space for the upcoming season.
The New Orleans Saints are releasing veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders after just one season as they continue to trim their massive salary-cap deficit, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Sanders, who turns 34 next week, confirmed the move in an Instagram post.
The NFL and NFL Players Association agreed Wednesday to a salary cap of $182.5 million per team for 2021, a long-anticipated 8% decrease from last season, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The drop-off will force teams to make difficult roster decisions in the coming days and weeks.
The Tennessee Titans are releasing veteran cornerback Malcolm Butler, his agent, Derek Simpson, told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Tuesday. The seventh-year veteran would have held a $14.2 million cap number for the upcoming season. Releasing Butler clears $10.2 million in cap space.
Coach Bruce Arians made good on his word at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Super Bowl boat parade, when he told inside linebacker Lavonte David, “Your ass ain’t going nowhere.” The Bucs agreed to terms with David on a two-year deal worth $25 million, with $20 million guaranteed, sources told ESPN, keeping one of the league’s premier inside linebackers from hitting free agency.
The Green Bay Packers did not use the franchise tag to retain Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones, but they still have one more shot to retain him before he hits free agency. A source told Schefter that Green Bay is still attempting to re-sign Jones before he gets there. The team retains exclusive negotiating rights with him until Monday, when unrestricted free agents can begin talking to other teams. The tag would have cost the Packers about $8 million.
The Seattle Seahawks informed running back Chris Carson that they will not place their franchise tag on him, a source told Schefter. OverTheCap.com projected the franchise tag for running backs to cost just over $8 million. That was apparently too rich for the Seahawks.
The Cleveland Browns have released defensive end Adrian Clayborn, a move that will save the team $3 million against the cap. Clayborn, 32, who signed a two-year deal with Cleveland last offseason, had 3.5 sacks while backing up starters Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon.
The New York Giants placed the franchise tag on defensive lineman Leonard Williams after working on a long-term deal. Both parties wanted to get something done, and the franchise tag could still act as a placeholder. Williams, 26, played on the franchise tag last season at $16.126 million. A second tag comes at the cost of 120% of last year’s number, or $19.351 million.
The Atlanta Falcons have saved almost $4 million from the 2021 salary cap by cutting veteran offensive guard James Carpenter.
The Minnesota Vikings released kicker Dan Bailey, the team announced. Bailey, 33, was at risk of becoming a salary-cap casualty this offseason after the Vikings signed kicker Greg Joseph off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad in February. With $1.8 of Bailey’s $2.7 million 2021 base salary set to become guaranteed on March 19, the Vikings released the kicker to yield $1.7 million in salary-cap savings.
The New Orleans Saints placed the franchise tag on safety Marcus Williams, the team announced. The only thing surprising about the Saints using their franchise tag on Williams is that it reduces their salary-cap flexibility — and they were already about $50 million over the projected cap to start this week. But the Saints made it a priority to keep Williams, and the franchise tag cost for safeties is much cheaper than other positions.
The Chicago Bears placed the franchise tag on veteran wide receiver Allen Robinson, the team announced. The Bears and Robinson’s agent failed to reach an agreement on a long-term deal during last season, forcing Chicago to apply the tag or risk losing Robinson — the club’s top receiver the past three years — in free agency.
Former Chicago Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long plans to unretire and play in the NFL in 2021, ESPN confirmed. Long announced in January 2020 that he would retire after seven NFL seasons, all in Chicago.
The Detroit Lions did not use their franchise tag on wide receiver Kenny Golladay, clearing the way for him to enter free agency. Golladay heading to the open market means the Lions probably will overhaul their receiver corps completely. Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola and Jamal Agnew are also scheduled to be free agents, taking the majority of the team’s receiver reps from a season ago.
The Los Angeles Chargers have informed tight end Hunter Henry that he will not receive the franchise tag for a second consecutive season, a source told Schefter. Henry, who turned 27 in December, clicked with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert and had a career-best 60 receptions last season. Henry played last season on the franchise tender, making $10.6 million.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are using the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson, coach Urban Meyer confirmed. “[Offensive line coach] George Warhop feels very strong about his future and the development,” Meyer said. “We realize that he has a great future. His ceiling is very high.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers have informed linebacker Bud Dupree that they will not use the franchise tag on him, a league source told Schefter. Dupree, who was franchised by the Steelers last year, will now head to free agency. After posting 11.5 sacks for Pittsburgh during the 2019 season, Dupree, who turned 28 in February, was on track for another strong season in 2020 before suffering a torn ACL in Week 12.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used the franchise tag on wide receiver Chris Godwin, the team announced. The tag will cost the Bucs roughly $16.5 million and means they won’t be able to tag outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who earned $15.8 million playing under the franchise tag last year. Tagging Barrett again in 2021 would have cost the Bucs $18.96 million — 120% of what they paid last year.
The Carolina Panthers have used the franchise tag to lock down right tackle Taylor Moton. The offensive tackle franchise number is expected to be between $13.5 million and $14 million in 2021, and applying the tag allows Carolina to continue to negotiate a long-term deal, which was a priority heading into the offseason.
The New England Patriots will be acquiring offensive tackle Trent Brown from the Las Vegas Raiders in a trade after agreeing to a restructured one-year contract worth up to $11 million with him, sources told ESPN’s Field Yates. The Patriots are sending a 2022 fifth-round pick to the Raiders in exchange for Brown and a 2022 seventh-round pick, a source told ESPN.
The Seattle Seahawks released veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap, the team announced. The move clears $14.1 million in badly needed cap space but leaves the Seahawks without their most accomplished edge rusher and a two-time Pro Bowl selection. The team is expected to attempt to re-sign Dunlap at a discounted rate once he tests the market.
The Dallas Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott have agreed to a four-year, $160 million contract, including $126 million guaranteed, a source told Schefter. The deal, which is technically for six years but voids to four so as to help Dallas against the salary cap, can be worth up to $164 million, a source said. Prescott’s signing bonus is $66 million, the highest in NFL history.
Safety Marcus Maye, who turned 28 on Tuesday, received an early birthday present from the New York Jets: the franchise tag, a source told Schefter. Maye, poised to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time, is the first Jets player since defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson in 2016 to get the designation.
The Tennessee Titans have agreed to trade offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson, their first-round pick last year, to the Miami Dolphins, sources told ESPN. The Titans will send a seventh-round pick in 2022 and Wilson to Miami for a 2021 seventh-rounder to complete the deal, sources said.
Washington has placed the franchise tag on right guard Brandon Scherff for a second consecutive year, the team announced. Scherff will receive $18.03 million in the 2021 season — a 20% increase over last season. But Washington still hopes to sign him to a long-term deal. It has until July 15 to do so.
The Houston Texans have signed former Seattle Seahawks center Justin Britt to a one-year deal worth up to $5 million, a source told Schefter. Britt, who did not play during the 2020 season after Seattle released him in April, indicated he is Houston-bound in an Instagram post.
The Cincinnati Bengals on Friday released guard B.J. Finney, ending a year of confusion, fear and physical limitations for the former $8 million player.
The Denver Broncos are placing the franchise tag on safety Justin Simmons for the second consecutive season, it was announced Friday. Simmons, who was poised to become an unrestricted free agent, becomes the first player to be tagged this offseason. The Broncos now have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal.
Philadelphia Eagles All-Pro center Jason Kelce announced that he will return for an 11th season and has restructured his contract for 2021. Kelce has been contemplating retirement the past several offseasons but has decided to play for at least another year even though the Eagles are going through a transition period.
Quarterback Alex Smith, who won the 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in helping the Washington Football Team win the NFC East title, has been released by the franchise, it was announced Friday. Washington coach Ron Rivera said in a statement that the team granted Smith’s request to be released after the two met this week.
The Seattle Seahawks on Thursday officially released wide receiver Josh Gordon, who was suspended indefinitely, and retired tight end Greg Olsen. The moves were procedural, with Gordon having joined another league and Olsen having already announced his retirement on Jan. 24. Gordon posted on Twitter that he “personally asked” the Seahawks to be released, noting that his contract “was expired but still legally binding.”
Ben Roethlisberger is officially back with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 2021 NFL season, the team announced Thursday. The Steelers did not disclose the terms, but a source told Schefter that Roethlisberger willingly reduced his pay to $14 million from $19 million in this final year of his contract and spread the cash payment through 2022. The move lowers the team’s salary-cap hit by more than $15 million.
The New Orleans Saints have released Thomas Morstead, who has been one of the NFL’s best punters over the past 12 years and was responsible for one of the most iconic moments in franchise history.
The Detroit Lions have told cornerback Desmond Trufant that he will be released at the start of the league year, which begins on March 17, a source told Schefter. Trufant signed a two-year, $20 million deal with the Lions before the 2020 season to be the team’s replacement for Darius Slay, who was traded to Philadelphia. Detroit still owes Trufant $3.5 million in guaranteed money for 2021.
Wide receiver Golden Tate has been released by the New York Giants in a cost-cutting move. The move creates $6 million in cap space for the Giants, $10 million if he is designated a post-June 1 cut. Tate was to make $8.5 million and count $11 million against the salary cap in 2021.
Former Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Tyrell Williams has reached agreement on a one-year deal worth up to $6.2 million with the Detroit Lions, a source told Schefter on Wednesday. The Lions might have a revamped wide receiver corps in 2021, as Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola are set to become free agents later this month.
The New Orleans Saints have agreed to a two-year deal with special-teams standout and backup safety J.T. Gray. Gray, who was named second-team All Pro in 2019, was scheduled to be a restricted free agent after originally signing as an undrafted free agent out of Mississippi State in 2018.
In a cost-cutting move, the New York Jets on Tuesday released veteran defensive end Henry Anderson, who started 24 games for them over the past three seasons. By cutting Anderson, who carried a $9.5 million cap charge, the Jets will save $8.2 million — the amount of his non-guaranteed base salary. The remaining $1.3 million will remain as a “dead” charge.
The Minnesota Vikings have released veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph after 10 seasons, the team announced. The move saves Minnesota $5.1 million against the salary cap for 2021. Rudolph, 31, will become a free agent for the first time in his NFL career.
The Houston Texans restructured running back David Johnson’s contract, which now will be worth up to $6 million in 2021, including $4.25 million fully guaranteed at signing, a source told ESPN. Johnson might have been a salary-cap casualty if he had not restructured his contract.
The Miami Dolphins are moving on from linebacker Kyle Van Noy just one year after he signed a four-year, $51 million deal in free agency. Van Noy released a statement Tuesday afternoon through NFL Network that he was informed of his release and was “surprised and disappointed” with the Dolphins’ decision. He mentioned he gave his all to Miami in his one season there as a captain and fought through a painful hip injury.
Free-agent pass-rusher J.J. Watt has agreed to a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals, the team announced Monday. Terms were not disclosed, but a source told Schefter that the deal is worth $31 million and includes $23 million guaranteed.
New York Giants offensive tackle Nate Solder intends to play in 2021 as long as the situation is right, he told ESPN in a phone conversation. Solder, who opted out this past season because of concerns for his family with COVID-19, has yet to have that conversation with the team about his future. He was considered a high-risk opt-out and his contract tolled. He is scheduled to make $10 million in 2021 while costing $16.5 million against the salary cap this season.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson met with new Houston Texans coach David Culley last Friday, according to sources, and informed Culley that he has no intention of suiting up for the team again. Upset over the way the organization has operated in recent years, Watson has asked the Texans to trade him and has had very little contact with the team since the season ended.
The Tennessee Titans waived wide receiver Adam Humphries in a move that saves about $4.47 million in cap space, it was announced Thursday. The sixth-year receiver missed four games last season after a vicious hit by Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates in Week 8 resulted in a concussion.
Representatives for Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown have started exploring trade possibilities as he eyes a full-time role at left tackle, a source told ESPN. The Ravens are aware of those plans, the source said, as they value the three-year starter and Pro Bowler but are open to discussions about his future.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has not demanded a trade, his agent Mark Rodgers told Schefter. Rodgers said Wilson has told the Seahawks that he wants to play in Seattle, but if a trade were considered, the only teams he would go to are the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Las Vegas Raiders and Chicago Bears.
The Denver Broncos have released defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, the team announced. Casey, 31, played in only three games before suffering a season-ending torn biceps during the Broncos’ loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Casey had no guaranteed money left on his contract, which was set to run through the 2022 season. The move saves the Broncos $11.87 million against the salary cap in 2021.
Receiver DeSean Jackson has been released by the Philadelphia Eagles, the team announced. “Looking forward to my next chapter,” Jackson posted on his Instagram story before the announcement was made official. “Philadelphia it’s always Love. Appreciate Everything.” He played in just three games in ’19 because of a core muscle injury, and he missed 11 games this past season with an injured ankle.
The Carolina Panthers cleared $19.9 million in salary-cap space this week with the release of four players, including three on Friday. The release of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short on Wednesday and of defensive end Stephen Weatherly, safety Tre Boston and punter Michael Palardy on Friday improved the team’s cap space to $28.473 million heading into the start of free agency next month. Boston’s release won’t be official until the league year starts March 17, with a post-June 1 designation, according to a source.
The Philadelphia Eagles have agreed to trade quarterback Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2021 third-round draft pick and a conditional 2022 second-round pick that could turn into a first-rounder, league sources told ESPN. The Eagles will receive the 85th overall pick in this year’s draft, and the conditional second-rounder can become a first-round pick based on Wentz’s playing time, according to sources. Wentz needs to play at least 75% of the Colts’ offensive snaps for the 2022 conditional pick to convey to a first-rounder, according to sources. The pick also could become a first-rounder if Wentz plays at least 70% of the snaps and the Colts reach the playoffs.
In moves that free up $10.75 million in salary-cap space, the Atlanta Falcons have released starting cornerback Ricardo Allen and defensive end Allen Bailey. The Falcons rank near the bottom of the NFL in salary-cap space.
The Miami Dolphins signed kicker Jason Sanders to a five-year extension that ties him to the franchise through the 2026 season. Financial terms were not disclosed, but a source told Schefter that the contract is worth $22 million and includes $10 million guaranteed.
The Las Vegas Raiders plan to release wide receiver Tyrell Williams at the start of the new league year, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. Williams missed last season because of a torn labrum in his shoulder suffered in training camp that required surgery.
The Denver Broncos have released cornerback A.J. Bouye. The move is the first of several that will have to be made at cornerback as the Broncos rebuild their depth chart at the position after a season that saw four cornerbacks finish the year on injured reserve. Bouye also missed the last four games of 2020 due to a six-game suspension for violations of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
It took less than two games to transform quarterback Taylor Heinicke from a guy whose NFL career appeared over to signing a multiyear contract. The Washington Football Team announced Wednesday that it re-signed Heinicke to a two-year deal, which is worth up to $8.75 million, a source confirmed. Heinicke would have been a restricted free agent, but Washington had made it clear it wanted to keep him based on how he finished the season.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is heading to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for quarterback Jared Goff and a multitude of draft picks, sources told Schefter. The Lions will receive a third-round pick in 2021, a first-round pick in 2022 and a first-round pick in 2023 in what is the first exchange of former No. 1 overall picks in the common draft era (since 1967). The deal cannot be made official until the start of the new league year on March 17.
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