Check out the best moves from the start of 2021 NFL free agency.
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While NFL free agency is only a couple of days old, there has already been a flurry of action. We're not talking moves on the margins, either. Some truly impactful players have signed new deals and switched teams. And that means it's already time to take a look at the NFL's best moves from the free agency so far.
All football fans should want to keep track of these developments. Those who bet on the NFL specifically, though, definitely need to be on top of it.
Biggest NFL Free Agency Signings
Our list of the most impactful moves will consist of signings only. Anyone who was traded or franchise tagged (like Chris Godwin) will be excluded from consideration.
There are still plenty of big-time deals that can be made, but these are the players who have put pen to paper on a new contract already and stand to make the biggest difference on their new or incumbent team.
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
Contract: 4 years, $160 million
After Dak Prescott missed the entire 2020 season with a dislocation and fracture in his right ankle, many people thought the Cowboys would either franchise tag their quarterback or let him walk. They had good reason. Dallas had proven reluctant to pay him in the past—and that's when he wasn't coming off a major injury.
The Cowboys went in a much different direction. They had no choice.
Last year, with Andy Dalton taking a bulk of the snaps under center, the offense ranked 28th in points per game, 19th in passing touchdowns, and 22nd in net yards per passing attempt. Dak was already the Cowboys' most important player. In his absence, though, they discovered he was irreplaceable.
Also factoring into this decision: The state of the NFC East.
The Washington Football Team won it at 7-9 last year and still doesn't have their quarterback of the future. The New York Giants are in the same boat. The Philadelphia Eagles think they have a QB1 in Jalen Hurts, but they're not sure. There is an opening for Dallas to run away with the NFC East and guarantee itself a spot in the NFC playoffs.
Leonard Williams, DT, New York Giants
Contract: 3 years, $63 million
Speaking of the Giants, their defense proved to be surprisingly serviceable last season. They were ninth in points allowed per game and sported one of the most effective run prevention systems. At the end of the year, they were 10th in rushing touchdowns allowed and eighth in rushing yards surrendered per attempt.
Perhaps no one played a bigger part in that success upfront than defensive tackle Leonard Williams. Many analysts, in fact, had him projected as the second-best free agent available—regardless of a position.
Let's just say the Giants were lucky he didn't leave for greener pastures.
Shaquil Barrett, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Contract: 4 years, $72 million
Tom Brady received a lion's share of the credit for the Bucs' 2020 Super Bowl push. It's always like that for quarterbacks—particularly future Hall of Famers who just might be the best NFL player of all time.
By the end of the postseason, however, Tampa Bay was leaning on their defense just as much as the offense. They finished the year eighth in points allowed per game and wielded one of the two stingiest passing defenses in the league.
Loads of factors went into their success. Chief among them: The ability to pressure the quarterback. And Shaquil Barrett did it better than anyone on the defensive line. Bringing back the 28-year-old was always a necessity—one of the few things the Bucs needed to do to ensure their position as foremost Super Bowl contenders in 2022.
Joe Thuney, OT, Kansas City Chiefs
Contract: 5 years, $80 million
Nobody expected the Chiefs to do much in free agency after losing the Super Bowl. They were supposed to be cap-strapped.
Thanks to Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce restructuring their deals, though, Kansas City was able to carve out more than $20 million in wiggle room. They wasted no time putting that money to good use. Joe Thuney was the best offensive tackle on the open market, and the Chiefs threw the bag at him to poach him from the New England Patriots.
Some might call this an overpay. It's not. Look back to how poorly the Chiefs' offensive line protected Mahomes during the Super Bowl. They gutted the entire operation for a reason. Thuney is a big-time pickup.
Hunter Henry, TE, New England Patriots
Contract: 3 years, $37.5 million
Sure, the Patriots lost Thuney to an AFC rival, but they also signed—well, they signed pretty much everyone else under the sun.
Nobody spent more money in the opening days of free agency than New England. They unloaded the clip everywhere—on defense and offense, on receivers, and in the secondary. Bill Belichick and the company are not shy this offseason.
Weaponizing the offense around quarterback Cam Newton (who signed a new deal himself) was clearly the top priority. They succeeded. They signed Jonnu Smith, one of the top tight ends available...and then they went out and signed the actual top tight end available in Hunter Henry.
Between Smith and Henry, the Patriots are getting a pair of excellent run-blockers who also pose big-gain potential downfield. Newton has not enjoyed this many toys in years. It's safe to say the Patriots are officially scary again.
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