2021 Free Agent Fits: Clowney, Ngakoue, Barrett, Smith-Schuster, Jones

     

We’re breaking down some potential fits for our top pending 2021 NFL free agents with the start of the league year and free agency coming up soon on March 17. Using our Top 100 2021 NFL Free Agents list, we’re examining the possible landing spots for the top players who are expected to be available this offseason. 

This is based both on reported interest by particular teams and by connecting the dots between team needs, coaching staff connections, scheme fits and available players. We’ve removed 10 players who signs are pointing to as likely candidates to be franchise tagged by their current teams. 

Keep an eye out this week for the rest of our 2021 Free Agent Fits series!

Titans OLB Jadeveon Clowney

Reported Interest: Browns, Titans, Ravens

Best Fit: Titans

Last year, most people, including Clowney and his agents, thought the talented pass rusher was set to sign a deal worth upwards of $20 million a year. That offer never came as a number of questions (health, motivation, production) pushed teams away from committing that type of money on a long-term deal.

Clowney signed a one-year deal with the Titans at the end of training camp but finished 2020 with no sacks in eight games, which means he’s unlikely to command anywhere near the asking price he had last offseason. His talent is undeniable and he really just needs one healthy, dominant season to get the contract he’s been seeking. The familiarity the Titans can offer with HC Mike Vrabel could appeal to Clowney enough to sign another one-year deal for 2021.

Ravens OLB Yannick Ngakoue

Reported Interest: Browns, Ravens

Best Fit: Colts

Ngakoue will finally have his chance at the open market to see if he can get the major deal he’s been seeking. Whether or not he will coming off two straight eight-sack seasons in a year when the cap is lower remains to be seen. He reportedly turned down a deal worth $19 million a year when talks with the Jaguars first broke down. 

If the offers aren’t to Ngakoue’s liking, he could be one of several players who bet on themselves and take a one-year deal at a lower rate to try and cash in next offseason when the cap is expected to rebound in a major way. That benefits teams with lots of cap space this year and a true chance to contend, like the Colts, who have a big need for edge rush production and are quite familiar with what Ngakoue can do after facing him twice a year for four years.

Buccaneers OLB Shaq Barrett

Reported Interest: Buccaneers

Best Fit: Buccaneers

Barrett didn’t put up the same sack numbers last season as he did in his breakout 2019, as that number fell from 19.5 all the way down to eight. But he was a menace in the playoffs and was even more productive from a pressure created aspect than he was in 2019, proving he was no one-year wonder.

If the Buccaneers don’t give Barrett a monster deal in the neighborhood of $19-$20 million a year, someone will, even with the lower cap number in 2021. The good news for Tampa Bay is that while they currently have just $13 million in cap space and a long list of key contributors from the Super Bowl team to keep, they have a lot of avenues to create cap space. It’s not out of the question that they can keep Barrett and let him “break the bank” like he’s looking to do.

Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

Reported Interest: Jets, Raiders

Best Fit: Jets

We’ve known Smith-Schuster is leaving the Steelers for a year now given the financial realities and Pittsburgh’s history at the position. The Jets have been a popular speculative landing spot since they’ve had such a barren depth chart at the position. It’s not a completely clean fit, as Smith-Schuster might be pricier than what GM Joe Douglas prefers to spend. Smith-Schuster thrived in the slot in Pittsburgh, which is currently occupied by Jamison Crowder in New York.

However, there are a lot of reasons why it makes sense. Smith-Schuster would have vast opportunities off the field in a larger media market like New York. From a scheme perspective, his physicality, particularly as a blocker, also makes him a strong fit for the new Shanahan-style offense that the Jets will be running. He could play a similar role to what Cooper Kupp does for the Rams. Kupp makes a hair under $16 million a year and that’s probably the floor for Smith-Schuster’s market.

Packers RB Aaron Jones

Reported Interest: Dolphins, Packers

Best Fit: Dolphins

There’s still a chance the Packers decide to tag Jones before the deadline next week. It would sap a ton of cap space unless they use the transition tag, in which case another team could still negotiate with Jones. In either scenario, unrestricted free agency or transition tag, the Dolphins have come up as the most natural landing spot for Jones. They have a ton of cap space and a gaping need at the position. They’ve also shown a preference for signing backs rather than spending significant draft capital on the position. As they look to take the next step into AFC contenders, Jones could help add to the offense and take the pressure off of whoever the quarterback ends up being.

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