2021 Free Agent Fits: Tomlinson, Jackson, Lawson, Darby, Carson


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.

Other free agent fits: 

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

Giants DL Dalvin Tomlinson

Reported Interest: Giants

Best Fit: Patriots

For most of the past two decades, the Patriots haven’t been known to splash around in the deep end of the free-agent pool, preferring to shop in the discount aisle after the initial frenzy has blown over. This year, though, New England has gobs of cap space and a lot of ground to make up to get back into the conversation as a contending team. It feels like they have to make a couple of big moves. 

If they have the money to spend, Tomlinson is the type of player HC Bill Belichick would be comfortable spending the $10 million+ a year it takes to reel in. While the defense wasn’t bad last season, it sprung a few leaks against the run and wasn’t as overwhelming as it has been in the past. Tomlinson would help fix that as a stout nose tackle, and he’s well-versed in the style of program the Patriots run coming from Alabama to the Giants. It’s a perfect fit.

Bengals CB William Jackson

Reported Interest: Bengals

Best Fit: Broncos

Jackson is someone the Bengals would like to re-sign, but odds are he’ll hit the market unless they decide to use the franchise tag on him. They have other potential candidates, which we’ll get to in just a moment. Jackson has looked like a No. 1 corner at times but has yet to really put it together consistently. He’ll be paid handsomely for that potential, though, and the Broncos have the cap space to do it, plus a big need at the position providing some urgency to find a solution.

Bengals DE Carl Lawson

Reported Interest: Bengals

Best Fit: Vikings

Lawson is the other prime Bengals candidate to receive the franchise tag. He’s a key piece of Cincinnati’s pass rush but the catch is he’s had just 20.5 career sacks in his four years so far. That’s not a lot of production when looking at a $17.7 million tag even if the advanced stats like total pressures and pass rush win rate are favorable for Lawson.

For the player, it’s hard to take a deal from the Bengals right now without seeing what the market holds. Another team like the Vikings, who run a very similar system to Cincinnati, could see a lot of value in adding Lawson to keep their front four strong. The Bengals are well-positioned financially to ward off other bidders, but if another team like the Vikings values Lawson more than Cincinnati based on his production so far, it could get interesting. 

Washington CB Ronald Darby

Reported Interest: Chiefs, Washington

Best Fit: Chiefs

The Chiefs have been gunning for Darby for a couple of seasons now. While they don’t have the cap flexibility that Washington does, they can offer a much stronger chance at winning a Super Bowl. If the offer is competitive, or Washington has to deal with other priorities like quarterback, receiver and offensive line, Kansas City could poach Darby.

Seahawks RB Chris Carson

Reported Interest: Seahawks

Best Fit: Cardinals

Free agency isn’t kind to running backs, even ones in the middle of their prime like Carson. He’s the perfect fit for the Seahawks but they don’t appear willing to pay the $8-$10 million a year it would cost to sign him to a long-term deal.

The thing is, it’s hard to find other teams who are willing to meet that price tag as well. The Falcons, Steelers and Texans all need backs but are all tight against the cap. The Dolphins have plenty of cap space but appear to have their sights set higher. Carson could end up swallowing his pride and returning to Seattle, but the Cardinals are an intriguing option. Arizona is familiar with Carson as a division rival and has an opening with Kenyan Drake set for free agency. Carson would come in as the thunder to Chase Edmonds’ lightning, but it could come down to whichever back is cheaper between Drake and Carson.

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