Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Staff Writer 53d

2021 NFL free-agency buzz on all 32 teams: Execs break down key moves, what comes next

So that was sort of a letdown.

Pass-rushers got paid, Kenny Golladay got paid, some surprise supporting players got nice contracts ... but the first wave of free agency wasn't exactly booming for the NFL.

Teams took full advantage of an 8% decrease in the salary cap, forcing veterans to take pay cuts and lowballing good players on one-year deals.

The second wave of free agency is usually for bargain signings, but this year those bargains include Pro Bowlers at several positions, high-quality players who continue to wait for a decent deal. Veteran players' agents are exasperated. Teams are feeling the crunch. And though 2022 should be better, that's hardly a slam dunk if regular-season attendance lags.

But fans watched their teams get better, or stay afloat, and we learned a whole lot about the mechanics of team-building.

ESPN made the calls to find out intel on all 32 teams after a week of leverage plays, incentives and voidable years.

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LV | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

Arizona Cardinals

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Time to win now
Top addition: Defensive end J.J. Watt for two years, $28 million

Arizona outbid everyone for Watt, securing a deal with the former Defensive Player of the Year on March 1.

It's hard to knock a team aggressively pursuing a player of Watt's caliber. But some teams believe Arizona slightly overpaid given the tough salary-cap climate, showing that Watt, 32, was smart to ask for his release from Houston in February.

Six defensive ends or outside linebackers age 30 and up have signed deals in free agency, and the next-closest payout to Watt's was Denico Autry's $21.5 million over three years with Tennessee. Accomplished players -- including Melvin Ingram (32), Ryan Kerrigan (33), Justin Houston (32) and Carlos Dunlap (32) -- continue to wait in the second wave of free agency.

Those players aren't Watt. But it's clear he beat the trend.

"It's tough out there moneywise," an AFC exec said. "Not sure he would have hit that number as a true free agent."

Many teams have pointed to Arizona as all-in after moves for Watt, A.J. Green and the trade for center Rodney Hudson.

A Raiders source said Hudson telegraphed this exit during the year. He expected to be out after the season, and it's believed Arizona was on his list well before the trade.


Atlanta Falcons

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Eh. We'll be here a while
Top addition: Running back Mike Davis for two years, $5.5 million

If you need evidence that new GM Terry Fontenot is playing the long game in Atlanta, look no further than an offseason that features a whopping $2.39 million in spending on additions Brandon Copeland and Erik Harris through the first six days of free agency.

Atlanta finally made a mini-splash Tuesday with running back Mike Davis on a two-year, $5.5 million deal. Getting a power running back was really the only known item on Atlanta's wish list around league circles, along with maybe a center.

There were some whispers before free agency that the Falcons could shop a few players for cap purposes. That never happened, and a few restructures and cuts got them just barely under the number.

One veteran NFL agent said Falcons brass talked with his high-end pass-rusher and basically laughed -- as in, they'd love to have him, but have no chance.

Expect Atlanta to segue to low-cost defensive depth. There's not much as far as established talent behind defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones.


Baltimore Ravens

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: How many comp picks do we get this year?
Top addition: Guard Kevin Zeitler for three years, $22 million

Baltimore outbid Seattle on this one. Zeitler had interest in reuniting with Russell Wilson, his teammate at Wisconsin, and got assurances that Wilson wanted to be in Seattle with him.

But Baltimore put the money out of reach for Seattle, which also coveted Gabe Jackson, whom it then acquired via trade with Las Vegas.

This is a classic Baltimore move: getting a coveted player at half the cost of a similar talent in Joe Thuney, with the compensatory formula still intact since the Giants had to cut Zeitler.

On defense, Baltimore will explore adding one more outside linebacker either through free agency or the draft. Re-signing Tyus Bowser solves one side, and Pernell McPhee is capable on the other. That and safety depth are two expected priorities right now.


Buffalo Bills

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Depth moves only
Top addition: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders for one year, $6 million

With one of the NFL's best overall rosters, the Bills weren't going to outbid anyone for top talent. But as soon as they got word that New Orleans would release Sanders, they zeroed in on him because of how he'd fit: a complementary outside guy opposite Stefon Diggs while allowing Gabriel Davis to continue to develop.

"His game has held up really well," said an AFC exec. "You're not getting an explosive player, but his savvy and route-running helps him age well. He'll fit right in."

Buffalo was intrigued by a few big-ticket tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski and Zach Ertz but prioritized value with Jacob Hollister on a one-year deal. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky talked with the 49ers about a spot, but when his market didn't materialize, Buffalo offered a place to park for a year and reset his value.

Expect Buffalo to add a swing tackle at some point this offseason.


Carolina Panthers

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Midtier middling
Top addition: Pass-rusher Haason Reddick for one year, $8 million

Despite lukewarm public support of Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina liked his game better than the free-agent quarterbacks, so they are holding on to him knowing the draft's top 10 could provide an answer. They will monitor the Deshaun Watson situation, as many QB-hungry teams will.

So Carolina focused on line depth. As the thinking goes, $5 million per year for Cam Erving will look incredibly smart if he acquits himself well at left tackle; if he doesn't, $5 million per year for a starting guard who can play tackle isn't the worst thing.

Carolina has been on the hunt for a defensive tackle to pair with Derrick Brown, but new acquisition Morgan Fox is insurance at end or tackle. Reddick comes from a 3-4 system, but Carolina has been flexible with its 4-3 looks, and has assured Reddick, on a prove-it deal of sorts, he can rush the passer standing up in certain situations.


Cincinnati Bengals

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Pay to play (better)
Top addition: Defensive end Trey Hendrickson for four years, $60 million

The Bengals attacked free agency with their No. 5 overall pick in the draft in mind.

They targeted offensive tackle Riley Reiff, specifically, because of his positional flexibility. He played right tackle in Detroit, where now-Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan was an assistant coach.

The way the Bengals see this, Reiff can play right side whether they draft an offensive tackle at No. 5 or not. If they go with a playmaker there, such as tight end Kyle Pitts or receiver Ja'Marr Chase, they can start Jonah Williams and Reiff at the tackle spots. But Reiff can play on the left side, too, if needed. (Williams has missed 22 games in two years.)

Cincinnati wants to add a third receiver to pair with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. It'll monitor the second wave of free agency for potential options there.


Chicago Bears

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Operation save front-office jobs
Top addition: Quarterback Andy Dalton for one year, $10 million

Unlike many Bears fans frustrated with GM Ryan Pace's quarterback misses, Chicago is actually pretty pumped about the Andy Dalton addition.

The Bears identified the potential starters on the free-agency list, and that list was fairly short: Jameis Winston, Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick and maybe a bridge type like Joe Flacco. Dalton stood out on that list because of his steady decision-making and OC Bill Lazor's connection with the player from their Cincinnati days.

The 49ers pushed to sign Dalton, but he wanted more of a guarantee of a starting job. Chicago could offer that.

"Once he got past the concussion stuff and the COVID battle, he finished the year really strong," an NFC coach said about Dalton, who had seven touchdowns to two interceptions over his final four games in Dallas.


Cleveland Browns

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Mildly aggressive
Top addition: Safety John Johnson III for three years, $33.75 million

The Browns set a hard line with their defensive front seven that they wouldn't spend big there, knowing they were coming over the top to improve the secondary.

Adding pass-rusher Takk McKinley and defensive tackle Malik Jackson at the $4 million range was the de facto ceiling. At linebacker, they like the core of Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki and Jacob Phillips, with Malcolm Smith signing for depth.

Secondary was the issue at hand. The Browns feel good about Greedy Williams' return as the No. 2 outside corner but like Troy Hill's value as a slot who can play outside if needed. Now they have a three-man lineup.

The Browns kept safety John Johnson's bottom line at $11 million per year but sweetened the deal with $24 million in guarantees. From Johnson's view, he had four-year deals available, but at age 25, he can now hit the market again at 28.

Some view that signing as a home run.

"I know Marcus Williams gets the ball more, but Johnson was the best overall player in the free safety market, in my opinion," one NFC exec said. "Not an elite athlete but just a really good all-around football player. Doesn't make many mistakes and can play both spots."


Dallas Cowboys

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Did you see what we just paid Dak Prescott?
Top addition: Safety Keanu Neal for one year, $5 million

With Dallas' offense occupying 60% of the team's cap, it must address defensive needs at relative bargains.

The Dan Quinn connection made this a smooth process with Keanu Neal. Quinn, whom the Cowboys hired as defensive coordinator in January, was on the University of Florida staff that recruited Neal out of Bushnell, Florida, then coached him for four-plus seasons after Atlanta selected him in the first round.

The Jets heavily pursued Neal, but agent Harold Lewis said the mutual respect between player and coach helped seal it with Dallas. Quinn has a soft spot for Neal.

The move from safety to weakside linebacker helps accentuate Neal's best quality, which is hitting. Meanwhile, Dallas will hope that targeting injured players with pedigree -- Malik Hooker and Damontae Kazee, who are coming off early-season Achilles tendon tears -- will result in strong production at a discount.


Denver Broncos

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Our secondary just got better
Top addition: Cornerback Ronald Darby for three years, $30 million

Some might consider this too steep for Darby, who played for $3 million last year in Washington. But several people around the league say Darby's 2020 tape justifies new GM George Paton's payment.

"He probably played the best out of all the [free-agent] corners last year," said an NFC personnel exec.

Darby produced a 76.0 Pro Football Focus rating, along with 16 passes defended and an 81.0 passer rating allowed.

"I give him credit -- he really did play well," said an AFC personnel evaluator. "He's always going to play more off coverage, but if that works for your defense, then he's a great fit because he didn't get beat often."

Don't look now, but Denver might have a No Fly Zone with Darby, new acquisition Kyle Fuller and stud safety Justin Simmons, who signed a four-year, $61 million contract this offseason, as well as Kareem Jackson, who is back on a one-year-deal.


Detroit Lions

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: We need so much we can't possibly fill it all here
Top addition: Running back Jamaal Williams for two years, $6 million

Williams signed with Detroit under the impression he'll get a hefty workload.

Williams averaged 125 carries per season in Green Bay and hoped to be more prominently featured in his next stop. Detroit made clear during his free agency that he will tote the rock often, as new coach Dan Campbell is pumped about the move.

Williams and incumbent D'Andre Swift should have enough reps considering coordinator Anthony Lynn's run-based background and Jared Goff's heavy play-action work in Los Angeles.

On defense, take notice of the signing of defensive end Charles Harris; he's young (26), with first-round pedigree and untapped potential, added for reasonable money ($1.75 million). Detroit will look for creative ways to solve several depth issues on defense.


Green Bay Packers

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: So Green Bay
Top move: Re-signing running back Aaron Jones for four years, $48 million

The Packers had been talking to corner Kevin King about re-signing for a while, dating back to before free agency.

They settled on a one-year, $6 million deal. Despite King's rough NFC title game performance, the Packers didn't judge him solely on that game and believe he's mentally tough enough to respond, relying on a four-year file with the club to make an informed decision.

Despite losing top center Corey Linsley, the Packers combed the second-tier center market for potential replacements.

They evaluated the likes of David Andrews, Austin Reiter and Matt Skura. In-house options such as Elgton Jenkins or Lucas Patrick can secure that spot, too.

The Packers didn't exactly stretch with the Aaron Jones signing; his four-year, $48 million deal has an easy out at two years and $20 million, due to unworkable 2023 payouts of $8 million in salary and a $7.4 million roster bonus due on the third day of the league year.


Houston Texans

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Taking 'numbers game' to new counts
Top addition: Outside linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis for two years, $8 million

No one plays the low-cost volume game like Nick Caserio, apparently.

The first-year GM has signed 23 players in free agency, all ranging between $1.05 and $3.5 million per year. One player got a deal longer than two years, punter Cameron Johnston at three years and $8 million.

This approach has the league's attention, and there are two themes emerging after checking with a few people:

  • The obvious one: The Texans have a bad roster and need depth.

  • An uncertain offseason plays a large role.

"[Caserio] knows the supply will be low after the draft, particularly in the undrafted free-agent pool -- there aren't enough good players, especially on the offensive line," said one NFL personnel evaluator. "And we still don't have answers on exact roster sizes, we don't know about minicamp, combine medicals, so he's hedging his bets on all that. It's smart."


Indianapolis Colts

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Keeping business in house
Top addition: Left tackle Sam Tevi for one year, $3.5 million

The Colts are still attempting to re-sign T.Y. Hilton, and that's taken more time than anticipated. But it's a move that makes sense and probably will happen unless Hilton gets a big number elsewhere. GM Chris Ballard has prioritized keeping his own, resulting in a one-year deal for corner Xavier Rhodes, who played well last year with 12 pass deflections and two interceptions.

But following the Colts' trade to land Carson Wentz this offseason, the spot that looms large over Indy is left tackle. The Colts signed Sam Tevi in a very Colts move, paying $3.5 million for a player with starter's experience who could be a stopgap for a draft pick.

Indy has considered all of the options, including sliding over Quenton Nelson or Braden Smith, two pillars whose contracts might be extended sooner than later.

At least six teams could be eyeing tackle help early in the draft, so Indy could stretch this out and hope the right guy falls to them, knowing good veterans might still be available. Alejandro Villanueva is still out there. That pairing makes a lot of sense. Villanueva is a good locker room guy with Pro Bowl pedigree.


Jacksonville Jaguars

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Needs all over, millions all over
Top addition: Cornerback Shaquill Griffin for three years, $40 million

Urban Meyer showed some restraint in his first free-agency experience.

There was a lot of buzz about Hunter Henry to the Jaguars early in the tampering period, to the point Henry's reps thought Jacksonville might get it done. But New England took that negotiation over pretty quickly, and Jacksonville went the mauler route with Chris Manhertz, whom one NFC assistant coach called a "beast" at the line of scrimmage.

One league source predicted Jacksonville would try to pit the top two corners, William Jackson III and Shaquill Griffin, against each other to try to get the lowest price. Both players came in at the three years for $40 million range.

And they didn't make the splashy receiver move, opting for speed and familiarity (Phillip Dorsett was with wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal in Seattle) and savvy route-running at a modest price (Marvin Jones Jr., two years and $12.5 million).

New Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins isn't a big name, but the Chargers tried hard to keep him, which partly explains his $35 million price tag over four years, though the deal has an escape hatch after two years and $18 million if necessary. They followed up with defensive line flexibility. Roy Robertson-Harris (three years, $24 million) can play tackle and end.

"Jacksonville needs help at every position, so they probably could have done even more," said an AFC exec. "But that's a decent start for them."


Kansas City Chiefs

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Can somebody block for our stellar quarterback, please?
Top addition: Guard Joe Thuney for five years, $80 million

The Chiefs have been aggressive for receiver help. They've been in, to some degree, on many of the big names -- JuJu Smith-Schuster, Corey Davis, Curtis Samuel and A.J. Green.

It's clear they'd like to add a No. 2 wide receiver opposite Tyreek Hill, and there's not much momentum for Sammy Watkins returning at this point. With options limited, will they make a run at T.Y. Hilton?

There's also a left tackle move the Chiefs must make. Picking 31st overall in April's draft doesn't ensure landing a top tackle. They've checked in on veteran free agent Russell Okung. It wouldn't surprise if the Chiefs at least explore an Orlando Brown trade.

Las Vegas Raiders

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: As unpredictable as Jon Gruden's facial expressions
Top addition: Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue for two years, $26 million

The Raiders have taken their public shots for the offensive line fire sale, but now that the dust has settled on all the moves, they made out pretty well.

In all, the Raiders will have saved around $25 million in salary and gained a third-round and two fifth-round picks by cutting Richie Incognito and dealing Trent Brown, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson and a seventh-round pick.

Four starters are intact after all of this. Former first-round pick Kolton Miller is solidifying himself at left tackle, guards Denzelle Good and Incognito (both re-signed, Incognito at a lesser rate than his previous $6 million) have experience, and Andre James gets a contract extension at half the cost of Hudson.

With motivation issues plaguing Brown, and Hudson turning 32 in July, the Raiders can justify some of these moves.

"It's not a great offensive line as it stands -- not as much of a strength -- but it's capable and I can understand why they did it," an NFC personnel evaluator said.


Los Angeles Chargers

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Whatever it takes to protect Justin Herbert
Top addition: Center Corey Linsley for five years, $62.5 million

The Chargers almost didn't have a chance to sign guard Matt Feiler, who was very close to re-signing with Pittsburgh in the days before free agency. The sides couldn't bridge the financial gap, so the Chargers offered Feiler $21 million over three years to be their starting guard.

The Chargers have made clear in the free-agency process they would address left tackle in the draft, focusing on the interior line to protect Justin Herbert up the middle. They made attempts to re-sign left tackle Sam Tevi, but not at the clip the Colts offered at $3.5 million.

Perhaps Los Angeles has a good feeling that one of the two top tackles, Oregon's Penei Sewell or Northwestern's Rashawn Slater, will be there at No. 13.

The Chargers were willing to outbid everyone on Linsley because center-to-QB synergy with Herbert was crucial to the franchise's thinking.


Los Angeles Rams

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Treading water
Top move: Re-signing pass-rusher Leonard Floyd for four years, $64 million

The Rams ended up restructuring at least five veteran contracts -- including a pay reduction for left tackle Andrew Whitworth -- to get under the cap before free agency, according to Roster Management.

Whitworth's salary drops from $7 million to $4 million, which is fully guaranteed. Four star players -- defensive tackle Aaron Donald, wide receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp and cornerback Jalen Ramsey -- converted a combined $55.5 million of base salary and roster bonus money into signing bonuses.

These moves saved the Rams well over $40 million in cap space, some of which they used on pass-rusher Leonard Floyd on a four-year, $64 million deal.

But they also wanted a burner to pair with Kupp and Woods as targets for Matthew Stafford. That's why the Rams looked at John Ross, who signed with the Giants, before eventually signing 34-year-old DeSean Jackson for that role.


Miami Dolphins

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Modest
Top addition: Wide receiver Will Fuller V for one year, $10.6 million

Center Matt Skura is a sneaky good signing at $1.75 million if he can overcome his snapping issues and regain his old form.

Skura was an ascending player and extension candidate during the 2019 season before tearing his ACL, MCL, PCL and dislocating his kneecap on Nov. 25 against the Rams.

He returned to the lineup in 2020 but wasn't fully recovered. In Week 10, in the rain against New England, Skura committed several errant shotgun snaps, resulting in his benching.

But the ability is still there, and Skura is now healthy. A new spot in Miami might just rebuild his confidence.


Minnesota Vikings

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Mike Zimmer will be happy
Top addition: Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson for two years, $21 million

The Vikings had one priority to start free agency: Get Dalvin Tomlinson.

Minnesota called Tomlinson's agent, Pat Dye, right at noon eastern time on March 15, as the tampering period opened.

Knowing the New York Giants wanted to bring back Tomlinson but might be strapped for money after the Leonard Williams extension, the Vikings got aggressive to hammer out a deal before New York and other suitors could make something happen.

With Michael Pierce and Tomlinson in the middle, Minnesota has a 658-pound wall that might resemble the great days of Pat and Kevin Williams from the late 2000s.

Finishing last in rushing defense last season (2,151 yards allowed) is not acceptable for a Mike Zimmer defense. So the Vikings aimed to change that, as soon as free agency opened.

Speaking of Minnesota's defensive line, Danielle Hunter is one to watch. With three years left on a below-market deal ($72 million over five years), Hunter won't be overly eager to play on that, as the The Athletic teased in a report that Hunter was considering his options. Well, the Vikings knew they had to up his pay at some point relatively soon, but they won't be overly eager to adjust things after he didn't play a down last season. Something will have to give here.


New England Patriots

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: There are no levels for this kind of spending
Top addition: Pass-rusher Matt Judon for four years, $54.5 million

New England doled out $148.6 million in guaranteed money over the first week of free agency, surpassing the 2020 Dolphins ($147.2 million) for the most in NFL history, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

And they aren't done. The Patriots have been involved in the discussion for several running backs and could end up with a new power runner to replenish the backfield.

A league source said New England decided internally this would be a get-right offseason: The roster wasn't close to good enough, and the draft couldn't fix it all.

Part of New England's logic was this: These deals will be obsolete in two years due to the kick-in of television deals, so attack the window of opportunity now. And other suitors drove prices up in some cases. The New York Jets and Tennessee Titans, for example, made efforts to sign tight end Jonnu Smith. Judon had four to six teams involved. Both players were going for big numbers regardless.

Some league personnel can't help but wonder if there's a bigger play for New England. Quarterback is a position that keeps coming up, despite the decision to re-sign Cam Newton for another year at up to $13.6 million (based on incentives).

"[Jimmy] Garoppolo still makes too much sense for them," said one AFC exec.


New Orleans Saints

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Too busy getting out of cap hell
Top move: Re-signing Jameis Winston for one year, $5.5 million with $7 million in incentives

The Winston signing was predictable. The Marcus Williams franchise tag was not.

Tagging Williams at $10.6 million despite New Orleans' avalanche of salary-cap issues shows how valuable he is to its plans.

With Justin Simmons surpassing $15 million per year on a new deal in Denver, expect the Saints and Williams to get to work on a deal somewhere slightly below that clip.

The Saints prioritized Williams over defensive end Trey Hendrickson well before free agency began, in part because they already have bookend rushers Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport. Williams' ball production -- 13 interceptions and 30 pass deflections since 2017 -- is harder to replace.

Plus, a new deal would lessen Williams' 2021 cap hit.

"He's perfect for what they do, he turns over the ball and he's young (24)," said an NFC coordinator. "I expect them to do what they can to keep him."


New York Giants

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Spend to get Daniel Jones help
Top addition: Wide receiver Kenny Golladay for four years, $72 million

While the Kenny Golladay deal generated headlines, a move by the Giants two days later elicited a stronger reaction in some league circles: the three-year, $39 million deal for cornerback Adoree' Jackson.

Jackson's age (25) and pedigree as a first-round pick made him one of the most attractive corner options left on the market. But multiple personnel evaluators said the Giants could have saved themselves money by trading with Tennessee, where Jackson was due a $10 million option before he was released last week.

"Call Tennessee and give them a sixth- or seventh-rounder and you get him for the one year at $10 million and you can see what you have," one NFC personnel evaluator said. "Instead, the Giants will pay Jackson $16 million in Year 1."

As for the Golladay deal, there was shock from many agents that Todd France hit the $18 million-per-year benchmark for his client, close to what Detroit offered him a few months ago.

But from the team side, the talent warranted a massive payout, even if no other team was willing to go that high.

"He's probably a top-10 receiver," said an AFC exec. "He can solve some problems for them, particularly in the red zone."

The league's second-worst scoring offense just got a receiver with 13 touchdowns in his past 21 games.


New York Jets

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Spend big to improve the defense
Top addition: Defensive end Carl Lawson for three years, $45 million

It's clear that GM Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh want to make their own path -- and not remake a 49ers-based roster. Despite connections to a slew of San Francisco free agents from Saleh's successful stint as defensive coordinator there, the Jets eschewed the San Francisco treat and combed talent pools elsewhere.

A prime example is receiver Kendrick Bourne, whom Jets coordinator Mike LaFleur helped discover as an undrafted receiver out of Eastern Washington in 2017.

When New England came with a lucrative deal on the first day of the tampering period, Bourne was excited but waited out the Jets, just in case. An offer never came, even though LaFleur is a huge Bourne fan.

It turns out the Jets were immersed in a potential Corey Davis deal and already had Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims in the fold, so Bourne took New England's offer.

All this doesn't preclude the Jets from signing a 49ers free agent. In fact, they just added running back Tevin Coleman, who fits LaFleur's system. But it's clear the Jets are creating an identity without relying too heavily on familiarity.


Philadelphia Eagles

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: See: Saints
Top addition: Safety Anthony Harris for one year, $5 million

Multiple personnel evaluators believed the Eagles would get the new defensive staff a familiar face at safety.

Defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson coached Marcus Maye with the Jets, who franchise-tagged Maye before free agency.

Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon worked with Anthony Harris in Minnesota, so a one-year, $5 million deal for a former franchise-tagged player was an easy call.

Next up? Don't be surprised if the Eagles add a corner in the coming days.

Meanwhile, many are waiting for the Eagles to deal tight end Zach Ertz, whose representatives have helped set up prospective teams. Philly has to be comfortable with the compensation. But with many of the top free agent tight ends already signed, logical partners are drying up.

At quarterback, Joe Flacco signed with the Eagles with the understanding he'll compete, but nothing is promised as far as the depth chart. He's being paid high-backup money, so let's assume that's his role for now. Philadelphia has given the impression during free agency that drafting a quarterback No. 6 overall is not off the table. We'll see soon enough if that's posturing or real.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Mostly scaled-back approach
Top move: Re-signing wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for one year, $8 million

Smith-Schuster hitting the market and getting one-year offers was among the most surprising developments of free agency. Maybe it shouldn't be, since many teams viewed Smith-Schuster as a good No. 2 -- which, in this depressed market, doesn't pay.

But multiple sources said the 24-year-old's health will be something to watch after some knee concerns have persisted from the past two seasons.

In 2019, Smith-Schuster missed four games with a knee injury and concussion. He missed several practices last season with the knee injury designation, and sources say he's received frequent treatment for knee-related issues, which makes them wonder about his long-term durability going forward.

Kim Miale, Smith-Schuster's agent, said no concerns were raised by any team during free agency, including the Steelers, and she noted Smith-Schuster played all 16 games and into the postseason.

The Steelers are comfortable enough with Smith-Schuster's ability to give him another season with Ben Roethlisberger to try to up his value. Smith-Schuster has been training without restriction in Los Angeles this offseason, so maybe he has worked past what nags him. He's shown the ability to play through any issues.

But it's something to monitor, particularly ahead of what could be a loaded 2022 class of free-agent wide receivers.


San Francisco 49ers

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: All about Trent Williams
Top addition: Pass-rusher Samson Ebukam for two years, $12 million

The 49ers are up to something at quarterback. They had extensive talks with Flacco, who hit it off with Kyle Shanahan during a visit last week before ultimately choosing Philly.

They pushed for Dalton and also spoke with Trubisky's reps.

Rumors persist that Jacksonville quarterback Gardner Minshew II could be in their plans via trade.

Let's assume, for now, San Francisco is angling for quality depth behind Jimmy Garoppolo.

Several execs peg San Francisco as comfortable with Garoppolo as the starter but also looking for upgrades, of which there aren't many.

Watson would be one, of course. But he's hardly a slam dunk to be dealt.

So, for now, San Francisco can focus on adding to the quarterback room and adjust from there.


Seattle Seahawks

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Look, Russ, here's some offensive help
Top addition: Guard Gabe Jackson via trade with Las Vegas

Russell Wilson has no immediate plans to expand his potential trade list of four teams, according to a source, and he's remained firm on his stance that he wants to remain in Seattle -- but on the right terms.

That's why last week can be considered a victory for Seattle. Wilson noticed Seattle's free-agent work, signing talented tight end Gerald Everett, acquiring Jackson via trade and reaching a two-year extension with running back Chris Carson. Seattle doubled down with pass-rushers Benson Mayowa and Kerry Hyder on Tuesday.

Maybe Chicago reverses course and Seattle moves on from Wilson for a franchise reset sparked by draft capital. But things seem to be trending in a good direction with Wilson, who has had positive correspondence with coach Pete Carroll. One source said Carroll is hearing Wilson's frustrations.

Seattle still needs a No. 3 receiver and pass-rush help, which could be on the way. A source said Seattle and Carlos Dunlap have not closed the door on a reunion, though the Hyder and Mayowa signings might change that.

Don't be surprised if Seattle looks at a discounted receiver market. Not sure if it goes the Antonio Brown route, which Wilson wouldn't mind, but Sammy Watkins, Golden Tate, Willie Snead IV and others are available on potential one-year deals.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Keeping our own
Top move: Re-signing pass-rusher Shaq Barrett for four years, $68 million

Privately, the Bucs wondered for a while whether a salary cap in the low $180 millions would handcuff their efforts to re-sign their three top free agents: Chris Godwin, Lavonte David and Shaq Barrett.

Franchise tagging Godwin and doing a two-year, $25 million deal with David were the (relatively) easy parts.

Keeping all three took some last-minute fireworks.

The Bucs and Barrett were believed to be millions apart in the final days before the tampering period, with many around the league believing Barrett was aiming for $20 million annually. They found a sweet spot at $17 million per year, with incentives to reach $18 million.

They pulled off the signing -- thanks in part to Tom Brady's extension to free up some cap space -- but are currently in a bit of a crunch, due in part to re-signing Ndamukong Suh on Wednesday.

Tampa is monitoring the markets of Antonio Brown and Leonard Fournette. Tailback James White -- who caught 24 touchdown passes from Brady in New England -- has had talks with Tampa, but nothing has progressed as of yet.


Tennessee Titans

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Let's pick our spots
Top addition: Pass-rusher Bud Dupree for five years, $82.5 million

The Titans plan to deliver pain up front.

Tennessee let several high-profile free agents walk in exchange for a remade defensive line that should improve toughness after lagging in several defensive categories a year ago.

Specifically, Tennessee targeted power players -- edge rusher Bud Dupree (6-foot-4, 269 pounds) and defensive end Denico Autry (6-5, 285) -- to pair with Jeffery Simmons. Those players all can win with strength.

"That lineup should have some power to it," said an NFC personnel evaluator. "They can inflict some pain."

The Titans were comfortable with Dupree's recovery from a torn ACL -- Dupree tells ESPN he's already running 12 miles per hour on the treadmill and will be a full-go for camp. He was No. 1 on their free-agency pass-rush board.

And there's still a chance to re-sign tackle DaQuan Jones if his asking price is reasonable in the second wave of free agency.

To make room for Dupree ($32.5 million first two years) and Autry ($14.1 million through two), the Titans shed about $20 million in cap space by releasing corners Adoree' Jackson and Malcolm Butler, back-filling with more affordable options Janoris Jenkins and Kevin Johnson on one-year deals.


Washington Football Team

Level of free-agency aggressiveness: All-in
Top addition: Cornerback William Jackson III for three years, $40.5 million

Ron Rivera battled with his old team for Curtis Samuel.

Carolina tried to re-sign the playmaker during the season, and had a standing offer out to him entering free agency. But the team was unlikely to pay him above $10 million annually because it already has 1,000-yard receivers Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore scheduled for 2022 free agency.

So Rivera, GM Martin Mayhew and Washington closed the deal by getting Samuel above that threshold, at three years and $34.5 million.

The best way to navigate a down receiver market was to have an original team trying to keep the player. In the days before free agency, the buzz was Samuel and Nelson Agholor with Las Vegas had the best chances to re-sign with their respective teams. Like Samuel, Agholor parlayed Las Vegas' interest into a two-year, $22 million deal with New England.

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