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2021 NFL Free Agency: Who are the best remaining after one week?

And why the Rams should consider a Sammy Watkins reunion

Kansas City Chiefs v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Everybody should pick a theme of the thing they are going to harp on all year when it comes to the NFL, and my decorum this year is: weapons, weapons, weapons. Receiver weapons, tight end weapons, running back weapons, schnozzweapons, just load up the arsenal like you’re Jonah Hill and Miles Teller and it’s War Dogs season.

Patrick Mahomes makes a Vegas buffet out of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, but the underrated trio of Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, and Mecole Hardman is arguably as good on its own or better than the top three receivers/tight ends for the Jaguars, Jets, Eagles, Broncos, Patriots, and maybe several other offenses from 2020.

Tom Brady won a Super Bowl with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, but in the Super Bowl Rob Gronkowski caught two touchdowns, Antonio Brown caught Brady’s other score, Cameron Brate had as many catches as Evans and Godwin combined, and Leonard Fournette had 20 touches with 125 total yards.

When the Bills acquired Stefon Diggs last offseason, it pushed every other target down a slot in Josh Allen’s josh pecking order and actually increased the value of Cole Beasley, while still allowing rookie fourth rounder Gabe Jackson to finish with 599 yards and seven touchdowns. Even John Brown had 458 yards in nine games and would’ve finished with close to 1,000 yards again.

On Saturday, the Giants finalized their agreement with receiver Kenny Golladay on a four-year, $72 million contract that should give some reassurance to other players around the league at his position that they aren’t quite as devalued as running backs yet. Prior to signing Golladay, New York was set to be average-with-potential at the skill positions, but I would say this move puts Daniel Jones in contention for having at least a top-eight supporting cast, excluding offensive line: Golladay as his first option, Sterling Shepard as arguably his second, Darius Slayton as the third, Evan Engram as the fourth, and Saquon Barkley returning to the backfield and likely still getting his targets too.

The Giants have also added tight end Kyle Rudolph and former first round pick John Ross III as further depth, while 2018 second round pick Dante Pettis has hung onto his NFL career by a thread.

New York could even take it a step further, if they wanted to draft Florida tight end/wide receiver Kyle Pitts, or they could consider taking a running back in the second round to provide insurance behind Barkley, and I wouldn’t fault them for it. While it is true that Jones hasn’t done enough to even prove himself as an adequate starter, maybe the worst case scenario for the Giants is that they have an attractive offense to pitch to a quarterback who might become available in 2022.

And we know that in these modern times, that’s looking more and more like an inevitability.

So that’s my theme and my pitch to the league, including the LA Rams: “My name is Jonah Hill or Miles Teller or Nicolas Cage (different military weapons contract movie), and I’d like to sell you some guns.”

The Rams have done the hardest part already, acquiring the slinger, but I don’t believe that they can close the book on filling out that with which he must sling to. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are like what my mom used to tell me when I said I was finished cleaning my room: “That’s a good start.”

Among players who are set to return to LA in 2021, Tyler Higbee has the third-most yards from last season (521), followed by Van Jefferson (220), Darrell Henderson (159), Cam Akers (123), and Johnny Mundt (53). The next two up for targets consideration were rookies who had zero opportunities last season, tight end Brycen Hopkins and receiver Trishton Jackson. Had the Rams somehow found the money for Golladay (not that I’m endorsing this, but they probably could have done this if they opted to let Leonard Floyd leave), the group takes on an entirely new identity.

But I don’t think the Rams need a new number one necessarily. I do, however, think they could use a lot more insurance at the number three and four and five spots. And it might only take one move to make that happen. The Rams can’t turn to the draft to make that happen. I’m not saying that LA couldn’t draft a receiver or tight end on day two, or that said player couldn’t be the next Gabe Davis, but he could also be the next Van Jefferson.

Which might be fine eventually, but I think the Rams could use more assurances for right now.

The Golladay signing could help move some other receiver signings forward and the LA Rams are one of only three teams to not add any outside free agents thus far in 2021. Could they make a move soon? I don’t know that anyone has fully figured out how much cap space the Rams have right now, but it’s not likely to be a lot. Given that many of these players probably didn’t sign as soon as they had hoped, it is possible that their price tags will be lower than we expect.

These are the best available free agents, going off of CBS Sports’ top 100 list. Number is obviously the number that CBS Sports has ranked them, not me.

25. Melvin Ingram, OLB

30. Alejandro Villanueva, OT

43. Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE-RUN STOP ONLY

45. Eric Wilson, LB

46. Sammy Watkins, WR

47. Kevin King, CB

48. Austin Reiter, C

52. T.Y. Hilton, WR

53. Russell Okung, OT

65. Richard Sherman, CB

67. Aldon Smith, DL

68. Brian Poole, CB

72. Ryan Kerrigan, OLB

73. Xavier Woods, S

75. K.J. Wright, 4-3 OLB, ILB

76. James White, RB-RECEIVER

77. Bashaud Breeland, CB

78. Mackensie Alexander, CB

79. Jaquiski Tartt, S

81. James Conner, RB

82. Ndamukong Suh, DT

84. Sheldon Rankins, DT

86. Lawrence Guy, DL

89. Alex Anzalone, LB

92. Ricky Wagner, OT

93. Malik Hooker, S

94. Ricardo Allen, S

96. Antonio Brown, WR

99. Leonard Fournette, RB

Rams Needs

  • Sammy Watkins leads the group of remaining available receivers and he has prior familiarity with Sean McVay’s offense. Would he be interested in a reunion now that Matt Stafford is on board? Watkins, believe it or not, hasn’t turned 28 yet. He also hasn’t gained more than 700 yards in a season since 2015. But he’d be an intriguing WR3 for Stafford. Cost is difficult to project but anywhere from $2 million to $5 million seems reasonable based on recent contracts for similar receivers, not that there are many.
  • Antonio Brown could quietly be the best remaining free agent overall but he’s obviously not as coveted as he was in 2019 when he forced his way out of both Pittsburgh and Oakland. He’s going to be 33, but Brown caught six touchdowns over the last six games that he was active, including playoffs. When Larry Fitzgerald was 33, he led the NFL with 107 catches and had 1,023 yards, followed by 109 and 1,156 when he was 34. Fitzgerald is a Hall of Fame talent, but so was Brown once.
  • T.Y. Hilton is out here chillin. So are: DeSean Jackson, Golden Tate, Adam Humphries, Marquise Goodwin, Willie Snead, Chris Conley, Demarcus Robinson, Dez Bryant, Mohamed Sanu, Josh Gordon, Trent Taylor, and Josh Reynolds. Not a great list and I think that emphasizes the importance of monitoring where Brown and Watkins eventually sign.
  • Clowney is not a pass rusher and LA already re-signed Floyd, but his run-stopping skills could be interesting in the Morgan Fox or Michael Brockers’ role. That’s only if he was willing to sign for less than $4 million and I doubt that’s happening soon.
  • The Rams haven’t signed a center and Austin Blythe remains a free agent. They could be going internal at the position, they could be waiting out Blythe’s free agency. Austin Reiter remains out there too.
  • The team might like Xavier Jones as someone to develop as a runner, but James White might be an interesting addition as a receiver out of the backfield. White is 29 and had 49 catches with the Patriots last season.
  • There are plenty of linebackers and safeties still available, so the Rams might wait it out and see if there are some interesting veterans to add on minimum-contracts when the time comes.
  • Not on this list: Adoree’ Jackson, who was released by the Titans last week. Jackson is 25 and missed most of last season. The 18th overall pick in 2017, Jackson has not contributed as much on special teams as hoped or been a very dominant cornerback. He was credited with giving up three touchdowns in only three games in 2020. His value is difficult to project and the reason fans are pining for him is because of his draft status four years ago. Not that he can’t turn it around.