With the 2020 NFL season in the rearview, March 17 is the date circled on everyone’s calendar. The official start to free agency is almost upon us and with NBA-style trade requests, a game of quarterback roulette that has grown wilder every week, and a number of franchises trying to hold their cards tight until the very end, this has all the right ingredients for a most intriguing free agency frenzy.
Here's a look at some of the biggest names that were set to hit the free agency market and the landing spots for those who were grabbed prior to the new NFL year.
Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys (Re-signed)
Dak Prescott tops the list. Why? Well because he’s Dak Prescott, that's why. There was virtually no chance that the Cowboys would let their franchise quarterback slip way from them this offseason, but coming off a season-ending ankle injury, there were questions about whether a long-term deal would get done in the end.
The answer came on March 8, when he and the Cowboys agreed to a four-year $160 million contract with $126 million guaranteed. With that, talk of Dak breaking the free agency market comes to a premature end.
J.J. Watt, DE, Cardinals (Signed)
No one could have expected J.J. Watt’s legendary tenure in Houston would end with the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and five-time Pro Bowl edge rusher asking for a trade. He’s 32, but his production last year — 5 sacks, 17 quarterback hits and 14 tackles for a loss in 16 games — proved to be more than enough to tip the scales for the Arizona Cardinals. They signed Watt to a two-year, $31 million deal on March 1.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Buccaneers (Re-signed)
There was hardly any indication that Rob Gronkowski had taken a year-long hiatus from football. His 2020 season saw the five-time Pro Bowl tight end link back up with Tom Brady for yet another Super Bowl-winning season, this time in unfamiliar waters. At 43, Brady’s not going anywhere. His re-signing was a crystal clear indication that a new deal for the veteran tight end was impending. He and the Bucs agreed to a 1-year deal worth $10 million, according to his agent.
Cam Newton, QB, Patriots (Re-signed)
Cam Newton made it known to the world that he has no interest in being anybody’s backup. After signing a one-year deal with the Patriots last season, Newton finished the 2020 season ranked 30th in QBR. The Patriots decided to give him another year to prove himself, re-signing him to an incentive-laden one-year contract that by no means indicates that he's the definitive starter. But the 32-year-old's future is now in his own hands.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Steelers
At 24, Smith-Schuster is the youngest player in NFL history to reach 2,500 career receiving yards. His rookie deal with the Steelers is set to expire and a big payout is imminent for him this free agency period. The Steelers declined to tag the former USC wide reciever, making him an unrestricted free agent come March 17.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Chiefs
Bell has fallen off of his perch as one of the best backs in the NFL since refusing to accept a second franchise tag from the Steelers and sitting out the 2018 season. After failing to improve his production with arguably the best offense in the NFL in Kansas City, the 28-year-old is a wild card going into this free-agency period. We’ll see who's willing to take a chance on him in March.
Jameis Winston, QB, Saints (Re-signed)
Shortly after the announcement of Drew Brees' retirement, the Saints and Jameis Winston agreed to a one-year deal worth up to $12 million to bring the former No. 1 overall draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner back to New Orleans. On the rare occasions that his name was called last season, he performed. He'll have to do much more than that to fill the shoes of his predecessor next season.
Trent Williams, T, 49ers
Williams is one of the league’s best offensive tackles and in his 10 years in the NFL, you’d be hard pressed to find a season where that wasn’t true. At 32, he’s in a prime position for a big payout in 2021. He's indicated that he would like to stay in San Francisco, but that outcome is far from guaranteed, especially for a top performer at one of the most coveted positions in football.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Washington Football Team (Signed)
We were blessed to see another season of Fitzmagic in Miami in 2020. Now the 38-year-old is bringing his talents to Washington, D.C. The Washington Football Team signed Fitzpatrick to a one-year $12 million deal, rounding out the team's quarterback trio that will compete for the starting spot at training camp. Throughout his 16 seasons in the NFL, the journeyman has shown he can do a lot with a little. In Washington, he'll have more help than he's used to, potentially giving him even more of a platform to shine under center.
Richard Sherman, CB, 49ers
Richard Sherman is in the latter stages of his career at 33. While a calf strain kept him on the sideline much of last year, he was a Pro-Bowl cornerback as recently as 2019. He’s one of the league’s greatest competitors and wherever he lands, he’ll have something to prove.