2021 NFL free agency guide: Ravens' cap space, top free agents originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Every NFL team begins the year with hopes set on raising the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. Over the course of the next 11 months, the reality of whether or not they can achieve that dream will become very clear. But if they're going to have a fighting chance at contending for a title, they need to build a team that can compete with the top of the league week in and week out.
The first stop on the journey to dethroning Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begins this week with the start of free agency. It's time for teams to get down to business and decide who can take them all the way and who they're better off without.
Here are the key dates and figures to know in NFL free agency:
When is the franchise tag deadline?
March 9. Each team has between February 23 and March 9 to designate one player with a franchise or transition tag -- one-year contract offers that secure the player's rights for the upcoming season and set the stage for a potential long-term agreement or possible trade.
How much will the franchise tag cost this season?
Each position ranges from $24.112 million for quarterbacks to $4.792 million for special-teamers.
When does free agency start?
March 17. The 2021 NFL free agency period will open when the new league year starts at 4 p.m. ET on March 17.
What can teams do before free agency begins?
On March 15, the legal tampering window starts for unrestricted NFL free agents. During this 48-hour window, teams can begin negotiations with players who are set to enter unrestricted free agency.
What is the 2021 NFL salary cap?
It’s expected to be between $180-185 million, which is smaller than expected due to the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the league.
The Baltimore Ravens enter free agency with their eyes on winning a third Super Bowl title. They are familiar with postseason football and have once again set themselves on course to be back in the playoff picture. GM Eric DeCosta will have $19,312,779 to work with as he looks to take Baltimore’s roster to the next level. Here are his best options on the free-agency market:
Dak Prescott, QB: Prescott’s big payday is around the corner. Will it be the Cowboys or someone else who locks up his future services?
Chris Godwin, WR: One of Brady’s favorite targets, Godwin knows what it takes to win. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have a chance to place the franchise tag on the wide receiver, so other teams might miss the chance to add his winning knowledge to their roster. If he does enter free agency, Godwin will headline a deep class of free agent receivers.
Brandon Scherff, OG: The 29-year-old, four-time Pro Bowler is the veteran offensive line presence any NFL team would be grateful to have. Although Scherff has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons, Washington is likely to try and keep him around instead of letting him fall into the hands of another contender.
Trent Williams, OT: The San Francisco 49ers did not place the franchise tag on their veteran tackle this offseason despite his desire to play long-term in the Bay Area. Williams will definitely see action on the free-agent market as he's expected to be the top-paid player at his position. He could even be the top-paid free agent this year, courting offers from the teams with big money to spend this spring.
Allen Robinson, WR: The clock is ticking for Ryan Pace and the Chicago Bears to make their move on Robinson. The wide receiver believes he has a lot to offer teams both on and off the field and wants to sign a long-term deal this offseason. Expect Robinson to be an attractive candidate for teams looking to improve their pass catching.
Shaquil Barrett, EDGE: Barrett sits in line behind Godwin on Tampa Bay’s list of in-house free agents, and for good reason. He's the most coveted edge rusher from this year's class of defensive linemen. With only $15 million in cap space, the Bucs might have to let Barrett’s supreme pass-rushing talent shine in another locker room next season.
Kenny Golloday, WR: Despite battling injuries last season, the 2019 Pro Bowler can dominate defenses down the field when he’s healthy.
Lavonte David, ILB: The 31-year-old has 9,000-plus snaps so far in his career. His playmaking experience will likely attract the attention of several linebacker-needy teams.
Leonard Williams, DL: Any team looking for help on defense will be sure to entertain Williams. The 27-year-old defensive lineman offers plenty of promise for years to come.
Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE: Ngakoue is now a free agent after being traded from the Minnesota Vikings to the Baltimore Ravens midseason in 2020. He collected eight sacks in 15 games between the two teams last season.
Joe Thuney, G: The New England Patriots will have a big decision to make when it comes to left guard Joe Thuney. If he decides to leave Foxboro, he will bring consistent offensive line play -- and a major price tag. He earned $14.78 million playing on the franchise tag last season.
Hunter Henry, TE: Henry will draw attention from any team seeking a tight end upgrade this offseason. He finished 12th among NFL tight ends with 613 receiving yards for the Los Angeles Chargers last season.
Aaron Jones, RB: Jones is the undisputed top running back in this free-agent class. He rushed for over 1,100 yards and found the end zone 11 times last season as the Green Bay Packers earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC last season.
Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE: Clowney is entering the open market for the second straight offseason. The pass rusher struggled last season, as he failed to register a single sack in his first season with the Tennessee Titans.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR: Though he caught some heat for his pregame TikTok dances on the field this past season, the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver also caught 97 passes for nine touchdowns and could boost an offense’s aerial attack.
Taylor Moton, OT: Moton has been a stable force on the Carolina Panthers’ offensive line, starting each game for the past three seasons.
Marcus Williams, S: Williams has made 60 starts for a strong New Orleans Saints defense over the last four seasons and could be an intriguing addition for teams seeking secondary help.
Jameis Winston, QB: After sitting behind Drew Brees in New Orleans last season, the former Heisman Trophy winner will be looking for a starting role.
Andy Dalton, QB: Dalton got to audition for his next job after Prescott suffered his season-ending leg injury. Could a rival NFC East team bring in Dalton to be their starting quarterback after watching his nine starts in Dallas?