We’re quickly approaching NFL free agency, one of the most exciting times of the year. As veterans continue to be traded and released in the weeks ahead, nothing is official until March 17 at 4 p.m. EDT. That won’t stop us from getting energized about any news, nor will it prevent a look ahead at possible scenarios.
Here are the positional breakdowns of known unrestricted free-agent wide receivers who may present fantasy football utility in 2021. Each player’s 2020 team is in parentheses, and we’ll focus only on relevant fantasy football commodities.
2021 fantasy football free agents to watch
Allen Robinson (Chicago Bears): Chicago sits $1.8 million over the cap at this moment. Robinson has expressed interest in sticking around in the Windy City, yet the lack of a contract extension should say everything gamers need to know. The 27-year-old has returned to form after tearing an ACL a few years ago, so be sure he will look for top dollar. The Bears cannot provide it, and a franchise tagging could turn ugly in a hurry.
Expectation: Robinson will hit free agency and end up in a different city. The murky QB situation in Chicago is unattractive, and tagging him will result in a larger cap hit than a team-friendly extension, in all likelihood. The most probable landing spots, in no particular order: New York Giants, New York Jets, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Miami, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Washington.
Chris Godwin (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Coming off a down year, due to multiple injuries, Godwin hits his first chance at free agency in his prime. He’s a true WR1 coming from a team with its own in Mike Evans, but Godwin also realizes the value of renewing his deal with the Bucs.
Expectation: The plausibility of Tampa letting him walk is almost zero. This team has plenty of cap space and could place a tag on Godwin if an agreement cannot be reached. With the cap poised to increase in 2022, and Tom Brady possibly retiring then, too, Godwin is unlikely to reject playing on a tag.
Kenny Golladay (Detroit Lions): Golladay is looking to bounce back from an injury-ravaged season, and if it’s in Detroit, he’ll have to do so with Jared Goff starting at quarterback.
Expectation: There’s talk the Lions will use the franchise tag to retain Golladay, which is a win-win for both sides. Detroit gets to see if he has success with Goff before investing long term, and the wideout can show teams he’s healthy and productive again ahead of a 2022 free-agent period that will give teams more cap flexibility.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh Steelers): Following a couple of unspectacular seasons after Antonio Brown left, JuJu appears to have worn out his welcome in the Steel City. Pittsburgh watched 2020 rookie Chase Claypool emerge in a major way, and Diontae Johnson also stepped up his game, making the veteran expendable.
Expectation: Smith-Schuster will want more money that Pittsburgh can pay him anyway, and this roster has more pressing needs to address for a playoff return to be a safe bet. JJSS will have suitors, including Philadelphia (provided the cap space is cleared) and Las Vegas likely being near the top of the list.
Curtis Samuel (Carolina Panthers): Still only 24 years old entering his first opportunity at free agency, Samuel is coming off of his best fantasy season yet, powered on the strength of 77 receptions for 851 yards — both personal bests. Samuel does a bunch of things well, but he has yet to offer that “wow factor” in any one facet of his game.
Expectation: It will be interesting to see if a different coaching staff can get something more explosive from him in the aerial game, although multiple playcallers in Carolina over his career haven’t been able to draw it out of him. Reuniting with Urban Meyer in Jacksonville makes some sense, and heading to Washington for another coaching reunion is a viable option. There could be interest from multiple teams if the asking price is within reason. Consider New England and the New York Giants to be higher than most on the short list.
T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis Colts): Hilton finally returned to form in the second half of last season. He enters his first opportunity to hit free agency and has said he’s 100 percent focused on it. Hilton also noted he’s not against returning to Indy, though reading between the lines suggests the compensation will need to match up with his desired salary.
Expectation: Acquiring QB Carson Wentz was the first domino to fall in a series of factors that needed to align to make the Colts more attractive to Hilton. Indy’s cap situation is among the best in football, so now it should come down to compensation. There’s still a better than decent chance Hilton will test his worth on the open market at age 32
Corey Davis (Tennessee Titans): Timing is everything in life, and the Titans may find out the hard way they should have picked up Davis’ fifth-year option prior to last season. In fairness, he was trending toward epic bust territory before emerging in 2020 alongside A.J. Brown.
Expectation: It comes down to how much Tennessee values Davis and whether the two can establish common ground when it comes to dollars vs. expectations. Sitting just slightly above the cap, it’s unlikely the Titans can spend enough to retain him. If Davis wants to have a shot a winning over being overpaid, he could explore a creative contract for the short term. Most likely, a team with deeper pockets will win his services.
Marvin Jones (Detroit Lions): Jones turns 31 days before the opening of free agency in March, and he has been remarkably consistent over the past four years on a per-game basis. The former Bengal and Lion is the consummate No. 2 receiver. But given his age and lack of postseason success, Jones will have a narrow list of desired landing spots. He wants to be paid what he feels he’s worth and play for a contender. Say goodbye, Detroit.
Expectation: Teams that fit the mold of what Jones has in mind, in order of most cap space: Indianapolis, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, San Francisco, Seattle, Tennessee, Green Bay and Kansas City. Indy, Baltimore and Tennessee are probably the most sensible options.
Antonio Brown (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Common sense puts AB back in pewter this fall, but consider the man in question here. Tom Brady will be on his side, and the Buccaneers have ample money to spend.
Expectation: A razor-thin margin for error will scare off several teams, if not most. Brown also is getting long in the tooth. Look for him to sign another one-year pact with Tampa Bay as the most probable course of action.
Will Fuller (Houston Texans): An injury history four miles long and facing a one-game suspension to begin the year, Fuller has limited leverage. He still has his wheels and is only 27 once the season begins. He’s not a WR1 and shouldn’t be asked to handle such a role.
Expectation: Fuller may be on the short list for Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England, Washington and Cleveland. All of those teams desperately need to get faster. Green Bay has some speed, but the inconsistent play behind Davante Adams is in need of an upgrade. There could be a wild card out of Baltimore, Tennessee and Las Vegas.
Nelson Agholor (Las Vegas Raiders): This one will be interesting. The former first-round pick saved his career, thanks to his downfield chemistry with quarterback Derek Carr. The Raiders moved on from Williams, and there’s an obvious need for as much help at the position as the Raiders can assemble. A report late last year said Agholor lashed out at his teammates for a dysfunctional collapse, but it was immediately disputed by actual Las Vegas players.
Expectation: Flip a coin on whether he returns to the team. A lucrative contract offer could help ail any woes, and having teammates step up in his defense is telling. A bunch of teams need a vertical threat at receiver, and the Raiders showed how to properly use him. Agholor will have multiple teams at least kicking tires in the legal tampering period.
A.J. Green (Cincinnati Bengals): The former star receiver will hit the market for the first time in his career. An age-33 season ahead — made scarier by his injury history — will limit Green’s suitors. In the right role, such as a scoring threat in the red zone, Green could do some damage for fantasy purposes. However, predicting when to play him in that scenario would be frustrating. To Green’s credit, he didn’t miss a game in 2020. To reality’s credit, Green looked washed up after missing all of 2019.
Expectation: This feels like a Patriots signing … Bill Belichick has a track record of signing former star players on the cheap, especially at receiver, hoping to get something from them. If WR-needy playoff teams, like Indy, Washington, Cleveland, Tennessee or Green Bay, are interested, Green could have a strong chance to rebound. Should he be relegated to inking with any old team, like Detroit, the Jets, Philly, among others, Green will be exposed once again. Wild cards include the Chiefs, Bears, Steelers and Seahawks.
Josh Reynolds (Los Angeles Rams): Los Angeles invested a 2020 second-round pick on wide receiver Van Jefferson. Reynolds is coming off a season in which he posted personal bests for yardage (618) and catches (52). He won’t attract a huge contract, although the Texas A&M product could prove to be a bargain.
Expectation: Reynolds, 26, will almost certainly be playing in a new city next year, and one spot that makes considerable sense is Cincinnati. The Bengals have plenty of cash to spend, A.J. Green is an impending free agent, and head coach Zac Taylor coached for the Rams during Reynolds first couple of seasons in the league.
Demarcus Robinson (Kansas City Chiefs): Robinson re-signed with KC last year on a one-year pact that resulted in him posting career figures for receptions (45) and yardage (466).
Expectation: There’s enough reason to think he could defect if a team is willing to spend up after Robinson tallied 11 total receiving scores in the past three seasons. If Sammy Watkins doesn’t renew with the Chiefs, Robinson could get a call from KC general manager Brett Veach.
Sammy Watkins (Kansas City Chiefs): It seems like Watkins is in his mid-30s by now, but he’s entering free agency at only 27. Kansas City has expressed interest in re-signing him, and the oft-injured wideout has mutual feelings. He noted his desire to win is greater than for racking up stats, which narrows things down a great deal.
Expectation: A one-year contract with either incentives or generally lessened salary ramifications makes a ton of sense for both KC and Watkins. He’s a veteran presence who knows the Chiefs’ system, and the aforementioned Robinson is free agent, too, which increases the value of Watkins re-upping in KC.
Keelan Cole (Jacksonville Jaguars): Cole returned to the minds of fantasy gamers in 2020 on a career-high 55 catches and five scores. He won’t have a huge market, and Cole most likely will be signed to play a complementary role. However, there’s a chance a team could see enough in his game and offer Cole a shot at being a WR2.
Expectation: Teams with limited money and a need for a role player: Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Green Bay, Tennessee and Las Vegas.
David Moore (Seattle Seahawks): Can Moore translate a six-touchdown campaign into a prominent role with a fresh team? Perhaps, but his overall body of work is rather limited and uninspiring. Moore battled inconsistency last year and mainly found success by way of the attention paid to the two receivers ahead of him.
Expectation: He could be a victim of a deep free-agent pool, and a return to Seattle shouldn’t be ruled out. Reuniting with Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is a distinct possibility.
Breshad Perriman (New York Jets): Perriman is a well-traveled veteran at this point, and his latest stop did his 2021 leverage no favors. The deep threat could find a role with a team in the market for a limited-action vertical weapon, but the money will reflect it.
Expectation: Not that it makes a great difference in fantasy leagues, since Perriman is a bit player who is reliant on matchups, but he could be an intriguing option in the right situation. The usual suspects on this list are reasonable options, simply because of his speed. Indy, Tennessee, Washington, Miami, Arizona, San Fran, Seattle, Carolina and the Patriots are all within reason based on need.
DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia Eagles): D-Jax, 34, hits free agency after his release. The market will be extremely limited because of his age and massive injury history. There could be a team or two willing to pay enough to bring him in on a one-year deal just to utilize his still-impressive speed.
Expectation: Kansas City makes ample sense, given the relative knowledge Jackson has of Andy Reid’s system, and the Chiefs have a need for a veteran role player with the impending free agency of Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins. New England, Baltimore, Indianapolis, the Jets and Cleveland make sense, too.
Rashard Higgins (Cleveland Browns): Higgins has flashed a time or two in his NFL career. The role has mostly been as a backup, and while there could be an opportunity for Higgins to see a starting role, it’s hard to imagine it will be in a reliable setting.
Expectation: There’s a significant need for a receiver from so many teams that it’s a total crapshoot to guess as to where Higgins will sign. Cleveland absolutely is still in the mix, and re-signing makes sense for both sides. He has a relationship with Baker Mayfield, knows the offense, and could be asked to do more if OBJ is slow to recover.
Kendrick Bourne (San Francisco 49ers): Can a change of scenery improve Bourne’s fantasy prospects after several years of flirting with being more than a spot starter? There’s a pair of talented receivers on roster in San Fran in Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. After George Kittle, Bourne really won’t see enough passes with frequency to consistently matter in fantasy, should he return.
Expectation: The Jets are the most likely landing spot. They have an obvious need for receivers, giving Bourne an opportunity to compete for a starting gig. It also would reunite him with New York’s new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.
Willie Snead (Baltimore Ravens): Snead has been a safety blanket of sorts for Lamar Jackson in clutch situations, although his offerings in fantasy are that of an occasional matchup play.
Expectation: His market will be limited, so a possible return to Baltimore isn’t unrealistic. The Ravens are in good cap shape (11th most), suggesting it will come down to Snead’s preference and whether the brain trust wants to move on to younger options, such as Miles Boykin and/or Devin Duvernay.
Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals): It’s improbable Fitz returns for his 18th pro season if it isn’t in Arizona. He endured his worst statistical season as a pro in 2020 and may return as no more than a mentor.
Expectation: Assuming he returns for one more crack at a Super Bowl, Fitzgerald’s age-38 season offers no fantasy football value of note.
Potential free agents to watch
Due to a likely shrinking salary cap, some teams will be in a bind more than expected when these contracts were signed.
Odell Beckham Jr. (Cleveland Browns): There’s chatter Beckham could be traded or released as he works his way back from knee reconstruction. The one-time superstar has fallen on tough times in recent years, and while Cleveland certainly can keep him on roster at his current cost, the right compensation package could instigate a trade. OBJ’s deal has three seasons remaining but gives a penalty-free out after the 2021 campaign. Cutting or trading him now would save just under $3 million.
Brandin Cooks (Houston Texans): The cap hit is $12 million this year, and Cooks’ deal carries no dead money over the next three years. Depending on what happens with Deshaun Watson, and the impending free-agent status of WR Will Fuller, it could leave the Texans in position to restructure Cooks or even keep him at his current price.
Emmanuel Sanders (New Orleans Saints): Sanders carries a $10.5 million charge against the cap for a team that is in dire straits, so there’s plenty of incentive to get younger and cheaper. Sanders’ release will come with $4 million in dead cap charges, accelerating $2 million from the 2022 cap to this year’s.
Golden Tate (New York Giants): Last year’s tumultuous relationship between Tate and the organization could help contribute to the underperforming veteran to be shown the door. The cap savings would be roughly $6.1 million.
Mike Williams (Los Angeles Chargers): The Bolts picked up his fifth-year option for 2021, which will pay Williams $15.68 million. The Chargers are in good shape cap-wise and don’t need to release him, but it is a bunch of money to pay for what Williams has produced of late. No dead cap hit makes him expendable via release or trade.
Alshon Jeffery (Philadelphia Eagles): Jeffery will be released once the new league year officially opens. At 31, after several years of serious injury issues, his days of fantasy relevance are likely over.