Best Free Agent Bargains of 2021

Free agency in the NFL has finally arrived and while most people will concentrate on the high-priced players that sign, I think it makes the most sense to identify the free agents that could return the biggest bang for a team’s buck. Historically, there is a negative correlation between money spent on free agents and actually winning football games so these guys below could be the more important difference-makers for the cost. Smart teams who can either grab young up-and-coming stars at impact positions (QB, WR, Tackle, Edge, CB) or pick up veterans on short-term deals, will benefit the most in free agency.

Wide Receiver

Wide receiver is definitely a position that has a negative correlation between money spent and return on investment. It’s almost always smart to go bargain hunting. Of the 28 WRs who signed with a new team last offseason, only six of those players saw at least 30 targets. Last season we saw the Raiders get a tremendous return on their one-year/$1.04M deal with Nelson Agholor, who caught 48 passes for 896 yards and eight touchdowns. He finished 23rd in yards per route run as well.

For this season, I would target Isaiah McKenzie if looking for a slot receiver type who is also very versatile. McKenzie, who is 26 years old, ranked ninth in yards after the catch per reception and 26th in yards per route run while playing behind the Bills’ impressive WR corps last season. He spent 68% of his snaps in the slot where he caught 18 of his 30 passes with 5 TDs. While he was only targeted four times on passes 20+ yards down the field, he caught three of them and all of them went for a touchdown. Not to mention, McKenzie does also have 29 carries in his career for 128 yards and 2 TDs. He’s a versatile player who won’t command a lot of money and can hurt a defense in many ways.

Tight End

The tight end position does have some big names at the top but a guy who came into his own last season, Dan Arnold, is a 25-year-old guy who is flying under the radar. The Kliff Kingsbury spread offense is not tailored toward the tight end, but the Cardinals did use the second-highest rate of 12 personnel (two tight ends) last season. Arnold didn’t get many opportunities in the passing game, but was able to show off his athletic skill set when he did. He posted the seventh-highest YAC per reception and was 17th yards per route run last season on 31 receptions for 438 yards and 4 TDs.

Offensive Line

The best values on the OL typically come from a depth perspective. You most likely aren’t going to find a multi-year starter at tackle but you can find guys who are adequate enough to be a sixth-man on the OL and guys who can play multiple positions. James Hurst, formerly of the New Orleans Saints, is one who I believe can add value to a team’s OL.

Hurst is still relatively young at 29 years old and has played nearly 1,600 snaps at LT, nearly 1,400 at LG, and over 650 at RT in his career. While he has struggled in the run game, Hurst has been excellent as a pass blocker. He has posted PFF pass-blocking grades of 76.1, 66.2, 78.0, and 85.5 in his last four seasons. While mostly playing LT last season, he only allowed two sacks and two total pressures on 168 pass-block snaps. 

Pass Rusher

I am lumping any DL, DE, or OLB all into the pass rusher category since the best values will come from guys who can get to the QB. Since teams will typically overpay for a good pass rusher, it may be hard to gauge what ends up being a bargain.

The one veteran pass rusher who I feel like is going under the radar is Melvin Ingram. Ingram did not record a sack last season while dealing with injuries. He was only able to play in seven games but produced a 12% pressure rate, ranked 25th among 123 EDGE players, and in line with his 12.8% career average.

As mentioned earlier he did not produce a sack, however. The average pass rusher converts 11% of pressures into sacks. Ingram has converted a sack on 14.7% of his pressures in his career and has never had a season worse than 11.1%. In 2018 & 2019 there were 11 pass rushers with a pressure rate greater than 11% and a sack conversion rate of under 9%. Every one of those 11 pass rushers either had the same or better sacks per game numbers the following season with the average improvement of nearly three sacks per game. Barring an injury-plagued season, I would think that 6-8 sacks are in order for Ingram this season and a good short-term bargain for a pass rush needy team.

Another pass rusher who is looking for positive sack conversion regression is 26-year-old Tyus Bowser, formerly of the Ravens. Bowser has never produced huge numbers in his short career but is an excellent athlete, producing a SPARQ score in the 92nd percentile of all NFL EDGE rushers in 2017, and ranked 23rd last season in pressure rate. However, similar to Ingram, he was only able to convert 6% of those pressures into two sacks on 284 pass rush snaps. Coming into last season, Bowser converted 20% of his 45 career pressures into nine sacks. Bowser is still only a part-time player, playing 50% of the snaps last season, but for someone as young and athletic as he is, a team has a chance to get rewarded for a low cost. 


The NFL has clearly devalued the off-ball linebacker position of late, similarly to how running backs have been treated. For my taste, unless you are able to secure a once-in-a-generation type of player like Luke Keuchly, Bobby Wagner, or Ray Lewis, the best bet is to find your athletic linebackers who can cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. With that being said, an athletic defender who stands out for dirt cheap is Kevin Pierre-Louis. Louis is 29 years old and has ranked second and fifth in PFF coverage grade among LBs the last two seasons. In addition, Louis is uber-athletic and produced a SPARQ score in the 98th percentile at the 2014 combine.


Last season we saw a couple of veterans produce excellent returns on relatively low deals like Ronald Darby (one-year/$3M) and Xavier Rhodes (one-year/$3M). Speaking of Darby, he returns as a potential excellent value this season as well. Darby produced the 14th-lowest completion percentage allowed while in coverage at 54%, finished 16th in PFF coverage grade, and first among all NFL CBs in non-interception pass break-ups — his 16 passes defensed ranked fifth overall in the NFL but came with no interceptions.

Two corners who excel in the slot and shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg are 29-year-old Brian Poole and 25-year-old Cameron Sutton. Poole has flown under the radar after back-to-back excellent seasons with the Jets. Poole has graded out as the 10th-best coverage corner in each of the last two seasons by PFF. He spent 628 snaps in the slot and produced the 19th-lowest yards per snap in the slot this season after finishing with the second-lowest in 2019. 

Sutton was lost in the shuffle on the Steelers’ star-studded defense but played very well in coverage, especially in the slot. He spent most of last season in the slot but once the Steelers’ cornerbacks started going down with injuries, he played out wide more than the slot and his play suffered. In the slot, Sutton allowed 63% completions while in coverage and the ninth-lowest passer rating last season. His counterpart Mike Hilton is getting a lot more hype and will most likely get paid at a higher number, leaving the younger Sutton as the better bargain.


Similar to linebackers, teams have started to focus on going after safeties who can really cover the field and defend the middle of the field especially. A guy who is a solid cover man and an excellent athlete who can be had for a cheap contract is Rayshawn Jenkins, formerly of the Chargers. He graded out as the 21st-best coverage safety by PFF, among 99 qualified safeties. He produced the 11th-lowest yards per reception while in coverage at 8.8 yards. Since he came into the league, Jenkins has improved each season and has increased his coverage grade in each of the last two seasons. Jenkins also produced the sixth-highest SPARQ score among safeties at the 2017 combine with a score in the 79th-percentile.