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Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
When NFL‘s free-agency period began in mid-March, there was a flurry of signings that took place, as there always is. It doesn’t take long for the top names on the market to start flying off the board, either opting to return to their old teams or to commit to a new one.
But not every free agent signs within the first few days of free agency, or even the first few weeks. Some can wait months before inking a deal, whether that’s by their own choice or because of a lack of interest from the league’s 32 teams.
As the 2021 NFL draft approaches this week (it’s set to take place Thursday, Friday and Saturday), much of the focus around the league will be on the wave of new talent that is set to be added to teams’ rosters. However, once the draft is over, it could lead to more free-agent signings, as the 2021 season will be getting closer and teams will know what needs they still have to address before then.
Here’s a look at the top free agents who still remain unsigned at this point in the offseason.
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Brett Carlsen/Associated Press
1. Antonio Brown, WR
2. Richard Sherman, CB
3. Alejandro Villanueva, OT
4. Mitchell Schwartz, OT
5. Eric Fisher, OT
6. Justin Houston, EDGE
7. Casey Hayward, CB
8. Melvin Ingram, EDGE
9. Russell Okung, OT
10. Brian Poole, CB
11. Sheldon Richardson, DT
12. Austin Reiter, C
13. Olivier Vernon, EDGE
14. K.J. Wright, LB
15. Le’Veon Bell, RB
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
After serving an eight-game suspension to open the 2020 season, Brown joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, became another viable offensive weapon for quarterback Tom Brady and helped the team win a Super Bowl championship. Now, the 32-year-old wide receiver is again after a free agent, as he had only signed a one-year deal with the Bucs.
Perhaps there’s a chance Brown could return to Tampa Bay, though, to join its quest to win back-to-back titles. General manager Jason Licht hasn’t ruled it out, as he told reporters last week that the Buccaneers and Brown have “had discussions throughout the offseason” and will “continue to have talks and see where it goes.” (h/t Grace Remington of WTSP)
ESPN’s Jenna Laine reported that Brown reached a settlement with former trainer Britney Taylor, who had accused Brown of sexually assaulting her in a 2019 lawsuit. That had led to Brown’s suspension to open 2020, as he had multiple violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
In eight regular-season games for the Bucs in 2020, Brown had 45 receptions for 483 yards and four touchdowns. He then had eight catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns in three playoff games, with one of his scores coming in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl LV victory.
Brown may not put up the same type of numbers he did earlier in his career, such as when he was an All-Pro selection in four straight seasons from 2014-17, but he’s proven that he can still be a solid contributor, whether that’s back in Tampa Bay or somewhere else.
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Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press
Like Brown, Sherman’s best days are probably behind him at this point in his career. But the 33-year-old cornerback can still provide solid play to a defense, especially if he can stay on the field (which he didn’t in 2020, when he was limited to five games due to injury).
Sherman isn’t likely to sign with a team this week, though, as he said earlier this month on The Cris Collinsworth Podcast featuring Richard Sherman that he’s not expecting to ink a deal until after the draft. There could be an opportunity for Sherman to sign with a team that doesn’t end up taking a top cornerback prospect in the draft.
One potential fit for Sherman could be with the New York Jets, who hired former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to be their head coach earlier this offseason. Sherman played for Saleh and the 49ers the past three seasons, and ESPN’s Rich Cimini reported earlier this month that Saleh was interested in reuniting with Sherman in New York.
The Seattle Seahawks also could use a cornerback, and Sherman spent his first seven NFL seasons with them after they drafted him in the fifth round in 2011. Could he head back to Seattle, where he won a Super Bowl championship and had the best years of his career?
Whether Sherman signs with the Jets, Seahawks or another team, it should be a bit before it happens.
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Don Wright/Associated Press
For teams that don’t end up with a top tackle in the draft, there are plenty of intriguing free agents to consider signing. There are quite a few available tackles who have had success in the past.
Villanueva is a two-time Pro Bowler who never missed a game over the past six seasons while playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers. According to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, the Baltimore Ravens are expected to sign the 32-year-old Villanueva, but they’re unlikely to do so until after the draft.
Schwartz and Fisher each played for the Kansas City Chiefs as they won Super Bowl LIV and then made it to Super Bowl LV. But both are now free agents and could be heading elsewhere. However, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid recently told reporters the “door always remains open” for both tackles, although both had been cut to clear salary cap. (h/t NFL.com’s Kevin Patra)
Even if Villanueva, Schwartz and Fisher come off the market, there are some other solid tackles available, including Okung and Rick Wagner, so there are numerous veterans who could be valuable signings for teams later this offseason.