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Top 25 NFL free agents in 2021: Prospective class teeming with talent

March 2021 could bring the deepest free-agent class ever ... and the biggest salary-cap reduction in NFL history.

At a moment when it's difficult to think past the current week, front offices are trying to map out how a global pandemic will change preparations beyond this season. The uncertainty has likely slowed down the pace of long-term deals. After a huge number of players (15) were given tags this year, only two (Chris Jones and Derrick Henry) received longer commitments before the July 15 deadline to strike an extension. And while a few players (like Patrick Mahomes and Joey Bosa) recently signed megadeals, many more superstars (including Jalen Ramsey and Dalvin Cook) are now entering the final season of a rookie contract without new money appearing to be close.

Add it all up, and my annual August list of the top 25 prospective free agents is absolutely loaded. Teams that create salary-cap flexibility for next season could be handsomely rewarded. Just check out all the star power below.

NOTE: Ages listed next to each player's headshot represent how old the prospective free agent will be on Sept. 1, 2021 -- right before NEXT season kicks off.

Rank
1
Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys · QB · Age in 2021: 28

The Cowboys have botched this negotiation. They will wind up paying Prescott more in the long run, now that he's on the Kirk Cousins-in-Washington franchise-tag track.

Rank
2
George Kittle
George Kittle
San Francisco 49ers · TE · Age in 2021: 27

No player on this list is more likely to get a contract before Week 1 of this season. Kittle should reset the tight end market, and he's still likely to be underpaid relative to other positions and his value.


UPDATE: Kittle signed a five-year, $75 million extension with the 49ers that includes $30 million guaranteed at signing, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Michael Silver reported.


Rank
3
Ronnie Stanley
Ronnie Stanley
Baltimore Ravens · OT · Age in 2021: 27

If there were a poll among general managers picking one franchise left tackle to build around for the next decade, Stanley might top the list. Baltimore has a lot of big contracts coming up, but Stanley is the most important player on the Ravens' roster besides Lamar Jackson.

Rank
4
Jalen Ramsey
Jalen Ramsey
Los Angeles Rams · CB · Age in 2021: 26

He'd be No. 1 on a free-agent list in most seasons. Ramsey kept his promise to the Rams by avoiding a holdout, but his hanging contract situation is already causing some understandable stress.

Rank
5
David Bakhtiari
David Bakhtiari
Green Bay Packers · OT · Age in 2021: 29

Despite a few short stretches of ordinary play over the last two years, Bakhtiari is a 28-year-old left tackle with four straight first- or second-team All-Pro nods. Considering how well older tackles have held up in recent years, Bakhtiari's next contract may still cover part of his prime.

Rank
6
Kenny Clark
Kenny Clark
Green Bay Packers · DT · Age in 2021: 25

Somehow still just 24 years old, Clark has improved every season in Green Bay. He's now one of the most dominant and complete defensive tackles in the sport.


UPDATE: Clark and the Packers have agreed to a four-year, $70 million extension that includes a $25 million signing bonus, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported.

Rank
7
Allen Robinson
Allen Robinson
Chicago Bears · WR · Age in 2021: 28

Robinson, who turns 27 later this month, would be known as one of the 10 best receivers in football if he played with better quarterbacks.

Rank
8
Shaquil Barrett
Shaquil Barrett
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · OLB · Age in 2021: 28

According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, Barrett had 18 QB hits and 55 hurries in addition to his league-leading sack total of 19.5 in 2019. If he comes anywhere close to those numbers again, he's ranked too low here.

Rank
9
Keenan Allen
Keenan Allen
Los Angeles Chargers · WR · Age in 2021: 29

After struggling with injuries early in his career, Allen hasn't missed a game in three seasons. His route-running and smarts should age well.

Rank
10
Cam Newton
Cam Newton
New England Patriots · QB · Age in 2021: 32

New England has the third-highest amount of cap space for 2021, per Over The Cap. If Newton balls out in Foxborough, the Pats should be able to keep him.

Rank
11
Chris Godwin
Chris Godwin
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · WR · Age in 2021: 25

A new-school prototype who can line up anywhere on the field and make plays after the catch. Don't be surprised if Godwin's value goes up even further with Tom Brady throwing him the ball.

Rank
12
Alvin Kamara
Alvin Kamara
New Orleans Saints · RB · Age in 2021: 26

I don't want to debate the value of running backs here. I'm happy to argue that Kamara's extraterrestrial play in his first two seasons is more telling than his sluggish, injury-plagued 2019 campaign.

Rank
13
Justin Simmons
Justin Simmons
Denver Broncos · S · Age in 2021: 27

Ben Baldwin of The Athletic wrote a compelling piece asking if underpaid dynamic safeties are the new market inefficiency. The Broncos' defense wouldn't function the same way without Simmons.

Rank
14
Joe Thuney
Joe Thuney
New England Patriots · OG · Age in 2021: 28

It's possible the Patriots could choose to keep Thuney with a new contract while letting go of his guard tag-team partner, Shaq Mason -- at least if their diverging 2019 play repeats.

Rank
15
Yannick Ngakoue
Yannick Ngakoue
Jacksonville Jaguars · DE · Age in 2021: 26

Still unsigned after firing his agent, Ngakoue may yet wind up playing out his one-year franchise tag in a different uniform.

Rank
16
Cooper Kupp
Cooper Kupp
Los Angeles Rams · WR · Age in 2021: 28

He's not just a system wideout. Kupp has grown more physical and better after the catch with each passing season.

Rank
17
Kenny Golladay
Kenny Golladay
Detroit Lions · WR · Age in 2021: 27

There are a lot of receivers on this list. Few in the NFL have the deep-ball ability to match Golladay.

Rank
18
Dalvin Cook
Dalvin Cook
Minnesota Vikings · RB · Age in 2021: 26

Durability is a concern for Cook, who has missed 19 games in three seasons, including seven after his return from a torn ACL. Otherwise, he's everything you look for in a modern running back.

Rank
19
Hunter Henry
Hunter Henry
Los Angeles Chargers · TE · Age in 2021: 26

Franchise-tagged in 2020, Henry gets a boost because of position scarcity. Every team wants a pass-catching tight end like Henry, but there aren't enough to go around.

Rank
20
Trent Williams
Trent Williams
San Francisco 49ers · OT · Age in 2021: 33

It feels like either the 49ers will get a top-five left tackle, or Williams' back injury will short-circuit the rest of his career. There may not be much in between.

Rank
21
Joe Mixon
Joe Mixon
Cincinnati Bengals · RB · Age in 2021: 25

With Mixon's combination of power and escapability, few NFL runners are more fun to watch. The Bengals, by all accounts, love him -- and might wind up valuing him higher than the rest of the league.

Rank
22
Matt Judon
Matt Judon
Baltimore Ravens · OLB · Age in 2021: 29

A terrific player who may thrive more with effort than pure raw talent, Judon looks likely to be the latest pass rusher to leave the Ravens nest.

Rank
23
Lavonte David
Lavonte David
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · LB · Age in 2021: 31

One of the most underrated players of his generation, David continues to play at a high level with a true three-down skill set that is very hard to find in off-ball linebackers.

Rank
24
Matt Milano
Matt Milano
Buffalo Bills · LB · Age in 2021: 27

The Bills have found their version of Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly in Milano and Tremaine Edmunds, with Milano playing the Davis role.

Rank
25
Cameron Heyward
Cameron Heyward
Pittsburgh Steelers · DT · Age in 2021: 32

If the Steelers don't find a way to keep him, Heyward could be the versatile veteran piece that puts a defensive line over the top.

JUST MISSED: Anthony Harris, S, Minnesota Vikings; JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers; T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts; Brandon Scherff, OG, Washington Football Team; Demario Davis, LB, New Orleans Saints; Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals; Bud Dupree, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers; A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals; Philip Rivers, QB, Indianapolis Colts; Taylor Moton, OT, Carolina Panthers; Shaquill Griffin, CB, Seattle Seahawks; Leonard Williams, DE, New York Giants; Rob Gronkowski, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Richard Sherman, CB, San Francisco 49ers; Jameis Winston, QB, New Orleans Saints.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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