The 2021 NFL free-agent market frenzy was a sight to behold.
Even though the pandemic severely impacted the salary cap, it ultimately did not damper any expectations.
Finally: NFL informed teams today that the 2021 salary cap will be $182.5, a significant drop from last year's $198.2M.
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) March 10, 2021
Teams made moves in flurries, and it seemed as if a star player got signed every five minutes.
Most Guaranteed 💰 given out this offseason:
— Spotrac (@spotrac) April 1, 2021
Some players got overpaid relative to their production, while others got cheap deals that did not reflect their quality of play.
Here are three signings of the 2021 free-agent class that flew under the radar.
1. John Johnson III, S – 3 years, $33 million
It is difficult to underrate a player who signed a big deal, but John Johnson III is one of the few exceptions.
Analysts consider him to be one of the best cover safeties in the league, as he has four times as many interceptions (8) than he does penalties (2) in his career.
Johnson’s only down season came in 2019 when he played just 395 snaps due to injury.
Otherwise, he played a significant role in the top-ranked defense from last year.
One note on John Johnson III that isn't in a contract detail or bottom line ticker…was often the Rams' face and voice in the community. Beloved member of that franchise for years. Made biggest INT in franchise history, too.
Great culture addition by Cleveland, on top of ball.
— Peter Schrager (@PSchrags) March 15, 2021
Not only did he sign for less to play for Cleveland, but he also fills one of the team’s biggest needs.
Browns safeties earned the worst cumulative grade in the league last season at 48.2
John Johnson III: 85.3 PFF Grade in 2020 (3rd) pic.twitter.com/jFVHUn1lQ8
— PFF (@PFF) March 15, 2021
Johnson checks all the boxes as an elite player that signed a team-friendly deal with a team that desperately needed an upgrade at the position.
2. Anthony Harris, S – 1 year, $4 million
Anthony Harris is another elite safety who hit the open market this offseason.
Many pundits expected Harris to secure a big contract.
However, he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles on a team-friendly deal.
Perhaps part of that was due to his down season, in which he could not repeat his stellar 2019 campaign.
In his banner year two seasons ago, he tied for first with six interceptions and gave up zero touchdowns.
For whatever reason, he regressed in 2020 by recording zero interceptions and allowing four touchdowns in coverage.
Regardless, this is a win-win situation for the Eagles.
If Harris recaptures some of his former glory, Philadelphia would have one of their most pressing issues shored up.
He is also reuniting with former Minnesota Viking coach and current defensive coordinator for the Eagles, Jonathan Gannon.
— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) March 24, 2021
“He’s going to bring some energy,” Harris said about his coach. “He’s going to be somebody who has that balance of being dialed in, getting to the point, letting you know what his expectations are.”
Harris’ familiarity with Gannon should translate well on the field, as he has the chance to thrive in a system he is comfortable in.
If his regression is part of a troubling trend, then Philadelphia can let him walk away next offseason.
It is not often elite players sign well below their market value, and the Eagles capitalized on this opportunity.
3. Darryl Williams, RT – 3 years, $24 million
Daryl Williams is neither a big name nor an elite talent at right tackle.
The contract is moderate in length and guaranteed money, but his importance goes far beyond the financials.
— TheBillsWire (@TheBillsWire) April 2, 2021
Injuries and inconsistency plagued Williams in his first five years in the league, but he found success in a one-year prove-it deal with Buffalo last year.
He gave up just 21 pressures all season, which ranked tied for 15th amongst all offensive tackles.
Williams also shed his injury-prone label by playing all 16 games and 96% of the offensive snaps.
Keeping their franchise quarterback comfortable and upright is a must for the Bills, and retaining Williams does just that.