Where will the top 2021 unrestricted free agents ultimately land this year? Well start finding out a little less than a week from now as the start of free agency is March 17. In the meantime, however, several major media NFL analysts are submitting their final prognostications as to which free agent will ultimately land where. Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic released his final free agency predictions for several players on Thursday and he has three current Pittsburgh Steelers players on his list and all three landing with AFC teams.
Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree is listed first by Kapadia and he has the former first round draft pick out of Kentucky headed to the Miami Dolphins. Below is his reasoning for that prediction.
If last offseason is any indication, the Dolphins are going to be active. They are set at cornerback with Byron Jones and Xavien Howard but could use more juice in their front seven. Dupree is coming off a torn ACL, but he’s developed into a ferocious, versatile edge defender. Dupree had 11.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hits with the Steelers in 2019. Last year, he had eight sacks and 15 quarterback hits in 11 games before suffering the injury. Whether rushing the passer, playing the run or dropping into coverage, Dupree is a disruptive player who would fit well in Brian Flores’ scheme.
Next in Kapadia’s predictions is Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and he has him landing with the New York Jets in free agency. Below is his reasoning for that prognostication.
On paper, the Jets have a slot receiver in Jamison Crowder, but none of Crowder’s 2021 salary is guaranteed, and they can create $10.4 million in cap space by releasing him. Smith-Schuster offers significantly more upside. In the past four seasons, he ranks 14th among wide receivers in yards and tied for 11th in touchdowns. He can line up in the slot, make tough catches over the middle of the field and produce in the red zone. Plus he’s willing to get his hands dirty in the run game, is just 24 years old and won’t be as expensive as someone like Golladay.
Finally, in Kapadia’s predictions is Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva and he has him landing with the Indianapolis Colts in free agency. Below is his reasoning for matching up the player to that team.
Attempting to resurrect Wentz’s career with a glaring hole at left tackle is probably not the best idea. At the same time, the Colts’ options are limited. Trent Williams would be great, but the rest of the options are mediocre. Villanueva is 33 and showed signs of decline last year, but because of those things, he shouldn’t break the bank. And he’s been reliable, having started every game for the past six seasons. The Colts can sign him to a one- or two-year deal and try to find a longer-term solution in the draft.
As a whole, it’s hard to argue with Kapadia predictions for the Steelers three players. I certainly could see Dupre with the Dolphins, Smith-Schuster with the Jets and Villanueva with Colts. It will be interesting, however, to see how quickly Dupree gets signed with him currently rehabbing a surgically repaired right ACL.
Whenever Smith-Schuster lands it should happen very quickly and perhaps even by this same time next week. Smith-Schuster should wind up being one of the top two unrestricted free agent wide receivers on the market this, assuming he does not re-sign with the Steelers prior to 4 p.m. EST on Wednesday.
As for Villanueva, it will be interesting to see the kind of contract he winds up signing. Can he get more than $14 million per season on a short deal in this market? I see him landing with some AFC team in the next few weeks and if not the Colts, maybe it will wind up being the Kansas City Chiefs as they cut both of their starting tackles on Thursday.
Curiously enough, Kapadia didn’t predict where Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton will land in free agency. I guess he doesn’t consider Hilton a higher profile unrestricted free agent this year. Hilton will likely land with a different team in the next few weeks as it’s almost certain the Steelers won’t be able to re-sign him.
Not surprisingly, Kapadia doesn’t have any outside unrestricted agents landing with the Steelers.