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2021 NFL free agency matchmaking: One fit for each NFC team

NFL free agency officially begins alongside the arrival of the new league year at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 17. As we head toward the open market, Nick Shook explores one fun free agency fit for each NFC team.

NOTE: All cap figures and projections cited below come from Over the Cap, unless otherwise noted.

The signing of J.J. Watt eats up most of Arizona's available cap space, and while the Cardinals have a ton of positions to fill defensively, they shouldn't overlook nose tackle -- especially after finishing 22nd against the run last season. Jones was an unheralded but effective player for the Titans and would fill one of those aforementioned needs, making for a fierce defensive front in the desert.

The Falcons won't have much cap space to work with, so Mack feels like a bargain find who could fit them well. The runner has dealt with injuries in each of his last two seasons, breaking his hand in 2019 before seeing his season end prematurely due to a torn Achilles in 2020. This raises a red flag but also lowers his value, making for an ideal pairing with the currently tight-waisted Falcons.

The Panthers are facing the potential loss of four of their five starting offensive linemen in 2021, and they can't afford to lose Moton. We should expect Carolina to retain its former second-round draft pick on a healthy contract, as he deserves a pay increase for being a rock-solid tackle for the Panthers. If they can't get this done -- or even if they can -- Kelvin Beachum would also be a decent, cheap addition to stem the tide of departure at tackle.

(UPDATE: The Panthers are expected to franchise tag Moton, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Friday.)

Alex Smith
QB | Age: 36

The Bears are at a significant crossroads under center, and Smith is about to be released by Washington. What better fit than to reunite with his old Chiefs offensive coordinator, Matt Nagy, in Chicago? Smith proved he still can sling it, posting a 5-1 record as a starter with a Washington team carried by its defense, and he already understands the system Nagy runs in Chicago. Should he be able to stay healthy for a full season, this might end up being the next chapter in Smith's incredible comeback tale -- and could help vault the Bears from a seventh seed to something greater.

Dallas is currently slated to watch both of its starting corners walk in free agency, and while Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs could end up being their starting duo in 2021, adding a veteran like Breeland makes sense, too. Breeland has bounced around the league, yet manages to provide solid play at the position and seems like the type of veteran the Cowboys typically pursue in situations like this.

All three of Detroit's top receivers are headed for free agency and the Lions don't have a ton of money to spend. After being cut by the Raiders following an inconsequential 2020 season -- Williams missed the entire campaign due to injury -- the receiver hits the market with a value lower than it was when he signed with the Raiders. That said, if he can return to form in 2021, Williams could be a bargain find for Detroit, helping to fill out the receiving corps for the Lions, who are in desperate need of some quality pass catchers to surround Jared Goff (and also need to find a way to keep Kenny Golladay).

(UPDATE: Williams has agreed to terms on a one-year deal worth up to $6.2 million with the Lions, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.)

The Packers don't have much cap space -- if any -- to work with, which is why All-Pro Corey Linsley is likely headed elsewhere. If they're looking at the free agent market for a replacement, though, they could get Andrews for less than it would take to keep Linsley. Andrews' experience would also fit with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' win-now mentality. While it remains financially difficult to accomplish, the pairing makes sense.

Darious Williams stands to replace Troy Hill as an outside corner, and King can join the stingy Rams defense as the team's third CB in a fashion similar to how he fit into Tennessee's defense last season. Still only 26, King has some years left in him and can bolster a group headlined by Jalen Ramsey and the promising Williams.

Short made much more money in Carolina than he'll fetch on the open market, which could make him a good fit for the financially-strapped Vikings. Minnesota needs to get better up front after finishing 27th against the run, and if Short can stay healthy, he might be able to make a difference at a bargain rate for the Vikings.

The Saints are headed for a purge of well-paid players this offseason due to cap constraints, but if they can get under the cap (and decide to let Jared Cook walk), Everett would be a nice find and a good fit for Sean Payton's offense. The tight end still carries potential to make a difference in the right system, and his style feels like the right match for a Saints team that could use another pass-catching option for whomever it is playing quarterback in 2021.

McKinley's time in Atlanta ended in ugly fashion, with the defender making public pleas for his freedom and bashing the franchise in the process. There was something in the former first-round pick, though, and it only takes returning to his film from his first three seasons to see it. As my colleague Gregg Rosenthal wrote in his top 101 free agents, McKinley showed legitimate juice and might just need the right fit to turn things around. Joe Judge's Giants feel like that organization, and after the way McKinley's time with the Falcons ended, he could be had for cheap.

The Eagles have essentially little to no money to spend, but they do need to fill the nickel role in their defense. Williams feels like a good fit because of his mix of age and deflated value due to a considerable injury history, and he could probably be had for an affordable amount.

The 49ers are going to say goodbye to Richard Sherman and likely Jason Verrett, and they also need to get younger at the position. A favorite of mine for the last couple of seasons because of his flair for being in the right place at the right time, Hilton would be an excellent fit in the 49ers' defense. With around $12.5 million in cap space, San Francisco has the funds to make this happen and shore up its secondary in the process.

The Seahawks don't have much money to spend, but if they're looking to assuage Russell Wilson's concerns with the offensive line, signing Williams would be a great start. Williams started every game (19 games with playoffs) in his lone season with the Bills, rebounding from his two prior seasons with the Panthers in which he had a dislocated kneecap that limited him to one game in 2018 before returning to play in 16 games (12 starts) in 2019. The Bills would be wise to keep him, but if he hits the open market and Seattle can create space, it makes a ton of sense for the Seahawks to pursue his services.

The Buccaneers are spending the weeks ahead figuring out how to keep each and every one of the players Bruce Arians declared aren't going anywhere during their Super Bowl boat parade, but they also need depth along the interior defensive line. McCoy can be had for cheap, considering his last stop didn't go very well (his contract was terminated by the Cowboys after suffering a ruptured quadriceps in August), and it would also make for a nice homecoming. Sure, he missed out on a ring with the Buccaneers in 2020, but why not close out his career chasing one with the same team for which he once starred?

Washington is in need of a replacement at outside linebacker and must add a corner or two, but with a ton of cap space relative to the projected decreased number, let's go big-game fishing. Robinson is likely either headed for a franchise tag or free agency, and if he hits the open market, he can fetch a healthy offer from Washington, which needs another high-quality receiver to pair with Terry McLaurin for whomever will be taking snaps for the Football Team.

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