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The Brandt Report

Three 2021 NFL free agents who should stay and three who should go

One of the spiciest elements of free agency in the NFL is that it offers players a chance to shake things up and find a new place to play. Anyone wanting a different on-field role or coaching voice or playing environment can seek it out if they make it to the open market.

The flip side of that equation, though, is that some players will come to the conclusion that they should not move on, that it is, instead, in their best interests to stay right where they were in 2020, presuming their old team will have them back.

Below, I've identified three players headed for free agency who I believe should re-sign with their old teams in 2021 -- and three players who should go somewhere else.

NOTE: Pending free agents are listed with the teams they played for in 2020.

Three who should stay

Leonard Williams
New York Giants · DE

I called for Williams to stay with the Giants last offseason, and while the team's use of the franchise tag took the decision out of his hands, the extension of his time with Big Blue played out well for both sides. Working with a new coaching staff, Williams finally enjoyed the breakout season (11.5 sacks, 30 QB hits, 57 tackles) general manager Dave Gettleman envisioned when trading for him in 2019, validating the team's attempt to make Williams into the second coming of Richard Seymour. The question of whether or not Williams will receive the franchise tag for a second straight season is complicated by the ongoing dispute over whether he should be compensated as a defensive tackle or a defensive end. But if Williams does end up getting the chance to make a choice this year, he'd be well-served to think about choosing to stay put, given that Joe Judge and Co. found a way to finally maximize the skills that compelled the Jets to draft him sixth overall in 2015.

Jameis Winston
New Orleans Saints · QB

It doesn't matter if Drew Brees retires or not (though I think he will). Unless there is another team secretly pining for Winston and willing to make him a big-money offer (and I don't think there is), New Orleans represents his best shot at becoming a full-time starter in the NFL again. Yes, Taysom Hill's presence could complicate things, but Hill hardly locked up the job with his four starts in relief of Brees in 2020. Hill is a big, strong runner, but Winston really fits the description of what an ideal QB should be; he's a much better talent at the position. There would be immense value to Winston in playing under QB guru Sean Payton and with blue-chip talent like Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas for another year. Ideally, Winston will be able to get his career on a Teddy Bridgewater-like track, proving himself worthy of serious investment as a QB1. Payton just has to stop Winston from turning the ball over.

Chris Godwin
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · WR

Godwin's recent comments suggesting he wouldn’t risk putting himself in a "miserable" situation for the sake of money show wisdom beyond his 25 years. He appears to be aware that there are far worse fates than catching passes from Tom Brady on a team considered an early front-runner to capture a second straight Super Bowl title. Godwin found his niche working out of the slot in Tampa's offense, collecting a team-high 45 targets, 38 catches, 463 yards and two scores out of the slot in 2020. He missed four games with injuries, which likely explains why he fell short of 1,000 yards, but he edged leading Bucs receiver Mike Evans (1,006 yards) in targets per game (7 to 6.8) and receptions per game (5.4 to 4.4). Godwin is a much better receiver, technique-wise, than Evans.

I don't believe Godwin will receive the franchise or transition tag, even if the Bucs find a way to retain last year's tag recipient, pass rusher Shaquil Barrett. Thus, his return will rest on two factors: 1) Will someone else offer him WR1 money? And 2) Will Godwin believe that this hypothetical squad has as good a chance of competing for the Lombardi Trophy as the Bucs do?

Three who should go

Allen Robinson
Chicago Bears · WR

The Bears appear likely to tag Robinson, but that move won't be popular with the receiver, who recently said playing on the tag would be "on the bottom of my list of choices." Given that this just the latest evidence of Robinson's dissatisfaction with negotiations since the 2020 season began, this situation has the earmarks of a potentially ugly holdout. The seven-year veteran has proven himself a bonafide No. 1 receiver, recording consecutive seasons of 1,100 yards and logging 13 total touchdowns over the past two seasons despite the Bears' well-documented issues at quarterback. He understandably wants to get paid as such -- and it surely wouldn't hurt his career trajectory if he were to play for a team led by a known quantity under center.

Ryan Fitzpatrick
Miami Dolphins · QB

Per the Miami Herald, Fitzpatrick views himself as someone who could compete for a starting quarterback and will pursue such opportunities this offseason, meaning there's little chance he'll return to the Dolphins, who replaced him with rookie Tua Tagovailoa in 2020. Though it is unlikely that the 38-year-old will entrench himself as the long-term answer for another team, Fitzpatrick holds obvious appeal for anyone seeking a proven short-term option. Fitzpatrick has won five of his last seven games in which he appeared as either a starter or a backup, and the Eagles, Broncos and Patriots stand out as intriguing possibilities. Fitzpatrick has already started for eight different teams in the previous 16 seasons, more than any other quarterback in the Super Bowl era -- why not add a ninth?

Will Fuller
Houston Texans · WR

Christmas appears to have come early for Fuller, in the form of a Houston Chronicle report that the Texans aren't expected to tag him this offseason. Fuller's injury history -- he's appeared in more than 11 games in just one of his previous five seasons) and six-game PED suspension (which must be finished in Week 1 of 2021) will scare away some receiver-needy teams, but he should still enjoy a robust market. His ability to beat opponents deep is reflected by his yards-per-catch mark of 16.6 last season. And while it's true that it will be hard for Fuller to find a better quarterback to play with than Deshaun Watson, there's no guarantee Watson will be in Houston next season, anyway.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter.

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