Who are the top beneficiaries from NFL free agency so far?

Posted 2 days ago  |  By Sam Robinson

The first two weeks of free agency have seen each team — save for the Buccaneers, who were fond of their 2020 squad — make changes that will affect their 2021 starting lineups. While the free-agent signings generated headlines, here are some key holdovers who stand to benefit from teams’ offseason decisions.

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Jordyn Brooks

Jordyn Brooks
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

K.J. Wright remains unsigned, so a fourth contract agreement between him and the Seahawks should not be ruled out. Regardless, Brooks’ role will grow significantly. And with Bobby Wagner’s top-market salary on Seattle’s books at linebacker, it would make sense for the team to rely on a rookie salary alongside its defensive anchor. The latest of Seattle’s surprising first-round picks, Brooks battled injuries early but came on down the stretch. His growth coincided with the Seahawks’ defensive improvement. Wagner may have a new sidekick soon.

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Quintez Cephus

Quintez Cephus
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

In letting Marvin Jones join the Jaguars and opting against franchise-tagging Kenny Golladay, the Lions are rebooting at receiver. While Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman signed with Detroit, their ceilings are fairly well-established. The new Lions regime will want to evaluate Cephus, who played sparingly (two starts, 35% snap rate) as a rookie. With five-year Lion Jones and four-year cog Golladay gone, the fifth-round pick out of Wisconsin will have freer rein to showcase his skills in the team’s first post-Matthew Stafford offense.

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Marcus Davenport

Marcus Davenport
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

After Jadeveon Clowney chose the Titans over an aggressive Saints pitch, Trey Hendrickson thrived in a contract year. Hendrickson usurped Davenport and recorded 13.5 sacks. Hendrickson is now a Bengal, leaving Davenport another chance. The Saints traded their 2019 first-round pick to move back into the ’18 first-round for Davenport, but the defensive end has been a primary starter in just one season. Pro Football Focus has slotted the former mid-major freak as a top-20 D-end in each of the past two seasons. If Davenport can crank out stats opposite Cam Jordan in 2021, he will be poised to land a lucrative second contract.

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A.J. Dillon

A.J. Dillon
Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin via Imagn Content Services, LLC

In not tagging Aaron Jones, the Packers came close to a radically reshaped backfield. Even with Jones re-signing to stay on as their starter, Dillon will become his complementary back. The 2020 second-round pick showed in the snow against the Titans he offers a different sort of skill set compared to the since-departed Jamaal Williams. The thunder-and-lightning cliche will apply for the 2021 Packers backfield, with Dillon (5.3 yards per carry in limited time as a rookie) looming as one of the league’s most interesting off-the-bench weapons.

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Kevin Dotson

Kevin Dotson
Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The reduced salary cap hit the Steelers hard. A few longtime starters are out of the picture. Pittsburgh’s once-veteran-laden offensive line is down to David DeCastro and a collection of unproven talents. Matt Feiler‘s departure for Los Angeles will move Dotson to a first-string guard role opposite DeCastro. A fourth-round pick last year, Dotson filled in for four starts as a rookie. Pro Football Focus graded the ex-Louisiana Rajin’ Cajun as a top-30 guard. Granted, that judgment came on limited work. But the Steelers will need to rely on multiple new O-line starters on cheap contracts next season. Dotson will be one.

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