The NFL Playoffs are currently running wild, keeping the attention there for the remainder of the 2020 season. After the league crowns its new Super Bowl champion in early-February, the focus is set to shift to the upcoming offseason. It might turn out that the 2021 NFL Free Agency is just as interesting as the postseason. Next season’s free-agent class promises to be very deep at many positions. However, few are better than what the pool of wide receivers has to offer. Chicago Bears star Allen Robinson will be in the center of the action in that department.
How We Got Here
After four busy but subpar seasons in Jacksonville, the Chicago Bears signed Allen Robinson to a three-year deal worth $42 million. It was in the Windy City where he turned into one of the best receivers in the NFL.
Robinson managed to keep his impressive workload of over 150 targets at his peak down south with the Jaguars. However, what mattered so much was that Allen Robinson became much more efficient on a similar number of plays the offense relies on him. This past season, Allen Robinson had a catch percentage of 67.0% on 151 targets. This was a career-high which was two percent up from his 2019 career-best. For comparison, in 2015 and 2016, during both of which he recorded the same amount of targets, he posted catch percentage figures of 53% and 48.3%, respectively.
This indicated fairly avidly that Allen Robinson had made a significant improvement. Moreover, he is now a part of a whole other group of elite receivers. His steady accomplishments of the past two years have made his value skyrocket. Nonetheless, this will be nothing more than a mere obstacle for wide receiver-desperate clubs will high ambitions and available cap space.
Allen Robinson in NFL Free Agency: New England Patriots
Even with the exit of Tom Brady and the need to provide weapons to his successor, the Patriots’ receiving corps was underwhelming. Moreover, they proved their doubters right throughout the season. An injury to one of the few reliable pieces, Julian Edelman, didn’t help them either, thus explaining why they should target a receiver.
Without Edelman, Cam Newton‘s main targets were the likes of Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, and Damiere Byrd. Things were beyond terrible. The passing unit of New England’s offense posted a completion percentage of just 64.3% – the ninth-worst in the NFL. This was due to Newton’s passing woes and the lack of depth in his corps alike.
The end result was that that the Patriots had to shift most of that workload to the running game. The passing group registered just 440 passing attempts, the second-fewest. That amounts to a 53:47 split in the play selection in favor of the run. The rushing group did have a phenomenal campaign, which included ranking within the top ten in yards per carry.
However, a disbalance so big would not make for sustainable offensive success. When it’s up to the passing game, that group finds it hard to string together first downs and move the ball downfield. Without improving the pass and letting some workload off the run, Josh McDaniels’s offense exposes itself to struggles when the run reaches its lows. That would result in a decrease in the offense’s productivity altogether.
New England has many financial opportunities heading into the 2021 NFL Free Agency season. As currently projected, the club has around $58 million to spend in NFL Free Agency under the threshold of $176 million. Although they face other offseason challenges, including also perhaps replacing their quarterback again, they are perfectly capable of bringing in a receiver of Allen Robinson’s caliber.
That does depend on what direction they take under center. If they prefer a free-agent QB instead of Newton or Jarred Stidham, the right choice might be to sign a slightly cheaper receiver in NFL Free Agency and allocate the spare towards a QB.
Allen Robinson in NFL Free Agency: Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers had a very tough campaign during their first year in Inglewood at SoFi Stadium. However, they managed to finish on a high note, winning five of their last seven games. This strong run included four straight wins to cap off a 7-9 season at third place in AFC West.
Whether it was during the four straight losses or the four straight wins, there was always one main storyline that kept Los Angeles as an interesting team to watch. It was the intriguing development of rookie quarterback Justin Herbert.
The former Oregon prospect led an offense heavily reliant on the pass in a fairly impressive manner. With Herbert in charge, the Chargers passing unit produced the sixth-most yards. Meanwhile, Herbert himself posted the 12th-best passer rating with 98.3. These figures were so strong they placed him amongst the best quarterbacks in the league this year. In addition, they helped him position himself as one of the frontrunners for the Rookie of the Year award.
However, those are just the eye-catching stats that will make the headlines. A deeper analysis shows that the Chargers passing unit still has some way to go before hitting its pinnacle. The unit ranks 14th in completion percentage while Herbert himself is 15th within NFL QBs. This is close to where he ranks in passer rating but is closer to the middle of the pack.
Los Angeles’s receiving corps is not stacked by any means and the massive workload they face could force them to decline next year. Keenan Allen has no such problem but the core lacks depth overall.
Only four players (WR or TE) had more than 50 targets this past season. Remove Allen and those are Hunter Henry, Mike Williams, and Jalen Guyton. Williams and Guyton both only caught less than 57 percent of their intended throws, establishing themselves as highly inefficient. In the meantime, Henry was much more solid but that might not be for long – he is scheduled to hit the free-agent market.
Los Angeles, whose only other big needs are a pass-rusher and a linebacker, has $26 million in projected salary-cap space. One possibility is to replace Henry with the likes of Gerald Everett or Jordan Reed, or others, in NFL Free Agency. However, that will prevent them from drastically improving the shallow receiving corps. Instead, they could find a tight end at a discount with the potential to reach Henry’s production and, at the same time, have one of the best and most efficient WR duos in Keenan Allen and Allen Robinson.
Allen Robinson in NFL Free Agency: San Francisco 49ers
The Niners were the NFC champions just 12 months ago. However, they couldn’t live up to that reputation during the nightmare that was the 2020 season. Coming off a Super Bowl appearance, San Francisco managed to win just six games en route to a last-place finish in the NFC West.
Starters who experienced injuries, like Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, and Raheem Mostert, will be back next season. However, that doesn’t mean that the 49ers still won’t face challenges in the upcoming NFL free agency. Departures include starting left tackle Trent Williams, both starting cornerbacks in Richard Sherman and Jason Verrette, and breakout running back Jeff Wilson Jr. It should be noted that the latter is a restricted free agent who could very easily be back in Northern California on a very team-friendly deal to form a productive duo with Mostert.
The club is also slated to lose wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. This could prompt a crucial discussion about how SF should address their receiving corps heading into 2021. That is because it surely is less than a stellar group.
Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are going to lead that group no matter what. What they have as reinforcements is the problem. Next up on the depth chart are Bourne, set to hit free agency, and Richie James and Trent Taylor, who combined for just 46 targets and 33 receptions. That means Taylor, whose deal also expires, likely won’t be back in SF, and the 49ers will lack depth to an even bigger extent.
Last year, San Francisco posted the 13th-worst completion percentage, despite producing the 12th-most yards through the air. The latter is probably the result of Kyle Shanahan shifting some of the workload to the pass due to Mostert’s injury and the subsequent struggles on the ground. Overall, the pass accounted for 56.6% of all offensive plays, up enormously from 2019’s 48.9%.
It is true that Mostert will be green-lit to lead the offense again next year if he has a healthy campaign. It is also true that, should that be the case, the passing group’s efficiency and accuracy will be up almost automatically. All of that sets up a pretty clear plan for the 49ers in NFL Free Agency: First, address the secondary and the offensive line, then the wide-receiving core. With $22 million currently and the possibility of further roster cuts, the 49ers could get both done and still add an over-average receiver.
If they have the available resources after fixing the O-Line and the secondary, Allen Robinson would lift the Niners’ passing unit to another level. However, that should be a priority only if they fail to re-sign Bourne. However, the 49ers’ cap space availability makes this a possible match.
Allen Robinson in NFL Free Agency: Miami Dolphins
After the Miami Dolphins laid the foundation of what promises to be a contender in the AFC, they have an offseason coming that could make them even more dominant.
After finishing 10-6 and narrowly missing out on playoff football, there isn’t much negativity in South Florida. The club is projected to have $32 million in cap space when NFL Free Agency opens in mid-March. This would be the seventh-most in the NFL. Furthermore, Miami only has one starting player leaving – center Ted Karras.
That might allow them to finally make a reasonable splash in order to fix their weaknesses. Moreover, no component of their game may be worse than their air raid. DeVante Parker and Jakeem Grant return after each had a solid season. However, Parker could have been better, catching just 61% of the 101 throws intended for him. Meanwhile, Preston Williams spent half of it injured and struggled mightily for the other eight games. All in all, he posted a catch percentage of 51.4% in 35 targets.
The unit as a whole provokes mixed feelings going forward. The group, led by Tua Tagovailoa and Ryan Fitzpatrick, was merely 20th in yards produced but 13th in completion percentage. The running unit had similar success, which is a sign that the Dolphins have to spend on either of the groups and be confident with running the offense through it.
With more than $30 million in cap space, the Dolphins are perfectly capable of both getting the much-needed receiving help and getting a new running-game leader. It will not be a surprise if Allen Robinson becomes one of Miami’s main targets in NFL Free Agency this offseason.