Justin Varnes and Tom Simons are covering every major defensive transaction from the 2021 off-season in our Off-season Tracker articles. We broke down all the important free agency signings and trades from a fantasy perspective in articles sorted by position. The articles are ordered by players changing teams ("New Homes") and by players sticking with their 2020 teams ("Staying Put"). The players are also ordered by their potential fantasy impact for the 2021 season in each section.
J.J. Watt (Ari) — Watt signed a two-year deal worth $28 million with #23 million guaranteed.
Fantasy Points: The addition of Watt to the Cardinal defense is very intriguing. While he did play a full 16-game season last year, his sack total was a paltry five. Arizona is taking a huge risk in the hopes that Watt can play back-to-back 16 game seasons, which he hasn’t done since 2014-15. Still, the idea of teaming him up with Chandler Jones has to have defensive coordinator Vance Joseph drooling over the possibilities in 2021.
Matthew Judon (NE) — Judon joins the New England Patriots on a four-year $56 million contract with $32 million guaranteed.
Fantasy Points: Judon has high end sack potential, but has not reached his full potential yet. He has 34.5 total sacks in five career seasons. Still, he has yet to post double-digit sacks in a season. His sack total dipped down to six total last year. After suffering an ankle injury in Week 11, Judon had just two sacks the rest of the season. His roll could be very similar to how Kyle Van Noy played with the Patriots in 2019.
Bud Dupree (Ten) — The Titans secured Dupree to more than $16 million a year.
Fantasy Points: This is a risky move for Tennessee. Dupree is coming off a torn ACL suffered in Week 12. He says he will be ready for training camp, but there is a chance he starts the season on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform list (PUP). Dupree had eight sacks in 11 games last year and 11.5 sacks in 2019. Once he is back to full strength, he will supply the Titans with much needed pressure off the edge with bookend edge rusher Harold Landry. Tennessee allowed over 50% of third downs to be converted by opponents. The addition of Dupree should help reduce that percentage. Still, the question remains whether or not Dupree can be successful without T.J. Watt on the other side of the defense.
Trey Hendrickson (Cin) — The Bengals signed Hendrickson to a four-year deal worth $60 million with $32 million getting paid in the first two years.
Fantasy Points: The Bengals traded Carlos Dunlap away last year and let Carl Lawson leave via free agency this offseason. The addition gives them two solid bookend edge rushers in Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. He is a 26-year old, four-year veteran that tallied 13.5 sacks for the Saints in 2020. If there is a downside to this signing, it can be found in the fact that Hendrickson has yet to play a full 16-game season. He has missed 19 of a possible 64 games in his four-year career.
Yannick Ngakoue (LV) — Ngakoue joins the Raiders on a two-year $26 million deal with $22 million guaranteed.
Fantasy Points: The Raiders supplied new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley with a pass rushing weapon. When healthy, Ngakoue has the potential to supply close to double-digit sacks. He has posted eight or more sacks in all five of his NFL seasons, and that includes a split season in 2020 with Minnesota and Baltimore. Keep in mind that he finished 2020 in a 3-4 base defense with the Ravens and the Raiders will operate out of a 4-3 scheme in 2021. If there is a knock on Ngakoue, it is his run stopping ability. He had 20 total tackles last year and has never posted 40 or more total tackles in any given season.
Haason Reddick (Car) — Reddick signed a one-year deal worth $8 million with $6 million guaranteed.
Fantasy Points: Reddick did not meet expectations in his first three seasons with Arizona. When Chandler Jones went down for the season in 2020, Reddick was moved outside to fill the EDGE rushing vacancy and he flashed signs of the potential he had coming into the league. Reddick posted 12.5 sacks while adding 61 total tackles in eleven starts last year. He rejoins his college coach from Temple Matt Rhule. Thus, he is familiar with the system and Carolina is expecting big things off the EDGE from Reddick in 2021.
Shaq Lawson (Hou) — Lawson was traded by Miami to the Texans to try and help offset the loss of EDGE rusher J.J. Watt.
Fantasy Points: Lawson is no J.J. Watt and the Texans are very clear about that. After signing a three-year, $30 million contract with Miami last year, he had limited success with the Dolphins. Houston is hoping the 26-year old can approach his 2019 stats he had in his last season with Buffalo, thus supplying them with 6-8 sacks in 2021. Lawson is more suited to a 4-3 base defense and Houston is starting to trend towards a 4-3 base under new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith.
Kerry Hyder (Sea) — Hyder joins the Seahawks after signing a three-year, $16.5 million contract that could reach $17.5 due to incentives.
Fantasy Points: Hyder remains in the NFC West following his outstanding 2020 season. Last year, he set career highs in total tackles (47), solos (28), assists (19), and sacks (8.5). He brings much needed pressure off the edge that the Seahawks desperately crave. At first, we thought this signjing would mean the end of Carlos Dunlap as a Seahawk, especially after Seattle re-signed Benson Mayowa. As it turns out, Jarran Reed is the player on the outs as the Seahawks released him and re-signed Dunlap.
Aldon Smith (Sea) — Smith signed a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks.
Fantasy Points: Seattle continued to upgrade their pass rush with their newest addition in Smith. For the most part, he was an every down player for Dallas in 2020 as he took 809 of a possible 1108 defensive snaps. That ranked him 13th overall in NFL snap count among edge rushers. Smith finished with five sacks along with ten big plas, five TFL and 14 QB hits. As long as he remains healthy and does not have any issues with league policies, Smith will play an important role with the Seahawks defense in 2021.
Jadeveon Clowney (Cle) — Clowney signed a one-year contract with Cleveland worth up to $10 million.
Fantasy Points: Clowney is coming off early December surgery to repair his left meniscus. He failed to register a single sack in 2020 and has never recorded more than 9.5 sacks in his seven-year career. Clowney never posted 44 to 52 total tackles in his last three seasons with Houston, but has just 44 total tackles in the last two seasons combined. He has played a full 16-game season just once (2017) in his seven NFL seasons. Cleveland will now use him as a DE bookend with Myles Garrett.
Carl Lawson (NYJ) — Lawson inked a three-year $45 million contract with the Jets and $30 million is guaranteed.
Fantasy Points: The Jets are going to shift to a 4-3 base defense under new head coach Robert Saleh and his defense demands having solid pass rushers. With Lawson lined up next to Quinnen Williams, the Jets now have a solid inside-outside combo to power Saleh’s defense. There is risk involved here. The Jets haven’t paid big bucks for an edge rusher in double-digit years and are dishing out $30 million of guaranteed money to Lawson who was a situational player with the Bengals.
Ryan Anderson (NYG) — Anderson remains in the NFC East as he signed a one-year deal with the New York Giants worth $1.127 million with a $137,500 signing bonus.
Fantasy Points: Anderson played in just nine games last year due to a knee injury that hampered him all season. Even when he did play, he was a defensive end backup to Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Signing with the Giants will allow Anderson to play a more natural OLB spot and give New York a viable EDGE rusher. In 2019 when Washington ran a 3-4 base defense, Anderson started four of his 16 games played and posted 40 total tackles and four sacks.
Jordan Jenkins (Hou) — Jenkins inked a two-year, $6 million contract that could earn him up to $8 million with incentives.
Fantasy Points: Jenkins has been in a 3-4 base defense since coming into the league in 2016. He now joins a Texans defense that appears to be shifting to a 4-3 base. This likely means Jenkins was signed to be an edge rusher from the defensive end position but he could play OLB in new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith’s system. In the two seasons prior to last year, Jenkins had 15 total sacks. In 2020, he finished with just two sacks after missing four games due to a shoulder injury.
Jeremiah Attaochu (Chi) — Attaochu signed a two-year deal with the terms of the contract currently undisclosed.
Fantasy Points: When healthy, Attaochu can supply the Bears with 35-40 total tackles and around 5 or 6 sacks. Therein resides the issue. Attaochu has not played a full 16 game season since coming into the league in 2014. In fact out of a possible 112 total games, Attaochu has missed 38 games or 34% of his opportunities. In addition to a worrisome injury history, he also faces a crowded position and likely starts training camp as a backup OLB.
Shaquil Barrett (TB) — Barrett agreed to a four-year deal worth $72 million with $36 million guaranteed.
Fantasy Points: Hard to say this is a risky proposition for the reigning Super Bowl champions. His tackle totals last year were on par with his 2019 numbers. Yet, his sack totals dropped from 19.5 in 2019 to just eight last year. He did sit out the season finale when he was placed on the Covid-19 list. While there were no clear signs as to why his sack totals dropped off so much, he more than made up for this when he posted four sacks and eight QB hits in three playoff games and the Super Bowl combined.
Leonard Floyd (LAR) — Floyd remains with the Rams on a four-year contract worth $64 million.
Fantasy Points: Floyd had his best season last year posting double-digit sacks with 10.5 total. He set career highs in total tackles (50) and assists (24) in 2020. Floyd signed a one-year prove-it deal going into 2020 and now capitalizes on a successful season. He brings a veteran presence to a defense he is very familiar with. This will definitely help Ram interior DLs like Aaron Donald.
Carlos Dunlap (Sea) — Dunlap re-signed with Seattle on a two-year deal worth $16.6 million with $8.5 million guaranteed.
Fantasy Points: In a surprising move, the Seahawks re-signed Dunlap and released Jarran Reed. There is a chance Reed re-signs but will test the free agency market thoroughly before that even happens. In eight games with the Seahawks last year, Dunlap started six of them and posted five sacks. Dunlap wanted to stay in Seattle and was amicable to being released and signing a new, cap-friendly deal.
Benson Mayowa (Sea) — Mayowa re-signed with Seattle on a two-year $8.8 million deal with $4.61 million guaranteed.
Fantasy Points: Mayowa is not a stud by any means, but he is a critical part of the Seahawks plans. Mayowa is good enough to post 25-30 total tackles and 5-8 total sacks in any given season. You will have to pick and choose your spots with him in your fantasy lineup, but he is a serviceable option. This is especially true when bye weeks start popping up in 2021.