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Inside NFL free-agent contract numbers for 2021: Which players really got the best deals and most guaranteed money?

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The meaty part of NFL free agency ends before you can catch your breath. A week ago, the 2021 league year hadn't even started yet, but a flurry of big deals had already been agreed to and reported. By the time Week 2 starts, the part of free agency that makes all the headlines is over.

By this time, though, we have caught our collective breath a little bit. More importantly, we've had a chance to look at some real numbers -- the true guarantees, the payout structures, the fluff -- and get a sense of who really got the best deals.

We do this every year, and I always feel the need to start with this one point of explanation: Our figures come from the contract summaries the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) sends to agents, which we have obtained. There are, on occasion, errors in these numbers, which get corrected quickly once this piece publishes and suddenly helpful agents call to tell us. For the most part, though, these numbers reflect the new contracts as they are, and serve as a legitimate basis for this analysis.

With that in mind, we present our annual look at who got the best NFL free-agent deals, plus a few other things we found interesting.

Jump to a section:
What was the Patriots' plan?
How "void" years change free agency
Seven more notes that make you think

Who did the best?

A quarterback is almost always the answer to this question, and sure enough, the deal the Cowboys gave Dak Prescott right before free agency opened is a standout. Four years, $160 million with a record $66 million signing bonus and a record $95 million fully guaranteed at signing. A promise not to franchise him again when the deal expires in the 2025 offseason. A March 2022 trigger date for his 2023 salary of $31 million to become fully guaranteed.

Prescott and agent Todd France played the franchise-tag game artfully, and got basically everything they wanted to get from the Cowboys in these negotiations.