WNBA Free Agency 2021: Key dates, top free agents, story lines and more

Connecticut Sun v Las Vegas Aces - Game Five
Jasmine Thomas has been an effective shot-caller for the Connecticut Sun. Will limited cap space cause the franchise to bid her adieu? | Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The WNBA free agency signing period in 2020 saw Skylar Diggins-Smith move from the Dallas Wings to the Phoenix Mercury, DeWanna Bonner move from the Mercury to the Connecticut Sun and other longtime franchise favorites take their talents elsewhere. This year, some of the league’s biggest names are up for grabs, giving the 2021 free agency signing period potential to be just as wild.

Last year’s WNBA free agency signing period saw Skylar Diggins-Smith move from the Dallas Wings to the Phoenix Mercury, DeWanna Bonner depart the Mercury for the Connecticut Sun and other longtime franchise favorites take their talents elsewhere. With other marquee players up for grabs in 2021, this year’s free agency signing period has the potential to be just as wild. We kick off our coverage of WNBA Free Agency 2021 with a rundown of key dates, top free agents, potential story lines and a glimpse of the team-by-team analysis to come.

WNBA Free Agency 2021

Key Dates

Jan. 1-14: Teams must send qualifying offers to make players restricted or reserved. Players that are not restricted or reserved will become unrestricted free agents.

A note about coring: Players can be cored a maximum of three times and coring tags need to be applied during this two-week window. Per Her Hoops Stats, Candice Dupree and Tina Charles have been cored three times apiece and, therefore, cannot be cored again. Brittney Griner, for example, is cored by the Phoenix Mercury. Since each team is permitted to core only one player at a time, the Mercury cannot core another player unless they get rid of Griner first through trade or waiver, or in the event that she retires.

Maya Moore was cored by the Minnesota Lynx prior to her 2019 sabbatical from the league. She is now on the suspended/expired list.

Jan. 15-Feb. 1: Players can begin talks with teams; teams can begin talks with players. Everyone can suss out the landscape and pitch to their hearts’ content, but no contracts can be signed.

Feb. 1: Free agency signing period begins! Get those browser refresh fingers ready.

Key free agents

The following is a list of unrestricted free agents (UFA) and restricted free agents (RFA) who have been invaluable to their respective teams in recent seasons. It is by no means a complete or exhaustive list — players listed as reserved or cored have been omitted as have some RFAs and UFAs. Additionally, players listed as suspended/contract expired also are not listed.

Atlanta Dream

Glory Johnson, UFA

Betnijah Laney, UFA

Renee Montgomery, UFA

Watch for whether the team will retain a frontcourt veteran in Johnson or a backcourt veteran in Montgomery. Most importantly, look to see if head coach Nicki Collen and Dream brass make Laney a franchise cornerstone after her breakout season in 2020. Also, watch to see if co-owner Kelly Loeffler sells her stake in the team by will or by force.

Chicago Sky

Sydney Colson, UFA

Jantel Lavender, UFA

Cheyenne Parker, UFA

Will the Sky give Colson a chance to prove herself following a 2020 marred by a positive COVID-19 test, lingering symptoms and late arrival to the IMG Academy bubble? None of those things were her fault, so it’d be nice to see if she can make a difference for a team lacking depth and star players in need of fewer minutes. No matter what else happens, Parker is a keeper.

Connecticut Sun

Brionna Jones, UFA

Jasmine Thomas, UFA

Alyssa Thomas, UFA

The Sun already locked down backup point guard Natisha Hiedeman last week, but head coach and general manager Curt Miller has his work cut out for him when it comes to determining which players to cut to make a star-powered lineup featuring DeWanna Bonner, Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas possible. B. Jones’ dominant play in 2020 should make her a keeper if the team can match offers from teams trying to woo her into their paint.

Dallas Wings

Allisha Gray, RFA

Gray’s four years with the Wings make her a veteran on a team that featured several rookies in 2020. New head coach Vickie Johnson could look to make moves through trades and waivers to balance the youth but Gray, who has been through four head coaches since her 2017 arrival, should get to stay. She won the 2017 WNBA Rookie of the Year award for many reasons and should get to showcase that talent.

Indiana Fever

Natalie Achonwa, UFA

Candice Dupree, UFA

Erica Wheeler, UFA

After winning All-Star Game MVP in 2019, Wheeler missed the 2020 season due to lingering health symptoms of COVID-19. How will the franchise prioritize her passionate, yet sometimes inconsistent play? And will vice president of basketball operations Tamika Catchings keep Dupree, a 14-year veteran, but the team’s lone championship-winner outside of Lavender, who missed the 2020 season due to injury?

Las Vegas Aces

Liz Cambage, UFA

Kayla McBride, UFA

Danielle Robinson, UFA

Carolyn Swords, UFA

What impact will the Aces’ big 2022 free agency period featuring Dearica Hamby, Angel McCoughtry and A’ja Wilson have on whether McBride and Robinson, key contributors in 2020, gets re-signed? If the team prioritizes bringing Cambage back, does that lessen their chances of returning to Sin City as well? And if Cambage returns, does Swords return to retirement and the team’s marketing office, thereby, freeing up a roster spot?

Los Angeles Sparks

Seimone Augustus, UFA

Chelsea Gray, UFA

Nneka Ogwumike, UFA

Candace Parker, UFA

Brittney Sykes, RFA

Riquna Williams, UFA

It never seems right for a player who devoted her whole career to a franchise to be bounced at the end of it, but Augustus’ presence on the team, after winning four titles in Minnesota, shows that it can happen. Will Candace Parker follow in her footsteps and finish her career elsewhere (or retire)? Head coach and general manager Derek Fisher will decide this, plus what becomes of the sisters Ogwumike and C. Gray, who helped Parker keep the team in the league’s top tier for several years. Sykes was a defensive beast in 2020, so maybe Fisher will give priority to the player they call “Slim.”

Minnesota Lynx

Kayla Alexander, UFA

Shenise Johnson, UFA

Erica McCall, RFA

Head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve has demonstrated shrewd ability to put a winning roster together, sometimes on the fly, and with young, unproven players. Maya Moore is both cored and listed on the suspended/expired contract list. If she returns, it is hard to imagine Reeve not making her a priority. Yet, Moore would command a top-tier salary and Reeve may want to invest in the center position given that Sylvia Fowles missed most of the 2020 season due to injury and Alexander, the lone backup big, is entering her eighth season.

New York Liberty

Rebecca Allen, UFA

Joyner Holmes, UFA

Amanda Zahui B., UFA

It’s Sabrina Ionescu’s and head coach Walt Hopkins’ team. Yet, the Liberty laced up several rookies in 2020, and their last-place finish in the standings underscores the need for veteran leadership. They re-signed Kiah Stokes in September and should make keeping Zahui B., the longest tenured member of the Liberty, a priority. She’s a double-double threat who, in August, notched a 21-rebound performance.

Phoenix Mercury

Jessica Breland, UFA

Nia Coffey, UFA

Diana Taurasi, UFA

Kia Vaughn, UFA

It is hard to imagine the Mercury brass letting Taurasi go in the waning years of her playing career, especially without a farewell tour of some kind. Who, therefore, does head coach Sandy Brondello and the Mercury brass tap to cultivate as the guard of the future? And which players do the Mercury think will add the most depth. A few seasons in a row, this team, at times, has had barely enough bodies to play a game. Depth, first, and planning for the post-Taurasi era, second, should be this team’s priorities. With lack of depth behind Brittney Griner at center being a pressing concern based on Griner’s minutes waning defense in recent years, keeping Vaughn also seems vitally important.

Seattle Storm

Sue Bird, UFA

Alysha Clark, UFA

Natasha Howard, UFA

Sami Whitcomb, UFA

Just four key players from the Storm’s 2018 and 2020 championship season have entered free agency — nothing to see here. For certain, the franchise isn’t letting Bird go anywhere unless she chooses retirement. But will Seattle have to part ways with Clark (the “Eraser” and unanimous member of the 2020 All-Defensive Team), Howard (2019 Defensive Player of the Year) or Whitcomb “the bomb” from 3-point range to keep her?

Washington Mystics

Tina Charles, UFA

Tianna Hawkins, UFA

Emma Meesseman, UFA

Aerial Powers, UFA

Fans want to see the full Mystics’ lineup in effect, which requires bringing Tina Charles back after she (and Elena Delle Donne) missed the season for health reasons related to the COVID-19. Meesseeman, the 2019 Finals MVP, is integral to what this team has accomplished since its runner-up performance in 2018, but she carries a hefty salary that could require the team bid adieu to Hawkins or Powers to keep her.

Our team is currently crunching numbers on cap space, player salaries and the like. If you enjoyed this glimpse into WNBA free agency 2021, refresh the Swish Appeal homepage and receive detailed team-by-team analysis beginning Tuesday, Jan. 12.

Sources: HerHoopsStats.com, WNBA.com, Spotrac.com.