Looking Ahead to NFL Free Agency 2022 - Offense
Now that the Sup. . . errr, “Big Game” is over, the confetti dropped and the parade had, we can start looking at the next item on the NFL’s off-season list, Free Agency.
If you’re a team like the Dolphins ($60.5M available) or Chargers ($50.5M) that missed the playoffs you can (potentially) get better fast. Similarly, a team like Cincinnati ($45.7M) which found themselves in the Super Bowl a year after picking in the Top 5 of last year’s draft, you might be able to push yourselves over the top.
Before we get going, let’s look at the Top 5 teams with money available and the Bottom 5 teams who may have to shed salary just to sign their own draft picks.
Top 5 teams with money available Bottom 5 teams
Dolphins ($60.5M Available) New Orleans (-$78M Over)
Chargers ($50.5M) Green Bay (-$50M)
Jaguars ($46.5M) Dallas (-$24M)
Bengals ($45.7M) NY Giants (-$19.6M)
Seahawks ($39.7M) Minnesota (-$17M)
Looking at list of teams with money available, it feels like the Chargers and Bengals will be socking money away for the Big-Time extensions that Herbert and Burrow (and Ja’Marr Chase) will be commanding in the near future while Miami and Seattle might feel they’re right there as contenders (depending of course on what happens with Russell Wilson this offseason).
On the flip side I’m not sure what that the Saints can do to rectify their situation, while Dallas looks to have some hard decisions coming up. The Packers may see Rodgers leaving but Devante Adams is an Unrestricted Free Agent and a decision will need to be made; meanwhile, Division rival Minnesota could trade Kirk Cousins and solve their issues in one move. Of the five other teams that are still projected to be over the salary cap for 2022, four are less than $10M over and one (Tennessee) has more players than required under contract.
If you’ve been an NFL fan for longer than a single off-season, you know that if a player has a future, he ain’t goin’ nowhere. On the other hand, sometimes there’s just nothing a team can do because of cap concerns and someone manages to slip away every so often and be a real catch. Mostly though, free agents have issues that keep them from being real difference makers; whether it’s age, Injuries, or something that makes them “only” a situational player, they have problems. I’ll be going over each position and giving you a rundown on the top players who will probably be available and just a mention of the guys you’re wishing and hoping your team can grab (but won’t). We’ll be covering the offensive side of the ball in this article and part two will cover the defensive side.
Don’t come here looking for a player to take you to the next level, if you’re an NFL fan, you ought to know that if you’re the future for a franchise, they’ve locked you up long before you hit the open market. If, however, you’re looking for a veteran backup or someone to help “get you through” next season so you can take your future QB, you might be in luck. While Andy Dalton wasn’t a world beater last season (objectively though, the Bears were a train wreck in 2021), we know that he can be a serviceable player when surrounded by talent. Cam Newton may still have some magic left in his legs and arm and Teddy Bridgewater has shown he’s a good backup/ok starter. Not what you had in mind, huh? Let’s see. . . *rummages through remaining stock* Well, I mean we have some guys you might be able to work with. . . no, they’re low-miles. Yeah, they’ve got some issues. Who? How about a former #1? Yep, we got three of ‘em. Jameison Winston, Marcus Mariotta, and Dwayne Haskins. Well, Winston’s rehabbing an ACL tear, and Mariotta and Haskins attempted a combined two passes in 2021. OK. No, I understand. Yeah, just keep my card in case the draft doesn’t pan out.
So, Leonard Fournette is a UFA and while I’m not entirely sure how Tom Brady’s retirement will impact Tampa’s cap room (Proj about 18M), I just can’t see the Bucs allowing someone who has produced as well as Fournette to simply walk away.
With that said, the Bucs also have Ronald Jones II and Giovanni Bernard as pending UFAs with only 2020 pick Ke’Shawn Vaugh and Kenyon Barner signed for 2022. That’s not a great situation, so expect Fournette to be resigned and maybe Bernard. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see them take another back in the draft.
As for players who will probably be available this is one group you might be able to find some legit help. Namely, Melvin Gordon, Ronald Jones II, and James Conner. All of those players have spent time as their team’s feature back and while Gordon and Conner spent the season in time shares, Jones was the backup to Fournette.
There are a few other players who might be decent fill-ins or you could them bring in to share snaps. Corderelle Patterson had a solid year in Atlanta, but is over 30, the same goes for David Johnson though his season wasn’t nearly as productive. Phillip Lindsay, Sony Michel, and Rashaad Penny are all under 30, but have a somewhat spotty track record.
This is another that if your team needs help in the passing game (looking at you CLE, JAX, and DET) you could find real help though it might not be exactly what you had in mind.
The crown jewel of this class is DaVante Adams who, likely, won’t be going anywhere as the Packers move Heaven and Earth to keep Mr. Rodgers happy and resign Adams to something long-term though probably not what Adams has in mind.
After that you’ve got a quartet of players who are big names, if not always big production. In reverse order of who I’d be looking at signing is –
Odell Beckham Jr. who we know has a surplus of talent but seems to be a bit of a headache for teams, plus he might be rehabbing another ACL tear.
Allan Robinson II, who Chicago appears to be willing to let walk, is another option; though he did have his worst season as a pro since 2017 when he tore his ACL in the opener.
Juju Smith-Schuster is the youngest of the four at 25, and might be ready to move on from the Steelers and their impending rebuild following Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement.
Chris Godwin would be my choice, but he is also rehabbing an ACL tear suffered late in the season, though, at age 26 he should be able to bounce back and have a productive career.
In addition there are also veterans such as AJ Green (ARI), Will Fuller V (MIA), Jamison Crowder (NYJ) and Mike Williams (LAC) available depending on your cap situation and what you need in a receiver.
This isn’t a position you’re likely to find a lot of help at, though there might be a couple of TEs available that could be a real help.
Mike Gesicki (MIA) is the headliner here and it feels like most ‘Phins fans want to keep him around. Yes, Gesicki’s a solid player, but he’s just not a difference-maker at his position and his market value (Proj @ $11M/yr) seems out of whack compared to what he provides the team. I’m a big fan of 2021 pick Hunter Long who I believe can produce at (close to) the same level at a much lower cost if given the chance.
If Gesicki isn't to your liking, you might take a look at Dalton Schultz. Though the link above has his market value above Gesicki, I'm not sure he hits that. Yes, he outperformed Gesicki (808yds/8 TD to 780/2) but he also had better everything around him - better QB, better weapons, a better line so he's not required to block as much. I like Schultz, but I feel he's a bit of a roll of the dice.
Zach Ertz is probably the number three player at this position, but at 31 he’s only a couple of years away from retirement so you’re probably competing against a team that can offer him another chance at a ring.
After that it’s a lot of injuries (Robert Tonyan), guys who may not want to move on and could sign a sweetheart deal (C.J. Uzomah), and the underwhelming (Gerald Everett, OJ Howard, Evan Engram, and pretty much everyone else I haven’t listed). Unless you’re signing them for depth purposes, I feel you’d be better off waiting for the Draft and finding your help there.
This is a position that could see players being way over-paid in relation to their production so if you have extra cap room you might be spending a chunk of it on just one or two players. With at least half the league listing either OT or IOL as a top three need, there’s going to be plenty of competition for the free agents of value.
Right at the tippy-top of the list is Saints OT Terron Armstead, even though he’s just over 30, he’s been a mainstay on the offensive line since earning a starting role in 2014. Look for a team like Cincinnati or Miami, a team with a young QB and a porous line to target him.
Just below Armstead is Orlando Brown Jr. who was traded from Baltimore to KC last off-season. At just over 26 years old when the 2022 season starts, he might be a more tempting target than Armstead though their market value (Appro $23-24M/yr) will be similar. It’s hard to see KC letting a player like Brown walk, but OT is pretty far down the list of needs and they are just under the cap.
After those two you have some solid options depending on if you’re looking for a starter or a depth player. Brandon Scherff (G-30yo), Cam Robinson (LT-26), Andrew Norwell (G-30), and Laken Tomlinson (G-30) are all good options and none should break the bank.
If you need a Center, the top two are Ryan Jensen (TB-31yo) and Ben Jones (TEN-33) depending on who you like better.
That's it for the offense, look for the defense shortly.