2022 NFL Free Agency Primer: Top Available Players at Each Position
With the Rams taking home Super Bowl LVI, it’s time to dive into the offseason. Free agency doesn’t begin until March 16, when the new league year starts, and I’ll have much more coverage slated for March as the biggest offseason dominoes begin to fall. In the meantime, consider this a free agency primer where I’ll offer a brief look at each position and the big-name free agents available. Check out Patrick’s team needs breakdown to see where some of these top available players might land. Let’s dive in.
The quarterback position is pretty barren as far as free agency goes with the big-name veteran sweepstakes all occurring in the trade market – Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson are all under contract for next season. The secondary market of Jimmy Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins, and even Baker Mayfield are all trade targets.
The best quarterback free agent is likely Teddy Bridgewater. New Broncos’ head coach Nathaniel Hackett is expected to push George Paton to find a different option for Denver this season. Jameis Winston may not be long for the Saints, but a different team could give him a chance to compete for a starting job.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Tyrod Taylor, Jacoby Brissett, and Marcus Mariota are all capable backups, especially for teams who might pursue a quarterback in the draft. With Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger retiring and the typical quarterback-needy teams, it should be an exciting QB market.
Melvin Gordon is the biggest name at running back, and he’s been petitioning to be brought back to Denver, but with Javonte Williams ready to take over the lead role, that may not be in the cards for him. Leonard Fournette is coming off a big year, but Tampa looks to be in rebuilding mode after Brady’s retirement, so he’s likely on the move.
Cordarelle Patterson is also a free agent, and he’s coming off a wildly productive season with over 1,100 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns. It’s going to be interesting to see if there’s a team that feels like they can use him in as creative a fashion as Arthur Smith did last year. If so, he’s worthy of a solid contract as a multi-purpose offensive weapon.
The rest of the running back free agency room is full of question marks. Can Raheem Mostert stay healthy? Was Rashaad Penny’s resurgent form down the stretch for real? Did James Conner’s massive touchdown-scoring season create more of a market for him than there was a year ago? Are Sony Michel or Ronald Jones worth a flier?
This year’s wide receiver free agency class has four big names and then a significant drop-off. Davante Adams, Chris Godwin, Mike Williams, and Allen Robinson make up the big four. Adams is the most likely to just receive the franchise tag, although Aaron Rodgers may not be the one throwing him the ball next season. While the franchise tag would pay Adams about $20 million this year, he’s unlikely to sign a long-term extension if Rodgers is still uncommitted to the team. A trade could still be likely for Adams if Rodgers leaves.
Chris Godwin is coming off a significant ACL injury, but he has 249 catches for 3,276 yards and 21 touchdowns over the past three seasons. It’s unclear what this offseason holds for Tampa Bay, and there should be a significant market for Godwin in free agency. That may not be as true for Robinson, who is three years older than Godwin and is coming off a very down year. However, Robinson should be set for a fresh start with plenty of intrigues.
There’s a world where Mike Williams could be the prized target of this free agency class, but teams will have some questions about his overall inconsistency and injury history. Still, at 28 years old, he has some quality years left, a first-round pedigree, and put up 76 receptions for 1,146 yards and nine touchdowns last year. Justin Herbert has made it known that he wants Williams back on the Chargers next year.
Odell Beckham Jr. also becomes a free agent, but it seems like the Rams will do whatever they can to bring him in after his contribution to their Super Bowl championship. If anyone wants to deal with Antonio Brown’s shenanigans, he’s proven he can still be highly productive on the field. After tearing his ACL a month ago, Michael Gallup is a question mark, but there would have been a big market for him in this class.
Outside of those three wideouts, there isn’t much to get excited about in this receiver class. Will Fuller’s inability to stay healthy continues to be an issue while JuJu Smith-Schuster hasn’t exactly developed the way many hoped. T.Y. Hilton, Emmanuel Sanders, and A.J. Green are too old to be relied upon as consistent starters at this point in their respective careers. A handful of other players will be signed as rotation pieces in the passing game.
Mike Gesicki is the top name here as a player with tremendous athletic traits who was never used to his fullest potential in Miami. He finished with 73 catches for 780 yards last year and could be a primary piece in a passing game in the NFL. Dalton Schultz’s ascension came just in time for his free agency, and it’s hard to imagine the Cowboys wanting to let him go, but his all-around versatility will earn him a solid contract.
Zach Ertz played very well in Arizona, and at 32 years old, he still has a couple of more solid years. David Njoku could have a surprisingly strong market as he’s still just 25 years old and has shown flashes of high-level athletic talent. C.J. Uzomah broke through last year, and the Bengals should prioritize bringing him back. Evan Engram is an intriguing wild card with much more upside than he’s shown in recent years.
There are plenty of high-level offensive linemen who become free agents this offseason, but Brandon Scherff and Terron Armstead are the two standouts to me. Scherff will be a prized possession as one of the best offensive guards in football who should command a high salary from whoever signs him. He’s played on the franchise tag in Washington the past two years. Terron Armstead is arguably the best player in this entire free agency class, and the Saints are in cap purgatory as usual, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see him on the move.
If you’re looking for an offensive tackle, you’re in luck as several high-quality ones are hitting the open market – Trent Brown, Eric Fisher, and Riley Reiff headline the class outside of Armstead. Orlando Brown would also be a phenomenal free agent, but it’s unlikely the Chiefs let him go after trading a first-round pick for him. Duane Brown is still playing at a high level despite being 36 years old, and he’ll be ready to sign a one-year contract for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
You’re looking at fewer options at guard, but Laken Tomlinson is a high-quality target. Connor Williams, James Daniels, Austin Corbett, Andrew Norwell, and Alex Cappa can also be quality starters for the right team. Finally, the center position boasts Ryan Jensen, Matt Paradis, and Ben Jones as the top free agents. Jensen, in particular, can be a high-level anchor for any offensive line in the NFL.
This edge free agency class sneakily has a lot of talent, and it will be exciting to see where some of these veteran talents land. Von Miller doesn’t fit every scheme, but he’s still rushing the passer at a very high level, and the Rams will make it a priority to bring him back for a chance to repeat as champions. Chandler Jones is a likely candidate to join a new team, and at 31 years old, he still has enough left in the tank to be starting for a good team. Justin Houston, Jerry Hughes, and Jason Pierre-Paul are nearing the end of their respective careers, but they can still be situational pass-rushers for playoff teams.
Jadeveon Clowney, Randy Gregory, and Emmanuel Ogbah profile as high-level secondary pass-rushing options for teams. Melvin Ingram had a solid end to the season with Kansas City, but he’s likely just a high-level rotation piece at this point in his career. Haason Reddick didn’t quite have as good of a season last year, but he’s capable of high-level pass-rushing production for any team. Harold Landry, Derek Barnett, and Charles Harris are also solid starters hitting the market.
There isn’t nearly the same level of talent in the interior defensive line class, but Akiem Hicks has been one of the better run defenders in the NFL as of late. Calais Campbell is almost 36 years old, so teams will have to decide if he has anything left in the tank, but he played well last year. Folorunso Fatukasi, B.J. Hill, and D.J. Jones are limited to early-down run stoppers, but they are very good at that role. Sebastian Joseph-Day is also a quality player hitting the open market.
Linebacker isn’t as important a position in the NFL as it used to be, but there are still some quality difference-makers at the position. All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell is hitting the open market, and with the Packers focusing on finding a way to bring Rodgers and Adams back, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him on the move. As the only genuinely elite option at the position in this class, Campbell could get a lofty contract this spring.
Along with Campbell, there are a handful of capable starters in this class. Alexander Johnson’s complicated past gave him a late start in the NFL, but he’s been highly productive when on the field. Foyesade Oluokun, Leighton Vander Esch, Josey Jewell, and Anthony Barr have their limitations, but they are capable of starting for many teams. D’Onta Hightower is a tough evaluation as it’s hard to know how his skillset translates to a non-Belichick squad, especially as he nears 32 years old.
You can make the case that J.C. Jackson is the best defensive free agent hitting the open market this offseason, and any cornerback-needy team should be falling over themselves at the chance to sign him. As a ball-hawking cornerback who can play solid man defense against various wideouts, he’ll be coveted by many teams. His former Patriots teammate Stephon Gilmore also hits the market, but the Panthers will likely look to resign him after trading for him last year.
Casey Hayward Jr. needs to play in a zone-heavy defense, but he has plenty left in the tank even at 33 years old as he’s saved some of the best ball for later in his career. Carlton Davis is a similarly zone-dependent cornerback, but one who should have a strong market. Darious Williams, Steven Nelson, Charvarius Ward, D.J. Reed Jr., and Bryce Callahan stand out in a cornerback class with decent starting depth.
The safety position is the most talented in this entire draft class, with a handful of players who would be sorely missed if they left their current teams. Marcus Williams has been one of the best safeties in football through his time with the Saints, and he’s a particularly excellent zone coverage defender. Jessie Bates III is an elite field safety who thrives over the top, but he can also play at a high level in a split safety look as he did this past year with Vonn Bell.
Tyrann Mathieu, the “Honey Badger,” is one of the most versatile defenders in the NFL who can transform any team’s pass defense – look at the Bills’ offensive production in the divisional round to know how much the Chiefs would miss him. Marcus Maye, Quandre Diggs, Jordan Whitehead, and Jayron Kearse make up the next tier of safeties in this class which can be reliable, scheme-dependent starters.