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The Complete Guide to 2022 NFL Free Agency

Who are the top players available at each position? Which free agents offer the most value? And which should teams try to avoid? All that and more in this position-by-position preview.

AP/Ringer illustration

It feels like the Rams just won the Super Bowl on their home field, and yet here we are, mere hours away from the start of the NFL free agency.

The legal tampering period gets underway Monday and lasts two days before teams are allowed to start officially signing players at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. So to get you ready for the next few weeks, we’ve put together this handy guide that covers the top players available at every position. Which free agents will offer the most value? Which should teams want to avoid? And which teams are in the market for which positions? Let’s get started.

Quarterback

In the Market: Panthers, Steelers, Colts, Saints, Texans, Seahawks, Commanders

Top of the Class: Jameis Winston
Expected Deal Value: $10 million/year

During the 2021 season, 37 quarterbacks attempted at least 200 dropbacks and only one produced a higher EPA per play than Jameis Winston, per RBSDM.com. That was NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers. Now, I’m not saying Winston is one of the better quarterbacks in the league—we’re talking about a half-season sample size here, and one just two years removed from a campaign in which he threw 30 interceptions. But any team that’s desperate for a change under center can’t overlook what the 2015 first overall pick did in his lone season as the Saints starter.

Watching Jameis in 2021 was almost comical at times. Not in the bad “I’m going to throw the worst interception you’ve ever seen” kind of way that it was during his final season in Tampa. But the other extreme—with Winston playing as if there was a voice in his head repeating “Don’t fuck up, Jameis” over and over again. Winston’s 3 percent turnover-worthy play rate was the lowest of his career, per Pro Football Focus. And he did that while also producing a career-high big-time throw rate. If he can keep that up in an offense that doesn’t provide Sean Payton’s schematic guardrails, he could very well be the missing piece for a team.

Best Value: Marcus Mariota
Expected Deal Value: $8 million/year

As football fans, we deserve one more season of Mariota starting. Sure, things didn’t end well in Tennessee after he was replaced by Ryan Tannehill—who immediately brought the Titans offense to new heights—but the last time he got extended playing time, Mariota had nerve issues that risked permanent damage to his throwing arm. That’s kind of a big deal for a quarterback! Before that injury, the former second overall pick was seemingly starting to put things together. He increased his accuracy and ability to read the field, his mobility never went away, and he can add a dimension to any run game. As far as stopgap options go, Mariota isn’t a bad one, and he shouldn’t be too expensive.

Buyer Beware: Mitchell Trubisky
Expected Deal Value: $15 million/year

Trubisky has been one of the hottest names of the offseason, which is kind of weird because, well … he’s Mitchell Trubisky. I’m not sure where this newfound interest is coming from. Trubisky did play fairly well down the stretch of the 2020 season to help lead the Bears to the playoffs, but Matt Nagy’s coaching staff had to strip down the offense to its bare bones in order to coax that performance out of him. Trubisky would make a fine backup, but it looks like he will fetch low-level starter money on the open market.

Secondary Market: Teddy Bridgewater, Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick

You won’t find any viable starting options here, but any team that’s worried about its backup situation should at least consider some of these vets. Bridgewater couldn’t get the most out of a talented Broncos offense, but he was able to put up league-average results in a good situation. Dalton doesn’t have much left in the tank, but he can execute a game plan. And Fitzpatrick, who’s coming off a gnarly hip injury, provides a veteran presence in the locker room and can be a spark off the bench if needed.

Running Back

In the Market: Cardinals, Seahawks, Texans, Falcons

Top of the Class: Leonard Fournette
Expected Deal Value: $7 million/year

Tom Brady deserves a percentage of whatever deal Fournette signs. Brady essentially willed the one-dimensional back into being a productive player on passing downs, sending 84 targets his way in 2021—third most among running backs. But those targets weren’t very efficient: Fournette finished 101st in receiving EPA among running backs despite the high usage rate, per Sports Info Solutions. He’s a tough runner, but he isn’t a big play threat—teams can find dozens of backs like that for half the price Fournette will command.

Best Value: Rashaad Penny
Expected Deal Value: $4 million/year

From Week 13 on last season, Penny racked up 706 yards and averaged 6.9 yards per carry. Both figures led the league, per Pro Football Focus, and that wasn’t a fluke; his tape may be more impressive than the numbers. Penny was impossible to tackle in 2021—he forced 27 missed tackles through the last six games of the season—and he ran away from defensive backs when he got into the open field. It’s not a stretch to call Penny the most talented running back available this offseason.

Buyer Beware: Cordarrelle Patterson
Expected Deal Value: $7 million/year

Watching Patterson finally emerge as a do-it-all threat in Atlanta was fun as hell, but I have to ask: Does he get all those touches on a good team? And while those touches produced some awesome plays, they weren’t overly efficient. Per Sports Info Solutions, Patterson had a negative EPA on runs and overall touches. The team that signs him will be paying for a career year that wasn’t as good as the traditional counting numbers imply.

Secondary Market: James Conner, Chase Edmonds, Sony Michel, Melvin Gordon, Marlon Mack

Any team that misses out on Penny should skip past the bigger names and try to land one of these backs on a modest deal. There’s something for everyone in this group: Conner will do the dirty work, Edmonds is a big-play threat, and Gordon remains a starting caliber player whose reputation took too big of a hit after his failed holdout with the Chargers.

Wide Receiver

In the Market: Jaguars, Browns, Falcons, Bills, Bears, Lions, Packers, Texans, Colts, Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders, Dolphins, Patriots, Saints, Jets

Top of the Class: Allen Robinson II
Expected Deal Value: $17 million/year

It’s impossible to quantify the impact of Robinson’s deteriorating relationship with the Bears coaching staff on his 2021 season. But that doesn’t make it any easier to ignore his decline in production—especially in areas of the game that are supposed to be his strengths. Robinson’s contested catch rate dropped to 33.3 percent in 2021, per Pro Football Focus, after he caught 53.3 percent of his contested targets in the first three seasons of his time in Chicago. For a receiver who has never created much separation, that would be a concerning trend if it continues.

Even if 2021 proves to be a blip for Robinson, he’ll need to land with a quarterback who is both willing and able to throw him 50/50 balls. A capable quarterback could get Robinson’s career back on track. But any teams with an inexperienced or inaccurate quarterback ought to look elsewhere to fill vacancies at the position.

Best Value: Odell Beckham Jr.
Expected Deal Value: $6 million/year

A torn ACL will complicate Beckham’s first foray into free agency, but a smart team (with a good medical staff) should take a chance on the mercurial receiver. After last year’s midseason signing with Los Angeles, Beckham showed he can still stretch the field and isn’t afraid to make tough catches over the middle. I don’t know if he’s the bona fide no. 1 receiver he was in New York, but the Rams’ version of Beckham proved to be an elite no. 2 option.

Buyer Beware: Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Expected Deal Value: $12 million/year

With the free-agent-receiver group thinning out even before the legal tampering period, Valdes-Scantling’s value could inflate to the point that he’s pulling in high-end no. 2 receiver money. But the 27-year-old has only one quality season to his name thus far, and he barely managed to top the 600-yard mark. MVS also won’t be bringing the league’s reigning MVP along with him to wherever he signs.

Secondary Market: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Christian Kirk, Will Fuller, D.J. Chark

Teams would be much better off waiting out the first wave of free agency and hoping one of these second-tier names lowers their asking price. Any of the guys above could serve as the missing piece for a receiver room. Smith-Schuster is an ideal slot receiver for teams running the Shanahan-McVay style of offense that continues to spread throughout the league. Kirk was miscast as an outside receiver in Arizona and would blossom as a full-time slot. And Chark is a talented deep threat who got lost in Jacksonville’s woeful offense. The receiver-needy teams are better off taking big swings in the draft and using free agency to find role players at the position.

Tight End

In the Market: Texans, Jaguars, Titans, Packers

Top of the Class: Rob Gronkowski
Expected Deal Value: $10 million/year

Gronkowski is washed up, but a washed Gronk is still better than 95 percent of the tight ends in the NFL. Even if the 32-year-old runs like your dad, he still catches everything thrown his way and barrels over defensive backs trying to tackle him in the open field. If he decides to continue his career, he’ll get plenty of interest on the open market.

Best Value: C.J. Uzomah
Expected Deal Value: $8 million/year

In the age of the mismatch tight end, Uzomah will never stand out. But he can block and catch the football, and that combination is getting harder to find by the year. On top of traditional tight end skills, Uzomah has the ability to produce after the catch, making him one of the more well-rounded players at the position. Teams rarely regret paying those guys.

Buyer Beware: Zach Ertz
Expected Deal Value: $9 million/year

Ertz’s brief stint in Arizona proved that he’s still a viable threat in the passing game. But now that defenses are treating him like a wide receiver, he’s not seeing mismatches against linebackers as often as he once did. If Ertz was just an average blocker, he’d be worth a lot more money.

Secondary Market: Gerald Everett, Evan Engram, Maxx Williams, Mo Alie-Cox, Robert Tonyan Jr.

This group is made up of pass-catching tight ends who can’t block and run-blocking tight ends who can’t catch. You won’t find a good starter in this group, but any of these guys would be useful in an offense that deploys multiple tight ends.

Offensive Tackle

In the Market: Panthers, Bears, Cowboys, Texans, Colts, Dolphins, Saints, Steelers, Seahawks

Top of the Class: Terron Armstead
Expected Deal Value: $22 million/year

Armstead is an elite blindside protector, but there’s a reason the cash-strapped Saints let him hit free agency: He can’t stay healthy. The former undrafted free agent missed 11 games through the past two seasons and has never made it through a full season without missing at least one game. But, man, can he play. If Armstead’s poor injury luck turns, the team that signs him will be set at left tackle for the next decade. And that’s a bet worth taking.

Best Value: Duane Brown
Expected Deal Value: $12 million/year

You can’t overpay for good pass protection, and, even at 36, Brown can still provide that. The numbers suggest that Brown’s play dipped in 2021, but he was blocking for two quarterbacks who hold onto the ball for an eternity (Russell Wilson and Geno Smith). On film, he still looks like a very good player. And we’ve seen other star tackles play well into their late 30s, which should make that eight-figure price tag a bit easier to stomach.

Buyer Beware: Orlando Brown Jr.
Expected Deal Value: $20 million/year

The Chiefs traded a first-round pick to get Brown in 2021, and the fact that they’re letting him walk a year later tells you everything you need to know about his season-long performance. The former Raven wasn’t a good fit for Kansas City’s pass-happy attack, which routinely put him on an island in pass protection. He’s a good player, just not a great one; and he doesn’t have the athleticism to hold up in such a role.

Secondary Market: Trent Brown, Eric Fisher, Riley Rieff, Morgan Moses

Each guy on this list has a clear strength to his game, but also a glaring weakness. Brown is big and strong, but he can’t really move. Fisher is a reliable blindside protector who can’t stay healthy. And Moses is a good run blocker, but he also willingly signed up to play for the Jets, so decision-making is a big question mark.

Interior Offensive Line

In the Market: Cardinals, Falcons, Panthers, Bears, Bengals, Cowboys, Packers, Jaguars, Rams, Dolphins, Vikings, Giants, Seahawks, 49ers, Buccaneers, Titans

Top of the Class: Ryan Jensen
Expected Deal Value: $14 million/year

Jensen might be the league’s biggest instigator. But post-snap antics aside, he’ll help shore up any team’s pass protection unit. The fact that he was able to earn Brady’s trust early on should draw the attention of teams with young quarterbacks who aren’t ready to handle pass-protection calls—and I can’t overstate how much that matters. Jensen will be worth every dollar, even if his blocking falls off a cliff.

Best Value: Connor Williams
Expected Deal Value: $8 million/year

Williams looked like a weak link on the Cowboys’ formidable line last year, which might suppress his market. But teams will have a hard time finding a solid, veteran guard at a better price point.

Buyer Beware: Brandon Scherff
Expected Deal Value: $15 million/year

Scherff is a nasty run blocker who’d be a perennial Pro Bowl candidate if he could just stay healthy. Taking the financial risk would make more sense if Scherff played a more valuable position. Alas.

Secondary Market: James Daniels, Andrew Norwell, Ben Jones, Austin Corbett, Brian Allen

Behind Daniels, there isn’t a clear long-term option in this group. But these guys could all step into a starting lineup and provide some good snaps in 2022. Using cheaper vets to fill in holes along the offensive line has been a useful strategy for contending teams in recent years, so don’t sleep on this group.

Edge Rusher

In the Market: Falcons, Browns, Broncos, Lions, Texans, Colts, Jaguars, Chiefs, Vikings, Giants, Eagles, Seahawks, Titans

Top of the Class: Von Miller
Expected Deal Value: $18 million/year

Miller’s slow start with the Rams was immediately forgotten after a dominant postseason run, which culminated in a two-sack performance in L.A.’s Super Bowl win. It’s fair to ask whether Miller can still be dominant week after week due to his age and history of significant injuries, but he’s clearly capable of taking over a game—especially if he gets help from a creative defensive coordinator. A team might regret giving the veteran a long-term contract, but a low-risk, short-term deal makes sense for any franchise that fancies itself a contender.

Best Value: Melvin Ingram III
Expected Deal Value: $9 million/year

You’d think NFL teams would have learned their lesson after letting Kansas City acquire Ingram for pennies in return at the last trade deadline. But it looks as if Ingram could be overshadowed by bigger names (with bigger price tags) this month and find himself taking less money to play for a contender. Whichever team is lucky enough to land him will be getting a disruptive pass rusher who needs just a little schematic help to really make an impact. Ingram is no longer capable of wreaking havoc on his own—hence the lack of interest—but he can act as a force multiplier for a talented group of pass rushers.

Buyer Beware: Chandler Jones
Expected Deal Value: $17 million/year

Jones’s dominant five-sack performance in Week 1 inflated his 2021 stat line and may be enough to help earn him another massive payday. But smarter teams will see that his production steadily declined as the season wore on, and that it’s been two years since he played at least 900 snaps in a season. At 32, Jones still has some good football left in him. It’s just that a deal for him will be very expensive, and there are some options in this next group who have been just as productive—if not more so—in recent campaigns.

Secondary Market: Emmanuel Ogbah, Randy Gregory, Haason Reddick, Jadeveon Clowney, Jerry Hughes, Justin Houston

A lot of these guys will get paid, so don’t expect to find any bargains here. But teams looking to improve their pass rush should take a patient approach to free agency and hope that one of these dudes will slip through the cracks and end up settling for a cheaper deal. With a deep group of pass rushers headlining the draft class, it doesn’t make much sense to overpay in free agency.

Interior Defensive Line

In the Market: Ravens, Bills, Browns, Cowboys, Texans, Colts, Chargers, Raiders, Buccaneers

Top of the Class: Akiem Hicks
Expected Deal Value: $9 million/year

At his peak, Hicks is the ideal interior defensive lineman in today’s game. He’s a run stuffer who offers enough pass-rush juice to keep him on the field for third down. But it’s been five years since he played more than 900 snaps in a season, so it’s possible that idealized version of Hicks just doesn’t exist anymore.

Best Value: B.J. Hill
Expected Deal Value: $7 million/year

The Bengals swung a midseason trade for Hill last year and he was instantly one of the most important players on the defense. Hill’s a run stuffer first and foremost who may never be a star, but he can disrupt the pocket every now and then, and every good defensive line has a player like him on it.

Buyer Beware: Calais Campbell
Expected Deal Value: $10 million/year

Campbell’s playing ability has nothing to do with his placement here. He’s still extremely solid—both as a stout run defender and a penetrating interior rusher. But it’s hard to imagine those soon-to-be-36-year-old legs supporting that 6-foot-8 frame for much longer. Let another team take that risk—even if the immediate rewards seem awfully tantalizing.

Secondary Market: Folorunso Fatukasi, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Linval Joseph, D.J. Jones, Sheldon Richardson, Maliek Collins

Referring to this group as the “Secondary Market” isn’t really fair. There are some good players here who will get paid just as much as the guys listed above. Fatukasi might wind up being the best player available if his next team can fine-tune his game. Joseph-Day will improve any run defense you drop him into. And Richardson can still make an impact on passing downs.

Linebacker

In the Market: Panthers, Cowboys, Broncos, Lions, Texans, Jaguars, Rams, Chargers, Raiders, Patriots, Giants, Jets, Eagles, Commanders

Top of the Class: De’Vondre Campbell
Expected Deal Value: $10 million/year

The Packers put a lot on Campbell last season and he answered the call almost every week. With Green Bay favoring lighter defensive personnel, the rangy tackler was often left as the only off-the-ball linebacker in the run box. He held up just fine in that role—and even if Campbell isn’t the most fluid mover, he’s fast when running in a straight line and rarely misses a tackle. That makes him a valuable coverage piece even if you don’t want him playing man-to-man against tight ends.

Best Value: Alexander Johnson
Expected Deal Value: $7 million/year

Just get him a Patriots uniform already. Johnson is the type of linebacker who has thrived under Bill Belichick, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if New England throws money at him early on in free agency. He isn’t the smoothest mover in coverage, and he attacks the line of scrimmage recklessly at times, but the 30-year-old’s strength in the run game and usefulness as a blitzer will make him an attractive option for a smart defensive coordinator.

Buyer Beware: Bobby Wagner
Expected Deal Value: $10 million/year

Seattle’s release of Wagner last week added some star power to this year’s class of linebackers. The perennial All-Pro’s 2021 film raised some red flags for a guy now on the wrong side of 30. His athleticism is clearly on the decline, which forced Wagner to do more guessing, and that led to uncharacteristic mistakes in coverage. That may drive down the veteran linebacker’s asking price, but he’ll still probably earn an eight-figure salary with whichever team he joins.

Secondary Market: Leighton Vander Esch, Dont’a Hightower, Foyesade Oluokun, Josey Jewell

Signing one of these guys would be like stopping for food at the gas station. It’s easy and convenient, but you’ll probably end up regretting it. If a team needs a veteran presence for its linebacker, then Hightower is not a bad option. But there are no starters to be found here. Not good ones, anyway.

Cornerback

In the Market: Cardinals, Falcons, Bears, Bengals, Broncos, Lions, Texans, Jaguars, Chiefs, Rams, Chargers, Raiders, Vikings, Patriots, Jets, Eagles, Steelers, Seahawks, 49ers … basically, the entire league.

Top of the Class: J.C. Jackson
Expected Deal Value: $19 million/year

Jackson might be the best player available in free agency this year. He’s impossible to shake in man coverage and, after working with Belichick, the second-team All-Pro selection has a good understanding of whatever genre of coverage you ask him to play. But the Patriots letting him hit free agency should be concerning. Belichick has no problem saying goodbye to good players, but he rarely does it with cornerbacks. Jackson will be good wherever he goes. It is, however, fair to wonder whether his play falls off just a little without Belichick’s coaching.

Best Value: Carlton Davis
Expected Deal Value: $16 million/year

Davis may not be a lockdown corner, but he’s capable of surviving when tasked with shadowing a star receiver. He’s also a smart zone defender who isn’t afraid to tackle. That well-rounded game makes him a low-risk signing who should fit any system. And if he signs for that expected deal value, his contract will look better with each passing year as the salary cap continues to rise.

Buyer Beware: Stephon Gilmore
Expected Deal Value: $14 million/year

The lower body injuries continue to pile up for the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year. After a nasty quad injury ended his 2020 season, the corner had trouble staying on the field in Carolina last year. Gilmore still played well when healthy, but he’s no longer a corner you can trust to survive on an island against top receivers. And with injuries becoming a more common occurrence, any team that signs Gilmore should do so with the understanding that he’ll likely miss some time.

Secondary Market: Casey Hayward, Steven Nelson, Charvarius Ward, Darious Williams, D.J. Reed Jr.

There are always some good finds in the secondary cornerback market, and this year’s class is not short on options. Whether you’re looking for a coverage guy who can hang on the outside (Hayward and Ward) or a player who can work in the slot (Nelson and Reed), there is a little something for everyone. The prices shouldn’t be too bad this year, either.

Safety

In the Market: Ravens, Lions, Texans, Jaguars, Saints, Jets, Eagles, Commanders

Top of the Class: Marcus Williams
Expected Deal Value: $16 million/year

A decade ago, Williams might have been considered the top free agent in this class. Every defense was looking for their own version of Earl Thomas at the time—a rangy center-field safety who could eliminate throws to the deep middle—and Williams is one of the premier free safeties in today’s game. But now, with the usage of two-high coverages on the rise, teams are looking for defensive backs who can offer more versatility, and it remains to be seen whether the 25-year-old can provide that. Maybe Williams is more than just a deep safety. Maybe he can line up in the box as a run defender or track tight ends and slot receivers in man coverage. If so, that projected price tag isn’t too unreasonable. If not, teams can find better value elsewhere.

Best Value: Marcus Maye
Expected Deal Value: $8 million/year

Maye’s 2021 season ended prematurely after he suffered a torn Achilles in early November. Now, the former Jets safety—who played under the franchise tag a year ago—is expected to take a cheap-but-incentive-heavy deal, making him one of the better values of this class.

Maye isn’t the most versatile of safeties, but if you park him in the deep part of the field, he will make plays. The 29-year-old hunts for work, aggressively driving on routes in his area of the field. And when offenses try to exploit that aggressive nature, he’s typically able to adjust quickly. He’s just a good football player.

Buyer Beware: Tyrann Mathieu
Expected Deal Value: $17 million/year

It pains me to give Mathieu this label, because he remains a very valuable player. But the 29-year-old’s overly physical play style might be starting to take a toll on his body. He’s not nearly as impactful a defender as he was during his first season in Kansas City—he’s forced just four incompletions since 2020 after forcing seven in 2019, per Pro Football Focus—and the Chiefs cut his snaps lined up in the slot by about 16 percentage points last year. If you’re paying nearly $20 million a year for a safety, you’re looking for versatility, and Mathieu is having more and more trouble providing that as he gets older.

Secondary Market: Quandre Diggs, Jayron Kearse, Devin McCourty, Jordan Whitehead, Justin Reid, Kareem Jackson

This class of safeties offers a little bit of everything. If a defense needs a classic center-field type with some man coverage chops, McCourty isn’t a bad veteran option. Reid is more of a box-safety type who was somewhat miscast in Houston’s two-high scheme. And Diggs can do a little of both. This is easily the deepest position in free agency.