As of Monday, March 14, at noon ET, NFL clubs can legally negotiate with impending free agents ahead of the official opening to free agency on March 16 at 4 p.m. ET. Over the next six weeks, we’ll get a better idea of where some of these players may be headed, but that won’t stop us from trying to make a few guesses along the way.
We currently have a list of upcoming unrestricted free agents, which is where the focus will lie as opposed to addressing players with restricted movement. RFAs can change teams, but it’s rather rare in today’s NFL. Exclusive-rights free agents will not be addressed as they have no bargaining power or leverage.
We’ll examine the four major skill positions in separate articles as part of this series. Some players will be included who aren’t technically free agents but figure to be on the move via trade or eventual release.
Bona fide top targets in a passing game rarely get a chance to test the open market. If any of these guys get their chance, expect them to become No. 1 weapons in their new digs.
Davante Adams: Adams is practically guaranteed to receive the franchise tag — if the convince Aaron Rodgers to return to Titletown. In Rodgers’ case, he holds tremendous leverage, whereas Adams isn’t so fortunate. There’s always the off-chance the duo are shipped to a new city in a package deal, but such a blockbuster is improbable. Cap space is a serious issue for the Packers, though. If they can parlay a Rodgers-Adams tandem for several high draft picks and a young receiver (Courtland Sutton or Jerry Jeudy?) while unloading the contract concerns, Green Bay would be silly to not at least explore its options. Should Rodgers ink an extension, look for Adams to be inclined to sign a long-term deal, too.
Chris Godwin: Coming off an ACL tear could limit his market ever so slightly, but the injury just isn’t as catastrophic for receivers as it is with running backs, and Godwin’s style of play also works in his favor. That said, it happened late in the year, and there’s always a degree of trepidation paying top dollar to a free agent coming off a serious injury. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers would have to pay him slightly more than $19 million for a second straight franchise tag, and Godwin may be interested in a monster payday, probably even more so now that Tom Brady is gone. The Bucs have the money as long as they’re creative with some other situations, and Godwin could opt for a somewhat team-friendly pact of only two years, which would permit him an age-28 offseason to seek an elite contract. He will have suitors on the market, provided Tampa doesn’t tag him again. Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Commanders, and Los Angeles Chargers all figure to have interest as well as enough cap space.
Allen Robinson: This one will be among the more interesting offseason situations. Robinson, like Godwin, was given the franchise tag last year. He will earn north of $19 million in 2022 should the Chicago Bears opt to tag him once again. The real issue here: Robinson is coming off such a pathetic campaign in 2021 that the Bears may be inclined to let him walk and save the money. Chicago has roughly $30 million in space, so it can do practically whatever it wants financially. Given how deep this class is for free agency, it may be the new regime is inclined to play the field and replace him from outside of the organization. At this stage, it seems Robinson will walk into free agency and find several franchises plenty happy to gamble on him rebounding from the 2021 disaster. A return to Jacksonville is of intrigue, and the team has oodles of cap space. The Chargers, Colts, Raiders, and Lions all should show serious interest.
Odell Beckham Jr.: In the first half of the 2021 season, it looked like Beckham was poised for a complete failure of a season. A release from the Cleveland Browns saw him wind up with the Los Angeles Rams, which went swimmingly for his market value in March. The Rams may be interested in tagging him if they cannot work out a long-term deal, but being $8.1 million over the cap means cost-cutting moves will have to be handled accordingly. It’s not a far-fetched move financially, so this one could go either way. For now, if OBJ steps into free agency able to test the waters, you can be sure he will have a team throw money at him the Rams simply cannot afford to match.
Update: Beckham suffered a torn ACL during Super Bowl LVI for the second time in 16 months and could see his market dwindle. He’s expressed interest in returning to the Rams and could come back on a cheap deal.
Strong contenders to be starting receivers on the outside or from the slot. In some situations, these guys could be de facto WR1 options for talent-starved teams.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: At his best from the slot, Smith-Schuster tested the market last year and ultimately returned to the Steel City. This time around, following the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger thrusting major positional uncertainty to the forefront of Pittsburgh’s offseason dealings, Smith-Schuster is likely to walk. Look for the Kansas City Chiefs to be a strong contender a year after he turned them down, and JSS could find his way onto the roster of the Dallas Cowboys — an interesting wild card of sorts. It’s difficult seeing him taking a deal to play for anyone but a legit contender after he declined big-money deals with KC and Baltimore a year ago.
Mike Williams: The first third of his season was awesome, followed by the usual ups and downs we’ve seen from Williams over the course of his NFL career. The Bolts will be inclined to make an offer and could even tag him. Williams’ 2021 salary paid him more than $15 million, and tagging him would amount to $19.1M for a team with the second-most cap space at the moment. Expect a deal somewhere around $17 million per season on a multiyear agreement, regardless of where he lands. LA should be open to paying something in that neighborhood, which gives him a raise and is not quite the one-year cap burden of another franchise tag.
Christian Kirk: Arizona is set to see Kirk and A.J. Green walk into free agency on the heels of the NFL’s most expensive wideout missing a large portion of the season. Now, a much larger issue is unfolding as their prized quarterback appears to be distancing himself from the franchise. Kirk has been linked to the Bears already, and while he’s not going to command top money, there’s an opportunity for him to compete for WR2 targets from the slot. His versatility and modest contract requirements will have Kirk on plenty of radars.
Michael Gallup: Gallup blew out his knee midway into the season and was already facing a challenging market for his services. There will be doubts about whether he’s a true WR2, given his erratic play. To further complicate things, he has missed 10 games in the last three years due to injuries, including the most serious one costing him eight contests in ’21. We’ve seen enough flashes from Gallup to date to confidently say he will have a market. Ample WR-needy teams exist among those with money to spend to suggest Gallup will indeed get a moderate deal on the open market. He could be a solid fit for the Colts, Raiders, Lions, Bears, among several others. Basically, MIA, LAC, JAC, NYJ, PIT, WAS, CLE, PHI, HOU, and TB are all in play among teams with more than the league average amount of cap space.
DJ Chark Jr.: Chark’s return to the Jags could go either way at this point given the new coaching staff is still assembling. The Jaguars have a promising quarterback future, regardless of how ugly things were in 2021 for Trevor Lawrence, and there’s clearly a need for a deep threat in this offense. Chark is coming off a leg fracture and, more importantly, has missed 21 games in four years due to injury, though, making it really difficult to gauge what his market will be as a result. Following a strong 2019 sophomore campaign, his career has stalled. If healthy, in the right environment, he could be a legit WR2 for most systems. Tagging him would be too expensive, even for the team with the third-most cap space. A long-term deal or a one-year “prove it” contract would be the likeliest ways he returns to Duval. Expect him to get a chance to test the market.
Cedrick Wilson: With Gallup also an impending free agent, Wilson could be brought back to the roster as a reward for stepping up down the stretch (45-602-6). It also means his quality play caught the eye of many NFL execs, and this situation has overspend written all over it. Wilson will garner WR2 money from one of any number of teams with more than $18 million to spend, which covers more than half of the league. That said, given the depth of more proven options on the market, there’s also a scenario here where he doesn’t get a fair contract right away and has to accept a one-year deal to better establish himself. It’s not hard to see a team with limited WR depth and deep pockets offering Wilson a deal he cannot refuse and one Dallas can’t match.
Should draw an earnest chance to compete for the third receiver spot on their respective rosters.
Byron Pringle: Pringle saw considerable playing time in 2021, and it is easy to get lost behind the likes of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. The Bears should be atop the short list given their new GM came from the Chiefs and an obvious lack of receiving options. Pringle has the profile of a productive WR2-in-the-making, but it will take a little convincing before he is more than another warm body among a flooded talent pool.
Russell Gage: He had a prime opportunity in ’21 to really showcase what he can do after a mini-breakout season in 2020 as Julio Jones went to the Titans in the offseason, and Calvin Ridley missed most of the year. Still, Gage just barely improved upon his per-game averages from 2020. Working in his favor, the LSU product is capable of playing inside and out. That alone gives him a market.
Josh Reynolds: Reynolds really could be closer to the “roster fodder” category after failing to latch on with the Rams and Tennessee before a middling campaign in Motown. Any number of teams could be in play here, and none of them will make Reynolds a high priority in free agency.
Braxton Berrios: Berrios has flashed several times and is quite efficient. While he may return to the Jets, there will be a handful of teams who kick tires as the need of a capable slot receiver is an ever-present reality in the NFL.
Demarcus Robinson: Another former Chief who could find his way to Chicago. Robinson’s snap percentage has decreased each of the past two years, making it unlikely he returns to the Chiefs once again if a valid opportunity for increased time (and money) exists elsewhere.
James Washington: The veteran is almost assuredly moving elsewhere in free agency, and he’ll make for a low-cost veteran to augment several teams with a need but little cash to spend, including the Saints, Packers, Falcons, Chiefs, and Cardinals.
Zay Jones: Assuming Derek Carr sticks with the Raiders, he may lobby hard to get Jones on the 2022 roster. The two showed considerable chemistry down the stretch in 2021, and everyone raves about Jones’ work ethic — something endearing him to Carr. If a contract renewal isn’t in the cards, Jones could have a small contingent of teams seeking his services.
T.Y. Hilton: Even though he is 32 years old — which is typically the cusp of WRs starting to slow down — Hilton might as well be 55. He has been battered and bruised year after year, and the vertical separation hasn’t been elite over the last few seasons, even with a spike in 2021. It’s not going to be a great market for him, and any potential suitor, including Indy, should be looking at him as a WR3 with situational utility.
Zach Pascal: Having ties to Philadelphia’s head coach and a mutual need for positional help, Pascal could end up turning his hard work as a former undrafted free agent into a starting opportunity. Indy may opt to renew his deal, and the Colts have more money to spend. Cleveland is an intriguing spot given his blue-collar nature fitting in extremely well with Cleveland’s identity and need.
Emmanuel Sanders: Age is working against him in his mid-30s, but if the price is right, plenty of teams will show interest in a veteran who can give them 20-30 quality snaps a week.
A.J. Green: Green stayed on the field and managed to play fairly well overall, given the disarray that was the second half of the Cardinals’ season. He’ll be 34 years old ahead of Week 1, and he will get a few calls if the price is commensurate of his current status and not borderline Hall of Fame pedigree.
Sammy Watkins: Coming off his worst statistical year to date and having missed multiple games in all but two of eight pro seasons, Watkins will have a slim market. He’ll somehow be only 29 before Week 1. Even still, look for a one-year deal with yet another chance to show he’s good for only a game or two worth of starter-level production.
Laquon Treadwell: Remember him? Treadwell did his best job in a poor situation last year, producing a career-high 434 yards in 13 contests. The 2021 coaching regime is gone, so returning is not etched in stone, and Treadwell will hope his efforts caught the eye of another front office.
Jamison Crowder: There always will be a market for modestly priced veteran slot receivers. Crowder will test the it after the explosive rookie debut by Elijah Moore renders him obsolete, and the former Washington wideout could make his way to any number of teams. Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Indianapolis could be higher on the list than most if free agency isn’t kind to their respective plans.
Tre’Quan Smith: A new coaching staff blossomed from the old coaching staff, so there’s at least familiarity when it comes to the possibility of him returning to New Orleans. For now, the expectation is he walks to a team looking for a deep weapon. The Saints are broke, and Smith has failed to ascend to the next level. A fresh start is best for both parties.
Will Fuller: Is his trick missing games? It sure feels that way. Fuller has tremendous talent but is limited to vertical routes and rarely stays on the field. He’s missed time for a suspension, too; yet, he will still have interested parties.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling: Speed kills, and MVS has plenty of it. He also has average hands and a limited route tree. But his blocking skills help keep him on the field. Green Bay is interested in his return.
DeSean Jackson: D-Jax had a prime opportunity in Las Vegas and dropped too many passes. He still has speed even at 35 years old, but this one-dimensional weapon will not have much of a market and really could be facing a retirement decision.
Danny Amendola: Retirement has to be a consideration at this point, too, but Amendola, when healthy, has done everything asked of him even into his mid-30s.
Adam Humphries: Purely a slot guy and special teams guy who wasn’t able to make a dent in Washington and injured his way out of Tennessee … Maybe he returns to the Buccaneers on the cheap if Jameis Winston comes back?
Roster depth/special teamers
Presuming they even latch on with a new team, these guys are a long shot to be relevant in 2022.
- Rashard Higgins
- Keelan Cole
- Matthew Slater
- Chris Conley
- Cam Sims
- Jakeem Grant
- Albert Wilson
- Marquise Goodwin
- Mohamed Sanu
- Damiere Byrd
- Mack Hollins
- Dede Westbrook
- Noah Brown
- Isaiah McKenzie
- Kalif Raymond
- Marcus Johnson
- Tavon Austin
- Mike Thomas
- Khadarel Hodge
- Ray-Ray McCloud
- Chester Rogers
- Tajae Sharpe
- Alex Erickson
- Chris Moore
- Deandre Carter
- Jake Kumerow
- Brandon Zylstra
- Trent Sherfield
- Chad Beebe
- Dante Pettis
- Equanimeous St. Brown
- Malik Turner
- Richie James
- Auden Tate
Under contract, but …
Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints: Can Thomas and the team mend fences after a lost 2021 season now that Sean Payton is gone? GM Mickey Loomis remains, so this one might come down to money. If Thomas is cut or traded post-June 1, the team saves $15.8 million against this year’s cap. He’ll soak up $24.7 mill if he were to remain rostered without restructuring. The Saints are more than $70 million in the red, and consecutive years lost to injury don’t help his chances of sticking around. New Orleans still may trade him if a different team is willing to absorb his sizeable contract.
Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns: Landry’s deal counts $16.379 million against the 2022 cap, and it’s unlikely he returns to the team without an extension. This is the final year of his deal, and cutting or trading him would save $14.879 million against the cap.
Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams: Coming off a torn ACL, Woods, 30, is under contract for four more years and isn’t owed guaranteed money beyond this season. The Rams want him back, and he’s a candidate for restructuring. If he refuses, though, LA stands to gain $13.5 million in cap space and could use that money to re-sign OBJ.
Julio Jones, Tennessee Titans: Cutting or trading Jones post-June 1 would save $9.513 million against this year’s cap while eating $4.8M in dead money. At 33, coming off consecutive injury-ravaged seasons, Jones is awfully expensive, and Tennessee sits with the seventh-least cap space (-$6.6 million). Something has to give….
Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons: This one appears headed for a divorce, and Ridley will be traded, not released, in that event. In such a scenario, where can we expect him to land? It’s safe to assume he won’t be dealt in the division, and trading Ridley to the AFC would be ideal. The Dolphins have the most money to burn and need someone to pair with 2021 rookie breakout Jaylen Waddle. The Chargers, Jaguars, Jets, Colts and Raiders have the money and need. In the NFC, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia could make a splash and have enough cap space to take on not only his $11.6 million 2022 charge but also sign him to a long-term deal. After all, why make a trade if you’re not confident you can lock him up? Only contenders do that, and none of those teams are even surefire playoff teams.
Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers: Green Bay is over $40 million in the hole right now, and while some of that can be alleviated via shedding contracts and reworking others, Cobb figures to be on the chopping block. He has no shield if Rodgers is traded, and even though Green Bay’s front office is willing to go to great lengths for No. 12 sticking around, paying Cobb just isn’t realistic. He could restructure and extend, but there’s no upside going that route with Amari Rodgers waiting for his chance to shine.
Sterling Shepard, New York Giants: Only 19 receivers currently carry a higher cap charge than Shepard’s $12.495 million. He’s definitely not among the top 20 wideouts, and the Giants can save $8.5 million while eating just shy of four million bucks in 2022. Shepard is a candidate to restructure, but last year’s first-round selection of Kadarius Toney suggests he may be on the way out.