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.
It’s a rather thin class for the top end of the position this year. Despite seeing familiar names on the list, none of these guys are destined to “wow” anyone in 2022.
Rob Gronkowski: With the retirement of Tom Brady, Gronk is a long shot to return to the field. Should he defy his past proclamation of TB12 being the only QB he wants to play with, perhaps everyone’s favorite goofball could chance a ring with a contender, such as the Cincinnati Bengals. Gronkowski recently expressed praise for QB Joe Burrow.
Mike Gesicki: Gesicki is a vital component of the Miami Dolphins’ desire to see QB Tua Tagovailoa ascend to new levels, but a retirement of Gronk likely would position Gesicki atop the market. Miami could opt to franchise tag him if they don’t work out a long-term deal, but having the most available cap space available puts the Dolphins in a position of luxury. Even if Gesicki doesn’t return, there are a few options in free agency, but one of the best young TEs in the game would fit nicely into the system being installed by new head coach Mike McDaniel.
Zach Ertz: Depending on the asking price, Ertz has a chance to return to the Arizona Cardinals. The team isn’t in great shape cap-wise, although losing most of the starting pass-catching outlets to free agency means this team will need to do something of note to assist wideout DeAndre Hopkins. Presuming Ertz is free to walk, the guy he replaced, Maxx Williams, also is a free agent and may have interest in coming back. He’d be a cheaper option, too. Ertz’s veteran presence, skill set, and flexibility will offer him options in free agency. He’s likely to sign a one-year deal with a contender, and given the current tumult in the desert, it’s not hard to see him reuniting with former Philly coaches in either Indianapolis or Jacksonville.
Dalton Schultz: A breakthrough 2021 season by Schultz followed a promising one and will situate him near the top of available players among his positional mates. Being in the prime of his career, coupled with Dallas facing a challenging cap situation, means there’s a strong chance he walks. Teams with money and need who may be in the mix include Miami (if Gesicki doesn’t return), the Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks.
Evan Engram: At 27, has finished a full slate of games just once (2020) in his five-year career. He burst onto the scene in 2017 as a rookie and has disappointed ever since. This is one of those “could benefit from a change of scenery” situations, and while he is unlikely to ever reach the hype following his inaugural campaign, there’s potential for a nice rebound effort in the right situation. He’s limited as a blocker and is constantly battling injuries, but Engram could be most useful playing for Jacksonville, the Chargers, and the Seahawks where there won’t be so much pressure on him. Some utility could be found with Indy, Tampa and a few other stops, too. Don’t discredit a signing with Carolina to reunite him with Ben McAdoo.
Occasionally serviceable but far from a staple of the offense, these players will have utility in the right setting.
Tyler Conklin: Somewhat due to necessity, Conklin emerged as an erratic but capable option who is more than just a blocker. The Vikings could push to re-sign him if Kirk Cousins sticks around, although a new coaching staff and GM lessen the chances of that coming to fruition. Don’t be surprised if Conklin has to settle for a backup or 1b job somewhere.
Gerald Everett: We saw Everett step up in Seattle to set career highs in receptions (48), yards (478) and TDs (4) in 15 games. The Seahawks could be inclined to re-sign him if the money makes sense, and Everett will garner a bit of attention on the open market once the primary tight ends find homes.
Robert Tonyan: A one-year wonder? Perhaps. Tonyan broke out in a touchdown-dependent way in 2020, only to start off sluggishly in ’21 before suffering a torn ACL that prematurely ended his season. The Green Bay Packers hold the leverage here, but they also have negative cap space — as in the second-least money to spend. It’s tough to imagine Tonyan having a huge market outside of Wisconsin.
C.J. Uzomah: All of the skill talent around him led to a modest breakout season in 2021. He has a sneaky combination of blocking ability and deceiving receiving chops that aren’t usually seen from guys of his size, but the Bengals could stand to upgrade at the position. Rumblings link Gronk to Cincy for next year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Bengals shell out some cash on a veteran like Ertz as a short-term answer. Uzomah may return to the Bengals, but he also doesn’t have much leverage.
Eric Ebron: There’s not a lot to like here when compared to the other options on the market. Ebron is often injured, has inconsistent hands, doesn’t block particularly well, and is poised to be on his fourth team in six years. Entering his age-29 season, coming off his worst year as a pro, he’ll be lucky to have multiple teams willing to make an offer.
O.J. Howard: Once billed as a potentially elite tight end, on-field limitations and injuries have held back Howard. He could find a fresh start in a number of cities, but no one should be banking on the Alabama product being guaranteed an opportunity to start.
David Njoku: Inconsistent to even poor hands is never a good attribute as a pass-catcher. Njoku has been accused of having attitude problems at times, too, but he isn’t a trouble-maker. In 2022’s free-agent market, the former first-round may find a few teams interested in lining him up in the slot and playing a hybrid role. His inline limitations suggest Njoku will be hard-pressed to find a full-time gig as a traditional Y.
Hayden Hurst: Despite 2022 being only his fifth year — a time when most players are first eligible for unrestricted free agency — Hurst enters a somewhat flooded market ahead of his age-29 season. In 2020, it appeared as if he had turned a corner (56-571-6), only for the Atlanta Falcons to draft a generational talent to replace him. Hurst will have suitors, but he’s likely to settle for a backup job.
Jared Cook: The journeyman may finally hang ’em up after 13 seasons. He’ll be 35 before the 2022 season begins, and Cook likely will be asked to play a minor role in the offense should he find a suitor.
Jimmy Graham: At nearly 300 years old, Graham’s 2022 plans likely include a rocking chair on a porch. Kidding aside, the once-prolific pass-catcher could sign with a contender for his blocking and red-zone skills in a part-time role.
Warm body with a pulse
Could latch on for a bit role as a depth or to serve a niche purpose but doesn’t figure to have notable utility.
- Maxx Williams
- Mo Alie-Cox
- Anthony Firkser
- Ricky Seals-Jones
- Jordan Akins
- Will Dissly
Under contract, but …
Kyle Rudolph, New York Giants: There’s about a 0.0 percent chance he is retained by the Giants without extending and restructuring, which is impractical given his age and the rest of the issues the Giants have to sort out. That said, he’s a great blocker for a team with serious offensive line problems and a capable receiver. The G-Men would save $5 million of a scheduled $7.4 million cap hit by cutting him before or after June 1.
Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts: Indy basically can walk away free of concern if Doyle is cut, regardless of the timing. He is due to count $6.2 million against the 2022 cap in the final year of his deal, and the veteran could be shown the door to save all but $750k of that figure. At 32 years old, unless he takes a serious paycut to stick around, expect Doyle to be playing elsewhere in the upcoming year.
Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Gronk is a free agent and appears to be leaning toward retirement again or at least leaving Tampa now that Brady has retired. As mentioned above, Howard also is a free agent. Brate is due to cost $7.285 million against the 2022 cap, and only nine other TEs carry a larger charge. He’s well-liked in the organization and is a low-tier starter in a pinch, so this one could go either way. Expect the team to restructure him if nothing else.