NFLTR Review: Fits For Our Best Remaining Free Agents

There’s still quite a bit of talent left waiting in free agency. In this issue:

  • Landing spots for the best free agents available
  • More trade rumors and contract drama stirring the pot
  • Draft nuggets from our visit tracker

Top 50 Free Agents & Best Landing Spots

Free agency has come to a screeching halt in recent weeks. Most years this is how it goes. There’s a rush on the market the first five days, steady activity the next week or so in the second wave, then the cliff hits in the third wave with the players the market has deemed less desirable, whether due to age, injury or asking price. 

But this year when the money dried up, it felt like it beached quite a bit of talent. Our Top 100 2022 NFL Free Agents list shows some big names still available, and a comparison against a loose top 10 from an NFLTR Review last April is telling: 

2021 2022
Jadeveon Clowney
Jadeveon Clowney
Russell Okung Odell Beckham
Steven Nelson
Stephon Gilmore
Richard Sherman Tyrann Mathieu
Melvin Ingram Trey Flowers
Casey Hayward J.C. Tretter
Quinton Dunbar Julio Jones
Jurrell Casey Melvin Ingram
Malik Hooker Melvin Gordon
Trai Turner Daryl Williams

(Clowney is inevitable, this is the third year in a row he has reached the top spot)

There are some parallels with aging defensive backs and injury-prone receivers but there’s a lot more star power in free agency’s dregs this year. Perhaps the pandemic is still having some impact on things, as teams did push a lot of money from 2020 and 2021 forward to avoid slashing their rosters too much. Half the league has less than $9 million in effective cap space, per Over The Cap, meaning draft picks are factored in. 

At some point, though, these players will have to sign. Assuming there continues to be little movement, we could see a mini free agency in early May when the deadline passes for signing qualifying compensatory free agents. That could help the markets for guys looking for more money, as right now the cutoff for players to count in the formula is about $3 million. 

Here’s a look at most of our current top 50 available free agents and which potential landing spots make sense. 

1. DE Jadeveon Clowney: Dolphins

The Dolphins and Clowney have flirted with teaming up multiple times in the past, but each time Clowney has turned them down. He vetoed a trade to the Dolphins in 2019 when the team was tanking and rejected a reported $17 million a year deal in free agency in 2020 that in hindsight looks like it may have been his best offer. Maybe the third time will be the charm, as the Dolphins could use help with their edge rushing group. They still have quite a bit of cap space to spend even after all their moves this offseason. 

2. WR Odell Beckham: Chiefs

Honestly the Rams make the most sense, especially because Beckham loves being in LA. But if that doesn’t work out for whatever reason, Beckham will probably prioritize another team with a great quarterback that will be in contention for a deep playoff run and that needs a receiver capable of winning against man coverage. The Chiefs would fit that bill, as would a number of other teams. He could wait a while to sign since he might not be ready to play until November at the earliest. 

3. S Tyrann Mathieu: Jaguars

Aging defensive backs are treated warily by teams, and Mathieu has been playing for a while it seems like. He’s turning 30 and some NFL evaluators have said they saw signs of decline in 2021. Still, it’s a little surprising to see how little interest he’s gotten as a free agent. He should have a fair amount still left in the tank, especially in a system that plays to his strengths. New Jaguars DC Mike Caldwell has been an assistant on defenses Mathieu has played for in the past and Jacksonville needs leaders and culture builders like Mathieu. 

4. DE Trey Flowers: Patriots

We’ve seen plenty of former Patriots return to New England after signing big deals elsewhere and rehabilitate their value. Injuries have limited Flowers to 14 games over the past two seasons but when healthy he’s still been effective. It likely wouldn’t cost much for New England to bring him back and he’d be an upgrade over guys like Deatrich Wise and Lawrence Guy

5. C J.C. Tretter: Panthers

Carolina leads the NFL in available cap space. Perhaps some of it is ticketed toward acquiring a quarterback like Jimmy Garoppolo or Baker Mayfield but there’s also room to continue fortifying the offensive line with a quality starter like Tretter. There are connections on staff, as OL coach James Campen was Tretter’s position coach to start his career in Green Bay. The Panthers signed C Bradley Bozeman but at less than $3 million. He also has experience playing guard with the Ravens before shifting to center last season, so Carolina could bring in Tretter and have a brand-new, fortified interior between him, Bozeman and Austin Corbett. The Ravens are also worth keeping in mind for Tretter. 

6. WR Julio Jones: Chargers

Health is the big question with Jones. He’s barely practiced for a few seasons now but 2021 was the first year it translated into a significant number of missed games. It’s probably tough to count on him as a No. 1 and maybe even a No. 2 receiver at this stage. The obvious connection is with the Colts and former QB Matt Ryan, but it’s worth remembering there were murmurs of Jones being frustrated with Ryan’s lack of arm strength at the end of his time in Atlanta. The 33-year-old can still run and would be a fit as a deep threat third option with the Chargers, who have a quarterback with zero arm strength questions. 

7. DE Melvin Ingram: Browns

Fortifying the defensive line is one of the Browns’ biggest needs and Ingram proved he still has a lot left in the tank as a third edge rusher. He could also make a lot of sense for the Ravens or Bengals. 

8. RB Melvin Gordon: Broncos

I suspect Gordon will be waiting until after the draft. There are teams who need help at running back but will probably look at the cheaper rookies first. An injury in training camp could also open up a clearer role. Until then, it’s hard to rule out the Broncos, who have said they want to continue using a committee approach in the backfield. 

9. OT Daryl Williams: Titans

Williams has flexibility to play guard and right tackle and gives Tennessee some veteran insurance for young players like Dalton Risner or anyone they might draft. He’d be a good fit for a smashmouth offense like Tennessee. 

10. OT Eric Fisher: Colts

There was a report before the start of free agency that Fisher and the Colts would be going their separate ways. Over a month later, the Colts still don’t have a clear starting left tackle and Fisher remains available. A reunion still makes a lot of sense, especially because Fisher ought to be healthier and better now that he’s added another year between him and his 2020 Achilles injury. 

11. DE Justin Houston: Chiefs

Leaning hard on the sentimentality so far with another reunion. The Chiefs need help at edge rusher and Houston could slot into the same role Ingram played for them in 2021. He could provide insurance for a rookie as well as mentorship and likely wouldn’t cost much if Kansas City is being cost-conscious. 

12. DE Jerry Hughes: Ravens

There are quite a few older pass rushers still available so teams like the Ravens still looking for reinforcements should have tons of options if they miss out in the draft. Hughes hasn’t had more than five sacks in three seasons but his advanced metrics paint a much prettier picture of his effectiveness. 

13. DT Sheldon Richardson: Browns

A return to the Browns could make a lot of sense for both parties, as there’s still familiarity for Richardson and Cleveland’s defensive interior is in a little bit of flux. There are young players like Jordan Elliott and Tommy Togiai and a reclamation project in former Jaguars DL Taven Bryan. Richardson is more of a known quantity even if he’s not dynamic at this stage of his career. 

14. DT Akiem Hicks: Chargers

Chargers HC Brandon Staley went after one of his former players in Chicago by trading for Khalil Mack. Hicks was arguably almost as important to that defense as Mack, and while he’s older and not quite the same player, he’d still potentially be an impact addition to Los Angeles’ defensive line. 

15. OT Duane Brown: Panthers

Carolina still has a pretty big hole at left tackle. At this point after striking out on all their big-name quarterback targets, the best option for the Panthers is building up the rest of their team to either turn into a destination landing spot for a veteran or to make the transition to a rookie as easy as possible. 

16. OT Bobby Massie: Jets

Some affordable veteran insurance at tackle in case Mekhi Becton falters. 

17. OT Riley Reiff: Chargers

The Chargers don’t have many glaring holes but there’s a big exception at right tackle. Reiff would fix that in short order if he’s healthy. 

18. WR Jarvis Landry: Saints

The Saints are one of the teams that has expressed interest in Landry, as well as the Browns who are hoping to bring him back at a lower rate after cutting him earlier this offseason. Landry might find the idea of returning to Louisiana compelling, though. He thrives in the same part of the field as Michael Thomas, which might cause some concerns for redundancy. But given Thomas’ recent struggles to stay healthy, redundancy isn’t all bad. 

19. WR Will Fuller: Browns 

Fuller is good friends with Deshaun Watson and the two have tried to steer themselves to the same team, whether it was Watson speaking out against moving Fuller at the deadline in 2019 or Fuller signing with the Dolphins in possible anticipation of that being Watson’s top destination. The Browns still need help at receiver and Fuller is free to sign with any team. 

20. S Landon Collins: Chiefs

Collins’ best years were in 2016 and 2017 with DC Steve Spagnuolo and safeties coach Dave Merritt, both of whom are in Kansas City. The Chiefs already signed Justin Reid who does a lot of the same things Collins does but they use a third safety a fair amount of the time. Just ask Chiefs fans who clenched every time Dan Sorensen hit the field. Obviously Collins would have to take a discount but if he’s looking to recapture some of his early-career magic, it could make sense. 

21. WR Cole Beasley: Cowboys

Beasley gets to go back to Texas, the Cowboys fill their need for some additional receiver depth. 

22. WR T.Y. Hilton: Bears

The Bears are understandably cap-strapped but they still need to put more around QB Justin Fields for his key second season. Hilton isn’t the player he used to be but there’s some familiarity with some of the coaches and he’d give the team a savvy veteran in the room. 

23. CB Chris Harris Jr.: Colts

Harris’ play has slipped the past two seasons to the point where he’s probably looking at a depth role somewhere. In Indianapolis, he at least has a lot of familiarity with some of the defensive coaches and the scheme. 

24. LB Alexander Johnson: Chargers

Johnson has quietly stood out for the Broncos’ defense the past few seasons, this past one which was cut short by a torn pec. The Chargers run a similar defensive system to what Denver has run the past few seasons and both HC Brandon Staley and DC Renaldo Hill were assistants in Denver in 2019 with Johnson. He’d provide a boost to the middle of their defense and against the run. 

25. LB Kyle Van Noy: Ravens

All of Van Noy’s best seasons have pretty much come with the Patriots. Unfortunately they released him, the second time in two years he’s been cut somewhat abruptly. Van Noy’s versatility would fit in well with the Ravens and they could use some help at both linebacker and edge rusher. 

26. OT Brandon Shell: Seahawks

If the season started today, the Seahawks’ starting tackles would be Stone Forsythe and Jake Curhan, a sixth-rounder and UDFA respectively last year. Tackle is a big draft need for Seattle but they should also be able to bring back Shell as insurance. 

27. G Ereck Flowers: Texans

Flowers actually had what was arguably his best season as a professional in 2021 for the Commanders. But when teams need to save money, guard is often where they look because it’s relatively easy to find competent options there. Flowers would fit the mold of the type of veteran player the Texans have been gambling on recently. He could sign a one-year deal with the hopes of raising his value, while they get an upgrade on the line and could potentially find a piece they want to keep as they continue their rebuild. 

28. LB Anthony Barr: Eagles

Barr has worked with DC Jonathan Gannon and LB coach Nick Rallis before when all of them were in Minnesota. Philadelphia could still use some help at the position even though it’s one the organization has traditionally devalued. At this point, though, Barr won’t be expensive. 

29. G Quinton Spain: Giants

Between Max Garcia, Shane Lemieux, Ben Bredeson and Jamil Douglas, the Giants hope they have a starting left guard. They might not, though, and the coaching staff has some familiarity with Spain from his time with the Bills, though things didn’t end super well there. 

30. G Trai Turner: Colts

The Colts overall have talked up the idea of the answer being already on the roster to some of their holes. That includes guard, where there’s some optimism for Danny Pinter stepping up to replace Mark Glowinski. If they wanted to add some veteran insurance or competition, however, Turner would make sense. 

31. RB Sony Michel: Chargers

Austin Ekeler is great but the Chargers could stand to add a more effective backup to take some of the between-the-tackles pounding. Michel wouldn’t have to go far after filling that role for the crosstown Rams in 2021. 

32. DT Larry Ogunjobi: Bengals

Ogunjobi’s foot issue was apparently enough to scuttle a lucrative deal with the Bears. The fact that he’s still unsigned probably means he’ll need to take another one-year, prove-it deal. A scheme that lets him attack is the best fit, and he could do a lot worse than running it back with the Bengals for another year. 

33. OT Tyrell Crosby: Patriots

Crosby was drafted by Matt Patricia in Detroit, who’s now with the Patriots. He could be added to compete for a spot as depth. 

34. CB Kevin King: Vikings

Minnesota still needs a lot of help at corner. King lost his job when Rasul Douglas had his surprise breakout for Green Bay midseason. As another long, former Day 2 pick, perhaps he can find similar success with a fresh start elsewhere. 

35. CB Jason Verrett: Chiefs

Injuries may have finally knocked Verrett out of the league for good. He suffered a torn ACL in Week 1 last year. But if rehab goes well, he could give a contender a boost midseason. 

36. CB Kyle Fuller: Commanders

Fuller surprisingly flamed out with the Broncos last year after signing a strong deal following his release by the Bears. Maybe it’s a signal the cliff has come for the 30-year-old. Washington could kick the tires for low-cost depth and reunite him with his brother, CB Kendall Fuller

37. CB Bryce Callahan: Vikings 

Another roll of the dice to try and find help for a beleaguered Vikings secondary. Callahan has had issues staying healthy. 

38. CB Xavier Rhodes: Bears

Chicago needs another starter across from Jaylon Johnson and Rhodes started the past two seasons for new HC Matt Eberflus in Indianapolis. 

39. C Matt Paradis: Jaguars

Paradis tore his ACL in November, so he faces a challenge to be ready for the start of the season. His best bet might be catching on during the season if there’s an injury somewhere. He could lean on past connections, like with Jaguars OL coach Phil Rauscher who saw him at his peak in Denver. 

40. OT David Quessenberry: Falcons

Quessenberry has quite the story. Drafted in 2013, he was diagnosed with cancer and was unable to play for a few seasons. He beat the disease and returned to the NFL, clawing for a roster spot and capitalizing on an opportunity to start all 17 games for the Titans at right tackle in 2021. However, they declined to tender him as a restricted free agent, potentially because for as good as he was as a run blocker, he struggled in pass protection. He has the profile of someone a team like the Falcons should roll the dice on, though, especially since HC Arthur Smith will have some familiarity with him. 

41. LB Jamie Collins: Raiders

There aren’t as many branches of the Patriots’ defensive system as landing spots anymore as more of Bill Belichick’s assistants flame out. The Raiders are one of them and do happen to have a need at linebacker. 

42. DE Carlos Dunlap: Commanders

Dunlap is more of a rotational rusher than starter at this stage of his career. The Commanders have a talented starting duo with Montez Sweat and Chase Young but the rotation behind them is a little thin. 

43. DE Jason Pierre-Paul: Jaguars

There’s not much left for Pierre-Paul to prove at this point, but if he wants to keep playing he could find a home in Jacksonville. He gets to stay in the state of Florida, work with coaches he’s familiar with and fills a need for a veteran rusher for Jacksonville. 

44. OT Marcus Cannon: Patriots

Cannon is about to turn 34 and was limited to four games last year. He might be more likely to retire than sign on for another season. If he still has the itch to play, though, the Patriots could use depth behind Trent Brown at right tackle. 

45. LB Dont’a Hightower: Steelers

Hightower could fill a similar role to what Vince Williams did for a while in Pittsburgh. He obviously knows LB coach Brian Flores pretty well, too. 

46. TE Kyle Rudolph: Broncos

Broncos GM George Paton knows Rudolph well from their years together in Minnesota. Denver could use another “Y” tight end to be able to move Albert Okwuegbunam around the formation a little bit more and that’s a good fit for Rudolph at this stage in his career. 

47. OT Dennis Kelly: Packers

Green Bay has some instability at tackle and Kelly did alright when pressed into relief duty last year. 

48. DT Star Lotulelei: Commanders

Washington’s defensive line depth has taken a bit of a hit this offseason and the Commanders coaching staff has a lot of familiarity with Lotuelei. He actually was playing pretty well until catching COVID-19 midway through the season. 

49. DT Linval Joseph: Giants

Joseph turns 34 in October and the arrow is pointing down with him. Retirement seems like it might be on the table. If not, a return to New York and a reunion with DL coach Andre Patterson could be in the cards. The Giants could use some depth at nose tackle.

50. CB Janoris Jenkins: Rams

Los Angeles could use some veteran insurance at cornerback, though they hope they have young options ready to step up at No. 2 corner to replace Darious Williams. Jenkins likely will still be available after the comp pick deadline. 

This Week In Football

  • The headline from this week has to be the Raiders and QB Derek Carr agreeing to a new three-year, $121.5 million extension. It’s a big win for someone many people didn’t expect to last with the team through the move to Las Vegas. Giving him more than $40 million a year indicates he’s a foundation piece, and the no-trade clause is a major win for Carr even if he never wants to use it. However, it is worth pointing out the guarantee structure isn’t good, and a blow to players looking to push the momentum from Browns QB Deshaun Watson‘s fully-guaranteed deal.   
  • Back in 2019, the Raiders and Jon Gruden were sniffing around Kyler Murray and some other passers before Murray ended up going No. 1 to the Cardinals. Now, there’s a non-zero chance that Carr lasts longer in Vegas than Murray does in Arizona, something that would have been unfathomable three years ago. We’re not quite at DEFCON 5 yet but this is definitely a situation worth paying attention to. That’s what other teams are doing as the Cardinals have yet to engage in contract talks with Murray. Ordinarily, teams wait on these kinds of deals until the summer but Murray and his agent have been applying a lot of pressure to get a deal done before the draft. Either they’re really impatient or they have doubts about whether the Cardinals are comfortable signing Murray to what would be a massive extension. Arizona probably doesn’t appreciate how Murray is handling this, especially coming off a year that raised maturity and leadership questions. Murray also doesn’t have a lot of leverage, unless he’s willing to go play baseball
  • The ramifications of the receiver boom continue to be felt, as 49ers WR Deebo Samuel‘s rumored asking price is $25 million a year. How willing the 49ers are to pay that probably depends on the structure. That seems reasonable if you treat Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams‘ deals at face value ($30 million a year and $28.5 million a year). Both are backloaded, however, and are actually closer to $22 million and $24 million a year. 
  • Browns QB Baker Mayfield‘s trade market continues to move at a glacial pace — if that. The former No. 1 pick had an interview where he shared his thoughts on the situation more publicly and extensively than before, and it went about as you’d expect. He did offer an interesting nugget that he thought the Seahawks are the most likely landing spot. They make the most sense out of the remaining teams who still need a quarterback. He admitted he has no idea what’s going to happen, though. 
  • There are not a lot of things I feel confident about with this upcoming draft. It feels pretty wide open compared to the past few years. I am confident, though, that Panthers GM Scott Fitterer is going to take the best available offer to trade back when the Panthers are on the clock at No. 6. They’ve been laying some groundwork for a trade, and it’s undoubtedly the best course of action. They have a multitude of needs still and don’t pick again after their first until No. 137. The dream scenario is to trade down, maybe multiple times, and land both a tackle and perhaps even a quarterback. 
  • A couple of safety contract situations to keep an eye on. Chargers S Derwin James is entering the final year of his deal on the fifth-year option. He just had a mostly healthy season after injuries wiped out most of his second and third years in the league, and he and the team are “cautiously optimistic” they’ll be able to work out a long-term deal this summer. Elsewhere in the AFC, Bills S Jordan Poyer has approached the team about a new deal. He’s also entering a contract year and at $9.75 million a year, he’s arguably underpaid. The catch is he’s about to turn 31, so Buffalo has to navigate keeping a key player happy in a year they expect to contend for a Super Bowl while also not compromising their long-term future. 
  • Although free agency has slowed down, there were still some notable news nuggets and signings from this past week: 
    • Veteran CB Stephon Gilmore signed with the Colts following a visit, inking a two-year, $23 million deal that included $14 million in guarantees. Gilmore took some time to ramp up with the Panthers after a midseason trade, and his age at 31 is obviously a concern. But on his return, he shut down Falcons TE Kyle Pitts and showed he still has elite cover corner ability. This could be a huge get for the Colts. 
    • The Ravens brought back DL Calais Campbell on a two-year deal worth $12.5 million, which is pretty solid. He’s still effective and the defensive line is a big need for Baltimore. However, the goal for both sides should be to start to scale back his snaps to keep him fresh for the entire year. 
    • The Packers finally added to their receiving corps, signing WR Sammy Watkins to a one-year deal. The bark of Watkins’ name is bigger than his bite at this point but he does provide veteran insurance for Green Bay, which is needed given rookie receivers have historically struggled to hit the ground running with QB Aaron Rodgers.
    • Watkins wasn’t the only veteran wideout to sign, as the Cardinals also reached an agreement with A.J. Green to bring him back to Arizona for another year. That fills a big need, as the Cardinals didn’t have a third starting receiver. They still could and probably will draft someone but Green provides a decent backstop. 
    • New Texans CB Steven Nelson ended up doing pretty well for himself, landing a two-year, $10 million deal which is rich for this time of year. Nelson is a capable No. 2 corner, which on Houston’s roster makes him far and away the No. 1 option. 
    • Finally, we have the two Melvins. Melvin Ingram visited with the Dolphins to discuss a potential deal as they look to shore up their pass rushing group. He’d be a solid addition to a defense that already is expected to be tough in 2022. And RB Melvin Gordon is reportedly in discussions about a deal with the Ravens. The Ravens would appear to be in great shape with both J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, but both are coming off of ACL tears. Gordon would be a premium insurance policy, which could be worth it for the league’s run-heaviest offense. 

Nickels & Dimes

Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the NFL…

Our draft visit tracker is chugging along as teams plow through their top 30 visits. You have to weigh and sift through these obviously but even so, there are some interesting nuggets that pop out…

  • The Commanders are looking hard at running backs and have talked this offseason about adding another physical back to complement Antonio Gibson. Bad news if you’re a fantasy manager with Gibson on your team…
  • Though they keep saying Jalen Hurts is the guy, the Eagles have been doing a fair amount of work on the quarterbacks in this class, including dinner with Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett before his pro day and a top 30 visit with Ole Miss QB Matt Corral. Might be nothing. Might be something…
  • Another interesting Eagles tidbit is the top 30 visit for Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux. Would be interesting if they think he might slide and are pondering a move up…
  • The Giants have also done some poking around the quarterbacks…
  • The lone item in the tracker for the Rams, who are an outlier and do most of their pre-draft work virtually, is a workout with San Diego State P Matt Araiza, aka the Punt God. It would not be that surprising to see Los Angeles use their first pick on Araiza, if he’s still there. 
  • Probably just due diligence but still interesting to see the Cardinals talked to Liberty QB Malik Willis at the Combine…
  • For the quarterbacks, you see the usual suspects represented on their visit list. Panthers, Steelers, Seahawks, Falcons, etc. But the only QB the Colts have been linked to so far is North Carolina’s Sam Howell
  • The Titans have been hammering tight ends. Feels like it would not be a surprise if they double-dipped…
  • Florida State DE Jermaine Johnson might have the widest range of visits. He’s regularly mocked in the top 15 picks, often in the top ten. And he has visited with the Jets. His other top 30 visits, at least the ones reported, are with the Cardinals (No. 23), Titans (No. 26) and Lions (No. 2, but also No. 32), though…

You have to be careful with rumors in April. NFL folks love to call this lying season. Still, it’s hard to ignore the momentum swirling up around this receiver class, no doubt driven in part by how expensive the position is getting. At this point, there’s a very real scenario where all five consensus first-round receivers (Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Jameson Williams, Drake London and Treylon Burks) are all gone before the Packers’ first pick at No. 22…

File this away: the Titans have an expiration date after the 2022 season. Next year they currently have just $10 million in space and only 36 players under contract, per Over The Cap. Their core will be aging and they have outs in the contracts of QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Derrick Henry, LT Taylor Lewan, WR Robert Woods and OLB Bud Dupree. It will be interesting to see how they start preparing for the future in this coming draft…

It’s also worth pointing out the Raiders have left themselves a trap door for 2023. Despite inking Carr and Adams to deals worth a combined $260 million, Las Vegas has outs to get out of both deals after just a year. The Raiders obviously don’t expect things to go poorly, but if they do…

Neat story here…

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