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We’re rapidly closing in on the 2022 edition of NFL free agency, which will kick off March 16. The legal contact period will begin two days prior.
In just over two weeks, moves will be made that will significantly impact the season. While Super Bowls cannot be bought, we’ve seen recent title contenders such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cincinnati Bengals construct large portions of their rosters in free agency.
Several notable names are slated to hit the open market this year, and many of them will find new homes. When the new league year begins alongside free agency, trade talks will also enter the equation.
While it’s hard to predict exactly how things will unfold in mid-March, the rumor mill is already churning. Here, you’ll find a look at the latest buzz and whether we believe the rumors are worth buying or simply examples of offseason smoke.
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If Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin weren’t coming off a torn ACL suffered in December, he would be one of the hottest free agents on the market. Even with the injury, he’ll still draw plenty of suitors.
Godwin might not be ready early in 2022, but teams know what he can be at 100 percent. When mostly healthy in 2019, the soon-to-be 26-year-old finished with 1,333 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. He had 1,103 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games before the injury in 2021.
Expect the Buccaneers to remain in the mix for Godwin, who played on the franchise tag last season.
“Sources said the Bucs see Godwin as a cornerstone and would like to find a way to re-sign him,” ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler wrote.
There’s little reason to believe that Tampa doesn’t want to keep Godwin. He’s a proven commodity who produced before and after the arrival of now-retired quarterback Tom Brady, and he would be a huge asset for the next Buccaneers signal-caller.
The big question is whether Tampa, which is projected to have just $6.9 million in available cap space, can afford him. The Bucs will have to free up additional cap dollars, but expect them to try to retain Godwin.
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
When the Los Angeles Rams acquired pass-rusher Von Miller from the Denver Broncos before the 2021 trade deadline, Sports Illustrated‘s Albert Breer wrote, “The Rams will try to keep him past this year, I’m told.”
Now that L.A. has won the Super Bowl and the offseason has arrived, however, Miller seems to be eying free agency. According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, the star defender plans to “fully explore” the open market.
This makes perfect sense for Miller. The soon-to-be 33-year-old has a chance to pick where he plays for the first time in his NFL career. He knows the Rams wish to keep him, but he has every reason to weigh his options.
Money might be part of the eight time Pro Bowler’s motivation, as the Rams aren’t equipped to offer a high-market deal. Los Angeles is projected to be $13.2 million over the cap. However, for Miller, this is probably more about having a say in his next destination.
None of this means he won’t be back in L.A. next season, but there’s no reason to think Miller won’t give unrestricted free agency a go.
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
The Washington Commanders have a serviceable placeholder in Taylor Heinicke, but they’re reportedly looking to acquire a true franchise quarterback this offseason.
“Many around the league expect Washington to comb the big-ticket quarterback market,” Fowler wrote. “The Commanders will most likely look at all options and won’t limit themselves.”
Of course, Rodgers hasn’t made his 2022 intentions clear, and the Seattle Seahawks aren’t eager to move Wilson, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.
Still, the idea that Washington will explore all options is believable. This team hasn’t enjoyed quarterback stability in recent seasons but won the NFC East with Alex Smith at QB just two years ago. Washington can be considered a quarterback away from being right back in the postseason mix.
Head coach Ron Rivera has said his team is willing to part with draft and player capital to acquire a proven starter.
“If you feel like you need to get those pieces, and you can get those pieces using draft capital or whatever capital you have in terms of player trades and all that good stuff, why not do it?” Rivera said, per The Athletic’s Ben Standig.
Expect Washington to explore every available quarterback option—via trade, in the draft and in free agency—this offseason.
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Jimmy Garoppolo might not be considered a “big-ticket” quarterback, but the San Francisco 49ers signal-caller has been more than serviceable. He’s helped San Francisco reach the Super Bowl and make an additional appearance in the NFC title game.
According to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, however, he isn’t generating interest on the trade market.
“Interest in guys like Jimmy Garoppolo and Carson Wentz is lukewarm as best I can tell,” La Canfora wrote.
This is probably accurate regarding Wentz, who struggled down the stretch in 2021 and was downright bad with the Philadelphia Eagles the previous year. However, my guess is teams are being coy about their interest in Garoppolo.
There’s a good chance he will be released if San Francisco doesn’t find a trade partner. He is set to carry a $27 million cap hit next season but has just $1.4 million in dead money on his deal. If Trey Lance is ready to take over, it wouldn’t make sense for San Francisco to pay Garoppolo that much to be the backup.
Still, he would be an upgrade for several quarterback-needy teams—and perhaps an option for those with recently retired quarterbacks in Tampa (Brady) and Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisberger).
Multiple teams will probably pursue Garoppolo as a free agent, and it’s likely that a franchise or two will be willing to part with a mid- or late-round pick to bypass the open market entirely.
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The window for teams to use the franchise tag is open, which could prevent some big-name players from reaching free agency. The Dallas Cowboys have several key contributors set to hit the open market—including Dalton Schultz, Randy Gregory, Cedrick Wilson and Michael Gallup.
However, the projected tag figures for tight ends, receivers and defensive linemen are all north of $10 million. Tight end ($11 million) has the lowest value of the bunch, and others around the league don’t anticipate the Cowboys using the tag on Schultz.
“League sources do not expect Dallas to use the tag,” Matt Lombardo of FanSided tweeted, regarding Schultz.
This makes sense because the dollars and cents don’t add up for Dallas. The Cowboys are projected to be $21.2 million over the cap and would have to free up substantial space to even consider the franchise tag for any player—and if they can’t afford the $11 million for Schultz, they certainly cannot afford to spend more tagging a player like Gallup or Gregory.
Dallas already has enough work to do to get under the cap, and finding an additional $11 million-$18.5 million in savings isn’t realistic. This doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t find a way to keep players such as Schultz or Gregory, but the franchise tag won’t be feasible.
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Last offseason, cornerback Malcolm Butler signed a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. Then, in August, he abruptly announced his retirement. The hero of Super Bowl XLIX might be plotting a comeback, however.
The Cardinals recently released Butler from the reserve/retired list, which will make him a free agent if he ends his retirement.
“Will be interesting, especially if he wants to return. Had heard he’s considering it,” NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport tweeted.
NFL Network’s Mike Giardi believes a return is not only possible but also likely.
“Butler has been working out diligently,” Giardi tweeted. “Would expect a return.”
If he is still in playing shape, why wouldn’t he want to return? While a year away from football can be difficult to overcome, Butler just watched safety Eric Weddle return after nearly two years in retirement and win a Super Bowl with the Rams.
With the prospects of another payday and a shot at a third ring on the table, a return has to be enticing for the soon-to-be 32-year-old. Expect Butler to add another seasoned option to the free-agent cornerback pool this spring.
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While Butler will have to show he can still play at a high level, New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson has little to prove. The 2021 Pro Bowler was simply phenomenal last season, finishing with eight interceptions and a league-high 23 passes defended.
The 26-year-old allowed an opposing passer rating of just 46.8 in coverage.
According to Giardi, the Patriots would like to keep Jackson, but the cornerback is uninterested in a team-friendly contract.
“They made an offer to him during the season,” Giardi said on NFL Network. “But I’m told by a well-placed source that that offer was essentially a non-starter. That it was more of that, yes, hometown-discount-type feel to it.”
Giardi also noted that Jackson would accept the franchise tag but would prefer a lucrative long-term deal.
“It’s not the situation, my source says, that that camp would like to have,” Giardi said of the tag.
Nothing about Giardi’s report feels fishy. Jackson was a top-five corner in 2021, and he should be the most coveted cornerback in free agency. He could earn $17.5 million on the tag next season but could get much more long-term financial security on the open market.
And if Jackson wasn’t willing to take a discount deal in-season, there’s no way he’d take one now.
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Houston, however, did shop the three-time Pro Bowler before the deadline.
The Miami Dolphins were reportedly involved in talks to acquire him, but according to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer on Nov. 11, any pre-deadline deal would have been contingent on Watson settling the lawsuits before the trade.
Now, the buzz suggests that teams won’t require a civil settlement before making a push for Watson.
“Per a source with knowledge of the situation, multiple teams are indeed willing to make the deal, as long as the criminal situation is resolved,” ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio wrote Thursday. “… The teams currently willing to do a deal without a settlement of the civil cases aren’t known. But they’re out there.”
It’s hard to buy the idea that multiple teams would be willing to gamble on Watson without every case being resolved. Even if he doesn’t face criminal charges, he could still face league discipline under the personal conduct policy.
According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero on Nov. 7, teams offered packages that included “three first-round picks and two third-round picks” before the deadline but would not make a deal with Watson’s cases unsettled. The idea that teams have suddenly reversed course feels like smoke.
This seems more like a leak from A) the Texans in an attempt to expedite the trade process or B) a team looking to minimize the potential backlash from its fanbase. If a team trades multiple high draft picks only to see Watson suspended for an entire year, it could at least point to the rumors and say, “Hey, we weren’t the only ones interested.”
It feels highly unlikely that multiple teams are willing to take the risk.