With the 2021 NFL season in the books and the 2022 offseason underway, free agency is right around the corner. Every team has at least one big name set to hit the open market. But which free agents could — or should — be locked up before fielding offers elsewhere? Below, we’ve highlighted one free agent each of the NFL’s 32 teams should bring back for 2022.
Note: The following free agents are unrestricted. Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents were not included.
WR Christian Kirk is only 26 and posted career high totals in 2021 out wide, but he’s also never quite exploded alongside DeAndre Hopkins and the like. DE Chandler Jones, meanwhile, may cost a fortune. Ertz, while older, is almost irreplaceable at his spot.
They shouldn’t be in the business of overpaying for a 31-year-old journeyman utility player, but Patterson was a real play-maker when they actually fed him the ball in 2021. It’s not like they’re abundant in weapons, either.
The Ravens’ offensive line struggled to hold up throughout 2021, but Bozeman was a revelation in the middle. Baltimore needs to keep Lamar Jackson and the run game upright, even if it costs a pretty penny.
Yes, he’s going on 34, and he’s no longer an every-down force off the edge. But he’s the perfect complementary piece for a title-hunting defense, still fresh and durable after more than a decade in the league.
CB Stephon Gilmore is the better player, but at what price? Also, Reddick is four years younger, right in the thick of his prime, and plays a position that tends to age a little better. He can be an anchor for Carolina’s “D.”
On paper, WR Allen Robinson is the obvious top priority, especially considering QB Justin Fields’ lack of weaponry. But he was both checked out and banged up in 2021; the ship has sailed. Daniels at least helps them take steps toward protecting Fields first.
Maybe the easiest one to identify of the whole group. Bates was already a quietly steady play-maker before his national emergence during the Super Bowl bid. His range is matched by only a few defensive backs in the NFL.
WR Rashard Higgins and DE Jadeveon Clowney warrant new deals, at obviously different prices. But the Browns could stand to spend big at wideout while replacing Clowney with a cheaper alternative. Njoku, meanwhile, still has upside as a pass catcher.
DE Randy Gregory is the hot name as a potential tag candidate, but he’s over four years older than Schultz, who’s emerged as one of Dak Prescott’s most reliable targets. With uncertainty looming at WR, they need to prioritize their downfield attack.
CB Bryce Callahan works here as well. Both guys are solid starting-caliber pieces for a feisty defense, but they’re coming off down years due to injury or performance. QB Teddy Bridgewater isn’t a priority if their heart is rightly on an upgrade under center.
In just seven games with the Lions after his short-lived run with the Titans, the former Rams wideout totaled 306 yards and two scores as a big-play threat. At the very least, he can offer competition for a team in transition.
Need we say more? Even if Aaron Rodgers were retiring or relocating, they’d be obligated to lock him up and auction him off, or keep him around for the next QB. He’s one of the top two pass catchers in the entire NFL.
They’d be just as well off letting literally everybody walk and starting from scratch, but you can do worse than Collins, at 26, with a couple of solid years under his belt, on the interior. It starts in the trenches.
Left tackle is a bigger need, so you’d think Eric Fisher would get the nod here, but do they need to overpay for his pass blocking? Glowinski is a safer bet on the interior, and you can never go wrong investing in the front, regardless of who’s at QB.
They seemed foolish tagging the blind-side blocker prior to 2021, but he ended up holding up as a legitimate starter. Is he worth a market-resetting deal? No way. But Trevor Lawrence’s protection is of the utmost importance.
S Tyrann Mathieu is an obvious alternative, but they paid a steep price to make Brown their long-term bodyguard for Patrick Mahomes. Just 25, he’s still got room to grow and deserves the long-term treatment.
CB Casey Hayward might be the better player, but with Gus Bradley heading elsewhere, is a 32-year-old corner looking for his third team in as many years the top priority? Jones is best suited in a reserve role, but he really flashed in 2021.
A no-brainer. Whether it’s the tag or a long-term deal, they need him in tow opposite Keenan Allen. His big body and ball skills are a perfect complement, and if L.A. can get more balanced offensively, he’ll keep growing with Justin Herbert.
OLB Von Miller was a perfect in-season addition to help fuel their title run, but approaching 33, with a big payday in order, he doesn’t seem nearly as good a bargain as Odell, who will be coming off injury but provide incredible insurance out wide.
One of the staples of defensive coordinator Josh Boyer’s unit, Ogbah has hit nine sacks in two straight seasons. TE Mike Gesicki is just as worthy here, but new coach Mike McDaniel can probably get the most out of other offensive options, if need be.
They don’t really need to be in a hurry to bring back aging defenders like Anthony Barr and Patrick Peterson. Woods, on the other hand, isn’t perfect but stayed healthy and around the ball in his Vikings debut. He’s also just 26.
They have a handful of veterans, including OT Trent Brown and LB Dont’a Hightower, who warrant new deals. But none is more deserving than Jackson, who’s been an absolute ball hawk in their dominant secondary.
Longtime OT Terron Armstead plays the more important position, but in a precarious cap situation as they enter an overhaul, the Saints would be smarter to lock up their 25-year-old secondary centerpiece. QB Jameis Winston would be a nice flyer again, but only if bigger, better QB gambles don’t pan out.
One of the lone bright spots on their team, the 27-year-old emerged as a gap-clogging interior man in 2021. New management can’t really afford to spend real money on any of the team’s other free agents, who are lackluster anyway.
OT Morgan Moses might be a safer short-term bet for the sake of QB Zach Wilson, but Maye still has Pro Bowl-caliber talent and shouldn’t cost a ton coming off injury. A solid return to form could also boost his future trade value.
In all honesty, they could let all their free agents walk. But with fellow S Anthony Harris also due to hit the market, McLeod’s on- and off-field leadership would be welcome, especially with no other short- or long-term answers there.
Fellow CB Joe Haden is equally as deserving of a new deal, but Witherspoon, at 26 and fresh off a hot run after coming over from Seattle, offers longer-term upside for a defense that has several key pieces hitting the market.
It’s all about the trenches in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, where the run game and play-action is key. Tomlinson may be 30, but he’s fresh off his first Pro Bowl nod during another NFC Championship bid. In other words, he’s integral to their plans.
This kind of depends on whether they’re open to moving Russell Wilson and embracing either a soft or major rebuild, because Brown is a short-term play at a key spot. S Quandre Diggs is a fair alternative, but they’re already paying a ton to Jamal Adams.
Mike Evans would help offset Godwin’s potential loss, but in today’s NFL, you often need at least two big-time pass catchers to be considered a true contender. CB Carlton Davis is another huge priority on the other side of the ball.
He may cost a ton, but he’s exactly the kind of pass rusher you want to be paying big bucks: young, durable and just entering his prime. If the Titans intend to remain in the playoff mix, they’d be smart to invest in that D-line.
RB J.D. McKissic should be a priority as a complement and/or insurance to Antonio Gibson, but it’s harder to find a perennial Pro Bowl lineman that it is a change-of-pace weapon. Scherff is approaching 31, but he’s still elite when healthy.