Teams were able to strike verbal agreements with NFL free agents starting on Monday, and pens started hitting paper on Wednesday afternoon, the first day of the NFL’s “league year” (when contracts officially expire and the league’s calendar flips to 2022).
Want to peruse all the info? Pro Football Focus has a list of hundreds of free agents sortable by those who already signed new contracts and those still on the market. Spotrac allows you to view the free-agent contracts sorted by total and guaranteed value. The biggest deal by guaranteed money (and potential total cash, for what it’s worth) is the one the Bills struck with edge rusher Von Miller, the perennial All-Pro and recent Super Bowl champion with the Los Angeles Rams.
Want the NFL free agency highlights? Below are six signings of particular zest. Some of them feature big dollar values, while others offer compelling hints about their teams’ plans for next season.
NFL Free Agents: The Most Important Moves of the 2022 Offseason
1. Cornerback J.C. Jackson to the Chargers for $40 million guaranteed and up to $82.5 million over five years
Jackson developed into one of the NFL’s true lockdown cornerbacks during four seasons with the Patriots, and now he’s getting paid big time. You could argue that Los Angeles didn’t need him, as the Chargers managed a pretty good pass defense in 2021 despite not having anyone special at cornerback. Their defense was 12th in expected points added per opposing dropback, and they led the NFL in third-down conversion defense. They already have a premier pass rusher in Joey Bosa and one of the rangiest, most physical safeties in the league in Derwin James.
Even so, it helps to have a man-to-man corner who can stand on his own, and Jackson is that player. He’ll plug up some recurring leaks from last year, when the Chargers—despite their generally good pass defense—had the worst third-down stop rate in the NFL. With Jackson, the Chargers are on track to have one of the best overall defenses in the league.
2. Receiver Christian Kirk to the Jaguars for $18 million guaranteed and up to $72 million over four years
This one’s interesting mostly because it involves a lot of money. Kirk was an effective player for the Cardinals, where he played four seasons after being a second-round pick in 2018. He’s coming off his best season, during which he caught 75 percent of his targets and nearly touched 1,000 yards working with QB Kyler Murray. He’s one of the better slot wideouts in the league, and if there’s a burgeoning star QB who can find him downfield, Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence is the guy. In those ways, the deal makes sense.
It’s a big investment, though, and it comes as the Jaguars let one of their previous best receivers, DJ Chark, leave for the Lions on a one-year, $10 million pact. Chark broke an ankle four games into 2021, so it’s possible Jacksonville sees Kirk as a safer bet.
3. Edge defender Haason Reddick to the Eagles for $15 million guaranteed and up to $45 million over three years
The Eagles defense was 31st in sack rate (4.7 percent) and 21st in pressure rate (24 percent) in 2021. They just couldn’t put a lot of heat on opposing quarterbacks. (Tom Brady picking them apart in the wild card round of the playoffs was one example.)
Reddick is a great way for Philadelphia to address that shortcoming. He’s notched 22.5 sacks over the last two years while playing for the Cardinals and Panthers. He should add a healthy chunk to that total in Philadelphia. His move is also a fun homecoming—he played his college games for Temple at the Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field.
4. Guard Alex Cappa to the Bengals for $11 million guaranteed and up to $35 million over four years
This signing addresses what might have been the single most glaring need for any team entering the offseason. The Bengals made the Super Bowl last season despite a porous offensive line, but they couldn’t fake their way through a game against the Rams, who happen to have Aaron Donald, one of the great interior defenders in football history.
The Bengals’ guards, Quinton Spain and Hakeem Adeniji, were especially weak links. Cappa was a strong blocker the last few years for Tom Brady and the Buccaneers’ running backs, and he should improve the right side of the Cincinnati line (or the left side, if he ever plays there) immediately.
5. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to the Steelers for $7.1 million guaranteed and up to $14.2 million over two years
Trubisky is best known for being the quarterback the Bears took second overall in the 2017 draft, about an hour before the Chiefs took Patrick Mahomes. It didn’t work out for Trubisky in Chicago, and the Bears let him walk to the Bills ahead of 2021. Trubisky didn’t play a lot last season, and there is no reason to think he’ll magically become a world-beater in Pittsburgh.
But he doesn’t have to be a world-beater to be an improvement on the 2021 version of Ben Roethlisberger, who was arguably the worst QB in the league last year. Trubisky is also much more affordable than Roethlisberger, and the Steelers used those savings to make some other roster additions. (Picking up right guard James Daniels, who played with Trubisky in Chicago, will probably be the most important of those moves.)
6. Edge defender Za’Darius Smith to the Ravens for $8.75 million guaranteed and up to $35 million over four years
The Ravens are not really the Ravens if they don’t have a mean defensive front and pass rush. Injuries wrecked their 2021 season, and the Ravens couldn’t create uncomfortable situations for other teams’ quarterbacks like they ordinarily do. Last season, Baltimore finished in the bottom three in sack rate and the bottom 10 in pressure rate.
Enter Smith, who played for the Ravens from 2015 to 2018 and then had a successful three-year run with the Packers. Before injuries cost him all but one appearance last season, he sacked QBs 26 times in 2019 and ‘20. Baltimore didn’t have a top-end pass rusher last year, and Smith’s return—assuming he stays healthy—might give them one. Ideally, he’ll replace a lot of the production the Ravens lost after 2020, when edge rusher Matt Judon signed with the Patriots.
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