The 2022 NFL offseason should be a lot more lucrative for free agents than last year.
With the NFL salary cap increasing by $25.7 million to $208.2 million next season, there'll be plenty of money for teams to throw around for big-name players.
The Colts lead the league in cap space, as of March 10, with a nice $69 million available to spend after trading away Carson Wentz and his $28 million salary to the Washington Commanders. The Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Los Angeles Chargers all have more than $40 million to blow, so expect some big deals as free agency — and the legal tampering period — open next week.
But who will these teams be backing up the Brink's truck for?
We've ranked the 25 best free agents heading into the offseason below.
25. Charvarius Ward, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
Since being traded from the Cowboys to the Chiefs in 2018, Charvarius Ward unexpectedly became a key contributor in Kansas City's secondary. At just 25, the undrafted free agent improved into a strong starter at a highly desired position.
Losing Ward would hurt the Chiefs' already suspect defense, but he may have played his way out of Kansas City's price range.
24. Evan Engram, WR/TE, New York Giants
Evan Engram showed plenty of promise in his rookie season, hauling in 64 passes for 722 yards and six touchdowns. However, Engram's production has declined every year since then, despite conning his way to a Pro Bowl appearance in 2020.
In his defense, Engram has had to suffer from mediocre quarterback play his entire career, and a slew of injuries have caused him to be ineffective in a bad Giants offense. While it is impossible to tell if a new team will change the course of Engram's career, it certainly will not hurt him.
There are reports that teams are interested in Engram as a wide receiver, which would help his market immensely.
23. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
It's an interesting time to be a free-agent receiver.
The top tier players are getting more than $20 million per year or they're getting slapped with the franchise tag, while the middle-class receivers don't have quite the same market because rookie receiver classes have been so talented.
Players such as JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is coming off an injury-plagued campaign, might be forced to take one-year deals to bolster their market for the following offseason.
That's exactly what the former USC star did last year when he re-signed with the Steelers, but now with the cap exploding and the Steelers looking for a QB, he might look to change teams for the first time in his career.
His first few seasons in the NFL offer some promise, and while he may not get a massive deal this go-around, teams lacking receiver depth should absolutely take a risk on Smith-Schuster's upside.
22. Calais Campbell, EDGE, Baltimore Ravens
The market for 36-year-old players will never be huge, but don't be shocked to see Campbell still strike gold this offseason.
Despite tallying only 1.5 sacks in 14 games played last season, Campbell's win rate for a is still very impressive. He is no longer a dominating force on the defensive line, but the guy is a moose. At the very least, he commands double-teams and can completely neutralize his side of the line.
Baltimore has a lot of other pressing needs, so I would expect Campbell to sign one last contract elsewhere before he retires.
21. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Tampa Bay Bucaneers
Rob Gronkowski once vowed that he'd never play without Tom Brady, but he hasn't officially retired for the second time, so we think he still might have the itch to play. There's also a recent report that the Bills could be interested in adding Gronk to Josh Allen's arsenal.
He showed that he can still be a top tight end in this league, but at the end of the day, we just don't know what the chemistry will look like without Brady throwing him the ball. If he does decide to play this season, it will likely be a one-year deal.
20. Trent Brown, OT, New England Patriots
Trent Brown wasn't his usual dominant self last season, but that might be because he nearly died after suffering a mishap with an IV that accidentally added air to his bloodstream.
Now, back to being fully healthy, the behemoth of a right tackle could regain his Pro Bowl form and be a free-agent steal at just 29 when the season kicks off.
19. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Los Angeles Rams
Odell Beckham would be much higher on this list if he did not tear his ACL in the Super Bowl. He will likely miss a chunk of the season and start on the PUP list, but that might not hurt his market after he started to show that he was still, in fact, good at football during the Rams' Super Bowl run.
The Rams reportedly have interest in re-signing ODB, which would make sense as he recovers from his devastating knee injury.
18. Akiem Hicks, EDGE, Chicago Bears
Akiem Hicks is beloved in Chicago, but he is just not the same player anymore, and he is going to cost too much money to justify bringing him back to a rebuilding Bears team. At age 32, and with his declining production, the market will not be large for Hicks. At the very least, he will join a contender that is looking to beef up their defensive line.
He has had some injuries the past few years that make things interesting for him, but his bullrush is still very effective, and Hicks can still cause chaos up the middle.
17. D.J. Chark, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
D.J. Chark was supposed to be a top receiver for the Jaguars, especially with Trevor Lawrence coming into town. However, Urban Meyer screwed everything up, and Chark just fell out of the rotation before an ankle injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.
At just 25 and with a Pro Bowl season under his belt, there will be plenty of teams salivating at the idea of signing one of the more athletic receivers in the league.
Will Chark be forced to sign a one-year prove-it deal or will a team come calling with a multi-year deal for the former Jag?
16. Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE, Cleveland Browns
Clowney absolutely benefited from playing alongside Myles Garrett last season, but this was as good as he looked in quite some time. He finished the season with nine sacks, 11.0 TFLs, and 19 QB hits.
At just 28, Clowney still has the chance to cash in on a big contract, and he has publically said that he will be taking the best offer. Clowney has also said he would love to stay in Cleveland, and many well-connected Browns' insiders are reporting that Cleveland is doing everything they can to bring him back.
15. Michael Gallup, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Who knows how long Michael Gallup will stay on this list.
Despite tearing his ACL, Gallup is reportedly close to a contract extension to stay with the Cowboys. That makes sense as the Cowboys are up against the salary cap and will be forced to either release or trade star receiver Amari Cooper and his $20 million salary.
Prior to blowing out his knee, Gallup was expected to get a massive payday. The injury was certainly ill-timed, but he is going to get his shot this year to prove how underrated he is as a receiver. Gallup certainly could still get paid this offseason, but it seems as though Dallas is determined to keep him a Cowboy.
14. Ryan Jensen, C, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ryan Jensen has been the model of consistency for centers in this league. His impact had flown under the radar for many years due to bad quarterback play. Coincidentally, he started getting a lot of love when Tom Brady showed up. While he is 30-years-old, he has started in every single game since joining the Bucs in 2017.
He started his career with the Ravens, and there has been a lot of buzz around a possible return. No matter where he goes, he is going to get top dollar.
13. Randy Gregory, EDGE, Dallas Cowboys
Injuries and suspension have kept Randy Gregory off the field for the majority of his career, but he finally was able to stay active this season, and he did a hell of a job with the Cowboys.
Gregory finished the season with six sacks, and his 17 QB hits this season were the most in his career.
With the Cowboys asking DeMarcus Lawrence to take a pay cut, that could be a sign that Dallas is interested in bringing Gregory back at a cheaper price.
12. Stephon Gilmore, CB, Carolina Panthers
The 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year isn't the same player he once was, but he's still a skilled cornerback who will have a big market with contending teams.
He recorded an interception in his first two games with Carolina, but he did not do much after that. While he is certainly regressing, Gilmore still shows flashes of being a lockdown corner.
11. Emmanuel Ogbah, Edge, Miami Dolphins
One of the most underrated pass-rushers in the league, Emmanuel Ogbah has notched a career-high nine sacks in back-to-back seasons. At 28, those are the kind of guys who get paid big money in free agency.
The Dolphins have plenty of money to pay Ogbah, but the question is, will they?
10. Haason Reddick, EDGE, Carolina Panthers
Haason Reddick bet on himself and it appears it will pay off in a big way.
After hitting free agency a year ago, the Panthers' pass rusher signed a one-year deal with Carolina and now he's upped his value immensely.
Reddick has been a force since transitioning to pass rusher two years ago. Since then he's racked up 12.5 and 11 sacks, respectively.
At just 27, Reddick will secure the bag in the form of a multi-year deal as one of the most sought after sack artists on the open market.
9. Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears
Allen Robinson will be one of the more fascinating free agents this offseason.
Still just 29, Robinson struggled in his final season with the Bears as Darnell Mooney emerged as Justin Fields' top target.
We'll see if the NFL thinks ARob's final year was a blip or a sign of things to come. He seems like a prime bounce-back candidate and a guy worth taking a chance on for a team looking for receiver help.
8. Brandon Scherff, OG, Washington Commanders
Brandon Scherff is one of the best guards in the league when he is on the field. The problem is, he is not on the field very often. He has not played a full season since 2016, which was his second season in the NFL.
Now that he is 30-years-old, the risks of signing a guard that cannot stay healthy only increase. However, he once again proved that when he is on the field, there are not many better offensive linemen in this league.
7. Von Miller, EDGE, Los Angeles Rams
Say what you want about Von Miller, but he knows leverage when he sees it.
After having a resurgent season, Miller will be extremely coveted on the market. And nothing is better for an impending free agent than a bidding war.
Miller realized that when he started posting on social media that he could be interested in returning to the Broncos. Then another report revealed that the Rams are interested in re-signing the star pass rusher. This all equals a big payday for Miller, even at 33-years-young.
6. Marcus Williams, S, New Orleans Saints
The word around the league is that he struggles in man coverage, but Marcus Williams has improved in every season in his career. Only being 26-years-old and with no major injuries in his career, he is going to get top dollar this offseason.
He played on the franchise tag last season, but this year, he is going to get that big payday that he deserves. The Saints probably don't have the cap room to bring him back, so I would expect Williams to take the best offer.
5. Tyrann Mathieu, S, Kansas City
Tyrann Mathieu has been so big for the Chiefs over the last few seasons, and he is still in his prim. To begin his carer, he could not stay on the field, but after coming to Kansas City, he really settled into his role of a positionless defensive weapon.
Kansas City has a lot of money tied up with other players, so bringing him back might not be a possibility, but they should do everything possible to keep the Honey Badger in Kansas City.
It's incredible that Mathieu is set to earn his third big-money contract, which is almost unheard of for a safety.
4. Carlton Davis, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It's been a tough offseason for the Buccaneers.
They lost Tom Brady and Ali Marpet to retirement and it looks like they will lose a young, talented corner in Carlton Davis.
The Bucs chose to franchise tag receiver Chris Godwin, which means they had to allow Davis to hit the open market.
Davis has played his way into a massive contract, and while he is not the top corner in this class, he is a very good second choice in the cornerback market.
3. J.C. Jackson, CB, New England Patriots
If you are throwing the ball in the direction of J.C. Jackson, you are probably going to regret it. In just 39 career starts, Jackson has 25 interceptions, and over the last two seasons, he has picked off 17 passes.
Jackson is projected to receive top-tier cornerback money, and based on his play over the last two seasons, he deserves to be paid that way.
2. Chandler Jones, EDGE, Arizona Cardinals
I feel like we do not talk about how good Jones really is. Since 2016, he has recorded 71.5 sacks, and when he is healthy, he is among the best in the NFL. Jones actually requested a trade prior to the start of the season, but he decided to play out the rest of his contract and hit the open market after the season.
He is starting to decline from an athletic standpoint, but his durability is one of his top strengths. He may not be considered an elite pass rusher at this stage, but Jones remains one of the best in the league at getting to the quarterback and causing havoc.
1. Terron Armstead, OT, New Orleans Saints
The Saints had a chance to franchise tag one of the best tackles in the NFL, but they are deep in salary-cap hell, and the franchise is trending in the wrong direction, so they are going to let him test the open market.
His age and durability are a concern, but Armstead is still a freakishly athletic offensive tackle, which is very rare to find, especially at his production level. There are a lot of teams that are in desperate need of some help on the offensive line, and if they have the money, they will definitely be giving Armstead a call.
Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration