Predicting Where Top Remaining 2022 NFL Free Agents Will Sign
Training camp may be just around the corner, but there are still plenty of notable free agents available on the open market.
These players have all contributed heavily to the success of their teams in the past but still find themselves looking for a job because of injury woes, declining play, advancing age or a combination of those factors.
Expect several of these high-profile veterans to ink new deals in the coming weeks. Front offices will want to utilize their available salary-cap space on veterans who can flesh out their rosters and patch holes before on-field preparations for the 2022 campaign begin in earnest.
Read on for some predictions—in alphabetical order and based on team need, available finances and insider information—for where these top remaining free-agent talents will sign.
All salary cap information courtesy of Spotrac.
LB Anthony Barr: Dallas Cowboys
It shouldn’t take long for Anthony Barr to find a home, especially since his skillset meshes so well with the Dallas Cowboys' needs this offseason.
Barr has made four Pro Bowls while racking up nearly 500 tackles, 31 passes defended, 17.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles and five interceptions across eight seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately, he's missed 20 games over the past two seasons, suffering a torn pectoral in 2020 and dealing with knee issues this past season.
When healthy, the 6'5", 257-pound playmaker can line up and make an impact at several positions. The Cowboys would have the option to deploy him as an extra pass-rusher on the edge or in a more traditional linebacker role.
That versatility could come in handy for a Dallas squad that may need flexibility. The team has a handful of injury-prone defenders on the roster and is already missing several talents in the linebacking corps.
Leighton Vander Esch has a long history of ailments, Jabril Cox is coming off a torn ACL that limited him to just seven games as a rookie, Devante Bond will be out for 2022 after suffering a knee injury at OTAs and Damone Clark could miss a significant chunk of his rookie campaign as he works his way back from a neck issue.
While picking up a player like Barr, who has availability concerns of his own, may inject more risk into an already shaky linebacking corps. However, the potential of Barr returning to form makes the risk worth it, especially if they can get the 30-year-old on a cheap deal.
WR Odell Beckham Jr: Los Angeles Rams
After Odell Beckham Jr. spent two-plus seasons languishing with the Cleveland Browns, the wide receiver was rejuvenated by his midseason release and subsequent signing by the Los Angeles Rams last year.
In eight regular-season appearances for the Rams, Beckham tallied 27 catches for 305 yards and five scores. In his first playoff appearance since 2017, the star wideout added an additional 288 yards and a pair of scores—including the opening touchdown of Super Bowl LVI—before going down with an ACL tear.
A reunion between OBJ and the Rams seems inevitable at this point, as both sides have made it clear they wish to continue the relationship.
According to The Athletic's Jourdan Rodrigue, Rams COO Kevin Demoff claimed they would have come to terms with Beckham already if not for the salary cap. He also noted there wasn't a "sense of urgency" from either party because of Beckham’s lengthy recovery timetable.
Beckham isn’t expected to return until November after suffering his second torn ACL since Week 7 of the 2020 campaign. The wideout has tweeted multiple times about his contract status, noting he will "gladly sign an extension" but is waiting for a "real offer and "can't play for free."
OBJ's deal may not be for as much money as he was hoping for considering his injury. The wideout—who will turn 30 during the 2022 season—will likely have to settle for whatever the Rams can afford as he works his way back to full health.
Even with Allen Robinson II signing a three-year, $46.5 million deal with the team, Los Angeles should still be able to fit Beckham under the cap. The franchise freed up $13 million by extending Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald and still has nearly $10 million to work with before training camp.
OT Duane Brown: New York Jets
There should be no shortage of interest in veteran left tackle Duane Brown.
The 36-year-old is still capable of performing at a high level, showing as much by starting all 17 games and making his fifth Pro Bowl appearance last year as a member of the Seattle Seahawks.
Brown should be on the New York Jets' radar as the organization looks to exit a rebuild and start contending in 2022. On the Flight Deck Podcast, ESPN insider Rich Cimini recently indicated Gang Green wants to bring in a proven tackle, highlighting Brown as a potential candidate to fill that role.
The team currently has up-and-coming prospect Mekhi Becton manning its left tackle position, but Becton played just one game last year after suffering a Week 1 knee injury that was only expected to keep him sidelined for up to two months.
While Becton had a promising rookie year in 2020—he earned a 74.4 PFF grade but still allowed seven sacks and drew seven penalties—he only logged 691 snaps that season. He outright missed a pair of games and came off the field for stretches in six other contests.
Brown would provide a much more stable, consistent option to protect quarterback Zach Wilson has he prepares for a pivotal sophomore campaign. Brown hasn’t missed a matchup since 2019 and has played at least 90 percent of the snaps in games he's been active for in each of his 14 seasons.
While it's possible the veteran isn't looking to join a young team like the Jets, he could end up bolstering his legacy if the club thrives during his tenure.
New York would likely have to make a few moves to fit a suitable contract for Brown under the cap, given the club has just $6 million in available space right now. It would be well worth it, though, to get a lineman of his caliber on the roster.
S Landon Collins: Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers have done a shrewd job patching most of their holes this offseason. They drafted well and picked up several gap-filling free agents, but they still have one of the league's thinnest safety rotations heading into training camp.
While Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos are a solid starting duo, the Packers have little depth at the position. Adding Landon Collins would provide injury insurance and allow Green Bay's defense to utilize more three-safety sets.
Collins is one of the more intriguing defensive backs on the open market. Despite having seven seasons under his belt, the Alabama product is still just 28 years old and should have plenty left in the tank.
He made three consecutive Pro Bowls between 2016 and 2018—his last season with the New York Giants—but didn’t have the same level of impact during his three-year stint with Washington.
One issue glaring with Collins is his fading coverage skills. He allowed completions 70.5 percent of the time he was targeted last year, giving up over 500 yards and eight touchdowns. Despite his poor performance in that area, Collins can still be a playmaker as a hybrid-style safety who lines up in the box.
Collins is one of the better tacklers at the position—he's racked up nearly 700 in his seven seasons—and forced seven fumbles. His athleticism allows him to knife into the backfield and blow up quarterbacks and rushers, evident by his career 41 tackles for losses, 16 QB hits and 10 sacks.
The Packers shouldn't have trouble fitting Collins in under the cap. They have $16.7 million in available space, which is more than enough to dish out a one-year "prove-it" deal.
EDGE Trey Flowers: New England Patriots
In the span of two years, Trey Flowers went from one of the NFL’s most promising edge-rushers to being cut and still looking for a new team in late June.
If Flowers wishes to turn his career around, he may be best served returning to where it began with the New England Patriots.
Flowers flourished during his time with the Patriots. After being selected by the club in the fourth round of the 2015 draft, the Arkansas product established himself as a key member of New England’s pass-rushing unit by his second season.
In a three-year span between 2016 and 2018, Flowers appeared in 45 regular-season games and amassed 164 tackles—25 for loss—59 QB hits, 21 sacks, six passes defended, five forced fumbles and a pair of fumble recoveries.
Flowers helped the Pats win a pair of championships before reuniting with former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia when he joined the Detroit Lions as a free agent in 2019.
Despite inking a five-year, $90 million contract, Flowers failed to live up to expectations in the Motor City. While he had a solid first year with the club, injuries limited the 28-year-old to just 14 games and 3.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
Flowers will have to accept a significant pay cut this offseason if he wants to turn his fortunes around with the Patriots.
New England has little money to work with—Spotrac estimates the team is slightly over the cap right now—but agreeing to a cheap contract could set the edge-defender up to sign a bigger deal next spring if he can stay healthy and return to form.
WR Will Fuller V: Cleveland Browns
No matter who lines up under center for the Cleveland Browns this year, the team needs to add at least one more veteran wide receiver.
The Browns did score Pro Bowl wideout Amari Cooper for a meager fifth-round pick this offseason, but they have little in the way of proven pass-catchers outside of the former Dallas Cowboys star.
Kicking the tires on Will Fuller V could be Cleveland's best option. He’s coming off an abysmal season with the Miami Dolphins in which he suited up for just two games and caught four passes for 26 yards, but the six-year veteran still has massive potential.
Fuller is still only 28 years old and is only a year removed from a career-best campaign in 2020, one in which he tallied 53 catches for 879 yards and eight touchdowns for the Houston Texans.
While the 2016 first-rounder has never played a full campaign and missed at least five games in each of the past five years, he’s an undeniable asset when healthy.
If Deshaun Watson is allowed to play this year, pairing him with Fuller could lift the Browns offense significantly. The Watson-Fuller battery was one of the league's most dangerous during their time together with the Texans.
The QB averaged 281.3 passing yards in the 33 games he played with Fuller between 2017 and 2020, with that average falling to 249.2 yards in the 21 contests the wideout didn't play. With Fuller on the field, Watson averaged 8.78 yards per passing attempt and saw that statistic dip to 7.62 YPA without the speedy playmaker.
Finances won't be an issue as Cleveland has more cap space than any team in the league right now. That would allow the organization to easily give Fuller a new contract and still have plenty of funds available to improve other areas of the roster before the 2022 season.
OLB Justin Houston: Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens signed Justin Houston last year to bolster a young pass-rushing unit with a capable rotational option who could offer veteran leadership.
Houston provided exactly what the club needed, notching 34 tackles, 17 QB hits, six tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble, but so far hasn't been retained for the 2022 campaign.
ESPN's Field Yates noted the Ravens put a "seldom-used UFA tender" on Houston back in early May. That tender would allow the edge-rusher to count toward their compensatory picks formula if he signs with a competing organization before July 22 and exclusive negotiating rights after that date.
While Houston is fading into the twilight of his career, he still started 15 games for Baltimore, and the 579 defensive snaps he logged represented a 61 percent share in those matchups.
The 33-year-old may not be able to stay on the field for 80 percent or more of a defense’s snaps anymore, but Houston can still be a key part of Baltimore's outside linebacker rotation.
The Ravens would benefit most from Houston's presence early in the season. Tyus Bowser is still working his way back from a January surgery on his torn Achilles and rookie second-round pick David Ojabo—who suffered the same injury at his pro day—may not be ready for the start of the campaign.
Baltimore is mulling its options—the club brought in veteran Jason Pierre-Paul for a look earlier in June—but would be best served using the $6 million it has in cap space to bring Houston back. He's comfortable with this defense and should be ready to hit the ground running if he's retained.
C JC Tretter: Minnesota Vikings
JC Tretter overcame injuries and a disappointing start to his career with the Green Bay Packers to eventually emerge as an ironman anchoring the middle of the Cleveland Browns' offensive line for the past half-decade.
After playing all but one game and never missing a single snap in any of the 80 contests he did suit up for after joining Cleveland in 2017, Tretter surprisingly finds himself looking for employment this offseason.
Tretter has been one of the most consistent centers over the past four seasons, never scoring below a starting-caliber PFF grade. He earned a career-high 78.7 PFF grade last year after giving up just one sack while logging 1,039 snaps.
More impressively, Tretter accomplished this while combating knee and ankle injuries that reportedly kept him from ever being at full strength during his entire tenure in Cleveland.
The 31-year-old would make an ideal addition to a Minnesota Vikings squad that direly needs help at center. As it stands, Garrett Bradbury would likely remain the team’s starter at the position for the fourth consecutive season.
Bradbury is coming off yet another disappointing campaign, one in which he earned a 60.2 PFF grade while giving up two sacks and getting flagged for eight penalties on 883 snaps. The 27-year-old has never earned higher than a 61.4 PFF grade and has allowed a concerning 11 sacks and taken 20 penalties during his three-year stint as Minnesota’s starting center.
New Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah knows what Tretter can bring to the table after he spent the past two seasons as Cleveland’s VP of football operations.
With $9.7 million in cap space available to him, one of the best moves Adofo-Mensah could make before training camp would be shoring up the center position by signing Tretter to replace Bradbury.