Baker Mayfield and 5 2023 NFL Free Agents Who Need to Nail Late-Season Auditions
For players like Baker Mayfield, the final stretch of the NFL regular season is about getting paid and making an impression—even if the team that's going to sign the check is different than the one they are on right now.
Mayfield is set to hit free agency at the end of the season. If his time in Carolina so far is any indication, he isn't likely to be back for the next campaign.
However, P.J. Walker's high ankle sprain has Mayfield set to take the field as the Panthers' starter, and that gives him an opportunity to essentially audition for other teams who may be interested in him in 2023 free agency.
Similar examples can be found around the league. Players who may or may not be doing well enough to be re-signed by their current teams still have time to make a good impression before they hit the market.
Here's a look at a few who need to start producing if they want to cash in.
S Johnathan Abram, Green Bay Packers
Johnathan Abram has gone through the unfortunate journey from being a first-round pick to getting released by the team that drafted him in the middle of the season before the end of his rookie contract.
The Raiders had already turned down the 2019 first-rounder's fifth-year option, but jettisoning him before the end of the season was a new low that left his free agency value in the tank.
Fortunately for Abram, he's going to have a few opportunities to salvage some of that value.
The Green Bay Packers claimed the safety off waivers, giving him another chance to be a contributor on defense. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry, who is dealing with a season-ending injury for cornerback Eric Stokes, is excited by the versatility Abram brings.
“When you sign a guy like that, it gives you options,” Barry told reporters. “And I think in our current state, it’s great to have options. I’m just glad that he’s here.”
The Packers are a team that is dealing with a crushing number of injuries. In the secondary, the loss of cornerback Eric Stokes is one that will have a ripple effect. It could force the team to play Darnell Savage in the nickel/slot role, creating the need for a strong safety.
That suits Abram well. He's best in the box as a run-support safety who can also blitz. He had 116 tackles last year, and he generated 14 pressures in 2020 and 2021 combined.
WR Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts
Parris Campbell has largely been a disappointment in the four seasons since the Indianapolis Colts took the speedy receiver in the second round of the 2019 draft.
He hasn't been able to stay on the field thanks to a litany of issues that includes a fractured foot and several knee injuries. The constant barrage of injuries has left a small sample size of what Campbell can actually do when healthy.
This year has been his healthiest season to date, and he's starting to show why a team may be willing to invest in him. He should be aiming for a contract like the one-year, $10 million deal D.J. Chark got this offseason with the Lions despite a significant injury history.
Campbell is going to have to show out over the final seven games to command that kind of money, though.
With Matt Ryan back at quarterback for the Colts and interim head coach Jeff Saturday handing the play-calling to Parks Frazier, Campbell could finally have the breakout the team has hoped for.
In Week 10, he caught seven of nine targets for 76 yards and the game-winning touchdown against the Raiders. In his last three games with Ryan at quarterback, he has 24 catches for 203 yards and three touchdowns.
That kind of pace will catch the eye of teams looking to add another dimension to the passing attack, but his lack of production and injury history in the first three years of his career make this stretch vital for him.
Edge Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints
Marcus Davenport was headed toward a big payday in 2021. The athletic pass-rusher was finally cashing in on the potential he's shown throughout his career with nine sacks in 11 games for the Saints.
Even if he just followed up with similar numbers, he was on his way to getting paid by someone in free agency.
It's safe to say he's going to have a hard time convincing teams to give him the bag now. The 26-year-old has registered just half a sack in nine games. He missed the Pittsburgh game in Week 10 with a calf injury.
He was a limited participant during the week of practice, and the Saints had a short week after playing in Monday Night Football in Week 9. So, it's safe to assume Davenport will be back in the lineup sooner rather than later.
However, his ability to stay healthy is something that will factor into his value as well. John Sigler of SaintsWire noted the edge defender has played in 57 of 75 regular-season games since getting drafted, missing the rest with various injuries.
Getting healthy and getting back on track with at least a few sacks to finish out the season would do wonders as Davenport hits free agency as a former first-round pick at a premium position.
RB Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
Kareem Hunt was a popular name floated during the 2022 NFL trade deadline, but the key date came and went with the running back staying with the Cleveland Browns.
Given his role behind Nick Chubb and the trade request that made him a focal point at the deadline, it's unlikely he will be playing in brown and orange next year.
Instead, he's going to be on the lookout for a place where he can make money and be given a lead-back role. The 27-year-old former Pro Bowler excelled in that role with Kansas City before they released him after a video of Hunt in a physical altercation with a 19-year-old woman became public.
The Browns gave him the opportunity to play again in 2019 after he served an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL Personal Conduct Policy.
Considering Hunt's age, this offseason is likely his last chance to get anything more than a short-term contract. Running backs don't tend to hold their value as they get closer to 30.
If Hunt wants to maximize his value, he's going to need to be more productive than he has been. Over the last four games in Cleveland, he's had 26 carries for 67 yards and one touchdown.
He's going to have a hard time getting anything more than a one-year flier unless he starts showcasing the big-play ability of his prime.
QB Baker Mayfield, Carolina Panthers
It's been a rough year for Baker Mayfield going back to the 2022 offseason.
In 2020, Mayfield looked like the quarterback of the future in Cleveland. He was the starting quarterback while the team won their first playoff game in over 20 years, and he posted 26 touchdowns to eight interceptions with a career-high 95.9 passer rating.
Then came a shoulder injury in 2021 and the Browns' meltdown in 2021, in which he threw 17 touchdowns to 13 interceptions and had a passer rating of 83.1.
Mayfield's run as the starter earlier this season looked a lot like 2021. He went 1-4 as and threw four touchdowns to four interceptions before an ankle injury saw him replaced by P.J. Walker.
Then head coach Matt Rhule was fired, and Mayfield rode the bench until an atrocious half from Walker put him back in the game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He threw for 155 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, completing 14-of-20 passes.
He's going to have to continue to put up those kinds of numbers now that he's starting again. David Newton of ESPN reported that multiple league executive sources believe the market for Mayfield will be "minimal" unless he has an "amazing turnaround".
At this point, Mayfield appears headed toward a Mitchell Trubisky career arc. He's going to have to spend a year as a backup to recoup his image before potentially getting another chance at being a starter.
His only hope of altering that course is to light it up for the Panthers over these next few weeks.
TE Foster Moreau, Las Vegas Raiders
Foster Moreau is technically the Las Vegas Raiders' backup tight end, but Darren Waller's injuries have made him the starter for long stretches of the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
Moreau looked like a legitimate asset in the passing game in some starts last year. He had three starts with more than 60 receiving yards in 2021 and looked like a tight end who was simply being held back by playing behind Waller.
The Raiders essentially told us how they felt about their tight end situation when they handed Waller a three-year, $51 million extension in September. It also made it more likely that Moreau won't be playing for the Silver and Black next year.
Moreau hasn't done much to show he can be a receiving threat with the Raiders in 2022. He's started six games and has just 20 receptions for 218 yards and one touchdown.
Moreau is far from the biggest problem for the Raiders. They are 2-7, and inconsistency within the passing game has been an issue all season. Derek Carr's 89.8 passer rating is his worst in the last five seasons.
Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow have both been placed on injured reserve, meaning they will each miss at least three games. Moreau has to step up and be part of the solution if he wants to cash out in the offseason.