2022 NFL Free Agents Who Are Earning Huge Contracts This Season
Last offseason, NFL teams had to spend wisely because the salary cap was depressed by COVID-19-related revenue losses. In 2022, the cap ceiling could increase by about $25.7 million, which is good news for impending free agents.
Teams flushed with cap space will have an opportunity to fill holes at premium positions like tackle and edge-rusher if top-level players hit the open market as opposed to re-signing with their clubs. Regardless, big-name veterans may be in line for massive paydays next year.
Nearly halfway through the season, let's take a look at who's primed to break the bank, reset the market or become a top-10 earner at their respective positions in 2022.
Based on production over the last few years and contributions through the first seven weeks of the 2021 campaign, we've projected the salaries and potential suitors for the top players in the 2022 free-agent class.
We'll assume teams will have interest in re-signing these high-level playmakers, so each selection is linked to a new club for a full picture of the buyer's market.
WR Davante Adams
Coming off an All-Pro campaign, Davante Adams had a case to call himself the best wide receiver in the league. Through seven weeks, he's caught 52 passes for 744 receiving yards while averaging a career-high 106.3 yards per game.
Even more impressive, Adams has posted those numbers without a consistent No. 2 wideout to sway the coverage away from him. Among Green Bay Packers wide receivers, Allen Lazard lists second on the team in catches (15) and receiving yards (184).
At his production rate, Adams will land a megadeal in the offseason. Expect him to sign a contract with a higher average annual value (AAV) than wide receiver Amari Cooper's five-year, $100 million deal, which includes $60 million in total guarantees.
"We've built up a special connection over the years that has put us both in really good positions in our career. ... We established a lot together, so it would change a lot, man," Adams said. "It doesn't mean potentially I'd be gone, but I'd definitely have to do some extra thinking if my guy wasn't here."
If the Packers and Rodgers part ways next offseason, Adams may explore his options elsewhere. He could draw interest from the Indianapolis Colts, who need a reliable lead receiver to pair with Carson Wentz. Since 2019, T.Y. Hilton has missed 13 games, and Michael Pittman Jr. is still developing in his second term.
Projected Contract: 4 years, $102 million ($66 million guaranteed)
OT Terron Armstead
Despite some injuries, Terron Armstead has become one of the league's top offensive tackles as a mainstay within the New Orleans Saints' five-man group in the trenches. He's earned a Pro Bowl nod in each of the last three seasons.
In Week 7 against the Seattle Seahawks, Armstead suited up for the first time since he suffered a left elbow injury in Week 3. Immediately, the 30-year-old showed why he's worth the big bucks with his ability to handle pass-rushers on an island. Per Pro Football Focus, Armstead hasn't allowed a sack in 114 snaps this year.
High-level left tackles rarely hit the open market, so teams will probably overlook Armstead's injury history to address a premium position. In terms of AAV, his contract could compare closely to two-time All-Pro tackle David Bakhtiari, who signed a four-year, $92 million extension last November.
Last offseason, the Washington Football Team signed left tackle Charles Leno Jr. to a one-year deal. They're projected to have $65 million in cap space next year, which is enough to ink a high-end tackle to a long-term contract. Armstead would start opposite Sam Cosmi, who's put together solid performances at right tackle.
Projected Contract: 4 years, $96 million ($55 million guaranteed)
WR Chris Godwin
Chris Godwin splits targets with three-time Pro Bowler Mike Evans and a four-time All-Pro in Antonio Brown, who has been performing at a level similar to his prime years. Yet the 25-year-old wideout leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in receptions (42) and yards (520) with an impressive 73.7 percent catch rate.
Though he's only eclipsed 842 receiving yards in one season (2019), his age and potential to reach a higher ceiling as a go-to wideout should draw suitors willing to pay a premium.
Teams with a desperate need at wide receiver would likely offer Godwin north of $16.5 million, more than his franchise tender worth approximately $16 million.
The Detroit Lions must upgrade their wide receiver unit. Through seven weeks, 5'8", 182-pound Kalif Raymond leads the club's wideouts in catches (26) and receiving yards (334). Oft-injured wideout Tyrell Williams has played just one game because of a concussion.
Projected Contract: 5 years, $82.6 million ($48 million guaranteed)
CB J.C. Jackson
J.C. Jackson doesn't have any Pro Bowl or All-Pro seasons, but one can make the case that he's the most underrated cornerback in the league.
Through 52 games, Jackson has recorded 20 interceptions. In all four of his seasons, he's allowed a completion rate of 60.9 percent or less and no more than a 66.5 passer rating in coverage.
If the New England Patriots play hardball with Jackson's agent in negotiations, several teams will likely line up to pay him at an AAV above cornerback Trae Waynes, who's played two games since signing a three-year, $42 million deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. Because of his ball production, he should rake in $40 million-plus in guarantees, which is comparable to ball-hawking cornerback Xavien Howard's amount.
In August, the Seattle Seahawks signed safety Jamal Adams to a four-year, $70 million extension, but he's not reliable in coverage. General manager John Schneider has to fix his 27th-ranked pass defense. The Seahawks need a ready-made playmaker at cornerback opposite D.J. Reed, and Jackson fits the bill.
Projected Contract: 5 years, $77.5 million ($42 million guaranteed)
Edge Chandler Jones
Chandler Jones wanted a new contract before the 2021 season. According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, he requested a trade because of his financial misgivings with the Arizona Cardinals. But the star edge-rusher chose not to hold out and joined the team when training camp opened in July.
Jones made a strong statement in Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans, recording five sacks. He's missed the last two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list and hasn't logged a sack since the season opener but ranks 11th in quarterback pressures (16) with four other defenders.
Before a biceps injury derailed his 2020 campaign, Jones logged at least 11 sacks in five consecutive terms. He's still a pass-rushing force who can dominate at the line of scrimmage—just ask three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan. Even though he'll be 32 next season, Jones will earn a huge payday on the open market.
Jones could sign a deal comparable to J.J. Watt's two-year, $28 million contract that includes $23 million in total guarantees. They're close in age, but the former doesn't have an extensive injury history and isn't on a sharp decline.
At this stage in Jones' career, he may choose a playoff contender that needs a defensive push to get over the top. The Los Angeles Chargers could be in a position to make a Super Bowl run with quarterback Justin Herbert under center. They need a consistent pass-rusher opposite Joey Bosa. Jones can also bolster their run defense, which has allowed the most yards through seven weeks.
Projected Contract: 3 years, $48 million ($32 million guaranteed)
S Tyrann Mathieu
Tyrann Mathieu isn't just one of the best safeties in the league. He's also one of the most versatile with the ability to play at a high level in center field, close to the line of scrimmage and as a slot cornerback. The three-time All-Pro is an invaluable chesspiece on the back end.
In addition to his role flexibility, Mathieu forces turnovers. Since 2019, the ball-hawking defensive back has recorded 12 interceptions, part of why he'll command top dollar on the open market in his age-30 term. His coverage numbers look impressive without the takeaways too. He's allowed a passer rating lower than 65 in each of the last three seasons.
Because Mathieu's production hasn't dipped, he could sign a deal for a little more than his three-year, $42 million contract ($26.8 million in total guarantees) assuming the salary cap bounces back in 2022.
Mathieu may draw interest from a playoff contender in the Baltimore Ravens, who've had issues with their 29th-ranked pass defense. While cornerback Marcus Peters' return from a torn ACL should strengthen coverage on the boundary, Mathieu could patch up holes in the middle of the field where linebackers Malik Harrison and Patrick Queen have struggled on passing downs.
Furthermore, the Ravens don't have an established long-term safety to pair with Chuck Clark. Mathieu fits at a position of need and has the skill set to fill a hole in Baltimore's defense.
Projected Contract: 3 years, $45 million ($28 million guaranteed)
Edge Haason Reddick
Haason Reddick played under three defensive coordinators during his four-year tenure with the Arizona Cardinals, which led to an unsettled role at linebacker. He moved between the inside and outside positions multiple times until his breakout 2020 campaign.
Last year, Reddick recorded 12.5 sacks, picking up the pass-rushing slack while Chandler Jones missed 11 games on injured reserve. Though he has the athleticism to move in space, the versatile defender plays at his best on the edge with a focus on the quarterback.
In his first year with the Carolina Panthers, Reddick has continued to grow into a complete defender. Leaguewide, he's in a three-way tie for most tackles for loss (nine) and tied for fourth in sacks (6.5) while playing a career-high 83 percent of the defensive snaps.
Last offseason, Trey Hendrickson capitalized on a standout 2020 campaign with 13.5 sacks, signing a four-year, $60 million deal that includes $16 million in total guarantees. Reddick should top those numbers because of his spike in production over the last two terms.
If the Panthers allow Reddick to walk, the Atlanta Falcons may try to keep him within the division. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees needs a consistent pass-rusher because Dante Fowler Jr. hasn't filled that void since he signed with the club in 2020. In 19 games with the Falcons, he's recorded five sacks.
Projected Contract: 4 years, $68 million ($33.5 million guaranteed)
OG Brandon Scherff
After playing through consecutive seasons with the franchise tag, Brandon Scherff will finally cash in on his stellar resume. He's a four-time Pro Bowler and earned his first All-Pro nod in 2020, which is why the seventh-year veteran will likely command a more lucrative deal than Cleveland Browns guard Wyatt Teller.
Though Scherff has missed at least three games in each of his last four terms, he's a top-level guard. The 29-year-old is a balanced blocker who provides solid pass protection and opens holes for ball-carriers in the run game.
Last offseason, Joe Thuney hit the market as the best guard and inked a five-year, $80 million deal that included $46.9 million in total guarantees. Because of Scherff's injury history, teams may not offer him the same contract length or a comparable amount in guarantees, but his resume will probably keep him in the $14-15 million AAV range.
The Panthers need a starting-caliber guard. John Miller and Dennis Daley have struggled to clear lanes for the ground attack, and they've allowed five sacks combined, per Pro Football Focus. Michael Jordan, who's surrendered three sacks in 130 snaps this season, per PFF, replaced the latter as a starter in Week 7.
Miller has an expiring contract, Daley is a 2019 sixth-rounder with 17 career starts and Jordan isn't a reliable pass protector. If Pat Elflein comes back from injured reserve (hamstring), he may have a shot to earn a starting job on the interior, but the fifth-year veteran hasn't played well in previous stops with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets.
Projected Contract: 4 years, $60 million ($30 million guaranteed)
Team cap space and player salaries via Over the Cap.