NFL Players Who Need a Change of Scenery in 2022
Looking ahead to 2022 NFL free agency, it's easy to focus on the players who are performing the best. For example, Davante Adams and Chris Godwin will be popular targets—if they reach the open market—because they are highly productive.
However, it's important to remember that production doesn't always reflect potential. Being in the wrong system, the wrong role or in a losing culture can have a negative impact. Sometimes, it only takes a change of scenery for a player's numbers to explode.
Randy Moss' 2007 campaign is a prime example. The Hall of Famer caught 42 passes for 553 yards and three touchdowns in 2006 with the then-Oakland Raiders. The team traded him to the New England Patriots in the offseason, and one year later, he racked up 1,493 yards and a league-high 23 touchdowns on 98 receptions.
Might former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. see a similar resurgence in a new home? Perhaps. As Fox Sports 1's Emmanuel Acho recently pointed out, top receivers regularly see dips in their production in Kevin Stefanski's offenses.
Rather than examining strictly the best players headed into 2022 free agency, we're going to focus today on those who could most benefit from changes of scenery and where they may best fit.
Players are listed in alphabetical order.
Andy Dalton, QB, Chicago Bears
Though no longer a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback like early in his career, Andy Dalton has shown that he can still be a mid-level starter. Dating back to last season with the Dallas Cowboys, Dalton has gone 5-6 in a starting role while throwing 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
At just 34 years old, he is still young enough to have a successful run with a quality team. However, that opportunity isn't going to happen with the Chicago Bears.
The Bears turned the page to rookie quarterback Justin Fields in September, and there's no looking back, barring injury.
Dalton's best chance to reemerge as a winning quarterback—he was 70-61-2 with the Cincinnati Bengals—will be with a playoff-caliber roster. Teams like the New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers are examples of ideal situations—depending on what they do with Jameis Winston and Ben Roethlisberger, respectively.
While Dalton isn't going to lift a mediocre team to new heights, he could be a high-end game manager who's capable of getting a squad to the postseason. A team like New Orleans, which came into Week 9 ranked fourth in scoring defense, wouldn't ask Dalton to regularly win shootouts.
Best Fit: New Orleans Saints
Kyle Fuller, CB, Denver Broncos
Cornerback Kyle Fuller is a two-time Pro Bowler with 84 passes defended, 19 interceptions and four forced fumbles on his resume. However, the 2014 first-rounder is stuck on a Denver Broncos team that is deep at cornerback and no longer in love with his play.
Fuller started the first five games of the season but has played a mere four defensive snaps over the next three contests. According to Pro Football Talk, the Broncos were trying to move Fuller before last Tuesday's trade deadline.
It seems unlikely that Fuller will regain his starting role in Denver, barring injury, or reestablish his value there. With a different team, though, he should step in as a starter or rotational defender on the perimeter.
While his play has fallen off in the Mile High City—he has allowed an opposing passer rating of 116.0 this year—he was solid with the Bears last season, allowing an opposing passer rating of 89.8 while notching eight passes defended and an interception.
Virtually any cornerback-needy team should be interested in signing Fuller on a short-term prove-it deal. The Kansas City Chiefs could be a prime landing spot, as bad defense—it ranks 25th against the pass and 28th overall—is Kansas City's Achilles' heel.
Best Fit: Kansas City Chiefs
Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts rushed for a whopping 260 yards against the New York Jets on Thursday. Running back Marlon Mack wasn't part of the fun, however, as he was a healthy inactive for the second time this season.
With Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines leading the Indianapolis backfield, there simply isn't a role for Mack, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards just two seasons ago. The Colts gave the fifth-year back some opportunities in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, but that was possibly in an attempt to increase his trade value.
"He and the Colts agreed in recent weeks to explore the possibility of a trade," The Athletic's Zak Keefer wrote. "Then something funny happened: Mack started seeing snaps and started playing well. ... He looks to be regaining that burst he lost after the torn Achilles tendon that ended his 2020 season one week in."
Now healthy, Mack should be seeking a prominent role.
The Atlanta Falcons could be a prime landing spot. Cordarrelle Patterson has been a pleasant surprise in the backfield, but offseason addition Mike Davis (3.4 yards per carry) has largely disappointed. The 25-year-old Mack could be the quality starter Atlanta has been missing since the glory days of Devonta Freeman.
Best Fit: Atlanta Falcons
Marcus Maye, S, New York Jets
New York Jets safety Marcus Maye is on injured reserve with a torn Achilles and may not be ready to start the 2022 season. When he does return to the playing field, he needs to do it away from New York.
The 28-year-old has said the right things publicly, insinuating that he would be happy to remain a Jet.
However, Maye was unable to agree to a long-term offer in the offseason, which led to the franchise tag. ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported last month that Maye "would welcome" a trade to a contender and "felt undervalued" by the Jets.
Maye still faces charges for a February DUI arrest, and the NFL could hand out discipline under its personal-conduct policy, meaning he could miss some time in 2022.
On the field, he was fantastic in 2020. He logged 88 tackles, two interceptions, two sacks and allowed an opposing passer rating of 80.4. Playing in one of the league's worst defenses this season (last in yards and points allowed per game), Maye has allowed an opposing passer rating of 97.1.
A team like Kansas City could give Maye the perfect chance to rebound and to chase a championship while he's still in his prime. Maye will turn 29 in March. The Chiefs have a big need at safety, where Daniel Sorensen has allowed an opposing passer rating of 158.3.
Best Fit: Kansas City Chiefs
David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns
Browns tight end David Njoku has shown that he can be a special playmaker. He finished the 2018 season with 56 catches, 639 yards and four touchdowns. Against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 5, he caught seven passes for 149 yards and a score.
The problem is that Njoku isn't an offensive centerpiece. The Browns utilize a run-first offense, and Njoku is stuck splitting reps with fellow tight ends Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant.
During the 2020 offseason, Njoku requested a trade.
The aforementioned Chargers could be a great landing spot for the fifth-year player. They have a young and rising quarterback in Justin Herbert, and the 34-year-old Jared Cook is their top receiving tight end. The 13th-year veteran is playing on a one-year deal.
Cook isn't likely a long-term option for the Chargers, but the 25-year-old Njoku could be.
Best Fit: Los Angeles Chargers
Allen Robinson II, WR, Chicago Bears
In the past, Bears receiver Allen Robinson II has been a transcendent talent. Despite playing with the ho-hum quarterback duo of Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles in Chicago in 2020, for example, he racked up 102 catches, 1,250 yards and six touchdowns.
With Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015, Robinson amassed 1,400 receiving yards and a league-leading 14 touchdown catches.
However, the eighth-year veteran is at his best when he is the focal point of the passing attack, and second-year wideout Darnell Mooney has replaced Robinson as Chicago's go-to receiver. He has been targeted 53 times to Robinson's 44 and has 138 more receiving yards.
A return to Jacksonville could make a lot of sense if Robinson wants to be a No. 1 receiver again. He'd be playing with a young quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, but he could be the face of a receiving corps currently headlined by 31-year-old Marvin Jones Jr., who leads the team with 33 receptions for 378 yards.
Jones is only under contract through 2022, with a potential out after this season. The 28-year-old Robinson is young enough to provide Lawrence with several good campaigns while himself returning to Pro Bowl form.
Best Fit: Jacksonville Jaguars
Boston Scott, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Running back Boston Scott will be a restricted free agent in the offseason, and he should be hoping for another team to sign him to an offer sheet. Scott has been a valuable dual-threat back for the Philadelphia Eagles—in 2020, he had 586 yards from scrimmage, 25 receptions and two touchdowns—but he's stuck as a role player when starter Miles Sanders is healthy.
The other issue is that rushing isn't a main component of head coach Nick Sirianni's offense. Coming into Week 9, the Eagles ranked fourth in yards per rush but only 11th in rushing attempts per game.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts had 73 of Philadelphia's 210 attempts coming into Sunday, meaning he's been responsible for roughly 35 percent of the ground game. On Sunday, Scott saw only 10 carries while Jordan Howard led the team with 17.
The Seattle Seahawks would be a terrific landing spot for Scott, who could be a primary complement to oft-injured starter Chris Carson.
Carson has played just 16 games since the start of last season. Meanwhile, 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny has failed to live up to his draft status and is set to depart in free agency next spring after Seattle declined his fifth-year option.
Best Fit: Seattle Seahawks
James Washington, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington requested a trade in the offseason, though he publicly downplayed that request during training camp.
"That's a private conversation," Washington said, per ESPN's Brooke Pryor. "As far as me being happy in Pittsburgh, I love it here. Who wouldn't be happy playing football as their job?"
Washington, who had 44 catches for 735 yards in 2019, has seen a diminished role in the Steelers offense ever since. Even with JuJu Smith-Schuster out for the year with a shoulder injury, Washington has rarely been a primary target.
In six games this season, he has just 11 catches for 112 yards.
There's a real possibility that Pittsburgh will move on from 39-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the offseason, so Washington's best opportunity to reestablish himself will be elsewhere.
The Patriots could provide the perfect home. New England appears to have found its next franchise quarterback in rookie Mac Jones. However, the offense still lacks quality talent at receiver.
Coming into Sunday, Jakobi Meyers led the Patriots with 45 receptions but only had 426 yards and no touchdowns. Washington could immediately become one of New England's top perimeter targets.
Best Fit: New England Patriots