NFL Teams Set to Be Big Spenders in 2022 Free Agency

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2021

NFL Teams Set to Be Big Spenders in 2022 Free Agency

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    Doug Murray/Associated Press

    The NFL playoff race is in full swing, but the offseason isn't that far away. With free agency to open on March 16, we're roughly three months out.

    So, while many teams are firmly focused on the postseason push, you can bet that they still have one eye on the upcoming open market. With stars like Davante Adams, Von Miller, Chris Godwin and Chandler Jones slated to be available, we can expect a lot of money to be spent when the market opens.

    Which teams are poised to be the biggest spenders in 2022 free agency? That's what we're here to examine—and it's not quite as simple as diving into the teams with the most available money.

    Projected 2022 cap numbers will be considered, of course, as will potential cap-saving moves. However, we're going to account for any relevant recent trends and focus heavily on the teams that could be one big free-agent class away from contention—as the New England Patriots proved to be this year.

    Teams are listed in alphabetical order.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals have traditionally not been big free-agency spenders. However, that trend has changed over the past couple of years.

    This past offseason, Cincinnati focused on defense, signing the likes of defensive end Trey Hendrickson, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, cornerback Mike Hilton and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. It also signed right tackle Riley Reiff.

    The Bengals' recent splurging—along with the drafting of quarterback Joe Burrow—has Cincinnati firmly in the AFC playoff mix. Another round of spending in 2022 could help turn Cincinnati from playoff contenders to title-chasers.

    Cincinnati may again focus on defense, specifically its 29th-ranked pass defense. Cornerbacks like Stephon Gilmore and Joe Haden could top the list.

    Armed with a projected $61 million in cap space, the Bengals will have the financial flexibility to chase premier free agents. Expect them to do exactly that as they look to become a dominant AFC franchise.

Cleveland Browns

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    The 7-6 Cleveland Browns are still hanging around the AFC playoff race, but their season has largely been a disappointment. Following the franchise's first playoff win as an expansion team—and several prominent free-agent moves—Cleveland was viewed as a potential Super Bowl contender.

    The offseason signings of defenders like pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, safety John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill have yielded mixed results. Cleveland ranks fifth in total defense but 14th in points allowed.

    The Browns may look to again bolster their defense by targeting a player like Chandler Jones or Stephon Gilmore. They may also decide to chase a player like Davante Adams or Chris Godwin as they continue to evaluate quarterback Baker Mayfield.

    Mayfield is entering the final year of his rookie contract and has been up and down through nearly four full seasons. He's battled various injuries this year, including a tuberosity fracture and torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder that will require offseason surgery. He's also been hurt by the absence of a reliable go-to receiver.

    Odell Beckham Jr. successfully orchestrated his way out of Cleveland just after the trade deadline, while Donovan Peoples-Jones leads the team with only 430 receiving yards.

    Expect the Browns to use their $37.3 million in projected cap space to tinker with the defense and further improve Mayfield's supporting cast. They could save another $15.1 million by parting with wideout Jarvis Landry, who has underwhelmed in 2021.

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Chargers are projected to have $75.3 million in cap space, second-most in the NFL. However, their entry here isn't a matter of dollars alone. L.A. has a budding star quarterback in Justin Herbert but some big issues on the other side of the ball.

    Notably, the Chargers have been putrid against the run this season. Coming into Week 14, they ranked 28th in yards per carry allowed and 31st in yards per game allowed. They also ranked 26th in points per game surrendered.

    It would behoove the Chargers to target free-agent run-stuffers like Jadeveon Clowney and linebacker Dont'a Hightower, and would be a mild surprise if they didn't.

    With a focus on further developing Herbert in mind, Los Angeles will also look to replace or re-sign wideout Mike Williams and tight end Jared Cook. Both have been significant pieces of the passing game this season, and L.A. should look to maintain a strong supporting cast for Herbert.

    The Chargers are a borderline playoff team right now. If they hope to wrest control of the AFC West away from the Kansas City Chiefs, though, they're going to need more reinforcements than the draft alone can provide.

Miami Dolphins

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins are surging, winners of five straight and looking to close the season strong following a 1-7 start. The recent turnaround has likely saved the 2022 jobs of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, general manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores.

    Look for Miami to follow up its late-season momentum with some targeted spending in free agency. Further building around Tagovailoa will likely be priority No. 1.

    Miami needs to find itself a reliable workhorse running back, as the team ranks 31st in yards per carry. It'll also need to replace or re-sign tight end Mike Gesicki. A receiver or two could also be on the wish list, as injuries have led to multiple lineup changes, and both Albert Wilson and Will Fuller V are slated to hit the market.

    Solidifying an offensive line that has surrendered 31 sacks and left Tagovailoa under pressure on 20.9 percent of his dropbacks should be another early order of business.

    With the most projected cap space in the NFL next year ($75.5 million), the Dolphins can afford to go after players like Davante Adams, wideout Allen Robinson II, running back Leonard Fournette and center Jason Kelce. It would be a shock if they didn't.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks are projected to have $53.9 million in cap space, and they may have to use a good chunk of that if they're going to keep quarterback Russell Wilson happy. Wilson has been unhappy with the direction of the team and listed a number of teams to which he would accept a trade in the offseason, per multiple reports.

    According to Fox Sports' Jay Glazer, the situation with Wilson and the Seahawks was "very dicey," and the quarterback could try to force a trade in the coming offseason. Pass protection has been a specific concern for Wilson.

    "I'm hearing Russell Wilson's camp has grown increasingly frustrated by the Seahawks' inability to protect the eight-time Pro Bowler," CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora tweeted.

    With left tackle Duane Brown slated to hit the open market, it would be wise for Seattle to dedicate itself to rebuilding the offensive line. Targeting players like Jason Kelce, guard Brandon Scherff and re-signing or replacing Brown should be at the top of Seattle's to-do list.

    The Seahawks should also look to retool a defense that ranks 22nd against the run and 32nd against the pass—they have a decision to make on Pro Bowl safety and impending free agent Quandre Diggs—so that Wilson doesn't feel as if he's constantly asked to carry the team. And Wilson isn't the only one who would like to see some changes.

    According to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, Seahawks Chair Jody Allen is "not happy" with how things have unfolded and doesn't view the problems as a "one-year thing."

    Expect Seattle to be very active when the market opens in March.

Washington Football Team

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team has never been particularly shy about spending in free agency. While giving massive-money deals to the likes of Albert Haynesworth is likely a thing of the past, Washington is usually a market player.

    During the 2019 offseason, the Football Team inked safety Landon Collins to a sizeable six-year, $84 million deal. This offseason, it inked multiple players, including quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, wideout Adam Humphries, receiver Curtis Samuel, left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and cornerback William Jackson III.

    We may see another mass influx of free-agent talent next offseason, especially with Brandon Scherff, Fitzpatrick, Leno, Humphries and running back J.D. McKissic among the team's list of impending free agents.

    Washington needs to find a reliable No. 2 receiver opposite Terry McLaurin and help in a secondary that ranks 27th in yards per attempt allowed and 30th in passing yards per game surrendered.

    Washington may not necessarily go big-name hunting in free agency, but expect players like Stephon Gilmore, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson II and Chris Godwin to be on the team's radar. With $60.4 million in available cap space, Washington should be a player once again.


    Salary-cap and contract information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.