2022 NFL Free Agents: Latest Predictions for Top Stars After Wild Card Round

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIJanuary 18, 2022

2022 NFL Free Agents: Latest Predictions for Top Stars After Wild Card Round

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    Stew Milne/Associated Press

    The NFL playoffs are now down to eight teams. Over the weekend, the postseason got underway and six teams were eliminated with losses in the wild-card round. For those franchises, the offseason has arrived.

    While the teams still in the playoffs will battle it out for a championship, the 24 that can no longer reach the Super Bowl are preparing for the offseason. And although moves can't be made yet, it's not too early to start looking ahead at what could unfold over the next few months.

    That includes free agency, as there should be some strong players hitting the market. For teams that just got knocked out of the playoffs, they'll now have to think harder about who they'll try to keep and who they may let go.

    Here are some predictions for several top players from recently eliminated teams who will soon be free agents.

J.C. Jackson, CB

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    Over the past four seasons, J.C. Jackson has played a big role in the New England Patriots' secondary. He has 25 interceptions in 62 games over that span after he recorded eight in 17 games during the 2021 campaign. Jackson also had an NFL-high 23 passes defended and scored his first career touchdown this past season.

    Now, the 26-year-old cornerback has set himself up for a big payday, as he's set to become an unrestricted free agent. And if the Patriots are going to want to sign him to a long-term deal, they'll likely have to pay him a substantial amount of money.

    New England will surely want to find a way to keep Jackson, considering how well he's played since signing with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2018. So, it will be interesting to see how negotiations go between the two sides, especially because the Pats may have other moves they'll want to make this offseason.

    Of course, it's possible the Pats could give Jackson the franchise tag, so he'd play the 2022 season on a one-year contract and they could get more time to try to work out a long-term deal (or trade him if they're unable to do so). Expect Jackson to be with New England to open the new season, but it may not be on a long-term agreement.

    Prediction: Jackson gets franchise tag from Patriots

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR

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    JuJu Smith-Schuster has spent all of his first five NFL seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who took him in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. And according to the 25-year-old wide receiver, he doesn't want to go anywhere even though he'll be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

    After the Steelers' playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night, Smith-Schuster said it would "be nice to stay here for another four years," according to ESPN's Brooke Pryor. However, will Pittsburgh have similar interest in bringing Smith-Schuster back?

    Smith-Schuster was behind Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool at wide receiver on the Steelers' depth chart this past season. Plus, running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth are sure to get plenty of touches in the future after both had strong rookie seasons.

    So perhaps Smith-Schuster will end up signing elsewhere, even if those aren't his initial intentions. If that's the case, one potential fit could be with the Philadelphia Eagles, who could pair Smith-Schuster with DeVonta Smith in their receiving corps.

    Prediction: Smith-Schuster signs multiyear deal with Eagles

Chandler Jones, DE

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    Darryl Webb/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals have quite a few key players who are set to become free agents this offseason. And that includes Chandler Jones, who has been a leader on their defense over the past six seasons.

    In 84 games with the Cardinals, Jones has recorded 71.5 sacks, which is the most by any player in franchise history. He had 10.5 sacks in 15 games during the 2021 season, a solid bounce-back year after he was limited to five games in the 2020 campaign because of a biceps injury.

    It's possible that Jones has played his final game for Arizona, which will need to decide which of its pending free agents to pursue. Jones could end up being too expensive for the Cardinals to afford, considering he's proved to still be a strong pass-rusher.

    Instead, Jones will be on the move. And one potential fit could be with the Los Angeles Chargers. They're a playoff team that could be in a financial situation to sign him, and they could then pair him with Joey Bosa to have an elite duo on their pass rush.

    Prediction: Jones signs multiyear deal with Chargers

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