2022 NFL Free Agents: Predictions for Chandler Jones, Von Miller and MoreJanuary 23, 2022
2022 NFL Free Agents: Predictions for Chandler Jones, Von Miller and More
The Cincinnati Bengals are headed to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since the 1988 season. While draft products like Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and Evan McPherson certainly played roles in pushing Cincinnati past the Tennessee Titans, recent free-agent additions played big roles as well.
Safety Vonn Bell, acquired in 2020, had five solo tackles and a sack. Cornerback Mike Hilton, a 2021 free-agent signing, stopped a Titans scoring drive with a tip-and-pick of Ryan Tannehill. 2020 free agent D.J. Reader helped contain Derrick Henry throughout the contest.
The Bengals defense is heavily composed of 2020 and 2021 free-agency pickups. That group has been good enough to get Cincinnati within a game of Super Bowl LVI.
Teams looking to follow Cincinnati's strategy will have a plethora of top-tier defenders to chase. Here, you'll find predictions for some of the top defenders scheduled to hit the open market.
Edge Chandler Jones
Arizona Cardinals pass-rusher Chandler Jones will be a hot commodity when free agency opens March 16. He finished the 2021 season with 10.5 sacks, 36 quarterback pressures and a Pro Bowl nod.
Presumably, the Cardinals would prefer to keep Jones. However, the feeling may not be mutual. Jones wanted a new contract this past offseason and never received it. At one point, he considered trying to force a trade, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.
"Jones has been unhappy with his contract and future with the team," Fowler tweeted in July.
The 31-year-old is incredibly unlikely to grant Arizona a discount, especially after a late-season collapse that ended with a playoff dud. The Cardinals are projected to have just $9.8 million in cap space.
Expect Jones to receive a big offer from a cap-rich team like the Los Angeles Chargers or the Miami Dolphins and to take the deal.
Prediction: Jones leaves Arizona and signs a four-year, $56 million deal.
Edge Von Miller
Like Jones, Los Angeles Rams linebacker Von Miller will be near the top of the wish lists of pass-rusher-needy teams. The eight-time Pro Bowler has been fantastic down the stretch, notching six sacks in his past five games, including playoffs.
Keeping Miller could prove tricky, as Los Angeles is projected to have only $190,000 in cap space. Yet, Rams general manager Les Snead has done a good job of finding cap space and fitting highly paid players—like Jalen Ramsey, Matthew Stafford and Miller—into his cap.
L.A.'s plan has been to lock up Miller all along. Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer reported shortly after Miller was acquired from the Denver Broncos that the Rams planned to keep him beyond 2021.
After all, the Rams gave Denver 2022 second- and third-round selections to acquire Miller. That's a high price to pay for a half-season of work—even with Denver taking on the majority of Miller's remaining salary.
Expect the Rams to lock up Miller with a deal that pushes money into future and automatically voiding years.
Prediction: Miller re-signs with Rams on a two-year, $17.8 million deal.
DE Jadeveon Clowney
Though not an elite sack artist like Jones or Miller, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is quite capable of pressuring passers. He is a tremendous run defender who also notched nine sacks and 32 quarterback pressures in 2021.
After playing on a one-year, $8 million deal with the Cleveland Browns in 2021, Clowney will look to cash in during free agency. He isn't opposed to getting his payday from the Browns.
"I would, but we haven't talked about anything right now," Clowney said three weeks ago about wanting to return to Cleveland, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.
Bringing back Clowney would make a ton of sense for the Browns. Cleveland is projected to have $28.6 million in cap space to spare, and it needs a complementary pass-rusher opposite Myles Garrett. Clowney and Garrett forged a tremendous duo this past season, so expect Cleveland to try running it back on the defensive side.
Prediction: Clowney re-signs with Cleveland on a three-year, $27 million deal.
CB Stephon Gilmore
Though he wasn't the same dominant defender he was in 2019—when he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year—cornerback Stephon Gilmore was still quite good this past season. In eight games with the Carolina Panthers, Gilmore tallied two interceptions and an opposing passer rating of only 78.6.
Acquired from the New England Patriots for a 2023 sixth-round pick, Gilmore doesn't represent a hefty investment for Carolina. However, the Panthers should be inclined to keep him.
Head coach Matt Rhule is being given a third season, but he'll likely enter 2022 on the hot seat. He should not be quick to let quality players like Gilmore depart in the offseason. Similarly, general manager Scott Fitterer, who is entering his second year with Carolina, won't want to let one of his notable acquisitions leave without a fair offer.
With $20.4 million in cap space, the Panthers can afford to make that offer.
A fair offer may be enough to keep Gilmore in Carolina. The 31-year-old played his high school and college ball in South Carolina and may be happy to stay close to home for this stage of his NFL career.
Prediction: Gilmore re-signs with Carolina on a two-year, $24 million deal.
Cap and contract information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.