2022 NFL Free-Agent Signings, Trades Grades for Thursday's Major Moves
On the first day of the new league year Wednesday, NFL teams had to comply with the salary-cap limit before 4 p.m. ET, which added another dimension to the free-agency frenzy.
Some teams released notable players to get under the cap threshold, while other clubs made big splashes after two days of low activity through the legal tampering period.
After Randy Gregory and J.D. McKissic backed out of agreements before the league ratified their deals, Za'Darius Smith became the third player to do so when he decided not to sign with the Baltimore Ravens Thursday, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
With big names still on the open market, we'll likely see more teams make transactions that move the needle in 2022.
Let's take a look at Thursday's roster moves and hand out grades for the signings, re-signings and trades.
Washington Commanders Sign G Andrew Norwell
Source: NFL Network's Ian Rapoport
The Washington Commanders lost right guard Brandon Scherff to the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency and reportedly signed left guard Andrew Norwell. Essentially, the teams swapped interior offensive linemen via the open market.
Scherff became a five-time Pro Bowl and one-time All-Pro guard in Washington, but Norwell isn't a slouch at the position, specifically as a pass-blocker. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just three sacks through 1,078 offensive snaps last year.
Norwell, 30, is more reliable than Scherff, also 30, in terms of availability. Since 2019, the former has missed just three games compared to 14 contests for the latter.
Quarterback Carson Wentz will have a solid pass protector on the interior, so we won't see him flushed outside the pocket with a ton of pressure right up the middle. The Commanders brought in a solid addition to strengthen their offensive line.
Atlanta Falcons Add CB Casey Hayward Jr.
Terms: 2 years, $11 million
Source: NFL Network's Ian Rapoport
Last season, the Atlanta Falcons ranked 18th in passing yards allowed and gave up 31 touchdowns through the air (tied for the third-most leaguewide). They'll reportedly add a battle-tested veteran cornerback who can bookend the secondary opposite A.J. Terrell.
In 2021, Casey Hayward Jr. recorded nine pass breakups and an interception while allowing a 57.1 completion percentage, a 91.9 passer rating and three touchdowns in coverage as the Las Vegas Raiders' best secondary defender. While his numbers look average, quarterbacks didn't heavily target his side of the field last season.
Still one of the top zone-coverage cornerbacks in the league at 32 years old, Hayward can match up with different types of receivers on the perimeter. He challenges physical pass-catchers with play strength and uses his awareness to keep the top on a defense when lined up across from speedy wideouts.
The Falcons found an upgrade over free-agent cornerback Fabian Moreau, who permitted a 62.5 completion percentage, a 115.1 passer rating and eight touchdowns in coverage last season.
Pittsburgh Steelers Re-Sign CB Ahkello Witherspoon
Terms: 2 years
Source: CBS Sports' Josina Anderson
The Pittsburgh Steelers' depth chart at cornerback will look different as Joe Haden tests free agency. In his absence last season because of a foot injury, Ahkello Witherspoon, whom the team acquired via trade with the Seattle Seahawks in September, played well on the perimeter.
Pittsburgh listed Witherspoon inactive for eight of the first nine contests, and he still led the club in interceptions (three) and tied defensive lineman Cameron Heyward for a team-leading nine pass breakups while playing 57 percent of the defensive snaps. Moreover, he allowed an impressive 37.8 percent completion rate and a 35.1 passer rating in coverage.
In the second half of the season, Witherspoon had a solid role and logged three starts. He'll likely battle for a top-three spot at the position because of his recent ball production and upside as a 2017 third-round pick. If the Steelers tap into the 26-year-old's full potential, they'll have a steal on a two-year deal.
Pittsburgh has a new defensive coordinator in Teryl Austin, who served as the team's senior defensive assistant and secondary coach last year. He's familiar with Witherspoon's capabilities, which bodes well for the young cornerback.
Cincinnati Bengals Replace TE C.J. Uzomah with Hayden Hurst
Terms: 1 year
Source: ESPN's Field Yates
C.J. Uzomah signed with the New York Jets, which left a vacancy at the starting tight end spot for the Cincinnati Bengals. The club will reportedly sign Hayden Hurst, who will have an opportunity to rebound from a quiet 2021 campaign.
Last season, Hurst hauled in 26 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns. Compared to his 2020 numbers (56 catches for 571 yards and six touchdowns), that's at least a 50 percent drop in production for those receiving categories.
After Hurst fell behind tight end Mark Andrews on the depth chart in Baltimore, he saw a spike in targets during his first year with the Atlanta Falcons in 2020, but the team selected Kyle Pitts with the No. 4 pick in the 2021 draft. Consequently, Hurst took a back seat to another high-end pass-catching tight end.
In Cincinnati, Hurst won't battle for snaps with an established player. Drew Sample, a 2019 second-rounder, has 56 receptions for 460 yards and a touchdown for his career and had a minimal role in the aerial attack (11 catches for 81 yards) last season.
Hurst should command a decent number of targets and get opportunities to run free in the open field as defenders focus on wideouts Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
Los Angeles Rams Make Big Splash for WR Allen Robinson II
Terms: 3 years, $46.5 million
Source: NFL Network's Tom Pelissero
Over the past few years, the Los Angeles Rams have pursued prominent veterans via trades and as free agents, landing cornerback Jalen Ramsey, quarterback Matthew Stafford, edge-rusher Von Miller and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Now, we can add Allen Robinson II to the list.
Chris Godwin and Michael Gallup re-signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys, respectively. As a result, the 28-year-old Robinson hit the free-agent market as the top wideout based on overall production, age and skill set. He'll reportedly sign with the reigning Super Bowl champions, who ranked fifth in passing and posted the second-most touchdowns through the air for the 2021 season.
Robinson will join 2021 Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Van Jefferson in the wide receiver corps. Los Angeles could move on from Beckham, who tore his ACL in Super Bowl 56, though according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Rams "hope" to re-sign him.
Despite underwhelming quarterback play at previous stops, Robinson led the league in touchdown receptions (14) for the 2015 campaign and racked up 1,147-plus yards in three of his eight seasons.
Robinson will welcome a new career chapter alongside Stafford after catching passes from Blake Bortles, Mitchell Trubisky, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton and Justin Fields with his former teams. The Rams reload on offense and look much stronger in the passing game.
Cincinnati Bengals Retain CB Eli Apple
Terms: 1 year, $4 million
Source: ESPN's Adam Schefter
Eli Apple somewhat resurrected his career after a nondescript 2020 campaign with the Carolina Panthers in which he battled ankle and foot injuries before the team released him.
Apple played 28 defensive snaps with the Panthers and bounced back as a starter for the Bengals last season. He recorded 10 pass breakups and two interceptions while allowing a 60.3 percent completion rate and an 86.6 passer rating in coverage.
Similar to his performances with the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints, Apple's 2021 had some bright moments with timely stops, but he's still prone to giving up big plays. The inconsistent cover man gave up 12.8 yards per reception last year.
Nonetheless, the Bengals can depend on Apple to suit up and play a decent game. He's more reliable than Trae Waynes, who's struggled to stay healthy, missing 28 outings over the past two seasons, including all of 2020.
Until Waynes shakes off the injury bug and the rust or the Bengals develop a young cornerback, Apple will hold on to the first-string spot.
Las Vegas Raiders Acquire WR Davante Adams in Blockbuster Deal
Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders went into the offseason with a major void to fill at wide receiver, but they had a conservative approach in filling the need through the two-day legal tampering period. They only signed wideout Mack Hollins, who mostly served as a special teamer in his five-year career.
And then boom.
The Raiders set off fireworks, acquiring Davante Adams from the Green Bay Packers for a first-rounder and a second-round pick in this year's draft, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. Vegas will also sign the two-time All-Pro wide receiver to a five-year, $141.25 million extension, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
According to ESPN's Rob Demovsky, the Packers would've paid just as much for Adams on a new deal, but the star wideout "preferred to play elsewhere." He'll head to Vegas to team up with a familiar face.
Quarterback Derek Carr and Adams played together for two seasons at Fresno State, so they have chemistry. Now, they'll join forces in Vegas to battle in a stacked AFC West.
Green Bay Packers
Based on Demovsky's report, the Packers had no choice but to move Adams once he expressed the desire to suit up for another team.
Per Schefter, the Packers have had their eyes on the market for "another veteran wide receiver." With Allen Robinson II set to sign with the Los Angeles Rams, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, Julio Jones, Jarvis Landry and JuJu Smith-Schuster are the biggest free agents available. Green Bay can also use Vegas' draft capital to acquire blue-chip talent at the position in April.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers knew this trade would happen when he signed his deal as the "situation was too far gone" while negotiating his extension, per Rapoport. Perhaps the contract talks frustrated Adams to the point that he felt the need to move on. Regardless, the Packers have a gaping hole in their offense without arguably the league's best receiver.
New York Jets Add Pass-Rusher Jacob Martin
Terms: 3 years, $13.5 million
Source: NFL Network's Ian Rapoport
The New York Jets reinforced their pass rush, reportedly signing Jacob Martin to a multiyear deal. In 2021 with the Houston Texans, he logged four sacks and 19 quarterback pressures while playing 61 percent of the defensive snaps. The 26-year-old can fill in gaps off the edge in case Carl Lawson isn't quite himself when coming back from a ruptured Achilles. Martin has recorded 13.5 sacks, 44 pressures and 13 tackles for loss in four seasons.
Houston Texans Ink Deal with LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin
Terms: 2 years, $7.5 million
Source: Pro Football Network's Aaron Wilson
The rebuilding Texans didn't move the needle with this acquisition. Jalen Reeves-Maybin made his biggest impact on special teams through his first four years with the Detroit Lions and then moved into a starting linebacker role this past season. In 2021, he recorded 82 tackles and four for loss, but missed 9.9 percent of his tackles and allowed a 68.4 percent completion rate in coverage. Don't consider him a shoo-in starter with the Texans.
Las Vegas Raiders Add Versatile OL Alex Bars
Source: Raiders' official website
The Las Vegas Raiders need upgrades at left guard, right tackle or right guard, depending on where Alex Leatherwood lines up after his transition from the perimeter to the interior early in the 2021 season.
The Silver and Black added depth with this acquisition. Alex Bars has lined up in both guard spots and at center through three seasons with the Chicago Bears. With 11 starts in 38 games, he's good enough to earn a spot in the rotation, but don't expect him to make a strong push for a full-time first-string role.
Buffalo Bills Reunite with DE Shaq Lawson
Source: NFL Network's Tom Pelissero
Shaq Lawson remains in the AFC East and goes back to the team that selected him in the first round of the 2016 draft. Following one-year stints with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, he'll likely settle into a reserve role behind Von Miller and Greg Rousseau. Lawson recorded five sacks and 38 quarterback pressures over the last two seasons. Occasionally, he'll make plays in the backfield as a high-level backup or fill-in starter.
Baltimore Ravens Reunite with DT Michael Pierce
Terms: 3 years, $16.5 million
Source: NFL Network's Ian Rapoport
The Baltimore Ravens picked up Michael Pierce from the scrap heap after the Minnesota Vikings shopped him to other clubs, per Rapoport. Going into his age-30 season after an injury-riddled 2020 campaign, he didn't draw any suitors on the trade market.
As a rotational interior defender who missed 25 games over the past two years, Pierce will probably play about 50 percent or less of the defensive snaps as a cog in the Ravens run defense. They need his 6'0", 340-pound frame with defensive linemen Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell and Justin Ellis on the free-agent market.
Dallas Cowboys Retain DE Dorance Armstrong
Terms: 2 years, $13 million
Source: Dallas Morning News' Calvin Watkins
The Dallas Cowboys failed to close a deal with edge-rusher Randy Gregory, who had a change of heart and signed with the Denver Broncos. With his departure, Dorance Armstrong may have a bigger role. As primarily a backup who saw the field for 56 percent of the defensive snaps in 2021, he logged career highs in quarterback pressures (22) and sacks (five). The 24-year-old will have a chance to build on those numbers opposite DeMarcus Lawrence, who reworked his contract.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.