2022 NFL Free Agents Who Signed with the Wrong Team

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2022

2022 NFL Free Agents Who Signed with the Wrong Team

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    It's easy to lose sight of finding the best fit when the money starts flying in NFL free agency.

    Every year, big dollars are thrown around for a new crop of free agents, and every year there are disappointments. For instance, Kenny Golladay left Detroit in free agency during the 2021 offseason to sign a four-year, $72 million deal with the New York Giants.

    So far, that decision hasn't worked out, as Golladay mustered just 37 catches for 571 yards in 14 games during his first season in New York. 

    Whether it's a poor scheme fit, lack of a defined role or just going to a worse situation, these 2022 free agents are probably going to regret their choices.

WR D.J. Chark, Detroit Lions

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    D.J. Chark should have no issue finding targets in Detroit. Outside of Amon-Ra St. Brown, there's not a whole lot to get excited about with the Lions' receiving corps. 

    The problem, though, is whether Chark will be able to use those targets to showcase his strengths. After all, he only signed a one-year, $10 million contract, so he'll have 2022 to prove his worth to the Lions and the rest of the league. 

    As long as Jared Goff is the quarterback for the Lions, it's unlikely Chark will shine. 

    According to John Kinsley's Deep Ball Project, Goff was 27th in the league in accuracy on passes of 21 yards or more. Not only is he inaccurate on those deep throws, but he also tended to avoid them completely in 2021. Goff had the lowest average intended air yards with just 6.6, per Next Gen Stats

    At 6'2" with 4.34 speed, Chark is at his best as a vertical threat. While he'll be a featured part of Detroit's offense, he didn't find the optimal quarterback to raise his stock. 

QB Marcus Mariota, Atlanta Falcons

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    An opportunity to start and the chance to reconnect with former offensive coordinator Arthur Smith were obvious benefits for Marcus Mariota to sign with the Atlanta Falcons. 

    The team traded away Matt Ryan, and this year's crop of rookie quarterbacks isn't considered to be especially strong, which makes it questionable whether the Falcons will spend the No. 8 pick on a quarterback. 

    The question isn't whether Mariota can start, though. It's whether or not he can have success. Looking at his supporting cast in Atlanta, the answer to that question is likely no. 

    The Falcons' offensive line finished 27th in PFF's final rankings. The only move they've made so far to rectify that is signing Elijah Wilkinson, a backup tackle for the Bears last season. 

    Add in the fact that they lost Russell Gage in free agency and tight end Kyle Pitts is the only receiver of note, and this does not look like a place a quarterback should want to try to resurrect his career as a starter. 

DT Jarran Reed, Green Bay Packers

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    Jarran Reed had a pretty good situation in Kansas City. He played beside Chris Jones, one of the most dominant interior pass-rushers in football, as part of a defense that was really aggressive up front. 

    Steve Spagnuolo's defense is all about aggression and, according to PFF data, the Chiefs played with a heavy box more often than all but one team in the league. 

    Reed's career has been spent with the Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks. Both are teams that tend to load the box, which creates easier matchups and assignments for interior defensive tackles. As a result, Reed has showcased his own pass-rushing skills with 24.5 sacks over six seasons. 

    Reed gets to remain on a Super Bowl contender by moving to Green Bay, but his job is about to get more difficult. According to the same data, the Packers played with a lighter box than anyone in the league last season. 

    Kenny Clark and Dean Lowery combined for nine sacks on the interior last season, but there isn't much depth behind them. Reed is one injury away from carrying a much heavier burden than he's had in his career. 

TE C.J. Uzomah, New York Jets

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    No one can blame C.J. Uzomah for following the money to the New York Jets. He got a three-year, $24 million contract that puts him in the top half of the league in average annual value for his position.

    That's great money for a 29-year-old tight end who set a career high in receiving yards last season with 493. However, it's hard to see this move working out for him in a football sense. 

    Uzomah is going to go from an offense where he was working with Joe Burrow and flanked by a receiving core of Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd to New York where he'll have Zach Wilson, Corey Davis and Elijah Moore. 

    Granted, there is room for the Jets offense to grow. However, Wilson wasn't all that interested in targeting his tight ends last season. Ryan Griffin had just 42 targets while Tyler Kroft had 29. They were eighth and ninth on the team, respectively. 

    Uzomah was fourth in targets on a team that just went to the Super Bowl. Now, he might not even see as many targets for an offense with no established identity and an unproven second-year quarterback. 

LB Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas Cowboys

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    It always helps to go where you are wanted. While Leighton Vander Esch was wanted enough for Dallas to re-sign him to a one-year deal, they didn't like him enough to exercise his fifth-year option or expand his role in 2021.

    Vander Esch had an astounding rookie season in 2018. However, his time in Dallas has been rocky since. He has posted PFF grades of 58.4, 50.6 and 63.5 in his past three seasons after scoring at 84.4 as a rookie. 

    While playing in Dan Quinn's system helped him post his highest grade since his rookie year, he did so while playing the smallest role of his career. Vander Esch was only on the field for 58 percent of the defensive snaps in 2021 despite being a starter. 

    Keanu Neal's departure could once again expand his role, but Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said 2021 fourth-round pick Jabril Cox will step into Neal's role coming off of his ACL surgery, per Michael Gehlkin of the Dallas Morning News. 

    Given his up-and-down career to this point, Vander Esch was likely going to have to sign a one-year "prove-it" deal regardless. He just should have looked to "prove it" somewhere he could have a bigger role instead of staying in Dallas.

WR Cedrick Wilson, Miami Dolphins

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    After a breakout season with the Dallas Cowboys, Cedrick Wilson put himself in position to become a second or third option in the passing game for an NFL team. He posted 45 catches for 602 yards and six touchdowns with an expanded role in light of Michael Gallup's injury this season. 

    The problem with returning to Dallas was he was going to once again be a fourth or fifth option behind CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, Gallup and Dalton Schultz. 

    When Wilson signed with Miami, it looked like he would be the second or third option behiund Jaylen Waddle and tight end Mike Gesicki. Now, with Tyreek Hill in the fold, Wilson once again appears to be falling in the pecking order before he even suits up for his new team. 

    Assuming Mike McDaniel plans on installing a similar offense to what he ran in San Francisco, that's not much of a role. The 49ers ran the ball at the fourth-highest rate last season, and with the addition of Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert in free agency, it would appear that's part of the plan once again. 

    Hill, Gesicki and Waddle will all get more targets while the running game will make opportunities even more scarce for Wilson.