2022 NFL Offseason Dominos Left to Fall in June
With the conclusion of the early stages of free agency and the NFL draft, offseason activity has slowed to a crawl. Teams are busy working in organized team activities (OTAs), but the transaction wire has been relatively quiet.
However, this doesn't mean that it is going to stay quiet. As we move into mandatory minicamp and closer to training camp, teams will need to address roster holes, resolve contract situations, and absent players will get onto the practice field.
Here, we'll dive into the biggest free-agent, trade and contract dominoes that could fall in the next couple of months. We're looking specifically at situations that franchises and/or players can control, so we won't tackle injury questions and potential suspensions.
Which teams and players could put pen to paper on an offseason deal next? Let's take a look.
Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray Contract Extensions
Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens and Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals are both Pro Bowl quarterbacks eligible for extensions. Both were also absent during early OTAs—Murray reported on Wednesday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Jackson is set to play on the fifth-year option, and extending the 2019 MVP now makes plenty of sense for Baltimore. There hasn't been much buzz about contract negotiations, though Albert Breer of The MMQB believes this is by design.
"The Ravens believe trust is a huge factor, really, in all areas for Jackson, but especially with the contract negotiation," Breer wrote. "So the circle will be kept small on his contract talks, and I'd expect the Baltimore brass will be protective with information on it."
Murray's situation is a little more complicated. Including his fifth-year option, the Oklahoma product is under control for two more seasons. So, while the Ravens may have to tag Jackson next year and play the year-to-year game if they don't sign an extension, the Cardinals don't have to rush.
This doesn't mean that Arizona won't lock up Murray in the coming months.
"I feel like we'll be able to get something done this summer," general manager John Keim told the Pat McAfee Show (h/t Darren Urban of the team's official website).
Negotiating an extension may be tricky in the wake of the five-year, $230 million, fully guaranteed deal that Deshaun Watson signed with the Cleveland Browns this offseason. However, no one should be surprised to see Murray, Jackson or both get paid before the start of the preseason.
Baker Mayfield, Jimmy Garoppolo Trades
While Jackson and Murray await new deals, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and San Francisco 49ers signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo are waiting to find new homes.
Mayfield became expendable when the Browns acquired Watson. However, Cleveland might not move him until Watson's situation becomes a little clearer. The three-time Pro Bowler still faces 22 civil lawsuits from women who have accused him of sexual assault or misconduct and could face league discipline under the personal conduct policy.
And according to ESPN's Sarah Barshop on Tuesday, a 23rd lawsuit was recently filed against Watson.
Convincing Mayfield to play placeholder may be virtually impossible, but Cleveland may try if Watson is suspended for a large chunk of the 2022 season.
Watson's lawyer, Rusty Hardin, expects to "know what [the NFL's] position is" sometime in June, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.
Garoppolo can be had because San Francisco traded significant capital to draft Trey Lance with the third overall pick in last year's draft. However, Garoppolo underwent offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder, which has kept teams from flipping the switch on a deal.
San Francisco is reportedly hoping to move Garoppolo once he's healthy and ideally before training camp.
"Garoppolo's shoulder is slated to get the all-clear in late June or early July, at which point the Niners will again seek a trade partner," ESPN's Nick Wagoner wrote.
We're likely to see Garoppolo and Mayfield on the move at some point this offseason, but the timing and the destination remain unclear for each of them.
The Deebo Samuel Situation
In addition to Garoppolo, the 49ers have another domino left to fall. Star wide receiver Deebo Samuel requested a trade earlier this offseason and hasn't been involved in OTAs. San Francisco remains adamant it doesn't want to trade the All-Pro.
"I can't ever imagine wanting to move on from Deebo," Lynch said, per The Athletic. "He's just too good of a player."
However, the 49ers did entertain trade offers during the draft, according to Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area. No trade occurred, and head coach Kyle Shanahan is confident the 49ers will work things out with their top wideout.
"Yeah, of course I do," Kyle Shanahan told reporters (at the 2:52 mark). "And I felt that last time I talked to you guys at draft time, and I feel the same if not stronger."
The problem is Samuel—who is eligible for a new deal—isn't only unhappy with his contract situation. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, he's also unhappy with how much San Francisco used him as a runner last season when he rushed 59 times for 365 yards.
This creates a tricky situation for the 49ers. Samuel is a supremely gifted wideout who had 1,405 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns last season, but he's most valuable as a dual threat. If he isn't willing to play that runner/receiver role, San Francisco may not be eager to give him a top-of-the-market deal. Another team could be far less hesitant.
We could see Samuel's situation go in several directions in the coming weeks. He could be traded, sign an extension, return for 2022 under the condition that he's a receiver only, or he could continue holding out. Fans can only wait to see how it unfolds.
Odell Beckham Jr.'s Next Team
While Odell Beckam Jr. couldn't recapture his Pro Bowl form with the Browns, he was a force in the 2021 postseason for the Los Angeles Rams. He appeared in all four of L.A.'s playoff games and finished with 21 catches, 288 yards and two touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Beckham also suffered a torn ACL during Super Bowl LVI.
The Rams have yet to re-sign Beckham, though they insist they'd like to have him back.
"Oh, of course. I really want Odell back on our team," head coach Sean McVay said on the Rich Eisen Show (h/t NFL.com's Coral Smith). "He's a guy that, in a short amount of time, we were able to develop a really special relationship. I thought he brought a great spark to our team."
No other team has moved on Beckham to this point, and there may not be an urgency to sign him. The timing of Beckham's injury makes it virtually certain he won't be ready to contribute until late in the season or during the playoffs.
Still, it would be a mild surprise if Beckham remains unsigned heading into training camp. The 29-year-old will want to begin absorbing the offense and working with a team's training staff for the late stages of his recovery. Teams hoping to sign Beckham can't want to wait too long, as that would run the risk of him signing elsewhere first.
Expect Beckham to settle on his next home before the start of the preseason in August.
Jessee Bates III and the Franchise Tag
While the OTA absences of Murray, Jackson and Samuel have generated a fair bit of attention, Jessie Bates III's absence has been a bit more under-the-radar.
The Cincinnati Bengals standout safety was superb in 2020, finishing with 109 tackles, 15 passes defended and three interceptions. He wasn't as statistically impressive last season—he logged 88 tackles, four passes defended and a pick—but was instrumental in Cincinnati's march to Super Bowl LVI.
The Bengals placed the franchise tag on Bates this offseason, but the 25-year-old reportedly wants no part of it.
According to Tyler Dragon of USA Today, Bates has no intention of signing or playing under the franchise tag this season.
If Bates is willing to hold out into training camp and/or the regular season, the Bengals may consider trading him. They used a first-round pick on Michigan defensive back Daxton Hill, who could play either safety or corner as a rookie. Cincinnati would likely prefer to have both Hill and Bates on the field, since the former Wolverine is a fine insurance policy.
If Cincinnati isn't willing to entertain a trade, then it will have to either grant Bates an extension or hope he eventually signs his franchise-tag tender. Will the Bengals or Bates blink before the July 15 extension deadline? We'll get an answer in the next few weeks.
Orlando Brown Jr. Contract Extension
Like Bates, Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. received the franchise tag this offseason. Unlike in Cincinnati, though, there doesn't appear to be any real risk of a holdout. According to Jordan Schultz of The Game Day NFL, the Chiefs plan to extend Brown before the July 15 deadline.
"I'm told Brown, just 26, has been in interview mode with multiple agents—as Kansas City stands by," Schultz tweeted. "Brett Veach is a huge fan of Brown and knows he's essential to long-term success."
The question here isn't whether Brown will get an extension this summer, but rather what his new deal will entail.
The 26-year-old is a three-time Pro Bowler who has earned those all-star honors at both right and left tackle. In his first season with Kansas City, he was responsible for seven penalties and four sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus.
Given his age and high level of play, Brown could realistically reset the tackle market in the coming weeks. 49ers tackle Trent Williams currently leads the market with an annual salary of $23.01 million, but it's not outlandish to envision Brown getting a deal in the $25-million-per-year range. If he does, it will have a huge impact on the next wave of tackles looking to sign contract extensions.
Brown is going to get paid handsomely this summer. What we're waiting to see is how much Kansas City is willing to pay him.
Rob Gronkowski's Decision
Tom Brady hasn't been at OTAs, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shouldn't be concerned about that. Brady wouldn't have unretired to hold out, and he's been working out away from the team—and with tight end Rob Gronkowski, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.
The question is when or if Gronkowski will re-sign with the Buccaneers.
"Bucs HC Todd Bowles says it's 'status quo' with Rob Gronkowski, who remains undecided about whether to play in 2022. He said he's been [given] no timetable when Gronk will make a decision," Stroud tweeted last month.
Gronkowski hasn't stated whether he's leaning toward another run or retirement, but he would be an asset if he chooses to come back. Despite missing four games to a chest injury and one to back spasms, Gronkowski finished 2021 with 802 yards and six touchdowns.
Recently, the 33-year-old hinted he could be a spectator in 2022.
"I'll represent a 7 jersey in the stands for ya!" Gronkowski commented on an Instagram post by Bucs running back Leonard Fournette (h/t ESPN's Jenna Laine).
However, the fact that Gronkowski has been working with Brady this offseason suggests he's at least strongly considering one more season. Expect him to make a decision before the start of training camp.
Extensions for Other Fourth- and Fifth-Year Players
There is a wide group of fourth- and fifth-year players who are eligible for extensions. We'll examine them together as their situations differ from those of Jackson and Murray (quarterbacks) and Samuel (not entirely financially based).
Players like Indianapolis Colts guard Quenton Nelson, Washington Commanders receiver Terry McLaurin, Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson, Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Seattle Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf are all able to sign new deals immediately.
Nelson and Fitzpatrick are set to play on the fifth-year option. McLaurin, Johnson and Metcalf are all entering the fourth and final seasons of their respective rookie deals. While some of them have sat out OTAs—Johnson recently reported for the Steelers—we probably won't see any of them threaten holdouts into the regular season.
However, it would still behoove teams to get their young stars under contract this offseason instead of letting them potentially hit free agency in 2023. Contract uncertainty can be a distraction, and some teams won't address it during the season.
New Steelers general manager Omar Khan recently told reporters he won't change Pittsburgh's policy of setting a Week 1 deadline on contract talks (h/t Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk).
"Those big decisions are always going to be Steeler decisions," Khan said.
Teams looking to avoid the risk of losing young centerpieces or having to use the franchise tag should look to ink new deals before the start of training camp. Don't be surprised if we see at least one or two notable extensions come through the transaction wire in the coming weeks.
*Contract information via Spotrac.