The 2022 NFL offseason has so far been wildly fruitful. Some teams have made complete 180 turnarounds with their activity while others have failed to deliver. In the meantime, the outside observers have been treated to plenty of intriguing moves and have overseen the creation of storylines that are set to run the NFL for years to come.
These are the five best free-agent signings up to this point in the 2022 NFL offseason. The moves are placed and sorted mainly based on fit and value for price.
5. D.J. Jones, Denver Broncos
The Broncos have been very active during this year’s offseason, to say the least. Earlier this spring, Denver decided it is time for big changes at the club’s most important spots, including head coach, quarterback, and the front line of the defense. The list of new additions was headlined by Nathaniel Hackett at HC and Russell Wilson at QB, with the latter being acquired from Seattle in exchange for two first-round picks and defensive end Shelby Harris, amongst other assets.
Furthermore, the defense also saw a few valuable upgrades come aboard. The most notable of those were former Cowboys edge-rusher Randy Gregory and former Niners interior lineman D.J. Jones. The former might be more highly valued, given the high potential he has been said to have since his early days in North Texas.
However, if you look at it from a different point of view, the Broncos are set to pay an average of about $14 million a year for a still unproven player whose career-high in sacks stands at six. In contrast, Jones only costs $10 million on average, with a potential out after two years which would get $13 million off his team’s salary-cap burden.
Furthermore, the former 49er is coming off the best campaign of his career. Last winter, the East Mississippi Community College alum started all 17 regular-season games for San Fran, taking part in 55 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, and turning in a magnificent Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade of 73.2. Also, his 43 solo tackles were tied for 10th-most in the league. All of that – a year after another promising PFF grade, 61.3 in 2020.
Gregory might be the player with the higher ceiling, although he is yet to prove his capabilities across an entire NFL season. However, D.J. Jones’s numbers, given that they maintain their levels over a bigger chunk of snaps, make him the better investment.
4. D.J. Reed, New York Jets
Reed was drafted by the 49ers in 2018 and did not receive much playing time during his inaugural two campaigns in NoCal. The Bakersfield native started just two matchups in that span. However, after being waived, released, and traded by a few different squads, Reed was brought in by the Seahawks shortly before the start of the 2020 NFL season. He would spend the next two years there and his performance would be nothing short of impressive.
During his two seasons in Seattle, D.J. Reed started more than eight games in each campaign, being present on the field for 83 percent of the snaps in 2020 and 96 percent in 2021. Meanwhile, his dominance, primarily on the outside, was impeccable, allowing ratings of merely 75.8 and 67.8, respectively.
At the same time, the New York Jets‘ struggles as regards the secondary, and the outside cornerback post in particular, may have outweighed any other team’s struggles roster-wise this spring. In 2021, NY surrendered the second-highest team passer rating, as well as the fourth-highest completion percentage and the most yards per passing attempt. The secondary’s other outside corner, Bryce Hall, enters the 2022 season after allowing a disappointing figure of 106.6 in coverage.
Problems are not absent at the safety positions either, as Marcus Maye, the sole light in the darkness, departed for New Orleans while Ashtyn Davis’s rating was north of 120.0. This pathetic display will continue to have a huge influence on the defense’s performance, especially as the running defense has also begun to decline. Therefore, this deal is more than a good fit.
New York will pay about $11 million per year in what looks like a contract with promises of a bargain. The Jets started the offseason with almost $50 million in cap space and have perfectly exploited it with impressive signings. D.J. Reed is no exception.
3. Charvarius Ward, San Francisco 49ers
This might be the signing that keeps the balance and stability of the 49ers defense. In 2021, the Niners were amongst the best teams in the league in pass-rushing, in the upper echelon against the run, and near the bottom against the pass.
This spring saw the exit of many playing in those units. One of these saw D.J. Jones, a defensive tackle, while the others were primarily members of the secondary. Nickel corner K’Waun Williams joined the Broncos while Josh Norman and Jason Verrett are still on the market.
San Francisco did not have much cap space entering March but, with a few pieces of financial gymnastics, they were able to afford the services of Charvarius Ward on the outside. The three-year deal is worth $40.5 million but the cap hit on SF is just $3.8 million in the first year. More importantly, the 49ers get a greatly consistent corner to boost one of the worst secondaries in the NFL.
Ward played his first four campaigns on the pro level with the Kansas City Chiefs. During his “sophomore” season, the Middle Tennessee State product started 16 games and conceded a rating of merely 65.2 across 89 targets in coverage. This was followed up by an abysmal 103.1 figure in 2020.
However, last year will forever remain as “the great bounce back” in Ward’s career thus far. Being a starter in twelve games, and facing 76 targets, Ward dominated the competition with an allowed passer rating of 79.4.
Last winter, Charvarius Ward clearly proved that his 2020 display was an unfortunate fluke and that his usual level is in the range of his 2019 and 2021 numbers. That raises the bar for his estimates heading into the new league year and big things are expected by the fifth-year cornerback. Should these levels of success prevail, this move will be beyond cheap considering the output.
2. Laken Tomlinson, New York Jets
New York has not had a winning season in six years. The Jets’ woes have been seemingly endless and, after a 4-13 campaign, it is not a surprise that so were their holes entering the offseason.
Just like the secondary, the offensive line had avid problems during the team’s weak 2021 run. NYJ’s 53 conceded sacks were the fourth-most in all of professional football last year. Individual pieces such as Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Connor McGovern have provided some improvement. However, the missing parts still cause more problems.
The guard post on the other side of Vera-Tucker was an opportunity for Joe Douglas to increase the stability of the unit. At that position, Greg Van Roten had performed in an underwhelming fashion. With a lot of salary-cap resources available, the Jets were ready to buy a high-profile asset. Laken Tomlinson would become just that.
Tomlinson was signed to a three-year deal worth $40 million. The experienced offensive guard was a crucial part of San Francisco’s O-Line, missing just one game in the past five seasons. Furthermore, the former Duke prospect has put on a PFF grade over 65.0 in four of his last five campaigns, and above 70.0 in each of his last two. His career-high was 78.8 in 2020, a year before his most recent figure on record – 75.9. Moreover, Laken Tomlinson also allowed just two sacks during his farewell in Santa Clara.
Should the 30-year-old unveil his true potential, the Jets should at least start moving towards the top half of the league in offensive-line stability.
1. Alex Cappa, Cincinnati Bengals
It was a year of incredible, unbelievable feats for the Cincinnati Bengals. Firstly, the team won its first AFC North title since 2015. Then came the Bengals’ first playoff victory in 31 years and first AFC pennant in 33 years. Finally, Cincy came just a touchdown drive short of the inaugural Super Bowl title in the franchise’s history. The brilliance of QB Joe Burrow and rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase, as well as the team’s strong defense, came under the lights.
However, the Bengals were under no circumstances flawless. One of their huge weaknesses turned out to be the protection the O-Line provided Burrow. More specifically, Cincinnati’s front line allowed 53 sacks during the 2021 campaign, third-most in the NFL.
Jonah Williams and La’el Collins both had stable seasons on the exterior and are returning to the Bengals in 2022. The vibes on the interior are not quite as positive though.
Firstly, Quinton Spain, who started 16 games in a solid effort, has left to join the FA market. Secondly, Trey Hopkins mightily struggled in 15 starts as the guard on the other side, posting a PFF grade of 51.4. Their departures leave two glaring holes in the middle of the O-Line; youngster Jackson Carman was already bound to fill one of those. The response to the other was to be sought from the market. That being said, the Bengals have probably found one of the best assets to satisfy their needs in former Buccaneer Alex Cappa.
Cappa started all seventeen games for Tampa Bay a year after he missed no matchups for the championship-winning Bucs. In his fourth professional campaign, he continued his improvement, building upon a solid 2020 to turn in a strong PFF grade of 74.2. That was despite being in the top ten in snaps played in both campaigns.
As Cappa is only 27 years old and his contract cap hit exceeds $10 million in just one of his four years in Cincy, this seems like a truly game-changing deal that could help keep the Bengals among the NFL’s elite.
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