2022 WNBA free agency: Top players, teams that need to make moves, how it works

It's about to be a wild free agency period in the WNBA. There are four former MVPs who became unrestricted free agents in the new year. Much of the reigning champion Chicago Sky's roster can head other places. And the Atlanta Dream, smack in the middle of a continued full rebuild of the franchise, have a plethora of roster spots to fill.

Here's everything you need to know before free agency begins.

When does WNBA free agency begin?

Players can begin talking to teams on Saturday, Jan. 15. They can officially sign contracts beginning on Feb. 1.

What's the supermax, salary cap?

The salary cap set by the collective bargaining agreement for 2022 is $1,379,200. Teams must carry at minimum 11 players and at most 12.

The player supermax salary is $228,094 for eligible veteran players and the maximum is $196,267.

The minimum salary for player with two or fewer years of service is $60,471 and for three or more years is $72,141.

I've seen deals already. What are those?

Teams could begin sending out qualifying offers on Jan. 1 to players set to become restricted free agents or reserved players who are out of contract. Players are able to sign those immediately. Or they can wait to hear offers from other teams before signing. Reserved players might decide to sign because they're unlikely to hear offers. Unrestricted players probably won't sign until they hear other teams' offers, which their teams can match.

Natisha Hiedeman unofficially kicked off free agency on Jan. 3 by signing her qualifying offer with the Connecticut Sun. Lauren Cox (Los Angeles Sparks) and Beatrice Mompremier (Sun) followed.

What about core designations?

Each team can use the core designation for one veteran unrestricted free agent. It's a one-year, supermax deal. The player is unable to negotiate with anyone else, but can negotiate with their team on a longer contract. The core designation remains the length of the player's contract unless traded, waived or retired.

Teams can have only one player on the roster under a core designation. Two teams already have cored players in Phoenix (Brittney Griner) and Los Angeles (Nneka Ogwumike). Beginning this season, players can be cored twice in their careers, down from the previous three. Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Candice Dupree, Sylvia Fowles and Angel McCoughtry can no longer receive a core designation, per Her Hoop Stats.

Breanna Stewart shoots a 3-pointer.

Four MVPs lead top free agents

Yes, there are four league MVPs who are unrestricted free agents and a fifth, Las Vegas Aces forward and 2020 award-winner A'ja Wilson, who is a restricted free agent. Wilson can speak with other teams, but the Aces have the "right of first refusal" and can match the offer, which would retain her.

  • 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones (Sun): Jones, 28, can sign a supermax deal after her ascension to MVP. The 6-foot-6 center averaged 19.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks in her MVP season. She's only ever played for the Sun.

  • 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart (Storm): Seattle has a lot to figure out with Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird all hitting free agency. Stewart, the club's No. 1 overall pick in 2016, won two titles, two Finals MVPs and one league MVP in Seattle. The 6-foot-4 forward has said she plans on being back in town. She's averaged 20 points and 8.9 rebounds in her five-year career.

  • 2017 MVP Sylvia Fowles (Lynx): Fowles, 36, could be considering retirement following a 14-year career in which she averaged 15.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and shot 59.7% from the floor. The 6-foot-6 center asked out of Chicago before the 2015 season and landed with Minnesota, where she won two titles, two Finals MVPs and two of her four Defensive Player of the Year awards.

  • 2012 MVP Tina Charles (Mystics): The trade that sent Charles, 33, from her hometown New York Liberty to the Washington Mystics shook up the league landscape and 2020 draft held days afterward. But two years later, Charles (23.4 ppg to lead the league in 2021) has played barely any minutes with superstar and 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne, who has dealt with back issues. Charles wants to win a title before retiring and might look for the best place to do it.

Angel McCoughtry looks to inbound the ball.
Angel McCoughtry is still chasing an elusive ring. Could she return to the Atlanta Dream as a veteran presence? (Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

What teams have the most to do?

There are two teams who will be making a flurry of moves this free agency period and two with big names on the call sheet.

Atlanta: The Dream franchise is undergoing a complete overhaul following a new ownership group, front office and coach. Only five players (Cheyenne Parker, Tianna Hawkins, Chennedy Carter, Aari McDonald, Maite Cazorla) are signed to contracts for 2022. Players no longer signed include WNBPA executive vice president Elizabeth Williams, 2016 Most Improved Player and 2020 All-Defensive First Teamer, and Tiffany Hayes. And they have the third overall pick in the draft in April.

One potential free agent signing to keep an eye on is Angel McCoughtry, the franchise's No. 1 overall pick in 2009 who left for the Aces in 2020. McCoughtry is still chasing an elusive ring, but has been working out in the offseason with Carter. After last season's headlines, the Dream could use a leader who is close to the young star.

Chicago: The Sky crashed their way to their first championship, but James Wade's club might look different when they try to run it back. Four players (Candace Parker, Azura Stevens, Ruthy Hebard, Dana Evans) are under contracts for 2022 while the rest are currently in the free agent waters.

Finals MVP Kahleah Copper, six-time assists leader Courtney Vandersloot, 3-point contest champion Allie Quigley and 3x3 Olympic gold medalist Stefanie Dolson are all unrestricted free agents as is Astou Ndour-Fall. Wade already extended qualifying offers to the two restricted free agents in Diamond DeShields ($73,542) and Lexie Brown ($72,141), per Her Hoop Stats.

What about 2021 favorites Storm, Aces?

Seattle and Las Vegas sneak onto this list for the names involved.

The Storm could see a major shake-up with their three top players in Stewart, Bird and Loyd as unrestricted free agents. Bird has recently played on one-year deals and recently announced she would return for a 19th WNBA season. Loyd might choose to be the star somewhere else, and the franchise could make a splashy move of its own bringing someone in alongside Stewart.

In Las Vegas, the franchise will almost certainly sign restricted free agent A'ja Wilson to a maximum deal. That will cut into the cap as she jumps from a $70,040 rookie contract to the $196,000 area. The biggest question is Liz Cambage, an unrestricted free agent who recently split with her Australian national team and reportedly with her agent. Wilson won MVP in the bubble while Cambage sat out and a new coach, Becky Hammon, could change the outlook in town. The 6-foot-8 center was paid $221,450 in 2021 and has previously opted not to play in the WNBA. McCoughtry, who is coming off an ACL injury suffered ahead of the 2021 season, and defensive star Riquna Williams are also unrestricted free agents.

Who are the other top free agents?

Here are a few more names to keep an eye on in free agency.

  • Emma Meesseman, F, Mystics: The 6-foot-4 forward and the Mystics 2013 second-round pick became a free agent after the 2020 season. Meesseman, the 2019 Finals MVP, skipped all of 2021 while with the Belgian national team.

  • Julie Allemand, G, Fever: Allemand (8.5 ppg, 5.8 apg, 4.6 rpg in 2020) sat out last season while with her national team. She wrote in an Instagram post she would be taking time off due to mental health struggles.

  • Courtney Williams, G, Dream: Williams took over the 2019 WNBA Finals for the Sun and opted for the Dream in free agency following the series loss. But the Dream have said they won't re-sign her for her role in an altercation outside of an Atlanta club. Williams is playing in the inaugural basketball season of Athletes Unlimited.

  • Rebecca Allen, F/G, Liberty: Allen, 29, had career seasons in 2019 and 2021 with the Liberty while providing key defense. New York officially named former Mercury leader Sandy Brondello as head coach a week before free agency.

  • Sophie Cunningham, G, Mercury: Cunningham, 25, stepped up for the Mercury in the Finals run, shooting 56.5% from 3-point range. Phoenix will have a new coach and does not have much cap room to work within.

  • Myisha Hines-Allen, F, Mystics: Hines-Allen, 25, is a restricted free agent who stepped up in the wubble season (17 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 51% FG). The 6-foot-1 forward had another strong season in 2021 and is coming off a rookie contract under the previous CBA.

  • Crystal Bradford, F, Dream: Bradford returned to a WNBA roster with the Dream and put up a showing worthy of Most Improved consideration (8.8 ppg, 42.9% FG). But the reserved player was involved in the altercation with Williams, and the Dream, who had first chance at her rights, said they would not re-sign her.