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There are only four teams left fighting for Super Bowl LVI, which means 28 teams are deeply engrossed in the Business Season of the NFL. The first major tentpole event of that season is free agency, which begins at 4 p.m. ET March 16. Teams are aware of the salary cap for the 2022 season, and are planning to build out their rosters accordingly.
We’ve decided to give them some help. Cap and negotiations aside, we’ve determined one pending free agent (as of the time of publication) that isn’t currently on each team for each team.
Based on our results, expect hot markets for CB J.C. Jackson, WR Mike Williams and DT Akiem Hicks — none of which should be considered a surprise for anyone. There are interesting names that might not be the first considered in such an exercise, but compelling arguments are made.
Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments, or give us a tweet @NFLWire
Patriots -- WR Chris Godwin (Buccaneers)
(AP Photo/Scott Audette)
Would Bill Belichick take extra pleasure in stealing away Godwin from Tom Brady? It’s hard to imagine the Patriots spending more at the receiver position after last year’s big free agency, but if there’s any player who would justify it, it’s Godwin. He would be an ideal fit for New England’s system, and would set Mac Jones on a steeper upward trajectory. If the Patriots can make the money work, they should sign Godwin. They will need more firepower to compete with the Chiefs and Bills in the AFC. –Henry McKenna, Patriots Wire
Bills -- OL Andrew Norwell (Jaguars)
The Bills have had improved play from their offensive line as of late. However, Buffalo should not sit on their hands. At tackle, the Bills are locked in with Dion Dawkins and Spencer Brown. In the middle is where an addition could be made and former All-Pro Norwell could be the perfect fit. When you have quarterback Josh Allen, you throw the ball a ton. Norwell, 30, just finished his ninth NFL season. In all of them, Pro Football Focus has graded him a 70.0 or high every single season as a pass blocker. And as always, the connection. He originally entered the NFL with the Panthers in 2014 as a UDFA when Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane were in Carolina. Those two love going down their former-Panther well. – Nick Wojton, Bills Wire
AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson
With veterans Marcus Maye and Lamarcus Joyner heading to free agency after season-ending injuries, the Jets don’t have much experience or depth at safety. Youngsters Elijah Riley and Jason Pinnock flashed potential over limited looks at the end of the season, but Gang Green needs a surefire starter, if not two, at the position. The Jets could likely draft Notre Dame star Kyle Hamilton at No. 4, but upgrading at safety via free agency would allow them to use that selection on more of a premium position. Bates, meanwhile, has solid range in coverage and racks up tackles. Only 24, he could start in New York for years to come. – Gary Phillips, Jets Wire
Dolphins -- OT Terron Armstead (Saints)
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The Dolphins have attacked the offensive line heavily in the draft in recent years without much success. Instead of diving back into rookies, Miami should consider going after Armstead. He’s 31 years old and had a knee issue that will require surgery this offseason, but when he was on the field this season, he was as good as he’s been. In 2021, Pro Football Focus had him rated at the 24th best tackle overall, but fifth in terms of pass blocking. With Jesse Davis and Liam Eichenberg struggling, the Dolphins could plug in Armstead and immediately improve their offense. – Mike Masala, Dolphins Wire
Ravens -- DB Tyrann Mathieu (Chiefs)
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Mathieu could have been an option for Baltimore in 2019, but they elected to sign Earl Thomas III instead, something that didn’t pan out for multiple reasons. Now with the former LSU Tiger hitting the free agent market once again, the Ravens have a chance to correct their mistake. Mathieu would provide a stable veteran presence who can do it all and play at multiple positions. He is also extremely durable, a trait that Baltimore hasn’t had out of many of their defensive backs over the last few years. He could be a bit pricey, but the investment would be worth it if Mathieu can come in and be another high-level chess piece for defensive coordinator Don Martindale. — Kevin Oestreicher, Ravens Wire
Browns -- DE Chandler Jones (Cardinals)
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Keeping DE Jadeveon Clowney would be welcomed but he may price himself out of their market. Jones could be the perfect fit of a talented player to replace Clowney but one who won’t cause Cleveland to break the bank. Having a competent pass rusher opposite Myles Garrett created problems in 2021, the Browns need to replicate that in 2022. A receiver like Mike Williams or Allen Robinson could also be targeted. – Jared K. Mueller, Browns Wire
Bengals -- G Brandon Scherff (Washington)
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With a top-10 cap number again, the Bengals figure to do some heavy shopping along the offensive line. The right side is still a question mark, with second-round guard Jackson Carman unable to get on the field at all and veteran right tackle Riley Reiff not part of the long-term outlook.
The Bengals could at least solidify the guard spot in front of Joe Burrow with Scherff, the former top-five pick and two-time franchise-tag signee. He’d be an unquestioned upgrade, both in terms of play and reliability, attendance-wise. The Bengals are one of the few teams that probably feel comfortable enough to allocate so much cap to a guard, but the need is real. Front-loading the deal while Burrow’s still on a rookie contract could only extend the team’s contention window. Right tackle and premium areas like corner could then be prioritized in the draft. – Chris Roling, Bengals Wire
Steelers -- DL Akiem Hicks (Bears)
(AP Photo/Danny Karnik)
Pittsburgh enters the offseason with multiple needs, most of which should be able to be filled via the NFL draft. Positions like quarterback, offensive line and even wide receiver benefit from a deep draft. However one spot that lacks both top-tier talent and depth that the Steelers need is defensive line.
After enduring the loss of both Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt in 2021, the run defense suffered. This offseason the Steelers could go a long way toward shoring things up by signing defensive lineman Akiem Hicks.
Hicks is a mountain of a man but plays with surprising quickness on the interiors. Hicks has 110 career starts and has proven his worth, even at 32 years old is playing great football. In 2021, Hicks had 3.5 sacks but it was his run support that stood out and should entice Pittsburgh to take a shot on him. — Curt Popejoy, Steelers Wire
Colts -- TE Dalton Schultz (Cowboys)
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The Colts have many needs this offseason and one of their more underrated needs include the tight end position. With the chance of Jack Doyle retiring and Mo Alie-Cox being a free agent, the Colts will be on the hunt for a new tight end. They should look no further than Schultz, who has emerged as a strong option for the Cowboys in both phases of the game.
Emerging as a starter over the last two seasons in Dallas, Schultz has proven to be a solid receiving tight end. He may not be the most athletically gifted, but he’s solid at the catch point, is a savvy route runner and can work both in-line and in the slot. Edge rusher and left tackle are bigger needs, but Schultz should be high on the priority list for the Colts in free agency because he’d fill a massive need with immediate production. — Kevin Hickey, Colts Wire
Texans -- DE Emmanuel Ogbah (Dolphins)
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Houston struggled to generate a pass rush with just 32 sacks, tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the fifth-most in the NFL. Adding Ogbah, who has produced nine sacks for two consecutive seasons, would give the Texans a semblance of a lead edge rusher to pair with DE Jonathan Greenard, who had eight sacks in his second season.
Ogbah also had nine tackles for loss, which would help Houston in an area where they had some strength last season. Despite the Texans’ troubles getting to the quarterback, the defense generated 81 tackles for loss, tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the seventh-most in the league.
If the Texans hire Ogbah’s former coach in Brian Flores, it could make Houston’s acquisition of the former Cleveland Browns 2016 second-round pick easier. — Mark Lane, Texans Wire
Titans -- TE Dalton Schultz (Cowboys)
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One of the biggest areas of need for the Titans going into the offseason is at tight end, where the team doesn’t have a true every-down player who excels both as a pass-catcher and run-blocker.
Schultz would check that box. After having a breakout year in 2020, Schultz took another step forward in 2021, reeling in career-highs in catches (78), receiving yards (808) and touchdowns (eight). He’s also a great red-zone target with his 6-foot-5 frame.
Schultz thrived as a run-blocker as well, earning a Pro Football Focus grade of 69.4 in that area. The 25-year-old will be a hot commodity on the open market and should be at the top of Tennessee’s list of tight end options. — Mike Moraitis, Titans Wire
Jaguars -- WR Allen Robinson (Bears)
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The Jags have a lot of holes on their roster, but getting Trevor Lawrence some weapons and protection should be a top priority. Even if they re-sign DJ Chark Jr., they could afford to make a big-time investment into a game-changer type receiver and will have plenty of cap space to do so with an estimated figure of around $60 million set to be available.
With that kind of money, the team would be wise to at least take a swing at a reunion with Allen Robinson. While he may not offer the speed the team needs, he gets open and makes plays in other ways, whether it’s by using his size or body control against defensive backs. If he’s open to a reunion and the Jags could sway him, Robinson would likely be paired with the best quarterback he’s ever had, and success could come a little easier than before. – James Johnson, Jaguars Wire
Chiefs -- WR Allen Robinson (Bears)
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If the Chiefs venture outside of simply re-signing their own free agents, they’d be wise to focus on either the receiver or defensive end position. The lack of a true No. 2 WR opposite Tyreek Hill was quite apparent throughout the 2022 NFL season for Kansas City. The 28-year-old Robinson is coming off a down year with the Bears, posting just 38 catches for 438 yards and a touchdown in 11 games started this season. In each of the two seasons prior, he had over 150 targets and over 1,000 yards receiving. Should the down year impact his market value, a one-year deal with the Chiefs could help him jump-start his chances at a big payday in 2023. — Charles Goldman, Chiefs Wire
Raiders -- DT Akiem Hicks (Bears)
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The Raiders have two stud defensive ends in Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue, but they have to get better in the interior of their defensive line. Hicks is a little bit older (32), but would be the type of defensive tackle they need to improve their run defense.
Hicks can line up at multiple spots, but he is at his best as a three-technique that can stop the run and push the pocket as a pass-rusher. He’s no longer an elite player, but Hicks would be a massive upgrade on the defensive line for the Raiders. A deal at or near $8 million per season would make a ton of sense for a defense that needs to be stronger upfront. – Marcus Mosher, Raiders Wire
Broncos -- LB Kwon Alexander (Saints)
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If the Broncos are unable to re-sign one of their own in-house linebackers, Denver could turn to the free agent market, where Alexander would be an intriguing option. Alexander has been productive when healthy and – other than quarterback – inside linebacker might be the Broncos’ biggest position of need this offseason. Assuming GM George Paton plans to acquire a QB via trade, Alexander is Denver’s free agent pick. – Jon Heath, Broncos Wire
Chargers -- DT Akiem Hicks (Bears)
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The Chargers’ biggest issue this past season was defending the run, and a lot of it had to do with the lack of talent and depth in the trenches. While he isn’t getting any younger, Hicks is still one of the league’s better all-around interior defenders. Playing with tremendous leverage, power, and lateral movements to get into the backfield and the strength to stand his own against double teams, Hicks can rush the passer just as well as he defends the run. Lacking a veteran presence, Hicks would also be able to supply that. Hicks has a previous connection with head coach Brandon Staley. The two spent time together with the Bears when Staley was the outside linebackers coach from 2017-18. – Gavino Borquez, Chargers Wire
Cowboys -- S Marcus Williams (Saints)
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This is an exercise in futility for the Cowboys, who haven’t spent big on the free agent market in years and with money man, Executive VP Stephen Jones already saying Dallas won’t make waves in free agency. Still, a player like Williams would be perfect to add to the mix for the Cowboys. They signed three safeties to one-year deals last year in Damontae Kazee, Malik Hooker and Jayron Kearse. Kearse was the stud find, having a big role for the first time in his NFL career and contributing 100+ tackles. Hooker looked to regain form as the year progressed and Kazee played the most snaps. Still, there’s room for an alpha and that’s exactly what Williams would be. Paired with CB Trevon Diggs and CB Kelvin Joseph, Dallas could have an elite secondary while Micah Parsons takes on the leadership mantle in the front seven. A rangy, play-making safety who hasn’t had injury concerns and is still just 26 years old would do wonders regardless of who will be defensive coordinator. — KD Drummond, Cowboys Wire
Eagles -- WR Mike Williams (Chargers)
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Philadelphia has a young No. 1 wide receiver in DeVonta Smith, an exciting deep threat in Quez Watkins and a Pro Bowl caliber tight end in Dallas Goedert. All that’s missing is a big-bodied veteran presence, that can win one-on-one matchups in the red zone and make the big catch with a ball ballgame on the line. If the Chargers allow Mike Williams to leave Los Angeles, Howie Roseman could speed up Jalen Hurts’ development by providing him with a clutch player who just logged 76-catches and 1,146 receiving yards playing alongside Keenan Allen. It could take north of the $15.85 million the former Clemson star earned this season, but there would be no outside debate about who the Eagles’ true No. 1 receiver is, and the arrival of Williams could allow DeVonta Smith to play the role of 1B at times, while feasting on the opponent’s No. 2 cornerback, thus allowing Philadelphia’s offensive success to trickle down effectively. – Glenn Erby, Eagles Wire
Washington -- LB De’Vondre Campbell (Packers)
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Outside of quarterback, linebacker is Washington’s biggest need heading into 2022. Cole Holcomb is good, but he’s better on the outside. The early returns on first-round pick Jamin Davis aren’t encouraging. Ron Rivera didn’t call him a bust, but he admitted he was not an inside linebacker. The best candidate on the free-agent market is Campbell. Campbell signed a one-year deal with the Packers and played so well he was named first-team All-Pro. The franchise tag is not likely an option for Campbell with Davante Adams also a free agent, so if he hits the open market, Washington should immediately be on the line with Campbell. The question for Washington, or any team interested in signing Campbell, is how much are you willing to pay for one elite year of production? — Bryan Manning, Washington Wire
Giants -- G James Daniels (Chicago Bears)
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
The sad reality facing the Giants and their new general manager is that Dave Gettleman and Kevin Abrams left them in what some refer to as “cap hell.” They are currently over the projected 2022 salary cap and are rolling over a league-low $13,986. With precious few ways to recoup some of that money, New York will be handcuffed come free agency. They’ll be lucky to sign even a single big name and will instead likely focus on roster depth. Considering their offensive line is among the league’s worst and they potentially need four starters, guard James Daniels from the Chicago Bears seems like an ideal and affordable fit. They may have to pass on another medium Pepsi giveaway to afford him, however. – Dan Benton, Giants Wire
Vikings -- CB J.C. Jackson (Patriots)
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)
The truth of the matter is the Vikings are in salary cap hell right now, and they haven’t even hired a general manager yet to rectify the situation. But assuming the next man or woman that takes the role bends and warps the cap situation like Dr. Strange in the multiverse, then New England Patriots All-Pro cornerback J.C. Jackson is the pick here. Who wouldn’t want a stud defensive back that’s only 26 years old? Jackson would address a specific need for a Vikings secondary that couldn’t cover a twin-sized bed with a king-sized mattress. — Jordy McElroy, Vikings Wire
Bears -- WR Mike Williams (Chargers)
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The Bears currently have just one wide receiver under contract in Darnell Mooney, which makes receiver a top priority this offseason. If the Chargers don’t put the franchise tag on Mike Williams, he becomes one of the top available free-agent receivers on the market behind Davante Adams and Chris Godwin. Williams is coming off his second 1,000-yard season in the last three years, and he’d be another solid weapon for quarterback Justin Fields. – Alyssa Barbieri, Bears Wire
Lions -- S Marcus Williams (Saints)
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Detroit is in dire need of help at safety with starters Tracy Walker and Dean Marlowe both hitting free agency. Williams would be a major upgrade over each. His experience with Lions’ defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn in New Orleans makes him an easy schematic fit, and his playmaking ability in coverage is something the Lions desperately covet in the back end of the defense. – Jeff Risdon, Lions Wire
Packers -- TE Maxx Williams (Cardinals)
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The Packers have a disastrous cap situation to navigate this offseason, and most of the team’s resources will be spent on keeping their own free agents. But cheap free agents could make sense as general manager Brian Gutekunst attempts to fill in the gaps left behind. Williams, who is still only 27, can block and he has some untapped ability as a receiver, making him a potential solution if the Packers lose Robert Tonyan or Marcedes Lewis. He played in only five games due to injury this season, so he shouldn’t be expensive. – Zach Kruse, Packers Wire
Saints -- WR Odell Beckham Jr. (Los Angeles Rams)
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The Saints got this ball rolling in the first place by trying to trade for Beckham at the deadline, which led to his split with the Cleveland Browns, brief tour in free agency, and eventual landing with the Rams. Now he’s spearheading their playoff push with 359 receiving yards and 6 touchdown receptions through 9 games with L.A. New Orleans could circle back to him in the offseason with more money to spend, but you have to wonder if he’s interested in leaving the West Coast so soon. Wide receiver remains a critical position of need for them, whether Michael Thomas is ready for 2022 or not. — John Sigler, Saints Wire
Bucs -- TE Antony Auclair (Texans)
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Just like this past offseason, the vast majority of the Bucs’ energy (and cap space) will be spent trying to retain their own, with 10 starters currently set to hit free agency after this season. There won’t be much money left to spend on outside additions, but Auclair is one potential target who could make sense. He spent his first four seasons in Tampa Bay, and departed for Houston prior to this season, likely in hopes of getting more opportunities. Instead, Auclair caught just five passes for 47 yards and a touchdown in 2021, while playing for one of the worst teams in the league. While Rob Gronkowski should be expected back on another one-year deal as long as Tom Brady returns, O.J. Howard’s rookie deal is up, and he’ll probably find more money and a bigger role in another offense elsewhere. That could leave the Bucs looking for a third tight end, and Auclair would be a familiar face whose blocking prowess would be a valuable addition to an offense that doesn’t do much to feature their non-Gronk tight ends in the passing game. If Auclair isn’t going to get more passes thrown his way elsewhere, he might as well come back to Tampa, where he’s got a much better chance of winning a Super Bowl ring. – Luke Easterling, Bucs Wire
Panthers -- G Laken Tomlinson (49ers)
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After starting 12 different offensive line combinations in 2021, and all of them bad, the Panthers are in desperate need of reliability and availability in the trenches. So why not try to bring the Duke University product back to the area? Tomlinson has been a model of consistency on the interior, as he’s started and played in each of San Francisco’s 65 games over the past four seasons. He’s held up extremely well in that impressive string of outings too—having been charged with just 12 sacks, according to Pro Football Focus, since the 2018 campaign. –– Anthony Rizzuti, Panthers Wire
Falcons -- WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (Steelers)
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Atlanta may have found a future star in TE Kyle Pitts, but the team is seriously thin at wide receiver and should take a hard look at Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. The 25-year-old set the NFL on fire during his first two seasons in Pittsburgh, however, his production has gone way down in recent years due to injuries and an offense that’s gotten considerably less explosive. Calvin Ridley, who played in just five games (non-football injury list), is one of two Falcons receivers under contract for 2022. Smith-Schuster is a quality wideout that won’t break the bank and still has a ton of upside. — Matt Urben, Falcons Wire
49ers -- J.C. Jackson (Patriots)
Democrat and Chronicle
The 49ers need to invest in the cornerback position, which is becoming too important in the NFL to ignore the way San Francisco has financially during the Kyle Shanahan-John Lynch era. Jackson may become one of the NFL’s highest-paid CBs, but there’s a chance a player like that would take San Francisco’s defense to the level it reached during their Super Bowl run in 2019. Trying to piece together a secondary works when the pass rush is firing on all cylinders. Adding Jackson would greatly expand their margin of error on that side of the ball though. He has 17 interceptions over the last two years. The 49ers as a team have just 21 in that same span. A playmaker and ball hawk in the back end is the biggest need on San Francisco’s defense and Jackson checks those boxes. — Kyle Madson, Niners Wire
Seahawks -- RT Trent Brown (Patriots)
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The Seahawks have quality skill players on both sides of the ball but need to upgrade in the trenches. At right tackle, starter Brandon Shell has injury issues while backup Jake Curhan struggled in pass blocking. Ideally, Seattle would sign someone who can take over and protect better while helping unleash Rashaad Penny’s explosive potential at RT in 2022 and then eventually take over at left tackle when Duane Brown (36) retires. That makes the 28-year old Trent Brown (6-foot-8, 380 pounds) an ideal target for a team with enough salary cap space to make at least one splash signing this year. If Brown decides to stay in New England, Rams center Brian Allen would make a nice consolation prize. – Tim Weaver, Seahawks Wire
Rams -- LB Kyzir White (Chargers)
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The Rams aren’t going to have much money to spend this offseason, and they’ll likely focus on their own free agents such as Von Miller, Brian Allen, Odell Beckham Jr. and Sebastian Joseph-Day. But White would make a nice addition at linebacker, which was one of the team’s weakest positions all year. Ernest Jones is likely to be the starter in 2022, but White could be that weakside linebacker next to him in base packages, given his ability in coverage. The Rams don’t need another thumper in the middle. They could use someone with range and coverage ability like White – and a player who’s more capable as the second linebacker than Troy Reeder was this season. – Cameron DaSilva, Rams Wire
Cardinals -- WR Odell Beckham Jr. (Rams)
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The Cardinals’ offense is nearly unstoppable when they have dynamic players at different receiver positions. A.J. Green, who many thought was washed up before this past season, had 54 catches for 848 yards in an inconsistent season. Since joining the Rams and being the second fiddle to Cooper Kupp, he has had quite the impact in recent weeks. Pairing him with DeAndre Hopkins, who is tight with Beckham, would be deadly. He offers a more versatile set of routes than Green and is certainly better. The Cardinals have a lot of areas to address this offseason, but they wouldn’t go wrong by adding Beckham. — Jess Root, Cards Wire