NFL free agency is just getting underway. We have witnessed seismic shifts around the league. Some teams have taken advantage during this period while others may have hit the snooze button. Let’s unravel one of the most chaotic NFL offseasons in quite some time by going over some of the winners and losers of free agency.
Winners And Losers Of The 2022 NFL Free Agency
The Jets came into free agency with two major priorities: protect quarterback Zach Wilson and reset their previously losing culture. How did they address that? By signing four players with Super Bowl experience. Tight end C.J. Uzomah is coming off his best statistical season, where he predominantly became a red zone target for Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s not the lone tight end either, as newly acquired Tyler Conklin will share some reps. He brings much of the same skillset as Uzomah.
Former 49ers offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson is a scheme fit. Current Jets offensive coordinator Mike Lafleur was a former passing game coordinator for the 49ers who coached Tomlinson for four years. Lafleur should be able to put Tomlinson in the best position to succeed, turning his strength and versatility into success.
Joe Douglas also took time to hone in on rebuilding the defense. The Jets allowed the 3rd most passing yards and 4th most rushing yards per game last season. It became necessary for the Jets to bring in guys who can stop the run and pass. Cornerback D.J. Reed and safety Jordan Whitehead do just that.
Reed allowed 0.63 yards per snap last season which rank sixth-best out of 96 qualified cornerbacks and allowed a passer rating of 66.0 which ranks seventh-best. Not only does he have superb coverage skills, but he is also stingy against the run. He ranked fourth among cornerbacks in total tackles against the run. The massively underrated corner looks to make a name for himself in the Big Apple.
Whitehead is another effective run-stopper. He ranked fourth among safeties with 18 tackles for loss against the run in 2018. The Jets gave up 170 or more yards versus the run in six games that season. The expectation is that it doesn’t happen once this season.
The culture has changed and the skillset is now there. Let’s see if they can upset some teams in this competitive AFC conference.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are another example of a team taking advantage of their young quarterback being on a relatively cheap contract. They re-signed number one receiver Mike Williams and bolstered their defensive adding all-pros Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson.
Mack is coming off an injury-plagued season but the belief around Los Angeles is that he resurrect his career after a change of scenery.
We’ve seen it before. Von Miller appeared to be toward the tail end of his career before going to the Rams. Since the Rams were stacked with talent in the interior, Miller found favorable one-on-one matchups and exploited them. The Chargers have four-time pro-bowler Joey Bosa who will generate double teams. The NFL is a numbers game. You can only double team so many people without someone getting open to the quarterback. We could be witnessing the return of the Mack.
Jackson has the most interceptions and second-highest man coverage grade among cornerbacks since 2018. Facing Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill twice a year, it is necessary to get a lockdown corner. They get just that.
Good defense turns into offense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs are winners, not so much because of their new additions, but because they were able to persuade Tom Brady out of retirement, and no longer have to worry about facing Deshaun Watson twice a year.
In a shocking turn of events, Watson picked the Cleveland Browns over the three other NFC South teams who were also involved in the sweepstakes. That has left the Panthers and Falcons without a franchise quarterback and the Saints relying on Jameis Winston who is coming off of a major ACL injury.
The Bucs made an effort to improve the offense by retaining Chris Godwin and signing Russell Gage who bring consistency and stability to a once shaky receiving core. Fans should hope to see some upgrades to the secondary that lost Whitehead and ultimately cost them a chance at the NFC Championship game last season. Health and durability will also be significant if they hope to make a deep run this year. They hope to get that out of newly-acquired defensive back Logan Ryan.
Once again, you can pretty much guarantee another Brady home playoff game.
To be quite frank, Justin Fields was running for his life last year. The Bears’ offensive line was ranked 22nd in PFF’s final offensive line rankings. They did nothing to make it better. They signed center Lucas Patrick but he’s not enough. They needed a major overhaul, but unless they do something in the draft, it appears they are content with where they are at.
They also lost Allen Robinson because of former coach Matt Nagy’s poor game planning which made him relatively ineffective.
Their secondary is inexperienced and struggled to stay healthy last season and, again, the Bears did nothing to improve at the position. The lack of aggressiveness in this free-agent period could stunt the growth of Fields.
Kansas City Chiefs
It’s the second year in a row where the last game of the season ends with Patrick Mahomes rattled. He needs a receiver that he can lean on in situations like this, and JuJu Smith-Schuster hasn’t been that guy since he was teammates with Antonio Brown. He’s coming off a major injury and has been on a statistical decline since 2018.
They downgraded at safety, moving on from Tyrann Mathieu and signing Justin Reid instead. The Chiefs looked like a team strapped to the cap, and Mahomes’ large contract hasn’t even kicked in yet. To make matters worst, the AFC West has turned into a gauntlet. This is going to be the toughest challenge the Chiefs have faced in quite some time.
New England Patriots
Much like the Bears, the Patriots have not done enough to help their young quarterback. It is still unclear who the number one receiver will be. They made a head-scratching trade, getting rid of offensive guard Shaq Mason for just a fifth-round pick. They lost their other guard Ted Karras to the Bengals.
Mac Jones was the most NFL-ready quarterback from the draft last season. This was partially due to his limitations becoming his strengths. He doesn’t have the biggest arm, therefore, he never took careless shots down the field, nor was asked to do so. He ranked in the bottom half in most 20 or more yard completions.
Jones was never asked to run the ball either. He ranked second to last in rushing yards among quarterbacks this season.
He is nothing more than a game manager. There is nothing wrong with that if he has talent around him. Look at Baker Mayfield in 2020 with the Browns. It is imperative to give him protection and weapons, and quite frankly, they haven’t done so. Jones and the Patriots can only get so far with what they have now.