Simulating NFL free agency 2022

Eight NFL players received the franchise tag this week, and another two of the top presumed-free agents signed extensions. But make no mistake: The 2022 NFL free-agent class is still loaded with talent and big names who could land huge-money deals. How will it all play out? Who will sign where, and for how much? We mocked how offers and deals might go down for six of the top players available at multiple positions.

Our NFL Nation reporters served as GMs for their teams and made contract offers for key free agents while trying to stay within that team’s salary-cap restraints and realm of realistic outcomes. The object wasn’t to “win” but rather to accurately reflect how a team might approach negotiations. For instance, the cap-strapped Packers didn’t throw around any offers here, but the Dolphins and Jaguars had money to spend — and it showed. Once the offers were all in, national NFL reporter Dan Graziano played the role of player rep, mulled the proposals and “signed” each of the playmakers to a new deal.

So who is headed to a new team, and who re-signed for another go with his current franchise? Who earned the big bucks? Let’s predict this offseason’s free agency, which officially opens on March 16 after a two-day negotiating window, for six stars on the open market: Allen Robinson II, J.C. Jackson, Terron Armstead, Von Miller, Tyrann Mathieu and Chandler Jones. Here are some hypothetical pitches and landing spots.

Jump to:
Robinson | Jackson | Armstead
Miller | Mathieu | Jones

2021 team: Bears | Free-agent rank: 8

Colts’ offer: Three years, $50 million ($22M guaranteed with incentives for games played and total receptions) … We have the best running back in the NFL in Jonathan Taylor, which will make your life easier on the outside. — Mike Wells

Eagles’ offer: One year, $11.5 million ($11.5 guaranteed with incentives of $1M for 1,000-plus receiving yards, $1M for making the Pro Bowl, $500,000 for reaching the postseason and $1M for reaching the Super Bowl) … If the market doesn’t shape up to your liking, come pair up with DeVonta Smith for a year, wreak some havoc and cash in next offseason. Remember, it worked for Alshon Jeffery in 2017. — Tim McManus

Jaguars’ offer: Four years, $82 million ($45M guaranteed and a $15M signing bonus, plus $5M roster bonuses in Years 2 and 3) … Trevor Lawrence would be the best quarterback you’ve ever played with in your career, and you can help turn the franchise around — in a state with no income tax. — Michael DiRocco

Jets’ offer: Three years, $54 million ($35M guaranteed) … We’re giving you the chance to be WR1 in the New York market, play for a developing team and grow with a young, talented quarterback in Zach Wilson. — Rich Cimini

Lions’ offer: Three years, $45 million ($27.5M guaranteed) … Interested in coming back to your hometown in Detroit and being a WR1? — Eric Woodyard


The decision: Robinson picks the Jaguars

When my agent called and said “Jaguars,” I started laughing, because … been there, done that, man. But their offer is just a lot better than the others. Earning $20.5 million per year in Florida goes a lot further than $18 million per year in New Jersey, and I like those roster bonuses in 2023 and 2024 as a way of keeping the team honest. Trevor Lawrence looks like he could be something. New coach Doug Pederson has a Super Bowl ring. Looks like I’m going back to where it all began. — Dan Graziano

How he fits: Did I overpay? Probably, but I got a player who has 40 career touchdown catches and has averaged 12.9 yards per catch on 495 receptions from a less-than-underwhelming group of QBs. We’re talking about Chad Henne, Blake Bortles, Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton and Justin Fields. Trevor Lawrence would be the best QB he has played with in his career. Robinson isn’t a burner, but he’s a big, athletic receiver who can go up and get the ball — something the Jaguars don’t have right now. He’d be a huge threat in the red zone, too, which is something the Jaguars desperately need because they threw a league-low seven TD passes in that area in 2021. Pairing Robinson with Marvin Jones Jr., Jamal Agnew, tight end Dan Arnold, running backs Travis Etienne Jr. and James Robinson and a couple rookies from a very good receiver class gives Lawrence a significantly upgraded group of pass-catchers. — Michael DiRocco

2021 team: Patriots | Free-agent rank: 13

Chargers’ offer: Three years, $35 million ($22M guaranteed) … This might be a little under-market, and while we have some cap space, we want to build something — and we have a lot of needs. One of those is a star cornerback. Come to Cali! — Shelley Smith

Patriots’ offer: Four years, $60 million ($20M guaranteed) … We know you might find a richer deal elsewhere, but this is as far as we can extend. Perhaps there would be some consideration that this is where your career began when few other teams (if any) believed in you like we did. — Mike Reiss

play

2:04

Marcus Spears and Rob Ninkovich disagree about the idea of Bill Belichick being the Patriots’ offensive playcaller going forward.

Raiders’ offer: Four years, $72 million ($36M guaranteed with incentives of $250,000 for six interceptions and $500,000 for 10 interceptions) … Re-join GM Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels in state income tax-free Nevada, as they bring the “Patriot Way” to the Silver and Black. You can forge your own identity as the Raiders’ best corner since Nnamdi Asomugha and elevate your own brand in the NFL’s newest market, while keeping this playoff club in contention in the best QB division in the league. — Paul Gutierrez

Steelers’ offer: Four years, $70 million ($35M guaranteed) … Come play for Mike Tomlin, one of the league’s most respected coaches, in a locker room that values defense above all else. You’d give the secondary another bonafide star alongside safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. — Brooke Pryor

Vikings’ offer: Four years, $70 million ($20M guaranteed) … Step in and be the No. 1 cornerback on a rebuilding defense — and be paid like one. — Kevin Seifert


The decision: Jackson picks the Raiders

I’m knocking two of these off right away. The Pats had their chance, and the Chargers aren’t really in the ballpark here. The other three are pretty similar, but I’m taking the Vikings out of it because Las Vegas and Pittsburgh are just offering a lot more in terms of guarantees. The Raiders’ and Steelers’ offers are close, and man … two all-time classic franchises. Great history of defense. Great uniforms. Really tough choice. The income tax thing is real, though, and that — plus the familiarity with the folks running the show in Vegas — breaks the tie. I’m taking the Raiders’ offer here, though I might go back to the Steelers one more time to see if they’re willing to top it. — Dan Graziano

How he fits: Right away, Jackson — with his eight interceptions and league-leading 23 passes defensed last season — would solidify a secondary that will have a different look under new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, departing from the Cover 3 sensibilities that Gus Bradley ran last season. The Raiders have already cleared cap space by re-structuring left tackle Kolton Miller and running back Kenyan Drake, and deciding to cut linebacker Cory Littleton — and they could free up more money by releasing the likes of defensive end Carl Nassib and linebacker and Nick Kwiatkoski. But Jackson would be CB1, and while Las Vegas hopes that Trayvon Mullen bounces back from an injury-plagued 2021 that limited him to just five games, the Raiders could still target another cornerback in the draft. — Paul Gutierrez

2021 team: Saints | Free-agent rank: 1

Bears’ offer: Three years, $58 million ($26M guaranteed and a $13M signing bonus, plus a $1M escalator for 80% of offensive snaps in 2022) … Come “home,” Terron. OK, we know you’re basically from the St. Louis side of Illinois, but we’ll give you the opportunity to come be part of a team with a high ceiling and a potential franchise quarterback we need to protect. That’s where you come in. Lock down the left side of the O-line and help us build back toward a competitive team with a new offense and fresh start for everyone. — Courtney Cronin

Bengals’ offer: Three years, $55 million ($18M guaranteed with a $1M roster bonus on the fifth day of the league year) … Come block for the reigning AFC champions and quarterback Joe Burrow. — Ben Baby

Dolphins’ offer: Four years, $92 million ($63M guaranteed) … You saw what Mike McDaniel’s schemes did for Trent Williams over the past few years. Now imagine that but with warm weather year-round, world-class facilities and no state income tax. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Saints’ offer: Two years, $40 million ($16M guaranteed with incentives based on games started and three void years attached from an original five-year offer) … The Saints won’t be the highest bidders because of cap constraints (hence the void years to spread out the cap hit), but we still value our longtime starting left tackle. So if your market doesn’t develop as hoped, we offer a place you know and a contending team. — Mike Triplett

Steelers’ offer: Three years, $64 million ($40M guaranteed) … Be the anchor on a new-look offensive line that will lay a foundation for the next great Steelers quarterback — all while being in a players-first locker room led by coach Mike Tomlin. — Brooke Pryor


The decision: Armstead picks the Dolphins

Miami’s offer has everything I could have imagined and more. It blows the others away. It’d be tough to leave New Orleans, but the Dolphins just really went over the top here, and I’m signing this before they change their minds. Sixth-three million guaranteed, baby! — Dan Graziano

How he fits: Armstead is going to want David Bakhtiari-like money, and the Dolphins are equipped to give it to him, sweetening the pot with guaranteed money to seal the deal. He would immediately slot in as Miami’s starting left tackle, paving the way for a move back to right tackle for Liam Eichenberg. It’s risky to make a free agent the highest-paid player on your team, but this offensive line needs an infusion of talent, and this might just be what it costs to get it. Armstead comes with his injury risks, but when healthy, he is one of the best tackles in the NFL. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

2021 team: Rams/Broncos | Free-agent rank: 3

Cowboys’ offer: Two years, $30 million ($30M guaranteed and three void years attached from an original five-year, $90M offer) … We’re tugging on Miller’s heartstrings to return to home in the twilight of his career and pair with Micah Parsons. You can be the leader on our defense. — Todd Archer

Rams’ offer: Two years, $37 million ($20M guaranteed, including $15M fully guaranteed in 2022 and $1M incentives each year for winning the Super Bowl) … Let’s go win two more. — Adam Teicher

Seahawks’ offer: Two years, $24 million ($15M guaranteed, plus $1M in per-game roster bonuses each season and $1.5M incentives each season tied to playing time, sacks and the Pro Bowl) … We know this isn’t as big of an offer as you may get from other teams, but the guarantees are strong, and it’s an opportunity to remain on the West Coast — not too far from your home and young son in Denver. — Brady Henderson

play

1:27

Brady Henderson reports on the Seahawks releasing Bobby Wagner and what it means for the team.


The decision: Miller picks the Cowboys

The Dallas deal was an eye-catcher at first glance since it’s five years and $90 million on paper, but it’s really a two-year, $30 million deal with those void years. It’s better than what Seattle’s offering, especially with that silly structure the Seahawks always insist on. So do I take more money but less guarantee from the team I just won the Super Bowl with? Or do I try to win it with a third team? Man, L.A. was fun, but there’s just something about that star on the helmet. — Dan Graziano

How he fits: With uncertain futures of Randy Gregory, who is set to be a free agent, and DeMarcus Lawrence, who has refused a pay cut, Miller can be the perfect pass-rushing complement to Micah Parsons and serve as a mentor to the burgeoning star, similar to the way DeMarcus Ware was for Miller in Denver. This would be out of the Cowboys’ recent character in free agency, where they have been low-money shoppers, but Miller remains a top-end pass-rusher and would thrive in Dan Quinn’s scheme. — Todd Archer

2021 team: Chiefs | Free-agent rank: 4

Chiefs’ offer: Two years, $29.5 million ($20M guaranteed) … You’re going to cement your Hall of Fame credentials here because you’re going to help us win another couple Super Bowls. — Adam Teicher

Jets’ offer: Two years, $28 million ($21M guaranteed and one void year attached from an original three-year, $42M offer) … It’s a chance to play in a defensive scheme that gives versatile safeties a chance to shine. — Rich Cimini

Saints’ offer: Three years, $42 million ($28M guaranteed and two void years attached from an original five-year offer) … You can return to you hometown and play a key role for one of the NFL’s top defenses. — Mike Triplett


The decision: Mathieu picks the Chiefs

This one was really tough. Very similar offers, all very tempting for a variety of reasons. Robert Saleh’s defense would be a lot of fun, but I’m just not sure that I’m willing to spend the time with a team that far away from winning at this point in my career. And yes, Louisiana is tempting. But I really like playing in the Super Bowl, and I think staying put in Kansas City gives me the best chance to keep doing that for the foreseeable future. — Dan Graziano

How he fits: Mathieu feels as much a part of the Mount Rushmore for the current Chiefs’ roster as any of their other stars, most of whom have been in Kansas City longer. The whole thing wouldn’t feel right without him. The Chiefs could use Mathieu much as they have in past seasons, which means he would fill a variety of roles. The team’s offseason would be off to a good start by re-signing him. — Adam Teicher

2021 team: Cardinals | Free-agent rank: 10

Broncos’ offer: Two years, $34 million ($24M guaranteed, with a $500,000 workout bonus each year and incentives of $1.5M for 11 sacks and $1.5M for 14 sacks each year) … Two words for you, Chandler: Russell Wilson. — Jeff Legwold

Seahawks’ offer: Two years, $30 million ($18M guaranteed, plus $1M in per-game roster bonuses each season and $2M incentives each season tied to playing time, sacks and the Pro Bowl) … Come play in a loud stadium and in an attacking defense that will make you its featured pass-rusher. And don’t worry about the quarterback situation, we’re still working on that. — Brady Henderson

Bills’ offer: One year, $10 million ($5M guaranteed) … We know you’re from Rochester and attended Syracuse, so how about playing in Buffalo? It might take some creative cap work, and this deal might not be competitive with other offers, but we want an experienced pass-rusher like yourself who will only add to the league’s No. 1 defense and one of the NFL’s best teams. — Alaina Getzenberg


The decision: Jones picks the Broncos

Honestly, these are all disappointing for a player with my credentials. If these are the choices, then I might sit out a while and see if the landscape changes, a la Jadeveon Clowney from a couple of years back. I know my worth, and I’ve made plenty of money. I can wait until someone comes up. But if this is the market, I’m going back to the Broncos and saying, “Sure, I’ll take the $24 million guaranteed, but I want the deal to void after one year so I can pocket my $24 million and hit the market again after I go out there and post my eighth double-digit sack season.” You hear that? Eight! — Dan Graziano

How he fits: The Broncos have lived this life before, and it worked out for all involved. A 32-year-old DeMarcus Ware signed with the Broncos in 2014 in large part because Peyton Manning was at quarterback. Jones gives the Broncos the edge presence they need alongside Bradley Chubb. And newly hired defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, who just won a Super Bowl ring, has promised to pressure opposing quarterbacks as much as possible, so Jones will be set loose to earn every incentive in the deal. — Jeff Legwold

.

Leave a Comment