NFL teams are ramping up for the 2022 season, with training camps underway across the league. While most roster-building is in the rearview, a number of potential high-impact free agents remain available. Where could they be headed? Which teams could use their help?
Let’s take a look at ideal team fits for eight notable unsigned free agents:
The Jets have a ton of young guys on their defense, including a pair of first-round rookies in cornerback Sauce Gardner and edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II. Barr is a steady, versatile linebacker who could help lead a much-needed defensive turnaround — the Jets had the league’s worst scoring and total defense in 2021 — while Carl Lawson, who missed all of 2021 with a ruptured Achilles suffered last August, works his way back. The former Viking is a plug-and-play guy who could do a lot of different things in Robert Saleh’s scheme.
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With Marquise Brown relocating to Arizona via draft-day trade, the Ravens’ receiver group lacks proven options, to say the least. The top three wideouts alongside elite tight end Mark Andrews? Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay and James Proche II, who have a combined total of 1,204 career receiving yards. I can’t believe Baltimore is heading into the season with this group of WRs. Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said last week that Lamar Jackson is throwing as well as he’s ever seen him throw, but the former MVP needs more weapons. I know the Rams want OBJ back, but he could be the missing piece in Baltimore, someone who could help Jackson take the next step as a passer. Beckham is recovering from an ACL tear suffered in the Super Bowl. But with the Ravens boasting an exceptional run game and tight end, Beckham could play a role like he had with the Rams last season — one in which he doesn’t have to be The Guy, but can contribute as a big-play threat who consistently moves the chains.
The Patriots have a history of bringing back former players, and with a shortage of pass rushers in New England outside of Matthew Judon, it makes sense to sign Flowers. Although he’s missed 19 games over the last two seasons due to numerous injuries, recording just 3.5 sacks in that span, he’s still 28 years old. And it wasn’t too long ago that Flowers was enjoying the best seasons of his career under Bill Belichick in New England; from 2016 through ’18, Flowers racked up 21 sacks.
Aaron Rodgers is in camp without Davante Adams for the first time since 2013. He’s got a number of receiving options, including Allen Lazard, second-round rookie Christian Watson and Sammy Watkins (who already dealt with a minor hamstring issue in camp), among others. The quarterback likes “the guys that we got.” But the Packers still need more at the position. Fuller appeared in just two games last season, missing time because of a suspension, a personal matter and a finger injury, and he is in need of a fresh start. As a low-risk/high-reward player who can stretch the field, he’s a good fit for the offense. The question with him is similar to the one around Watkins: Can he stay available?
The Steelers are rolling into 2022 with Ahkello Witherspoon and Levi Wallace as their presumed starting cornerbacks. No matter how good the Steelers’ pass rush is, this is not a CB tandem I’d want to begin the season with. King is a tall, rangy and fast player who’d fit right in and add depth at the position. The former second-round pick unfortunately missed seven games in 2021 but otherwise played well after laying an egg in the 2020 NFC title game.
Training camp started last week, and already the 49ers have taken a hit along the defensive line. Starter Arik Armstead suffered an MCL sprain just two snaps into camp, while Hassan Ridgeway has a minor quadriceps strain; both players will miss the next several weeks. Maurice Hurst was also lost for the season after tearing his biceps Friday. Journeyman defensive tackle Richardson has changed teams four times in the past five seasons, but he’s been a steady presence at every stop and would do the same for a 49ers team that has been ravaged by injuries the last few years.
The Cowboys have a lot of quick, undersized players on the defensive line, which is great for rushing the passer but not so great when trying to stop the run. Dallas’ defense ranked 16th in the NFL against the run a year ago and hasn’t made any major changes this offseason, outside of spending a fifth-round pick on John Ridgeway. Neville Gallimore, 25, and Osa Odighizuwa, 23, are solid, but adding Suh to rotate in and help lead the young players is something the Cowboys should consider.
The G.O.A.T. lost his Pro Bowl center to a potentially season-ending knee injury. That’s a 45-year-old quarterback’s worst nightmare. The Bucs insist they will find an internal replacement for Ryan Jensen. But the options, Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett, have combined for fewer than 100 career regular-season snaps. Like I said, this is worst-nightmare stuff for Tom Brady, who weighed in on Jensen’s injury Monday. That’s why signing Tretter is a no-brainer. The eight-year veteran cut his teeth snapping the ball to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, then spent five years in Cleveland, where he played in all but one game. The Bucs are trying to win a Super Bowl; they need a vet anchoring the offensive line.
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