49ers

2022 NFL free agency: Top 20 potential NFL free agents next year

49ers

As the first week of 2021 NFL free agency comes to a close, several teams are still left with holes on their rosters.

With the market thinning, many teams will be forced to look to the 2021 NFL Draft to bolster their roster for the upcoming season. 

There is another horizon beyond the draft, and it's the 2022 NFL free agent class -- a list that some GMs are already looking toward after locking up temporary replacements this season.

Here's a list of the top 20 potential free agents for 2022:

Von Miller (Linebacker, Denver Broncos)

The Broncos decided to keep the Super Bowl 50 MVP for the 2021 season by exercising his $7 million option on Tuesday. 

 

Miller, who will turn 32 years old on March 26, missed the 2020 NFL season with a dislocated peroneal tendon in his ankle. When he’s healthy, Miller is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. He has 106.0 sacks in his 135-game career and has recorded 10.0 or more sacks in five of his last six seasons. Miller will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2021 campaign and will headline the top 2022 NFL free agents

Lamar Jackson (Quarterback, Baltimore Ravens)

Could Lamar Jackson be headed down a similar path to Dak Prescott and the Cowboys?

The 2019 NFL MVP is entering the final year of his rookie contract, a four-year, $9,471,648 deal in Baltimore, but the Ravens can keep him from becoming a free agent until 2023 if they exercise their team option and use the franchise tag.

It took three years for Prescott and the Cowboys to ultimately reach a long-term deal, and next offseason could be the beginning of that road for Jackson.

Brandon Scherff (Guard, Washington Football Team)

The Washington Football Team used the franchise tag on standout guard Brandon Scherff for the second consecutive season. 

The 29-year-old started all 13 games that he appeared in during the 2020 season. He still could come to terms on a long-term deal with Washington, but it is possible that Scherff plays this season on the tag and hits the open market in 2022. 

Scherff allowed just three sacks in 2020, and Pro Football Focus gave him a 84.1 grade for the season. 

 

Allen Robinson II (Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears)

The Chicago Bears made sure that Robinson didn’t slip away in free agency after a career year by placing the franchise tag on him. 

Robinson signed the tag on Thursday, but he is still in line to hit free agency in 2022 if the two sides fail to get a long-term deal done. 

Robinson had a career-high 102 catches for 1,250 yards and six touchdowns in 2020. He has gone for 98-plus catches and over 1,100 yards in consecutive seasons.

Chandler Jones (Linebacker, Arizona Cardinals)

Jones is entering the final year of a five-year, $82.5 million deal that he signed with the Cardinals back in 2017. He appeared in just five games last season, but Jones had sack totals of 17.0, 13.0 and 19.0 in the previous three seasons. 

Arizona brought in veteran J.J. Watt to bolster its pass rush next season, and his presence should help Jones see fewer double teams.

The 31-year-old will look to have a big contract year in order to earn a big payday in free agency. 

Chris Godwin (Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) 

The Bucs gave star receiver Chris Godwin the franchise tag before he could hit free agency after winning Super Bowl 55. 

Tampa Bay is looking to keep its core together for another title run, but it may not be able to keep Godwin beyond the 2021 season. 

In 2020, the 25-year-old caught 65 passes for 840 yards and seven scores in just 12 games in his first season with quarterback Tom Brady. The two will likely be able to develop more chemistry in their second season together, which could help Godwin have a big contract year.

 

Godwin had a career-high 1,333 receiving yards in 2019, but he has played across from Mike Evans for his entire career. It’s possible Godwin will want to be the No. 1 option somewhere next offseason.

Davante Adams (Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers)

In the 2021 offseason, the Packers brought back one of Aaron Rodgers’ weapons in running back Aaron Jones, but another key weapon will hit the open market next offseason. 

Davante Adams, arguably the best wideout in the NFL, could hit the open market even if it is hard to see the Packers letting him get away. 

Adams is coming off a season where he posted career highs in catches (115) and touchdowns (18) while totaling 1,374 receiving yards. Adams would join Robinson and Godwin in a potentially elite receiver class.

Ben Roethlisberger (Quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers)

Roethlisberger and the Steelers agreed to a restructured deal to keep him in Pittsburgh for an 18th season. 

The Steelers started hot last season, but they were upset by the Cleveland Browns in the wild card round of the playoffs. 

If the Steelers decide that they want to move on from Roethlisberger after the 2021 season, he would hit the open market ahead of his age-40 season. It’s possible that Big Ben could retire, but he could also follow the Phillip Rivers route and sign a one-year deal with a quarterback-needy team.

Tyrann Mathieu (Safety, Kansas City Chiefs)

Kansas City has shelled out some massive deals to Patrick Mahomes, Chris Jones and Travis Kelce the past few offseasons, and the 2022 offseason could be Mathieu’s turn. 

The three-time First Team All-Pro selection had six interceptions during the 2020 season and has 10 interceptions over his first two seasons in Kansas City. 

 

Mathieu could play himself out of the Chiefs’ price range with a big contract year, and he will likely be the most sought after defensive back in the 2022 class.

Cam Robinson (Offensive Tackle, Jacksonville Jaguars)

The Jaguars will need to protect projected No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence when he comes to Jacksonville, and that might require a big payday for Robinson.

Robinson has made 47 starts across four seasons, including all 16 games in 2020, since the Jags selected him back in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. 

As one of the top linemen set to hit the market in the 2022 offseason, Robinson is positioned to field quite the market.

Kirk Cousins (Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings)

Kirk Cousins enters a make-it-or-break-it year despite the Vikings extending his contract for two years in 2020 and claiming he was off the market this past offseason. 

Cousins started all 16 games in 2020, completing 49 of 516 passes (67.6 percent) for 4,265 yards, but he couldn’t carry the 7-9 Vikings into the playoffs. They entered 2021 free agency with a lot of cap space to shed, while also needing to put together a stronger offensive line.

Cousins’ extension comes with a huge $45 million cap hit in 2022. While Cousins and the Vikings could restructure or sign a second extension, Minnesota will be forced to decide how much it’s worth for them to keep the 32-year-old quarterback.

Fred Warner (Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers)

Warner will hit free agency in 2022 after four years in the league with the San Francisco 49ers. While San Francisco has decisions to make in key positions like quarterback, they would be smart to set aside cap money to extend Warner after a breakout 2020 campaign

 

The middle linebacker likely has a promising future in the NFL and has already risen to be one of the top performers at his position. He carries a $3,636,547 cap hit in 2021, which makes him only the 17th highest-paid player on the 49ers’ roster.

Depending on where the 49ers decide they want to spend their money over the course of the next season, Warner could hit the free agency market. However, it’s more likely that San Francisco will provide one of their top defensive threats with some stability in the form of an extension.

2021 NFL free agency: Best remaining 49ers targets to fill out roster

Stephon Gilmore (Cornerback, New England Patriots)

The Patriots have been on a recent spending spree, but what does it mean for Stephon Gilmore?

Gilmore was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, earning him a raise at the start of the 2020 season. In December 2020, the top-tier cornerback suffered a season-ending torn quad.

Heading into the 2021 season, Gilmore is set to make just $7 million -- and he reportedly wants more. New England could look to work out a new deal, or it could consider trading him to a team that would meet his salary demands.

Gilmore will turn 31 years old in September and is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2022. Will he draw interest from the 49ers like he did at the 2020 NFL trade deadline?

Akiem Hicks (Defensive Tackle, Chicago Bears)

Akiem Hicks has been a fan favorite during his time with the Bears, but he will be a free agent in 2022. Hicks was made available in a package deal for Russell Wilson but will return to Chicago on a restructured final year of his contract. 

 

The 2018 Pro Bowler was a solid contributor this past season, posting 3.5 sacks and 49 tackles. The 31-year-old is set to carry a $12 million cap hit in 2021.

With the Bears signing former Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Angelo Blackson, many are left to wonder what Hicks' future looks like in Chicago. Will he prove himself worthy of an extension or be a free agent in 2022?

Taylor Moton (Offensive Tackle, Carolina Panthers)

The Panthers secured Moton for the 2021 season, but the left tackle’s future is uncertain beyond that. Carolina used its 2021 franchise tag on Moton, which is expected to pay between $13.5 and $14.5 million for the season.

Moton has been a consistent presence for the Panthers’ offensive line, starting every game over the last three seasons.

The Panthers are exploring options at quarterback between trades and the draft, and Moton could play a pivotal role in keeping a new signal caller upright in the future.

Donovan Smith (Offensive Tackle, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

The Bucs successfully held on to several core players in the 2021 offseason, but where does that leave Smith in 2022?

After helping Brady and the Bucs’ offense win Super Bowl 55 in February, Smith will play the 2021 NFL season for $14.25 million in the final year of his contract.

 

As the proven protector of Brady’s blind side, Smith will command a significant deal once his current one runs out.

Editor's note: The Buccaneers and Smith reportedly have agreed to terms on two-year, $31.8M extension

Tyler Lockett (Wide Receiver, Seattle Seahawks)

Russell Wilson has taken the attention off almost every other player in the Seattle locker room this offseason but that doesn’t mean the team has lingering cap issues in 2022.

Lockett, Wilson’s favorite deep threat, turns 29 in September and will be playing for $11 million in the final year of his contract before becoming a free agent next spring. Will the Seahawks let the speedster take his talents elsewhere or will Russ use his leverage as the face of the franchise to keep one of most reliable targets back in the Pacific Northwest.

Editor's note: The Seahawks and Lockett reportedly have agreed to a four-year, $69.2 million extension.

 

Terron Armstead (Offensive Tackle, New Orleans Saints)

After the Saints reportedly restructured his contract to fit under the cap this season, Terron Armstead is due for a pay day in 2022. He is headed into the final year of a five-year, $65 million extension he signed with the Saints ahead of the 2016 season.

Following a solid 2020, Armstead will be tasked with protecting a new starting quarterback this season after Drew Brees announced his retirement.

If New Orleans doesn't extend the Pro Bowler again after the 2021 season, he will enter free agency at 30 years old.

Calais Campbell (Defensive End, Baltimore Ravens)

After the Baltimore Ravens acquired Calais Campbell from the Jaguars last offseason, they handed him a one-year extension to keep him in Baltimore through the 2021 season.

During his time in Jacksonville, Campbell tallied 31.5 sacks, 44 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in 48 games. The Pro Bowl defensive end didn't dominate as much as the Ravens hoped he would in 2020 and was sidelined for four games after making 98 straight starts.

Campbell will turn 35 years old in September before he enters free agency in 2022.

 

Jason Pierre-Paul (Outside Linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Jason Pierre-Paul will enter the final season of his contract with the Buccaneers sporting his shiny Super Bowl 55 ring and playing on the final year of a two-year extension worth $25 million he signed in March 2020.

The three-time Pro Bowler had a strong 2020 season, posting 55 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Will the 32-year-old prove himself in 2021 and ink a new extension with Tampa Bay, or will he hit free agency in 2022?

Peter Dewey, Fallon Oeser, Max Molski and Kelley Ekert contributed to this story.