Free agency is only a week away, and NFL teams are still waiting for the first domino to fall before attempting to improve their rosters. Teams with franchise quarterbacks don’t have to worry about the Aaron Rodgers decision and the Green Bay Packers, yet plenty of AFC teams are holding out hope the two-time defending MVP decides to leave and venture off to an AFC team (the Packers reportedly prefer not to trade Rodgers in the NFC).
The Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, and Cincinnati Bengals have established themselves as the class of the AFC. The rest of the conference is catching up in hopes to compete with them for a spot in Super Bowl LVII. The Chiefs, Bills, and Bengals are just looking to enhance their already talented rosters and improve their chances at a title.
Finding the right free agent fit is paramount toward competing for a championship, a player each team will be highly pursuing next week. Here’s a free agent fit for each AFC team in the days leading up to the most exciting period of the NFL offseason.
Mike Macdonald’s defense is going to be aggressive, so getting to the quarterback will be paramount. His scheme will also play to his players’ strengths in the secondary, which is where Diggs and his turnover-creating ability comes into play. Even if the pass rush doesn’t get home. having a player who has a knack for the ball like Diggs will be a major asset for a pass defense that finished last in the league in pass yards allowed.
Diggs has 13 interceptions since being acquired from the Seahawks in 2019, and five in each of the last two seasons. He finished with 94 tackles, five interceptions, and seven passes defensed last year, as opposing quarterbacks targeting Diggs when he was the primary defender had just a 53.0 passer rating.
Diggs and Marlon Humphrey would get that pass defense fixed fast.
The Bills could use another pass-catching option at tight end to pair with Dawson Knox — and Gronkowski seems to be the ideal fit. Emmanuel Sanders and Isaiah McKenzie are free agents, leaving a void at wide receiver so the Bills could get in the market there.
Buffalo could improve its already impressive third-down offense (third in NFL) and red zone offense (seventh in NFL) with the addition of Gronkowski, who had 55 catches for 802 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games last year. In addition to his run-blocking ability, Gronkowski is the veteran leader a young Bills team needs to get over the hump and to the Super Bowl.
Joe Burrow was sacked 70 times in the regular season and playoffs, the third-most sacks any quarterback has taken in NFL history. Teams that have their quarterback sacked that many times shouldn’t reach the Super Bowl, yet the Bengals proved otherwise.
Unfortunately, Cincinnati’s poor offensive line was its untimely demise in Super Bowl LVI. The Bengals need help at the tackle position and have $48.4 million in salary cap space to improve the offensive line. Armstead is the franchise left tackle Cincinnati seeks, allowing just one sack in 263 pass-blocking snaps last season, having an 85.6 pass-blocking grade (fifth-best among tackles last year).
Armstead is one of four offensive tackles to make the Pro Bowl in three of the last four seasons. Turning 31 in July, he’s the franchise tackle the Bengals have to pay top dollar for in order to protect Burrow.
The Browns need a wide receiver to pair with Jarvis Landry, and it’s hard to pass up a 6-foot-4 wide receiver with excellent ball-tracking ability like Chark. Cleveland will have to pay more than what Chark is worth, but the Browns will have the cap space available to make such a move.
This season is a “prove-it” year for Baker Mayfield, so the Browns have to give the former No. 1 overall pick every opportunity to succeed in their offense. Just 25 years old, Chark had a 1,000-yard season and earned a Pro Bowl invite just two years ago. A healthy Chark could be a huge value for the Browns.
If Davis doesn’t get franchise tagged by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (they’re expected to tag Chris Godwin again), the Broncos are in prime position to sign him to a huge contract. Davis is arguably one of the top free agent cornerbacks in man coverage, which will be needed in an AFC West that features Tyreek Hill and Mike Williams (assuming he stays with the Los Angeles Chargers).
Davis had 39 tackles and an interception in an oft-injured 2021 season for the Buccaneers, as opposing quarterbacks targeting him as the primary defender had a 67.1 passer rating. The ability in man coverage is what will draw teams to Davis if the Buccaneers can’t tag him.
Denver needs a quarterback, but the Broncos also have to shore up their secondary with $39.4 million in cap space. They can’t wait around for Aaron Rodgers forever.
The Texans should give Davis Mills a good opportunity to be their starting quarterback in 2022 after a solid rookie year. Houston needs to protect Mills in order for him to have a chance, so signing a free agent tackle is a priority.
The 31-year-old Moses is a player the Texans could entice, giving him a good opportunity for regular playing time on the offensive line — a veteran leader on a young and rebuilding roster. Moses allowed 49 pressures and four snaps in 679 pass-blocking snaps at right tackle last season.
The Colts still have yet to make a decision on Carson Wentz at quarterback, but it would be wise to give Wentz another year and get him more pass-catching options. Hard to envision the Colts spending top dollar on a free agent, which makes Valdes-Scantling an excellent signing among the second-tier group.
Just 27 years old, Valdes-Scantling was the big-play receiver in Green Bay to take the pressure off Davante Adams — averaging 17.5 yards per catch in four seasons. He led the NFL with 20.9 yards per catch in 2020 and can take the pressure off the emerging Michael Pittman at the “X.”
No matter who is the quarterback, the Colts need a deep-ball wide receiver.
The Jaguars need to address tight end in free agency and new head coach Doug Pederson used “12 personnel” more than anyone when he was with Philadelphia. One of those tight ends he had was Ertz, who finished with 74 catches for 763 yards and five touchdowns last year with the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals.
Ertz set the NFL single-season receptions record for tight ends under Pederson and Trevor Lawrence needs a reliable pass catcher in the middle of the field. Ertz is excellent for a young quarterback to thrive.
Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes tried to convince Smith-Schuster to sign with the Chiefs last year, but he decided to pass on joining the best offense in the league and re-sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Smith-Schuster’s 2021 season was a disaster, as he finished with 15 catches for 129 yards and zero touchdowns in just five games. A shoulder injury didn’t help matters, and hurt his free agent market in the process.
Will the Chiefs be interested in Smith-Schuster again? Kansas City needs a No. 2 wide receiver and a reliable third option to pair with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce in order to win another Super Bowl. Smith-Schuster in the slot would be an incredible asset for this offense and he could sign a one-year deal with the intent on a big season and raise his stock for next year.
Smith-Schuster would be more than ideal for this offense in 2022.
If Patrick Graham is looking for a physical linebacker that can rush the passer and close the gap, Hightower is an ideal fit. Hightower had 64 tackles and 1.5 sacks for the New England Patriots last year and has a relationship with Graham — who coached him to an All-Pro season in 2016 at the MIKE.
Graham can move Hightower to any linebacker position, but the Raiders could easily place him in the middle. Hightower may be turning 32 this week, but can have a few more years of success with Graham.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers have a franchise quarterback on a rookie contract and $56.3 million in cap space to make a huge splash this offseason. Mike Williams should be back under the franchise tag with hopes of a long-term deal — and the Chargers will still have money to spend on the cornerback they need.
Los Angeles should pursue the top player available in Jackson, who had 58 tackles, eight interceptions, and a league-leading 23 passes defended in 2021. A second-team All-Pro, Jackson has 17 interceptions in the last two years and 25 in his first four seasons — tied more the most in the NFL since the merger.
The Chargers need a star corner in man coverage. Enter Jackson.
The Dolphins need a running back and a wide receiver. Why not get the best of both worlds with Patterson, who would thrive in Mike McDaniel’s scheme? After what Deebo Samuel accomplished in the San Francisco 49ers‘ offense in 2021, imagine what Patterson could bring to the table in 2022.
A four-time All-Pro returner, Patterson was used primarily as a running back in Atlanta — recording a career-high 153 carries in 2021 (had just 167 career carries prior to last season). Patterson rushed for 618 yards and six touchdowns and caught 52 passes for 548 yards and and five touchdowns. He finished with 1,166 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns in his best season.
Turning 31 years old this year, Patterson is the game-altering weapon Tua Tagovailoa needs to succeed in 2022. The Dolphins can improve at two positions with Patterson in their offense.
New England Patriots
Wide receiver was a major problem in New England last year, as the Patriots need a top playmaker to partner with Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne. Robinson has the potential to become that player again, after a season which he had just 38 catches for 410 yards and a touchdown.
In the two seasons prior, Robinson had 200 catches for 2,397 yards and 13 touchdowns — making his case as one of the best wideouts in the league. Having a consistent quarterback in Mac Jones and getting out of the Chicago Bears organization will be immensely beneficial for Robinson — and the Patriots hopes to compete for a championship in 2022.
The Jets need help at a lot of positions and wide receiver won’t be their top need this free agent season. They still have an excellent opportunity to add Higgins to an offense with Elijah Moore and Corey Davis. Higgins had 24 catches for 275 yards and a touchdown last year, but would be a reliable third option in an offense which Zach Wilson could use all the pass catchers he can target.
Higgins isn’t an attractive signing on the surface, but he could pay huge dividends for the Jets’ offense and Wilson’s development.
The Steelers need a quarterback and can find a signal-caller in this year’s draft class, which isn’t as deep as the last two years. They still should sign a proven veteran with upside on a roster that’s capable of competing for a playoff berth in 2022. Enter Trubisky, who’s free agent stock has raised with the weak draft and free agency class this year.
Trubisky’s career with the Bears was an interesting one. He completed 64% of his passes for 10,609 yards with 64 touchdowns to 37 interceptions in his first four seasons (87.2 rating), while rushing for 1,057 yards and eight touchdowns. Trubisky was the fastest Bears quarterback to top 10,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing (49 games). He holds franchise records for career passer rating, completion percentage and season completion percentage (tied, 67% in 2020).
Trubisky has an argument as one of the best quarterbacks in Bears history, but his numbers against the rest of the NFL quarterbacks are subpar. Of the 47 quarterbacks with more than 500 pass attempts over the four years Trubisky started (2017-20), he ranked 41st in passer rating, 26th in completion percentage, 29th in touchdown percentage (4.1), and 37th in yards per attempt (6.73).
Why should Pittsburgh give him a shot? Trubisky appeared resurrected as a backup quarterback in Buffalo, learning new aspects of the game under Brian Daboll and the Bills’ offensive coaching staff. Taking a flyer on a quarterback while searching for a franchise quarterback isn’t a bad thing, especially given the situation the Steelers are in.
Signing Trubisky is a low-risk, high-reward move.
The Titans should re-sign Harold Landry in free agency, but the offense needs a pass-catching tight end next season. Everett would be more than ideal for a Titans offense that received just 646 yards from the tight end position last year (even though the position had eight touchdowns).
With the tight end market dwindling, the Titans could benefit by adding Everett to their offense. Everett had a career-high 48 catches for 478 yards and four touchdowns in his one season with the Seattle Seahawks, hitting the open market once again — and expected to receive a bigger payday.
Just 27 years old, Everett had 34 catches once Russell Wilson returned in Week 10 — proving he’s a reliable option in the middle of the field. Signing Everett wouldn’t be a “wow” move, but could immensely benefit the Titans in their contending window.