There’s a huge event that determines the short-term fates all 32 teams, including the Super Bowl and NFL Draft. In recent seasons, NFL free agency has become an increasingly important open market. You can look at the success story of the Rams or Bengals to see the proof.
Cincinnati was aggressive last season and acquired Trey Hendrickson as defensive difference-maker. This came after a New Orleans record-breaking pass-rushing year. Los Angeles has been all about veterans, whether it’s blockbuster trades (see Matthew Stafford), or key signings throughout the season (see Odellbeckham Jr.).
Some teams are more active than others due to promising salary-cap situations. Others will need to be more selective about who to bring back and who to get outside help.
If all teams look at the top unrestricted NFL Free Agents for 2022, they’ll find worthy splurges across positions. Here’s how Sporting News ranks and ranks the top 50 players in each position for this year, ahead of the opening of free agency on March 16:
MORE: SN’s latest mock draft | Big board of top 50 prospects
NFL free agency 2022 – Ranking the top 50 NFL players
1. Davante Adams, WR, Packers (age: 29)
Adams is still considered the NFL’s best wide receiver and he was in his prime when he was partnered with Aaron Rodgers. His franchise tag is likely to be a place-holder for long-term deals to stay in Green Bay until Rodgers retires.
2. J.C. Jackson (age 28), CB, Patriots
Chargers signed him for five years, $82.5 Million
Jackson was a great coverage guy, taking over as No. 1 corner. He led the league with 23 pass breaksups and had eight interceptions. He may not be able come back to New England with Stephon Gilmore, and Jackson may need to seek out his big money elsewhere.
3. Terron Armstead (OT, Saints), age: 30
Armstead suffered some knee injuries in 2021, just like Ryan Ramczyk, a fellow bookend. However, he was as smooth as ever in pass defense when he was out there for any of their quarterbacks. Because he’s not as run-blocking as he used to be, he’s going to continue to play the left side.
4. Chris Godwin (age: 25), WR, Buccaneers
Godwin played well on the franchise tag in the second and final season with Tom Brady, who boosted his stock in making him his key short-to-intermediate go-to guy. He should be fully recovered from his knee injury, and he still has many strong seasons to go as a versatile slot-ace.
5. Von Miller, EDGE, Rams (age: 32)
Miller was still able to produce 9.5 sacks in 15 regular-season games between Denver and Los Angeles. Although he has lost some of his effectiveness, he is still a valuable member of any 3-4 defensive team.
6. Chandler Jones, EDGE Cardinals (age of 31)
Jones returned to his best after a 2020 season without him due to a biceps strain. He had 10.5 sacks and played in 15 games. He is consistent in getting to the quarterback and, like Miller, he still has one big-money run.
7. Orlando Brown Jr. (age: 25), OT, Chiefs
After using the tag, there’s a good chance that the Chiefs will secure the rock they purchased from the Ravens last offseason.
8. Mike Williams, WR, Chargers (age 27)
Re-signed for 3 Years, $60 Million
Williams overcame past durability issues to have a great season. He caught 76 of the 129 targets for 1,146 and 9 touchdowns, making him a key red zone threat and deep threat for Justin Herbert. Los Angeles may be moving on, but Jalen Guyton, Josh Palmer, and Keenan Allen’s big plays outside promise to help.
9. Jessie Bates III, S, Bengals (age: 25)
In 2020, Bates was a second team All-Pro. He was not as prolific, making plays all across the field in 2021. However, he is an active extra defender to support run support and has strong ballhawking skills. He’ll return to the Bengals with the franchise tag.
10. Marcus Williams, S. Saints (age of 25)
Williams has been a steady, durable, and well-rounded player for New Orleans ever since his struggles as a younger player. He’s always had a keen eye for the ball and was his best in coverage in 2021.
11. Ryan Jensen, C, Buccaneers (age: 30)
Re-signed for 3 year, $39 million
Jensen was worth the free-agent splurge of the Ravens, and he raised his game while snapping Brady for two seasons. But, there’s a good opportunity he leaves to sign one last big deal that Tampa Bay may not have the means to afford.
12. Stephon Gilmore (CB, Panthers), age 31
After being traded from New England, Gilmore was quite strong in coverage during Gilmore’s Carolina half season. He’s not losing too much, but he’s still a good short-term playmaker for any interested teams.
13. Carton Davis, CB, Buccaneers (age: 25)
Re-signed for 3 Years, $45 Million
Davis missed seven games in 2021 due to injuries, but when he was on the field, he displayed the same shutdown promise and ball skills that he displayed during his breakout 2020 season. This was crucial to Tampa Bay’s win of the Super Bowl. He’s likely going to be franchise-tagged. Godwin is signed for multiple seasons and Jensen is walking.
14. Akiem Hicks (DT, Bears), age 32
Hicks’ inside production against pass and run looked similar between 2020-2021. He put up the same 3.5 yards in six more games of healthy play and produced the same number of sacks. He proved to be a strong plug and play despite his age.
15. Emmanuel Ogbah (age 28), EDGE, Dolphins
Re-signed for four years, $65 Million
Ogbah had a few big games in producing a second consecutive year with 9 sacks. He is able to play consistently elsewhere and has enjoyed his best play, including against the running.
16. Harold Landry, EDGE Titans (age 25)
Re-signed for 5 Years, $87.5 Million
Landry was a solid grinder for Tennessee in his fourth season, racking up 12 sacks using their 3-4 scheme. He has remained strong and uninjured, which makes him more appealing as a Pro Bowler.
17. Allen Robinson, WR, Bears (age: 28)
Robinson’s forgettable presumed last season in Chicago was marred by injuries and frustration with the offensive-minded, lame duck regime. Darnell Mooney has been pushing them forward as the No. 1 for Justin Fields, Robinson has plenty of route-running and good hands savvy to offer his third team.
18. Brandon Scherff, G, Commanders (age: 30)
Signed with Jaguars
Scherff’s only job is to provide elite interior blocking when he is healthy. Washington has awarded him franchise-tag payouts for the past two years. Although there is no sign of decline in either running or passing, durability could be a greater challenge.
19. Cam Robinson, OT Jaguars, (age: 26).
Robinson had a strong season all-around so Jacksonville understands why he wants to keep him on his left side as Trevor Lawrence’s young blindside pass protector.
20. Jadeveon Browns, EDGE, Browns (age 28)
Clowney recorded 9 sacks in his final season with Texans, matching his 2018 output. He performed well after Myles Garrett’s sensational season. He can still be effective in his later years if he plays a complementing role. He has always been a great run stopper.
21. Duane Brown, OT, Seahawks (age: 36)
Brown has been solid for many years with Houston and Seattle. With full durability and strong overall blocking, he was able to return to Pro Bowl status in 2021.
22. Mike Gesicki, TE, Dolphins (age: 26)
Gesicki has seen his receiving output rise with each of the four seasons. He caught 73 targets for 780 yard and 2 TDs in 2021. He has a strong connection with Tua Tagovailoa. Miami could keep him with its large salary cap or invest elsewhere to get a new offensive-minded coach Mike McDaniel.
23. Casey Hayward Jr. CB, Raiders (age of 32)
The former Packers and Chargers standout enjoyed a revitalized season in Las Vegas as a top-cover corner. Although he is a bit slower, he still uses his intelligence well in all his assignments.
24. Randy Gregory, EDGE, Cowboys (age: 29)
Gregory was a strong member of Dan Quinn’s effective line rotation with six tackles. He settled in a veteran complementary role and made key plays on the field.
25. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, Chiefs (age: 29)
The ultimate hybrid, the now venerable “Honey Badger”He has been a consistent Pro Bowler with Kansas City, having always been there for the ball in coverage and running support. The Chiefs will do all they can to keep their leader of defense.
26. De’Vondre Campbell, LB, Packers (age: 28)
Re-signed for 5 Years, $50 Million
Campbell was a very prolific tackler for the Falcons & Cardinals, but he really rose to his game as a cover man and tackler. He was also an effective blitzer and was rewarded with his first All Pro nod in his sixth season.
27. Dalton Schultz, TE, Cowboys (age: 25)
Schultz isn’t a blocker, but he had a great season catching passes from Dak Prescott. He caught 78 passes on 104 targets for 808 yards with 8 TDs. In 2022, he will return to the cap-strapped Cowboys.
28. D.J. Chark, WR and Jaguars (age 25)
His potential to rebound with Trevor Lawrence and produce at a high standard was wiped out in Week 4, when he injured his ankle against Bengals. He is still a No. Coach Doug Pederson may not want him to return for his second-year as franchise QB.
29. Calais Campbell, DT, Ravens (age: 35)
Campbell’s dominance as a player for the Cardinals has diminished, but he is still a valuable contributor.
30. Melvin Ingram, EDGE, Chiefs (age: 32)
Midseason was a huge boost for Kansas City’s defense, with Ingram proving that he still has plenty of potential as a pass-rusher or backfield disruptor.
31. Haason Reddy, EDGE and Panthers (age: 27).
Signed with Eagles, $3 year contract, $45 million
Reddick added 11 more sacks to his double-digit sack win in Arizona and reconnected with college coach Matt Rhule for a one-year contract. He is now a quarterback-pursuing specialist.
32. Laken Tomlinson, G, 49ers (age: 30)
Signed with Jets for 3 Years, $40 Million
Tomlinson was rewarded for years of consistent play in San Francisco, with his first Pro Bowl nomination in 2021. He’s a very reliable and durable zone blocker.
33. Quandre Diggs, S, Seahawks (age: 29)
Re-signed for 3 Years, $40 Million
Diggs, who came over from the Lions with two consecutive 5-interception full season seasons, has been solid. He is a strong leader and clean-up presence in defense.
34. Foyesade Olowun, LB Falcons (age 26)
Jaguars signed him for 3 years at $45 million
Oluokun was the NFL’s top tackler with 192 in 2021, and he also had three interceptions. He is a reliable run defender and has some coverage power.
35. Rob Gronkowski, TE Buccaneers (age 32)
Gronkowski doesn’t rule out a return to Tampa Bay or any other team, even with Brady. Although his body is getting more and more soiled, he is still a dangerous seam receiver.
36. Leonard Fournette (age 27), RB, Buccaneers
Fournette is a power runner and skilled receiver in Tampa Bay. He lives up to his high expectations of Jacksonville’s first-round draft. However, he’s getting older and has some durability concerns.
37. B.J. Hill, DT, Bengals (age: 26)
Re-signed for 3 Years, $30 Million
The ex-Giant has proven to be an excellent interior pass-rusher to compliment their strong ends. He should get a boost from the 5.5-sack regular season as well as playoff performance.
38. D.J. Jones, DT, 49ers (age: 27)
Jones is a strong gap-clogger and can be trusted on early downs, but he also has some inside pass-rush pop.
39. James Conner, RB, Cardinals (age: 26)
Re-signed for 3 year, $21 million
The ex-Steeler workhorse is now a solid power runner and a red zone finisher in a Cardinals team. His 18-TD season deserves consideration for a 20-touch position.
40. Marcus Maye (age: 28), S. Jets
Although Maye made big plays in his early career, his durability and effectiveness are questionable. He’s still capable enough to rebound in another setting.
41. Odell Beckham Jr. WR, Rams (age 29)
Beckham is getting closer to 30 but he showed that he can be a great complement to an outside No. 2.
42. Jarvis Landry, WR, Browns (age: 29)
Landry was released from the Browns just a bit later than Beckham. As a reliable veteran player, Landry should be in play for many other teams.
43. Foley Fatukasi, DT, Jets (age: 26)
Jaguars signed him for three years, $30 million
Fatukasi will be his reliable run stopper, making the transition to 3-4 from 4-3.
44. Chase Edmonds, RB, Cardinals (age: 25)
Signed for 2 years with Dolphins, $12.6 Million
When healthy, Edmonds was an explosive back who can also be used as an open-field receiver to help with the passing game.
45. Cordarrelle Patterson, RB/WR, Falcons (age: 30)
Patterson is a solid return man, and sometimes a big-play wideout. However, Patterson elevated his running back cross-play play to a whole new level with 1,166 yard and 11 TDs. Unfortunately, he is nearing the end his career.
46. Dont’a Hightower LB, Patriots (age 31)
Hightower has been a major playmaker and leader for Bill Belichick, but his appearance over the years is beginning to show.
47. Darious Williams (age: 27), CB, Rams
Williams is a solid No. Williams is a solid No. 2 corner, who doesn’t make a lot on the ball in cover, but he helps himself as a tackling asset.
48. Michael Gallup, WR Cowboys (age 25)
Re-signed for 5 Years, $62.5 Million
Gallup could have enjoyed a great fourth season with Dak Preston if it wasn’t for his injury to his calf in Week 1. He’s a good vertical threat and can make Amari Cooper obsolete.
49. James Daniels G, Bears (age of 24)
Daniels has been a solid left-side starter for them and he is another plug-and play acquisition for run blocking needsy team.
50. Charvarius Ward CB, Chiefs (age 25)
Ward is like the Rams Williams in that you can’t count upon him for big plays or interceptions, but he can do the little things well and be a No. 2 corner.