NFL News & Analysis

2022 NFL free agency grades for all 16 AFC teams

Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) reacts after making a first down during the second half against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The PFF Free Agency Deal Grader has been live throughout the madness so far, but here is a chance to take a broader look at the first real team-building opportunity of the offseason and grade how each AFC team has been performing in 2022. Click here for NFC team grades.

For even more information about the best free agents on the market, monitor PFF's free agent rankings, which include contract projections, wins above replacement figures, PFF grades and analysis.

Additions and departures are significant players, not an exhaustive list. Notable re-signings will appear under additions in this article.


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Player Grades

AFC East

Buffalo Bills: Above Average

Additions: 
Jan 2, 2022; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Von Miller (40) on the field during the first half against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Departures:

The Bills addressed a weak spot of their defense in a major way, as the Miller signing overshadowed two additional strong acquisitions on the interior in Jones and Settle. An underrated component of the Miller addition is his run defense prowess, as he's never earned a run defense grade below 80.0 in his career. Over the last two seasons, Buffalo’s run defense grade (45.2) ranks 23rd. 

Buffalo also continued their recent trend of turning over the guard spots, adding Saffold in the process, whose 80.0 run-blocking grade over the last five seasons ranks eleventh among guards. 

The loss of Wallace to the Pittsburgh Steelers is notable, especially at two-year, $8 million price tag. Obviously, the Bills know their former 2018 undrafted free agent signing better than anyone, but with star cornerback Tre’Davious White still on the mend from an ACL torn late in the 2021 season, outside corner becomes the thinnest unit in Buffalo.

Miami Dolphins: Below Average

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Departures:

The Dolphins have had a quieter start to free agency than expected given their ample 2022 salary cap space headed into the offseason, but they are reportedly making a run at the top tackle available in former New Orleans Saints tackle Terron Armstead. If they can get a deal done with Armstead in addition to signing Williams, it would represent a massive upgrade on the left side of their offensive line, and they can then find spots for recent top draft pick tackles in 2020 first-rounder Austin Jackson and 2021 second-rounder Liam Eichenberg

New Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel has begun shaping the roster in his preferred image — intent on running the football with a smash-mouth mentality — which began by signing Ingold. Tight end Mike Gesicki has signed his franchise tag, and Smythe agreed to a two-year, $8 million contract to stay in an offense intent on running a lot of two-tight end sets. 

New England Patriots

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The Patriots set a record in the 2021 offseason for doling out the most in total guaranteed money of any team in NFL history, and so far this offseason, they have pivoted back to their typical calculated approach. The most notable move New England has made so far is trading away guard Shaq Mason to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for a fifth-round pick, a great value for a player coming off back-to-back seasons with 85.0-plus grades. Karras signed a strong three-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals after playing left guard for the Patriots in 2021, so both guard spots will need to be addressed going forward. 

New England did make sure to retain Brown after he visited with the Seattle Seahawks, an important re-signing coming off Brown’s career-best 78.7 grade in 2021. Staying healthy and on the field isn’t a guarantee with Brown, but he’s a strong pass protector at either tackle spot, which is hugely important for rising sophomore quarterback Mac Jones. It appears New England is counting on Jones' growth and 2021 free agent signees Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor to take the next step in 2022.

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New York Jets: Above Average

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The biggest holes on the Jets' roster heading into the offseason were in the secondary and at the tight end spot, and the club has to be happy with how they’ve done to address both thus far. Reed reunites with Jets head coach Robert Saleh after the two spent time together with the San Francisco 49ers, coming off his first full season as a starter with a career-best 78.6 overall grade and back-to-back seasons earning run defense grades above 85.0. Whitehead helps fill the void left by Marcus Maye and is one of the better safeties at making plays in the box and at the line of scrimmage. 

As for tight end, Uzomah and Conklin represent a drastic improvement for the position group. Both players are capable blockers who can serve as outlets in the passing game for young quarterback Zach Wilson, putting up a combined 1,086 receiving yards last season in offenses that featured multiple elite wide receivers commanding targets. 

Tomlinson was the splash signing for the Jets this offseason, and while his three-year, $40 million deal isn’t prohibitive of any other moves, it’s incredibly strong in hindsight given a weak interior offensive line market. Tomlinson reunites with Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur and has proven to be a perfect fit in the wide zone rushing attack, but both he and Jets 2021 first-rounder Alijah Vera-Tucker excelled at left guard in 2021, so they’ll have to figure out where to play each of them going forward. 

New York should feel confident that it's done well to surround Wilson with a stout offensive line and enough firepower to vastly improve their offense, but now, it’s up to them to execute.

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars: Below Average

Additions:
Oct 10, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) runs during the second half against the San Francisco 49ers at State Farm Stadium. Credit: Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports
Departures:

Williams and Fatukasi represent important upgrades at good price points, but the majority of their other signings — including Kirk and Jones — were clear overpays. Kirk’s deal for $18 million per year on a player who’s never had a 1,000 receiving yard season was such an outlier contract that it threw the entire position market off for a few days. Such is the nature of free agency, and at least no one can accuse the Jaguars of sitting on their hands and not doing enough to support quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but spending with reckless abandon is rarely a winning formula. 

Jacksonville also made Scherff the highest-paid guard in NFL history at $16.5 million per year, and once again spent a lot on an off-ball linebacker in Oluokun even though they’ve now moved on from linebackers Myles Jack and Joe Schobert in consecutive offseasons after signing them to top-of-market deals. The team should be better under new head coach Doug Pederson in 2022, especially with two first-round picks, including No. 1 overall, but it’s hard to be worse than a team that earned the top selection two years in a row.

Houston Texans: Average

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The Texans’ offseason was all about getting a massive trade haul for quarterback Deshaun Watson, and while they could have perhaps done better to acquire young talent in addition to draft pick compensation, Houston became the first team to receive three first-round picks in a trade since the Dallas Cowboys traded running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings in 1989. Houston hasn’t had a first-round selection since 2019, and their earliest pick in 2021 was No. 67 overall, but now they’re currently slated to have four of the top 68 picks in 2022. 

Houston’s strategy in 2021 of signing a ton of veterans to one-year deals arguably paid off, as Collins — who accumulated 31 quarterback pressures and earned a 71.0 pass-rush grade in 2021 — and Grugier-Hill — who played twice as many snaps as any season prior and had 14 tackles for loss or no gain, which was tied for ninth among linebackers despite Grugier-Hill missing time to injury — re-signings indicate.

Indianapolis Colts: Average

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Departures:

The Colts largely sat out free agency, which is their prerogative, and were unable to, or perhaps uninterested in, retaining guard Mark Glowinski or tackle Eric Fisher, but they were active in the trade market with three separate deals. 

First, the Colts were able to offload quarterback Carson Wentz and his $28.3 million in 2022 compensation for a swap of second-round picks, a 2022 third-round pick, and 2023 third-round pick that could become a second-round pick if Wentz plays 70% or more of Washington’s snaps next season. After Wentz’s performance the last two seasons, getting this much in return was a win, even while their original trade to acquire Wentz was clearly a flop. 

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Next, Indianapolis flipped 2019 second-round pick cornerback Rock Ya-Sin to the Las Vegas Raiders in exchange for Ngakoue. The Colts needed another edge rusher opposite 2021 first-rounder Kwity Paye, but Ngakoue is on his fifth team in three seasons at just 27 years of age for a reason, which is why he received just a one-year deal for $13 million. Ya-Sin was slow out of the gates to start his career but earned a career-best 72.4 coverage grade in 2021. 

Last but not least, the Colts made their annual quarterback addition, trading their 2022 third-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for Ryan. The former Falcon is owed about $4 million less in 2022 than Wentz and, even at 37 years old, he has been a better player over the last few seasons, posting an 82.7 passing grade compared to Wentz’ 64.9. Indianapolis will look to replicate its 2020 playoff run with a quarterback who has had effectively the exact same career arc.

Tennessee Titans: Average

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Departures:

The Titans lost a handful of key veterans, but for the most part, they were older players with in-house options to replace them — most notably releasing cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins to pave the way for 2021 first-round pick cornerback Caleb Farley to assume a starting role in 2022. Retaining Jones, who has earned at least a 70.0 grade on a minimum of 900 snaps for eight straight seasons, was huge for continuity upfront. 

Tennessee also admitted its mistake from last offseason and cut bait with wide receiver Julio Jones just one year after trading a second- and fourth-round pick to Atlanta for Jones and a sixth-rounder. However, the Titans were able to quickly replace Jones by sending a 2023 sixth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams for Woods, who is a perfect fit as one of the best run-blocking wide receivers in the NFL. 

Woods is recovering from a torn ACL, and his entire $13.5 million in 2022 compensation is guaranteed, but the Titans have consistently shown they believe in their training staff when it comes to getting injured players back on the field, drafting the aforementioned Farley and interior defender Jeffery Simmons in the first round in recent years despite both dealing with serious injuries when drafted. 

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AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: Average

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Departures:

Had a reported four-year, $35 million verbal agreement with edge defender Za’Darius Smith not fallen through, Baltimore would have earned an above-average grade here. Even with this deal not coming to fruition, the Ravens bringing in Moses for just three years, $15 million is one of the better fits of the offseason. 

Moses is predominantly a right tackle and looks to be in line to replace the retired Alejandro Villanueva, but he has made the occasional spot start on the left side, including two starts in 2020 in which Moses earned 73.8 and 77.0 grades, and would be more than capable of doing so again if Ronnie Stanley is still not 100% healthy to begin the 2022 campaign. 

Pierce is another former Raven making a return after a brief stint with the Vikings, and although he struggled to stay healthy in 2021, his 84.5 pass rush grade and 13% pressure percentage were both career-bests by a solid margin. With longtime Ravens interior defender Brandon Williams potentially not returning after nine seasons with the team, Pierce slots in as a perfect replacement with plenty of experience in Baltimore. 

Finally, while Williams’ $14 million per year deal represents the top number thus far among free agent safeties, Baltimore signed 30-year-old Earl Thomas to a deal for $13.75 million per year all the way back in 2019 and will now barely surpass that number for a player who will be 26 years old in 2022 coming off an 80.1 overall season grade.

Cincinnati Bengals: Good

Additions:
Departures:

From the moment Super Bowl LVI concluded, all discussion centered around the Bengals focused on what they would do to address their porous offensive line this offseason. The team answered the bell right out of the gate once free agency began, signing Cappa and Karras in the first wave of moves. They weren’t done, however, capitalizing on the Dallas Cowboys’ releasing Collins to bring yet another former LSU Tiger up to Cincinnati. 

At right guard, Cappa’s 71.4 pass blocking grade in 2021 is almost 20 points higher than any Bengals right guard from 2021. At center, Karras’ 76.9 pass-blocking grade in 2021 is 20 points better than Bengals 2021 center Trey Hopkins, and at right tackle, Collins’ 76.2 pass-blocking grade in 2021 is almost 20 points better than Bengals 2021 right tackle Riley Reiff. Cincinnati made massive improvements from center through right tackle without breaking the bank on any of the three deals.

Cleveland Browns: Above Average

Additions:
Jan 16, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; San Francisco 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (4) wraps up Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (19)  at AT&T Stadium. Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Departures:

The Browns changed the way NFL business will be done forever with their blockbuster trade and extension for Watson, fully guaranteeing a five-year, $230 million deal. Improving upon what Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and his representation did with his fully guaranteed three-year contract by adding two additional years of full guarantees is one thing, but there’s even more to it than that.

Article 26, Section 9 of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement governs full guarantees in contracts and requires that teams put 75% of fully guaranteed obligations, less $15,000,000 total, into escrow. Thus, Cleveland must place $157,500,000 (($230,000,000 x .75) – $15,000,000)) into escrow for Watson alone — by far the largest amount ever. This rule, frequently referred to as the “Funding Rule,” has been cited by NFL ownership as one main reason it is unwilling to fully guarantee money in future contract years. Plenty of teams may still point to this as a limitation, but Cleveland just blew that excuse out of the water, and you can bet that owners with the requisite liquidity will now compete for players' services by agreeing to guarantee money further into the future. 

Cleveland’s first bold move of the offseason was trading a fifth-round pick for Cooper and his three-year, $60 million remaining contract. With Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams, Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin, and Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore all signing similar extensions in the last few weeks, the deal looks much more palatable in hindsight. Watson immediately has his top target in the fold. 

Cleveland will have to replace one of the best pass-blocking centers in the NFL in Tretter, who earned his sixth-straight pass blocking grade above 80.0 in 2021, but 2020 fifth-round pick Nick Harris has shown promise in limited snaps already.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Average 

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Departures:

Pittsburgh’s first day of free agency created cause for concern by re-signing Okorafor — who allowed 49 quarterback pressures and committing 16 penalties over two seasons —  on an expensive three-year, $29.25 million deal and following that up by signing Trubisky to be the 2022 starting quarterback. The base value of Trubisky’s contract came in well below the speculated numbers, as his $14 million total over two years was exactly half of what the New Orleans Saints gave quarterback Jameis Winston; however, there are incentives that could push Trubisky’s compensation up to $27 million. Nonetheless, it’s an extremely reasonable deal for a bridge quarterback. 

As free agency progressed, Pittsburgh settled in and made a handful of notable signings. First, agreeing to terms on a three-year, $26.5 million deal with Daniels. He and Okorafor will both be just 25 years old for the duration of the 2022 season, so there is a lot of potential on the right side of this line. Next, bringing aboard Wallace — a perfect fit in Pittsburgh’s zone-heavy scheme — on a two-year, $8 million deal has the potential for great value. Last but not least, the Steelers swapped out Schobert for Jack to play opposite 2019 first-round pick linebacker Devin Bush

The Steelers rarely spend on external free agents, but when they do, they’ve had a strong track record over the years.

AFC West

Denver Broncos: Above Average

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Departures:

Broncos general manager George Paton is not messing around heading into his second season, as he kicked things off with the blockbuster trade for Wilson and has not let his foot off the gas. First, Paton made a move to replace interior defender Shelby Harris – who was traded to the Seahawks as part of the package to acquire Wilson — by signing Jones, who is more of a true nose tackle whereas Harris can line up more frequently over tackles. Nonetheless, Jones displayed some pass rush juice in 2021 with a career-high 18 quarterback pressures, and his 43 tackles are twice as many as his next best season. 

Next, after trading Von Miller to the Rams last season, they worked to fill the void he left behind with Gregory, who they negotiated with down to the very last second to coax him into joining the team as opposed to returning to the Cowboys. Gregory has yet to play 500 snaps in a season during his career, making this move a bit of a gamble, but he earned 80.0-plus pass-rush grades in consecutive seasons and looks to be trending in the right direction.

Kansas City Chiefs: Average

Additions:
Jan 16, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) warms up before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Departures:

The Chiefs arguably deserve a “below average” mark here because every other member of their division made multiple massive moves over the past two weeks, but it’s always important to remember that the “winners” in March don’t necessarily win the games come September. Nevertheless, Kansas City will have to deal with a much-improved AFC West — in particular, they’ll have to find a way to slow down a murderer’s row of new pass rushers that includes Mack, Gregory and Chandler Jones

The Christian addition is an underrated move to combat the onslaught of pass-rushers, as Christian earned a career-high 78.8 pass blocking grade in 2021 while filling in at left tackle for the Texans in 2021. He’s capable of filling in at both tackle spots as the all-important swing tackle, and the former third-round pick is still just 25 years old. Smith-Schuster is also a steal at a base value of just $3.25 million, as the Chiefs were desperate for another receiving weapon. Smith-Schuster is willing to make the tough catches over the middle and has averaged over four yards after the catch per reception in every season of his career thus far. 

Las Vegas Raiders: Good

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Perhaps no team has undergone more changes this offseason than the Raiders, who have an almost brand new defense under new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham that is set to terrorize opposing quarterbacks behind edge defenders Maxx Crosby and Jones. New Raiders assistant general manager Champ Kelly was also able to recruit Nichols to join him in Las Vegas, and the team did well in trading Ngakoue for Ya-Sin. 

Of course, the jaw-dropping move of free agency may have been the Raiders trading a first-and second-round pick for Adams after negotiating a five-year, $140 million extension that made him the highest-paid wide receiver in NFL history. After all the back and forth about Adams truly resetting the wide receiver market, in effect, he just continued the incremental growth of the last few years at the position with a deal that will most likely end up as a three-year, $67.5 million pact. 

The Raiders offensive line still raises questions, but if Adams, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow are all playing together in 2022, it could be tough for opposing defenses to get home with their pass rush before the ball is out of quarterback Derek Carr’s hand.

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Los Angeles Chargers: Good

Additions:
Departures:

Los Angeles needed to address its defensive line in a major way opposite edge defender Joey Bosa after teams routinely ran the ball down their throat in 2021, and they did just that with two reunions for head coach Brandon Staley. First, trading a second- and sixth-round pick for Mack and then signing Joseph-Day. Prior to an injury-riddled 2021 campaign, Mack had never earned a run defense grade below 83.5, and obviously, his pass-rush acumen speaks for itself. Joseph-Day similarly dealt with ailments in 2021, but he earned a career-best 77.6 run defense grade in 2020 with 33 defensive stops. 

To round out the defense, Los Angeles signed the top free agent cornerback available in Jackson to a deal that came in a good bit below expectations. 

Finally, on the offensive side of the ball, the Chargers replaced tight end Jared Cook with Everett, who has three straight seasons topping 400 receiving yards and 10 yards per reception as a reliable outlet for his quarterback. The Chargers recognize the surplus value they’re getting on quarterback Justin Herbert’s rookie contract, and they have no intention of squandering it whatsoever.

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