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2022 NFL Free Agency: One positive takeaway for all 32 NFL teams so far

Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) drops back to pass as Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (90) rushes during the second half at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Not every team has had a sterling start to the 2022 league year in free agency, but there is at least one redeeming move or outcome to latch onto for every fanbase. Some just require more mental gymnastics than others. 

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Here is one positive takeaway for all 32 teams after the first week of free agency as we continue through the portion of the NFL calendar where fans of every team should have a little bit of hope.

Arizona Cardinals: They should be more confident in their 12 personnel packages

The Cardinals have run more 10 personnel — one back and no tight ends — than any other offense in the league (21.5%) since Kliff Kingsbury took over as head coach in 2019. They’ve also ranked inside the top-five in 12 personnel usage (25.3%) over that rate, though. 

The issue has been that the Cardinals haven’t had two strong starting options at tight end in those packages. They should in 2022 after re-signing Zach Ertz and Maxx Williams, who didn’t get the chance to play together in 2021. 

Ertz isn’t the same player he was at his peak in Philadelphia, but he still proved to be a nice complementary option over the middle of the field for Kyler Murray following his midseason trade. Ertz finished his 12 games in Arizona last season with a 70.1 PFF receiving grade. Williams, meanwhile, has earned a higher PFF run-blocking grade than any tight end in the NFL since 2019 (83.8) and isn’t a complete non-factor in the passing game.

Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons have a strong cornerback duo outside on paper for the first time in a while

Talent in the secondary has been an issue for Atlanta the last few seasons. There’s still plenty of room to add starting-caliber players at both cornerback and safety, but it appears the Falcons have found their starting outside cornerbacks for 2022 with the addition of Casey Hayward Jr. in free agency. 

Fewest receiving yards allowed per game at CB in 2021 (min. 400 coverage snaps)
Cornerback Receiving yards allowed per game
A.J. Terrell 12.5
Casey Hayward Jr. 22.8
Jamel Dean 23.1
Adoree’ Jackson 23.4
Cameron Dantzler 23.9

No two cornerbacks allowed fewer yards per game than Terrell and Hayward last season and now, they join forces in Dean Pees’ defense. That’s a win regardless of what happens at the quarterback position.

Baltimore Ravens: They secured an average starting tackle for $5 million per year

The Za’Darius Smith signing looked like one of the best values in all of free agency. Unfortunately, Smith may have seen that sentiment everywhere and decided to keep his options open rather than return to Baltimore. 

The Ravens have still had a strong opening week to the new league year, including bringing in Morgan Moses on a very reasonable three-year deal to compete with Ja’Wuan James for the starting right tackle job. Moses is PFF’s 14th-highest-graded right tackle out of 44 qualifiers at the position over the last two years, and the $5 million average per year on his contract puts him in line with the likes of Jesse Davis at the position. 

Signing James last offseason while he was recovering from injury was a shrewd investment by Baltimore. This Moses signing is another one, giving them another starting option and depth in case of injury — something that the Ravens saw the importance of in 2021.

Buffalo Bills: The defensive line is in no danger of losing depth

No one can say that Brandon Beane and company haven’t placed enough emphasis on the defensive line. Premium draft picks have been spent on Ed Oliver, A.J. Epenesa, Gregory Rousseau and Boogie Basham, and the team has prioritized the unit in free agency by signing Tim Settle, DaQuan Jones and Von Miller

Miller may be 33 years old, but he’s shown no signs of slowing down. He was unblockable at times during the Rams Super Bowl run, as he recorded a PFF pass-rushing grade above 90.0 for two games while accumulating 22 total pressures across the four games. Settle and Jones should both fill clear roles on the interior as mid-level signings, as well. Buffalo's defensive line has one of the deeper and more talented rotations in the NFL entering 2022.

Carolina Panthers: Austin Corbett and Bradley Bozeman provide two starting answers along the offensive line

The Panthers aren’t in a great spot, as they took a swing on Sam Darnold that didn’t pan out while their all-out effort to land Deshaun Watson proved fruitless. Whoever ultimately ends up behind center doesn’t project to have much in the way of blocking, either. 

Signing Corbett to a three-year, $26.25 million contract and Bozeman to a one-year, $2.8 million deal at least solidifies two of the interior offensive line spots. Corbett is a top-20 guard in PFF’s wins above replacement metric since 2020 and boasts a solid all-around grading profile over that stretch. Bozeman is coming off a career-best 73.3 PFF grade at center in 2021.

The Panthers can now feel comfortable with the Bozeman-Corbett-Taylor Moton pairing on the right side of their offensive line. It’s the other two positions they need to turn their attention to now. 

Chicago Bears: The Bears still have cap space to work with in the second wave of free agency

Chicago has made one splash signing so far in the first wave of free agency, and that signing (Larry Ogunjobi) never finalized due to a failed physical. There is still a clear need for the Bears to add talent around Justin Fields entering his second season. Smaller wide receiver deals for Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown provide some nice depth, but there’s plenty of work still to be done in the receiving corps and along the offensive line. 

The good news for the Bears is that they still have some flexibility to add talent in free agency. Their $23.7 million in effective cap space remaining for 2022 is a top-three mark in the NFL, per Over the Cap. They need to allocate that toward giving Fields enough talent to fully evaluate him next season. 

Cincinnati Bengals: They have gone about rebuilding the offensive line the right way

Cincinnati hasn’t taken the big swings that the Chiefs took last offseason to rebuild their offensive line, but the Bengals' offensive line is still in a considerably better place now than it was at the end of the 2021 season. 

Ted Karras (seventh-highest-graded left guard in 2021) and Alex Cappa (10th-highest-graded right guard in 2021) represent two quality starter additions on the interior offensive line who didn’t require the kind of investment that a player such as Brandon Scherff or Ryan Jensen would have.  

Cincinnati also won the La’el Collins sweepstakes following his release from Dallas. Collins is coming off back-to-back starting seasons with a PFF run-blocking grade above 89.0 and adds a physical edge to the Bengals’ run game.  

All signs point to the Achilles heel from the 2021 team taking a massive step in the right direction.

Cleveland Browns: Amari Cooper gives the Browns their WR1 before the draft

Let’s hope this trade for a star wide receiver goes better than the last one, Cleveland.

In all seriousness, credit should go to general manager Andrew Berry and company for not being afraid of making a trade like this simply because the last one ended poorly. No wide receiver available in free agency — at least no wide receiver who actually had a chance to avoid the franchise tag and hit free agency — or in the 2022 NFL Draft could immediately contribute the way that Cooper can next season. Cooper ranks 16th among wide receivers in PFF’s wins above replacement metric over the last four seasons, and he’s one of the league’s best route runners. 

This move doesn’t exclude the Browns from targeting another wide receiver with the 13th overall selection in the draft, but it does take some of the pressure off them needing to find a rookie who can step in as a legitimate WR1 there.

Dallas Cowboys: Demarcus Lawrence gave the Cowboys a hometown discount on his three-year extension


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