The true NFL offseason won’t be getting underway until March, but that hasn’t stopped industry reports from theorizing whether or not some of the league’s top wide receivers could be on the move in the trade market. Specifically:
- Amari Cooper: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones expressed frustration with Cooper’s performance relative to his contract. The Cowboys can save $20 million against the cap and only eat $2 million in dead money by releasing or trading Cooper after June 1 (per Over The Cap).
- D.K. Metcalf: A nagging foot injury and Russell Wilson’s three-game absence contributed to Metcalf failing to reach 1,000 yards in 2021. Still, the 24-year-old talent still managed to find the end zone 12 times and would assuredly fetch a pretty penny on the trade market if rumors are to be believed.
- Calvin Ridley: Personal issues led to Ridley playing just five games a season after posting an electric 90-1,374-9 receiving line in 15 games. Speculation about both sides looking for a fresh start makes sense with Ridley set to be a free agent in 2023.
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All 32 NFL teams would be better with than without the services of either Cooper, Metcalf or Ridley, but the better question is which offenses actually have enough available opportunity to help them reach their respective gaudy ceilings. It’s physically impossible for any player to score fantasy points if they don’t get the football. Ground-breaking analysis, I know, but the reality that there’s only one ball to go around in any given offense makes it important to monitor exactly how much opportunity is available before getting too excited about the 2022 prospects of newly signed free agents.
The following eight offenses have at least 250 available targets ahead of 2022 based on their current free agents. Note that many of the players included in the pool can and will be re-signed while players not scheduled to be free agents will be cap casualties against their will. This is just a starting point for the offseason:
- Arizona Cardinals (446 available targets)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (378)
- Green Bay Packers (322)
- Los Angeles Chargers (318)
- Atlanta Falcons (300)
- Miami Dolphins (278)
- Dallas Cowboys (269)
- Tennessee Titans (252)
This isn’t to suggest that these are the only offenses that can foster a fantasy-friendly home for an incoming free agent receiver. The New York Jets (239 available targets), Washington Football Team (223), Houston Texans (217), Chicago Bears (214) and Kansas City Chiefs (207) weren’t too far behind while the New Orleans Saints (196), New England Patriots (191), Detroit Lions (187) and Jacksonville Jaguars (177) carry a mix of solid-enough opportunity and a lack of proven high-end options. It’d make sense if an elite talent came to town and ate into the target share of the offense’s incumbent options.
Of course, quarterback performance and scheme are also massive factors while an incumbent alpha No. 1 receiver's presence could make it difficult for incoming free agents to see the sort of volume they’re used to. All of this was considered for the following list of teams that would make the most fantasy-friendly destinations for the three potential crown jewels of this offseason.
The landing spots are ranked in no particular order and “Notable Free Agents” only include pass-catchers who are also unrestricted free agents unless specified by ERFA (exclusive rights free agent) or RFA (restricted free agent).
Notable Free Agents:
- Christian Kirk (101 targets in 2021)
- A.J. Green (90)
- Zach Ertz (79)
- Chase Edmonds (51)
- James Conner (39)
- Antoine Wesley (30, ERFA)
- Maxx Williams (17)
- Demetrius Harris (4)
- Darrell Daniels (3)
- Jonathan Ward (3, ERFA)
Obviously, a healthy DeAndre Hopkins will lead the way, but otherwise, Rondale Moore is the only other player under contract who recorded more than seven targets last season. Given that Kliff Kingsbury largely refused to use Moore as anything other than an RB-esque gadget (1.2-yard average target depth), it’d make sense if Kyler Murray is able to lead Nuk and an additional receiver or tight end to plenty of fantasy success.
Notable Free Agents:
- Allen Robinson (66 targets in 2021)
- Marquise Goodwin (38)
- Damiere Byrd (37)
- Jimmy Graham (22)
- Damien Williams (22)
- Jakeem Grant (15)
- Jesse James (8)
- Jesper Horsted (3, ERFA)
- Ryan Nall (1, RFA)
Darnell Mooney is fresh off a more-than-solid 81-1,055-4 campaign while Cole Kmet is still far from a finished product at just 22 years old. Still, there’s a chance that neither is leaned on in the same manner under a new coaching staff and regime, as this team needs to devote all sorts of resources to their wide receiver room throughout free agency and the draft alike considering only the Lions have fewer 2022 dollars devoted to the position. Justin Fields, at least, flashed the ability to make some truly big-time throws.
Notable Free Agents:
- Byron Pringle (57)
- Darrel Williams (55)
- Demarcus Robinson (36)
- Jerick McKinnon (16)
- Josh Gordon (14)
- Blake Bell (11)
- Derrick Gore (9, ERFA)
- Marcus Kemp (5)
- Jody Fortson (5, ERFA)
Obviously, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce will remain at the forefront of this passing game, but the midseason addition of Gordon and general reluctance to trust Mecole Hardman as a full-time starter makes it likely that some sort of addition will be made. Remember, the Chiefs handed Sammy Watkins a three-year, $48 million contract ahead of the 2018 season while fully aware of what they had in Hill and Kelce. The salary cap is certainly a bit tighter these days with Mr. $450 million under center, but it’d make sense if veterans are willing to take a slight pay cut in order to spend at least one year inside of the league’s most explosive offense. It’d be tough to fade anybody looking at triple-digit targets from Patrick Mahomes in fantasy land.
Notable Free Agents:
- Mike Williams (122 targets in 2021)
- Jared Cook (79)
- Jalen Guyton (46, ERFA)
- Donald Parham (26, ERFA)
- Justin Jackson (24)
- Stephen Anderson (19)
Clearly, Justin Herbert is on the ascent, but Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler can’t catch every pass. Similar to the Chiefs than the rest of the teams on our list, the allure here is that the quarterback is so good that even a potential No. 3 passing-game option should be able to produce ample fantasy goodness. Perhaps the Chargers decide to focus their copious cap room on the defense and trust Josh Palmer to be that guy, but otherwise, this offense has room to slot in a new starting wide receiver and tight end.
Notable Free Agents:
- Chris Godwin (124 targets in 2021)
- Rob Gronkowski (86)
- Leonard Fournette (83)
- Giovani Bernard (29)
- O.J. Howard (20)
- Breshad Perriman (17)
- Ronald Jones (12)
- Le’Veon Bell (4)
Tom Brady is considering his wife and kids before committing to playing in 2022. The implication that he never did so over the previous 20 years is hysterical to me. Clearly, Mike Evans will continue to be a featured target regardless of who is under center next season, but there’s potential for the offense to have new starters at the No. 2 wide receiver, tight end and running back spots. This sort of volume could be enough for a talented player to be a serviceable fantasy asset with Kyle Trask under center while the ceiling would be the roof should Brady decide to come back for one last dance or two.
- It’s legal for Aaron Rodgers to have more than one high-end receiver.
- The Falcons, Cowboys and Seahawks would obviously have plenty of newfound targets available if they decide to part ways with their aforementioned stud receivers.
- Will Fuller and Mike Gesicki‘s potential departures open up a couple of starting spots alongside Jaylen Waddle and DeVante Parker — something that would be much more intriguing should Miami win the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes.
- The Texans are one Brandin Cooks trade away from having a completely wide-open passing game.
- Michael Thomas should be back and ready to go for 2022, but there’s always been potential for a third weapon alongside him and Alvin Kamara.
- Things were regularly spread out in the Patriots’ passing game, so it’s not hard to imagine a true alpha coming in and overtaking Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor.
- The Lions should keep feeding targets to Amon-Ra St. Brown, T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift, but it’d make sense if their rebuild plan consists of adding at least one high-cost wide receiver via free agency or the draft at some point.
- A new coaching staff means everything is up in the air for the Jaguars.
- The Browns, theoretically, have a soft enough wide receiver room for an alpha to come in and take over, although Baker Mayfield’s consistent inability to enable any fantasy-relevant receivers makes it tough to be overly optimistic here.
- The fairly clear-cut bottom-five offenses in available targets: Panthers (103), Vikings (101), Bengals (91), Broncos (49) and Eagles (28). Any wide receiver added to these squads should be approached with extreme caution given the general lack of opportunity as well as each respective squad's fairly clear-cut pecking order in the passing game.