2022 NFL Free Agency: 5 under-the-radar deals that could pay off big

East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Washington Football Team defensive tackle Tim Settle (97) celebrates after recovering a fumble against the New York Giants during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

De’Vondre Campbell signed with the Green Bay Packers in June last offseason on a one-year, $2 million contract to step in as the team’s top off-ball linebacker. He proceeded to deliver the Packers an All-Pro caliber season which was recently awarded with a five-year, $50 million contract extension to remain in Green Bay.

Part of the beauty of NFL free agency is finding those diamonds in the rough. Big-money signings can fall flat on a new team, while value signings can flourish following a change of scenery in a new scheme. 

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The following are several players who signed new contracts across the first four days of 2022 free agency and could outperform those deals on their new teams. 

Buffalo Bills sign DI Tim Settle for two years, $9 million

If the Settle signing wasn’t “under the radar” when it was signed, it is after the six-year, $120 million deal Buffalo recently struck with Von Miller

Settle hasn’t been able to find the field consistently through the first four seasons of his NFL career, but a lot of that has to do with the names in front of him on the depth chart in Washington — Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis. Settle has impressive flashes as a pass-rusher on his tape for a player coming in at over 325 pounds and has earned PFF pass-rushing grades north of 72.0 in each of the last two seasons. 

The Bills should offer more opportunity for Settle to build on that success in a limited role after Harrison Phillips left for Minnesota in free agency. Settle will still have to compete for snaps with Ed Oliver and fellow free agent signings DaQuan Jones and Jordan Phillips, but there is plenty of reason to be excited about his upside in Buffalo at $4.5 million per year.

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New York Jets sign ED Jacob Martin for three years, $13.5 million 

Martin’s signing in New York followed the two biggest edge defender names in the market coming off the board in Chandler Jones and Von Miller. Martin won’t have the same kind of impact, but it’s easy to see him being a valuable rotational pass rusher behind Carl Lawson and John Franklin-Myers in Robert Saleh’s defense. 

Martin does a good job of making up for being undersized with some serious juice and good hands. Martin is coming off the biggest role of his career with Houston in 2021 (700 defensive snaps), resulting in a 54th-percentile PFF pass-rushing grade among qualifying edge rushers in “true” pass-rush situations. There’s a decent chance Martin is able to improve on that in a more specialized role.

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Cincinnati Bengals sign C/G Ted Karras for three years, $18 million

Bengals fans dreamt of an offseason securing the likes of Terron Armstead, Ryan Jensen, Brandon Scherff and La’el Collins. The last still has time to happen, but the two players Cincinnati has secured so far are a tier or two below the names on that list — Karras and Alex Cappa. The good news for Cincinnati is that those mid-tier starters are exactly whom the Bengals should be prioritizing on an offensive line in need of an overhaul. Spread the resources and limit glaring holes rather than taking home-run swings on elite talent.

The Karras signing in particular isn’t flashy but will likely return value above his $6 million per year average salary. Karras offers Cincinnati the flexibility to pursue other guards and centers during the remainder of free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft because he has started capably at both left guard and center across the last three seasons. 

It’s a similar situation to the Chargers’ signing of Matt Feiler last offseason — a move that wasn’t going to break the bank to add a player who could start at multiple positions on an offensive line in need of multiple new starters.

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Pittsburgh Steelers sign CB Levi Wallace and CB Ahkello Witherspoon for two years, $8 million

It appears as if Pittsburgh has found its starting outside cornerback duo for 2022 on inexpensive, two-year deals in free agency. 

Wallace is a limited athlete who isn’t going to be able to stick with better athletes in man coverage, but he has proven to be a solid No. 2 starter on the outside with the Buffalo Bills. He has been quite difficult to replace in the starting lineup. Wallace has graded out in the 57th percentile of all qualifying cornerbacks in PFF coverage grade over the last three seasons as a starter in Buffalo. 

Witherspoon’s career has been more up and down, but he has put play on tape in stretches that matches high-end measurables. There’s a chance he could be a No. 1 option, and he looked like one once he got the opportunity to start for Pittsburgh down the stretch in 2021. Witherspoon allowed less than 50% of the passes into his coverage last season to be completed, for a passer rating allowed of 48.0. 

That play was worth seeing what he could do over the course of a full season.  

The addition of Wallace and re-signing of Witherspoon have the added benefit of moving Cameron Sutton back into the slot. Sutton has graded out in the 84th percentile of qualifying cornerbacks when lined up in the slot compared to the 25th percentile out wide since entering the league in 2017. 

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Houston Texans sign ED Ogbo Okoronkwo for one year, TBD

Okoronkwo is another high-efficiency, low-volume pass rusher getting an opportunity to show what he can do in an expanded role. Okoronkwo’s 314 defensive snaps in 2021 marked a career high, as did his 75.3 PFF pass-rushing grade. He’s a versatile edge defender who has graded well against both the run and pass whenever he has been on the field. The only issue is that we've only seen it in a part-time role. 

There should be more opportunity for Okoronkwo in Houston after the team lost Jacob Martin — who also makes an appearance on this list — to the New York Jets in free agency. His primary competition for snaps as things stand right now are Jonathan Greenard and Jordan Jenkins


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