NFL free agency is always a frenzy. Teams and agents have been talking numbers and potential contract structures for weeks now, and eventually deals start rolling through one after the other on your Twitter timelines.
Making things better this year, the salary cap is back up and officially set at $208.2 million after it went down last year to $182.5 million due to COVID-19. Executives don’t view this year’s free-agent class as strong compared to previous years, but a bunch of players are going to get paid and teams are prepared to spend. It’s worth noting that the likely salary cap spike coming (as early as 2023) thanks to the new TV deals has led some agents to think about shorter-term deals to make sure their players get back on the market sooner than later.
While guys like J.C. Jackson, Terron Armstead, Tyrann Mathieu and Allen Robinson II are set to headline the free agency market, there are some lower-profile names who could end up cashing in, as well. After spending a week at the combine in Indianapolis, here’s a look at 10 free agents who could end up getting paid more than you might expect.
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Washington tagged Scherff in back-to-back offseasons, and the two sides never got close on a long-term deal. He ended up cashing in on over $45 million across the past three years, but he’s finally made it to the open market — and he’ll be coveted by several teams. The former No. 5 overall pick just turned 30, but he’s consistently been one of the best guards in the league when healthy. He never earned a sub-70.0 overall grade in any of his seven seasons with Washington. The expectation is he’ll get over $14 million a year at a minimum.
Just entering his prime at age 27, Bozeman was a sixth-round pick of the Ravens in 2018 and has 49 NFL starts under his belt. He earned a career-high 73.3 PFF grade in 2021 as Baltimore’s starting center, and that comes after he played two full seasons as the starting left guard. “He’s the leader of their offensive line,” one source said. Bozeman has also been the Ravens' Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee in back-to-back years thanks to the extraordinary work he’s done with the Bradley & Nikki Bozeman Foundation. Don’t be surprised if his market takes him to $9 million a year or beyond.
Daniels will be only 25 years old at the start of next season, and he's been productive at both guard spots since entering the league as a second-round pick in 2018. He also has experience playing center, which he did in his last two years in college at Iowa. “The upside to keep growing and get even better is what will entice teams,” one team source said. Look for Daniels to land a deal in the $10 million to $13 million range.
The former Detroit Lions first-round pick has flourished in San Francisco. He might not be much of a household name, but Tomlinson has not missed a game over the past four seasons and has played every single offensive snap for Kyle Shanahan across the past three years. His 75.9 overall grade in 2021 ranked 11th among 90 qualifying guards. Similar to James Daniels, the expectation is he’ll get over $10 million a year on the open market.
The expectation is that the Buccaneers will use the franchise tag on wide receiver Chris Godwin, allowing Davis to hit the open market. His 48 pass breakups over the past three seasons are the most in the NFL and he has experience playing both man and zone. Still just 25 years old, Davis has dealt with a couple of injuries, having missed 14 games in his career. But the expectation is that he should do well on the market, getting a lucrative deal averaging at least $13.5 million per year, likely more.
EDGE Emmanuel Ogbah
Ogbah found a home in Miami after signing with them in 2020 on a two-year deal. He’s posted nine sacks in each of the past two seasons and is coming off a career-best 77.0 overall PFF grade. He also ranks eighth in the NFL with 86 hurries and first with 15 batted passes during that span. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, confirmed this week that Ogbah won’t get franchise tagged. Expect him to command $13 million to $16 million a year on the open market. “His best football is still ahead of him,” one source said. Miami would like to have him back, and the two sides had some discussions at the combine in Indianapolis.
Reed has emerged as a very underrated player in the league ever since he arrived in Seattle. His size (listed as 5-foot-9, 193 pounds) might seem like an issue, but you can’t really tell when watching him play — he has proven he can do it all. From Week 4 until the end of the 2021 season, he recorded 10 pass breakups and two interceptions while allowing a 66.0 passer rating and zero touchdowns. He finished the year with a career-best 78.6 overall grade and has also graded above 85.0 in run defense over the past two years. Expect him to command in the $8 million to $11 million range in free agency.
Valdes-Scantling’s market will be intriguing. Several teams have interest simply because of his ability to stretch the field. His size (6-foot-5) and speed (4.37) are exactly what teams want, and he averaged a league-high 18.4 yards per reception over the past three years. There is still more room to grow for MVS, but the big-play ability will always be there. Expect his market to come in at around $8.5 million to $12 million a year.
Jackson, 26, was in the midst of a solid season in 2021 before injuring his groin in November and undergoing season-ending surgery. A starter since the day he arrived as a second-round pick, he totaled 12 interceptions and 38 pass breakups in four seasons with the Panthers. Only five other players amassed more in both categories across that span. The expectation is that Jackson could get at least $9.5 million a year — and possibly more.
Oluokun led the league in tackles in 2021 (192), and he also has five interceptions, five forced fumbles and five sacks over the past two seasons. It's a lean year for free-agent off-ball linebackers. That should benefit Oluokun, who may get close to $10 million on the open market — and perhaps up to $12 million a year.