With the first day of the 2023 NFL calendar now just three months away, it's time for most teams around the league to turn their attention to NFL free agency in a bid to improve their rosters for a new campaign.
Here are the top free agents at safety, taken from PFF's list of the top 50 players set to enter free agency.
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It appears far more likely Bates will reach unrestricted free agency this time around after Cincinnati placed the franchise tag on him last offseason and never made a serious multi-year offer.
His 76.8 PFF grade this season ranked 13th at the position, his 84.8 run-defense grade was a top-five mark. This year marked Bates' fifth 1,000-plus-snap season in as many years as an NFL player, pairing his above-average skill set with remarkable reliability. He ranks behind only Kevin Byard in regular-season snaps played among safeties since 2018.
2. S JORDAN POYER, BUFFALO BILLS
Free agent rank: 19
Poyer was seeking an extension before the 2022 season, and his performance this year goes a long way in proving why he was worthy of a new deal, but various injuries have also illustrated perhaps why Buffalo was wary of committing to the 31-year-old beyond 2022. That said, Poyer logged 950-plus snaps in every season from 2017-21, so his toughness and willingness to play through ailments cannot be questioned.
The 2022 campaign marked Poyer's fourth consecutive regular season earning coverage grades and overall grades above 70.0, with a lot of turnover in the Bills' secondary throughout the season, most notably with his safety partner Micah Hyde lost for the year. Poyer’s 92.1 coverage grade since 2020 is the best among safeties. He still has good football left to be played.
Free agent rank: 28
The Eagles traded for Gardner-Johnson this past offseason after he couldn’t come to terms with the New Orleans Saints on a contract extension, and it was somewhat surprising the aggressive Eagles didn’t extend him right then and there. Nevertheless, Gardner-Johnson got off to a strong start, and his six interceptions tied for the most in the NFL. An injury knocked him out for five weeks to close out the year, but he’s back for the playoffs and has a lot to prove in the postseason.
The former Saints slot cornerback’s versatility was on full display in Week 18 against the New York Giants fresh off injured reserve, logging a few key snaps in the slot with Avonte Maddox out with an injury and allowing just two receptions for five yards to go along with two defensive stops. The interesting thing with his market will be where his next team — if he doesn’t stay in Philadelphia — projects him in the lineup, with safeties earning a lot more on average than slot cornerbacks.
4. S VONN BELL, CINCINNATI BENGALS
Free agent rank: 46
Bell has been a somewhat under-the-radar field general on the backend who serves as a glue guy for his defense in his career, and 2022 was no different as Bengals cornerbacks went down with injuries all year long. A stout run defender, Bell boasts an 88.7 run-defense grade over the past five seasons that ranks eighth best among safeties. He did record the highest rate of missed tackles in his career in 2022 (14.8%), but his track record speaks for itself.
Bell can hold his own in coverage, as well, earning his second consecutive coverage grade above 65.0. He’s a very solid all-around player who would be a nice fit with any team.