NFL News & Analysis

Best and worst free-agent signings in 2022

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick (7) reacts after a defensive stop against the New Orleans Saints during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

  • The good and the bad in Miami: The Miami Dolphins made some great moves on offense but also two puzzling additions that almost immediately found themselves at the bottom of their respective depth charts last offseason.
  • Geno Smith and Jacoby Brissett prove valuable: The Seattle Seahawks and Cleveland Browns got a ton of value out of cheap deals for veteran quarterbacks.
  • GM Howie Roseman does it again: The Philadelphia Eagles painted a masterpiece over the 2022 offseason, and the Haason Reddick signing is one of their best moves.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

As each club adds new talent to its roster over the offseason, coaches envision how they can best utilize their talents to benefit the team to the fullest extent possible. In the best-case scenarios, these players exceed even the loftiest of expectations. On the other hand, we’re all but guaranteed to get a few deals each offseason that a general manager — or an owner — would love to have back. 

We take a look back at the free agent signings from the 2022 offseason, and the five that aged the best, plus the five that aged the worst. 

Five best free agent signings of the 2022 offseason

QB Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks

  • Contract: One year, $3.5 million ($500,000 total guaranteed)
  • 2022 wins-above-replacement: 3.053 (7th)

While Smith is the lone player on the list that re-signed his 2021 team, Seattle let him test the open market before bringing him back on a one-year, $3.5 million deal, so we’re going to include him here. If the prospect of his return gave the Seahawks brass added confidence to pull the trigger on the Russell Wilson trade, that alone makes this a top signing. 

Over the 2022 season, Smith’s 76.9 passing grade ranked ninth, his 77.8% adjusted completion percentage was tied for seventh, and his 5.8% big-time throw rate ranked seventh. Smith was not buoyed by fluky production or a system that made everything incredibly easy for him, as his 15 touchdown passes on throws 20-plus yards downfield were three more than the next-best quarterback (Josh Allen), and that was while waiting for routes to come open downfield with two rookie offensive tackles protecting him. 

In one of the more unique situations in NFL history, the Seahawks look to have found their quarterback of the next several years, they just have to work out a multi-year extension that makes sense for both parties as they look to take that next step. 

QB Jacoby Brissett, Cleveland Browns

  • Contract: One year, $4.65 million ($4.5 million total guaranteed)
  • 2022 wins-above-replacement: 1.844 (15th)

This proved to be a great signing for several reasons beyond Brissett playing some good football. First, the Browns already had an upper-tier backup quarterback on their roster in Case Keenum and could have just let him play out the first 11 games of the season, but they elected to trade him to the Buffalo Bills for a seventh-round pick instead, which had some subtle genius to it. 

The subtle genius was this: Brissett just turned 30 years old whereas Keenum will soon be 35 years old, and Brissett is still in that echelon of quarterbacks who could earn a starting job as a bridge to a team’s next franchise quarterback, whereas Keenum likely used up all those opportunities. If another team signs Brissett to such a deal this offseason, that means Cleveland could perhaps recoup a compensatory pick in the fourth-round range. Therefore, they could end up with two draft picks by making a swap of backup quarterbacks. 

Last but certainly not least, Brissett had a strong 2022 season. His 75.2 passing grade ranked 12th among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts on the season, he was top-10 in big-time throw rate at 4.9%, and he added 243 yards on the ground at 5.0 yards per carry. His prowess as one of the elite QB-sneaker should not be overlooked. While Cleveland’s season didn’t pan out as they’d hoped, that falls largely on their porous defense. They navigated the first 11 games before Deshaun Watson returned about as well as they could have at the quarterback position.

EDGE Haason Reddick, Philadelphia Eagles

  • Contract: Three years, $45 million ($30 million total guaranteed)
  • 2022 wins-above-replacement: 0.2 (16th)

The craziest thing about Reddick’s contract from last offseason is that the price tag was kept so reasonable despite the fact he was coming off back-to-back double-digit sack seasons. If there’s one thing you can count on some teams to do each offseason, it’s overpaying for sack production where underlying metrics aren’t as favorable. 

That wasn’t the case with Reddick, who was consistently winning pass rush reps over the prior two seasons once he was finally moved back to edge rusher full-time, and one of the sharpest organizations in the NFL seemed to take advantage of teams’ apprehension due to Reddick’s lack of size. All Reddick did was earn a career-high 90.0 pass rush grade, finishing top-15 among edge defenders in pass rush win rate (18.9%) and pressure percentage (15.9%), while his 16 sacks ranked second and six forced fumbles ranked first in the NFL. 

In one of the greatest single offseasons a team has had in the modern era, this signing stands out. 

CB Stephon Gilmore, Indianapolis Colts

  • Contract: Two years, $20 million ($14 million total guaranteed)
  • 2022 wins-above-replacement: 0.495 (6th)

The Colts fell well short of expectations in 2022, but that was certainly not due to Gilmore's performance. He couldn’t have foreseen the Colts offense ranking dead last in expected points added per play on the year when signing the dotted line on his new deal, but he had a lot to do with a Colts defense that ranked 14th in expected points allowed per play on the year. 

Gilmore played a career-high 1,064 snaps at 32 years old and earned his fourth 80.0-plus coverage grade over his last five healthy seasons. He still thrived while continuing to take on tougher assignments, logging the 12th-most snaps in press coverage and earning a 77.6 grade on press coverage snaps, which ranked ninth among all cornerbacks. Despite his advanced age and some recent injuries, Gilmore remains one of the league’s top lockdown cornerbacks. 

EDGE Za’Darius Smith, Minnesota Vikings

  • Contract: Three years, $42 million ($11.5 million total guaranteed)
  • 2022 wins-above-replacement: 0.232 (9th)

Smith missed almost the entirety of the 2021 season with the Green Bay Packers due to injury and reveled at the prospect of going up against his former team twice by staying in the NFC North. He clearly had some extra motivation after expressing displeasure with how his contract was handled at the end, which propelled him to a dominant start to the 2022 season. 

Through Week 10, Smith was lapping the field, as his 55 total quarterback pressures were nine more than the next-highest edge defender while his pass rush win rate and pressure rate both ranked top five. While he did slow down a bit to close out the year dealing with a knee injury, he undoubtedly earned every penny of the $10.25 million in cash he was paid for 2022. 

The interesting dilemma here will now be whether Smith or fellow Vikings edge defender Danielle Hunter is willing to play in 2023 without getting a raise. 

Five worst free agent signings of the 2022 offseason

EDGE Chandler Jones, Las Vegas Raiders

  • Contract: Three years, $51 million ($32 million total guaranteed)
  • 2022 wins-above-replacement: 0.028 (65th)

The easiest way to illustrate this deal's poor value is by simply looking at the 2022 production of three other 30-plus-year-old edge defenders that signed significantly smaller contracts last offseason:

Player Contract Overall grade Pass rush win rate Pressure rate
Chandler Jones 3 / $51M 63.8 13.1% 10.6%
Melvin Ingram 1 / $4M 70.3 17.0% 11.8%
Justin Houston 1 / $3.5M 73.6 18.4% 14.6%
Jerry Hughes 2 / $10M 71.4 18.6% 15.8%

Jones’ deal is pretty much the same as Von Miller’s true contract in Buffalo when you get into the details, and Miller recorded as many pressures and three more sacks than Jones in 2022 on 160 fewer pass rush snaps. Jones has had a phenomenal career and showed flashes in 2021 once he regained health, but there were enough warning signs to avoid a deal of this magnitude, and other alternatives available for much cheaper considering Las Vegas had just extended edge defender Maxx Crosby

Jones has $16 million already fully guaranteed for 2023 making his contract seemingly unmovable, and now Las Vegas has to go back to the drawing board at quarterback. 

WR Cedrick Wilson Jr., Miami Dolphins

  • Contract: Three years, $22.05 million ($12.75 million total guaranteed)
  • 2022 wins-above-replacement: 0.016 (128th)

We can’t really highlight poor performance or metrics for Wilson in 2022 because… there were very few snaps to even evaluate. After a breakout 2021 season with the Dallas Cowboys, especially down the stretch after Michael Gallup got hurt, Wilson deserved a solid No. 3 wide receiver deal like the one he signed here. 

Unfortunately, he was almost immediately relegated to wide receiver No. 4 behind Trent Sherfield, who had a career year in his own right following McDaniel from the San Francisco 49ers, serving as a reliable third target and elite run blocker in the slot. 

Wilson ultimately finished the season with 12 receptions, and if Miami elects to move on from him before 2023 despite $5 million of his $7 million 2023 salary already fully guaranteed, it will end up paying over $1 million per reception. 

CB J.C. Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers

  • Contract: Five years, $82.5 million ($40 million total guaranteed)
  • 2022 wins-above-replacement: -0.19 (237th)

We’re not in the business of knocking players for getting injured, as it’s an unfortunate reality of the NFL and out of anyone’s control. That’s not what we’re doing here, as we had some game film to pull from before Jackson was lost for the season, and it wasn’t pretty. The Chargers perhaps missing the fact Jackson had a previous ankle injury that required surgery before the season even began during the team physical is a whole other thing we won’t get into, but it certainly is not Jackson’s fault either.

Jackson’s 28.1 coverage grade was the lowest of any cornerback with at least 50 coverage snaps on the season — he logged 165 through Week 7 — and he didn't have a single game grade reach 45.0. Jackson allowed an explosive reception on 6.0% of his coverage snaps, the highest rate of any cornerback with at least 100 snaps played on the year, and was giving up 2.48 yards per coverage snap — over half a yard more than the next player. 

The hope here has to be that Jackson was playing through injury and will look more like his old self once fully healthy. 

DI Folorunso Fatukasi, Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Contract: Three years, $30 million ($20 million total guaranteed)
  • 2022 wins-above-replacement: -0.014 (176th)

The Fatukasi signing seemed like a good marriage at the time due to Jacksonville moving on from veteran nose tackle Malcom Brown and looking to get younger on the interior alongside some other exciting, young defensive linemen. The results in 2022 were anything but, as Fatukasi earned a career-low 44.5 overall grade and 41.4 run defense grade. 

Fatukasi’s nine missed tackles were the third-most among interior defenders, but while Fatukasi recorded 16 tackles on the season, the two players with more misses ahead of him had 40 and 25 tackles, respectively. Fatukasi’s 29.0% rate of missed tackles is one of the highest at the position in a few years. 

Fatukasi’s $8.5 million 2023 salary is already fully guaranteed so odds are he isn’t going anywhere, but he just needs to get back to his New York Jets form as a formidable run defender up the middle. 

RB Chase Edmonds, Miami Dolphins

  • Contract: Two years, $12.1 million ($6.1 million total guaranteed)
  • 2022 wins-above-replacement: 0.019 (94th)

We promise we’re not trying to pick on the Dolphins, and it’s worth mentioning that the five-year, $75 million deal for left tackle Terron Armstead and two year, $14.035 million deal for center Connor Williams were among the best signings of the 2022 offseason. Fortunately for the Dolphins, their two big whiffs on offense also weren’t super expensive, and here they already moved on by trading Edmonds to the Denver Broncos at the deadline.

That said, it was almost bizarre how poor of a fit Edmonds was in head coach Mike McDaniel’s offense. On outside zone rushes this season, Edmonds ranked 51st out of 53 running backs with at least 10 carries at 1.9 yards per carry. The value here gets worse when you fold in Miami trading a fifth-round pick to acquire Jeff Wilson Jr. from the 49ers with just eight games remaining on his contract. Miami has the least amount of draft capital of any team in 2023 and still doesn’t have a running back signed long-term. 


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