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Five boom-or-bust signings from 2022 NFL free agency

Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory (94) reacts during the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 NFL free agency period, as it always does, opened the door for teams to realign their rosters toward a rebuild, playoff push or Super Bowl run. Some organizations invested heavily in this year's talent pool, while others went the bargain route.

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One particular subset of signings is those designed to target players' ceilings. Those deals usually come in the form of one-, two- or even three-year contracts with incentives baked in around determining whether the player can produce at a high level. Not every team is destined to trade for an All-Pro talent like Davante Adams but instead may make the free agency plunge for the projected skill sets of a Christian Kirk with the expectation that, if he hits his ceiling, he can provide immediate benefits. 

While Kirk didn’t make the cut for the 2022 free agency boom-or-bust signings below, here are five players who did.

LT Joseph Noteboom, Los Angeles Rams: Three years, $40 million ($25 million guaranteed)

Although he played in only 10 games this past season including the playoffs, Noteboom registered a top-15 pass-blocking grade (81.6) from 142 pass-blocking snaps. He was just as productive on true pass sets, where he earned a 77.0 pass-blocking grade and allowed just five pressures — only one of which was a sack.

The 2018 third-round selection will now become a starting blindside protector for the first time in his NFL career after re-signing with the Los Angeles Rams. Noteboom will replace the now-retired Andrew Whitworth, who posted an 89.8 pass-blocking grade at the position in his age-40 season. If this contract pans out, the TCU product can become another Rams draft gem to thrive in a lead role.

EDGE Randy Gregory, Denver Broncos: Five years, $70 million ($28 million guaranteed)

Gregory recorded a career-high 84.7 PFF pass-rushing grade while playing the second-most pass-rushing snaps (328) of his NFL tenure. Gregory’s career has been a well-documented roller coaster marred by injuries and suspensions. Finally, he was able to put together a more complete season in which he started in 12 of his 13 games and put up immense production from the right side (42 pressures — five sacks, 12 hits and 25 hurries).

The boom side of this signing for Denver is the hope that Gregory can replace the consistent edge-rushing presence the team lost after trading Von Miller to the Rams last year and that Bradley Chubb can return to form after a down 2021 campaign (45.0 PFF grade) hindered by injury.

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S Justin Reid, Kansas City Chiefs: Three years, $31.5 million ($20.485 million guaranteed)

Reid’s last season with the Houston Texans was ladened with career-lows in PFF defensive grade (50.8), coverage grade (45.3) and tackling grade (45.2). Yet, his choppy play within a rebuilding organization doesn’t reflect his true talent. In his first two NFL seasons, Reid showed versatility in man coverage (81.5 grade in 2019), zone (66.7 coverage grade in 2018) and run defense (72.6 grade in 2018).

In Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, the free safety is required to play in the box and over the deep middle of the field as a physical presence. Tyrann Mathieu was able to do so throughout his tenure with the Chiefs as the quarterback of their secondary. The expectation is that Reid will do the same. Since being drafted in 2018, he's played almost 950 snaps in the box and over 2,100 at free safety. Now, it’s about channeling the productive first two years of the Stanford product's promising NFL career rather than his past two.

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RB Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks: One year, $5.75 million ($5.07 million guaranteed)

Penny finally broke through after an injury-marred start to his NFL career. He recorded career-highs in overall snaps (253) and rushing attempts (119) in 2021. The end result was personal-bests in offensive grade (80.5) and rushing grade (83.7). Penny racked up 19 carries of 10-plus yards (T-24th) and 27 forced missed tackles (T-27th) on his workload. His rushing grade, a top-10 mark at the position, shows that he's capable of playing at a high level. And he'll have an opportunity to emerge again, but this time on a one-year, prove-it deal. 

Chris Carson is back for 2022, but it’s likely that Penny will handle far more responsibility in the Seattle ground attack. The question is if his health will allow him to have another explosive and efficient rushing campaign. 

TE Evan Engram, Jacksonville Jaguars: One year, $9 million ($8.25 million guaranteed)

Engram has endured a slow decline as a pass-catching tight end, registering career-lows in offensive grade (53.5) and receiving grade (54.9) in 2021. His highest receiving and offensive performances came in his second NFL season (76.3 and 75.7 in 2018, respectively), and he'll now be tasked to revive his career alongside an array of newly signed pass-catchers to elevate quarterback Trevor Lawrence during his sophomore campaign. 

All signs point to Engram being at best a TE2 opposite fellow receiving threat Dan Arnold. The former first-round pick gets a fresh start to perform and flourish within Doug Pederson’s tight end-friendly offense. 

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