Free agency or draft? Where to address all 32 NFL teams' biggest needs in the 2022 offseason

Glendale, Arizona, USA; Detailed view of the jersey of Los Angeles Rams linebacker Von Miller (40) against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With two main avenues to improve an NFL roster this offseason — the 2022 NFL Draft and free agency — there’s no set path to filling out a team. That being said, pigeonholing oneself into a need entering the draft is almost always a bad idea. That means a team should use free agency to fill needs if:

1. They have the cap space
2. They're in a spot to be competitive as a roster

If neither of those apply, free agency isn’t the answer. The only other time it makes sense to wait for the draft to address needs is if it’s a loaded class at a certain position. Receiver, edge defender and linebacker are where my head is going for the 2022 draft class, as you’ll see with a number of teams. Here’s the ideal spot for each franchise to address its biggest need.


ARZ | ATL | BLT | BUF | CAR | CIN | CHI | CLE | DEN | DAL | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LVR | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WSH


Verdict: Draft

The Cardinals don’t have a ton of cap space to work with in free agency, although they should be able to nab a cornerback in the draft due to the top end of the class being so talented. The ideal scenario would be Washington’s Trent McDuffie falling to Pick No. 23. Arizona was one of the zone-heaviest teams in the NFL last season, and McDuffie is arguably the best zone corner in the class. 

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Verdict: Draft

The Falcons are in no position to be spending money in free agency and won’t have Calvin Ridley walking through that door anytime soon. Still, they could put themselves in a fantastic situation to succeed when he returns from suspension in 2023 with this year’s deep receiver class.

My recommendation: double up. Their ideal scenario would be nabbing Georgia’s George Pickens and Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore with Pick Nos. 43 and 58 in the second round. Entering the last year of Matt Ryan’s deal with Ridley and Kyle Pitts along with Pickens and Moore heading into Year 2 could be explosive.


Verdict: Draft

The Ravens may very well address this through multiple avenues, but they’ve gotten by drafting and developing defensive linemen as well as any team in the NFL. With how talented the 2022 edge class is, this is another team that could double-dip at those highly paid positions along the defensive line. The ideal scenario would be getting Purdue edge George Karlaftis at Pick No. 14 and Connecticut defensive tackle Travis Jones at Pick No. 45. That’s a defensive line overhaul that can grow into something special alongside 2021 first-rounder Odafe Oweh.

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BUFFALO BILLS: Defensive Tackle

Verdict: Free Agency

It is flat-out difficult to find impact run-defenders as rookies. Georgia’s Jordan Davis would qualify as one such player in this draft class, but he isn’t making it to Pick No. 25 after his combine. That’s why the ideal scenario would be retaining defensive tackle Harrison Phillips on a modest deal in the $8 million per year range. It may not be the sexiest “run it back,” but with as many two-high looks as the Bills play, it would be worth it.


Verdict: Draft

Sam Darnold’s $18 million cap hit isn't going anywhere, which means the Panthers are in a perfect situation to “redshirt” one of these rookie quarterbacks. However, they did give up their second- and third-rounders to get Darnold, so leaving the first three rounds of this draft with only one quarterback prospect could end up a disaster. That’s why the ideal scenario would be trading back in the first round while still securing North Carolina’s Sam Howell. They would get one of the toolsiest quarterbacks in the draft who should have a steep NFL learning curve and also recoup some draft capital to overhaul the offensive line.

CHICAGO BEARS: Offensive Line

Verdict: Free Agency

The Bears' offensive line scenario isn’t nearly as dire as some have made it out to be. If Teven Jenkins is what they thought he’d be, they could even field an above-average line in 2022. That still leaves one glaring tackle position unaccounted for, though. That’s why I believe the ideal scenario would be Jason Peters defying everything we know about the aging process. This new front office should have no interest in flipping Jenkins from the position he played in college to try and justify the draft pick. Let him work at his natural right tackle position, and get Peters to try to replicate his 77.9 pass-blocking grade from a year ago on the cheap at 40 years old. 


Verdict: Both

This certainly isn't a light overhaul. Everyone outside of Jonah Williams is replaceable. Center Trey Hopkins is at least competent, and 2021 second-rounder Jackson Carman should at least be better in Year 2. That leaves two must-have new starters, and to leave some wiggle room, you’d want three new starters. That’s why the ideal scenario is signing center Ryan Jensen, trading for left tackle Laremy Tunsil and drafting Memphis guard Dylan Parham at Pick No. 95. The Bengals have more than enough cap space and draft picks to pull this off. It’s just a matter of whether they want to shoot for the moon.


Verdict: Draft

Depending on where the dollar figures shake out in this free agent class, I would love for Cleveland to also add some kind of speed threat in either a Will Fuller, Marquez Valdes-Scantling or D.J. Chark. That being said, the Browns also have to attack wide receiver in this draft class. While they are in a great spot at Pick No. 13 to possibly grab the class’ WR1, they’ll also be in a terrific spot to add another pass-rusher across from Myles Garrett. That’s why the Browns' ideal scenario would be North Dakota State’s Christian Watson at Pick No. 44. Watson was the Senior Bowl and Combine darling after running in the 4.3s at 6-foot-4, 208 pounds. He adds both a catch radius and speed threat the Cleveland receiving corps needs.   

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DALLAS COWBOYS: Interior Offensive Line

Verdict: Draft

When you’re in a position where you’re talking about cutting a receiver like Amari Cooper to try to get under the cap, chances are you won’t be a big player in free agency. That’s not a problem, however, as the Cowboys should be able to get a plug-and-play starter where they sit in the draft. The ideal scenario would be Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum slipping into the mid-20s due to size concerns. He’d be a night-and-day difference as a run-blocker from what the team has had since Travis Frederick retired, getting the Cowboys' run game back to an elite level.

DENVER BRONCOS: Edge defender

Verdict: Free Agency

This edge class is deep … but not find a starter at Pick No. 64 kind of deep. The Broncos have a nice chunk of change to play with, even after trading for Russell Wilson. With that in mind, the ideal scenario would be reuniting with Von Miller on a modest two-year, $34 million deal. He proved quite clearly down the stretch in 2021 that he has something left in the tank (finished with a 91.0 overall grade on the year) and was openly pining on Instagram earlier this week to go back to Denver. 

DETROIT LIONS: Quarterback

Verdict: Draft…in 2023

The Lions knew what they were doing when they traded away Matthew Stafford. It was a calculated effort to secure the Holy Grail: a franchise quarterback on a rookie deal. Unfortunately, this year’s quarterback class did not turn out as expected. Instead of forcing someone at No. 2 overall, though, they should realize they are still going to be in a rough spot as a roster next year. Cut bait with Jared Goff, and it’s easy to see that an ideal scenario would be heading into next spring with the No. 1 overall pick. Having someone like Alabama’s Bryce Young waiting for you to pair with a roster budding with young talent sounds like a dream the Lions have never gotten to experience.


Verdict: Draft

The Packers are doing everything they can to keep their roster intact from a year ago, but that’s going to come at the expense of not being able to add talent. The good news is, after passing on two loaded receiver classes early on the past two years, they’ve been blessed with another bang. To replace a guy like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who they are very likely to lose, an ideal scenario would be Alabama’s Jameson Williams falling into their lap after his ACL tear. The Packers don’t need him early on in 2022 to still win the NFC North, but they could use that vertical threat as a nice No. 2 option come playoff time. 


Verdict: Draft

Don’t even bother with free agency. That’s just putting lipstick on a pig. Let every young guy you draft sink or swim on the football field and accumulate as many picks as possible. The ideal scenario is simply hitting on valuable positions in the draft. Any position will do.


Verdict: Free Agency/Trade

This one goes without saying. The Colts don’t have a first-round pick, and even if they did, the roster is too good to waste with a mid-round rookie. The other problem is that without that first-rounder, they can’t go out and make the kind of move Denver did for Russell Wilson. That’s why, as painful as it is to say, the ideal scenario is Kirk Cousins getting off-loaded by a new Vikings regime looking to save cap space and reset at the position. The Colts are one of the few teams that have the space to eat a big chunk of Cousins’ $45 million cap hit in 2022.

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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Help for Trevor Lawrence  

Verdict: FA for OL, Draft for WR

Lawrence’s development is too crucial to Jacksonville’s success for the team to put his blindside in the hands of a rookie — even if that rookie is the No. 1 overall pick. These 2022 tackle prospects, while physically dominant, don’t have near the track record in pass protection that we’ve seen in the past two draft classes. The Jaguars seemingly agree with that thought process, franchise tagging Cam Robinson to at least give themselves a baseline. That’s not quite enough, though, as the ideal scenario would be to sign Terron Armstead and draft Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson at Pick No. 33. That way, they not only get a tackle they are confident can pass protect but also a receiver who won’t drop balls (5.2% career drop rate for Dotson).


Verdict: Draft

The good thing about having a unique defensive scheme like Steve Spagnuolo’s is that you covet a different type of player than others around the league. For a defense that led the league in press coverage last year, the ideal scenario would be to take Florida’s Kaiir Elam at Pick No. 30. He’s the best cornerback in press coverage in the draft class after Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner, who’ll go in the top 10. The worries about him not in press coverage need not apply to the Chiefs' defense, as he’ll rarely be asked to do that.

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: Defensive Tackle

Verdict: Both

There are a lot of stopgaps in this free agency defensive tackle class — but not much in the way of guys warranting big-money deals. That might actually be a good thing for the Raiders, who need a whole new defensive tackle room. An ideal scenario would involve signing someone like Folorunso Fatukasi to play nose and drafting Houston defensive tackle Logan Hall at Pick No. 53. That’s a nice mix of NFL-readiness in the 27-year-old Fatukasi, who should get a multi-year deal, while shooting for the moon on a toolsy three-technique.


Verdict: Free Agency

If the Chargers leave the fate of their run defense up to whether they can get Georgia’s Jordan Davis in the draft, they could end up sorely disappointed. With $42 million in cap space, Los Angeles looks primed to make multiple plays. What I would shoot for is a double-dip with one semi-long term deal and one stop-gap at defensive tackle. That’s why I believe an ideal scenario would be signing both D.J. Jones and Akiem Hicks in free agency. Jones would be somewhere in the three-year, $27 million range, while Hicks would slot into the two-year, $17 million range. Neither are crippling from a cap perspective, but both would be massive upgrades.

LOS ANGELES RAMS: Interior Offensive Line

Verdict: Draft

While the Rams would obviously like to retain center Brian Allen, guard Austin Corbett and tackle Joseph Noteboom, cap space is at a premium in Los Angeles. If there was ever a position where you could find a starter at Pick No. 103 — the Rams' first selection in the 2022 NFL Draft — it would be interior offensive line. The ideal scenario would be tackle-guard convert Luke Goedeke from Central Michigan, who is a top-100 player on the PFF draft board.

MIAMI DOLPHINS: Offensive Line

Verdict: Free Agency

At some point, the Dolphins have to admit they are bad at identifying offensive line talent in the draft and look toward free agency. While they are still waiting on young guys to develop, the fact is they need about four of them to take massive steps to field a competent offensive line. Free agency can go a long way to providing some insurance. With new head coach Mike McDaniel bringing his scheme over from San Francisco, the ideal scenario would be getting Eric Fisher to lock down the left side of the line to supplement the four other top-100 picks they’ve used on the unit across the past three drafts.


Verdict: Draft

Don’t expect new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to lay out big money in free agency this year with the state of the Vikings' roster. Instead, the seeds of draft and develop need to be planted, and there’s no better cornerback to develop in an ideal scenario than Derek Stingley Jr. The talent he showed as the highest-graded cornerback in the country as a true freshman hasn’t gone anywhere, even if his draft stock has taken a hit.

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Verdict: Draft

With Dont'a Hightower’s value to the Patriots' scheme being far greater than to any other defense, the team would be silly to not at least try to retain the soon-to-be 32-year-old linebacker. That’s not much of a long-term option, though. The ideal scenario involves the Patriots getting Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal at Pick No. 21 in the first round. The 250-pounder is an ideal scheme fit, earning the best run-defense grade in college football last year. He just so happens to be an elite all-around athlete, as well, with the best athletic testing numbers in the class.


Verdict: Draft

For the Saints' entire cap situation to work, they can't shell out big money to the quarterback position. I fully expect general manager Mickey Loomis to get aggressive once again in the draft, ideally moving up for Liberty quarterback Malik Willis. Sitting at Pick No. 18, however, that could be a pipe dream with how his draft stock has risen of late. 

NEW YORK GIANTS: Interior Offensive Line

Verdict: Free Agency

This is a tricky one, given the Giants' cap situation. Their front office comes over from a Bills team that built nearly their entire offensive line via free agency, so I’d expect a similar situation here. The biggest thing is, I don’t want them using any sort of premium pick just to shore up their interior. It’s a deep class in free agency, so an ideal scenario would involve signing a veteran guard like Andrew Norwell for cheap to serve as a baseline of competency.

NEW YORK JETS: Cornerback

Verdict: Draft

While the Jets have a ton of cap space to burn in free agency, they could hit a home run at cornerback in this draft. The ideal scenario would be to make Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner — Robert Saleh’s version of Richard Sherman in his defense. The 6-foot-3 cornerback is one of the closest things to Sherman physically to come out of the draft in years. While there are plenty of talented corners in free agency, the draft fit is too perfect.


Verdict: Draft

Now, this isn’t to say the Eagles should utilize one of their three first-rounders on a linebacker. In fact, I’d argue against that with how deep this linebacker class runs. No, the ideal scenario would be Oklahoma’s Brian Asamoah falling to Pick No. 51, where Philadelphia could then secure a proper weakside linebacker. Asamoah would bring some much-needed athleticism (4.56-second 40-yard dash at the combine) and playmaking ability (three forced fumbles last year) to the position.


Verdict: Free Agency/Trade

This roster is too good to waste on a rookie. The Steelers even managed to make the playoffs with the lowest-graded veteran starter in the NFL last year. Anyone — even if it’s just Teddy Bridgewater — would be a massive upgrade. With Matt Canada still calling plays, though, the ideal scenario would be a blockbuster trade for Derek Carr. Carr won’t come cheap, likely matching the price tag of Russell Wilson, but that beats waiting three years for whichever quarterback the Steelers draft to get up to speed.

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Verdict: Free Agency

Assuming Jimmy Garoppolo’s $26.9 million cap hit comes off the books here shortly, San Francisco will have a little chunk of change to play with in free agency. Finding another Richard Sherman could push this defense to levels it hasn't seen since, well, it had Richard Sherman. That’s why the name I’d be intrigued with in an ideal scenario is Stephon Gilmore. He’s only 31 years old and should have a couple of years left in the tank. He quite obviously still had it in Carolina last year, earning a 79.4 coverage grade. That’s the guy I want locking down one half the field.  


Verdict: Draft

Getting Drew Lock back in the Russell Wilson trade softens the blow to a degree, but there’s no guarantee he’s an upgrade from Geno Smith. The good news is that his presence means Seattle doesn’t have to throw a rookie into the fire. While the Seahawks will be in the hunt for a top-five pick next year, there’s no shame in them throwing a dart at another quarterback this year with the ninth overall pick. An ideal scenario would be Malik Willis falling into their lap without having to trade up. They wouldn’t even need to change much stylistically about the offense going from Wilson to Willis.


Verdict: Draft

We could toss quarterback in here too, but it’s not like Kyle Trask was far off the top of this quarterback draft class as a prospect. The Buccaneers obviously have nose tackle squared away, although they could use a three-technique to apply some pressure, as well. The ideal scenario would Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey at Pick No. 60. The Georgia defensive tackles will be off the board by the time the Bucs are picking in the first round, leaving them few options. Winfrey has great length and an ideal first step, but he might just be a designated pass-rusher from the rip. 


Verdict: Draft

The draft is a must for the cap-strapped Titans. There are a lot of competent tight ends in this year's class — but not a lot of high-end guys. We may not see more than a couple of guys go on Day 2, which would bode well for Tennessee. The ideal scenario would be Colorado State’s Trey McBride at Pick No. 90. He can do everything they’d ask him to do from a blocking perspective and was the highest-graded receiving tight end in the FBS last year.


Verdict: Free Agency

I have a dumb theory that the Commanders need to bring in a veteran linebacker with similiar tools to Jamin Davis to “show him the ropes,” if you will, about how to use his freakish athleticism. The ideal scenario would then be signing Anthony Barr in free agency. He was also a high-end athlete who was fairly raw coming out of UCLA. Contract projections put him around $15 million across two years, which would be a small price to pay to develop the 2021 first-round pick.

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