NFL News & Analysis

NFL free agent additions making the biggest impact through Week 2

Landover, Maryland, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) dives for the end zone in front of Washington Commanders linebacker Jamin Davis (52) during the second half at FedExField. Kris was ruled out of bounds on the play. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Terron Armstead is as Advertised: Armstead's 83.3 pass-blocking grade through Week 2 is the fourth-best mark among tackles.

Christian Kirk Living Up to Big-Money Contract: The Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver was viewed as an overpay this offseason, but he has so far more than delivered.

Von Miller Adding More to Bills' Pass Rush: Miller enables the pass rush to generate pressure without blitzing, a crucial element the defense was previously missing.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins

While it’s still early in the 2022 NFL season, a handful of notable free agent acquisitions have already made their presence felt with their new teams. Big-ticket signings have turned weaknesses into strengths, and in some cases, it has shown up in the win-loss column already. 

With a glimpse now into how each team plans to use their newly added free agents, we highlight the five 2022 signings making the biggest impact with their new clubs.

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T Terron Armstead, Miami Dolphins

Contract: Five years, $75 million ($15M per year, $43.4M total guaranteed)

Key stats:

  • Dolphins' 51.8 pass-block grade in 2021 ranked 32nd
  • Armstead's 83.3 pass-block grade through Week 2 ranks fourth among tackles

Oftentimes, roster construction is not as simple as “there is a glaring deficiency at a certain position, let’s sign the best player available at said position, and we’ll fix the issue.” Well, sometimes it can be that simple, and that’s been the case so far here with Armstead landing in Miami. 

The longtime stalwart with the New Orleans Saints has picked up right where he left off before missing time in 2021 with an injury, allowing just three quarterback pressures on 88 pass-blocking snaps. With the Dolphins in a must-pass situation down 35-14 in the fourth quarter of Week 2 against the Baltimore Ravens, Armstead did not let a defender get a single hit on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa

Armstead is dealing with a toe injury that was a factor in him missing practice time before Week 2, but his toughness and willingness to play through injury can never be questioned, which likely played a role in him signing a deal that should be viewed as a bargain relative to his talent level. While a lot of the attention is deservedly on wide receiver Tyreek Hill, Armstead has been just as critical to the Dolphins’ 2-0 start to a huge season.

WR Christian Kirk, Jacksonville Jaguars

Contract: Four years, $72 million ($18M per year, $37M total guaranteed)

Key stats:

  • Jaguars' 63.8 receiving grade in 2021 ranked 30th
  • Kirk's 80.0 receiving grade through Week 2 ranks ninth among wide receivers

The Jaguars received a lot of flak this offseason for signing Kirk to a substantial free agent contract, one that was met with almost unanimous condemnation. However, Kirk arguably signing for a bit more than he was worth doesn’t matter once the pads come on, and he has delivered so far through two weeks. 

Here is how he stacks up statistically through two weeks:

  • Receptions: 12 (10th)
  • Receiving yards: 195 (4th)
  • Receiving grade: 80.0 (9th)
  • Yards per route run: 2.79 (7th)
  • Yards after the catch: 85 (7th)
  • Explosive receptions: 5 (t-4th)

That's top-10 wide receiver production any way you slice it, and Kirk has hauled in 100% of passes deemed catchable per PFF charting, with two touchdowns to boot. His impact is even more significant when factoring in Kirk replacing Laviska Shenault Jr. in the slot for Jacksonville this season. Shenault commanded 95 targets for the Jaguars in 2021 and has been a healthy scratch for the Carolina Panthers in each of the first two weeks of the season. 

Kirk clearly belongs as a predominant slot option, with his alignment there on passing snaps each season strongly correlating with his success:

  • 2019: 42%
  • 2020: 16%
  • 2021: 79%
  • 2022: 82%

Among wide receivers with at least 50 targets in 2021, Shenault’s 62.6 receiving grade ranked 79th out of 91 qualifying players, and his 10 drops were tied for the second-most in the NFL.

EDGE Von Miller, Buffalo Bills

Contract: Six years, $120 million ($20M per year, $51.4M total guaranteed)

Key stats:

  • Bills' 72.7 pass-rush grade without blitzing in 2021 ranked 16th
  • Bills' 90.4 pass-rush grade without blitzing in 2022 leads the NFL

The Bills fielded a stout defensive unit in 2021 but struggled to consistently generate pressure with just their front four, averaging roughly 10 blitzes per game. So far through two weeks in 2022, Buffalo has blitzed a grand total of three times. Von Miller’s 87.0 pass-rush grade through Week 2 ranks eighth among edge defenders, and his 84.2 run-defense grade ranks second. He’s still an elite all-around player, and his arrival has corresponded with a boost to the rest of the defensive line. 

2021 first- and second-round edge defenders Gregory Rousseau and Carlos “Boogie” Basham are off to blazing-fast starts to the 2022 season, as well, recording the two best pass-rush win rates among edge defenders at 29.2% and 29%, respectively. The attention that Miller commands cannot be understated, and he’s already proving to be a force multiplier for this otherwise young defensive front.

The ability to get after the quarterback without bringing an extra coverage player was the Achilles' heel for a Bills defense that likely needs to overcome the almighty Patrick Mahomes in the AFC to make their first Super Bowl trip in almost 30 years. Mahomes is infamously lethal against blitzing opponents, but if an opposing unit can get home with just four pass-rushers, it changes everything on the back end in coverage. Buffalo doesn’t go out and guarantee over $50 million to a 33-year-old defender unless it thinks he could be the final chess piece. Through two games, that’s exactly what he’s been.

EDGE Uchenna Nwosu, Seattle Seahawks

Contract: Two years, $19.055 million ($9.5M per year, $10.535M total guaranteed)

Key stats:

  • Seahawks' 63.5 pass-rush grade in 2021 ranked 30th
  • Nwosu has a 74.9 pass-rush grade through Week 2 

Nwosu has led the Seahawks' edge defender unit in every conceivable way to kick off 2022, with 10 pressures, a sack and a 17.3% pressure percentage that ranks 12th at the position. No other Seattle edge defender has more than three quarterback pressures. The team will be without safety Jamal Adams for the remainder of the 2022 campaign, and Adams led all safeties in quarterback pressures by a sizable margin over the prior three seasons with 59. The next-highest safety had 36 pressures from 2019-21. Without the ability to bring extra heat using Adams, Seattle needs to get home with its front seven as much as possible, and Nwosu will go a long way in making that possible. 

Nwosu has also been excellent in setting the edge against the run, with his 87.4 run-defense grade the top mark across the NFL so far in 2022. The former second-round pick of the Los Angeles Chargers may be playing his way into a pay raise just one year into his two-year deal signed this offseason, a bargain according to our valuation.

CB D.J. Reed Jr., New York Jets

Contract: Three years, $33 million ($11M per year, $21M total guaranteed)

Key stats:

  • Jets' 37.9 coverage grade in 2021 ranked 30th
  • Reed's 86.3 coverage grade through Week 2 ranks second among cornerbacks

Reed made an acrobatic interception in Week 1 that may end up as one of the highlights of the entire NFL season, and it was made all the more special when it came to light after the game that he recently lost his father. He’s playing very inspired football through two weeks of the 2022 campaign and has turned the Jets' outside cornerback position into a strength alongside first-round rookie Sauce Gardner

Through the first two weeks, Reed has allowed a completion on just 30% of targets into his coverage, the fourth-best mark among cornerbacks, with zero explosive receptions of 15-plus yards surrendered thus far. Reed’s 84.7 grade when lined up in press coverage ranks fourth, and he’s allowed his receiver to get “open” on just 20% of snaps, tied for the eighth-best mark. Reed is listed at just 5-foot-9 but has handled every coverage responsibility the Jets have thrown his way. 


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