Terron Armstead, Allen Robinson Lead Offensive Free Agents
NFL Offseason - We're rapidly approaching the beginning of the 2022 league year and the free-agency bonanza that goes with it. There's an interesting batch of players coming onto the market this year, with some of the top names at receiver, tackle, and edge rusher dodging the franchise tag to actually reach free agency untethered and free to a good home … or at least available at ludicrous prices to a good home.
We have seen teams succeed in recent years after free-agency splurges. The Patriots and 49ers spent more money than anyone else last season, bringing in Pro Bowlers such as Matt Judon and Trent Williams, and both made the playoffs again after a year's absence. The Bengals and Chiefs were in the top 10 and rode their new shiny pass-rushers and entirely revamped offensive line, respectively, to very good seasons of their own. There seems to be more of a willingness in recent seasons for teams to splurge on veterans if they feel they are a player or two away from contention, which makes for an exciting first couple days of free agency.
Then again, the Jaguars and Giants were among the league's top five spenders a year ago, so money might not solve all problems.
The official start date for free agency is March 16—next Wednesday, as you're reading this—but things will get started well before that. The legal tampering period, where teams can talk to free agents without getting into trouble, starts on March 14, while the deadline for franchise tags is the day this article goes live, March 8. We're here to give you the view from 20,000 feet, outlining the sorts of players that will be available and highlighting potential destinations for the cream of the crop. Whether you're a Dolphins fan with money burning a hole in your pocket or a Packers fan just trying to figure out how to keep everything together for one more year, there's something for you in free agency.
We'll start today with the best free agents available on the offensive side of the ball.
After all the talk about the potential wild quarterback carousel this offseason, it looks like most of the big names are staying put. It seems doubtful, at this point, that Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson will be playing for a new team in 2022, and even the next tier down, the Derek Carr/Kirk Cousins sort of players, aren't going anywhere. So while teams take a long look at trading for Jimmy Garoppolo, it's worth remembering that yes, there are players they can sign without giving up anything.
Jameis Winston is an NFL starting quarterback. That's more than can be said for most of the rest of the class; there's no one else out there who teams should be satisfied with as a starter. Winston had a 13.6% DVOA in limited action last season, which would have been his highest mark since 2017 if he had qualified for the leaderboards. Apart from that, Winston has spent four of his five seasons as a qualified starter in the top 20, but never has cracked the top 10 in either DVOA or DYAR.
That's not something that should thrill people, but that is a player who should be starting in 2022, albeit as a low-end player. He's someone you're looking to upgrade from, rather than someone you need to replace. Add in the fact that he won't cost you any draft capital, and that he's unlikely to get a huge contract, and you can make the argument that he's the best option out there for QB-needy teams who think they have a chance at the postseason in 2022. He's more high-variance than I'd like out of a low-tier starter; his 91 interceptions lead the league since he was drafted in 2015. But if you want a player to keep you in contention this year, he's your best shot—assuming, that is, he's fully recovered from his torn ACL. He's running again, and everything appears to be on schedule, but keep an eye out for that.
The only other quarterback available who teams wanted to start in 2021 is Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater actually hit the top 10 in DVOA last season, clocking in at 9.7%—that's his second top-10 finish in the last three seasons. If you want lower variance than Winston, Bridgewater is your man—while Winston is much more likely to throw either a long touchdown or a back-breaking interception, Bridgewater has developed into a conservative, controlled passer since coming back from injury, willing to check down and take what the defense is giving him. That can work and provide very solid efficiency scores, but it also feels like it gives a hard cap to Bridgewater's value, like the Broncos got everything they could out of Bridgewater and it wasn't enough compete in the AFC West. There's a reason rumors have the Saints trying to clear room to bring Winston back while the Broncos are actively trying to move on. Bridgewater may be better suited to be a temporary starter for whichever team takes a Sam Howell or a Desmond Ridder on Day 2 of the draft.
Neither passer is likely to break the bank. Winston was on a one-year, $5.5-million deal; both quarterbacks will probably get a bit more than that this year because of salary cap inflation, but I find it highly doubtful they'll hit eight digits. That means they wouldn't hit Andy Dalton money, which brings us nicely to the next section…
Need a new quarterback, but hate the idea of taking someone who was a primary starter in 2021? There's a whole world of retreads out there for you, a world full of bridges and backups that have gotten a coat of polish from sitting on the bench over the last couple seasons. Has it been long enough that you have forgotten Marcus Mariota's final years in Tennessee? Has a year off the field reminded you of the potential of Mitchell Trubisky? Do you recall when Jacoby Brissett was going to be a thing? All of these, and more, can be yours for a top-40-ish contract.
Signing any of those three to be your unquestioned starter is a bad move in 2022. Signing them to be a high-quality backup is a very good move; because of the various COVID situations over the past few years, we have seen clearly the difference between having a competent backup and, say, a Mike Glennon type. These three passers have all shown that they can come in and play with a certain degree of competency, so if Superstar Passer is going to miss two or three weeks, they can keep things rolling. If I had to pick one to be a starter, I'd run with Mariota, who has flashed some of what made him a first-round pick over his past two years with the Raiders.
This trio would also be solid picks for teams looking for a bridge passer for 2022, someone to bring in if you're not certain your Day 2 passer will be ready for prime time or your fading prospect needs someone to light a fire underneath them. At the very least, they're more inspiring than the likes of a Tyrod Taylor or Andy Dalton, both of whom are still valuable on a depth chart but should start a combined zero games in 2022. Ryan Fitzpatrick falls somewhere between the two groups, but as he's turning 40 this season, he may well call it quits.
Your 2022 NFC South winner will likely be whichever one of the Saints or Buccaneers can clear their books enough to sign an NFL-caliber starting quarterback, so they're ground zero here. Assuming the Saints find room in their pocketbooks, bringing Winston back to New Orleans makes a lot of sense. Their offensive DVOA fell from 7.2% with Winston to -17.8% without him, so just bring back the guy who knows the system and run it back. Of course, Bridgewater also knows the system from his time in New Orleans, and might be a better fit on paper for the Saints' more horizontal offensive system. If Winston does get out of New Orleans, the most fun possibility would be him going back to Tampa Bay, something Bruce Arians has said he's "not totally" opposed to. That's probably the polite way of saying "not going to happen," but I can dream, can't I?
Indianapolis (assuming they move on from Carson Wentz), Pittsburgh, and Washington are all in the market as well, with all at least on the periphery of playoff discussion if they can get halfway decent play out of the quarterback position. Denver is in that category too, though bringing Bridgewater back would likely be deflating to the fanbase. There aren't enough solid quarterbacks to go around, mind you; someone is going to be stuck dipping into the draft or paying the Garoppolo Premium this season.
If you're looking for a bellcow back, you're out of luck. That's not just because it's not 1972 anymore and running back stables are the name of the game, but also because this year's class is heavier on the "useful part of a rotation" guys and less on the "1A on your depth chart" guys. That being said, there are a lot of useful players out there, and it seems that the supply is higher than the demand—there could be some good values here for fiscally prudent teams.
The closest thing to a traditional three-down load carrier available this year is probably Leonard Fournette. Fournette finished 2021 second in rushing DYAR at 201—a distant second behind Jonathan Taylor, mind you, but second place notwithstanding. That's a career-high by a wide margin, and he also set new highwater marks in DVOA and yards per attempt. In a more surprising development, he also caught 69 passes and bounced back to a positive receiving DVOA for the first time since 2018. Some of this improvement over his Jacksonville days just comes from playing in a better offense behind a stronger offensive line in Tampa Bay, but he's also a really good fit for the gap-based run blocking Bruce Arians likes to use; he'd have less value to one of the McVay/Shanahan clones out there than he would to someone like the Buccaneers. I'd be wary about any team paying for his receiving chops; I'd credit that more to his quarterback than to Fournette in particular. But if you're looking for a traditional do-everything-between-the-tackles sort of player, Fournette is your best bet.
A more interesting piece, however, is Cordarrelle Patterson. With everyone looking for the next Deebo Samuel, a running back/receiver hybrid such as Patterson could be a siren's call for many—a player who can play both in the backfield and split out wide can help exploit mismatches around a defense for a coordinator creative enough to use him. We're talking about a one-year breakout here—Patterson's 188 receiving DYAR shattered his previous career high, even after adjusting from being considered a receiver. He's also 31 years old and was less and less effective as the year went along, though some of that is correlated with Atlanta losing Calvin Ridley and other offensive threats. Age and a lack of track record make this something of a buyer beware situation, but you can make the argument that Patterson just wasn't used to his full potential until Arthur Smith got a hold of him this last year.
Then there are the pair of Cardinals, with both James Conner and Chase Edmonds hitting free agency simultaneously. Conner was given new life after getting away from Pittsburgh's questionable offensive line, and he was able to reestablish himself as one of the better power-rushing options in the league; his 40 successes with 3 or fewer yards to go was second to only Jonathan Taylor. He also finished third in receiving DVOA, an underrated part of his game from his early successful years with the Steelers. While Conner was getting all the touches in the red zone, Edmonds was the Cardinals' back of choice in between the 20s, and both players were being used correctly—Conner was eighth in rushing DVOA in the red zone, while Edmonds was seventh outside of it. Conner's lack of explosive plays doesn't matter so much when the goal line is right in front of him; Edmonds' lack of size isn't a huge deal when you can spread defenders out wide. Neither is a complete back per se, but they're arguably the best at their particular roles available in this class.
None of these players are going to reset the running back market; Christian McCaffrey can rest easy there. Instead, I'd put the ceiling closer to what Melvin Gordon signed for a few years ago; a decent chunk of guaranteed change that comes out in the $6 million to $8 million range. That would put this quartet in company with the likes of Gordon and Kareem Hunt, which feels just about right—none of them are the sort of player who is going to fundamentally change a team, but all could be useful pieces to complement an already successful offense.
Another running back who might fall into that Melvin Gordon range is Melvin Gordon himself. He's less enticing to me because he's a one-dimensional player at this point, doing very little with his targets in the receiving game. He has also had a negative rushing DVOA for each of the last three seasons, albeit just barely with a -0.1% mark in 2021. He's also turning 29, so I would imagine that we'll continue to see a decline in his numbers over the next few years. But he was an average rusher last season, and there's a place for average rushers in the NFL—it is, by definition, better than half the other guys starting out there. But if I'm taking a flyer on a guy I want to run on first and second downs and take off the field on passing downs, I wonder if Sony Michel isn't going to be 40% cheaper and just as effective.
If you're looking to import a full running back room from scratch, you could pair Gordon or Michel with some of the second-tier pass catching specialists out there. J.D. McKissic, James White, and Jerick McKinnon are all available. White and McKinnon have top-10 finishes in both receiving DYAR and DVOA in their pasts, while McKissic's 12th-place finish this year is his highwater mark; a team that wants to spread defenses out wide and hit their backs in the flat have a lot of options to choose from.
If you're looking to gamble on upside, taking a risk on Rashaad Penny or Raheem Mostert ends up making a lot of sense. Injuries and ineffectiveness had Penny written off as a first-round bust, but then he had to go and put up an amazing December, ending up second in rushing DVOA last season and leading the league at 6.3 yards per carry. Is he now a lead back, with that college home run potential finally realized, or was it a one-month mirage? As for Mostert, he led all running backs in DVOA during the 49ers' Super Bowl run in 2019 and routinely was the fastest player in football. But injuries in both 2020 and 2021 have limited his ability to even get on the field, much less be effective. Do you want to gamble on a 30-year-old knee surgery patient? Both Penny and Mostert are far riskier than some of the top backs we have listed, but their high-water marks are about as high as they can go, and they'll come at a significant discount. Someone's going to take the gamble.
The Miami Dolphins are trying to import a Shanahan zone-blocking system under new head coach Mike McDaniel; bringing Raheem Mostert with him from San Francisco makes a ton of sense, as would matching them with Cordarrelle Patterson for some of that Deebo-Light energy. Plus, they have the most cap room in the league, so it's less of a crunch for them if they spend some of that extra cash on a running back. Almost anyone would be better than Myles Gaskin, whose -18.0% DVOA was 46th out of 50 qualified running backs last year. The Texans, too, need help, as they flirted with the worst rushing DVOA in history for much of 2021. Their problems go beyond needing a running back, but you have to think they could do better than Rex Burkhead as their leading rusher.
Then there's the batch of teams that are going to be missing a key contributor from last year if they don't re-sign their free agent. The Falcons are at risk of losing Cordarrelle Patterson; the Cardinals could lose both James Conner and Chase Edmonds; the Buccaneers could lose Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, and Giovanni Bernard. All three teams need to rebuild their running back rooms.
If the franchise tag wasn't a thing, the top three or four free agents in the entire league may well be wide receivers. As is, there's still tremendous depth, even with the tippy-top guys likely to stay put.
Waiting for the Tag Deadline
I first wrote this paragraph late Thursday night on March 3, well before the franchise tag deadline. At that point, Davante Adams was still an eligible free agent. I'm updating it on Monday night, and Adams is still an eligible free agent -- and since the article is going live before the tag deadline technically hits, I've got to leave him in here. I will be stunned, stunned if you're reading this with him actually available, however; the Packers can't afford to let him go for nothing. If the Packers don't tag him and he actually hits the market, go ahead and break the bank for him; make him the fourth receiver ever to get a $100-million contract, give him the most guaranteed money a receiver has ever gotten. He's the cream of the free agency crop if he goes free, which he shouldn't. Mike Williams would be up near the top of the market as well, but it's likely he's going to be tagged by the Chargers, so we'll move on to the more realistic targets.
Not listed in the above paragraph is Chris Godwin. The Buccaneers would like to come to a long-term deal with Godwin, but they just tagged him last season. That means tagging him would trigger the 120% markup, putting his value for 2022 at $19.2 million. The Buccaneers currently do not have anywhere near the cap space to do that, and so I expect that other teams will at least have a chance at Godwin. Godwin has ranked in the top 11 in DYAR in each of the last three seasons, he runs the complete route tree, he can play in the slot or out wide—he's an all-around star. You can question his health, coming off of his torn ACL. You can question how he'd manage against the top corners, because Mike Evans has been the Bucs' No. 1 guy throughout Godwin's career. These kinds of questions would keep him below Adams if both hit the free market. But we're picking nits that don't need to be picked; Godwin will be the feather in the cap wherever he ends up. That may still be Tampa Bay, mind you; the Buccaneers have a lot of flexibility in their contracts and can extend and restructure other players to make room for Godwin.
One of the few weaknesses in Godwin's resume is that he has never been a No. 1 receiver, which brings us to Allen Robinson. For years, the book on Robinson is that while his advanced stat numbers haven't been the highest, that's been because he has been tasked with pulling value out of a motley collection of quarterbacks—his three most prolific passers have been Blake Bortles, Mitchell Trubisky, and Nick Foles, so you explain away the fact that he usually ranks in the 40s in DVOA and the 20s in DYAR by saying that he's doing that with the stooges under center. Yet he never really clicked this year when the Bears put Justin Fields at quarterback; the connection never really took off, and Robinson looked downright sluggish at times out there. His -9.3% DVOA and 18 DYAR were his lowest totals since 2016, and that is worrisome—is it the first sign of a decline, or just a one-year blip? Someone will pay out the nose to find out, and Robinson's track record before last season makes it well worth the risk.
And what qualifies as "paying out the nose" these days? Neither Godwin nor Robinson will break the records Adams would set on the open market, but they should each get into the top 15 highest paid receivers, if not higher. Both players were on franchise tags this last season—Godwin was at $16 million, Robinson at $18 million because it was his second franchise tag in a row. They'll get about the same value on long-term deals, just with more years and guaranteed money attached.
Most teams are going to miss out on Godwin and Robinson, but that doesn't mean there aren't significant additions to be had here. Depending on which list you look at, there are up to two dozen receivers scheduled to be free agents who should play significant roles next season, depending on your definition of significance. It's a good year to need wideout help.
The next names that jump off the list are the ACL crew. Odell Beckham tore his ACL during the Super Bowl, putting his 2022 in question. Michael Gallup tore his ACL against the Cardinals in Week 17, putting at least the beginning of his 2022 in question. If they were healthy, they'd be pretty significant names. As is, I imagine they're looking more at relatively cheap one-year deals with the Rams and Cowboys in a "get right, see what you can do, and we'll try free agency again next year" situation.
You might group DJ Chark in here as well, but at least his big injury (a broken ankle) happened in October, so there's little doubt he'll be ready for the beginning of the season. When Chark has been healthy, he has been an explosive deep-ball player, and might be the best receiver available for teams looking for a downfield threat. Plus, he's only 25 years old, so you can hope that he continues to develop if he gets out of the black hole that has been Jacksonville's offense.
And then you have the slot guys. JuJu Smith-Schuster is the biggest name out there, though he has seen his advanced stats fall basically every year he's been in Pittsburgh, going from a league-leading 37.3% DVOA as a rookie in 2017 to -34.7% last year. At least part of that can be blamed on the dying arm of Ben Roethlisberger, but we'll see who wants to step up and take the chance of being the one to right his ship. If you prefer a little less risk, both Christian Kirk and Russell Gage are solid options; Kirk if you want to stretch the field more, and Gage if you're focusing on those short and intermediate routes.
Everyone listed above would have a financial goal of being somewhere between the 20th- and 30th-highest paid receivers. Last offseason, Corey Davis signed a three-year, $37.5-million contract with the Jets; Marvin Jones signed a two-year, $12.5-million deal with the Jaguars. Those are kind of the endpoints this tier of receiver should likely fall into.
Want a new receiver, but don't want to pay more than $7 million a year for them? This free-agent class has some players for you!
Looking to stretch the field vertically? Will Fuller, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Keelan Cole, and Zay Jones have routinely finished in the top quarter in average depth of target when healthy.
Want a possession guy for the slot? Then Jamison Crowder or Cedric Wilson may be right for you.
Looking to bolster your special teams with a side of big-play potential as a third or fourth receiver? Consider signing Braxton Berrios, Isaiah McKenzie, or Jakeem Grant, all of whom have finished high in our return stats in the past few years.
Want to take a chance on a, erm, seasoned veteran as a complementary piece? Emmanuel Sanders, T.Y. Hilton, and A.J. Green are all looking for new homes. It feels like Sammy Watkins belongs in that category, too, despite only turning 29 this season.
No matter what you're looking for, there's someone available for you in this class.
I would assume, for the moment, that Adams, Williams, Godwin, and Beckham all stay where they are now. The top three are too valuable to let go, and Beckham finally found a situation where he works and is wanted.
The Miami Dolphins might be the favorites to get whomever they want remaining; they have the most cap space available and what to bolster their receiving corps to get the best evaluation of Tua Tagovailoa they can. They have their speedy receiver in Jaylen Waddle, they have their deep threat in DeVante Parker, so maybe they're the one that takes the risk on Allen Robinson as their intermediate possession guy. They'll have to fight off plenty of other suitors, perhaps most notably Baltimore, where it feels like the Ravens have been looking for a No. 1 receiver since Torrey Smith left, if not since the actual beginning of the franchise itself.
The Browns could use one of the deep threats to open up more verticality in their offense; Odell Beckham was supposed to do that but we all know how that story ended. The Patriots need more weapons to continue Mac Jones' development; Bill Belichick seems like exactly the kind of guy to gamble on being able to re-JuJu-vinate Smith-Schuster. The Lions need talented football players of all sorts, and without a superstar quarterback becoming available, grabbing a top receiver to give them more of a passing attack makes a lot of sense.
The Jets are likely to need a new starter with Berrios, Crowder, and Cole all free agents. The Colts could stand to upgrade over T.Y. Hilton. The Chiefs need a third reliable playmaker behind Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Really, we might have saved time and only talked about teams who don't need one of the receivers available.
Not a lot of meat at the top of the class, but there are plenty of solid players to pick from for teams in the market for modest upgrades rather than bank-breaking production.
Surprising Franchise Tag
David Njoku does not spring to mind as the platonic definition of a franchise tight end, but that's what he's become as the Browns slapped him with the tag on Monday. That's mostly a placeholder as the two sides work out a long-term deal, but as it stands right now, the Browns have the second-largest cap hit at tight end for 2022 between Njoku and Austin Hooper.
Not Surprising Franchise Tag
If you're looking for a pass-catching tight end, Mike Gesicki is your man. His advanced numbers were higher in 2020 (a 10.4% DVOA and 108 DYAR) than they were in 2021 (-7.4% and -1, respectively), but that is at least in part due to the remedial RPO-heavy offense Miami tried to run last season. In a more creative structure, Gesicki isn't just an emergency checkdown guy but a valuable matchup tool.
I you prefer your tight ends to block even occasionally, you're looking more at Dalton Schultz. That's not to say Schultz is only a blocker; far from it—he was fourth in DYAR and fifth in DVOA last season. The Cowboys had more playmakers than the Dolphins did, however, which means that Schultz benefitted from a more favorable environment. Still, you can't argue with the production at all, and he is a significantly better in-line player than Gesicki could ever hope to be.
Color me skeptical that Rob Gronkowski is going to play football without Tom Brady; he has already retired once, after all. If he does decide to play, sign him—I don't think I need to sell anyone on bringing Gronk in at this point in time. He would replace Zach Ertz as the best old tight end available in the class.
As for the best 20-somethings after Gesicki and Schultz, I'm a fan of C.J. Uzomah as probably the best combination of blocking and receiving left out there. You always have to be wary about paying for the career year, but Uzomah was able to produce with the Bengals' improved passing game opening up spots underneath. You could make a solid arguments for Gerald Everett in that spot as well, but I think Uzomah's blocking skills still would make him my choice.
Evan Engram is a former Pro Bowler, and he'd like you to look only at that and not his terrible DVOA stats, where he routinely appears near the bottom of our tables. Teams interested in Engram may be better off with a Mo Alie-Cox or a Robert Tonyan.
Teams with a young quarterback who would like to install Schultz as a nice safety net—think the Jaguars, Jets, Chargers, or Texans—might be out of luck, and will be left fighting over the Uzomah/Njoku/Everett tier.
The list won't be as long as we saw at receiver, but the best player to change teams this offseason will likely be an offensive tackle. Just which one remains to be seen, mind you, and the pickings are comparatively slim after the tippy-top guys.
Franchise Tag Options
As expected, the franchise tag was applied to Orlando Brown. If it hadn't been, about 20 teams would have instantly been on the phone to sign him; he's maybe just a rung below the top tackles in the game at the moment and he's only 26 years old.
However, I'm assuming Terron Armstead will not be tagged by the Saints, as that would require money, and New Orleans is fresh out at the moment. Maybe you worry about his injury history, as he has never played a full season and only managed eight games last year due to a knee injury. Or maybe you don't worry about that, as you can count the better pass-blockers in the league on one hand with fingers left over. I have a feeling teams will gravitate towards the latter standpoint.
Considering the tag/extension situations at wide receiver, I would expect Armstead to be the best player to actually switch teams next season. At the very least, one of them will sign the largest contract in free agency if Davante Adams ends up playing on the franchise tag. I don't think Armstead will re-set the tackle market like Trent Williams did last season, but he should easily slip past Ryan Ramczyk's five-year, $96-million deal from a year ago.
If you're looking for a left tackle, Duane Brown still has some gas in him at age 36. He's obviously on the final stretches of his career, but we have seen players such as Brown remain significantly above average into their very late 30s, so he could easily have three or four more years of solid play left in him. Heck, Jason Peters just turned 40, and teams could do a lot worse than bringing him in (on a year-to-year deal, mind you, without a lot of money on the table because he's 40 freaking years old). If you would prefer your starting blindside protector to not remember the Clinton administration, there's always Eric Fisher. Fisher has never lived up to his No. 1 overall pick pedigree, but he's a perfectly cromulent starting tackle; they should put him a vault in France next to the kilogram as the standard universal measurement of "that'll do" on the line.
Morgan Moses is the best right tackle available, and he's probably really available as the Jets look set to go with Mekhi Becton and George Fant as their starting tackles if all goes well. Moses is a solid, durable player, so you could instead choose to go with the exact opposite and take Trent Brown. Brown has been spectacular when healthy, but "when healthy" has had more and more weight over the last few seasons. Brandon Shell would be the consolation prize here; he has taken some significant steps forward over the past few years to reach the lofty heights of adequacy.
After that lot, though, you're looking at swing tackles and backups, with Riley Reiff's versatility likely topping a relatively motley crew of players.
If you think the Miami Dolphins are popping up a lot, well, that's what having a remedial offense, a new offensive-minded head coach, and $55.5 million in cap space will do for you. Their first order of business this offseason should be to go to Terron Armstead's house, hand him a blank check, and tell him to write down his favorite number. They should also do whatever they can to stop the Cincinnati Bengals' truck from finding Armstead's house, because the AFC champs aren't exactly low on salary cap space either, and are well aware their line is spongy and weak at the best of times.
In fact, the AFC in general might hoover up all the top left tackles available. The Colts would like to upgrade over Eric Fisher—or at least, bring him back rather than go with Shonn Coleman on the blind side in 2022. The Jaguars have Cam Robinson as a pending free agent and could do better, anyway. There are not enough starting-caliber left tackles around to fill everyone's needs, so we could see a series of bidding wars here.
If you're looking for a starting guard, good news! Plenty are available to choose from, in a variety of ages, preferred blocking styles, and expected contract values. If you're looking for a starting center … erm, could I interest you in a guard?
Top of the Line
Brandon Scherff is the best interior lineman available. You could make an argument that he was the best lineman available period if he could stay healthy on a regular basis, but he hasn't played a full season since 2016. That hasn't stopped him from making the Pro Bowl in five of the last six years, mind you, and his injuries haven't taken away his surprising agility for a big man, great for getting to the second level and pancaking guys. Scherff played this year on the franchise tag, so he already was the highest-paid guard in football. He'll keep that crown, whether or not the Commanders decide to tag him yet again or let him test the free market.
No one else is quite at that level, but there are plenty of other guards who would step in as a starter for the majority of teams in the league. If you're running a zone-based scheme, you're in luck—James Daniels, Connor Williams, and Laken Tomlinson are all readily available. Tomlinson's the old man there at 30, so one of the other two might be your pick if you wanted a long-term contract. If you're looking for more of a straight-ahead gap blocker, pickings are slimmer, but Alex Cappa is available at the moment. These players should go somewhere in the $8 milllion-to-$10 million range.
The best center available is Ryan Jensen as the interior Buccaneers line exits en masse. Jensen would likely hold that crown no matter what, but it's worth noting that Jason Kelce has not officially retired yet and would be enticing … if there was any chance he'd play for anyone outside of Philadelphia, which there really isn't.
Guard is deep this year, even if you're looking for players closer to $5 million a year than $10 million. Andrew Norwell, Mark Glowinski, Austin Corbett, Ted Karras, Trai Turner, and Quinton Spain should all be starters next year somewhere, and it's enough of a glut at the position that there should be values to be had for teams that aren't looking for one skill set in particular.
Center, however, is a slightly different story. Brian Allen, Bradley Bozeman, and Ben Jones more or less round out the sorts of player teams would be satisfied starting—and even considering there are twice as many starting guards as centers in the league, that's a fairly short list. No one wants to be the one to try to sell an Ethan Pocic as a solution in the middle of the line.
Copy-paste the Miami Dolphins bidding on every lineman in the world, thank you, drive through. It's worth noting specifically that Mike McDaniel coached Laken Tomlinson in San Francisco, so bringing him in would make a ton of sense. Also copy the Bengals looking at everyone as well, though I think they may be more interested in Scherff and Jensen than Tomlinson. Either way, plenty of cap space plus terrible line situations equals a pair of franchises who will be connected with every single free agent weighing over 300 pounds.
Moving aside from the usual suspects, the Cardinals' propensity for botched snaps this last season was insane—the kind of high-outlier situation that could lead a team to just throw up their hands and overpaying for someone to fix it. Really, though, Rodney Hudson wasn't the problem for Arizona; it was the other two interior linemen that could stand to be upgraded. They'll have to fight off the Jets if they want to bring in a guard, however, as New York could really stand to replace Greg Van Roten with someone younger and more talented—Tomlinson is a good fit for their zone-blocking system. Jacksonville, Chicago, and Tennessee would round out your Venn diagram between teams that have cap space and teams that need interior line help.