New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 14: Jakobi Meyers #16 of the New England Patriots celebrates after scoring his first NFL touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium on November 14, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The New England Patriots have placed a second-round tender for restricted free agent wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. Agent Drew Rosenhaus confirmed the news to ESPN’s Adam Schefter Sunday.

Once Meyers signs, he’ll play on a one-year deal for $3.9 million in both real and cap money. The second-round designation means that if another team signs Meyers to an offer sheet and the Patriots decline to match it, New England would receive a second-round pick as compensation. So, that scenario is highly unlikely.

Meyers in 2021 set new career highs in receptions (83) and receiving yards (866), and caught his first two career touchdowns. His catches and yards have gone up in each season since he signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina State in 2019.

Per Schefter, the Patriots declined to tender restricted free agent fullback Jakob Johnson, meaning he will hit the open market. They still have to decide on RFA punt returner/receiver Gunner Olszewski. The Pats have the option of signing Olszewski to an extension in lieu of a tender.

According to cap expert Miguel Benzan, the Patriots have more than $10.2 million in cap space entering Monday. The NFL league year and free agency officially begins on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, but the “legal tampering” period kicks off at noon on Monday. We’ll have you covered on everything relating to the Patriots here at 985TheSportsHub.com.

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7 free-agent slot receivers to bolster the Patriots offense in 2022

  • A free-agent slot receiver may not necessarily be the game-breaking kind of talent that Ja’Marr Chase or the top free-agent receivers are, but it should definitely improve the roster at a specific area of need and make life easier for Mac Jones in his second year. Here are seven free-agent slot receivers who could boost the Patriots’ offense in the 2022 season.

    JuJu Smith-Schuster

    Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders in the first half of the game at Heinz Field on September 19, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders in the first half of the game at Heinz Field on September 19, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, Smith-Schuster is closer to the same size as Meyers and Bourne than that of Gunner Olszewski. But he is certainly at his best playing inside. He lined up in the slot on 78.8 percent of his offensive snaps in 2021.

    Smith-Schuster played only five games before a shoulder injury and the resulting surgery cut his regular season short. But he did return for the Steelers in the wild card round and made five catches for 26 yards, so in theory, he’s healthy as he heads toward unrestricted free agency. The fact that it was a shoulder injury should mean that his quickness is intact.

    We’ll see if his clean bill of health can help him get more than a one-year deal, but Smith-Schuster is likely to see less on the open market than his more productive counterparts at the top of the heap. Still, he’s two years removed from a 97-catch season and would give Jones a fearless, dynamic target over the middle of the field.

  • Christian Kirk

    Christian Kirk #13 of the Arizona Cardinals catches the ball over Jourdan Lewis #26 of the Dallas Cowboys during the third quarter at AT&T Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

    Christian Kirk #13 of the Arizona Cardinals catches the ball over Jourdan Lewis #26 of the Dallas Cowboys during the third quarter at AT&T Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

    Kirk is younger and faster than Smith-Schuster, and would bring a big-play element to the slot receiver spot. He scored touchdowns of 80 and 56 yards in his third season in 2020, and added five more scores in 2021, three of which came from more than 20 yards out.

    In an impressive leap forward, Kirk led the Cardinals in catches (77) and targets (103) while lining up in the slot 80.2 percent of the time. He’s also efficient; his 74.8 percent catch rate was seventh among all receivers.

    At 25 years old coming off a career year, Kirk will probably command a long-term deal for at least mid-market value. But he seems like the exact type of player the Patriots could install in the slot full-time.

  • Isaiah McKenzie

    Isaiah McKenzie #19 of the Buffalo Bills runs out of bounds after catching a pass against Joejuan Williams #33 of the New England Patriots during the first quarter in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Highmark Stadium on January 15, 2022 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

    Isaiah McKenzie #19 of the Buffalo Bills runs out of bounds after catching a pass against Joejuan Williams #33 of the New England Patriots during the first quarter in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Highmark Stadium on January 15, 2022 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

    Also known as The Patriot Killer! In reality, it was just one big game for McKenzie against the Pats. But in a Week 16 game with first place in the AFC East on the line and the Patriots focusing on slowing down Stefon Diggs, McKenzie exploded for 11 catches, 125 yards, and a touchdown. That stung.

    McKenzie is relatively small, but he’s also young, fast, and inexpensive. He should be able to get a multi-year deal somewhere, but won’t break the bank. Most importantly, he’d be a good fit for the Patriots and diminish the depth chart of their chief rival in the division.

    Belichick hasn’t been shy about bringing in players who played well against the Patriots in the past. McKenzie would make sense, and come relatively cheaply as a guy with a low volume of production so far in his career.

  • Braxton Berrios

    Braxton Berrios #10 of the New York Jets runs with the ball for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins in the first quarter at Hard Rock Stadium on December 19, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

    Braxton Berrios #10 of the New York Jets runs with the ball for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins in the first quarter at Hard Rock Stadium on December 19, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

    Sound familiar? Berrios began his career with the Patriots as a sixth-round pick out of Miami. But he spent his rookie season on injured reserve before being waived in 2019.

    Berrios ended up with the Jets, and surprisingly enough, has developed into a decent slot receiver. His catches have gone up in each of the last three seasons, with a career-best 46 in 2021. He was also a First Team All-Pro kick returner, leading the league with 30.4 yards per return and delivering the longest kick return touchdown of the season at 102 yards.

    One would think there are no hard feelings between Berrios and the Patriots. He’d make for a promising addition to the slot receiver depth chart, and the relative familiarity with New England is a plus.

  • Odell Beckham Jr.

    Odell Beckham Jr. #3 of the Los Angeles Rams runs with the ball during Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California. The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    Odell Beckham Jr. #3 of the Los Angeles Rams runs with the ball during Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California. The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    OBJ will definitely come cheaply, because he may not even be able to practice until around September. The former Giants, Browns, and Rams wideout tore his ACL as he made a catch in Super Bowl LVI, which was unfortunate for obvious reasons, but doubly so because it felt like he was on his way to a big game.

    Beckham turns 30 years old in November and will now be on (likely) his fourth team in nine seasons. Off-field drama has tended to follow him around. But Beckham also acknowledged that there was once mutual interest between him and the Patriots during his brief time as a free agent during the 2021 season.

    Well, his price tag will never be lower than it is now. If Beckham can prove he’s close to the same player he’s been in his career – which is a legitimate question mark after a second ACL injury – he’ll be good bang for the buck, and give Jones a potential game-breaker over the middle.

  • Cedrick Wilson

    Cedrick Wilson #1 of the Dallas Cowboys carries the ball after a reception against the San Francisco 49ers during the second quarter in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at AT&T Stadium on January 16, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

    Cedrick Wilson #1 of the Dallas Cowboys carries the ball after a reception against the San Francisco 49ers during the second quarter in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at AT&T Stadium on January 16, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

    Wilson lined up in the slot 82.7 percent of the time, the highest rate on the Cowboys. That’s notable, because Dallas lined up three other pass-catchers inside for at least 359 plays.

    The 26-year-old Wilson came up with 45 catches, 602 yards, and six touchdowns for the league’s most productive offense. That’s impressive, considering he had the sixth-most targets on the team.

    Belichick may view the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Wilson as more of a hybrid receiver, which might make him a redundancy with Meyers and Bourne. But he’s a proven producer in the slot and would inject the depth chart with youth and perhaps some untapped potential.

  • Jamison Crowder

    Jamison Crowder #82 of the New York Jets avoids the tackle of Kevin Johnson #28 of the Cleveland Browns in the third quarter at MetLife Stadium on December 27, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

    Jamison Crowder #82 of the New York Jets avoids the tackle of Kevin Johnson #28 of the Cleveland Browns in the third quarter at MetLife Stadium on December 27, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

    Crowder is a familiar name to Patriots fans at this point, as a three-year veteran of the Jets. The 28-year-old wouldn’t transform the offense overnight, but he’s proven to be a steady and dependable slot receiver for most of his career.

    Despite the presence of Berrios and dynamic rookie Elijah Moore, Crowder lined up in the slot more often than any Jets receiver in 2021. He also managed to lead the team in catches with 51, despite working with a rookie quarterback and a defensive head coach.

    Crowder could step right in and start in the slot in three-receiver sets, but signing him may only be worth it if a spot opens up on the roster. The Patriots would be better suited aiming a little higher, but Crowder would be a solid fallback plan.

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Ranked: Top-20 NFL free agents of 2022

  • Some of the best free agents are just entering their prime, while others are squarely in it.

    Either way, expect a lot of big-money contracts to be handed out during the off-season. And it’s very likely most of the highest-paid players land on this list of the top 25 NFL free agents of 2022.

    1. EDGE Von Miller

    Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks unsuccessfully attempts to keep Von Miller #40 of the Los Angeles Rams from getting a sack in the second quarter of the game at SoFi Stadium on December 21, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    Miller will be 33 years old at the start of the 2022 season, so it’s unclear what kind of term he can get at this point. But what is clear is that Miller can still make a significant impact as an edge rusher. The future Hall of Famer made 9.5 sacks and 17 QB hits in 15 games, split between the Broncos and Rams, then made four more sacks in four postseason games to earn his second Super Bowl ring with Los Angeles.

    He may be closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but Miller still has plenty left in the tank and would be a sensible signing for a contending team that can clear the space for a “mercenary” type of deal, with a reasonably high AAV and only one year guaranteed. Keep an eye on the Bengals, Patriots, Seahawks, and Steelers.

  • 2. EDGE Chandler Jones

    Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Tennessee Titans fumbles after being hit by Chandler Jones #55 of the Arizona Cardinals during the third quarter at Nissan Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images)

    Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Tennessee Titans fumbles after being hit by Chandler Jones #55 of the Arizona Cardinals during the third quarter at Nissan Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images)

    Since being traded to the Cardinals in 2016, Jones has almost quietly built a Hall-of-Fame-caliber resume. He racked up 10.5 more sacks in 15 games this past season, and is up to 107.5 in his career. He was named a First Team All-Pro in 2017 and 2019.

    Jones is 31 years old, but could possibly still fetch a deal for 3-4 years if someone’s willing to commit. He should certainly continue to make good pass rusher money. The Dolphins, Jaguars, Jets, and Colts will certainly have the financial capabilities to take him on.

  • 3. CB J.C. Jackson

    Nov 18, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) runs after intercepting a pass against the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 18, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) runs after intercepting a pass against the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    Jackson checks in at No. 5 as the best cornerback on the market and the first who will still be under 30 years old at the end of the 2022 season. He may be a tier slightly below the makeup of an elite shutdown cornerback, but his ball skills are undeniable (17 interceptions in the past two seasons) and he will make a lot of plays as long as quarterbacks keep throwing in his area.

    Jackson makes sense for a team that can install him as their No. 1 cornerback without having to lean on him as the anchor of the defense. So the Chargers, Colts, Raiders, and Steelers qualify as good potential suitors in that regard.

  • 4. LB Bobby Wagner

    Jeremy McNichols #28 of the Tennessee Titans is tackled by Bobby Wagner #54 of the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter at Lumen Field on September 19, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    Jeremy McNichols #28 of the Tennessee Titans is tackled by Bobby Wagner #54 of the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter at Lumen Field on September 19, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    Adding the 31-year-old Wagner would make a defense older rather than younger, but he’s been arguably the best middle linebacker in football for most of his career. The 2021 season was the first since 2015 that he wasn’t named a first team All-Pro. He should still be able to make a significant impact with a new team, and it probably wouldn’t be much term.

  • 5. OT Terron Armstead

    Terron Armstead #72 of the New Orleans Saints in action against the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter at Lumen Field on October 25, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    Terron Armstead #72 of the New Orleans Saints in action against the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter at Lumen Field on October 25, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    Armstead is 30 years old and has missed 11 games the past two years, but he’s one of the better left tackles in the league and hitting the open market squarely in his prime. So you can expect him to draw plenty of interest among tackle-needy teams, and cash in big-time.

  • 6. S Marcus Williams

    Marcus Williams #43 of the New Orleans Saints reacts after intercepting a pass against the Green Bay Packers during the second half at TIAA Bank Field on September 12, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

    Marcus Williams #43 of the New Orleans Saints reacts after intercepting a pass against the Green Bay Packers during the second half at TIAA Bank Field on September 12, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

    Williams should become one of the highest-paid safeties in the league. Could he top the Broncos’ Justin Simmons, who made $15.1 million in 2022? Williams is only 25 years old and has not just recovered from the sting of the “Minneapolis Miracle” play with Stefon Diggs, but established himself as one of the best young safeties in the NFL. He’ll find a new home with a team that hasn’t invested in safety at the draft and could use an injection of talent there.

  • 7. EDGE Randy Gregory

    Randy Gregory #94 of the Dallas Cowboys sacks Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots in the third quarter at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Randy Gregory #94 of the Dallas Cowboys sacks Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots in the third quarter at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Gregory doesn’t come without risk. He missed the entire 2017 and 2019 seasons due to suspensions under the league’s substance abuse policy, and missed five games due to injury in 2021. But Gregory hasn’t faced major discipline since his reinstatement, and he emerged as a productive starting edge rusher for the Cowboys with six sacks, 17 QB hits, and three forced fumbles. Because of his past transgressions, it’s possible Gregory can only get a one-year deal, but someone will gamble on his talent. The Patriots, Seahawks, and Chiefs seem like the kind of teams who would.

  • 8. OG Brandon Scherff

    Brandon Scherff #75 of the Washington Football Team blocks during the NFL preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at FedExField on August 20, 2021 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

    Brandon Scherff #75 of the Washington Football Team blocks during the NFL preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at FedExField on August 20, 2021 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

    Patriots fans saw with Joe Thuney’s move to the Chiefs in 2021 that guards can get paid, too. Scherff has lived up to his first-round billing as one of the best starting guards in the NFL during his time in Washington, and should be able to find a team willing to give him multiple years at more than $15 million annually.

  • 9. CB Carlton Davis

    Carlton Davis #24 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers carries the ball against the Dallas Cowboys during the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium on September 09, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

    Carlton Davis #24 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers carries the ball against the Dallas Cowboys during the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium on September 09, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

    The Bucs are facing a massive talent exodus, beyond just Tom Brady’s retirement. On offense they’re likely to lose Chris Godwin, and defensively, they’ll probably have to replace Davis, who has started 50 of his 51 career games at cornerback. He’s 25 years old, so Davis gets a bump up this list over corners with higher pedigrees. But he’ll be a good starter in his prime years, so expect a team to pay up for that on the open market.

  • 10. WR Allen Robinson

    Allen Robinson #12 of the Chicago Bears runs for yards during the first half against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

    Allen Robinson #12 of the Chicago Bears runs for yards during the first half against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

    Robinson has had kind of a strange career. When healthy, he’s one of the best big-play threats at outside receiver in the league and a dominant 1-on-1 player. But he’s dealt with major injuries, offensive systems in flux, and inconsistent quarterbacks throwing him the ball. So you shouldn’t blame Robinson if he insists on going to a team with a franchise quarterback in place. The Chargers, Ravens, and Patriots would make logical sense, if they’re willing to pay.

  • 11. CB Stephon Gilmore

    Stephon Gilmore #9 of the Carolina Panthers looks on in the fourth quarter Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on October 31, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

    Stephon Gilmore #9 of the Carolina Panthers looks on in the fourth quarter Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on October 31, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

    Gilmore may have been a top-3 player on this list if he’d stayed healthy over the past two seasons. But he’s now 31 years old and has missed 14 games in the past two years, mainly due to knee problems. So it’s unlikely he’ll ever play at the same speed that he did in New England, where he won Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. But Gilmore’s not done yet. If he can stay on the field, Gilmore should still be a very good starting cornerback for whoever’s willing to take the chance.

  • 12. LB De’Vondre Campbell

    De'Vondre Campbell #59 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after sacking Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at State Farm Stadium on October 28, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    De’Vondre Campbell #59 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after sacking Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at State Farm Stadium on October 28, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    Campbell was a dynamic inside linebacker before it became cool. He’s squarely in his prime at age 28, and in the era of Darius Leonard, Devin White, et al., his playing style has become more valuable. So it’s possible Campbell resets the market as the top inside linebacker available. The Chiefs, Raiders, Patriots, and Eagles could use a guy like him.

  • 13. DT Akiem Hicks

    Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers is sacked by Akiem Hicks #96 of the Chicago Bears in the second half at Soldier Field on October 17, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

    Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers is sacked by Akiem Hicks #96 of the Chicago Bears in the second half at Soldier Field on October 17, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

    One of the league’s best late bloomers, Hicks emerged as a premier interior pass rusher during his time with the Bears. He’s 32 years old and missed eight games in 2021, so it’s likely Hicks won’t get a long-term offer. But on a classic one-year prove-it deal? He could immediately infuse his new team with impact talent at a relatively scarce position.

  • 14. S Tyrann Mathieu

    Tyrann Mathieu #32 of the Kansas City Chiefs dives into the endzone for a touchdown after a 34-yard interception return against the Baltimore Ravens during the first quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)

    Tyrann Mathieu #32 of the Kansas City Chiefs dives into the endzone for a touchdown after a 34-yard interception return against the Baltimore Ravens during the first quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)

    The “Honey Badger” is still 29 years old and enjoyed a career resurgence through his prime years with the Chiefs. Mathieu is quietly a three-time First Team All-Pro and can still make plays with the best of them at safety. There may not be a ton of demand for safeties on the open market, but someone should be willing to pay him over $10 million annually.

  • 15. WR Odell Beckham Jr.

    Odell Beckham Jr. #3 of the Los Angeles Rams catches the ball in the second quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals during Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    Odell Beckham Jr. #3 of the Los Angeles Rams catches the ball in the second quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals during Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    Health is the biggest question for Beckham coming out of the Super Bowl. He appeared to be on his way to making a major impact in the game before appearing to injure his knee or leg in a non-contact injury. Those are always scary, but the fact that Beckham stood on the sidelines for the rest of the game was possibly a good sign. We’ll see how much teams are willing to commit to Beckham in terms of years, but he’s clearly still a dynamic receiver when healthy.

  • 16. DE Emmanuel Ogbah

    Emmanuel Ogbah #91 of the Miami Dolphins reacts after defeating the at Caesars Superdome on December 27, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

    Emmanuel Ogbah #91 of the Miami Dolphins reacts after defeating the at Caesars Superdome on December 27, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

    The 32nd overall pick in the 2016 draft, Ogbah has been slower than expected to ascend. The Browns moved on from him after three seasons and he lasted just one year in Kansas City, but Ogbah seemed to finally put it together under Brian Flores in Miami. He’s made nine sacks in each of the past two years, and in 2021 he batted down a mind-blowing 12 (!) passes at the line. Still just 28 years old, Ogbah may have shown enough to get a surprisingly big contract.

  • 17. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

    Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders in the first half of the game at Heinz Field on September 19, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders in the first half of the game at Heinz Field on September 19, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    Since a 111-catch season for Smith-Schuster in 2018, the emergence of Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson has pushed him down the pecking order in Pittsburgh. That, and he played only five games in 2021. So he won’t get a big contract, but if he can stay healthy, he could deliver great value for a team in need of a dynamic inside receiver.

  • 18. WR D.J. Chark

    D.J. Chark #17 of the Jacksonville Jaguars makes a reception for a touchdown during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at TIAA Bank Field on September 26, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

    D.J. Chark #17 of the Jacksonville Jaguars makes a reception for a touchdown during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at TIAA Bank Field on September 26, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

    It would make sense for the Jaguars to retain Chark, but it would make even more sense for the receiver to explore the open market first. A broken ankle limited Chark to just four games in 2021, so teams may have pause on how much they’re willing to commit financially. But he’s only two seasons removed from a 1,000-yard season and should be a productive outside receiver in the right situation with good health. Someone will take the plunge on him, with the potential for good value.

  • 19. S Marcus Maye

    Oct 24, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Jets free safety Marcus Maye (20) tackles New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 24, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Jets free safety Marcus Maye (20) tackles New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Maye finally has a chance to escape the Jets, but he’s coming off a season in which he played only six games before suffering a torn Achilles. The injury almost certainly crushed his earning potential in this particular off-season, but if Maye can prove he’s close to the same level he played at before his Achilles injury, he’ll at least be able to parlay a one-year deal into something more lucrative in 2023. Assuming he stays on the field, he’ll make a good mercenary.

  • 20. LB Dont’a Hightower

    BUFFALO, NEW YORK - JANUARY 15: Cole Beasley #11 of the Buffalo Bills runs the ball against Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots during the third quarter in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Highmark Stadium on January 15, 2022 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

    BUFFALO, NEW YORK – JANUARY 15: Cole Beasley #11 of the Buffalo Bills runs the ball against Dont’a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots during the third quarter in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Highmark Stadium on January 15, 2022 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

    There’s a chance that the three-time Super Bowl champion and former second team All-Pro has more left in the tank than he showed late in 2021. It’s hard to play like your normal self after taking a whole season off, which Hightower did in 2020. But do the Patriots feel it’s time to move on? Wherever Hightower ends up, it’s likely on a one-year deal, but he does plan on playing. Teams in need of veteran depth at inside linebacker could get great value out of him.

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Get to know the key dates on the 2022 NFL calendar

  • Football season may be over, but there’s still plenty to talk about for next year. Here are the key dates on the 2022 NFL calendar to know about as we head into the off-season.

    March 1-7: NFL Scouting Combine

    New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and friend Vinnie Colelli look on during the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 20, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

    New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and friend Vinnie Colelli look on during the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 20, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

    The first big party of the year for prospective players, as well as GMs, coaches, scouts, and agents. And reporters sniffing around for nuggets of information from all of them. The top draft prospects separate themselves in these drills, which figure to be more important and involved than they were in the more COVID-limited 2020 and 2021 seasons.

    For draft enthusiasts, it’ll be their first chance to pore over the performances of their favorite prospects. For the casual fan, it’s a chance to get the first look at the top players to know.

    The Combine is also an opportunity for more unheralded draft prospects to rise up the boards. But the event remains invite-only, so you’re guaranteed to see the best of the best on the TV broadcasts. (Yes, the Combine is on TV.)

  • March 8: Franchise tag deadline

    This is the last day of the league year that teams can place the franchise tag on impending unrestricted free agents. Tagged players are typically coming out of their rookie contracts having significantly outperformed them, making the value of a franchise tag lower than that of a long-term deal.

    Franchise tags are one-year deals for a set number, which varies by position. Teams still have the option to trade players after tagging them. Over The Cap has a list of projected totals for the franchise tag and transition tag. The latter grants a team the right to match or refuse an offer sheet that a tagged player signs with another team, but is rarely used.

    Notable NFL players who should be considered candidates for the franchise tag include Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson, Saints safety Marcus Williams, Chiefs tackle Orlando Brown, and Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki.

  • March 14-16: “Legal Tampering” begins

    This is where it really gets fun. In recent years, players signings had begun to inundate the news right at the official start of free agency, exposing the plain reality that teams, players, and agents had done all kinds of negotiating (read: tampering) before anyone had officially become a fre agent.

    Thus, the NFL introduced the three-day “legal tampering” period in 2013, allowing players and teams to “begin” negotiating before the start of free agency. But most recently, in 2021, signings were announced at the outset of that.

    This is all to say: mark your calendar for legal tampering, because that is when most of the big free agency news will drop.

  • March 16: Free agency and league year begins

    All pending unrestricted free agents become official at 4 p.m. ET on March 16. Most of the major free-agent signings across the league will have already been reported by then, but this is when teams can officially announce their moves.

    That doesn’t mean free agency will be over so soon. The open market will remain deep. It’ll just be mostly mid-level free agents and below after this point.

  • March 27-30: NFL League Meeting

    President and Chief opperating officer Jonathan Kraft answers questions from the media at the NFL Annual Meetings at the Roosevelt HotelÊ on March 21, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Despite a NFL owners imposed lockout in effect since March 12 the league is conducting it's annual owners meeting in New Orleans(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

    President and Chief operating officer Jonathan Kraft answers questions from the media at the NFL Annual Meetings at the Roosevelt Hotel on March 21, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Despite a NFL owners imposed lockout in effect since March 12 the league is conducting it’s annual owners meeting in New Orleans(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

    The league meeting is the annual summit of owners, execs, and coaches, particularly those involved with the competition committee. The most newsworthy items from the league meeting are usually league-wide rule changes, which are discussed and sometimes agreed upon for implementation.

    In light of controversies emanating from the 2021 season, one can expect overtime rules to be heavily debated during the league meeting, and perhaps changed.

  • April 4: Offseason workouts may begin

    This is only for first-year head coaches. They will be allowed, but not required, to begin off-season workouts with their new teams on this date. Teams with returning head coaches can begin their off-season programs as early as April 18.

  • April 20: Draft deadlines begin

    This marks the last day that teams can bring draft-eligible prospects to their facilities for a physical. Most draft prep is likely done by this point. The football world will already be filled with speculation and rumors on teams’ interest in particular players, and where the top prospects in the first round will land.

    The day before the draft, April 27, is the deadline for teams to “time, test, and interview” prospects.

  • April 22: Restricted free agent deadlines begin

    Restricted free agents have until April 22 to sign an offer sheet with a new team, and their respective teams would have until the 27th to match or decline it. Offer sheets are relatively rare, mainly because of the compensation required and the types of players available in restricted free agency.

    If it’s a good-enough player, his team will extend a qualifying offer for a first-round tender, and thus would receive a first-round pick in return if they decline to match. At the same time, players are only eligible for restricted free agency in the first place if they have accrued three seasons at the time of their expired contract, so they are never players who went high in the draft.

    So, offer sheets are typically saved for players who have significantly outperformed their draft status and become worth acquiring for a high pick. There are some notable RFAs in 2022 who could be tendered at a lower round and become candidates for more affordable draft pick compensation, including a trio of wide receivers: Green Bay’s Allen Lazard, Miami’s Preston Williams, and New Orleans’ Deonte Harris.

  • April 28-30: 2022 NFL Draft

    CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 29: Mac Jones poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell onstage after being selected 15th by the New England Patriots during round one of the 2021 NFL Draft at the Great Lakes Science Center on April 29, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

    CLEVELAND, OHIO – APRIL 29: Mac Jones poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell onstage after being selected 15th by the New England Patriots during round one of the 2021 NFL Draft at the Great Lakes Science Center on April 29, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

    Just about every NFL fan would say the Super Bowl is the biggest day of the year, and many would put the draft at No. 2. It’s the culmination of months of player workouts, team scouting, and media/fan speculation and discussion. Several of the top picks are likely already known by this point, but that doesn’t take away from the excitement and odd pageantry that comes with the event.

  • And then … ?

    After the draft is concluded with rounds 4-7 on April 30, the news cycle moves on to undrafted free agent signings in the ensuing days. But off-season workouts have already begun by this point, leaving football commentators with no shortage of things to talk about well into springtime.

    May will likely mark the start of mandatory minicamp for all 32 teams. Those dates, as well as training camp, have yet to be announced. But those in the football world will have plenty to chew on from February through April.

    If you still haven’t found the information you need on the 2022 off-season, there’s plenty more to know at the official NFL website.

Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

Click here for complete New England Patriots coverage at 985TheSportsHub.com.

More from 985thesportshub.com…

Reports: Patriots showing interest in multiple wide receivers heading into free agency

  • Last year, the Patriots had a number of needs and plenty of cap space to address those needs in free agency. A year later, the team is in position to make more targeted signings, looking to round out the edges of the core assembled in 2021.

    One of those spots the Patriots could look to add is at wide receiver. It seems like a yearly occurrence at this point, but there’s been plenty of talk about New England adding both a No. 1 wideout and depth at the position.

    From everything that’s been made public, it appears the Patriots are busy working on such an addition or additions. They met with the majority of the top wide receivers in this year’s draft class last week at the NFL Combine, and have reportedly explored a trade for former 1,000-yard receiver Robby Anderson.

    Reports on Friday suggest they’re also doing their due diligence when it comes to this year’s free agent wide receivers as well. Both Mark Daniels of The Providence Journal and CLNS Media’s Evan Lazar have connected the Patriots to players who will be available when the NFL’s legal tampering window – the unofficial start of free agency – opens on Monday.

    The Patriots the Patriots have been talking to range from outside receivers to slot guy to gadget players, and from the top of the market to true value options.

  • Allen Robinson

    Nov 8, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson II (12) makes a catch in the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

    There have been multiple report connecting the Patriots to Robinson, who is one of the top pass catchers on the market this year. A former Pro Bowler and regular 1,000-yard receiver, the 28-year-old saw his production fall off last season in a Chicago Bears’ offense that was among the worst in the league. He went from 102 catches for 1,250 yards in 2020 (16 games) to 38 catches for 410 yards in 2021 (12 games).

    The Patriots reportedly considered signing Robinson last year before Chicago franchise tagged him. This time around, he could be a value signing if his down season hurts his overall market. If Robinson or another premier outside target is added the Patriots could “look to move Nelson Agholor” according to Lazar.

  • Allen Lazard

    Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard (13) pulls down a touchdown reception against Minnesota Vikings defensive back Kris Boyd (29) in the second quarter during their football game Sunday, January 2, 2022, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

    At 6-foot-5, 227 pounds, Lazard is another potential outside receiver target. He has gotten better each of his four years in the league, with the Patriots liking players who are trending up. Despite being a secondary option in the Packers’ offense last year, the 26-year-old former UDFA set career highs almost across the board with 40 catches for 513 yards and eight touchdowns.

    Unlike most of the players on this list who are unrestricted free agents, Lazard is restricted. If the Packers tender him a contract, they would have right of first refusal and a chance to match any deal offered to him in free agency, and the team signing him could potential could have to give up a draft pick if Green Bay elects not to match (similar to what happened between the Patriots and Steelers with Emmanuel Sanders in 2013).

  • Marquez Valdes-Scantling

    Nov 21, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (83) in action against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

    Another Packer, Valdez-Scantling is a big play machine. In four seasons in Green Bay, the 6-foot-4 wideout has averaged 17.5 yards per catch. However, he is coming off a down year in 2021 when he missed six games and finished with 26 receptions for 430 yards.

  • D.J. Chark

    CINCINNATI, OHIO – OCTOBER 04: DJ Chark Jr #17 of the Jacksonville Jaguars runs with the ball against at the Cincinnati Bengals Paul Brown Stadium on October 04, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    Chark had a breakout year during the 2019 season, with 73 catches for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. The performance earned him his first and to this point only Pro Bowl nod. However, he’s fallen off (along with the rest of the Jacksonville offense) since and struggled to stay on the field. Between the 2020 and 2021 seasons he played just 17 total games recording 60 catches for 860 yards and seven touchdowns.

    At 6-foot-4, the 25-year-old former second-round pick has the size the Patriots may be looking to add to their offense, and does have top-level production on his resume. The question is what his injury history does to his value?

  • DaeSean Hamilton

    DENVER, CO – AUGUST 19: Wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton #17 of the Denver Broncos celebrates after a reception for a first down as free safety D.J. Reed #32 and linebacker Dre Greenlaw #57 of the San Francisco 49ers look on during the second quarter of a preseason game at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on August 19, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

    A fourth-round pick in 2018, Hamilton was let go by the Broncos as a cap move following their acquisition of Russell Wilson earlier this week. A fourth-round pick in 2018, Hamilton is a ‘big slot’ receiver who wins with his route running ability. He missed the 2021 season with a torn ACL, and could be viewed as another ‘value’ signing.

    According to Daniels, the Patriots are “already showing interest” in the 27-year-old. Because he was released and isn’t coming off an expiring contract, the Patriots technically wouldn’t need to wait until Monday if they want to sign him.

  • Jakeem Grant

    Nov 21, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Jakeem Grant (17) runs with the ball during the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

    Grant would be a fascinating fit for the Patriots. At 5-foot-7, 171 pounds he’s a fast and shifty slot receiver, but he can also line up in the backfield on passing downs. That type of gadget player is becoming more and more popular in the NFL, and Grant could be the Patriots’ chance to add that dynamic – as well as some serious speed – to their offense.

    On top of that, Grant has been an All-Pro returner for the last two years with experience fielding kickoffs and puts. The Patriots may need a player in that role with Gunner Olszewski a pending restricted free agent.