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Jan 23, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) makes a call at the line of scrimmage during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Rams in a NFC Divisional playoff football game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Just so we’re all on the same page, Tom Brady did not change his mind. He didn’t have some sort of epiphany or arrive at some unforeseen realization. He used you to get whatever he really wanted – again – because he has become one of the great sports divas in American history.

The GOAT is now a PITA.

Pain.

In.

The.

Arse.

So before anyone gets confused and says that Tom Brady is “coming back,” let’s not create false storylines. He never really left and he never really had any intention of it. As we’ve learned with Brady over recent years, especially, most everything has to do with his contract, with money, with power. He’ll exploit you for immunity powder during a pandemic or try to sell you a 12-pack of nuts for $50. He’ll even let someone pay more than $500,000 for the football used on the “final” touchdown pass of his career before rendering the pigskin as valuable as a breakfast sausage.

And the timing of Brady’s latest “announcement” – or, should we say, maneuver?

It just so happens to have come within days of Deshaun Watson’s arrival on the trade market and seemingly blocks Tampa Bay’s ability to trade for Watson until they settle whatever differences they have with Brady.

How convenient.

Is this good for football, or at least good for the NFL? You bet it is. In that way, it’s actually good for you, too. The Tom Brady drama is good for ticket sales, TV ratings, storylines. And we’ll all eat it up. But there is a cost here, too, for Brady, who has cheapened himself into one of the great used car salesmen of all-time.

From now on, before Brady makes any decision, we are required to ask: what’s his angle now?

During his final years here in New England, as we all know, Brady and coach Bill Belichick were engaged in a power struggle, to the point where Brady’s wife, Giselle Bundchen, told owner Robert Kraft that the Patriots treated her husband like “Effing Johnny Foxboro.” Looking back, does that sound like a woman who wanted her husband to retire? Or does that sound like a woman who wants her husband to grind the Patriots (and everyone else?) to a pulp because she is even more vindictive than he is?

The point: don’t buy the narrative that Brady “retired” because his family wanted him to. It’s quite the contrary. Brady “retired” because he and Giselle are now tired of the Bucs, and because they probably thought the Bucs were treating him like “Effing Johnny Tampa.”

Does any of this validate Brady’s actions? Sure. Maybe. Definitely. It really depends on how much you believe business is business and where those lines are. Brady learned from the masters, after all, because the Patriots leveraged him repeatedly during his time here in New England. They asked him to take less and he bought it – hook, line and sinker – and he’s probably still mad at himself as a result. Brady saw Bill Belichick leverage one teammate after the next as he approached his final years in Foxboro, and then he saw Belichick leverage him right out the door that Kraft mercifully (foolishly?) opened for his departure.

So now …. guess what? Brady has turned into that thing he most resented. He has turned into Belichick. He has become a power-hungry mercenary who is loyal to only himself, which is entirely fine in the cutthroat world of professional sports in general, of the NFL in particular. He is who he is. And that is totally fine so long as we all accept it that Brady is not what he wants you to believe he is, just a guy who loves his family first and football second.

Frankly, it’s time to wonder whether he really loves football at all.

Or whether he just loves the power it gives him.

PHOTOS: Tom Brady and the Lombardi Trophy

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NFL Free Agent Tracker: Monday, March 14

  • Here’s a recap of the most notable NFL free agency news from the first day of legal tampering…

  • Jaguars continue spending spree with tight end

    The Jacksonville Jaguars are not done building around Trevor Lawrence. According to Adam Schefter, they’re signing former Giants tight end Evan Engram to a one-year deal worth $9 million, fully guaranteed. Engram can make up to $10 million through incentives.

  • Bucs re-sign 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)

    Another domino falls in the cornerback market: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are re-signing Carlton Davis for three years and $45 million, per Adam Schefter. Tampa retains a key piece of their defense for Tom Brady’s return.

  • J.C. Jackson gets big-money deal with Chargers

    Nov 18, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) celebrates after an interception against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 18, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) celebrates after an interception against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    J.C. Jackson has found the highest bidder. The Chargers are locking Jackson in for five years and up to $82.5 million, and $40 million guaranteed at signing, according to Adam Schefter. The AAV seems surprisingly low, but the guarantees rank Jackson sixth among all cornerbacks.

  • Bridgewater to Miami

    Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Denver Broncos throws the ball as players warm up before a game against the Baltimore Ravens at Empower Field at Mile High on October 3, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

    Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Denver Broncos throws the ball as players warm up before a game against the Baltimore Ravens at Empower Field at Mile High on October 3, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

    Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is signing with the Miami Dolphins to be the backup quarterback to Tua Tagovailoa, as reported by Adam Schefter.

  • Dolphins signing 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)

    Former Cowboys receiver Cedrick Wilson is signing a three-year deal worth up to $22.8 million with the Miami Dolphins, according to Adam Schefter. The deal includes $12.75 million guaranteed.

  • J.C. Jackson gets formal offer

    Nov 28, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) reacts after intercepting a pass in the Tennessee Titans end zone in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 28, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) reacts after intercepting a pass in the Tennessee Titans end zone in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Per Mike Giardi, J.C. Jackson has had a busy day negotiating with prospective teams, but the only club that’s made a formal offer so far is the Los Angeles Chargers. They’re likely to lose Casey Hayward to free agency, making outside corner a pressing need for them. Jackson is easily the biggest prize on the market at his position, so he figures to get a huge payday wherever he lands.

  • Seahawks re-signing TE Will Dissly

    The Seahawks may be rebuilding post-Russell Wilson, but they are retaining one of their tight ends. Will Dissly is staying in Seattle for three years and up to $24 million, according to Tom Pelissero.

  • Packers keeping LV 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)


    De’Vondre Campbell would’ve been the best inside linebacker on the market, but instead he’s staying put. According to Ian Rapoport, the Green Bay Packers have agreed to terms on a new contract for Campbell. According to Pro Football Focus, the deal is for five years and $50 million.

  • Bills sign Rodger Saffold

    The Buffalo Bills confirmed that they are signing veteran offensive lineman Rodger Saffold to a one-year deal. Saffold has played both guard and tackle at the NFL level. For the past three years, he’s been the Titans’ starting left guard.

  • Jaguars signing WR 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)

    According to Ian Rapoport, the Jacksonville Jaguars are signing free-agent wide receiver Christian Kirk. Trevor Lawrence gets a dynamic slot receiver. Rapoport is describing the deal as “large,” so it’s likely Kirk was out of the Patriots’ price range all along.

    UPDATE: According to Ian Rapoport, Kirk’s deal with the Jaguars is for four years with a base value of $72 million, and can turn into $84 million through incentives. Wild money for Kirk in Jacksonville.

  • Berrios staying with Jets

    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)

    There will be no Braxton Berrios reunion in New England. The former Patriots receiver is staying with the New York Jets on a two-year deal worth up to $12 million with $7M guaranteed, according to Adam Schefter. Berrios was an all-pro kick returner in 2021 and also set new career highs in catches and yards. If the Patriots want to add a shifty slot receiver, they’ll have to look elsewhere.

  • Jets signing OG Laken Tomlinson

    The New York Jets are signing former 49ers guard Laken Tomlinson to a three-year deal worth up to $41.2 million, according to Adam Schefter. Tomlinson has started 80 consecutive games dating back to the 2017 season.

  • Karras signing with Bengals

    Jan 9, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; New England Patriots guard Ted Karras (67) takes on the field prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

    The defending AFC champions have found a starting offensive lineman, in the form of an ex-Patriot. Ted Karras is signing a three-year, $18 million deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, according to Ian Rapoport. Pass protection was arguably the Bengals’ ultimate downfall, so they hope Karras can help sew up those issues. It’s a nice cash-in for the veteran, who has spent most of his career with the Patriots.

  • Slater stays in New England

    Nov 14, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater (18) gives a towel to a fan after a game against the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    According to Field Yates and Mike Reiss, special teams captain Matthew Slater is staying with the Patriots for another year. It’s a new one-year deal for the longtime cornerstone and locker room leader.

  • Jaguars land All-Pro starting guard

    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)

    Five-time Pro-Bowl guard Brandon Scherff has agreed to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to Adam Schefter. Scherff was a first team All-Pro in 2020. The details of the contract aren’t out, but it should be quite lucrative. Offensive line was a major need for the Jags and quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

  • Bears sign DT Larry Ogunjobi

    CINCINNATI, OHIO – JANUARY 15: Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi #65 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates after recovering a first half fumble against the Las Vegas Raiders during the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium on January 15, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

    The new front office in Chicago had landed it’s first free agent. According to Adam Schefter, the Bears are signing defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi to a three-year, $40.5 million dollar deal. Ogunjobi had seven tackles and 12 tackles for loss last year with the AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals.

  • Seahawks keeping Pro Bowl safety Quandre Diggs

    INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 21: Quandre Diggs #6 of the Seattle Seahawks reacts after intercepting a pass during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on December 21, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

    Seattle isn’t letting everybody go. The Seahawks are re-signing two-time Pro Bowl safety Quandre Diggs to a three-year, $40 million deal according to Ian Rapoport. The 29-year-old recorded 94 tackles with five interceptions and seven pass breakups in 2021.

  • Steelers land Roethisberger replacement

    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 19: Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky #10 of the Buffalo Bills warms up before the game against the Miami Dolphins in the game at Hard Rock Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    The first big name free agent quarterback is off the board. Former Bears first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky was one of the top quarterback names on the free agent market this year, and he’s now off to Pittsburgh according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. Garafolo added Trubisky is now the “expected starter in place of the retired Ben Roethlisberger.” Trubisky, 27, spent last year as the backup in Buffalo.

  • Panthers release two players

    Oct 17, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers cornerback A.J. Bouye (24) breaks up a pass intended for Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    The Carolina Panthers have released a pair of players in a salary cap-saving move. 30-year-old cornerback A.J. Bouye and 27-year-old defensive end Morgan Fox have both been cut by the team.

  • James Conner staying in Arizona

    Nov 21, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner (6) scores a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half at Lumen Field. Arizona defeated Seattle 23-13. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

    After a breakout year in his first season in Arizona, James Conner is staying with the Cardinals. Adam Schefter is reporting the team is giving the 26-year-old running back a three-year, $25.5 million dollar deal with $13.5 million included. Conner was highly productive last season after a few down years in Pittsburgh, totaling 1,127 all-purpose yards and 18 total touchdowns with the Cards in 2021.

  • Jarvis Landry released

    Jan 9, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) makes a catch during the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

    According to multiple reports, the Cleveland Browns have released 29-year-old receiver Jarvis Landry. This move had been expected following the team acquiring receiver Amari Cooper from the Dallas Cowboys over the weekend. Landry is a five-time Pro Bowler, but had relatively down years in 2020 and 2021. This past season, he caught 52 passes for 570 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games.

  • Dolphins bring in Chase Edmonds

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA – OCTOBER 28: Running back Chase Edmonds #2 of the Arizona Cardinals rushes the football against the Green Bay Packers during the second half of the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on October 28, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. The Packers defeated the Cardinals 24-21. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    After tightening up their defense by retaining Emmanuel Ogbah, the Dolphins turned their attention to the offensive side of the ball. According to Adam Schefter, Miami is signing running back Chase Edmonds to a two-year, $12.6 million dollar deal. Edmonds is a three-down back and totaled over 900 all-purpose yards for the Arizona Cardinals last year. Now, he should play a pivotal role in Mike McDaniel’s offense.

  • Bengals sign former Buccaneers guard Alex Cappa

    Nov 14, 2021; Landover, Maryland, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Alex Cappa (65) blocks Washington Football Team defensive end James Smith-Williams (96) at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    The first move of the tampering period is in. Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Bengals are signing former Buccaneers guard Alex Cappa to a four-year, $40 million contract. Cincinnati is expected to be big players in the offensive line market this offseason after struggling to protect Joe Burrow throughout the season.

  • Dolphins retain edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah

    NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – DECEMBER 27: Emmanuel Ogbah #91 of the Miami Dolphins reacts after getting a sack in the fourth quarter of the game against the New Orleans Saints at Caesars Superdome on December 27, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

    Originally a candidate for the franchise tag, edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah will end up staying in Miami on a four-year, $65 million dollar deal. The contract, with includes $32 million in guaranteed money, was first reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Ogbah has nine sacks and 24 QB hits for the Dolphins in 2021.

  • Packers release Za’Darius Smith

    Za'Darius Smith #55 of the Green Bay Packers reacts in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams during the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 16, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

    Za’Darius Smith #55 of the Green Bay Packers reacts in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams during the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 16, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

    According to Ian Rapoport, the Green Bay Packers are releasing defensive end Za’Darius Smith. He was set to cost $15.2 million in real money and a whopping $27.6 million against the cap, so Green Bay decided to save that $15.2M (in both real and cap dollars) by moving on. A second-team All-Pro in 2020, Smith played just one game in 2021, mainly due to a shoulder injury. He’s 29 years old and healthy entering the open market.

  • Dolphins eyeing J.C. Jackson?

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 12: DeVante Parker #11 of the Miami Dolphins and J.C. Jackson #27 of the New England Patriots react during the first half at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 12: DeVante Parker #11 of the Miami Dolphins and J.C. Jackson #27 of the New England Patriots react during the first half at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    According to Omar Kelly, the Miami Dolphins are “bidders” for impending free-agent cornerback J.C. Jackson. The Dolphins already have Xavien Howard, 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene, and veteran slot corner Byron Jones on the roster, so it’s surprising that they’d show any interest in Jackson, particularly the amount of money it’s going to take to land him.

  • Patriots interested in veteran free-agent linebacker

    The Patriots are among “several” teams showing interest in impending free-agent linebacker Brennan Scarlett, according to Mike Giardi. Scarlett has 69 career NFL games under his belt and is still just 28 years old. He’s been a core special teams linebacker throughout his career, most recently with the Dolphins, and also played 166 defensive snaps in Miami in 2021.

  • Patriots bringing Hoyer back

    Brian Hoyer #5 of the New England Patriots stands behind center during the fourth quarter of the game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on October 24, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Brian Hoyer #5 of the New England Patriots stands behind center during the fourth quarter of the game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on October 24, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    The Patriots have shored up the backup quarterback spot with a familiar face. Brian Hoyer is re-signing with the team, as first reported by Jim McBride. They’re also bringing back veteran guard/center James Ferentz.

    Mike Reiss added that it’s a two-year deal for Hoyer. Karen Guregian was first to repor that it’s a two-year deal for $3 million guaranteed, but Jeremy Fowler reported that Hoyer can make up to $4 million.

  • Bucs bringing back Brady’s center

    Tom Brady #12 and Ryan Jensen #66 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers talk prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins at Raymond James Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

    Tom Brady #12 and Ryan Jensen #66 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers talk prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins at Raymond James Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

    Bucs starting center Ryan Jensen is re-signing with the team for three years and $39 million, according to Adam Schefter. Tom Brady is back, and so is his partner under center.

  • Tom Brady officially returning

    Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers throws a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter  in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on January 16, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers throws a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on January 16, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    So about that “retirement”…Tom Brady may have never uttered the word itself at any point in the off-season, leaving the door ajar for a quick return to the football field. For now, he’s coming back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We’ll see if it stays that way – whether with Brady or with head coach Bruce Arians.

  • Devin McCourty returning to Patriots

    Nov 18, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty (32) celebrates after an interception against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 18, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty (32) celebrates after an interception against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    Longtime Patriots defensive cornerstone and team leader Devin McCourty is re-signing for one year and $9 million. It’ll be interesting to see how the deal is structured. McCourty was on the books for $6.45 million in dead cap money if he didn’t return, due to a void year in his previous contract.

  • Cousins commits to Vikings

    Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates after throwing a touchdown to Alexander Mattison #25 during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates after throwing a touchdown to Alexander Mattison #25 during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    Kirk Cousins is signing a one-year extension for $35 million to stay with the Minnesota Vikings, as reported by Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network. Cousins was entering the final year of his deal in 2022, making him now signed through 2023.

  • Gallup cashes in to stay with Cowboys

    Michael Gallup #13 of the Dallas Cowboys makes a catch in front of Rashad Fenton #27 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the third quarter of the game at Arrowhead Stadium on November 21, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

    Michael Gallup #13 of the Dallas Cowboys makes a catch in front of Rashad Fenton #27 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the third quarter of the game at Arrowhead Stadium on November 21, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

    The Dallas Cowboys have chosen who they’re committing to at wide receiver. Impending free agent Michael Gallup has agreed to a five-year, $62.5 million extension to stay in Dallas, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. This move, coupled with the trade of Amari Cooper to the Browns, makes Gallup the highest-paid pass-catcher on the Cowboys.

  • Ertz locks in with Cardinals

    Zach Ertz #86 of the Arizona Cardinals reacts after a first down during the second half of a game against the Green Bay Packers State Farm Stadium on October 28, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    Zach Ertz #86 of the Arizona Cardinals reacts after a first down during the second half of a game against the Green Bay Packers State Farm Stadium on October 28, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    Veteran tight end Zach Ertz and the Arizona Cardinals have agreed to a three-year deal worth $31.65 million, per Tom Pelissero. At 31 years old, Ertz has likely landed his last big cash-in. Ertz is still productive, combining for 74 catches, 763 yards, and five touchdowns between the Cardinals and Eagles.

  • Who are the top free agents available?

    FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 24: A New England Patriots helmet during the first half of the game between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Despite a lot of signings and tradings already taking place before the start of free agency, it’s still a strong open market in the NFL. Click here to read about the top-20 free agents available entering Monday.

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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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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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10 biggest needs for the Patriots heading into free agency

  • It’s that time a year once again. NFL free agency has arrived, meaning it’s time to fully put the 2021 Patriots in the rearview mirror as the team builds its roster for 2022.

    The Patriots have come a long way over the last 52 weeks. This time last year, the roster needed a near-total overhaul. Entering the new league year in 2022, the team has many more foundational pieces in place – and with those additions, less money to spend.

    Still, there are multiple positions on the roster that need attention. On top of filling in the holes from last year’s squad, the team has 21 of its own players set to be free agents (you can find the full list of those players here).

    For the purpose of this list, we won’t include those players in the 2022 outlook (because they’re not under contract). However, some may be more likely to return than others, which is factored in.

    Of course, the Patriots can address any of these needs through both free agency and/or the draft. The depth of those classes factors into this ranking – making it more ‘urgent’ needs than ‘biggest.’ Some spots may make more sense one way or the other, but this is where things stand heading into free agency.

    Patriots pending free agents in italics

  • 10. Backup QB

    Aug 29, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer (5) throws the ball against the New York Giants during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

    This might be a little higher on the list if not for Jarrett Stidham, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal. Still, the relationship between Mac Jones and pending free agent Brian Hoyer was an important one for the young quarterback’s development.

    According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Hoyer is likely to return. However, other teams with young QB’s could see what he did for Jones and make an aggressive push to get him in their rooms. On the off chance Hoyer doesn’t end up back in New England, it’d make sense for the Patriots to find another veteran with starting experience to work with Jones, especially after losing both quarterback coaches from the 2021 staff (Josh McDaniels, Bo Hardegree).

    Free agent names to know: Brian Hoyer, Mike Glennon, Joe Flacco, Colt McCoy, Geno Smith, Chase Daniel

  • 9. Free safety

    ATLANTA, GEORGIA – NOVEMBER 18: Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots intercepts a pass against the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 18, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    Free safety is one of the most important positions in the Patriots’ defensive scheme, and Devin McCourty has played that spot at an incredibly high level for a decade. Getting him back on a one-year, $9 million deal was big. If he had hit the open market, this position would have been much higher on this list.

    Still, adding a young player as a possible heir apparent to the role down the road could be a solid move for the right cost. Having that player play alongside McCourty could be a valuable teaching experience, and add some depth in the short term (this would best be addressed during the draft). A veteran depth option wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

    Free agent names to know: Marcus Williams, Marcus Maye, Quandre Diggs, Duron Harmon, DeShon Elliott, Tavon Wilson

  • 8. Fullback

    Nov 28, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots fullback Jakob Johnson (47) during warm ups prior to a game against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    By not tendering Jakob Johnson, the Patriots will head into the offseason without a fullback on their roster. If the power run game is going to remain a central part of the offense, that will need to be rectified. Johnson could still return – non-tendering him doesn’t mean the team doesn’t want him back, just that they didn’t want to pay him the tender amount (min. $2.43 million).

    At the same time, this could signal a change in offensive philosophy. With Josh McDaniels not in the building for the first time in a decade, could the approach change? We’ve seen the team bring in more versatile fullbacks in recent years (Dan Vitale, Dalton Keene) although none have stuck to this point.

    Free agent names to know: Jakob Johnson, Alex Ingold, Patrick Ricard, Andy Janovich, Elijhaa Penny, Michael Burton

  • 7. Kicker

    Sep 19, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New England Patriots kicker Nick Folk (6) kicks a field goal as punter Jake Bailey (7) holds during the second half against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 19, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New England Patriots kicker Nick Folk (6) kicks a field goal as punter Jake Bailey (7) holds during the second half against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

    This is another positional need that could and likely will be solved by bringing back a veteran. Nick Folk was one of the best kickers in football last year, and without an obvious replacement on the roster it would make sense for the Patriots to want him back.

    Despite a successful year in 2020, Folk wasn’t re-signed by the Patriots last season until a week into free agency. However, Folk’s market will likely be stronger this time around – he’s had back-to-back successful seasons after spending a year out of the league. If he’s willing to listen to offers elsewhere, the Patriots may need to make him more of a priority this time around. Yet, he’s spoken highly of his time in New England and may not be looking for a change at 37 years old.

    Free agent names to know: Nick Folk, Greg Zuerlein, Younghoe Koo, Joey Slye

  • 6. Strong side defensive end/EDGE defender

    Aug 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy (53) at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy (53) at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

    Henry Anderson didn’t seem to get a ton of time with the first unit in the preseason last year, then played sparingly in four games before getting hurt. Meanwhile, Chase Winovich’s status remains an enigma – he played just 14 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last year. When on the field, he projects as more of a weakside rusher, a role handled well by Matthew Judon. Winovich is also entering the last year of his rookie deal.

    That’s all a long way of saying the Patriots could use a big body to play opposite Judon and next to Christian Barmore to sure up their defensive line. Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise are penciled into that role right now, but finding a player with more three-down potential could add to the dynamic of the defensive front. Recently-released Trey Flowers would be a great fit for that role and they could also look for an outside linebacker to contribute in that sense – especially after releasing Kyle Van Noy. Either way, there will be options available in both free agency and the draft.

    Free agent names to know: Trey Flowers, Melvin Ingram, Charles Harris, Uchenna Nwosu

  • 5. Pass-catching running back

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 12: James White #28 of the New England Patriots makes a catch past the reach of Jerome Baker #55 of the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 12: James White #28 of the New England Patriots makes a catch past the reach of Jerome Baker #55 of the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    One of the more understated storylines of the 2021 Patriots was how much the offense missed James White. White turned 30 in February and heads to free agency as he works his way back from his hip injury. 32-year-old Brandon Bolden, who for the most part filled in for White in the third down back role, is also set to be a free agent.

    Last year, there were only nine running backs (including Bolden) over the age of 30 to play eight or more games in the entire NFL. Even if White and/or Bolden return, adding youth to a group that plays such a crucial role in the offense is something the Patriots should look to do this offseason. They usually address running back needs in the draft, but with only six picks could end up looking to free agency this time around.

    Meanwhile, the Patriots early-down backs were some of their most exciting players in 2021 in Damien Harris and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson. Both remain under contract, although Harris is entering the final year of his rookie deal.

    Free agent names to know: James White, Brandon Bolden, Cordarrelle Patterson, Chase Edmonds, Marlon Mack, Justin Jackson, Darrel Williams, Phillip Lindsay

  • 4. Wide receiver

    Oct 3, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson (12) catches the ball for a first down in the second half against Detroit Lions defensive back Bobby Price (27) at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

    Why isn’t wide receiver higher on this list? The Patriots have NFL-caliber players across the board here, and some depth as well. There may not be the top-end talent some fans are looking for, but the unit was able to be the sixth-highest scoring offense in the NFL in 2021. At the same time, there are other positions where the team simply doesn’t have enough bodies – starters or backups – and will need to invest heavily just to get the depth chart set.

    That being said, an upgrade at wide receiver could go a long way for the Patriots’ offense. They’ve reportedly been doing their due diligence on a number of outside receivers both in free agency and the draft (another reason this is a less-urgent need is it being such a strong receiver draft class – they’ll have their chances to add).

    Meanwhile in the slot, the team tendered restricted free agent Jakobi Meyers on Sunday at the second-round level. That makes it highly likely Meyers will return in 2021, but the team could look to upgrade or bring in another option if Meyers leaves after this season. They’ve been linked to a handful of slot receivers over the past few weeks.

    Free agent names to know: Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Allen Robinson, Allen Lazard, Marquez-Valdes Scantling, D.J. Chark, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Will Fuller, Emmanuel Sanders, Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios, Christian Kirk, Jakeem Grant, DaeSean Hamilton

  • 3. Inside linebacker

    ATLANTA, GEORGIA – NOVEMBER 18: Ja’Whaun Bentley #8 of the New England Patriots and Dont’a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots react after a turnover in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 18, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    The Patriots are in line for a major reset at middle linebacker. Both Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley are set to be free agents after playing over 600 defensive snaps last season. If those two aren’t retained, a full-on restock of the room with established starting-caliber veterans and/or premium draft picks could be on the way.

    Beyond Hightower and Bentley, the Patriots don’t have much proven depth in the middle. Raekwon McMillan, Terez Hall, and Cameron McGrone all offer upside but are coming back off major injuries. Plus, that would be a very young group for a position Belichick values veteran leadership at. At the very least, even if those are the players the Patriots are going to lean on moving forward, adding a contributing-level veteran – whether it’s Hightower, Bentley, or somebody new – would make sense.

    Free agent names to know: Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Leighton Vander Esch, Josey Jewell, Anthony Barr, Alec Ogletree, Bobby Wagner

  • 2. Tackle

    Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown (77) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown (77) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    Not left tackle, not right tackle. Tackle. Both spots are likely immediate or near-immediate needs for the Patriots.

    Trent Brown was last year’s starting right tackle when healthy. He’s a pending free agent who could chase another big-money deal. Even if he returns to New England, their history in these types of situations would suggest that would likely be on another one-year deal.

    At the same time, starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn is entering the final year of his rookie deal. There have been questions about Wynn’s fit in New England and his ability to stay healthy (he’s missed 31 games in four years due to injury, including his entire rookie year). He may need to be replaced next year.

    Tackle is a position the Patriots tend to try and stay ahead on, instead of replacing those players as they leave. Replacing Brown will be a tough enough job – on top of that, they have to decide between extending Wynn, potentially adding another tackle as his eventual replacement, or dealing with another on-the-fly replacement next year.

    There is one unknown here that could make handling the situation easier for the Patriots than it seems from the outside. After playing exclusively at guard in college, Michael Onwenu moved to tackle at rookie and looked like a star. Last year, the team moved him back inside to guard with mixed results, and he ended up on the bench at the end of the year.

    Heading into year three, it would make sense for the team to settle on a long-term position for Onwenu and let him develop at one spot. If they view him as a tackle long-term, he’d be Brown’s likely replacement this year. If they view him as a guard, he steps in for pending free agent Ted Karras, and the tackle outlook is as described above. Based on how they handled things last year though, the former seems to be the case.

    It’s also worth noting tackle is a position the Patriots have historically addressed almost exclusively through the draft under Belichick. Of course there are exceptions (Brown was acquired via trade), but as big of a need as it is this feels like a spot they’re more likely to address in April.

    Free agent names to know: Trent Brown, Morgan Moses, Riley Reiff, Germain Ifedi, Brandon Shell

  • 1. Boundary cornerback

    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

    Realistically, cornerback could have been listed twice in the top three spots. This was a major need for the team before it was reported that they didn’t plan on using the franchise tag on J.C. Jackson, a move many expected.

    If the Patriots want to continue playing press-man defense, they need strong man corners on the outside. Right now, the depth chart on the outside is Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams, and then Justin Bethel (meanwhile, the team remains strong in the slot with Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, and Shaun Wade).

    The Patriots had seemingly the ideal setup for their secondary during the 2019 season. Two strong man outside corners in Jackson and Stephon Gilmore, Jones in the slot, Jason McCourty as a rover third cornerback/second deep safety, Devin McCourty as the primary deep safety, and Patrick Chung in the box. With that combination of players on the backend, the linebackers were able to focus on playing downhill and asked to contribute in coverage – something that was an issue for New England in 2021.

    To get back to that defensive mold, the Patriots need to add two starting-caliber cornerbacks (moving Mills to the rover role), or at least one starting-caliber corner and then another rover. Boundary cornerback is one of the toughest positions to add to in the league, especially when looking for guys who play the game the way the Patriots want. It’s not impossible to do this offseason, but they have their work cut out for them here.

    Free agent names to know: Carlton Davis, Stephon Gilmore, Casey Hayward Jr., Darious Williams, Charvarius Ward, Eli Apple, Rasul Douglas, Joe Haden, James Bradberry (trade candidate)

  • With that, let the free agent frenzy begin! Make sure to check back in in April, when we’ll reset the team needs heading into the NFL Draft.

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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.

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