Sunday, July 14, 2024

Ranking potential free agents playing in Super Bowl 2022: Jessie Bates, Von Miller lead pack of potent talent

It’s time for the glitz and glamour of Super Bowl LVI, with the Los Angeles Rams playing host to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday evening. It’s a matchup that promises to electrify and is overrun with amazing storylines — from the blockbuster trade for Matthew Stafford (and Von Miller plus Odell Beckham Jr.) that helped lead the Rams to this point, to just how dominant former first overall pick Joe Burrow has been in his second year after also having suffered a torn ACL as a rookie. Toss in two dynamic receivers in Cooper Kupp and Ja’Marr Chase and you’ve got yourself a heavyweight fight.

But once the confetti settles and the lights go out at SoFi Stadium, no matter who leaves victorious, both teams will be immediately thrust into making offseason decisions as the league year sets to begin in mid-March and the NFL franchise tag deadline lands not long before. So ahead of The Big Game, let’s take a look at 15 of the most notable potential free agents set to take the field on Sunday, because you might see them in a different uniform in 2022.

15. Brandon Powell, WR

Initially signing with the Rams as a practice squad member on Nov. 4, he’s since proven his worth and then some. Powell has helped flip field position in critical moments for the Rams on the back end of the season, including a 61-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 16 — a game the Rams won by seven points to stretch their win streak at the time to four games. An undrafted talent grabbed by the Detroit Lions in 2018, Powell is already an NFL journeyman at the tender age of 25, but has emerged as a notable talent going into the Super Bowl.

14. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB

Hargreaves is part of a trio of Bengals cornerback talent set to hit the open market this offseason, alongside Eli Apple and Tre Flowers — the three leading the Cincinnati secondary to great improvement in 2021. It’s unlikely all will be retained by the Bengals, however, so other NFL teams might get a shot at landing the former 11th overall pick, a 26-year-old with strong upside and a ton of tread left on his pro tires, needing only to improve at his ability to take the ball away.

13. Eli Apple, CB

Apple is a curious one indeed, because he’s shown he can be great at times but not so much at others. Because of the former, he’ll garner interest in free agency, as he has in the past, and as a 26-year-old who is also a former 10th overall pick — literally picked one spot ahead of Hargreaves in 2016 — the two are on the same side this Sunday against the Rams; but will have competing interests in who gets the bigger offer from the Bengals (or other clubs interested in a young CB) in March.

12. Tre Flowers, CB

The third head in the Bengals cornerback hydra, Flowers is a 26-year-old who has made his way from being a fifth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks to a key player in the Bengals’ defensive plans, and that will serve him well in a few weeks. He’s not necessarily the ballhawk teams would like to see, but he’s been known to force a fumble or several and doesn’t shy away from contact. Like Hargreaves and Apple, he’ll be vying for attention from the Bengals for a possible return as well as free agency calls from around the league.

11. Darious Williams, CB

It’s raining free agent cornerbacks in the Super Bowl, and you can believe there are 30 general managers paying attention. For it’s not only the triumvirate in Cincinnati who’s set to see their contracts expire when the new league year opens, but also Williams in Los Angeles. The 28-year-old signed a one-year deal with the Rams in 2021 — a former undrafted free agent (2018) of the Baltimore Ravens — after having spent the last two seasons with the team. And while he’s struggled to grab interceptions this season, he produced six over the past two years (4 INTs in 2020 alone). 

10. Austin Corbett, OL

Here’s more young talent to be had from this year’s Super Bowl contestants, and at a position often viewed as the most important in football outside of the quarterback spot. Corbett is an offensive lineman who entered the league as a second-round pick for the Cleveland Browns in 2018 before making his way to the Rams in 2019 — having started in every game since landing in Los Angeles. Quality offensive line starters are tough to find, and the 26-year-old will land calls from suitors in 2022.

9. Quinton Spain, OL

The 30-year-old signed a one-year deal with the Bengals one offseason ago — marking his second with the team. He’d like to dig his heels in for a longer stay somewhere, likely preferably with a Cincinnati team that’s presently preparing for the Super Bowl with quarterback Joe Burrow set to lead the way for years to come — but like NFL teams around the league, the Bengals can’t keep everybody. That means Spain would either have to keep an open mind, and an open phone line as well. Spain started in 16 games for the Bengals during the regular season and took 95% of the offensive snaps at his position.

8. Riley Reiff, OL

Reiff joins Spain in being the other notable Bengals offensive lineman heading to free agency. The two were brought in to help bolster an O-line that was as porous as anyone had ever seen, and while there were struggles by the group again in 2021 — to say the least — Reiff is a veteran starter NFL teams will want to speak to this offseason. A former first-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2012, Reiff made a name for himself with the Minnesota Vikings before moving on the Cincinnati and his first shot at appearing in/winning a Super Bowl. 

7. Matt Gay, K (RFA)

Kickers need love, too, and especially in a league that’s seen such an awful downturn in effectiveness at the position. Gay has been a stellar for the Rams, and is a key reason they’re not sitting on a couch somewhere playing “what if” this week. As a restricted free agent, however, the Rams have some leverage here, seeing as they still own his rights. They’re not likely to let him walk scot-free and will instead look to tender him, as high as a second-round pick, and dare another club to pay that as compensation to potentially acquire him. In other words, he’ll likely stay right where he is, but he deserves key mention on a list of ranked Super Bowl free agents.

6. C.J. Uzomah, TE

Things got scary for Uzomah recently, when he was carted off of the field with in the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The tight end has no willingness to miss the “biggest game of his life,” though, so you’ll likely see him take the field against the Rams at SoFi Stadium — only two weeks after suffering injury that could’ve ended his season two weeks ago. Uzomah emerged as a top weapon for Burrow in Zac Taylor’s offense, and if it’s one thing NFL teams do love going after, it’s a tight end who can make plays.

5. Larry Ogunjobi, DT

While the Bengals were lucky enough to not lose Uzomah for The Big Game, their luck didn’t extend to Ogunjobi. Having signed a one-year deal with Cincinnati, the 27-year-old went on to deliver seven sacks for a defense that was much improved over years prior, but he suffered a broken foot in the Bengals’ postseason win over the Las Vegas Raiders. It’s a devastating blow to both Ogunjobi and the Bengals, but he’s expected to be fully healthy for the start of the 2022 season — somewhere (the Bengals would be wise to make sure it’s in Cincinnati).

4. Sony Michel, RB

There’s no other way to say it than to say it: the Rams might’ve been lost at the halfback position this season if not for Michel. After losing Cam Akers in training camp to a torn Achilles, the Rams didn’t simply hope for the best at the position — instead calling the New England Patriots to trade for Michel. They sent a 2022 fifth- and sixth-round pick in exchange for him, and all he did in return was rush for 845 yards and four rushing touchdowns, while adding another 128 receiving yards and one receiving TD to his stat line. Now healthy and seemingly away from the injury bug, he’ll be a top name to watch in free agency.

3. Odell Beckham Jr., WR

Talk about a resurrection. Many had long left OBJ for dead after the New York Giants divorced him by way of a blockbuster trade with the Cleveland Browns, and they felt their stance on Beckham emboldened after turmoil and controversy followed him to Ohio — mushrooming into angst aimed at Baker Mayfield from Beckham Sr. over the lack of targets to his son. Released from the Browns, the veteran wideout had several options but chose the Rams, and his career has be rejuvenated because of it, to the point that as the definitive complement for Cooper Kupp, he’s proven he hasn’t lost a step and that he actually is a team player (dispelling that narrative); and WR-needy teams are noticing.

2. Von Miller, OLB

Rumors of Miller’s demise were greatly exaggerated. The future Hall of Fame linebacker has one Super Bowl ring on his resume and is one step away from adding another, and it’s not because he’s being carried there. If anything, he’s helping to do the carrying, having returned from injury following his trade from the Denver Broncos to go on an absolute tear to end the regular season before making more noise in the postseason. It’s possible Miller returns home to Denver in 2022, but it’s equally possible he doesn’t — once his phone starts ringing with what will be very attractive offers.

1. Jessie Bates III, S

You really have to be epic to beat out Miller on this list, and Bates is most certainly that. The star safety would’ve liked the Bengals to make him an offer in good faith before things got to this point, but it didn’t happen. So Bates got back to work in being the dominant force he is at the safety position and helped lead a defensive unit full of new faces to Super Bowl LVI, in what could be his last game in a Bengals uniform. They’ll undoubtedly consider using the franchise tag to keep him from leaving, but with Bates already frustrated with the process, that would only make him more so — especially considering the Bengals have salary cap space to get his deal done yesterday. This will be a headline to watch following the Super Bowl.

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