Wednesday, December 6, 2023

NFL Free Agency 2022: Tyrann Mathieu, Stephon Gilmore among top 10 remaining free agents

NFL free agency is now into the second week after a rapid start with players being signed across the league, but there are still plenty of quality players still available, including Stephon Gilmore — No. 1 among our top players available. 

As teams start to put pen to paper on these free agent contracts, there are still plenty of talented players out there for contending teams to snatch. Unfortunately for the quarterback-needy teams, none of them are quarterbacks.

Here are the top-10 free agents remaining, based on Pete Prisco’s top-100 list

1. Stephon Gilmore

Gilmore had an interesting 2021 season, not playing until he was traded from the New England Patriots to the Carolina Panthers. He had 16 tackles, two interceptions, and three passes defensed in nine games, yet still earned a Pro Bowl selection. Opposing quarterbacks targeting Gilmore had just a 57.9 passer rating when he was the primary defender, completing just 60% of their passes and tossing two touchdowns. 

Gilmore had a great year in 2020 (even if he only played 11 games). He was still one of the best cover corners in football, as opposing quarterbacks had just a 66.7 passer rating targeting him while completing 56.3% of their passes targeting him. Teams were still afraid to test Gilmore, targeting him just 48 times — which explains why he only ended up with three passes defended. 

The 31-year-old Gilmore will still have a strong market, but it’s hard to determine his value. 

2. Bobby Wagner

Wagner had a head start to free agency after he was released by the Seattle Seahawks last week — and he’s still near the top of his game. He finished with 170 tackles, three quarterback hits, a sack, five passes defensed, and a forced fumble in earning another Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection. 

Wagner has the most tackles in NFL since being drafted in 2012 (1,383). He’s the only player in NFL history who has 1,300 tackles, 20 sacks, 10 interceptions, and 50 passes defensed in his first 10 seasons. 

A future Hall of Famer, Wagner likely has plenty of elite-level play left. The 31-year-old will likely be able to choose where he wants to go. 

3. Tyrann Mathieu

The top safety left on the market, Mathieu finished with 76 tackles, three interceptions, and three passes defensed last season in earning another Pro Bowl selection. He allowed just a 65.9 passer rating in coverage when targeted as the primary defender.

The Chiefs moved on from Mathieu by agreeing to terms with Justin Reid, but Mathieu will have his suitors. His 26 interceptions since the start of the 2013 season (Mathieu’s rookie year) are tied for the most in the NFL amongst safeties. Another big contract is expected for Mathieu. 

4. Akiem Hicks

Hicks isn’t that far removed from his Pro Bowl season (2018), as the 32-year-old defensive tackle had 3.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits in nine games for the Chicago Bears last season. Hicks’ versatility will have some value for teams, as he can play the edge or line up inside. 

Only having 15 pressures in nine games, Hicks had 50 pressures the season prior. The days of Hicks, 32, earning a massive contract appear to be behind him, but he can be a nice pass rusher in a rotation and is still a good run stopper (had 17 run stops in 2021).

5. Jadeveon Clowney

Clowney had a bounce-back season with the Cleveland Browns after finishing the 2020 campaign without a single sack. The former No. 1 overall pick upped his sack total to nine in 2021, finishing with 37 tackles, 19 quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles as a reliable option opposite Myles Garrett

Finishing with 50 pressures and 32 quarterback hurries, Clowney showed flashes of the player who made three consecutive Pro Bowls from 2016 through 2018. Clowney had his most pressures and quarterback hits in a season since 2018, so he still possesses the ability to get to the quarterback. 

Best suited as a No. 2 defensive end, Clowney should thrive as the second pass rusher in a defense. 

6. Duane Brown

Left tackles are hard to find in this league, and Brown’s age is concerning at 36. He’s still at the top of his game after making the Pro Bowl last year, when he started all 17 games. The eight sacks Brown allowed are as many as in his last four years combined, and his five penalties were the most he’s committed in four years. 

Brown should have a strong market based on the value of offensive tackles. He still has a few good years of football left. 

7. Rob Gronkowski

With Tom Brady returning from his 40-day retirement, it’s entirely possible that Gronk will also return to the Buccaneers. He’s showed no signs of slowing down. An injury-riddled season caused Gronkowski to miss five games, but he still finished with 55 catches for 802 yards and six touchdowns. He also had nine catches for 116 yards and a touchdown in two postseason games. 

Gronkowski is fifth in NFL history for receiving yards by a tight end (9,286) and third in receiving touchdowns by a tight end (92). His 98 catches for 1,389 yards in the playoffs are the third-most by any player in postseason history, and his 15 receiving touchdowns are the second-most in playoff history. 

8. Odell Beckham Jr.

He finally looked to be back to his pre-injury self last year down the stretch, but then suffered another major knee injury in the Super Bowl. That’s why he’s down this low.

Beckham turned his 2021 season around since signing with the Rams after an ugly breakup from the Browns, recording 27 catches for 305 yards and five touchdowns in eight games. He had 21 catches for 288 yards and two touchdowns in four postseason games, having two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl LVI before going down with a knee injury. 

9. Derek Barnett

Barnett had a disappointing season for the Eagles in 2021, finishing with 46 tackles (seven for loss), 11 quarterback hits, and just two sacks in 16 games. The former first-round pick actually had more penalties than sacks last year. 

Recording 33 pressures and 18 run stops, Barnett didn’t have the type of career many in Philadelphia anticipated. Perhaps a fresh start will be what Barnett’s career needs. 

10. Melvin Ingram 

The three-time Pro Bowler helped solidify the Chiefs’ defense last season after being traded from Pittsburgh. Though he is no longer a headliner, Ingram is still a very capable pass rusher who is also stout against the run. He would be an ideal fit on a team that could use some depth at pass rusher. Ingram, as he showed in Kansas City, is also still capable of being an every-down player if called upon to do so. 

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