2022 NFL Free Agency has been one of the wildest times in the league in recent memory. From Russell Wilson being traded from the Seattle Seahawks to the Denver Broncos […]
2022 NFL Free Agency has been one of the wildest times in the league in recent memory. From Russell Wilson being traded from the Seattle Seahawks to the Denver Broncos and Von Miller signing with the Buffalo Bills to the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs unloading Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill, as well Tom Brady un-retiring and giving it one more go with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there’s been a little bit of everything this offseason.
As the dust begins to settle and the 2022 NFL Draft approaches, who are the best teams in the NFL as currently constructed? While signing Miller put the Bills over the top? Can Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams repeat as Super Bowl champions? Will Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals be back, after making some offseason upgrades? What about other new-look teams like Matt Ryan’s Indianapolis Colts or Deshaun Watson’s Cleveland Browns?
Read on for my full Post-Free Agency Power Rankings, and if you’d like to debate or discuss any rankings, join the conversation with @SakSports on Twitter.
The Buffalo Bills finished the 2021-22 regular season strong, pulled off the NFL’s first ever perfect offensive game in the playoffs against the Patriots, and fell just short to the Chiefs in overtime in the divisional round of the playoffs. Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and the Bills were already on the cusp of breaking through to the next level. Now, after signing linebacker Von Miller to a massive deal, the Bills are locked and loaded to become even stronger in 2022. I do think Buffalo will miss the production of the reliable Cole Beasley, but behind Allen’s big arm and playmaking ability, Diggs’ receiving skills, and a talented defense, the Bills look like the best team in the NFL on paper.
Los Angeles Rams [Final 2021 Ranking: 4]
Fresh off a Super Bowl 56 victory over the Bengals, the Los Angeles Rams have all the tools necessary to run it back and compete for Super Bowl 57. Not every single key contributor will be back: with Von Miller in Buffalo, Robert Woods traded to Tennessee, Andrew Whitworth retiring, and Odell Beckham Jr. both injured and unsigned. But the Rams still have Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Cam Akers, Aaron Donald, and Jalen Ramsey, among other talented players. Los Angeles also nabbed former Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson in free agency to deepen the receiving corps. The Rams should be able to pick up where they left off next season and compete for the elusive chance at back-to-back Super Bowl runs. Los Angeles also added linebacker Bobby Wagner on a one-year deal to fill Miller’s absence and bolster their defense.
Kansas City Chiefs [Final 2021 Ranking: 2]
The Kansas City Chiefs got off to a shaky start last season before rattling off a long win streak, earning the #2 seed in the AFC, and taking out the Steelers and Bills in the postseason. Through one half of the AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs seem destined for their third straight Super Bowl appearance, until Patrick Mahomes and an uncannily bad second half that allowed Joe Burrow and the Bengals to advance to Super Bowl 56. Still, if that game were played ten times, I gander the Chiefs would have won seven or eight of them. Kansas City was undeniably one of the strongest teams in the NFL last season, and even after trading superstar wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins, the Chiefs will be just fine in 2022. Is it possible Kansas City is slow out of the gate again next season? Of course, and the AFC West is better than ever, so starting slow could come back to bite them in the final standings. But at the end of the day, the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes, the best quarterback in the NFL, Travis Kelce, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and newly signed wideouts JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. While the Chiefs defense is taking a hit with the anticipated departure of Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City will still win most games on the back of Mahomes and the offense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers [Final 2021 Ranking: 3]
Everything changed when Tom Brady announced he would be returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for his 23rd NFL season. Without him, the Buccaneers would have been a middle of the pack team, but with last year’s leading passer back, Tampa Bay is set to compete for their second Super Bowl in three seasons. The Buccaneers retained Chris Godwin, Ryan Jensen, and Leonard Fournette to keep their offense in tact, as well as traded for Patriots guard Shaq Mason and signed wide receiver Russell Gage. The Buccaneers are a shoo-in to win the weak NFC South and make the playoffs, but anything short of a Super Bowl appearance will feel like a failure on Brady’s end.
Cincinnati Bengals [Final 2021 Ranking: 7]
Call me crazy, but I don’t think the Cincinnati Bengals were the second-best team in the NFL last season, or even in the Top Five for that matter: but they still nearly won Super Bowl 56 nonetheless. It’s not a sleight to Joe Burrow and the Bengals, they got hot at the exact right time and made an incredible playoff run, knocking off the top-seeded Tennessee Titans and heavily-favored Kansas City Chiefs. But my point is, while last year’s run took just a bit of a perfect storm of circumstances, Cincinnati should be organically better next season. Joe Burrow enters his third season, with postseason experience under his belt. Ja’Marr Chase should also improve, if that’s even possible for the talented young receiver. The Bengals also addressed their porous offensive line in the offseason, adding Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, and La’el Collins. Cincinnati will be even better team in 2022 than they were in 2021, don’t let the #5 ranking fool you.
Baltimore Ravens [Final 2021 Ranking: 17]
You won’t find the Baltimore Ravens this high on many analysts radars, but I’m a firm believer that Baltimore was the best team in the AFC North last season: their season just fell apart after Lamar Jackson’s injury. The Ravens were 8-3 and in the driver’s seat for a top seed in the AFC playoffs before losing out to miss the postseason altogether: but five of those six losses came by three points or fewer. Just getting Jackson back on the field will be a big boost for the Ravens, who are still contenders in my eyes. The only reason Cincinnati ranks higher right now is not their postseason success, but their free agency moves to upgrade Burrow’s offensive line. The Ravens filled a key need with the addition of safety Marcus Williams, but have otherwise remained patient in free agency. Baltimore has nine picks in the first four rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft, so the Ravens could certainly be adding new key contributors soon.
Green Bay Packers [Final 2021 Ranking: 1]
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers finished with the best record in the league last season at 13-4: and an even more impressive at 13-2 when Rodgers played from start to finish during the regular season. Green Bay then laid a dud against the 49ers at home in the playoffs before enduring a couple months of resurgent Rodgers-contract drama. The Packers ultimately retained Rodgers on a massive $150 million deal, but Green Bay has since dealt All-Pro wide receiver and Rodgers’ go-to target Davante Adams and lost reliable wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling to the Chiefs in free agency. On the defensive side of the ball, stud linebacker Za’Darius Smith (who did miss the majority of the 2021-22 season) skipped town for the division rival Vikings. Rodgers has the talent to make an offense work with less, but just how minimalist can the Packers go at wide receiver before the offense takes a serious hit? I still see the Packers winning the NFC North, but they won’t be the juggernaut they were last regular season and certainly won’t earn the conference’s top seed.
Denver Broncos [Final 2021 Ranking: 22]
Plenty of teams went big at quarterback this offseason, but none more so than the Denver Broncos. Landing Russell Wilson upgrades Denver’s prospects from a middle-of-the-road team that finished 7-10 last season to a legitimate contender to win the AFC West, the AFC, and even the Super Bowl. Even after trading away Von Miller last season, the Broncos defense remained pretty tough. And with Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and Albert Okwuegbunam having a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback throwing to them, Wilson’s offense should be able to overcome Denver’s biggest shortcoming from last season: getting the ball in the endzone.
Los Angeles Chargers [Final 2021 Ranking: 12]
It’s a shame I can’t put the Los Angeles Chargers even higher to reflect their excellent offseason. After missing the postseason by a overtime Week 18 loss last season, the Chargers went out and revamped their suspect defense through free agency and trades. Los Angeles acquired All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack from Chicago, signed cornerback J.C. Jackson, and bolstered their defensive line with Sebastian Joseph-Day. With Justin Herbert already emerging as one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, along with the retention of top pass-catcher Mike Williams, the Chargers should be even better in 2022. The only drawback for the Chargers is playing in a loaded AFC West, where I currently see them as the third-best team despite some pretty bold improvements.
Indianapolis Colts [Final 2021 Ranking: 14]
Carson Wentz, Jonathan Taylor, and the Indianapolis Colts looked playoff-bound in the final month of last season before falling apart down the stretch and losing to Jaguars in Week 18 in a “win-and-in” playoff scenario. Ouch. But the progress Indianapolis has made towards elevating Jonathan Taylor to be a Top Two running back in the league, along with the emergence of Michael Pittman Jr. at wide receiver, won’t go to waste as Indianapolis acquired Matt Ryan from the Falcons to be their next quarterback. While the upgrade may not seem huge, I trust Ryan to run the offense a lot more efficiently than Wentz did. The Colts could still use some depth at wide receiver behind Pittman Jr., but are otherwise a well-rounded team that should be able to compete for the AFC South crown, and then some.
Tennessee Titans [Final 2021 Ranking: 8]
The Tennessee Titans finished first in the AFC last regular season, and the majority of the band is back together for 2022. Ryan Tannehill, A.J. Brown, and Derrick Henry will all be back, while Julio Jones is off the roster after a disappointing year in Tennessee. The Titans still possess a strong defense, and made one of the best value moves of the offseason, landing wide receiver Robert Woods from the Rams for just a sixth-round draft pick. So why isn’t Tennessee a Top Ten team? Simply put, other teams have done more to load up, and I’m afraid this Titans team may have already hit its peak. Tennessee could easily prove me wrong with another smash mouth season from Henry and the defense.
San Francisco 49ers [Final 2021 Ranking: 11]
The San Francisco 49ers are a hard team to peg for me. The 49ers snuck into the playoffs in the final week of the season, and even made it to and nearly won the 2022 NFC Championship Game over the Rams. While the 49ers didn’t enter the postseason as serious Super Bowl contenders, maybe they should have: after all, the core from their Super Bowl 54 appearance is still very much present. The biggest question heading in to the new season is how the team will handle the Jimmy Garoppolo/Trey Lance situation. When the team is firing on all cylinders, Deebo Samuel is producing, and the offensive line is wreaking havoc on the opposition, the 49ers are one of the best teams in the league. But right now, I’m just not certain they will play that way for a full 17-game season.
Las Vegas Raiders [Final 2021 Ranking: 13]
The Las Vegas Raiders ended their up-and-down season on a high note last year, qualifying for the playoffs with a Week 18 overtime win over the Chargers. Las Vegas lost to the eventual AFC Champion Bengals in the first round, but spent the offseason re-tooling to compete in a loaded AFC West. The Raiders made a big splash, acquiring All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams from the Packers to give Derek Carr a shiny new toy to complement Darren Waller at tight end. Throw in a Chandler Jones signing to bolster the pass-rush, and the Raiders should be a pretty good team in 2022.
Arizona Cardinals [Final 2021 Ranking: 10]
Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals suffered one of the most brutal fall-off’s in the league in the second half of last season. After starting 7-0, the Cardinals went 4-6 down the stretch to finish 11-6 with a wildcard position, as opposed to what seemed like an NFC West championship season. However, a lot of blame for that collapse can be placed on star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins being sidelined down the stretch. With Hopkins back at Murray’s disposal, I think the Cardinals will be good again, but maybe not 7-0 start good. Arizona has lost receivers A.J. Green and Christian Kirk as well as pass-rusher Chandler Jones, among other contributors from last year’s team.
Dallas Cowboys [Final 2021 Ranking: 6]
Last season, Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys went 12-5 and scored an NFL-high 31.2 points per game. Prescott threw for 4,449 yards, Ezekiel Elliot rushed for 1,102 yards, and CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and tight end Dalton Schultz all caught at least 68 passes for 800 yards and six touchdowns. But Dallas struggled to win big games against teams with winning records, and that trend continued with a Wildcard Round loss to the 49ers last postseason. While this always feels like a “maybe next year team,” Dallas may take a step back in 2022 with the departures of Cooper and tackle La’el Collins. The Cowboys also missed out on Randy Gregory after a last-minute change of heart saw the pass-rusher sign with Denver. Dallas did sign Dante Fowler in a pass-rushing role, but the net result of free agency seems to be negative for the Cowboys.
Cleveland Browns [Final 2021 Ranking: 21]
The Cleveland Browns made the biggest, boldest, most expensive, highest risk, highest reward move of the offseason: trading for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson following the end of his ongoing criminal lawsuits, and breaking the bank to extend him as their long-term quarterback. Could a resurgent Watson lead the Browns to the top of the AFC? In a best-case scenario, yes. But there’s too many risks (will Watson be suspended? Will his play be rusty? Will the team rally behind him?) for me to peg these Browns as contenders. Cleveland’s offense will also miss Jarvis Landry, but found a suitable replacement by trading for Amari Cooper.
Miami Dolphins [Final 2021 Ranking: 16]
Last season, the Miami Dolphins turned a 1-7 start in to a 9-8 finish with eight straight victories: there was a good team hidden within Miami’s roster. Ideally the Dolphins can pick up where they left off, but there’s been some major changes: Brian Flores is out as head coach, and the Dolphins used their NFL-high cap space to make aggressive moves to revamp Tua Tagovailoa’s offense. Left tackle Terron Armstead will keep Tagovailoa upright, running backs Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert will provide speed and versatility out of the backfield, and in one of the biggest moves of the offseason, Miami traded for the lightning-fast Tyreek Hill. Miami even spent at backup quarterback, bringing in Teddy Bridgewater to make sure if things go south with Tagovailoa, there’s another viable option on the roster. We still have to see how the new additions will translate to on-field success, and I’m skeptical that Hill will be as valuable in Miami as he was in Kansas City, but nonetheless, this is a team on the rise.
New England Patriots [Final 2021 Ranking: 9]
In the second half of last season, it looked like Bill Belichick and figured out the formula to post-Tom Brady success with Mac Jones at quarterback. But the New England Patriots sputtered to the finish, losing the AFC East lead to the Bills and then getting absolutely embarrassed by Buffalo in the postseason, with New England turning in one of the worst defensive performances in playoff history. New England was a Top Ten team for the second half of last season, but I don’t think they’ve done enough to keep up this offseason. Getting Davante Parker from the Dolphins was a necessary upgrade to the receiving corps, but after letting J.C. Jackson walk and trading starting guard Shaq Mason, I can’t say the Patriots are better today than they were three months ago.
Minnesota Vikings [Final 2021 Ranking: 18]
The Minnesota Vikings will largely return the same core roster from an up-and-down, 8-9 season in 2021. Having Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen will allow the Vikings to remain an offensive force in the league. Minnesota was able to beat Green Bay and Pittsburgh last season, as well as go toe-to-toe with Arizona, Cincinnati, the Los Angeles Rams, Dallas, and Baltimore. In fact, one-score losses were the name of the game for the Vikings last season, with eight of their nine losses coming by eight points or less. Signing linebacker Za’Darius Smith is a great step in the right direction for the defense, but more work is probably necessary before the Vikings are a well-rounded team.
Philadelphia Eagles [Final 2021 Ranking: 19]
We’re getting further down the list, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see the Philadelphia Eagles as a playoff contender. The Eagles finished 9-8 with a wildcard spot last season, and with the Cowboys set to potentially regress, the NFC East could be ripe for the taking. Jalen Hurts should be even better in his third season as he continues to evolve as a passer. Philadelphia finished 25h in passing offense last season, but still achieved the 12th-highest points per game (26.1) by virtue of the league’s top rushing offense. DeVonta Smith, last year’s first round draft selection, should also be better in 2022 after finishing just shy of 1,000 receiving yards in his rookie season. In terms of additions, the Eagles began to address an 18th-ranked defense with the signing of sack-happy linebacker Haason Reddick.
New Orleans Saints [Final 2021 Ranking: 20]
With a healthy Jameis Winston, the New Orleans Saints were an above average team last season. The former Buccaneers quarterback wasn’t asked to do much, but with versatile Alvin Kamara at his side, speedy , young wide receivers at his disposal, and the head coaching abilities of Sean Payton, the Saints offense worked pretty well. Winston and Kamara are back, with Pro Bowl wide receiver Michael Thomas also expected to make a return, but without Payton, the team seems to lose some of its identity.
Pittsburgh Steelers [Final 2021 Ranking: 15]
The Pittsburgh Steelers are high on the list of teams that will face an identity change in 2022. Ben Roethlisberger has retired after 18 seasons, and number one wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster left town for Kansas City. Enter Mitch Trubisky, getting his second chance at being an NFL starter after sitting back and learning from Josh Allen a bit in Buffalo. Trubisky will be an upgrade in many ways from an aging Roethlisberger, more physically equipped to play today’s NFL game. The Steelers have some weapons, including second-year running back Najee Harris, 1,000-yard receiver Diontae Johnson, and playmaker Chase Claypool , as well as Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, Myles Jack, and Minkah Fitzpatrick on defense. Perhaps one of the Steelers best assets is head coach Mike Tomlin, who will attempt to keep the franchise’s winning ways after sneaking into the playoffs at 9-7-1 last season despite a 21st-ranked offense.
Washington Commanders [Final 2021 Ranking: 23]
Washington Football Team, as the team was called last season, was a gritty squad, and offensively weren’t as bad as people thought with Taylor Heinicke at quarterback. Washington’s defense was certainly a sore spot and major reason for the team’s 7-10, non-playoff finish. Now, re-branded as the Washington Commanders, the franchise has acquired Carson Wentz to quarterback the team after missing out on bigger stars like Russell Wilson. Wentz is sill an upgrade, but his presence alone may not be enough to right the ship overnight.
Chicago Bears [Final 2021 Ranking: 26]
There may be an NFL-caliber quarterback within Justin Fields, but the Chicago Bears were too much of a mess last season for it to shine. Between the revolving door at quarterback, injuries on both sides of the ball, and questionable coaching decisions from now-fired Matt Nagy, Chicago never got to hit their stride in 2021. Just giving it another go in 2022, with new head coach Matt Eberflus, should almost certainly yield better results. Chicago did lose Allen Robinson in free agency, and will need to find playmakers to surround Fields with if the offense wishes to succeed in today’s NFL. The Bears also ditched linebacker Khalil Mack in a trade with the Chargers: a move that helps Chicago cap-wise but will ultimately hurt the defensive side of the ball.
Atlanta Falcons [Final 2021 Ranking: 25]
The Atlanta Falcons had an outside shot at the playoffs down the stretch last season, but finished 7-10, a pretty impressive mark considering their lackluster scoring and subpar defense. With Matt Ryan out of the picture, it’s likely a rebuilding time in Atlanta. Marcus Mariota is a serviceable starter for sure, and he’ll have weapons like Calvin Ridley, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Kyle Pitts. But with last year’s 31-st ranked rushing offense, 26th-ranked scoring offense, and 30th-ranked scoring defense the Falcons may be due for a big dip in the win column in 2022.
Carolina Panthers [Final 2021 Ranking: 31]
After starting 3-0, the Carolina Panthers completely fell off to finish an embarrassing 5-12, losing their final seven games. But Sam Darnold and Christian McCaffrey weren’t on the field for the majority of the suffering. Getting their starting quarterback and running back healthy on the field won’t make the Panthers a playoff contender overnight, but hopefully the on-field product won’t be as brutal in 2022.
Seattle Seahawks [Final 2021 Ranking: 24]
The news felt surreal when it broke, but the Seattle Seahawks actually ended their highly successful marriage with Russell Wilson after a down season in 2021. Perhaps the organization felt their roster deteriorating over time, in the post-Legion of Boom era, and wanted to maximize their return for the star quarterback. But in today’s NFL, a dynamic superstar quarterback (Wilson) and a game-breaking wide receiver (DK Metcalf) are usually enough to at least be competitive, making the move even more head-scratching to me. Seattle got a decent haul for Wilson, and may not necessarily be a bottom of the barrel team with Drew Lock at quarterback in 2022. But Seattle’s ceiling with their new-look roster isn’t especially high either.
New York Jets [Final 2021 Ranking: 28]
The New York Jets enter the second season of the Zach Wilson-Robert Saleh era, and general manager Joe Douglas has brought some upgrades to the team. Cornerback D.J. Reed and safety Jordan Whitehead will bolster the secondary, while Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah provide needed security at the tight end position. The Jets may have swung and missed on big targets like Tyreek Hill, but that might be a good thing. As nice as it would be for Wilson to have a true number one target, I don’t think the Jets are just a receiver away from contention. Instead, building through the 2021 NFL Draft, where New York has two Top Ten picks, will be key moving forward.
Detroit Lions [Final 2021 Ranking: 27]
The Detroit Lions were a gritty team in 2021, and certainly shouldn’t be the worst team in the league in 2022. Jared Goff is a serviceable NFL starter, and he’s got weapons like Amon-Ra St. Brown, T.J. Hockenson, D’Andre Swift, and the newly-signed D.J. Chark. Detroit’s defense and depth could still use some upgrading, but the Lions should be moving forwards, not backwards in 2022.
New York Giants [Final 2021 Ranking: 32]
The New York Giants cleaned house once again, this time bringing in half of the Buffalo Bills organization after hiring Joe Schoen as general manager and Brian Daboll has head coach. The Giants were relatively quiet in free agency, handcuffed by their cap situation, but did bring in veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor for some necessary insurance at the quarterback position. The Giants will likely give it one more go with Daniel Jones and Saquon Barley before deciding which direction to take the franchise moving forward.
Jacksonville Jaguars [Final 2021 Ranking: 30]
In free agency, the Jacksonville Jaguars went BIG, but I’m afraid they’re still one of the least talented teams in the NFL. The Jaguars got second-year Trevor Lawrence some new targets in wide receivers Christian Kirk (probably overpaying him) and Zay Jones as well as tight end Evan Engram. Brandon Scherff should shore up the offensive line, and defensive additions like cornerback Darious Williams should help the defense improve in 2022. But the Jaguars are still multiple pieces away from contention or even relevancy, and to be honest, I’m still not sold on Trevor Lawrence.
Houston Texans [Final 2021 Ranking: 29]
I like some of what the Houston Texans have going on, and Davis Mills isn’t a bad option at quarterback for now. The Texans also have a boatload of pics as a result of the Deshaun Watson trade, so the future is certainly bright. But right here, right now, the Texans are probably the weakest team in the NFL, pre-draft.
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