This past NFL offseason was certainly one for the books. We saw several big free agents sign with new teams, multiple starting quarterbacks traded to new clubs, an interesting NFL Draft in which multiple star wideouts were traded and then of course arguably the greatest player of all time retired, and then unretired.
Everyone is excited for the start of the 2022 NFL season, but it's never too early to look ahead at what next offseason could look like. Believe it or not, it's possible next spring could be even more wild than this past one. Will Tom Brady retire or sign with another team? What does Lamar Jackson's future look like? And will the franchise-tagged players spurn their current teams for new ones?
Below, we will break down 25 of the top free agents set to hit the market next offseason. We created this list by guessing what the intrigue level would be for prospective suitors, and of course what position the players play. Let's go ahead and jump in.
25. RB Saquon Barkley
The former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year has dealt with injuries over the past few seasons, but could be poised for a bounce-back year under new head coach Brian Daboll. Running backs don't really "cash in" anymore, but Barkley could earn himself some nice money with a big campaign in 2022.
24. RB Tony Pollard
Pollard is coming off of a career season in which he recorded 1,056 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. Many are calling for more touches from Pollard, although Jerry Jones still calls Ezekiel Elliott the Dallas Cowboys' "feature" entering 2022. Whether Pollard puts together his best season or not, there is going to be an NFL team out there that will target him in free agency if he gets there, which is why he absolutely deserves a spot on this list.
23. RB David Montgomery
As you can see, we are getting the running backs out of the way early since these weapons aren't the ones that teams are pining after or ready to break the bank for. However, Montgomery is a special running back that has recorded at least 1,000 scrimmage yards and seven touchdowns in each of his first three seasons. Expect his stock to rise, as he figures to be a focal point on offense for the Chicago Bears this season.
22. DT Poona Ford
Undrafted in 2018 out of Texas, Ford is a defensive tackle that has gotten better each season. He recorded 53 combined tackles and two sacks in 2021, and could become a rich man this time next year with another big season.
21. DE Yannick Ngakoue
Ngakoue just turned 27, but he seems much older since he's about to play for his fifth different NFL team. He hasn't spent two straight seasons with one club since his tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars -- who drafted him in the third round back in 2016. Ngakoue got back on track last year with 10 sacks for the Las Vegas Raiders.
20. QB Baker Mayfield
Maybe Mayfield is too low on this list or maybe he shouldn't be included at all. The Cleveland Browns ditched their former No. 1 overall pick for Deshaun Watson this offseason, which honestly could be just the kick in the rear the fiery Mayfield needs. If he can prove himself with the Carolina Panthers this year, teams looking for their next quarterback will come calling.
19. DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
The versatile slot cornerback/safety recorded a career-high three interceptions in 2021, and new head coach Dennis Allen surely loves what he brings to his defense from a confidence standpoint. My best guess is that CGJ re-signs with the New Orleans Saints.
18. CB Marcus Peters
Peters is coming off of an ACL tear and will be 30 next offseason, but he's still a difference maker on defense. He was a Pro Bowler and First Team All-Pro in 2019, but it seems like this could be his final season in Baltimore. Any contender looking for a legitimate starting cornerback will probably be calling his agent next offseason.
17. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Smith-Schuster's best seasons came as a No. 2 wide receiver, which is why it was exciting when he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs to play alongside Tyreek Hill. After Hill was traded away, however, Smith-Schuster figures to be the new No. 1 wideout. He's obviously talented, and will benefit from working with Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. Smith-Schuster could end up cashing in next year if this change of scenery works.
16. EDGE Bradley Chubb
The cousin of Nick Chubb burst onto the scene as a rookie, recording 12 sacks after being selected No. 5 overall by the Denver Broncos in 2018. Chubb did make the Pro Bowl in 2020, but has missed a total of 24 games over the last three seasons. Chubb could rebound in 2022, and because of his position, earn a lucrative extension. He's going to have to stay healthy, though.
15. DT Javon Hargrave
The 29-year-old Hargrave earned his first Pro Bowl bid last year after a career campaign in which he recorded 7.5 sacks and 63 combined tackles. A veteran who is playing some of his best ball, Hargrave will surely have options next offseason.
14. DT Daron Payne
The Washington Commanders probably have the best defensive line in the NFL, and with headliners like Jonathan Allen and Chase Young, it almost makes Payne a bit underrated. Don't get it twisted though, Payne is a stud. Teams have even called Washington this offseason to see if he was available via trade. Last year, Payne totaled a career-high 61 combined tackles with 4.5 sacks (third-most on the team) and 15 QB hits.
13. CB James Bradberry
Bradberry is a reason why the Philadelphia Eagles are seen as a major winner of the offseason. Last year with the New York Giants, Bradberry recorded 47 combined tackles, 17 passes defensed and a career-high four interceptions. He took a step backwards from his Pro Bowl ways, but should fit right in opposite of Darius Slay. Bradberry will be 30-years-old next offseason, but teams surely will be interested in his services.
12. TE Mike Gesicki
Gesicki is one of the best tight ends in the NFL, although he's more of a receiver that isn't seen as an elite blocker. Still, he's a versatile target that can hurt defenses down the field, and while Tua Tagovailoa has more targets to throw to, that could open up things for Gesicki in the middle of the field. We saw how well Hill and Travis Kelce coexisted in Kansas City. Gesicki will play on the franchise tag in 2022, and new head coach Mike McDaniel has some experience game-planning around the tight end position.
11. OL Elgton Jenkins
The Pro Bowl offensive lineman tore his ACL last year, but Jenkins is a versatile piece that may be a rising star in this league. The Green Bay Packers lost Corey Linsley last offseason since his market value was so high, maybe the same thing happens with Jenkins.
10. TE Dalton Schultz
Schultz had a career year in 2021 and is just 25-years-old. It remains to be seen if last year was a flash in the pan or a sign of things to come, but Schultz will have the opportunity to again star in an offense that lost Amari Cooper and Ced Wilson this offseason.
9. OT Jack Conklin
The Tennessee Titans couldn't afford to keep their former No. 8 overall pick in the fold because of how good he was, so the Browns handed him a three-year deal worth $42 million. Conklin is still in the top 10 of highest-paid right tackles, per Over The Cap, and the 27-year-old could be set to cash in again after this season. Conklin was named First Team All-Pro in his first season in Cleveland, and then suffered a season-ending knee injury last year. Some may think Conklin is too high on this list, but a young, talented right tackle is a piece several franchises will target.
8. C Erik McCoy
The second-round pick out of Texas A&M has missed just four games in three NFL seasons, and is evolving into a star. McCoy is due for a nice payday, but one has to wonder if it will come from the Saints.
7. S Jessie Bates
Bates and the Cincinnati Bengals couldn't agree to an extension before the July 15 deadline, and now he's holding out of training camp. No one knows how this situation is going to end or if Bates will play for the Bengals again, but the 25-year-old is due big money. He recorded 88 combined tackles, one interception and four passes defensed in 2021 -- a step back from his 2020 All-Pro ways. Bates bounced back in the playoffs, however, as he recorded 11 combined tackles, two interceptions and six passes defensed in four postseason games.
6. LB Roquan Smith
Just 25-years-old, Smith is set to get paid. He has recorded at least 101 combined tackles in each of his four NFL seasons, and was named Second Team All-Pro in 2020 and 2021. Spotrac believes Smith is in line to sign a five-year, $88.18 million extension. That AAV of $17.6 million would make Smith the third highest-paid linebacker in the NFL. He's holding out of training camp right now, so maybe an extension is coming.
5. S Derwin James
James is another player that is currently holding in at training camp in hopes of a new deal, and it feels like he's going to get what he wants. After playing in just five total games in 2019 and 2020, James finally found a way to stay healthy in 2021, playing in 15 games and recorded a career-high 118 combined tackles, two sacks, five passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. He earned his second First Team All-Pro nod, and second Pro Bowl bid as well. The bottom line is that James is a well-rounded defensive playmaker that can wear several different hats on defense. The Los Angeles Chargers will probably find a way to keep him.
4. LT Orlando Brown Jr.
Brown will play the 2022 season on the franchise tag, but he's set to sign a massive extension at some point. The 26-year-old's first season with the Chiefs was a bit up and down, but he still earned his third straight Pro Bowl bid and showed that he could be a franchise left tackle. Some "high-ranking NFL executive" told ESPN that to him, Brown is more of a right tackle, and even said he's "lazy" in his play. But I don't see that. If you know the household Brown grew up in, you would know he was raised to view all right tackles as lesser players. That's how his dad operated, and that's how he operates as well.
3. OG Quenton Nelson
Nelson is truly one of the best players in the NFL. He's been named an All-Pro and Pro Bowler in each of his four NFL seasons, and the Indianapolis Colts will likely do everything in their power to keep him in the fold.
2. QB Lamar Jackson
Jackson and his looming extension have been a major storyline over the past few months, but the QB's comments on the situation have made it seem like he's confident he will be with the Baltimore Ravens for years to come. However, he did say a couple of weeks ago that there is somewhat of a deadline.
"We're still negotiating right now. We're still talking right now. I said there's going to be a cutoff, so, hopefully," Jackson said. "Whenever we do, whenever we have free time – mutual free time. We're working right now. I'm in camp right now."
Jackson hitting the open market would be incredible to watch, but it doesn't seem likely. Either way, he's set to be a free agent next year, so the former NFL MVP qualifies for this list.
1. QB Tom Brady
The greatest player of all time retired this offseason, and then unretired. He also saw his head coach in Bruce Arians step down, and it recently came out that the Miami Dolphins were blatantly tampering -- trying to get Brady to South Beach. This could be Brady's final NFL campaign, but this offseason was a bit weird, and where there's smoke, there's usually fire. What if Brady wants to keep playing in 2023? Could he pick up sticks and wrap up his legendary career with another franchise? Never say never.
Honorable mentions: DE Marcus Davenport, DE J.J. Watt, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, RB James Robinson, RB Miles Sanders, RB Josh Jacobs, WR D.J. Chark, CB Rock Ya-Sin, DT Larry Ogunjobi, DT A'Shawn Robinson, LB Lavonte David, WR Jarvis Landry, EDGE Jadeveon Clowney, LB Blake Martinez, S Jordan Poyer, RT Rob Havenstein, LB Tremaine Edmunds