5 NFL Free Agents Who Could Help Fuel 2022 Playoff Runs
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Attrition is starting to take its toll on the 2022 NFL
season. Plenty of projected contenders are slumping because of injuries, and areas
that lacked depth on these rosters are starting to be exposed.
While some clubs will try to swing deals to reinforce their
lineups before the upcoming trade deadline passes, others will be reaching out
to free agents who can patch holes without costing much.
Although there aren’t any superstars on the open market and
most of the veterans without a deal are limited in some form, there are several
notable options available who could jump in and help in a big way.
With that in mind, here are five free agents we could see
fuel a postseason run.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR
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Odell Beckham Jr. is a textbook example of a free agent who
sparked a playoff run because of his efforts last season with the Los Angeles Rams.
After languishing with the Cleveland Browns for two-and-a-half
seasons, the disgruntled wideout forced his way out shortly after the trade
deadline passed. The Rams capitalized on this sudden availability, scooping
Beckham up on a cheap one-year deal.
The low-risk, high-reward transaction paid off in a big way
after Beckham experienced a resurgence in a Rams uniform. He finished with 305
yards and five scores on 27 catches in eight regular-season games and added
another 21 catches for 288 yards and a pair of scores—including Super Bowl LVI’s
opening touchdown—during L.A.’s four-game run to the Lombardi Trophy.
Unfortunately, OBJ suffered a torn ACL in the first half of
the Super Bowl. He’s been rehabilitating since, but it remains to be seen when
he’ll be able to take the field again and how effective he will be once he’s
While Beckham has been aiming
for a mid-November return, ESPN’s Dan
Graziano found that some team executives believe Beckham won’t realistically
be ready until mid-December.
Even if the 29-year-old is only able to contribute for a
handful of regular-season games, his presence could be the difference between a
postseason victory and going home early.
The Rams offense has been struggling without OBJ in the
lineup and should be aggressively pursuing a reunion with the wideout. A pair
of NFC North contenders—the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings—could also
benefit heavily from a receiver of Beckham’s caliber and have both reportedly engaged
or expressed interest in signing him.
Potential Fits: Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams,
Dee Ford, EDGE
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There aren’t too many impact pass-rushers without an NFL
contract right now, but Dee Ford should be on the short list of targets for squads
needing some help on the edge.
Ford is one of the more proven options because of the time he
spent with both the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. He was a first-round
pick by the former in 2014, spending five seasons with the club before a
three-year stint in the Bay Area.
In eight NFL seasons, Ford accumulated 159 tackles, 79
quarterback hits, 44 tackles for a loss, 40 sacks and 12 forced fumbles. He
appeared in eight playoff games as well, notching 17 tackles, seven QB hits, five
tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble in those contests.
While his production declined because of injuries during his
tenure with the Niners, Ford was still a serviceable edge-rusher when he was
available in recent years. After coming back from neck and back injuries that
limited him to just one game in 2020, Ford suited up for six contests last year
and tallied five tackles, three sacks, four quarterback hits, two tackles for a
loss and a forced fumble.
Ford should be ready to go if he’s tapped by a contender. Per
49ers Webzone’s David
Bonilla, San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan revealed that the pass-rusher
was given a “good bill of health” before his release this offseason.
Since Ford elected not to officially retire, the 31-year-old
could still catch on with a club lacking rotational firepower on the edge.
The Cincinnati Bengals, Las Vegas Raiders and Cleveland
Browns are among the teams with some of the lowest sack totals in the league at
this juncture and could all benefit from Ford’s skill set as they attempt to
push into the playoffs following mediocre starts.
Potential Fits: Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns,
Las Vegas Raiders
Dont’a Hightower, LB
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AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Few free agents possess the pedigree and experience of
former New England Patriots star Dont’a Hightower. While his incumbent club
elected to forge ahead without the linebacker, another organization could
capitalize on his surprising availability nearly midway through the 2022
Hightower spent a decade terrorizing opposing offenses in
New England. In 117 games between 2012 and 2021, the linebacker amassed 569
tackles, 27 sacks, five fumble recoveries, a pair of forced fumbles and an
While Hightower was great for the Pats during the regular
season, he was arguably at his best when the games mattered the most. He
notched 81 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception
in 17 career playoff games while leading New England’s defense to three Super
The 32-year-old may be best remembered around Foxborough for
two heroic plays on the biggest stage. He made the game-saving tackle on Marshawn
Lynch at the goal line in Super Bowl XLIX—setting up a stunning interception
that gave the Patriots the win over the Seattle Seahawks—and forced a key
fumble on Matt Ryan that was instrumental in New England’s record 25-point
comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
Teams lacking an experienced and instinctual veteran in the
middle of their defense will want to keep Hightower in mind as they gear up for
a playoff run. While the 32-year-old may have lost a step in recent years, he’s
still a brilliant player who can alter a game by making a clutch tackle or
forcing a momentum-swinging turnover.
A few teams in the hunt should give serious consideration to
signing Hightower. A return to the New England Patriots—where he clearly fits
the system and has so much experience—would be sensible, but heading out west
to help guide the Arizona Cardinals or Los Angeles Chargers back to the
postseason could be a fitting ending to Hightower’s Hall of Fame career.
Potential Fits: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles
Chargers, New England Patriots
David Johnson, RB
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Mark Brown/Getty Images
Teams wishing to bolster their backfield depth will find
plenty of available options on the scrap heap, but a true contender will want
to choose one with veteran savvy who still might have a little tread left on
David Johnson could fit the bill as the back looks to find a
new home in 2022. The 30-year-old wasn’t picked up in the offseason following a
disappointing two-year run with the Houston Texans but could revitalize his
career with a change of scenery.
The Northern Iowa running back came out of seemingly nowhere to put
together a scintillating sophomore campaign in 2016, racking up 1,239 yards and
16 touchdowns on the ground while adding 879 yards and four scores on 80
Unfortunately, Johnson was never able to reach those lofty
numbers—or even eclipse 1,000 rushing yards again—after suffering a major injury
in the 2017 season opener. Johnson struggled to live up to expectations in
Houston after he came over as part of a deal that sent superstar wideout
DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona, admitting
he felt pressure because of the trade.
Now free to get a fresh start, Johnson could still be an
impact contributor for a contender. He’s an especially potent pass-catching
back—he drew at least 42 targets and reeled in at least 32 catches in each of
the last four seasons—who could make for an ideal third-down option.
The New York Giants would be a logical place for Johnson to end
up. The team has been relying heavily on Saquon Barkley and could use Johnson to
take some heat off the resurgent running back. Backups Matt Breida and Gary
Brightwell are both limited receivers, so Johnson fills a need while providing
depth for one of the most key areas of Big Blue’s offense.
If the Giants don’t land Johnson, the New York Jets—who have
also been riding a hot hand in Breece Hall and could benefit from a proven
backup to complement Michael Carter—and banged-up Baltimore Ravens would be good
Potential Fits: Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants, New
Daryl Williams, OL
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Offensive line injuries can quickly end the title dreams of a Super Bowl
contender. Several championship hopefuls are struggling right now because of injuries and other issues in the
offensive trenches, which could make the handful of proven O-linemen still
available hot commodities.
Daryl Williams’ phone could be ringing off the hook as clubs
try to patch up their offensive line midway through the 2022 season. The former
Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills offensive lineman hasn’t landed on a roster
yet, but it seems it is only a matter of time before he’s back on the field.
The 30-year-old was last seen starting all 17 games for
Buffalo last season, playing both right guard and right tackle. He also drew 16
starts for the club at right tackle in 2020.
While he didn’t perform as well as he did two years ago when
he earned an impressive 79.4 PFF
grade and allowed only three sacks across 1,050 snaps, Williams was still a
highly serviceable starter this past season. He displayed good versatility and scored
PFF grade while giving up four sacks on 1,172 snaps.
The New York Jets should be courting their old divisional
rival after their shockingly hot start to the season. The team lost Mekhi
Becton and George Fant for the season, and the thin offensive line is currently
relying on 37-year-old Duane Brown to man the left tackle spot.
Gang Green could sign Williams to immediately upgrade a suspect
right guard spot while providing injury insurance and depth at tackle. If the
Jets don’t land Williams, expect a team like the Denver Broncos or the Los
Angeles Rams—both are woefully underperforming in the offensive trenches right
now and need help if they are going to make playoff runs—to snap him up.
Potential Fits: Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams, New