Despite being in the doldrums of the NFL offseason, with the initial waves of free agency already washed to shore, there’s still plenty of big-name talent lurking on the open market. Most of these players remain household names, albeit with their prime days behind them. Still, they have enough in the tank to be valuable additions at this stage of the offseason in the weeks leading up to camp. They could even be that missing piece to get some contenders over the hump and into the Super Bowl conversation.
Below, we’ll roll out some of the more notable remaining free agents and peg ideal landing spots for them for the upcoming season.
This one is obvious, right? The best years of Julio Jones’ career included Matt Ryan throwing him the football. Now that the quarterback is in Indianapolis as the Colts’ new signal-caller, it’d be quite the reunion for these two Falcons legends. Injuries derailed Jones’ lone season with the Tennessee Titans in 2021, as he was limited to just 10 games. That said, the 33-year-old isn’t too far removed from a Pro Bowl season in 2019 where he totaled 1,394 yards receiving. Indy has Michael Pittman headlining the receiver position at the moment and then there are some unknowns with veteran Parris Campbell and rookie Alec Pierce. Jones would immediately be the most experienced pass-catcher on the roster, and he already has a built-in rapport with the quarterback, which cannot be slept on.
The 33-year-old pass rusher may not be able to headline a team’s attack on the quarterback anymore, but Jason Pierre-Paul can still be an extremely valuable depth piece. One team that could use some bodies at pass rusher is the Baltimore Ravens, who did host Pierre-Paul on a visit about a month ago. Outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and rookie David Ojabo are both dealing with Achilles injuries, so Pierre-Paul could provide some immediate relief at that spot behind 2021 first-rounder Odafe Oweh.
Green Bay made a push to sign Beckham after he was released by the Browns last season, but the wideout ultimately decided to ink a deal with the Rams. Beckham has since helped L.A. win Super Bowl LVI, while the Packers’ need at wide receiver has only increased following the blockbuster trade that sent Davante Adams to Las Vegas. Beckham in the midst of the Super Bowl has derailed his free agency some, but the Packers could be a team that is fine with only getting Beckham for the second half of the year considering their lack of depth at receiver. Currently, Sammy Watkins, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, and rookie Christian Watson make up the top half of the depth chart.
Dont’a Hightower has been a key piece to multiple Super Bowl titles for the Patriots, but the veteran linebacker remains in the free-agent market. The 32-year-old is still mulling his future in the NFL, but if he does decide to continue his career, a return to New England is the logical route. A report from The Athletic in early June also noted that the Patriots would welcome Hightower back “with open arms,” so they do seem to be receptive to the idea of having the veteran back in the fold to help lead this young group.
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T.Y. Hilton has spent his entire career with the Colts, but it does seem like there is a possibility for the veteran pass-catcher to play somewhere else in 2022. If he does depart Indy, the Baltimore Ravens make sense for the next chapter of his career. When healthy, Hilton is an explosive deep threat, which is something Baltimore is currently lacking after it traded Marquise Brown to the Cardinals during the NFL Draft. For Hilton, the Ravens also present an opportunity to compete for a Super Bowl and work with a former MVP quarterback in Lamar Jackson.
It wasn’t too long ago when Blake Jarwin was in line to be the TE1 for the Cowboys. However, injuries took the 27-year-old off that path, and he would later fall behind Dalton Schultz on Dallas’ depth chart. A pairing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would not only give Jarwin a fresh start, but he’d also be able to compete to be the club’s starting tight end. This offseason, the Bucs saw O.J. Howard sign with the Buffalo Bills and Rob Gronkowski retire, leaving Cameron Brate as the only viable tight end on the roster. Tom Brady has utilized the tight end position a great deal, so it’d behoove Tampa Bay to bolster that spot before camp. Jarwin comes with plenty of upside.
The Cincinnati Bengals were the Cinderella of the 2021 season, as they were able to explode on offense and reach the Super Bowl. Part of their success offensively was the career year from running back Joe Mixon. While Mixon rushed for more yards and touchdowns than he had at any other point in his career, he also put a lot of miles on his tires. His 334 touches and 697 snaps on offense were career-highs in the regular season, and he added 85 more touches during the postseason. While the 25-year-old can withstand that level of work at this point of his prime, it wouldn’t hurt the Bengals to get some depth behind him to keep him fresh. That’s where Booker can come in. Booker is a solid RB2 who has shown an ability to perform well in spot starts if need be.
The Chicago Bears don’t have much at the wide receiver position at the moment, as Equanimeous St. Brown, Darnell Mooney and Byron Pringle currently make up the top of the depth chart. Beasley would immediately be the most experienced pass-catcher at the position and could be a solid slot option for second-year quarterback Justin Fields. He completed just 58.9% of his passes during his rookie season, so adding a slot option like Beasley — who caught 73.2% of his targets last season — could be the type of security blanket to make Fields more efficient and help Chicago’s offense move the chains.