By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and the Los Angeles Chargers are quickly emerging as the winners of the early days of the NFL offseason. After retaining wide receiver Mike Williams and acquiring edge defender Khalil Mack via trade last week, the Chargers signed cornerback J.C. Jackson to a five-year deal. Jackson was far and away the best cornerback available in free agency, and he’ll join a secondary that already featured superstar safety Derwin James. The Chargers narrowly missed out on the playoffs last season, but L.A. is going all-in on ensuring a deep postseason run in 2022.
While there’s no arguing that the Chargers landing Jackson at a market-level deal was a great move, Tampa Bay retaining cornerback Carlton Davis on a new three-year deal worth $45 million is possibly an even better signing given the bargain rate. Davis has emerged as one of the best zone-coverage cornerbacks in the NFL, and with much of Tampa Bay’s secondary in question, the Bucs keeping Davis at a below-market rate is a massive win for the franchise.
Baltimore’s secondary was a weak link for the Ravens in 2021, albeit primarily due to injuries. A return to health would already be a massive improvement, but the Ravens ensured an upgrade to the team’s talent level, signing safety Marcus Williams to a five-year deal. Williams has emerged as one of the NFL’s best safeties over the past few seasons. After finishing 2021 as one of the worst teams in the NFL at defending the pass, Baltimore’s defense is shaping up to be a force in 2022 once again.
One of the main reasons Baltimore’s struggles to defend the pass doomed the team to a non-playoff finish was the wealth of excellent quarterbacks in the AFC. Baltimore will be competing against Joe Burrow and the Bengals for supremacy in the division within the AFC North. Unfortunately for the Ravens, Baltimore wasn’t the only contender addressing a prominent area of concern. Cincinnati’s struggles along the offensive line were well documented during the team’s march to the Super Bowl. During the opening hours of free agency, the Bengals ensured a much better performance in the trenches in 2022.
Cincinnati added right guard Alex Kappa, formerly of the Buccaneers, and center/guard Ted Karras, formerly of the Patriots. The duo offers an immediate upgrade to Cincinnati’s offensive line, with Karras’s versatility and experience at all three interior spots along the line being an overlooked aspect of his value. Third-year tackle Jonah Williams will anchor the left side of the line again, with Kappa and Karras now line up as excellent complementary pieces. The Bengals likely aren’t done adding potential contributors to protect Burrow.
As bad as Cincinnati’s offensive line was in 2021, the Bengals’ unit made Miami’s look like a collection of All-Pros. The Dolphins were historically bad in the trenches, making the franchise’s top priority to add competent and reliable players to its protection for the offseason. The Dolphins did just that by landing guard Connor Williams on a two-year deal. There’s still plenty of work to be done for Miami—indeed, the team was essentially starting from scratch—but Williams is an excellent start to rebuilding the line.
Meanwhile, there are the Jacksonville Jaguars. Flush with cap space, the Jaguars. Initially, the Jaguars made headlines by nabbing Brandon Scherff, the best interior lineman on the open market, to a massive deal that makes him the highest-paid player at his position in the league. Durability concerns aside, at least Scherff is a proven star-level contributor. Jacksonville also signed run-stuffing defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi, a proven, young player that will offer an immediate upgrade to a defense that has to face the likes of Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor twice a year. Again, a justifiable move. And that is where things went off the rails for the Jaguars.
Next, Jacksonville committed a whopping $45 million to linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, a solid but uninspiring player without a history of elite play at a position of low value. However, it was an excellent move compared to the team’s follow-up signings. To add to Trevor Lawrence’s stable of playmakers, Jacksonville signed receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones. Fine. However, the team committed $72 million to Kirk, a massive price tag for a receiver without superstar production, while Jones received a three-year deal worth $24 million. Even if Oluokun, Kirk, and Jones evolve into superstars, Jacksonville misread the market and grossly overpaid to secure their services, making all three signings impossible to justify.