Just like most of the populace, the NFL Power Rankings don’t like to admit when we’re wrong. So this week’s topic was a bit tough to bring up, as we asked our NFL Nation writers to pick the one thought they had about their team this preseason that hasn’t played out the way they expected.
These missed predictions run the gamut, from positive to negative to inaccurate thoughts about players, position groups and schemes. Some players have exceeded expectations (how about wide receiver Christian Kirk and, for that matter, the undefeated Arizona Cardinals) and some have not (will Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. ever get right?). We didn’t think the Buffalo Bills‘ defense would be as good as it’s been, we thought the Washington Football Team’s defense would be much better than it has performed, and yes, we thought the Detroit Lions would have a win by now (though to be fair, they’ve been very close multiple times). We’re usually right, but sometimes, you have to admit to some wrong.
How we rank our Power Rankings: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.
Previous ranking: 1
Prediction we missed: WR Christian Kirk‘s production
It’s no secret that DeAndre Hopkins was going to the focal point of the Cardinals’ offense and that A.J. Green would be the second option, but I didn’t expect Kirk to have the type of season he’s having. He is second on the team in receiving yards with 408 — just two ahead of Green — and second in receptions. — Josh Weinfuss
Field Yates, Matthew Berry and Daniel Dopp discuss Christian Kirks’ contribution to Arizona’s high-powered offense.
Previous ranking: 4
Prediction we missed: Worrying about the Buccaneers after losing many players to injury
Even with a bunch of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Bucs are 6-1. The secondary was not considered a position of strength or depth going into the season. But the acquisitions of Richard Sherman, Pierre Desir, Dee Delaney and Rashard Robinson have been key. Cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross told ESPN, “If the group had remained young, and we were replacing young guys with young guys, I would say we could not do [this],” Ross said. “When you’ve got guys like Sherman, when you’ve got guys like Rashard, when you’ve got guys like Pierre — these are veterans. They’ve been through some battles before. They understand how to play and what to do.” — Jenna Laine
Previous ranking: 3
Prediction we missed: The special teams would improve
After a poor showing on special teams in 2020, the Rams demoted coordinator John Bonamego and hired Joe DeCamillis, who arrived with a great reputation for special teams and 33 years of NFL coaching experience. However, through seven weeks the unit has fared no better. The Rams have struggled to determine a consistent a kick and punt returner. In a Week 7 win over the Lions, Detroit recovered an early onside kick and later faked two punts that went for first-down conversions. Rams coach Sean McVay said they weren’t surprised by the Lions’ moves, but did not execute. Either way — whether surprised or an execution problem — it is a massive concern for a Super Bowl-hopeful team. — Lindsey Thiry
Previous ranking: 7
Prediction we missed: Re-signing Aaron Jones is too big of a risk
Even if Jones’ numbers aren’t quite what they were last season, his importance to the offense should not have been underestimated. He is so versatile in the running game and passing game. He already has four touchdown catches — a career high — and has four games with four or more receptions this season. Re-signing him went against the Packers’ history of not paying running backs big money, but so far it has worked out. — Rob Demovsky
Previous ranking: 2
Prediction we missed: The Bills’ defense could take time to get going with a tough early slate
It’s not a surprise that the Bills are having a good season and that this team is among the Super Bowl contenders coming off their bye. Instead, it’s the way this team has won games and dominated most of its opponents. Yes, the loss to a good Titans team was tough, but five of the first six games of the season were against teams in the playoffs last year or in contention. Buffalo came away holding two teams scoreless and outscoring other opponents by wide margins. The Bills have unexpectedly shown how dominant they can be and that this defense can be one of the top units in the league, with an easier stretch of games still to come. — Alaina Getzenberg
Previous ranking: 5
Prediction we missed: Dalton Schultz‘s production
I thought Schultz’s numbers last year — 63 catches, 615 yards, four touchdowns — were more a product of a lost season and not those of an ascending player. This year he is on pace for 88 catches for 1,017 yards and nine touchdowns. Whoops. He understands soft spots in coverages. He is better than expected with his run after catch, and he is a serviceable blocker. I thought Blake Jarwin would return to the starter role after coming back from his knee injury, but Schultz has exceeded expectations. That’s good for the Cowboys, and also bad because his price tag as a free agent to-be is going up and up. — Todd Archer
Previous ranking: 11
Prediction we missed: Preseason concerns with WR Ja’Marr Chase
Remember when Chase’s drops created some questions about how the fifth overall pick would fare as a rookie? Well, I’d like not to. Because any reservations about Chase’s play given in the offseason have been blasted to Neptune. Chase is putting up absurd numbers and, along with QB Joe Burrow, has transformed Cincinnati’s offense into something incredibly potent. Chase is second in the NFL in receiving yards, trailing only the Rams’ Cooper Kupp. He has eight receptions of 30 or more yards, the most in the NFL. He is on pace to break the Bengals’ record for most receiving yards in a season (1,440, Chad Johnson, 2007). Sheesh. — Ben Baby
Previous ranking: 6
Prediction we missed: The defense would rank No. 1 in the NFL
The Ravens rank No. 24 in defense and are on pace to allow the most yards in franchise history. The loss of Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters (season-ending knee injury), the regression of middle linebacker Patrick Queen and the awful tackling has taken a toll on this prideful unit. Even cornerback Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens’ top defensive player, has struggled. Baltimore became the third team in NFL history to allow three 400-yard passers in its first seven games. The Ravens are looking to regroup during their bye. “We’ve just really got to look at ourselves,” linebacker Tyus Bowser said. “If we focus on communicating and going out and executing, we’ll play football like we know we can.” — Jamison Hensley
Stephen A. Smith points to Ryan Tannehill as the reason he’s skeptical of the Titans’ ceiling.
Previous ranking: 10
Prediction we missed: QB Ryan Tannehill‘s slight regression
It seemed like Tannehill had cemented himself as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL after finishing last season with 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Adding Julio Jones to the mix was supposed to help elevate the Titans’ passing attack. Tannehill hasn’t had many opportunities to play with a fully healthy tandem of Jones and A.J. Brown because both receivers have been slowed by hamstring injuries. Tannehill already has thrown five interceptions through seven games. His QBR is down to 61.7, which is the lowest it has been since becoming the Titans starter in 2019. Last season Tannehill’s QBR last season was 72.6. — Turron Davenport
Previous ranking: 8
Prediction we missed: The offensive line would struggle with new members
On the contrary, they’ve improved early in the season despite four new starters and injuries. Center Corey Linsley, a free-agent addition from Green Bay, runs the show and first-round rookie Rashawn Slater owns the left side. Free-agent guard Oday Aboushi tore his ACL, but Michael Schofield III has filled in well. After struggling early, Storm Norton has been playing better at right tackle after having to replace injured veteran Bryan Bulaga. Their chemistry continues to get better as they provide more time for QB Justin Herbert than he got a year ago. Linsley says of his connection with Herbert: “His leadership is fantastic.” — Shelley Smith
Previous ranking: 13
Prediction we missed: QB Derek Carr would thrive in his fourth season … with Jon Gruden
Carr was humming along in the Raiders’ 3-0 start before hitting a couple of speed bumps in a two-game losing streak and Gruden’s sudden resignation in the wake of his email controversy. The last two games, though, Carr has been sublime, especially in completing 91.2% (31 of 34) of his passes against the Eagles, the second-best such mark with 30 attempts in NFL history. New playcaller Greg Olson is seemingly giving Carr more freedom to get in and out of plays at the line and Carr is responding. — Paul Gutierrez
Previous ranking: 12
Injuries have played a major part in why Mayfield and Beckham have yet to find any groove together this season. Mayfield is currently nursing a left shoulder injury, while Beckham sat the first two games returning from last year’s season-ending knee injury. Still, the two are just not in sync, from a wide-open miss from Mayfield in Minnesota to a fourth-down drop by OBJ in Los Angeles. Time is running out on the two to figure it out. — Jake Trotter
Previous ranking: 14
Prediction we missed: The lack of depth at the No. 2 cornerback spot
Rookie third-round draft pick Paulson Adebo hasn’t been perfect, but he has been impressive enough to hold up as the starter all season so far — even though the Saints traded next year’s third-round pick to acquire veteran Bradley Roby from the Houston Texans heading into Week 1. The Saints made no secret about their concern for the team’s cornerback depth behind Pro Bowler Marshon Lattimore this offseason. They even tried to trade up nearly 20 spots in Round 1 of the draft to fill the spot (to no avail). But Adebo has stepped up for a defense that has held up extremely well this year despite missing five starters from 2020. — Mike Triplett
Ryan Clark calls out Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ woes after their loss to the Titans.
Previous ranking: 9
Prediction we missed: The Chiefs would have a potent pass rush
The Chiefs have just eight sacks and their two highly paid rushers, Chris Jones and Frank Clark, have combined for only two. Entering Sunday’s game against the Titans, the Chiefs were 28th in ESPN’s pass rush win rate, getting pressure within 2.5 seconds on just 34% of the snaps. Jones, who is playing more snaps this season from an edge rushing position, appeared poised to challenge his season sack record of 15.5, but that’s not going to happen. — Adam Teicher
Previous ranking: 15
Prediction we missed: Matt Canada’s offense would transform the Steelers
Heralded as an innovative mind in the college game with his misdirection and pre-snap movements, Canada was positioned to mold the offense in his image — while also taking input from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger even said he was doing extra studying during training camp to make sure he nailed all of Canada’s verbiage and concepts. But through six games, the flashes of signature Canada plays — jet sweeps, a robust vertical game and a flurry of pre-snap motion on the goal line — haven’t been regular occurrences. Instead of a complete transformation, Canada’s concepts have been sprinkled in and adapted to fit the quarterback’s preference and ability. — Brooke Pryor
Previous ranking: 22
It is hard to be Wentz’s deep threat when you have been consistently injured. That’s been the case with Hilton. He has only played in one of a possible seven games this season because of quad and disc injuries. Hilton, though, did have a 52-yard reception in the one game he played in. — Mike Wells
Previous ranking: 16
Prediction we missed: How quickly Christian Darrisaw would affect the offensive line
The 23rd overall pick missed the entire preseason (groin surgery). So, I didn’t expect his impact to be as significant as it’s been once he supplanted Rashod Hill as the starting left tackle. Darrisaw took on two dominant edge rushers in Brian Burns and Haason Reddick in his first start at Carolina and only allowed one pressure. Vikings right tackle Brian O’Neill noted that quarterback Kirk Cousins felt like he didn’t even notice Darrisaw in the game, a sign that the rookie tackle held his own protecting the QB’s blindside. While the sample size is limited (Darrisaw has only played 117 snaps in two games), the Vikings’ pass protection has been noticeably better when he has been in action, which should be a sign of good things to come. — Courtney Cronin
Previous ranking: 21
Prediction we missed: The defense will be the strength of the team
With a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones, the projection was that he would be more of a game manager to complement a defense and special teams that spearhead the club, somewhat similar to the early years of Tom Brady‘s Patriots tenure. But the defense and special teams have been up-and-down, especially in the clutch. The secondary currently looks undermanned, especially after trading recovering CB Stephon Gilmore to the Panthers. — Mike Reiss
Previous ranking: 26
Prediction we missed: WR Calvin Ridley‘s performance
There were a few different answers here (including the semblance of a Falcons’ pass rush), but I really believed Ridley would have a breakout season putting him in conversation with the NFL’s top 10 receivers. Instead, Ridley has just 281 yards receiving and a career-worst 9.1 yards per reception. The Falcons will need Ridley if they are to make a playoff run — at least a better version of the Ridley than they’ve been seeing over the first third of the season. — Michael Rothstein
Previous ranking: 18
Prediction we missed: Brandon Aiyuk‘s breakout season
Through the first couple weeks of training camp, Aiyuk looked poised to become the team’s top wideout and emerge as one of the league’s best young receivers. But Aiyuk suffered a hamstring injury that slowed him late in camp and carried into Week 1, and he still hasn’t had a prominent role in the offense. Through six games, he’s fifth on the team in receptions (9) and receiving yards (96) and has been targeted just 16 times. There’s a breakout receiver on the 49ers but it’s Deebo Samuel, not Aiyuk. — Nick Wagoner
Previous ranking: 20
Prediction we missed: The Broncos’ defense would dominate
The phrase “on paper” is apt for the Broncos’ defense this season, but the preseason plans of a consistently impactful pass rush backed by one of the league’s best secondaries has not been seen nearly enough to bail the offense out. Yes, they do have one of the league’s three shutouts this year — Buffalo has the other two — and they are third in scoring defense. But overall, sacks, takeaways and interceptions have been much harder to come by than expected. And injuries have gutted the depth chart at linebacker (seven players at the position are on injured reserve), so the Broncos defense has been one of the league’s worst on third down (27th). — Jeff Legwold
Previous ranking: 19
Prediction we missed: DE Robert Quinn‘s performance
Coming off a disappointing 2020 season, Quinn, 31, battled back injuries in the offseason program and over the summer. The odds of Quinn having a bounce-back year seemed remote. But the veteran has been the Bears’ best defender through seven games with 5.5 sacks and a handful of tackles for loss. The Bears sorely missed Quinn (reserve/COVID-19 list) in their Week 7 loss at Tampa Bay. — Jeff Dickerson
Previous ranking: 23
Prediction we missed: The Seahawks’ pass rush would excel
The widely held belief going into the season was that the Seahawks’ pass rush would be the strength of their defense. They had Jamal Adams, Carlos Dunlap II and almost everyone else back from a group that recorded the second-most sacks over the final seven weeks last season. And they had a promising young addition in Darrell Taylor, helping make it the deepest position group on their roster. Taylor has been excellent, but everyone else has underwhelmed. True, the pass rush also started slow last season, but that was partly because Adams missed four games and Dunlap had yet to be acquired. They’ve both played in every game this season, so there’s no obvious answer as to why the Seahawks’ pass rush has underperformed. — Brady Henderson
Previous ranking: 17
Prediction we missed: The offensive line
I really was optimistic that Cameron Erving was the answer at left tackle, and that the Panthers had upgraded enough across the board to handle a few injuries on the line. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The line has been a mess, giving up 21 sacks the last five games. That’s 4.2 sacks a game. Compare that with Sam Darnold‘s three years with the Jets, when the line that gave up 2.5 sacks a game was called a mess. — David Newton
Previous ranking: 24
Prediction we missed: The defensive line would be dominant
Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave is about the only player who has matched or exceeded expectations. Brandon Graham got hurt early in the season, and that really impacted the whole operation. Ryan Kerrigan has not looked at all like his old self and continues to see fewer snaps, and Fletcher Cox is clearly not happy with the way he’s being utilized by defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. Offenses are gashing the Eagles, and that’s due in part to the fact that things are not clicking up front. — Tim McManus
Previous ranking: 25
Prediction we missed: The defense line would be excellent
Oops. Washington ranked second in yards and fourth in points last season and, while it was facing a far more difficult schedule, it also had a young line considered one of the best in the NFL. There was reason to believe the unit would still at least be near the top 10. Instead, it’s last in points allowed and 29th in yards. Washington played a strong game vs. Green Bay and the line has started to look much better. The issues also haven’t just stemmed from facing better quarterbacks; a lack of adherence to details — leading to poor rushes or blown coverage — has undermined the team. — John Keim
Previous ranking: 31
Prediction we missed: The offense would be way more explosive
By default the Giants had to get better and more explosive, right? They added Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Kyle Rudolph, John Ross and got back Saquon Barkley from a torn ACL. Instead, the Giants are 25th in the NFL, averaging 19.9 points per game, in part because nearly none of these guys have stayed healthy. Rudolph is the only one of the bunch wo hasn’t missed a game, but he’s been disappointing coming off foot surgery. Meanwhile, quarterback Daniel Jones has never had Barkley, Golladay and Toney on the field healthy for more than a few minutes. Hence the lack of explosiveness. — Jordan Raanan
Previous ranking: 27
Prediction we missed: The Dolphins could challenge the Bills in the AFC East
Yikes, this one was rough. After winning 10 games in 2020, Miami expected to be a playoff team in 2021 and with an improved offense and largely the same defense — that didn’t seem far-fetched. But the wheels have fallen off during a difficult stretch, as the Dolphins have lost six games in a row after winning their season opener. Perhaps the most disappointing letdown is the deterioration of what was a top-10 defense last season — it ranks 31st in scoring, yards allowed and third-down play. After losses to the Jaguars and Falcons over the past two weeks, the playoffs are out of the question and Miami must scramble just to climb back to .500. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Previous ranking: 29
Prediction we missed: Josh Allen would thrive as a pass rusher in the 3-4
Allen played outside linebacker in college and was the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year with 17 sacks in 2018. But the move from stand-up defensive end (where he played his first two seasons with the Jaguars) to outside linebacker hasn’t resulted in more sacks. Allen has 2.5 sacks through six games, which puts him on pace for seven this season. He had 10.5 sacks in his rookie year, when he played with Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, but Allen certainly doesn’t have that kind of help on the other side now. Though Allen is also dropping into coverage more than before, the expectation was that he’d made a bigger impact as a rusher in 2021 and that hasn’t happened. — Mike DiRocco
Previous ranking: 28
Prediction we missed: The Jets would run the ball well enough to take pressure off QB Zach Wilson
A big miss by me, as the Jets are ranked 32nd in rushing offense. My projection was based on the impressive history of their offensive scheme, which seemingly always cranked out strong rushing attacks under Kyle Shanahan. The Jets are proving that schemes don’t matter as much as players. The offensive line, hurt by the loss of LT Mekhi Becton, is struggling in the outside-zone scheme. As a result, no running back has broken a run longer than 17 yards. — Rich Cimini
Previous ranking: 30
Prediction we missed: Even though the Texans would not win many games, they would be competitive
This has not been the case at all in Houston, despite having veteran players make up the majority of the roster. The Texans have been an undisciplined team, making mental mistakes and committing penalties at costly times. Of course, the Texans didn’t expect to start rookie quarterback Davis Mills in Week 3, but since then they haven’t won a game and only one was close. Houston has not scored a touchdown on the road since the fourth quarter of Week 2 and has been outscored 102-8 in its last three road games. — Sarah Barshop
Previous ranking: 32
Prediction we missed: The Lions’ record
Ok, I’ll admit. I was wrong. Although I knew the Lions’ schedule was tough to start the year, and they were in the midst of a rebuild, I predicted them to have at least one victory by now. I took the over in my predictions for Detroit to win more than five games this season, but this team remains winless at 0-7. They’ve laid a complete egg in a few games, but they also could easily have at least two victories by now, barring losses on not one, but two last-second, 50-plus-yard field goals. — Eric Woodyard
Do the New York Giants need an experienced head coach to pair with rookie GM? – New York Giants Blog
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — During his first season leading the New York Giants in 1983, Bill Parcells said he was trying too hard to be a head coach.
He believes it almost cost him his job. In 1984 he decided to be himself. The new easygoing head coach was gone. The gruff taskmaster with that trademark mean streak that everybody came to know and ultimately appreciate took over. That suited him and the results followed. The Giants won nine games in his second season after winning three in his first, and hoisted a Super Bowl trophy two seasons later.
Even for the great ones (Parcells was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013), there is a learning curve. The same applies to the general manager position, and the Giants hired first-time GM Joe Schoen on Friday.
That makes their upcoming coaching hire more intriguing, especially after what has transpired in New York for the better part of the past decade and particularly the past few years. Do the Giants really want to have a first-time GM and coach learning on the job? Or does one of the most conservative franchises in the NFL prefer a known quantity amidst the overhaul?
The Giants just watched up close and personal as first-time head coaches Ben McAdoo and Joe Judge had it fall apart in Year 2 after promising debut seasons. Co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch didn’t have the patience for them to learn from their mistakes. And that was with veteran general managers Jerry Reese and Dave Gettleman, respectively.
“For me, I’m going young. I’m going ascending on the GM front. But I’m getting some experience [at head coach], because I think in this market your best chance for success is to bring in somebody who has had success and has experience,” former NFL general manager and current ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum said recently on ESPN New York. “If I owned the Giants, given what has happened over the past six years, I’m getting a guy that has done it. Done it at a high level. I don’t need any guesswork or projections.”
The known coaching candidates for the Giants are Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Bills assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and Patrick Graham, who ran the Giants’ defense the past two seasons.
Frazier, Flores and Quinn have been NFL head coaches — Frazier with the Minnesota Vikings (2011-13), Flores for the past three seasons with the Dolphins and Quinn with the Atlanta Falcons (2015-20). Daboll, Graham and Anarumo have not.
Daboll, Frazier and Anarumo all had a first interview via videoconference with the Giants over the weekend. Quinn was interviewed Monday, Daboll gets a second interview Tuesday, and Flores and Graham are expected to interview this week.
While hiring a candidate with previous experience as a head coach has some obvious advantages, Schoen comes from Buffalo, where they hired a first-time head coach (Sean McDermott) and general manager (Brandon Beane) in 2017. They built the Bills rather quickly and effectively into a Super Bowl contender.
“Joe has seen how Sean and I work here,” Beane said. “And neither Sean nor I walk through the building [saying] that we got all the answers or that it’s my way or Sean’s way. It’s collaborative. We listen to our coaches, we listen to our doctors, our trainers, our scouts. Whatever the decision needs to be made, we listen and then try to make an informed decision.
“Joe will ultimately have to make some decisions, whether it’s a draft pick or that final decision of paying a player on that team or a free agent somewhere else, but he’s going to value everyone’s input.”
That will have to include the coach. It’s imperative they’re on the same page, which is why sources say Daboll is considered the favorite for the Giants. He and Schoen have worked together previously in Miami (2011) and for the past four seasons in Buffalo.
And if everything the Giants are saying is true, Schoen is driving this coaching search. Not ownership, as it had in the past.
The Bills aren’t the only recent example of a first-time coach/GM combination working. The San Francisco 49ers have also experienced success with Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. They will be playing in the NFC Championship Game for the second time in three years on Sunday.
“It’s all people-dependent,” a veteran NFL general manager said about whether it can work with a first-time coach and GM. The belief is it can — as long as it’s the right individuals with a shared vision and philosophy.
It’s what Schoen needs to find with his new coach, whether it be a first-timer or someone with experience.
Patriots’ 2022 plans could be impacted by Raiders’ searches for GM, coach – New England Patriots Blog
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The way the New England Patriots‘ season ended made it clear what coach Bill Belichick’s No. 1 priority needs to be when he looks ahead to 2022.
It’s defense with a capital D.
That will surely come, but from a pure timing standpoint, there is something else that looms large: offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ future and his integral role in the development of second-year quarterback Mac Jones.
There are currently eight head-coaching vacancies in the NFL, and the Las Vegas Raiders‘ opening is the main one to watch if McDaniels, 45, ultimately departs. The “tell” will be whom the Raiders hire as their general manager.
If it’s Patriots director of player personnel Dave Ziegler, who interviewed in Las Vegas on Friday, the odds of a McDaniels departure likely increase. Sources have told ESPN that McDaniels has relayed to interested teams that aligning with someone he knows well on the personnel side is a top priority, and he brought Ziegler — a fellow alum of John Carroll University — into the NFL in 2010 with the Denver Broncos.
Belichick previously had paid McDaniels one of the highest compliments, comparing him to his longtime friend Nick Saban in terms of his understanding of what every player is doing on the field. And in his season-ending videoconference, Belichick noted the unpredictability of what’s ahead with his staff.
“We have a lot of good coaches. It’s not surprising that other teams would be interested in talking to them, or other staff members,” he said. “If there’s an opportunity for somebody that’s at a high level that we can’t provide here, I understand that they would have to consider that. So we’ll see what happens on that.”
At the same time, it’s not like McDaniels is aggressively pursuing an exit from New England.
He made it clear how much he enjoyed working with Jones and other newcomers when he said in December: “This year’s team has provided a lot of new energy. The ability to really pour into them and create a foundation for a lot of them in our offense and our culture here in New England — and then see them take to it, adapt to it, and really grow and learn, how they fit into the bigger piece of the puzzle — has been really a great experience for all of us.”
In November, Jones said: “Josh is a great coach, and he’s been close with me ever since I got here. He wants me to be the best player I can be … and he’s done a great job putting me in a position to lead the offense.”
Building on that foundation in 2022 — and possibly giving Jones a dynamic No. 1 receiving option like the Cincinnati Bengals did for Joe Burrow with Ja’Marr Chase this season — would be a coup for Belichick and help him dedicate attention to the defense while also restoring the special-teams units to their once-dominant standing.
Among the bright spots for the Patriots’ offense in 2021, with the rookie Jones at the helm, was scoring touchdowns on the opening drive more frequently than all but two teams in the NFL. They were also 11th in the red zone based on touchdown percentage (39 TDs in 63 trips), and fifth in explosive rushing plays (65 rushes of 10 yards or more).
A McDaniels departure could potentially stunt future growth, especially because there might not be a clear-cut successor on staff.
Tight ends coach Nick Caley and receivers coach Mick Lombardi are among those in the pipeline. Lombardi’s thoroughness and intelligence were highlighted by McDaniels this season, who said Lombardi “sees the game very similarly to myself in terms of the passing game.”
In a reflection of that, Lombardi was responsible for preparing the offense for the red zone as part of game plans this season, according to McDaniels.
Former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, set to enter his second season at Alabama, could be a target in the event McDaniels departs. But would that even be something O’Brien entertains?
It isn’t overstating things to say the next week, or however long it takes the Raiders to finalize their GM/head coach decisions, has an added level of significance for the Patriots.
NFL free agency 2022 – Biggest signing decisions for all 32 teams, including Odell Beckham Jr., Davante Adams, Chandler Jones
The NFL playoffs are down to just four teams, which means the 28 others are giving a hard look at their rosters and planning to make some decisions regarding free agents in 2022.
It may seem like the regular season just finished, but we are a mere month and change away from March 16 — the opening of free-agency season.
Between now and then franchises have to decide how different, or similar, their rosters will look in 2022. Will Green Bay have a rebuild on its hands? How will the Dallas Cowboys sign all their free agents amid cap pressure? Will someone new be at quarterback for the New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos?
To get an early look at the market, we asked our NFL Nation reporters for the biggest looming free-agent decision on every team. Will playmakers Odell Beckham Jr., Jadeveon Clowney and Mike Williams return to their respective teams? Can Chandler Jones, Davante Adams and Dalton Schultz find better offers on the market? Here is where each team stands as of today.
Let’s start by looking at the NFC East.
Free agent: TE Dalton Schultz
Schultz had 78 catches for 808 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2021 after putting up 63 for 615 and 4 in 2020. He has developed into a highly dependable option for Dak Prescott, but will he be out of the Cowboys’ price point? Look at the contracts Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith received from New England; Schultz could get that much on the open market. Would the Cowboys have the type of room to keep him? Maybe. The franchise tag could be an option as well but that might be earmarked for Randy Gregory. — Todd Archer
Free agent: OLB Lorenzo Carter
The Giants need to add pass-rushers this offseason, not lose any useful players at the position. Carter proved to be effective by finishing this season with five sacks in the last four weeks — after not getting to the quarterback the first 14 weeks. His fate likely lies in what system new general manager Joe Schoen and the next coach plan to run. If he fits, Carter could return on a one-year prove-it deal, unless another team is willing to take the risk on a long-term contract based on a handful of games. — Jordan Raanan
Free agent: S Rodney McLeod
McLeod returned from ACL rehab in Week 4 and finished the season on a high note, posting key interceptions in back-to-back games to help the Eagles secure a playoff berth. McLeod, a team leader, will be 32 next season and has dealt with his share of injuries of late. But with safety Anthony Harris and cornerback Steven Nelson also projected to be free agents, it’s worth trying to get McLeod back on a reasonable one-year deal in the name of back-end stability. — Tim McManus
Free agent: G Brandon Scherff
The five-time Pro Bowl guard has played on the franchise tag the past two seasons. Washington GM Martin Mayhew confirmed that last offseason the team offered him a deal that would have made him the NFL’s highest-paid guard. It’s uncertain how it was structured, but regardless it did not get the two sides closer to an agreement. Scherff is an elite guard, but the problem comes with health — he has not played more than 13 games in a season since 2017 and has missed a combined 24 games the past five seasons. — John Keim
Free agent: DT Akiem Hicks
The great run-stopper might be a luxury the Bears can’t afford. There’s no doubt their defense looks different when he is in the game, but the problem has been too much time missed because of injury over the past few seasons. Combined with the amount of money the Bears have committed to their front seven — among the most in the league — Hicks might end up with a new address in 2022. The team has to build around quarterback Justin Fields and the savings on Hicks could provide an avenue to help in that goal. — Jesse Rogers
Free agent: OLB Charles Harris
After a 3-13-1 finish, the Lions certainly don’t have many must-keep players on the roster, but Charles Harris is one of the guys they should re-sign. Under a new coaching staff, in a new situation, Harris enjoyed his best season as a pro with a career-best 65 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Detroit needs as much depth as possible and he’s already comfortable in the position so it would make sense to bring him back. — Eric Woodyard
Free agent: WR Davante Adams
Adams wants to be the highest-paid receiver in the league, but he surely also would like to continue playing with Aaron Rodgers. There has to be a reason — beyond just the money — that Adams didn’t sign an extension during the season. That reason could be Rodgers. If Rodgers decides he wants to play elsewhere next season, then perhaps the Packers’ only option to retain Adams will be to use the franchise tag. — Rob Demovsky
Free agent: CB Patrick Peterson
The Vikings will again be tasked with retooling their secondary in the offseason. Peterson came to Minnesota as a free agent on a one-year deal and was the most experienced, put-together corner the Vikings fielded in 2021. Though he expressed a desire to remain in Minnesota, Peterson will soon be 32. The team cannot afford to pay him a contract that guarantees $8 million, nor should they for a cornerback nearing the final years of his career. If he’s willing to stay for less, the Vikings should consider re-signing him while also eyeing a cornerback with their first-round pick. His guidance paid dividends in helping young defensive backs develop last season and would be a benefit for a defense that’s about to undergo a major transition with a new coaching staff. — Courtney Cronin
Free agent: LB Foyesade Oluokun
Oluokun was a force for Atlanta this season. He led the NFL in tackles (192), had a career-high three interceptions and became a leader of Atlanta’s defense. Falcons coach Arthur Smith called Oluokun an “ascending player,” and general manager Terry Fontenot made it clear he would like to retain some of the Falcons’ free agents, even with salary-cap constraints. Oluokun, for his part, said he would like to return, but it’s possible a team covets him highly. It’s too soon to tell what will shake out here, but there appears to be interest from both Atlanta and Oluokun to continue working together. — Michael Rothstein
Free agent: Edge Haason Reddick
The team’s sack leader (11) signed a one-year prove-it deal because there were those that doubted the 12.5 sacks he had at Arizona in 2020 would be the norm. He’s proven on and off the field to be an asset. The question is: Do the Panthers invest in Reddick, better suited for a 3-4 scheme, or in getting bigger on the edge to play more 4-3? Defensive coordinator Phil Snow would like to get bigger up front, so that could decrease Reddick’s value. The market price likely will decide this one. — David Newton
Free agent: QB Jameis Winston
Quarterback is by far the Saints’ top priority when it comes to personnel decisions. All options should be on the table, including a blockbuster trade or the draft. But Winston might have the best combination of affordability and upside if the Saints feel good about his recovery from a torn ACL. He went 4-2 in the six games he completed in 2021 and finished with a TD-INT ratio of 14-3. — Mike Triplett
Free agent: G Alex Cappa
Since quarterback Tom Brady isn’t technically a free agent — and the decision to retire rests solely with him — we can’t choose him. But no doubt, he’s the glue that will keep this roster together. After Brady, the Bucs have 23 players set to become unrestricted free agents, and coach Bruce Arians said Monday that the team will prioritize its own free agents in March. I don’t think there’s any way they let wide receiver Chris Godwin out of the building, even coming off a torn ACL. Center Ryan Jensen also had arguably his best season, as did safety Jordan Whitehead. Carlton Davis remains their best cornerback. They also need to consider the returns of Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette. So where does that leave the starting right guard, Cappa, when there’s only so much money to go around with their projected cap space currently below $15 million? — Jenna Laine
Free agent: OLB Chandler Jones
Jones continues to establish himself as one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL, but there’s a distinct possibility he plays for another team in 2022. He wanted an extension before this season and when he didn’t get that he asked for a trade and didn’t get that either. He played for $15.5 million in 2021 and turned in 10.5 sacks — the sixth time in the last seven seasons he recorded double-digit sacks. It’s likely he doesn’t get the type of contract he wants from the Cardinals and tests the free-agency waters before deciding whether to return or, more likely, sign elsewhere. — Josh Weinfuss
Free agent: WR Odell Beckham Jr.
The Rams signed receiver Beckham and traded for outside linebacker Von Miller in November as half-season rentals to make a Super Bowl run. Now both are pending unrestricted free agents and the Rams must determine if there’s space on the roster and in the budget for them to return. Beckham has revived his once-stellar career in L.A., catching 27 passes for 305 yards and 5 touchdowns in seven regular-season starts, while Miller has five sacks and a forced fumble in eight starts. Because of salary-cap restraints, it is unlikely both will be able to return but watch for the Rams to find a way to keep at least one of them around. — Lindsey Thiry
Free agent: G Laken Tomlinson
Tomlinson has quietly been one of the Niners’ most consistent and reliable players for a few seasons now and forms a dynamic combination with Trent Williams on the left side. Tomlinson is due to cash in on a deal that should exceed the $5.5 million average value of his last contract, probably by a lot. After the Niners gave Williams a record-setting deal last offseason and with right tackle Mike McGlinchey due for an extension soon, will the Niners want to make another significant investment on the line? That could depend on how far along 2021 second-round pick Aaron Banks is in his development. — Nick Wagoner
Ryan Clark looks ahead to the NFC title game matchup between the 49ers and Rams.
Free agent: S Quandre Diggs
The Seahawks did not want to extend Diggs last offseason, presumably in part because they gave a record-setting deal to their other main safety, Jamal Adams. But Diggs was arguably their team MVP in 2021. He led the Seahawks with five interceptions and was as big a reason as any why they were among the best defenses in the NFL in limiting explosive passing plays. The question is whether they’ll gamble and let him hit free agency, where his market could be tempered by his broken leg from Week 18, or lock him up beforehand. The franchise tag, at a projected cost of around $13 million, seems possible. — Brady Henderson
Free agent: CB Levi Wallace
After losing cornerback Tre’Davious White for the season with a torn ACL, the Bills needed Wallace to step up as their top corner. He played well in that role and the Bills would be wise to bring him back after his efforts. They lack depth at corner and could use a variety of solid defensive backs on the roster. Re-signing him, however, is not a guarantee given the team’s cap situation and his role on the roster. He may be on a path to getting more money for a bigger role elsewhere. — Alaina Getzenberg
Free agent: DE Emmanuel Ogbah
Miami will keep Ogbah, who has 18 sacks in his past two seasons and is a critical component of its pass rush. He signed a two-year, $15 million deal with Miami in 2020 and is likely to get a pay increase with his next deal — which Spotrac estimates will be around the three-year, $30 million range. With roughly $70 million in cap space, it’s a move the Dolphins can afford before focusing on the other side of the ball. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Free agent: CB J.C. Jackson
A deal likely won’t be cheap, but Jackson seems to have an affinity for New England, so if it’s close to another offer, the tiebreaker seemingly goes to the team that initially gave him a chance as an undrafted free agent in 2018. But one factor to consider is how Jackson’s poor playoff performance against the Bills — as part of a complete defensive dud — alters the team’s evaluation of the fifth-year pro. — Mike Reiss
Free agent: WR/KR Braxton Berrios
The Jets really want to re-sign Berrios, a hardworking football devotee who had a strong finish (four touchdowns in the final three games) that endeared him to the fan base. Not only did he make first-team All-Pro as a kick returner, but Berrios proved to be a dependable slot receiver with the ability to run jet sweeps. The question is whether the Jets are willing to pay him as a full-time player on offense. If they see him as just as part-time gadget player, he probably will hit the open market. — Rich Cimini
Free agent: C Bradley Bozeman
Bozeman has been a dependable starter for the past three seasons, playing left guard before moving to center. The sides haven’t been close on a new deal, and Bozeman recently said he doesn’t know whether he has played his last game in Baltimore. The Ravens recently re-signed Patrick Mekari, who started at right tackle this season but could prove to be a fallback option at center if Bozeman doesn’t return. Baltimore also has Trystan Colon, who has filled in at center over the past two seasons. — Jamison Hensley
Free agent: S Jessie Bates III
Even before the start of the season, Bates was trending toward a franchise-tag designation for 2022. Cincinnati opted to not give Bates the long-term deal he was looking for before this season started. A franchise tag gives him one year of a strong salary. Then we’ll see how willing both sides will be to negotiate when 2023 rolls around. — Ben Baby
Ryan Clark looks back at the Bengals and Chiefs meeting earlier in the season and is eager to see their matchup in the playoffs.
Free agent: DE Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney proved to be a terrific complement to Myles Garrett rushing the pass from the other side. After a banner season, Clowney is likely going to ask for more than just a one-year deal this time around. But even if it costs them, the Browns would be wise to keep the Clowney/Garrett pairing together moving forward. — Jake Trotter
Free agent: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
For the second season in a row Smith-Schuster will likely return to Pittsburgh, the team that drafted him in 2017. This seemed improbable even a year ago, but the Steelers found a way to bring him back on a one-year deal for 2021. And they have even more cap space in 2022. Once Smith-Schuster went down in Week 5 with a significant shoulder injury, it was obvious how much the Steelers missed his physicality and energy. Smith-Schuster will undoubtedly keep an eye on the quarterback situation, but don’t be surprised if he’s back in a Steelers uniform next season. — Brooke Pryor
Free agent: S Justin Reid
Reid, a third-round pick in the 2018 draft, is one of the best players on the Texans defense — but he is not expected to re-sign in Houston. Reid will command more than what the rebuilding Texans will want to play on the open market. He was suspended for one game this season for violating team rules after he challenged David Culley’s coaching in a team meeting. — Sarah Barshop
Free agent: WR T.Y. Hilton
Hilton is one of general manager Chris Ballard’s favorite players. But the receiver has made it no secret that he is thinking about retiring after 10 seasons in the NFL. Hilton, who has missed 16 games over the past four seasons, is coming off a down year statistically with 23 receptions for 331 yards. The issue the Colts face is they lack depth at receiver beyond Michael Pittman Jr. That’s why the possibility of re-signing Hilton is a priority. That’s if Hilton wants to play another season. — Mike Wells
Free agent: LT Cam Robinson
The Jaguars have many decisions to make along the offensive line and they start with Robinson, who played the 2021 season on the franchise tag. He played well enough for the Jaguars to consider signing him to a new contract, but they also could use the franchise tag again at roughly $17 million.
Rookie Walker Little was solid in the final two games of the season with Robinson out. But was that enough evidence that he could slide in and be the starter in 2022 and beyond? Probably not. Plus, the Jaguars have a major issue at right tackle with Jawaan Taylor, who has really struggled the last two seasons (17 penalties, tied for the NFL lead). Bringing Robinson back and moving Little to right tackle makes a lot of sense. — Michael DiRocco
Free agent: OLB Harold Landry III
Landry’s 12 sacks on the season marked the first time a Titans pass-rusher finished with a double-digit total since Brian Orakpo had 10.5 in 2016. Tennessee simply can’t allow a pass-rusher it developed to leave via free agency after the many swings and misses it has had in free agency and the draft. The Titans will find a way to re-sign Landry but it will come at a high cost because his position holds a four-year, $70 million market value. — Turron Davenport
Free agent: QB Teddy Bridgewater
The Broncos have several prominent players poised for free agency, guys like RB Melvin Gordon III, S Kareem Jackson, CB Bryce Callahan, LB Alexander Johnson and LB Josey Jewell. But Bridgewater is part of the team’s biggest offseason decision — what happens at quarterback. Drew Lock is under contract for the 2022 season, but once the Broncos’ new coaching staff is in place a decision needs to be made. With limited options in free agency and the draft, especially for an immediate upgrade, the Broncos need to try to make a blockbuster trade or they’ll have to decide whether Bridgewater is part of the stopgap strategy for at least one more season. — Jeff Legwold
Free agent: S Tyrann Mathieu
Kansas City wants to retain the nine-year veteran and he would like to finish his career with the team, so eventually the sides will reach an agreement. The Chiefs have no reasonable way of replacing all that Mathieu brings, both as a player on the field and a leader in the locker room. He is too valuable in both areas for the Chiefs to let him go. — Adam Teicher
Free agent: QB Marcus Mariota
Yes, an underused backup quarterback whose greatest skill set is in an area that’s an Achilles’ heel for the Raiders — red zone efficiency — is the biggest looming free-agent decision. Because with so many dominoes still to fall with the Raiders — from a new general manager to potentially a new coach — starter Derek Carr‘s status also bears watching. And if Las Vegas was to bring back Mariota, it would likely not be as a backup again. — Paul Gutierrez
Free agent: WR Mike Williams
Williams is coming off his most NFL productive season, as he put up a team-high 76 catches for 1,146 yards and 9 touchdowns. He has great chemistry with quarterback Justin Herbert. At age 27, Williams would be coveted in the offseason free-agent market, and it might be tough for the Chargers to keep him. If it comes down to it, a franchise tag could cost more than $18 million for one more year of the Herbert-to-Williams connection. — Shelley Smith
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