NFL Free Agents Who Can Bail out Teams That Can’t Strike a 2022 Deadline Trade
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Ndamukong Suh (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
The November 1 NFL trade deadline is quickly approaching, and we’ve already started to see a little player movement.
Earlier this week, the Cleveland Browns acquired linebacker Deion Jones from the Atlanta Falcons. While Jones hasn’t played this season while recovering from shoulder surgery, he was a Pro Bowler back in 2017 and made several appearances on our Trade Block Big Board before being dealt.
Presumably, we’ll see other notable names on the move before the deadline hits. However, not every team that needs help can or will be willing to make a deadline trade. For those teams, the free-agent market is the top option.
Here, we’ll examine six free agents who could help solve some glaring weaknesses around the league. We’ll dive into what these unsigned players can offer, which teams should target them, and the potential trade candidates for which they provide alternatives.
Players are listed in alphabetical order.
WR Odell Beckham Jr.: Los Angeles Rams
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Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wants to return to L.A., but he isn’t happy with the offer that the Los Angeles Rams have given him.
LA knows where I wanted to be… but they didn’t offer me… ANYthing!” Beckham tweeted. “So idk what people want me to do, I def kno my worth and what the offer was isn’t reflective of that.”
According to Rams coach Sean McVay, though, L.A. hasn’t made its final offer.
“We have constant dialogue,” McVay said, per ESPN’s Sarah Barshop. “He also knows that certainly I don’t think that’s the last [offer] that would come from us.”
It’s time for the Rams to pony up and find a way to pay Beckham what he wants—before he signs elsewhere. The Rams haven’t gotten much out of Allen Robinson II (107 yards and one touchdown) and have struggled to find a reliable No. 2 opposite Cooper Kupp. L.A. ranks just 18th in net yards per pass attempt.
While Beckham won’t be recovered from the torn ACL he suffered in Super Bowl LVI until late in the season, he can provide the Rams with a spark in the stretch run—exactly what he did last year.
While L.A. has only $5 million in cap space, it may find it easier to pay Beckham than trade for a receiver like Kenny Golladay or Robbie Anderson. Golladay has $31.4 million in dead money remaining on his New York Giants contract, while the Carolina Panthers might not be willing to part with a piece like Anderson.
“The Panthers … aren’t in fire-sale mode,” The Athletic’s Jeff Howe wrote on October 11.
Edge Dee Ford: Pittsburgh Steelers
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The Pittsburgh Steelers lost star pass-rusher T.J. Watt to a torn pectoral in Week 1, and while Watt may return in 2022, it won’t be soon.
ESPN’s Brooke Pryor and Adam Schefter reported his return will be delayed by arthroscopic knee surgery.
The Steelers could try trading for a pass-rusher like Clelin Ferrell of the Las Vegas Raiders or perhaps the Chicago Bears’ Robert Quinn. However, Pittsburgh is 1-4 and just made the switch to rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett. This season is now about developing the quarterback and building for the future. Making a win-now trade wouldn’t make a ton of sense.
However, Pittsburgh still needs to field a functional defense if it’s going to get an accurate read on Pickett and the offense—forcing the rookie into weekly shootout mode isn’t the best idea. Taking a flier on a free-agent pass-rusher like Dee Ford would be logical.
Ford’s career has been derailed by injuries, and he was released by the San Francisco 49ers during the offseason. Back issues landed him on injured reserve last year, but Ford was reportedly healthy before his release.
“I know we’ve gotten a good bill of health from his doctors, saying how good he is in this spot,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said in June, per David Bonilla of 49ers Webzone.
While Ford has only appeared in 18 games since the start of 2019, he’s logged 9.5 sacks and 24 quarterback pressures in those games.
Given his injury history, Ford can likely be signed for a bargain, and if he can stay healthy, he could develop into a long-term contributor for the retooling Steelers.
LB Anthony Hitchens: Los Angeles Chargers
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The Los Angeles Chargers are looking to contend in 2022, but at 3-2, they are far from a dominant team. One of L.A.’s biggest issues has been its poor run defense, which nearly cost them in a close Week 5 win over the Cleveland Browns.
Los Angeles surrendered 213 rushing yards to the Browns and has allowed a whopping 5.8 yards per carry on the season. Trading for a run-stopping linebacker like Maku Grugier-Hill of the 1-3-1 Houston Texans could aid the Chargers run defense tremendously.
If L.A. can’t swing a trade, however, it could scoop up former division rival Anthony Hitchens as a free agent.
Hitchens was released by the Kansas City Chiefs early in the offseason and has yet to find a new home. He worked out for the New Orleans Saints in August but remains available.
Adding Hitchens would provide a veteran presence at the second level of the Chargers defense. It would also add a defender who amassed 158 combined tackles over the past two seasons. In 2021, Hitchens also allowed an opposing passer rating of just 83.4 in coverage.
The fact that Hitchens has extensive experience playing against AFC West teams would be a bonus. He’s spent the past four years game-planning for the Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos and is undoubtedly familiar with the Chiefs offense as well.
With $6.3 million in cap space available, the Chargers should give Hitchens a call immediately.
CB Kevin King: Baltimore Ravens
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The Baltimore Ravens pass defense has struggled this season, and that’s putting it mildly. Baltimore ranks dead-last in passing yards allowed and has surrendered an average of 6.6 yards per attempt on the season.
Baltimore also recently lost starting safety Marcus Williams to a dislocated wrist—though his stint on injured reserve shouldn’t end his campaign.
“It will be a significant amount of time,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, per Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic. “It won’t be a season-ender, though.”
The loss of Williams won’t do anything to aid the Ravens’ inconsistent cornerbacks, and secondary depth should be a priority. Trading for a defender like underutilized Seattle Seahawks cornerback Sidney Jones IV—a healthy scratch in two of the last three weeks—would provide valuable veteran depth.
Alternatively, the Ravens could take a chance on former Green Bay Packers cornerback Kevin King. While King
dealt with a shoulder injury last season, missed seven games and allowed an opposing passer rating of 108.9 in coverage, he has been a quality starter before.
In 2019, King logged a career-high 15 passes defended and five interceptions.
At only 27 years old, King has plenty of upside. He’s a physical corner with a rangy 6’3″ frame and plenty of postseason experience—assets that would greatly benefit the 3-2 Ravens.
It won’t be a shock to see Baltimore address its secondary via a trade before the deadline. However, the Ravens have just $3 million in cap space and may want to see if a budget free agent like King can bail out their defense instead.
QB Cam Newton: Carolina Panthers
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The Carolina Panthers parted with head coach Matt Rhule following their Week 6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The Panthers are now eying another rebuild and will likely see numerous changes during the 2023 offseason.
First, though, Carolina needs to navigate the remainder of this season. Steve Wilks has been tapped as the interim coach, but the Panthers still have a glaring problem at quarterback. Sam Darnold (ankle) remains on injured reserve, while starter Baker Mayfield is dealing with a high-ankle sprain himself.
A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Mayfield will be out for “at least a couple of weeks.”
This leaves P.J. Walker as the Panthers starter, and it would behoove Carolina to add some veteran insurance. Trading for a quarterback like Steelers backup Mason Rudolph could make some sense. With $9.6 million in cap space, however, the Panthers might want to bring back a familiar free agent instead.
Cam Newton is not the playmaking superstar he once was. However, he knows the Carolina roster and its schemes. He made five starts as a fill-in with the Panthers last season, and while he didn’t perform well (64.4 passer rating), he did perform.
Realistically, Newton is the only free-agent quarterback who could step in and see the field for Carolina on short notice. Because of his familiarity with the franchise, Newton would actually be a better emergency option than anyone Carolina might target on the trade market.
DT Ndamukong Suh: Cleveland Browns
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The Browns’ trade for Jones suggests that Cleveland (2-3) will be aggressive at the trade deadline. However, they might not be able to fill their biggest defensive need via a trade.
Cleveland’s defense is loaded with talent but lacks a high-end player on the interior. This has limited the ability of pass-rushers Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney to generate pressure and has led to big breakdowns in run defense.
The Browns rank 30th in yards per carry allowed (5.3).
Good defensive tackles generally aren’t available via trade. Larry Ogunjobi of the Steelers could be, as he’s playing on a one-year deal and isn’t pushing Pittsburgh to the playoffs. However, the Steelers aren’t trading him to a division rival.
Signing Ndamukong Suh would be a far easier path to fixing Cleveland’s defensive woes. While the 35-year-old isn’t the same playmaker he once was, he’s still dependable. Suh played 63 percent
of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive snaps and finished with 27 tackles, six sacks and 19
quarterback pressures. He hasn’t missed a game since 2011.
According to Heavy’s Matt Lombardo, Suh is looking to sign with a contender, which may hurt the 2-3 Browns’ chances. However, Cleveland can offer him the best deal. The Browns lead the league with $35.2 million in cap space.
And, it’s not as if the Browns are a terrible team.
Cleveland’s three losses have come by a combined six points, and defensive breakdowns are what stand between the Browns and a 5-0 record. This team desperately needs another quality defender to bail out its defense if Cleveland is going to be a contender. The Browns need to convince Suh he’s that guy.