Title-winning teams aren’t built with stars alone. Even the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams can attest to that.
While the club featured a plethora of big-name players who contributed heavily during its playoff run, the team also relied on unheralded performers who exceeded their bargain-bin contracts to help raise that banner.
Guys like A’Shawn Robinson and Eric Weddle were frugally acquired on the open market before going on to play important roles. Having these starting-caliber talents on cheap deals allowed the franchise to splurge for its stars while still maintaining enough depth to win it all.
With that in mind, here’s a look at seven still-available free agents who could play a major role without breaking a team’s bank in 2022.
It’s not often that a 28-year-old with three Pro Bowl appearances and an All-Pro nod is still available right before the start of training camp, but Landon Collins is available.
The safety started hot with the New York Giants, amassing 437 tackles, 32 pass defenses, eight interceptions and four sacks while earning all the aforementioned honors during his first four years in the league.
Unfortunately, Collins struggled to stay healthy and didn’t make as much of an impact upon signing with the Washington Commanders in 2019. He missed 13 games over the last two years and struggled with consistency when available.
Collins still flashed his playmaking ability during a trying 2021 campaign, including in Week 14 when he notched an interception and two sacks against the rival Dallas Cowboys. Despite the glimpses, he ultimately failed to live up to the massive six-year, $84 million deal he signed and was released this offseason.
While Collins can be a liability in coverage—he allowed 43 completions on 61 targets to go for 508 yards and eight touchdowns last year—his athleticism and tackling abilities are still top-notch.
The Alabama product could thrive in the right situation, especially as a hybrid safety that lines up in the box. He’s an excellent disruptor in the backfield, evidenced by 41 tackles for losses, 16 QB hits, 10 sacks and seven forced fumbles during his career.
If Collins lands with a team who will deploy him in that role, he should pay dividends while barely making a dent in the salary cap.
Will Fuller has been one of the league’s most dangerous wideouts when healthy, even if those moments have been fleeting in recent years.
After he participated in only two games this past season—his first and only with the Miami Dolphins—and caught just four passes for 26 yards, Fuller’s market isn’t exactly red-hot. Teams are leery that a player who has missed a significant amount of action in all but his rookie campaign won’t return much on an investment, but the upside of a cheap contract is undeniable.
Fuller is less than two years removed from his best showing as a pro. He reeled in 53 catches for 879 yards and eight touchdowns while participating in just 11 games during the 2020 season.
The 6’1″, 184-pound receiver can stretch defenses and torch cornerbacks at his best. His quarterbacks have performed noticeably better with him on the field as well.
During 33 games together with the Houston Texans, Deshaun Watson averaged 281.3 passing yards per game and 8.78 yards per passing attempt. The quarterback’s numbers fell to 249.2 YPG and 7.62 YPA without the top wideout in the lineup.
Any team that still has holes in its receiving corps should consider rolling the dice on Fuller’s health in 2022.
Blake Jarwin was set up to be the Dallas Cowboys’ top tight end until injuries derailed his career.
The Oklahoma State product joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and steadily emerged as a reliable pass-catcher for the organization over the next three seasons. Jarwin’s best showing came in 2019 when he started seven games and caught 31 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns.
Unfortunately for Jarwin, he missed all but one game the following season—one he went into as Dallas’ TE1 following Jason Witten’s departure—due to a torn ACL. He returned last year as Dalton Schultz’s primary backup but was sidelined for a significant chunk of time with a hip injury.
There could still be plenty left in the tank for Jarwin as he seeks to catch on with a new team following his release from the Cowboys this offseason. He’s still just 28 years old and has only played in 42 games during his half-decade NFL career.
At 6’5″, 260 pounds and possessing strong hands, athleticism and blocking ability, there’s still a lot to like about Jarwin’s game. The availability issues are a concern, but picking the tight end up on a dirt cheap contract could help a team win in 2022 as long as he can stay healthy.
Kevin King is best known for his shortcomings in the 2021 NFC Championship Game, but the former Green Bay Packer provided quality cornerback play this past season.
Although he was only available for 10 games and drew just six starts, King made 29 tackles, defended three passes and secured one interception. He was only targeted 28 times on 303 defensive snaps, giving up 20 completions for 258 yards and two touchdowns.
PFF graded the performance at a career-high 70.6, a major improvement over the 55.7 he earned in 2020 and a rating that indicates he could still be a low-end starter as he prepares for his sixth NFL season.
The cornerback stands at 6’3″, 200 pounds and possesses uncanny speed and athleticism for a player of his size. King’s frame allows him to take on assignments against some of the league’s biggest wideouts, and his quickness allows him to keep pace with burners.
While injuries have been a thorn in the 2017 second-round draft pick’s side—2019 was the only season in which he participated in more than 11 games—King can still be a decent depth option for any franchise that needs to reinforce its secondary without spending a fortune.
It’s tough for teams to find talented edge-rushers on the open market who aren’t demanding big bucks. There may be a diamond lurking in the rough, however, as Takk McKinley has yet to find a home for 2022.
McKinley failed to produce for the Cleveland Browns last year—tallying up a meager 2.5 sacks in 11 games—and landed back on the free-agent pile this spring. No club has opted to take another chance on him yet, but it shouldn’t be long before he inks a deal with a franchise hoping to add a competent pass-rusher on a cheap contract.
The 6’2″, 260-pounder plays stronger than he appears and has the versatility to work as either a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 stand-up linebacker. McKinley had his best season as a defensive end with the Atlanta Falcons in 2018 when he notched seven sacks and 15 QB hits as a sophomore.
Still just 26 years old and having played just 60 NFL games, the pass-rusher should have plenty of tread left on his tires and still offers some upside in the right situation.
McKinley showed he could handle a large workload when he logged a career-high 61 percent of the defensive snaps in games he was available for during that strong 2018 season.
He could be a great depth addition to many edge-rushing rotations, especially those augmented by strong interior defensive linemen who will draw double-teams and allow McKinley to take advantage of one-on-one matchups.
Mike Remmers has spent time with eight different franchises—participating in regular season games for six of them—since coming into the league as an undrafted free agent in 2012. He has a wealth of experience stemming from those various stops, as he’s played nearly every position on the offensive line over the past decade.
Remmers took snaps everywhere along the line except for center for the Kansas City Chiefs over the last two years, proving he can still assist a top-tier club in a variety of ways.
That knowledge and versatility will make him a tremendous asset for a contending team looking to bolster its offensive line depth with a dependable but cost-effective veteran.
Offensive line injuries have derailed many championships hopes over the years, so having a strong insurance policy like Remmers on the roster could pay off if a starter goes down.
The 33-year-old has big game experience from a pair of Super Bowl starts, first with the Carolina Panthers in 2015 and again with the Chiefs in 2020.
While Remmers isn’t going to be a Pro Bowler at this late stage of his career, the Oregon State product is more than capable of holding his own if called into action. He earned a starting-caliber 70.1 PFF grade in 2020—the last season in which he drew more than two starts—and could provide similar production for his next team.
Considering he won’t command much more than the veteran’s minimum, Remmers might be a sneaky strong pickup as a swing tackle this summer.
J.C. Tretter was one of the most consistent centers in football during his tenure with the Cleveland Browns.
He played in 80 of a possible 81 games since signing with the club and didn’t come off the field for a single offensive snap in the contests he was active for.
The Cornell product’s toughness should not be questioned after it was reported that he was “never truly healthy” during his stint in Cleveland, dealing with knee and ankle injuries that kept him from practicing and hindered his abilities during games.
Despite the limitations and advancing age, Tretter had the best campaign of his career in 2021, according to PFF metrics.
Given the site hasn’t graded any of Tretter’s seasons out below a 69.1 since his rookie year in 2014, the center is well established as one of the league’s most reliable players at the position and should have plenty left in the tank as he gears up for his ninth season in the league.
While the Browns opted to move on from Tretter for salary cap reasons this offseason, their loss should be another team’s gain. Picking up the 31-year-old on a cheap contract will help a club shore up the interior of the offensive trenches with a steady veteran who can still slot in as a starter.
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