Mock drafts are all the rage in the NFL offseason, but too often they overlook the big event that precedes the draft: free agency! Veteran additions have the potential to shift teams’ draft boards and fill big roster holes in both the short and long term.
With that said, we thought it’d be fun to apply the mock draft formula to free agency, which doesn’t get its due. What if the veteran market were conducted like the draft, with all 32 teams picking available players based on their record? What if, instead of bidding with lucrative offers, you could simply “draft” a free agent’s rights for the upcoming season? It’s nonsensical, yes, but it’s also a fun exercise in identifying the year’s most valuable free agents, as well as teams’ top offseason needs.
Check out our 2022 free agency mock draft, featuring the actual first-round draft order, below!
Note: The following players were excluded from the exercise because they’re widely expected and/or reported to either receive the franchise tag or re-sign with their current team: Packers WR Davante Adams, Chargers WR Mike Williams, Chiefs OT Orlando Brown Jr., and Bengals S Jessie Bates III.
A long-term playmaker would be really nice for Trevor Lawrence, but protecting the QB is paramount. With left tackle Cam Robinson hitting the market, Armstead could step in and give them an elite upgrade.
If a big-name QB were hitting the market, they might consider it. Instead, they beef up the uninspiring offense with this year’s top veteran skill player. Even coming off injury, Godwin brings No. 1-level juice out wide.
Few defensive backs have been around the ball like Jackson, and Houston desperately needs playmakers on both sides of the ball. GM Nick Caserio knows him from New England, and he’d give new coach Lovie Smith a real cover man.
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GM Joe Douglas would rather invest elsewhere, but they’ve got two first-rounders, and Williams is worth the payday they gave Marcus Maye on the 2021 tag. Their secondary would instantly improve with his range.
A reach for a tight end? Not when the top priority is making QB Daniel Jones comfortable. Evan Engram is due to depart, and rising-star Schultz could all but serve as Jones’ No. 1 target in Brian Daboll’s restructured offense.
QB is the main issue, but they’ve botched the O-line, too. Scherff is 30 with an injury history, but he’d represent a monumental upgrade on their interior, paving the way for better results on the ground and through the air.
The Bucs would love to keep Jensen, but they can’t afford everyone. Daboll, meanwhile, might actually get to make a real evaluation of Jones by giving up a rock-solid blocker to go along with an improved skill group.
With Dante Fowler Jr. gone, they still have a major hole to fill off the edge, where they’ve long struggled to find steady production. Keeping with Arthur Smith’s goal to capitalize on Matt Ryan’s closing window, this is a quick-fix play.
After dealing Von Miller to stock up on draft picks in 2021, they could use a premier edge rusher opposite Bradley Chubb. Jones may be a shorter-term fix, but he remains a Pro Bowl starter, and they’ve got eyes on big swings at veteran QBs.
Joe Douglas poured money into the position in 2021 with Corey Davis, but Zach Wilson still needs a No. 1 target. A-Rob can be that guy coming off a down year with the Bears, giving New York a pair of big-bodied starters on the outside.
Ron Rivera badly needs an experienced QB upgrade, but this year’s veteran class is weak. Mathieu, meanwhile, would bring all kinds of feisty versatility to a porous secondary, which may see Landon Collins exit as a cap casualty.
A potential steal outside the top 10, the 25-year-old Davis would instantly take over as the Vikings’ top corner, giving new coach Kevin O’Connell a proven, title-winning building block for the post-Mike Zimmer defense.
Funny enough, this would be a perfect spot for Odell Beckham Jr. in the alternate reality where he doesn’t divorce with Cleveland. Gallup, though, is just fine as a promising outside target for a receiving corps that only boasts an aging Jarvis Landry.
Calais Campbell could easily warrant another short-term deal here, but Ogbah offers longer-term upside and some emerging pass-rushing juice for a defensive front that’s lacked steady pressure.
With Derek Barnett hitting the market, the Eagles could swap one early-round pass rusher for another. Landry, 25, has stood up in Tennessee as a 3-4 OLB, but Jonathan Gannon could use him creatively as a much-needed long-term starter.
GM Howie Roseman isn’t one to overspend on linebacker, but he’s now under-spent on it to the point he needs a playmaker, which is what Campbell was for the Packers in 2021. Suddenly, Philly’s defense looks more tenacious.
Bad run defense? Jones, who quietly emerged as a strongman on the 49ers’ vaunted defensive front, would be a big help.
They could use QB, LT and WR help more, but this is about long-term value. At 26, Gesicki is a still-rising playmaker who could help offset the middling production of Adam Trautman. They’re rebuilding, so he’s much better than a stopgap.
19. Eagles: WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Odell might seem like more of a win-now addition, but he looked plenty spry at age 29 before going down in the Super Bowl. The Eagles already have DeVonta Smith, but they could really use another starter out wide, no matter who’s at QB.
It makes too much sense, and it might work in real life, too. Winston may be a one-year flyer more than a real answer, but his big-armed upside would at least give the Steelers a serviceable option at a position without a surefire successor.
Mac Jones could use more weapons, and J.C. Jackson hitting the market makes them needy at corner. But Gregory is the kind of plug-and-play pass rusher who could make their D-line ferocious alongside Matt Judon.
Casey Hayward Jr. is hitting the market, and their defense could use upgrades at basically every spot. Gilmore, meanwhile, knows new coach Josh McDaniels from New England and would give the Raiders an instant No. 1 cover man.
23. Cardinals: DE Calais Campbell
A reunion! And it really would help Arizona, with J.J. Watt often banged up and Chandler Jones mocked elsewhere. Campbell is obviously a short-term solution, but his big body still works up front, both on the inside and outside.
They have plenty of other needs (OG, WR, TE, LB), but with Randy Gregory mocked to a new home and Demarcus Lawrence coming off an injury-riddled year, Clowney would give them an imposing short-term starter for their playmaking “D.”
A corner or receiver would be smart and splashier, but Tomlinson is a rock-solid interior man who could help keep Josh Allen more upright for Buffalo’s inevitable playoff runs over the next few years.
Tennessee is banking on getting over the hump in the near future, with Ryan Tannehill under center, and that requires an improved front. Taylor Lewan is a potential cap casualty, while Brown is still a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle when healthy.
An unspectacular first-round free agent pick, if there ever was one, but what are you gonna do? The Bucs need a QB like no other, and Teddy, while better suited for a spot-starting role, is the last proven arm on the market.
Randall Cobb is aging and expensive. Aaron Rodgers wants to win now. Why not pair Davante Adams and Allen Lazard with a prototypical big-bodied slot target for one or three more playoff runs with the current setup?
He’s not necessarily an elite interior man, but Daniels would offer new coach Mike McDaniel a ready-made starter — very important for a team that figures to build from the trenches out.
A pass rusher like Haason Reddick would be nice, but with Tyrann Mathieu and Charvarius Ward both hitting the market, their secondary is badly in need of some playmaking depth.
31. Bengals: C Bradley Bozeman
Joe Burrow needs more help up front. That’s been clear for a long time. Bozeman really emerged at the heart of the Ravens’ line in 2021, so he’d fit right in as the quarterback of the O-line.
32. Lions: OLB Haason Reddick
A potential steal at the back end, Reddick is just 27 with 23.5 sacks in the last two years. His short- and long-term potential would give Dan Campbell’s defense a much-needed boost.