Ranking the NFL’s Best Bargain Adds of the 2022 Offseason
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Everyone loves a great deal. It’s why dollar stores and early-bird specials exist, and it’s why sleepers are a common topic in fantasy football. As in life, great bargains are sought after in the NFL.
They can help construct a winning roster by adding talent and preserving salary-cap space and/or draft capital. Back in 2012, for example, the Seattle Seahawks got a bargain by taking quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round. Not only did this give Seattle a franchise quarterback on an affordable rookie contract, but it also allowed the Seahawks to grab defensive staples Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner in the first two rounds.
Less than two years later, Wilson was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
While it’s impossible to know which steal is going to deliver a championship in the next couple of campaigns, we’ve seen some tremendous values during the 2022 offseason. Here, we’ll rank the top seven based on factors like price point, positional value, team needs and any relevant related roster moves.
Trades, free-agent signings and draft picks are all fair game. And while these might not all go down as the best moves of the 2022 offseason—we have another list for that—each was a bona fide bargain.
Let’s dig in.
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The wide receiver market went haywire this offseason, with top receivers (and trade acquisitions) Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill getting record deals. Hill and Adams lead all receivers with contracts worth $30 and $28 million per year, respectively.
But the top-end guys aren’t the only ones getting paid. Former Arizona Cardinals complementary receiver Christian Kirk inked a deal worth $18 million annually with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Kirk will replace DJ Chark Jr., who signed with the Detroit Lions in free agency.
Detroit landed Chark on a one-year, $10 million contract, which is a steal when compared to the going rate for receivers.
The Lions were likely able to get a bargain because Chark is coming off a fractured ankle that ended his 2021 campaign. However, the injury occurred in Week 4, and Chark should be ready for the start of the regular season.
Chark has already been working out with quarterback Jared Goff.
This was a tremendous deal or two reasons. One, Chark was a Pro Bowler in 2019 and has caught 15 touchdowns over the past three years. He’ll quickly become one of Goff’s top targets alongside Amon-Ra St. Brown and tight end T.J. Hockenson.
Secondly, the presence of Chark gave Detroit enough flexibility to take Alabama’s Jameson Williams in the first round—and to justify trading up to do so. Williams is an elite prospect but suffered a torn ACL in the national title game against Georgia.
Williams should be Detroit’s No. 1 receiver of the future, but he’s not expected to see the field until October. That’s fine because, with Chark in the lineup, Detroit has no real reason to rush Williams back before he’s ready.
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Matt Ludtke/Associated Press
This offseason, Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward signed a contract worth $20.1 million annually. He’s now the league’s highest-paid corner in average annual value, but he’s far from the only heavily compensated one.
Nine cornerbacks are making at least $15 million a year, and 22 corners are making double digits. This group includes a 33-year-old Joe Haden who just signed with the Buffalo Bills.
So, how the heck did the Green Bay Packers lock up 26-year-old cornerback Rasul Douglas on a three-year, $21 million deal? They likely got the bargain because last season was Douglas’ first with true high-end production.
He appeared in 12 games with nine starts and logged 57 tackles, 13 passes defended, five interceptions and two pick-sixes. He allowed an opposing passer rating of only 44.5.
Douglas went from being a practice-squad member of the Arizona Cardinals to being a centerpiece of the Packers secondary. He might not be the proven No. 1 corner Ward is and Haden once was, but he’s in his prime and comes at far less than market value.
This deal also gave Green Bay flexibility in the draft. Instead of needing to take a corner with one of their first-round picks, the Packers were able to snag linebacker Quay Walker and defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt.
In fact, the team didn’t even use a draft pick on a corner. With Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes and Douglas on the roster, the position is one of strength.
Alexander, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, is likely in line for his own league-leading contract. Douglas, though, is playing on a steal of a deal.
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John Amis/Associated Press
Not every big bargain came on the open market. In the Philadelphia Eagles’ case, their sweet Georgia peach of a deal came when Bulldogs linebacker Nakobe Dean fell in the draft.
Widely regarded as a first-round talent—he was the 21st-ranked prospect on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department’s big board—Dean apparently fell because of concerns about a pectoral injury and perhaps his smaller stature and physical upside.
Those concerns, though, appear to have been overblown, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler:
“I’m told all 32 teams were sent letters from Dean’s independent doctors clearing him for football activities and classifying the injury as a pectoral strain. …The other major concerns with Dean were his size (5-foot-11, 229 pounds) and lack of speed (he didn’t run at the combine or a pro day), leading some to wonder if this is a case of a great college player not translating to the pros. But other scouts scoff at that, insisting his instincts will make him a Day 1 starter for Philly.”
While plenty of teams passed on Dean, by pulling the trigger at 83rd overall, Philadelphia landed a guy who has logged at least 70 tackles in each of the last two seasons. Dean projects as a future face of the defense.
By getting Dean so late, the Eagles were able to use earlier picks on defensive tackle Jordan Davis and center Cam Jurgens. They also traded the 18th overall pick and a third-rounder for Tennessee Titans receiver A.J. Brown.
Brown and Davis should be instant-impact starters, and Jurgens projects as the eventual heir to longtime starting center Jason Kelce. Dean should be an early contributor too, and his selection in Round 3 was a steal.
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Roger Steinman/Associated Press
We’ve already look at the wild wide receiver market of 2022. What we need to discuss now is the Browns’ ability to somehow steal Amari Cooper from the Dallas Cowboys.
Yes, the Cowboys needed cap space, and the Browns took on the remainder of a five-year, $100 million deal. But the cost of doing business was ludicrously cheap. Cooper cost nothing more than a fifth-round pick and a sixth-rounder swap.
It didn’t take long for the value to become apparent.
The Packers netted first- and second-round picks for Adams. The Kansas City Chiefs got 2022 first- and second-round picks, 2022 and ’23 fourth-round selections and a 2023 sixth-round pick for Hill. The Titans got the 18th pick and a third-rounder for A.J. Brown, while the Baltimore Ravens got the 23rd pick for Marquise Brown and a third-rounder.
While Cooper isn’t as dominant as Adams or Hill, though arguably as potent as A.J. Brown and better than Marquise Brown, he’s still a No. 1-caliber wideout.
Cooper had 1,100-yard seasons in both 2019 and 2020. While his production dipped to 865 yards in 2021, he still caught eight touchdowns and provided a quarterback rating of 116.9 when targeted. He’ll only turn 28 in June and is still in his prime.
How did Cleveland land Cooper at such a bargain? Well, his contract is part of the equation, and it’s why he isn’t higher on this list. The other factor is that Dallas let it slip that it would release Cooper if it couldn’t trade him.
The Cowboys had little leverage at the negotiating table. There was also the timing. Had Cleveland waited until after the start of free agency March 16, there’s virtually no chance Cooper would have been available for a Day 3 selection.
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Eric Gay/Associated Press
The Packers defensive line is also going to be tremendous in 2022 following the drafting of Wyatt and the signing of former Seahawks and Chiefs defensive tackle Jarran Reed.
The rotation now features Wyatt, Reed, longtime standout Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry.
Reed is an even bigger bargain for the Packers than Douglas. While he only signed a one-year deal, that contract comes at the bargain-basement price of $3.25 million, with the potential to be worth up to $4.5 million. That’s ridiculously low.
Last season, the 29-year-old defender logged 43 tackles, 23 solo stops, two forced fumbles, 2.5 sacks and 19 quarterback pressures. He started all 17 games for Kansas City and played 64 percent of the defensive snaps. With the Seattle Seahawks in 2020, Reed logged 6.5 sacks and 22 quarterback pressures.
On top of his production and reliability, Reed adds value with his versatility and thrive in any down-and-distance situation.
“Next to Kenny, next to Dean, that’ll be pretty exciting,” defensive line coach/run game coordinator Jerry Montgomery said, per Wes Hodkiewicz of the team’s official website. “He’s been a dominant player in this league. Was really, really productive in Seattle, and I think he had an OK year last year. But I’m excited to work with him. And he brings a lot to the table—both in the run and in the pass.”
Adding Reed gave Green Bay another impact defender. It also gave the Packers flexibility with Wyatt. The former Bulldog is supremely gifted but raw, so the team can now afford to groom the rookie as a rotational player.
How no other team latched on to Reed at a higher price is a bit of a mystery, but the Packers’ deal may prove to be the free-agent bargain of 2022.
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Aaron Doster/Associated Press
We discussed how Wilson helped change the course of Seahawks history. Well, the Atlanta Falcons might have a similar player in Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder.
The Falcons traded Matt Ryan this offseason and signed Marcus Mariota as a placeholder. While there’s no guarantee that Ridder will turn out as great as Wilson, he has all the tools one could want.
“Considering the improvement he showed his senior season and with still enough upside left to tap into, he has a path toward being a Pro Bowl-caliber player at the position if he gets in the right situation and can continue to work on his consistency,” Nate Tice of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.
Ridder wasn’t the only potential starting quarterback to go after Day 1, of course. The Titans and the Carolina Panthers grabbed Malik Willis and Matt Corral, respectively, in the third round. The Washington Commanders got Sam Howell in the fifth. However, Ridder represents the best deal.
“This feels like a steal,” ESPN’s Domonique Foxworth said of Ridder’s selection (h/t Russ Heltman of FanNation). “This guy’s a potential starting quarterback in the NFL. To get that guy in the third round is a great acquisition.”
Ridder was the top-ranked quarterback on the B/R big board and the 17th-ranked prospect. The Falcons got him at 74th overall. By waiting, Atlanta was able to use a first-round pick on a new No. 1 receiver in USC’s Drake London. It also added defensive end Arnold Ebiketie and linebacker Troy Andersen on Day 2 before grabbing Ridder.
This bargain also gives Atlanta immense future flexibility.
If Ridder proves to be the quarterback of the future, the Falcons have him on a team-friendly deal for the next four seasons and can build a strong supporting cast. If he doesn’t, they can afford to roll the dice on another quarterback early in the 2023 draft.
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Michael Conroy/Associated Press
The same year the Seahawks drafted Wilson, the Denver Broncos signed quarterback Peyton Manning after he already had a Hall of Fame career with the Indianapolis Colts. Four years later, Manning had his second Super Bowl victory, and Denver had its third.
The Colts might have made a similar franchise-altering acquisition this offseason by dealing for Ryan.
The 36-year-old has posted a passer rating above 90 in each of the past six seasons. He has also played in a Super Bowl, has four Pro Bowls and one league MVP on his resume and has passed for 59,735 yards and 367 touchdowns.
Like Manning, Ryan is joining a playoff-caliber roster that may now be a title contender with him under center.
What did it cost Indy to find an answer at the game’s most important position? A 2022 third-round pick. That’s it. The selection is lower than what Indy sent to the Washington Commanders when it dealt Carson Wentz.
Indy was able to get this incredible bargain because once the Falcons made a play for Deshaun Watson, who landed in Cleveland, the decision to change course at quarterback was made.
“We’d moved on,” Atlanta head coach Arthur Smith told Sports Illustrated‘s Albert Breer of the trade. “He had a great career, and I’ll always be appreciative of it, very thankful I got to work with him. But we moved on, and that’s the nature of the game.”
Watson and Wilson were both dealt before Ryan, which may have helped limit his market and price point. Even at Ryan’s age—he’ll turn 37 next week—this is a steal. Wilson is only three-and-a-half years younger than Ryan, and he (and a fourth-rounder) netted two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a fifth-round pick, quarterback Drew Lock, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and tight end Noah Fant from the Broncos.
If Ryan does deliver a Super Bowl to the Colts, this trade could go down as the steal of this century.
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