2022 NFL Franchise 100: No. 80-76

The NFL season is right around the corner and while all 32 franchises are trying to make their final roster decisions, I wanted to take a different approach to roster building. Inspired in part by the annual NFL Top 100 players list, voted on by the players in the league, I wanted to know who the top 100 players would be to start a team with in 2022.

There are a variety of factors that went into creating this list. Let me lay out the criteria.

First, age played a major role in determining which players made this list. Only six players over the age of 30 made the list. Positional value was the other big driving force behind these rankings. There is no doubt that Jonathan Taylor is one of the best young players in the game right now, but you wouldn’t pick him first overall to start an NFL franchise from scratch. The positional value of running backs is simply not high enough to warrant that. Neither is the longevity of the position on average. You most likely want to find a player who is going to last a long time to build your franchise around. There are a few notable exceptions to that rule. With that in mind, I prioritized quarterbacks, offensive tackles, cornerbacks, edge rushers and wide receivers. There are plenty of instances where a more talented player slid down the board a little further simply because they played a less valuable position.

There were a few other factors I considered, including years remaining on contract, contract structure and salary commitments. There is a reason why rookie contracts are so valuable, especially when you hit on a star. That player is now on a team friendly deal with several years of team control built in.

If you missed the previous entry, you can find it here.

With all of that in mind, let’s continue our countdown to No. 1. Check back Monday for players 75 to 71.

80. Jonathan Allen, DT, Washington Commanders
Age: 27
Years remaining on contract: 4
2022 cap hit: $9.50 million
Rushing the passer is one of the most valuable things any defense can do, especially on the interior. That is where Allen makes his living. After a down season in 2020, he bounced back in a big way with nine sacks, earning him his first Pro Bowl nod. It was the third time in four seasons that Allen had posted at least six sacks. His 34 quarterback pressures were tied with Chris Jones for the second most in the league among interior defensive linemen, trailing only Aaron Donald. My biggest knock against Allen is his contract. He counts for a modest $9.5 million against the cap in 2022, but that number is at least $21.5 million for the remainder of his contract. He is well worth the investment, but that’s far from a bargain.

79. Harold Landry, EDGE, Tennessee Titans
Age: 26
Years remaining on contract: 5
2022 cap hit: $5.05 million
Landry continues to prove himself at the NFL level. He posted a career-high 12 sacks in addition to ranking tied for seventh in quarterback pressures with 43. That culminated in him being selected to his first Pro Bowl. His one area of weakness is in pass coverage, which does matter even if he is one of the game’s better pass rushers. If he can show signs of improvement there while maintaining this level of pass-rushing success, I think he will likely be in the top 50 this time next year. His contract situation could make that a little trickier, as his five-year, $87.5 million extension really starts to take effect with an $18.8 million cap hit, but he has proven himself to be worth the money so far.

78. Jeffery Simmons, DT, Tennessee Titans
Age: 25
Years remaining on contract: 2
2022 cap hit: $4.03 million
We have a mini run on Titans defenders here. Simmons turned in a stellar 2022 season that resulted in his first Pro Bowl nod and a place on the AP All-Pro second team. It was highlighted by 8.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. What’s more, Simmons has shown a clear improvement in disrupting passing lanes, with 11 deflections over the past two seasons. As if that package of production and athleticism wasn’t enough, Simmons still has two years remaining on his rookie deal, including his fifth-year option, which makes him very affordable. At just 25, he is one of the best young linemen in the league and shows no signs of slowing down.

77. Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs
Age: 28
Years remaining on contract: 2
2022 cap hit: $29.4 million
If it wasn’t for Aaron Donald, we would all revere Jones. Since 2017, he has the same number of sacks as Joey Bosa and Yannick Ngakoue, narrowly beating out guys like Khalil Mack and Shaq Barrett. He is truly one of the best interior pass rushers in recent memory and he demonstrated it again in 2022. He posted nine sacks, 34 quarterback pressures and five passes batted down at the line, leading to his third Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections. He is still in his prime at 28 and would likely be higher on my list if it were not for that monstrous cap hit. It’s the sixth largest cap hit in the entire league. 2023 is a little better, but then you are facing a tough decision to pay an interior defensive linemen premium money entering his age 30 season. Jones is the type of guy you want to pay, but it will limit your ability to afford talent elsewhere.

76. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins
Age: 24
Years remaining on contract: 2
2022 cap hit: $8.27
This one probably is going to raise a few eyebrows. Tagovailoa has had a rocky start to his NFL career. He has yet to live up to his fifth overall draft spot back in 2019. Over 23 games, he has 27 touchdowns and 15 interceptions to go with a 66.2 percent completion rate. In reality, those numbers really aren’t that bad. However, consistency and durability have both been difficult to come by for the former Alabama quarterback. There is no use trying to fit a square peg into a round hole though. He is never going to be Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, but he still has the potential to be someone like Drew Brees. In the right offense, I believe Tua can thrive. He is accurate and goes through his progressions well. There are limitations, but I think it is very possible to win with him. On top of that, he is still on his rookie contract, which makes it much easier to build around him from a cap standpoint.

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15 NFL free agents set for a big payday

Every year, there a number of players in contract years who make themselves a ton of money. Players like Josh Norman, Nick Foles and Olivier Vernon showed out in their final year before hitting free agency and cashed in. Raheem Mostert would have been a great candidate to be on this list, but he signed a nice deal just before the Super Bowl.

To be clear here, these are players who have yet to earn that big payday in the pro football. Obviously, Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers and Jadeveon Clowney will land huge contracts, but they have already raked in a ton of cash. With NFL free agency just three weeks away from opening, let’s take a look at players looking to earn a big pay raise.

Cowboys logoDak Prescott, QB, Cowboys
It has been a long time coming, but Dak Prescott is going to get a massive pay increase this offseason. The former 4th-round pick made just over $2 million in 2019. He could very well be in line to land a deal that pays him close to $40 million per season. Even if Dallas decides to use the franchise tag on him, he would likely earn over $25 million in 2020.

Chiefs LogoChris Jones, DL, Kansas City Chiefs
Meet the top defensive player not named Jadeveon Clowney in this free agent class. Jones has been nothing short of a game-wrecker in Kansas City and was an integral part of that defensive resurgence in 2019. There is some buzz about him being an option for the franchise tag. The Chiefs may also look to trade him after that, which they did last year with Dee Ford. He made roughly $1.3 million during his Super Bowl run. On the open market, he could command close to $20 million per year on his next deal.

Ravens logoMatt Judon, EDGE
There has already been some buzz about the Ravens franchise tagging Judon and looking to trade him. He has not been as prolific as Ngakoue, but he does have 29 sacks in four seasons. As a fifth-round pick, he made right around $2 million this year. The franchise tag would see him make around $16 million in 2020, but he could also sign a long-term deal for at least $14.5 million per year.

Buccaneers logoShaquille Barrett, EDGE, Buccaneers
Nobody made more money for themselves in 2019 than Barrett. The 27-year-old signed an incentive-laden deal with the Buccaneers, maxing out at $4 million. He went on to lead the NFL in sacks and now seems poised to land a contract somewhere in the range of $17 to $20 million per year. That type of leap is nothing short of incredible.

Titans logoDerrick Henry, RB, Titans
Heading into the season, I was very pessimistic about Henry’s chances of landing a long-term deal in Tennessee. After he led the NFL in rushing this season and almost carried the Titans to a Super Bowl. He made about $1.1 million this season. He will almost definitely 10 times that in 2020.

Saints logoTeddy Bridgewater, QB, Saints
Many thought Bridgewater would attempt to land a big payday in the 2019 offseason. Instead, he signed a one-year, $7.25-million deal to stay as Drew Brees’ backup. His 5-0 stint as the starter when Brees got hurt earned him a ton of money. Expect him to sign a deal north of $20 million per year in New Orleans or elsewhere.

Jaguars logoYannick Ngakoue, DE, Jaguars
If somehow Jacksonville lets Ngakoue walk, some team is going to hand him a monster deal in free agency. He has 38 career sacks in four seasons. As a former third-round pick, Ngakoue has well outplayed his contract. He made around $2 million in 2019. He should make upwards of $17 million per year going forward.

Chargers logoAustin Ekeler, RB, Chargers
As a former undrafted running back out of West Colorado State, Ekeler flew under the radar for a while. He is not a bellcow back, but came just shy of 1,000 yards receiving in 2019. He earned a meager $645 thousand this past season, but he should probably earn himself around 10 times that on average, in the $7 million range. At 24 years old, he is hitting free agent at a prime point for running backs.

Falcons logoAustin Hooper, TE, Falcons
He has flown under the radar a bit, but Hooper has turned into one of the top 10 tight ends in the NFL. As a 2016 3rd-round pick, he played at the final season of his rookie deal. The 25-year-old should have plenty of suitors and should more than quadruple the $2 million he made in 2019.

Vikings logoAnthony Harris, S, Vikings
People have started to learn his name, especially after he finished tied for the NFL lead in interceptions this season. As a former undrafted free agent in 2015, Harris is in line for a massive pay bump. He earned roughly $3 million this year on a one-year deal. The 28-year-old will likely land a deal four times that.

Panthers logoTre Boston, S, Panthers
Working as a mercenary the past three seasons, Boston is in line for a longer deal with some more financial guarantees. He has 11 interceptions in that time frame. He turns 28 this summer and should be looking to cash in after another good season. After earning $2.275 million last year, he should be looking into the $9 million per year range at least on his next deal.

Panthers logoJames Bradberry, CB, Panthers
Another member of the Panthers secondary in line for a big jump, Bradberry is one of the better cover corners in the NFL. Carolina will likely keep him in house and hand him a handsome raise. He made just under $1 million this season. He should be making upwards of $13 million per year by next season.

Texans logoD.J. Reader, DL, Texans
As a former 5th rounder, Reader has flown under the radar. He made just over $2 million in 2019 but he outplayed that paycheck by a wide margin. He won’t reset the market by any means as mostly a run stuffing option. I think we will likely see him land a deal worth around $10 or $11 million per year. He is due for a nice payday.

Lions LogoGraham Glasgow, G, Lions
Interior linemen don’t often move the needle, but finding a player capable of keeping your quarterback upright is invaluable. Glasgow has started 58 games out of a possible 64 over the past four seasons. He is 27 years old and should find himself making about $10 million per year after earning just $2 million in 2019.

NFL Draft Podcast – AFC Free Agency Primer and Draft Implications

After breaking down the NFC last week, it is time to discuss which AFC free agents will impact the 2020 NFL Draft. The Patriots await Tom Brady’s free agent decision while the rest of the division hopes to close the game and patch up their offensive lines. Tennessee’s incredible run came courtesy of a number of players that are not under contract for 2020. Houston, Indianapolis and Jacksonville all enter free agency with at least one major player it needs to bring back. The reigning Super Bowl champs have to figure out what they will do with Chris Jones. Meanwhile, Los Angeles might need to rebuild its whole offense. In the North, the Ravens have some difficult decisions to make regarding Matt Judon and Michael Pierce. The Browns, Bengals and Steelers all need reinforcements in the trenches. Catch up on all the major pending free agents ahead of the scouting combine! Listen to the latest episode now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.