The 2022 NFL Draft is just 15 days away, but there are plenty of well-known veteran free agents still available. Some signings might need to wait until after the draft, but these are some of the fits for top available players like Julio Jones, Stephon Gilmore, and Tyrann Mathieu.
RB Melvin Gordon: Chargers
I’m still high on third-year running back Joshua Kelley, but the Chargers have made it clear that they are looking for a clear No. 2 back to work in tandem with Austin Ekeler. That could be old friend Melvin Gordon, who spent his first five seasons with the Chargers after being taken in the first round of the 2015 draft. Gordon turns 29 today, and he appears to have plenty left in the tank after again totaling 1,000 yards in his second season with the Broncos in 2021. With 67 total touchdowns over the past six seasons, Gordon remains highly underrated as one of the NFL’s top touchdown-makers.
WR Julio Jones: Packers
Especially with Chris Godwin coming off a torn ACL and uncertain for the early part of the season, the Buccaneers are another exciting team for All-Pro receiver Julio Jones (Tom Brady reportedly reached out to Jones to join him in Tampa) even after adding Russell Gage to the group. But the Packers need to add more outside weapons after trading Davante Adams to the Raiders. Julio has killed Green Bay throughout his career, and you’d have to think Aaron Rodgers would like the idea of bringing him in. In two December games at Lambeau Field, Jones posted lines of 11/259/1 and 8/106/2, so he’ll have no trouble playing in the frigid temperatures—and he also torched the Pack for nine catches, 180 yards, and two touchdowns in the NFC title game back in January 2016. Jones is now 33 and is coming off a frustrating injury-riddled year, but he can still be a gamebreaker when he’s on the field.
DL Akiem Hicks: Vikings
New Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell was a member of the Bears defensive coaching staff a few years ago, so he’s familiar with what Akiem Hicks brings to the table on the interior. Somewhat quietly, the Vikings have put together a very strong front seven while switching to a 3-4 defense, adding linebacker Jordan Hicks (to help make up for the loss of Anthony Barr, a free agent who appears unlikely to re-sign in Minnesota), outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, and defensive lineman Harrison Phillips this offseason. Hicks is another ideal fit for the new scheme, and the Vikings are positioning themselves to compete in 2022, which should be appealing to the veteran defender.
EDGE Jadeveon Clowney: Browns
Former No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney is notoriously patient when it comes to contract negotiations, and it would not be a surprise if he doesn’t sign until late into the summer. Plenty of teams should be interested in a guy that plays extremely hard and is stout against the run in addition to his pass rushing ability, but the Browns profile as the easiest fit. Clowney notched nine sacks for Cleveland last season, his most since 2018 with the Texans.
CB Stephon Gilmore: Eagles
These two high-profile defensive backs are tough to gauge the market for, but it appears a mix of teams like the Eagles, Saints, and Rams are all in the discussion. With Darius Slay manning one side in Philadelphia’s defense, I’ll say bringing in Stephon Gilmore makes a ton of sense for a team that has two first-round draft picks to further bolster the defense and/or the roster overall. In a wide-open NFC that looks considerably weaker than the other conference, Philadelphia has an opportunity to get back to the Super Bowl with a strong offseason and a step forward in Year 2 under Nick Sirianni.
S: Tyrann Mathieu: Saints
Tyrann Mathieu recently told The Kansas City Star that he was “heartbroken” to not re-sign with the Chiefs, stating that he probably would have accepted the same contract they offered to new safety Justin Reid. That might be an indication that Mathieu isn’t getting quite the offers he feels he deserves from other teams, though he might just be taking the Jadeveon Clowney path and remaining patient throughout this process. In the end, I like the Saints as the best fit for “the Honey Badger”, as it would be a homecoming for the LSU product, who would help replace the recently retired Malcolm Jenkins and free agent departee Marcus Williams on the backend of the New Orleans defense.
The obvious fits
There are some players I didn’t include here because either their fits are obvious (and perhaps likely, in the case of Odell Beckham Jr. with the Rams) or I’d like to see how the draft shakes out (Sony Michel and Sammy Watkins, for example). But some of the other immediate moves I believe make sense are Quinton Spain re-signing with the Bengals, Jordan Howard remaining with the Eagles, and T.Y. Hilton going back to the Colts. Also, future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski returning to Tampa Bay is a lock if he continues playing.