The idea is for veterans acquired via free agency or trade to help improve a team whether it's going from mediocrity to the playoffs or playoff participant to Super Bowl contender. The Rams hit the jackpot last year by making an offseason trade with the Lions where two first-round picks, a third-round pick and quarterback Jared Goff were dealt for quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Rams are the reigning Super Bowl champions largely because of the upgrade at quarterback.
Ten veteran newcomers making a difference at the quarter mark of the 2022 season have been identified. Contribution and salary were taken into account when making the selections. A couple of lower-cost additions who are turning out to be pleasant surprises have been included.
Tyreek Hill, Dolphins
Signability prompted the Chiefs to move Tyreek Hill, who was entering a contract year, in March. He was dealt to the Dolphins for five draft picks: 2022 first-, second- and fourth-round picks in addition to 2023 fourth- and sixth-round selections.
Hill received a four-year, $120 million contract extension, which has $72.2 million in guarantees, from Miami where $52.535 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Realistically, Hill has a three-year extension for $75 million because of $45 million in 2026, the final contract year.
The Dolphins have one of the NFL's most potent passing attacks in large part to Hill. He's leading the NFL with 477 receiving yards and is tied for second with 31 receptions. His eight receiving plays of 20 yards or more are the most in the league.
A.J. Brown, Eagles
The Titans surprisingly traded A.J. Brown to the Eagles during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft for 2022 first-round and third-round picks rather than pay him in a rapidly escalating wide receiver market. The Eagles gave Brown a four-year, $100 million extension containing slightly more than $57 million of guarantees in connection with the trade.
Brown is the top-flight receiving threat the Eagles have been sorely lacking. Third-year quarterback Jalen Hurts taking a big step forward this season has coincided with Brown's arrival. Brown has 25 receptions for 404 receiving yards and a touchdown as the Eagles are the NFL's only undefeated team at 4-0. His receiving yards rank third in the league. Barring injury, Brown should shatter his career-best marks of 70 catches and 1,075 yards with the Titans during the 2020 season.
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Khalil Mack, Chargers
The Chargers acquired Khalil Mack from the rebuilding Bears for a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 sixth-round pick. He is a part of the Chargers taking advantage of Justin Herbert still being cheap for a starting quarterback, because of his rookie contract, by massively upgrading the talent after barely missing the playoffs last season.
Mack was limited to seven games in 2021 because of a left foot injury that required surgery. He isn't showing any ill effects. Mack's five sacks are tied for third-most in the NFL this season.
Bobby Wagner, Rams
The Seahawks released Bobby Wagner in March rather than pay him $16.6 million this year on a $20.35 million salary cap number. Wagner is coming off a 2021 season in which he had a career-high 170 tackles while earning his eighth straight Pro Bowl selection and second-team All-Pro honors. The Southern California native was intent on coming back home so he joined the Super Bowl LVI champion Rams on a five-year, $50 million contract worth up to $65 million through incentives.
Wagner is the NFL's No. 2 off-ball linebacker for 2022, according to Pro Football Focus' grading system. The future Hall of Famer has been on the field for 252 of the Rams' 253 defensive snaps (99.6%) this season.
Marcus Williams, Ravens
Marcus Williams got the top safety contract in free agency. He signed a five-year, $70 million deal with the Ravens, worth $37 million in guarantees, where $32 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Williams has been a bright spot in a secondary plagued by inconsistency. His three interceptions are tied for second-most in the NFL this season.
Christian Kirk, Jaguars
The Jaguars raised eyebrows by signing Christian Kirk to a four-year, $72 million contract with $37 million fully guaranteed when free agency began. The deal is worth up to $84 million through incentives for a maximum value of $21 million per year. Kirk's $18 million per year easily exceeded all reasonable projections of his contract. He didn't have 1,000 receiving yards in any of his four NFL seasons with the Cardinals.
Kirk has been the crown jewel of Jacksonville's spending spree in free agency. The much-improved Jaguars and the Titans are tied for first in the AFC South with 2-2 records. Kirk has 20 catches, 327 receiving yards and three touchdown receptions. A first 1,000-yard receiving season is well within Kirk's reach.
Haason Reddick, Eagles
Haason Reddick gets to the quarterback no matter what uniform he is in. He tied for fourth in the NFL with 12.5 sacks while on the Cardinals in 2020. Riches in free agency didn't await Reddick so he took a one-year, $6 million deal worth up to $8 million through incentives from the Panthers in 2021 where he reunited with Matt Rhule, his college head coach at Temple. He had 11 sacks last season.
Reddick proving 2020 wasn't a fluke led to a big payday in free agency. He received a three-year, $45 million contract (worth up to $46.5 million through incentives and salary escalators) with $30 million fully guaranteed from the Eagles. Reddick has 3.5 sacks this season. He leads the NFL with three forced fumbles and is tied for the league lead with two fumble recoveries. Reddick was named Week 4's NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
Charvarius Ward, 49ers
Charvarius Ward was the 49ers' biggest offseason acquisition. He signed a three-year, $40.5 million contract (worth up to $42 million through incentives) with $26.62 million of guarantees. Ward has been everything the 49ers expected him to be on the league's stingiest defense. The 49ers are ranked first in scoring defense (11.5 points per game), tied for first in total defense (234.5 yards per game) and second in pass defense (161.3 yards per game). It's also the NFL's top defense in PFF metrics.
Melvin Ingram, Dolphins
Melvin Ingram didn't sign a one-year, $4 million deal with an additional $1 million in incentives until the middle of May because of a lack of interest in free agency. The 33-year-old was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month for September. Ingram had two sacks, two quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries as the Dolphins went 3-1 in September.
Mack Hollins, Raiders
The Raiders knew they were getting a special teams standout when signing Mack Hollins to a one-year, $2 million deal worth up to $2.5 million with incentives. Hollins wasn't expected to quickly become a key contributor in the passing game. He already has career season highs of 17 receptions and 273 receiving yards while still excelling on special teams. Hollins has taken advantage of Davante Adams being double teamed and Hunter Renfrow missing the last two games with a concussion. Hollins had a career-best game of eight catches for 158 yards and a touchdown in a 24-22 Week 3 loss to the Titans.