NFL Free Agency: Ranking the Top 5 Free Agent Safeties in 2022
NFL Free Agency: Ranking the Top Free Agent Safeties in 2022
There's a lot of young safety talent to be had in this year's free agent class. Which players could make the biggest difference in a new uniform next season?
5. Marcus Maye, New York Jets
Maye was a name to monitor at the trade deadline, but after all was said and done, he remained with the Jets despite the two teams not agreeing to a new contract. Now that the 28-year-old's contract has lapsed, he'll be able to choose his team. And while he'll surely get a nice chunk of money, an injury-shortened 2021 season won't help. In it, the free safety made just six starts, turning in only two passes defended, four tackles for a loss and a 55.9 player grade, according to Pro Football Focus.
A former second round pick out of Florida, Maye is coming off a season in which he made $10.6 million on the heels of two solid seasons for New York, but he is coming off a torn Achilles that could sideline him for the beginning of the new season. That could make him an option for contending teams that lack cap space, such as the Ravens, Buccaneers or Patriots.
4. Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals
As with Maye, Bates didn't have his best year in 2021, and for different reasons. Although the soon-to-be 25-year-old played in 15 of 17 games, he had but a single interception and four pass defenses after posting 3 and 15, respectively, a year ago. He was voted an All-Pro Second Teamer in 2020, whereas he failed to rank among the top players at his position this year, finishing with a 56.2 PFF grade.
The fact that Bates appeared in a Super Bowl will help his candidacy in free agency, and at his age he will command a market. The Jets and Jaguars, who ranked 32nd and 31st in pass DVOA, respectively, will lead a host of teams that will look to add Bates to the backend of their defense. He's likely to fetch a four- or five-year deal worth up to $14.5 million a year.
3. Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City Chiefs
Formerly a free safety, Mathieu has been playing more strong safety with Kansas City and over the last four years collectively. For that reason, he's the top guy on this list at that particular position, and as such -- as a run-stuffing and tight end covering defensive back -- he will be highly coveted. After all, in 2021, he was able to start 16 of 17 games and accumulate 76 tackles, 3 interceptions and a 67.3 PFF grade. He proved himself worthy of his third trip to the Pro Bowl.
A Pro Bowler from a contender like the Chiefs is going to attract some nice offers to join teams competing for a title. He could also take more money to go to a younger team looking to make the leap into the playoff run. That ranges from the Jaguars and their $56 million in cap space down to the Eagles and their $22 million that they have to offer. Either way, Mathieu's the type of guy who deserves something like a three-year, $40 million deal to get him through what might be -- at nearly 30 years old -- his last multi-year deal of his career.
2. Jordan Whitehead, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The top two free safeties on the board are where they are for a reason, and it's not just their on-field play. They have youth. Granted, Whitehead is someone who has shined in what has otherwise been an inconsistent Bucs secondary. The former Pittsburgh Panther has started 44 games over the last 3 seasons. This season, over a 14-game sample, the soon-to-be 25-year-old intercepted 2 passes, defended 8 and made 73 tackles (5 for a loss). PFF awarded him with a 74.9 grade.
After playing out the final year of his rookie deal, Whitehead is due a sizable bump to what Spotrac projects to be a $7.8 million value for three to four years. That might even be a little low for Whitehead's recent play and his fit in certain schemes. Depending on what happens with Bates, the Bengals might make sense, but so too do the Steelers and Lions.
1. Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints
Williams is one of the more underrated defenders in all the league. Playing a key part in the Saints' successful defensive unit over the last two years, the five-year veteran has started at least 14 games in each of his five seasons, including 16 in 2021. This year, he accounted for 74 tackles, 2 interceptions and 8 passes defended. An 80.1 grade should have gotten him a bid to the Pro Bowl or even an All-Pro spot.
Flying under the radar to this point, Williams' name should pick up steam over the offseason. He's been a near-elite player and is worthy of a $10 to 11 million a year contract. Securing three or four years would bring him close to his age-30 season, where he might be able to get another deal. For now, though, contenders should and will likely line up for his services. The Raiders, Ravens and Eagles are at the top of that list.
Brett Oswalt has been writing about sports for five years, has covered everything from the NBA to College Football DFS, and previously served as an editor at numberFire. He is a Senior Workforce Planning Analyst at Highmark by day, and an avid sports fan and girl-dad by night. He resides in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife, Marley, daughter, Aria, and goldendoodle, Braun.