32 NFL teams, 32 big free-agent decisions: Which players will return to their 2021 team?

The NFL playoffs are down to just four teams, which means the 28 others are giving a hard look at their rosters and planning to make some decisions regarding free agents in 2022.

It may seem like the regular season just finished, but we are a mere month and change away from March 16 — the opening of free-agency season.

Between now and then franchises have to decide how different, or similar, their rosters will look in 2022. Will Green Bay have a rebuild on its hands? How will the Dallas Cowboys sign all their free agents amid cap pressure? Will someone new be at quarterback for the New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos?

To get an early look at the market, we asked our NFL Nation reporters for the biggest looming free-agent decision on every team. Will playmakers Odell Beckham Jr., Jadeveon Clowney and Mike Williams return to their respective teams? Can Chandler Jones, Davante Adams and Dalton Schultz find better offers on the market? Here is where each team stands as of today.

Let’s start by looking at the NFC East.

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys

Free agent: TE Dalton Schultz

Schultz had 78 catches for 808 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2021 after putting up 63 for 615 and 4 in 2020. He has developed into a highly dependable option for Dak Prescott, but will he be out of the Cowboys’ price point? Look at the contracts Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith received from New England; Schultz could get that much on the open market. Would the Cowboys have the type of room to keep him? Maybe. The franchise tag could be an option as well but that might be earmarked for Randy Gregory. — Todd Archer

New York Giants

Free agent: OLB Lorenzo Carter

The Giants need to add pass-rushers this offseason, not lose any useful players at the position. Carter proved to be effective by finishing this season with five sacks in the last four weeks — after not getting to the quarterback the first 14 weeks. His fate likely lies in what system new general manager Joe Schoen and the next coach plan to run. If he fits, Carter could return on a one-year prove-it deal, unless another team is willing to take the risk on a long-term contract based on a handful of games. — Jordan Raanan

Philadelphia Eagles

Free agent: S Rodney McLeod

McLeod returned from ACL rehab in Week 4 and finished the season on a high note, posting key interceptions in back-to-back games to help the Eagles secure a playoff berth. McLeod, a team leader, will be 32 next season and has dealt with his share of injuries of late. But with safety Anthony Harris and cornerback Steven Nelson also projected to be free agents, it’s worth trying to get McLeod back on a reasonable one-year deal in the name of back-end stability. — Tim McManus

Washington Football Team

Free agent: G Brandon Scherff

The five-time Pro Bowl guard has played on the franchise tag the past two seasons. Washington GM Martin Mayhew confirmed that last offseason the team offered him a deal that would have made him the NFL’s highest-paid guard. It’s uncertain how it was structured, but regardless it did not get the two sides closer to an agreement. Scherff is an elite guard, but the problem comes with health — he has not played more than 13 games in a season since 2017 and has missed a combined 24 games the past five seasons. — John Keim

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears

Free agent: DT Akiem Hicks

The great run-stopper might be a luxury the Bears can’t afford. There’s no doubt their defense looks different when he is in the game, but the problem has been too much time missed because of injury over the past few seasons. Combined with the amount of money the Bears have committed to their front seven — among the most in the league — Hicks might end up with a new address in 2022. The team has to build around quarterback Justin Fields and the savings on Hicks could provide an avenue to help in that goal. — Jesse Rogers

Detroit Lions

Free agent: OLB Charles Harris

After a 3-13-1 finish, the Lions certainly don’t have many must-keep players on the roster, but Charles Harris is one of the guys they should re-sign. Under a new coaching staff, in a new situation, Harris enjoyed his best season as a pro with a career-best 65 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Detroit needs as much depth as possible and he’s already comfortable in the position so it would make sense to bring him back. — Eric Woodyard

Green Bay Packers

Free agent: WR Davante Adams

Adams wants to be the highest-paid receiver in the league, but he surely also would like to continue playing with Aaron Rodgers. There has to be a reason — beyond just the money — that Adams didn’t sign an extension during the season. That reason could be Rodgers. If Rodgers decides he wants to play elsewhere next season, then perhaps the Packers’ only option to retain Adams will be to use the franchise tag. — Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings

Free agent: CB Patrick Peterson

The Vikings will again be tasked with retooling their secondary in the offseason. Peterson came to Minnesota as a free agent on a one-year deal and was the most experienced, put-together corner the Vikings fielded in 2021. Though he expressed a desire to remain in Minnesota, Peterson will soon be 32. The team cannot afford to pay him a contract that guarantees $8 million, nor should they for a cornerback nearing the final years of his career. If he’s willing to stay for less, the Vikings should consider re-signing him while also eyeing a cornerback with their first-round pick. His guidance paid dividends in helping young defensive backs develop last season and would be a benefit for a defense that’s about to undergo a major transition with a new coaching staff. — Courtney Cronin

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons

Free agent: LB Foyesade Oluokun

Oluokun was a force for Atlanta this season. He led the NFL in tackles (192), had a career-high three interceptions and became a leader of Atlanta’s defense. Falcons coach Arthur Smith called Oluokun an “ascending player,” and general manager Terry Fontenot made it clear he would like to retain some of the Falcons’ free agents, even with salary-cap constraints. Oluokun, for his part, said he would like to return, but it’s possible a team covets him highly. It’s too soon to tell what will shake out here, but there appears to be interest from both Atlanta and Oluokun to continue working together. — Michael Rothstein

Carolina Panthers

Free agent: Edge Haason Reddick

The team’s sack leader (11) signed a one-year prove-it deal because there were those that doubted the 12.5 sacks he had at Arizona in 2020 would be the norm. He’s proven on and off the field to be an asset. The question is: Do the Panthers invest in Reddick, better suited for a 3-4 scheme, or in getting bigger on the edge to play more 4-3? Defensive coordinator Phil Snow would like to get bigger up front, so that could decrease Reddick’s value. The market price likely will decide this one. — David Newton

New Orleans Saints

Free agent: QB Jameis Winston

Quarterback is by far the Saints’ top priority when it comes to personnel decisions. All options should be on the table, including a blockbuster trade or the draft. But Winston might have the best combination of affordability and upside if the Saints feel good about his recovery from a torn ACL. He went 4-2 in the six games he completed in 2021 and finished with a TD-INT ratio of 14-3. — Mike Triplett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Free agent: G Alex Cappa

Since quarterback Tom Brady isn’t technically a free agent — and the decision to retire rests solely with him — we can’t choose him. But no doubt, he’s the glue that will keep this roster together. After Brady, the Bucs have 23 players set to become unrestricted free agents, and coach Bruce Arians said Monday that the team will prioritize its own free agents in March. I don’t think there’s any way they let wide receiver Chris Godwin out of the building, even coming off a torn ACL. Center Ryan Jensen also had arguably his best season, as did safety Jordan Whitehead. Carlton Davis remains their best cornerback. They also need to consider the returns of Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette. So where does that leave the starting right guard, Cappa, when there’s only so much money to go around with their projected cap space currently below $15 million? — Jenna Laine

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals

Free agent: OLB Chandler Jones

Jones continues to establish himself as one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL, but there’s a distinct possibility he plays for another team in 2022. He wanted an extension before this season and when he didn’t get that he asked for a trade and didn’t get that either. He played for $15.5 million in 2021 and turned in 10.5 sacks — the sixth time in the last seven seasons he recorded double-digit sacks. It’s likely he doesn’t get the type of contract he wants from the Cardinals and tests the free-agency waters before deciding whether to return or, more likely, sign elsewhere. — Josh Weinfuss

Los Angeles Rams

Free agent: WR Odell Beckham Jr.

The Rams signed receiver Beckham and traded for outside linebacker Von Miller in November as half-season rentals to make a Super Bowl run. Now both are pending unrestricted free agents and the Rams must determine if there’s space on the roster and in the budget for them to return. Beckham has revived his once-stellar career in L.A., catching 27 passes for 305 yards and 5 touchdowns in seven regular-season starts, while Miller has five sacks and a forced fumble in eight starts. Because of salary-cap restraints, it is unlikely both will be able to return but watch for the Rams to find a way to keep at least one of them around. — Lindsey Thiry

San Francisco 49ers

Free agent: G Laken Tomlinson

Tomlinson has quietly been one of the Niners’ most consistent and reliable players for a few seasons now and forms a dynamic combination with Trent Williams on the left side. Tomlinson is due to cash in on a deal that should exceed the $5.5 million average value of his last contract, probably by a lot. After the Niners gave Williams a record-setting deal last offseason and with right tackle Mike McGlinchey due for an extension soon, will the Niners want to make another significant investment on the line? That could depend on how far along 2021 second-round pick Aaron Banks is in his development. — Nick Wagoner

Seattle Seahawks

Free agent: S Quandre Diggs

The Seahawks did not want to extend Diggs last offseason, presumably in part because they gave a record-setting deal to their other main safety, Jamal Adams. But Diggs was arguably their team MVP in 2021. He led the Seahawks with five interceptions and was as big a reason as any why they were among the best defenses in the NFL in limiting explosive passing plays. The question is whether they’ll gamble and let him hit free agency, where his market could be tempered by his broken leg from Week 18, or lock him up beforehand. The franchise tag, at a projected cost of around $13 million, seems possible. — Brady Henderson

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills

Free agent: CB Levi Wallace

After losing cornerback Tre’Davious White for the season with a torn ACL, the Bills needed Wallace to step up as their top corner. He played well in that role and the Bills would be wise to bring him back after his efforts. They lack depth at corner and could use a variety of solid defensive backs on the roster. Re-signing him, however, is not a guarantee given the team’s cap situation and his role on the roster. He may be on a path to getting more money for a bigger role elsewhere. — Alaina Getzenberg

Miami Dolphins

Free agent: DE Emmanuel Ogbah

Miami will keep Ogbah, who has 18 sacks in his past two seasons and is a critical component of its pass rush. He signed a two-year, $15 million deal with Miami in 2020 and is likely to get a pay increase with his next deal — which Spotrac estimates will be around the three-year, $30 million range. With roughly $70 million in cap space, it’s a move the Dolphins can afford before focusing on the other side of the ball. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

New England Patriots

Free agent: CB J.C. Jackson

A deal likely won’t be cheap, but Jackson seems to have an affinity for New England, so if it’s close to another offer, the tiebreaker seemingly goes to the team that initially gave him a chance as an undrafted free agent in 2018. But one factor to consider is how Jackson’s poor playoff performance against the Bills — as part of a complete defensive dud — alters the team’s evaluation of the fifth-year pro. — Mike Reiss

New York Jets

Free agent: WR/KR Braxton Berrios

The Jets really want to re-sign Berrios, a hardworking football devotee who had a strong finish (four touchdowns in the final three games) that endeared him to the fan base. Not only did he make first-team All-Pro as a kick returner, but Berrios proved to be a dependable slot receiver with the ability to run jet sweeps. The question is whether the Jets are willing to pay him as a full-time player on offense. If they see him as just as part-time gadget player, he probably will hit the open market. — Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens

Free agent: C Bradley Bozeman

Bozeman has been a dependable starter for the past three seasons, playing left guard before moving to center. The sides haven’t been close on a new deal, and Bozeman recently said he doesn’t know whether he has played his last game in Baltimore. The Ravens recently re-signed Patrick Mekari, who started at right tackle this season but could prove to be a fallback option at center if Bozeman doesn’t return. Baltimore also has Trystan Colon, who has filled in at center over the past two seasons. — Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals

Free agent: S Jessie Bates III

Even before the start of the season, Bates was trending toward a franchise-tag designation for 2022. Cincinnati opted to not give Bates the long-term deal he was looking for before this season started. A franchise tag gives him one year of a strong salary. Then we’ll see how willing both sides will be to negotiate when 2023 rolls around. — Ben Baby

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Cleveland Browns

Free agent: DE Jadeveon Clowney

Clowney proved to be a terrific complement to Myles Garrett rushing the pass from the other side. After a banner season, Clowney is likely going to ask for more than just a one-year deal this time around. But even if it costs them, the Browns would be wise to keep the Clowney/Garrett pairing together moving forward. — Jake Trotter

Pittsburgh Steelers

Free agent: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

For the second season in a row Smith-Schuster will likely return to Pittsburgh, the team that drafted him in 2017. This seemed improbable even a year ago, but the Steelers found a way to bring him back on a one-year deal for 2021. And they have even more cap space in 2022. Once Smith-Schuster went down in Week 5 with a significant shoulder injury, it was obvious how much the Steelers missed his physicality and energy. Smith-Schuster will undoubtedly keep an eye on the quarterback situation, but don’t be surprised if he’s back in a Steelers uniform next season. — Brooke Pryor

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans

Free agent: S Justin Reid

Reid, a third-round pick in the 2018 draft, is one of the best players on the Texans defense — but he is not expected to re-sign in Houston. Reid will command more than what the rebuilding Texans will want to play on the open market. He was suspended for one game this season for violating team rules after he challenged David Culley’s coaching in a team meeting. — Sarah Barshop

Indianapolis Colts

Free agent: WR T.Y. Hilton

Hilton is one of general manager Chris Ballard’s favorite players. But the receiver has made it no secret that he is thinking about retiring after 10 seasons in the NFL. Hilton, who has missed 16 games over the past four seasons, is coming off a down year statistically with 23 receptions for 331 yards. The issue the Colts face is they lack depth at receiver beyond Michael Pittman Jr. That’s why the possibility of re-signing Hilton is a priority. That’s if Hilton wants to play another season. — Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars

Free agent: LT Cam Robinson

The Jaguars have many decisions to make along the offensive line and they start with Robinson, who played the 2021 season on the franchise tag. He played well enough for the Jaguars to consider signing him to a new contract, but they also could use the franchise tag again at roughly $17 million.

Rookie Walker Little was solid in the final two games of the season with Robinson out. But was that enough evidence that he could slide in and be the starter in 2022 and beyond? Probably not. Plus, the Jaguars have a major issue at right tackle with Jawaan Taylor, who has really struggled the last two seasons (17 penalties, tied for the NFL lead). Bringing Robinson back and moving Little to right tackle makes a lot of sense. — Michael DiRocco

Tennessee Titans

Free agent: OLB Harold Landry III

Landry’s 12 sacks on the season marked the first time a Titans pass-rusher finished with a double-digit total since Brian Orakpo had 10.5 in 2016. Tennessee simply can’t allow a pass-rusher it developed to leave via free agency after the many swings and misses it has had in free agency and the draft. The Titans will find a way to re-sign Landry but it will come at a high cost because his position holds a four-year, $70 million market value. — Turron Davenport

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos

Free agent: QB Teddy Bridgewater

The Broncos have several prominent players poised for free agency, guys like RB Melvin Gordon III, S Kareem Jackson, CB Bryce Callahan, LB Alexander Johnson and LB Josey Jewell. But Bridgewater is part of the team’s biggest offseason decision — what happens at quarterback. Drew Lock is under contract for the 2022 season, but once the Broncos’ new coaching staff is in place a decision needs to be made. With limited options in free agency and the draft, especially for an immediate upgrade, the Broncos need to try to make a blockbuster trade or they’ll have to decide whether Bridgewater is part of the stopgap strategy for at least one more season. — Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs

Free agent: S Tyrann Mathieu

Kansas City wants to retain the nine-year veteran and he would like to finish his career with the team, so eventually the sides will reach an agreement. The Chiefs have no reasonable way of replacing all that Mathieu brings, both as a player on the field and a leader in the locker room. He is too valuable in both areas for the Chiefs to let him go. — Adam Teicher

Las Vegas Raiders

Free agent: QB Marcus Mariota

Yes, an underused backup quarterback whose greatest skill set is in an area that’s an Achilles’ heel for the Raiders — red zone efficiency — is the biggest looming free-agent decision. Because with so many dominoes still to fall with the Raiders — from a new general manager to potentially a new coach — starter Derek Carr’s status also bears watching. And if Las Vegas was to bring back Mariota, it would likely not be as a backup again. — Paul Gutierrez

Los Angeles Chargers

Free agent: WR Mike Williams

Williams is coming off his most NFL productive season, as he put up a team-high 76 catches for 1,146 yards and 9 touchdowns. He has great chemistry with quarterback Justin Herbert. At age 27, Williams would be coveted in the offseason free-agent market, and it might be tough for the Chargers to keep him. If it comes down to it, a franchise tag could cost more than $18 million for one more year of the Herbert-to-Williams connection. — Shelley Smith

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