When NFL free agency approaches, there's always plenty of chatter about what each player has accomplished and what that means for his future. Of course, establishing yourself as a valuable player matters, but it's far from the whole story when it comes to projecting what will happen once the market opens in mid-March.
There's one key factor that I rarely see discussed, and it means quite a bit when it comes to understanding what teams are seeing as they begin to open their wallets: scarcity. If eight teams need a starting running back and there are eight good running backs available, everything's great. If there's only one team in the NFL that needs a running back and eight good running backs are available, the situation is totally different, and that team is going to have much more leverage to make a different sort of offer.
Last year, we saw the top of the wide receiver class crater. With a deep talent pool at the position in free agency and wideouts eventually making up 10 of the first 60 picks in the 2021 draft, teams were willing to be patient. Will Fuller V and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who might have been able to pick up significant multiyear deals in previous years, had to settle for one-year pacts. Allen Robinson, who probably didn't want to sign his franchise tag when it was tendered, signed it after seeing the market.
Likewise, that also informs the multiyear deals that were handed out. The four-year, $72 million deal the Giants gave Kenny Golladay after his market failed to develop looked out of place at the time and is already underwater. Curtis Samuel (Commanders) and Nelson Agholor (Patriots) didn't offer any significant return on their pacts, worth $11 million per season. Fuller (Dolphins) and Smith-Schuster (Steelers) struggled. The best signings were Kendrick Bourne (Patriots) and Jamal Agnew (Jaguars), who signed three-year deals in the $15 million range.
As we approach free agency, let's take a big-picture look at the deepest and thinnest positional markets. This will be players who are free agents or likely to become free agents, so I won't be directly considering trade candidates such as Aaron Rodgers or Calvin Ridley. I'm going to split the players into a few tiers based on what their expected level of play might be over the next two to three seasons, ranging from stars to players who might be something closer to borderline starters.
I'll start with the deepest positions and work my way toward the thinnest. I'll begin with the clear standout market: