Mike Williams Landing Spots: Raiders, Colts, Bears could make a play for former first-round WR

    What are the potential landing spots for Los Angeles Chargers WR Mike Williams if he leaves via free agency in 2022?

    There’s never a better time to post a breakout season than right before you’re scheduled to hit free agency, and that’s exactly what Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams has done in 2021. Through 13 games, the former first-round pick has already set a career-high mark in receptions. He’s on pace to set a career-high mark in yardage, and he has a chance to score the most touchdowns of his career. As Williams approaches 2022 NFL free agency, what are some of his potential landing spots around the league?

    Is there any chance the Los Angeles Chargers re-sign Mike Williams?

    The 2022 free-agent wide receiver class will be chock full of interesting options, but three pass catchers stand above the rest: Davante Adams, Chris Godwin, and Williams. If the Chargers don’t franchise tag Williams, he should be in line for a contract that pays him at least $16 million annually.

    But there’s a very real chance Los Angeles assigns the franchise tender to Williams. The Chargers should be flush with cap space in 2022. They’re projected to have roughly $73 million available next season, second to only the Dolphins. And aside from Williams and cornerback Chris Harris Jr., LA doesn’t have a ton of critical free agents they’ll need to retain.

    The Chargers will have Keenan Allen, Jalen Guyton, and 2021 third-round pick Josh Palmer back next season. Will they plan to roll with that trio, let Williams walk, and use their salary cap space elsewhere? Los Angeles could still use help at other positions — upgrades at offensive line, tight end, and cornerback might be on the table.

    Additionally, the Chargers could entertain the idea of tagging and trading Williams. Even if general manager Tom Telesco doesn’t believe Williams is worth a $19 million franchise tender, he could still tag the wideout and see if other teams would sacrifice draft capital to acquire him.

    Mike Williams landing spots

    If Williams doesn’t stay in Los Angeles, where else could he go? Let’s take a look at a few possible destinations.

    The Las Vegas Raiders need help next to Hunter Renfrow

    Hunter Renfrow has been one of the NFL’s most surprising contributors in 2021. Following a hot three-game stretch, the second-year slot receiver now ranks sixth in the league with 86 receptions. But the Raiders need more weapons on the outside.

    From Weeks 1-7, Las Vegas ranked 15th in expected points added per play (EPA) on offense. Since then, the Raiders have lost Henry Ruggs following his tragic car crash and been without tight end Darren Waller for multiple weeks. From Weeks 9-14, Vegas’ offense ranked just 24th in EPA.

    Next season, the Raiders will likely have a new head coach, a new offensive scheme, and maybe even a new quarterback. A fresh start on offense is to be expected, and a big-bodied receiver like Williams could be a perfect fit for a needy offense.

    Williams could partner with Michael Pittman Jr. for the Indianapolis Colts

    Colts general manager Chris Ballard doesn’t often dip his toes into the free-agent waters. Indianapolis is a draft-and-develop organization. They’ll extend homegrown players — or even trade acquisitions like DeForest Buckner — but they’re loath to spend money on the open market. The only free agents the Colts have given at least $12 million annually were Philip Rivers (one year, $25 million) and Justin Houston (two years, $24 million).

    While that type of approach can work, it’s time for Indy to go all-in. They’re playing in the AFC South alongside two teams — the Jaguars and Texans — who are barely trying. Trade acquisition Carson Wentz is playing well within Frank Reich’s offense, Jonathan Taylor is the best running back in football, and the Colts’ defense is solid (11th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, 12th in EPA/play).

    Michael Pittman Jr. has turned into a legitimate No. 1 receiver in his second pro campaign, but Wentz needs another receiver. This could conceivably be T.Y. Hilton’s final NFL season, Parris Campbell can’t stay healthy, and Zach Pascal is best as a WR4. Williams could take over the co-No. 1 mantle alongside Pittman and further open Indy’s offense.

    Will the Chicago Bears make a play for Williams?

    Justin Fields and Darnell Mooney look like a combination that will make Bears fans happy for a long time. With Allen Robinson injured and/or ineffective for most of the season, Mooney has stepped in as Chicago’s No. 1 WR with 52 catches for 740 yards.

    Assuming head coach Matt Nagy is fired, it will be interesting to see if Chicago hires another offensive coach to develop Fields further. If so, expect the Bears to build up the offense around its first-round quarterback. Offensive line upgrades are required, but they also need to replace the likes of Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd at receiver. A new head coach like Byron Leftwich or Brian Daboll could work wonders with Mooney and Williams at their disposal.

    The Detroit Lions have the NFL’s worst WR depth chart

    There are pieces to work with on Detroit’s offense! The Lions have a reputable offensive line, a playmaking running back in D’Andre Swift, and a former first-round tight end in T.J. Hockenson. But the situation at quarterback and wide receiver is untenable. Jared Goff is likely to be replaced by a draft pick. The Lions could also add receivers via the draft, and given that rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown looks like the only viable option for 2022, they may need to look to free agency, as well.

    St. Brown will spend the majority of his time in the slot, so Detroit will look to add talent on the outside. Davante Adams isn’t signing with the Lions anytime soon, leaving Williams as the best free-agent option. How about Swift, Hockenson, St. Brown, and Williams catching passes from Kenny Pickett next season?

    Williams would be the Cleveland Browns’ No. 1 receiver

    Like the Lions, the Browns need to totally reset their receiver room. Odell Beckham Jr. is already gone, and given that Cleveland can save more than $15 million by cutting Jarvis Landry, I’d expect him to be out the door, too. Donovan Peoples-Jones and rookie Anthony Schwartz could be factors in 2022, but they haven’t given the Browns any indications they’re true long-term options.

    It’s difficult to evaluate Baker Mayfield’s performance this year. He’s been subpar to be sure, but is that totally a result of injuries? Or is he simply never going to be more than a league-average quarterback? Either way, the Browns need to add at least one pass catcher this offseason. Cleveland should continue to face stacked boxes thanks to their excellent running game, which could open things up for Williams were he to join the team.

    Could Williams be a fit for a new Jacksonville Jaguars regime?

    This is a total shot in the dark. Following Urban Meyer’s firing, who knows what the Jaguars will look like next season? Jacksonville’s next head coach and front office’s top objective will be to develop Trevor Lawrence — and bringing in more reliable pass-catching options should be the first step in that process.

    This season, the Jaguars’ offense has been among the worst in the NFL (30th in EPA/play). Receivers have run incorrect routes, run into each other, and generally looked completely incompetent. Marvin Jones has fallen off after a decent start, and exciting second-year WR Laviska Shenault has been a total non-factor. Former cornerback/return man Jamal Agnew looked like Jacksonville’s best receiver for most of the season.

    The Jaguars have been burned by free-agent acquisitions time and again, so it’d be understandable if they don’t want to go back to the open market. But with $70 million in projected cap space, a depleted roster, and an angry fan base, doesn’t Jacksonville have to add veteran talent this offseason? Williams would instantly become the Jaguars’ No. 1 receiver and could serve as Lawrence’s security blanket for years to come.

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