NFL Free Agency Rumors 2022: Giants, Dolphins, 49ers among several teams looking for returner upgrades

NFL free agency is filled with rumors, but there are teams anxious to upgrade their special teams units with punt and kickoff returners.

The battle for field position will be under a microscope during free agency as rumors point to several teams upgrading their special teams units entering the new league year. The open market is expected to feature several established returners. And franchises are looking to enhance their players in the third phase of the game.

NFL Free Agency Rumors: Giants, 49ers, and Dolphins are looking for returner upgrades

While the whispers out of Indianapolis were few and far between last week, one thing is for certain: Teams are realizing they need to invest in special teams. Specifically, several franchises are looking for upgrades at the returner spots, a league source told Pro Football Network on Monday.

“Field position is certainly a point of emphasis from what I’m seeing,” the source told PFN.

The New York Giants, Miami Dolphins, and San Francisco 49ers are all under new or slightly altered regimes. And all three teams are expected to show significant interest in the returner market. The Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, and New Orleans Saints are also expected to be in the market for returner help.

Even though a few of those teams already have accomplished returners in place, one team official told PFN that a squad “can never have enough returners in the building.”

NFL free agents available that could be an upgrade

The free agent market is expected to be flush with returner talent later this month. Cordarrelle Patterson of the Atlanta Falcons, Jakeem Grant of the Chicago Bears, Ray-Ray McCloud of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Andre Roberts of the Los Angeles Chargers, and DeAndre Carter of the Washington Commanders are all expected to hit unrestricted free agency at the start of the new league year.

Saints returner Deonte Harris, a Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection in 2019, is set for restricted free agency. Yet, New Orleans is expected to prioritize his return, according to a league source.

Understanding the return specialist market

While the Giants and Saints will look to prioritize special teams under new leadership, both franchises have rough cap situations. That could take them out of the running for names like Grant, McCloud, and Roberts. Conversely, the Dolphins, Bengals, and Colts are all in healthy enough cap situations to make legitimate bids for the top names in the return game.

McCloud led the league with 38 punt returns last season and averaged 9.7 yards per attempt. Grant had 26 returns and averaged 11.9 yards per attempt. Additionally, he scored on a return and was one of only two returners to reach paydirt last season.

Another interesting name, Gunner Olszewski of the New England Patriots, could also be a surprise hot candidate on the returner market. In 2021, he averaged 11.9 yards per return on 26 attempts. Olszewski will be a restricted free agent. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the Patriots will offer him a tender.

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