Some unlikely heroes made key contributions to Sunday’s all-time classic between KC and Buffalo. Let’s examine who’s set to make themselves big money in free agency in 2022 (and beyond).
You may have heard about one of the greatest football games ever played on Sunday, a 42-36 overtime win by the Kansas City Chiefs over the Buffalo Bills that should get an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary ASAP.
An unfathomable 25 points were scored in the last 1:54 of regulation, including:
- Buffalo scoring via Gabriel Davis’ incredible fourth TD of the game on a drive that started with 1:02 left
- The Chiefs’ game-tying field goal drive that began with 13 seconds on the clock
- Patrick Mahomes’ walk-off TD toss to Travis Kelce in the first possession of overtime to send Kansas City to its fourth striaght AFC title game
The game ended with a brutal gut punch that the fans in Western New York didn’t deserve after seeing their team play such thrilling football. All told, we witnessed some truly brilliant performances Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium — the kind that could earn upcoming free agents some serious money in the months and years to come.
In addition to Davis, who’s coming off one of the best postseason performances in league history with 201 yards receiving paired with his four touchdowns, let’s talk about the players slated to cash in as soon as March when the 2022 NFL offseason period begins.
2022 Free Agents
Chiefs WR Byron Pringle
Current contract: 1 year, $2,133,000
The unsung Pringle’s second-quarter TD gave Kansas City a 14-7 lead, one of his five catches for the game. The 28-year-old made just $2.13 million this season as noted by Spotrac, and played in just 49% of the Chiefs’ snaps this season according to Over The Cap. But his versatility should serve him well in the open market, especially if we see him and KC in another Super Bowl.
Bills CB Levi Wallace
Current contract: 1 year, $1,750,000
It obviously wasn’t the best game for secondaries, but the 27-year-old is a key starter on the league’s top defense who played in 92.2% of available snaps. Wallace, who snagged two interceptions during the regular season, made less than $2 million in 2021 — a number that’s gonna go way up in free agency.
Chiefs LT Orlando Brown
Current contract: 4 years, $3,491,720
2021 salary: $3,384,000
Kansas City acquired Brown from Baltimore last offseason for first-, third- and fourth-round picks despite knowing that he’d be a free agent this offseason. The 25-year-old has made three straight Pro Bowls and played in 94.4% of the Chiefs’ snaps this season; after making $3.38 million for the current campaign, he’s going to make an insane amount of money in free agency. Don’t overthink it: KC didn’t trade that much for him not to bring him back.
Chiefs S Tyrann Mathieu
Current contract: 3 years, $42,000,000
2021 salary: $14,800,000
Honey Badger suffered a concussion early in Sunday’s game, with his status uncertain for the AFC title game against Cincinnati. But the 30-year-old Pro Bowl selection who makes $14.5 million this season is a leader both on and off the field and is in a great position to make big-time money in March as well, as will cornerback Charvarious Ward and defensive linemen Jarran Reed and Melvin Ingram.
Bills WR Emmanuel Sanders
Current contract: 1 year, $6,000,000
2021 salary: $6,000,000
Bills WR Isaiah McKenzie
Current contract: 1 year, $1,127,500
2021 salary: $1,127,500
Though the Sanders-McKenzie duo combined for just two catches on Sunday, they’re important depth pieces for the Buffalo offense slated to hit free agency. Sanders, 35, caught 42 passes for 626 and four TDs during the regular season, appearing in 62.4% of snaps and earning $6 million for his trouble. McKenzie, 26, made under $1 million this season, but showed versatility catching passes and additionally getting carries out of the backfield.
Chiefs RB Jerick McKinnon
Current contract: 1 year, $990,000
2021 salary: $990,000
The 29-year-old had just 12 carries and 13 catches during the regular season, appearing in 14.4% of the Chiefs’ snaps — but McKinnon played an integral role in Sunday’s win. He had five catches for 54 yards and 10 carries for 24 yards against Buffalo and will look to improve on the $990,000 he made in 2021. Veteran skill players Demarcus Robinson and Darrel Williams will also hit free agency.
Skill Players Hitting Free Agency in 2023 and ’24
Bills WR Gabriel Davis
Current contract: 4 year, $3,994,380
2021 salary: $780,000
Free agency: 2024
If Davis was about to hit the open market after that performance, teams would’ve been lining up to back the Brinks truck up for the 22-year-old breakout sensation. Alas, the 2020 4th round pick from UCF has two years left on his four-year, $3.99 million rookie contract. Assuming he plays a larger role in the Bills offense moving forward, Davis’ star will rise even further over time. That could make him one of biggest bargains in the league in 2022 and 2023 before he hits the open market.
Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill
Current contract: 3 years, $54 million
2021 salary: $15,600,500
Free agency: 2023
Kansas City wouldn’t be nearly as good without its top receiver, who hauled in 11 catches for 150 yards and a shocking 64-yard TD streaking down the right sideline that gave the Chiefs a 33-29 with 1:02 left in regulation. The six-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro caught 111 passes during the regular season for 1,239 yards and nine TDs. The 27-year-old speedster made $15.6 million in the 2nd year of a three-year, $54 million contract that will only increase moving forward when he hits free agency in a year, assuming he maintains this all-world production.
Bills TE Dawson Knox
Current contract: 4 years, $3,521,600
2021 salary: $880,000
Free agency: 2023
Though the 25-year-old was limited to just two catches on Sunday, Knox broke out for 49 catches and nine TDs during the regular season and two TD catches in Buffalo’s 47-17 Wild Card annihilation of New England. A third-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2019, he has one year left on his four-year, $3.5 million rookie contract and will hit the open market in March 2023 as a hot name to watch. Worth noting: Starting running back Devin Singletary and wide receiver Cole Beasley are also slated to hit free agency in 2023.
Chiefs WR Mecole Hardman
Current contract: 4 years, $4,995,052
2021 salary: $949,096
Free agency: 2023
Hardman had a key 25-yard TD run in the third quarter to put KC up nine, and gradually grew in his role in the Chiefs offense this season. The 23-year-old second-round pick in 2019 out of Georgia caught 59 passes during the regular season and just finished the third year of a four-year, $4.99 million rookie deal. Could Kansas City afford to lose him in a year?
Bills WR Stefon Diggs
Current contract: 5 years, $72,000,000
2021 salary: $15,108,333
Free agency: 2024 (potential out after 2022)
Diggs has been incredible since being acquired from the Vikings prior to the 2020 season, leading the NFL in receptions and yards in 2020 before hauling in 103 catches for 1,225 yards and 10 regular season TDs in 2021. Though he was limited to just two catches on Sunday, the 28-year-old Pro Bowler has two years and $27.5 million on his contract before hitting free agency in 2024. Will Buffalo look to sign Diggs to an extension? If not, he’ll be one of the top targets for other teams in two years. Running back Zack Moss will also be a free agent that year.
Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Current contract: 4 years, $10,821,570
2021 salary: $1,101,890
The 32nd overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft had 119 rushes for 517 yards and 19 catches for 129 yards to go along wiht six total TDs across 10 regular season games. The 22-year-old LSU Tiger carried seven times for an explosive 60 yards on Sunday and brings an important element to the Kansas City offense. He has two years on his four-year rookie contract, but given the increasingly conservative way many teams gauge a running back’s market value, there’s not yet a guarantee that the Chiefs spend big on CEH in 2024 free agency.