Heading into their AFC title game against the Bengals earlier this year, 10 of the Chiefs’ 11 offensive playmakers — at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end — had never played in another NFL uniform. Byron Pringle was one of them. Now the 28-year-old is testing free agency, primed for a bigger payday than the one-year, $2.13 million contract he received last offseason. Beyond the big names looking to join new teams, the late-blooming receiver could become a valuable contributor on a number of rosters. With that in mind, let’s make some landing spot predictions for Pringle.
Predictions for Byron Pringle in 2022 NFL free agency
Pringle stepped up last season even while teammate Mecole Hardman took a slight step forward, too. It could be said that Pringle replaced Sammy Watkins while cutting into a borderline prime/post-prime Travis Kelce, whose per-game targets dipped from 9.7 in 2020 to 8.4, while his per-game yards dropped from 94 to 70.
These numbers might seem small, but they’re part of a larger story of a team that didn’t get what they needed from Watkins in 2020 — and likely understood the 32-year-old Kelce could not sustain his historically absurd TE production.
To his credit, Pringle has defied the odds for years. He first played college ball at Butler Community College. And after transferring to Kansas State University, he was probably more heralded for his return skills than his receiving prowess, despite serving as KSU’s No. 1 receiver in both years he played there. Subsequently, when he finally saw the field for the Chiefs in 2019 and 2020, he was the No. 6 receiving option (or No. 8 if we count their catch-capable backfield).
So, in examining where Pringle might go next, we have to understand and appreciate his highly unlikely path from playing at a community college to owning a key role on a Super Bowl-caliber team. A lot of teams could use someone like Pringle, who’s proven he can play effectively on the biggest stages and alongside the steepest competition. With that in mind, here are three intriguing landing spots.
New Orleans Saints
If you want a starting receiving job in the NFL, there might be an opening in New Orleans. Now, the team recently offered a restricted free agent tender on Deonte Harty, while Marquez Callaway is signed for one more year. But let’s face it — beyond Michael Thomas (who hasn’t played since 2020), this receiving corps is wide open.
New Orleans has worked overtime this offseason to clear enough cap space to function effectively in 2022. Pringle would be a reasonably affordable option as both a depth piece (no worse than a No. 4 receiver) and as a potential starter if he proves more capable than Callaway, Harty, and everyone else not named Michael.
Sticking with the NFC South, Carolina could be on the verge of blowing it all up. They’ve dangled Christian McCaffrey publicly as trade bait. Their QB situation is a wreck, and according to the latest report from PFN colleague Aaron Wilson, Deshaun Watson won’t be joining them. DJ Moore is signed for only one more year. Robby Anderson took a huge step back. And 2021 second-round pick Terrace Marshall Jr. might not be the answer.
I’m not sure this team knows what it wants to be in 2022, much less 2023. But Brandon Zylstra was their No. 3 receiver last year. While Zylstra deserves the utmost respect for earning millions of dollars as an NFL player, Carolina cannot afford to view him as a long-term solution. Pringle would be an immediate upgrade, and he could even rival Anderson’s value if the latter can’t get back on track.
Green Bay Packers
I keep coming back to the Packers in these pieces on the assumption Marquez Valdes-Scantling will leave. Green Bay will need a replacement. If it works within their budget, they could reach for someone like Will Fuller or JuJu Smith-Schuster — someone who could finally give Aaron Rodgers a true No. 2 receiver for the first time since Adams (alongside No. 1 Jordy Nelson) in 2016.
Pringle is accustomed to working in a packed offense. Some weeks, he’ll be a go-to option; other weeks, he’ll take a back seat. We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of rostering playmakers who know when to make plays and when to be an Academy Award-deserving decoy.