Inside The W With Michelle Smith: 2022 Free Agency Preview

The power of WNBA free agency made itself very apparent last fall when Candace Parker’s move to her hometown team in Chicago paid off with a franchise-first championship for the Sky.

Free agency season is just about here. Players can begin talking to teams on Saturday, Jan. 15. They can officially sign contracts beginning on Feb. 1.

But the jockeying has already begun as teams began sending out qualifying offers on Jan. 1 to players set to become restricted free agents or reserved players who are out of contract.

It’s going to be another exciting year. Some of the league’s stalwart teams – like Seattle, Minnesota and Chicago – need to make decisions about their most beloved players. And others are looking to make a big free-agent strike, in the hopes that it will change their fortunes.

Let’s take a look around the league:


Reserved: Jaylyn Agnew (qualifying offer extended), Crystal Bradford
RFAs: Monique Billings (qualifying offer extended), Blake Dietrick
UFAs: Courtney Williams, Elizabeth Williams, Shekinna Stricklen, Tiffany Hayes, Odyssey Sims, Candice Dupree
Lay of the land: It’s a new day for the Dream with a new head coach in Tanisha Wright, and a new GM in Dan Padover. And with only six players signed to the roster or extended qualifying offers, this will be a very big remodeling project that includes the No. 3 pick in a strong draft. The Dream have young talent like Aari McDonald and Monique Billings and a proven veteran in Cheyenne Parker (the only player with a guaranteed contract). They have high-scoring guard Chennedy Carter and bringing her back into the fold after suspending her for most of the 2021 season, is one of the offseason’s biggest tasks. We know that Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford are moving on, making room for new energy.
The big decisions: Free-agent post, Elizabeth Williams has been a stalwart for this franchise, but she scored the least PPG since her rookie year in 2015. Does Tiffany Hayes want to be in Atlanta? Does, perhaps, Angel McCoughtry want to come back? There is the potential for some big moves here from the Dream with ample salary cap space. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a big-impact free-agent signing if Padover and Wright can convince a star player that the remodel won’t take too long.


Core: Kahleah Copper
RFAs: Diamond DeShields (qualifying offer extended), Lexie Brown (qualifying offer extended)
UFAs: Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Stefanie Dolson, Astou Ndour-Fall
Lay of the land: The defending champs and Head Coach/GM James Wade have a lot of big decisions to make. In reality, he would probably like to keep his whole team together to make a run at another title. But that isn’t going to happen.
The big decisions: The first one has seemingly been made by giving Copper the core designation and banking on her as the future face of the franchise after she led the Sky to a title and was named the Finals MVP. That leaves some potentially painful choices about Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, who are both in the latter half of their careers. After 11 seasons in Chicago, Vandersloot left open the possibility that she might be ready for something new. Quigley, her wife, may be tied to whatever decision Vandersloot makes. Stefanie Dolson also has a tough decision after five productive seasons.


Core: Jonquel Jones
Reserved: Stephanie Jones (qualifying offer extended), Natisha Hiedeman (qualifying offer extended), Beatrice Mompremier (qualifying offer extended)
UFAs: Briann January
Lay of the land: It’s relatively quiet for the Sun who continue to aim themselves in the direction of title contention. DeWanna Bonner, Jasmine Thomas, Brionna Jones and Alyssa Thomas all have guaranteed contracts. Natisha Hiedeman has signed her qualifying offer as well as young post Beatrice Mompremier, who bolsters the team’s depth inside.
The big decisions: Getting 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones signed, sealed and delivered to a supermax contract that will keep her on the roster for the foreseeable future is the No. 1 priority. January, heading into her 10th season, is still a lock-down defender. But can they afford to keep her with all that guaranteed money?


UFAs: None
Lay of the land: A Wings team that made the playoffs last season has 12 players under contract, including two of the top picks in last year’s draft not to mention the No. 4 and No. 6 Draft picks this season.
The big decisions: The Wings are stocked with young talent that might make an attractive package that could bring in a frontline veteran player, who could anchor this perpetually young team.


Reserved: Temi Fagbenle (qualifying offer extended), Bernadette Hatar (qualifying offer extended), Chelsey Perry (qualifying offer extended), Victoria Vivians (qualifying offer extended)
RFAs: Lindsay Allen (qualifying offer extended)
UFAs: Jessica Breland
Lay of the land: The Fever could use an infusion of elite talent to avoid another last-place finish. They have the No. 2 pick in the draft, and considering the current draft board, they have the opportunity to put another young impact player on a roster that already has a few of them. Kelsey Mitchell, Jantel Lavender, Danielle Robinson and Tiffany Mitchell have guaranteed contracts.
The big decisions: Indiana might end up as a significant player in the free-agency market. Their only unrestricted free agent is 34-year-old Jessica Breland, who averaged 5.8 points per game last season.

Las Vegas

Reserved: Ji-Su Park (qualifying offer extended)
RFAs: Aja Wilson (qualifying offer extended)
UFAs: Liz Cambage, Angel McCoughtry, Kiah Stokes, Riquna Williams
Lay of the land: There is a lot to be excited about in Las Vegas with the hiring of new head coach and GM Becky Hammon. Hammon inherits a team that has been oh-so-close to titles in the past three years and needs the right nudge to push them toward a trophy. The backcourt looks set with Chelsea Gray, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum. Most of the offseason work will likely be done in the paint.
The big decisions: Signing A’ja Wilson to a new deal is the first task, followed by the future of Liz Cambage in Las Vegas. Wilson and Cambage have been a dynamic duo, but the Aussie star might be ready to try again elsewhere. Meanwhile, Williams started all 32 games last season in a glue role and McCoughtry is 35 and coming off an ACL.

Los Angeles

Reserved: Te’a Cooper (qualifying offer extended), Lauren Cox (qualifying offer extended)
UFAs: Nia Coffey
The lay of the land: The Sparks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011 in an injury-riddled year, and in 2022 they are going to want to get healthy and back to where they are used to being. They have six players with guaranteed contracts, which limits their choices on bringing in new talent.
The big decisions: Maria Vadeeva hasn’t played in the league in two years, and represents an interesting decision point for L.A. Lauren Cox, who will enter her third season looking to make a splash, has signed her qualifying offer.


Reserved: Bridget Carleton (qualifying offer extended), Anna Cruz (qualifying offer extended)
UFAs: Sylvia Fowles, Layshia Clarendon, Rachel Banham, Jillian Alleyne
The lay of the land: The Lynx had a strong 2021 season and are looking to put themselves back in the title conversation without a lot of roster moves to make. Re-signing Bridget Carleton was their first move earlier this month.
The big decisions: Is Sylvia Fowles considering retirement after 14 seasons? Is she considering playing somewhere other than Minnesota? These are very big questions for the Lynx, who know Fowles can still be one of the most effective and efficient posts in the WNBA. Can they also bring back veteran guard Layshia Clarendon, who changed the trajectory of the Lynx season with their experience at point guard?

New York

Reserved: Paris Kea (qualifying offer extended), Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe (qualifying offer extended)
UFAs: Rebecca Allen, Reshanda Gray
The lay of the land: It’s a new day for the Liberty under head coach Sandy Brondello, coming off a trip to the Finals and eight seasons in Phoenix. New York has 12 players under contract for their new coach. Brondello is going to want to put her stamp on her new team, and has a lot of young talent as a place to start, including the blossoming Betnijah Laney, Sabrina Ionescu, veteran Natasha Howard and Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere.
The big decisions: Can the Liberty make a big move in free agency? This team needs a star in the post. Brondello is used to having one. Would Cambage like New York?


Reserved:Shey Peddy (qualifying offer extended), Sonja Petrovic, Angel Robinson
RFAs: Kia Nurse (qualifying offer extended)
UFAs: Sophie Cunningham, Alanna Smith
The lay of the land: A team without a head coach at the moment, the Mercury are a bit of a mystery save for their “Big Three” of Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith, a trio that almost led them to a title last fall. Bria Hartley’s return from injury will also help this team with a nice core for a new coach.
The big decisions: In the absence of a head coach, Phoenix has made a qualifying offer to Kia Nurse, signed Shey Peddy to a training camp contract and waived Megan Walker. Everything else may need to wait.


Core: Jewell Loyd
Reserved: Karlie Samuelson
RFAs: Jordin Canada (qualifying offer extended), Stephanie Talbot (qualifying offer extended), Mercedes Russell (qualifying offer extended)
UFAs: Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Cierra Burdick
The lay of the land: The Storm are going home to their remodeled arena. On Jan. 14th the Storm cored elite guard and clutch shooter Jewell Loyd.
The big decisions: Does MVP Breanna Stewart return to the Storm? Now that Sue Bird has announced her decision to return for a 19th season does she return with the Storm? And if so, who will be playing alongside her?


Reserved: Megan Gustafson (qualifying offer extended)
RFAs: Myisha Hines-Allen (qualifying offer extended)
UFAs: Tina Charles, Leilani Mitchell, Shavonte Zellous, Theresa Plaisance, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough
The lay of the land: The Mystics have the No. 1 pick in the draft and a couple of big question marks. Will Elena Delle Donne be healed and ready to play after sitting out nearly all of the past two seasons? Will Emma Meesseman want to come back and play for the Mystics after skipping the 2021 season during the Olympic year. She was a free agent in 2021 and could also test the market.
The big decisions: A handful of veteran players are unrestricted free agents and none will get more interest than Tina Charles, who had a great season in Washington last year, but has yet to play with Delle Donne and may be assessing how close the Mystics are to helping her get her first career title. Ensuring that restricted free agent Myisha Hines-Allen doesn’t get a better offer elsewhere is also likely a priority.

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.