2023 NFL Free Agents: Predictions for Potential Offseason Targets amid Rumors

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2023

2023 NFL Free Agents: Predictions for Potential Offseason Targets amid Rumors

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    Giants RB Saquon Barkley
    Giants RB Saquon BarkleyRich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    With the 2022 NFL season winding down, several franchises are already looking ahead to 2023. April's draft is expected to be loaded with high-end prospects, and several big-name free agents are slated to hit the open market before then.

    The 2023 edition of free agency, slated to kick off on March 15, could feature stars like Tom Brady, Roquan Smith, Daron Payne and Saquon Barkley.

    Of course, not every impending free agent will make it to market. Some will sign contract extensions, others will receive the franchise tag, and some will inevitably retire.

    Which potential offseason free-agent targets will actually be available in March? Let's take a look at some of the latest buzz and make a few predictions.

Tom Brady

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    Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
    Buccaneers QB Tom BradyCliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady will be 46 years old when the 2023 season commences.

    Despite that, Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reported last month that the future Hall of Famer could well continue playing: "Multiple sources close to the legendary quarterback say all options are on the table for Brady, who at age 45 feels good enough to keep playing."

    If Brady feels like he can keep going, there's little reason to believe that he won't—unless, of course, Tampa makes a miraculous run and gives Brady the chance to walk off holding the Lombardi Trophy.

    The big question is whether Brady will make another run with Tampa or try to land with another potential contender.

    The Buccaneers are back in the playoffs, but they're getting there as the best team in a bad division. The offense has been disjointed all year in its first season post-Bruce Arians and ranks just 24th in scoring.

    Tampa is also projected to be $43.1 million over the salary cap, so it's not as if the Bucs can load up on fresh talent. The prediction here is that Brady seeks out a playoff-ready team with a younger roster and a little more financial flexibility—perhaps a team like the San Francisco 49ers.

    Prediction: Brady tests the free-agent waters in March

Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley

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    Giants QB Daniel Jones
    Giants QB Daniel JonesRich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Like the Buccaneers, the New York Giants are playoff-bound. A lot of credit must go to rookie head coach Brian Daboll, who has gotten the Giants above .500 for the first time in five years.

    However, New York wouldn't be here without quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley.

    Barkley was a Pro Bowl-caliber talent as a rookie in 2018, but injuries quickly derailed his career. He's now healthy and back on track, though, and is a Pro Bowler once again. Barkley should be the most coveted running back in free agency.

    Jones, meanwhile, has taken big strides under Daboll and has looked like a true franchise quarterback for perhaps the first him in his career. He has posted a career-best 92.5 passer rating while also rushing for 708 yards and seven touchdowns.

    According to Rapoport, the Giants plan to keep both Barkley and Jones long-term.

    "Both these guys are free agents," Rapoport said on NFL Network. "The Giants do plan to attempt to work out a deal with both of these guys."

    While New York is projected to have $56.9 million in cap space, locking up both players on a long-term deal might not be logical. This is particularly true in Barkley's case, as he's failed to be at 100 percent in three of his five seasons thus far.

    Prediction: Giants extend Jones, give Barkley the franchise tag

Kareem Hunt

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    Browns RB Kareem Hunt
    Browns RB Kareem HuntNick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

    Running-back-needy teams won't be completely out of luck if Barkley doesn't hit the open market. Las Vegas Raiders' Pro Bowler Josh Jacobs is also scheduled to be available, though he'll certainly command a hefty salary.

    Teams looking for more of a bargain back might circle Cleveland Browns backup Kareem Hunt. The 27-year-old has seen a diminished role behind starter Nick Chubb in Cleveland but has still been a serviceable complement.

    Though he's played just 43 percent of the offensive snaps, Hunt has tallied 455 rushing yards, 32 receptions, 195 receiving yards and four touchdowns. The question is whether Cleveland—which didn't trade Hunt at the deadline—will be willing to break up its talented backfield duo.

    According to Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com, the Browns are indeed ready to move on: "Hunt won't be back in 2023. The Browns like Jerome Ford, and he's on a reasonable rookie contract. He'll back up Nick Chubb."

    As Pluto noted, Ford—who was selected in the fifth round this past April—will be on a team-friendly rookie deal. Hunt won't be. For a franchise with a projected $5.8 million cap deficit, this shouldn't be a tough decision.

    Prediction: Hunt is available in free agency

Roquan Smith

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    Ravens LB Roquan Smith
    Ravens LB Roquan SmithRob Carr/Getty Images

    Baltimore Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith might be the most coveted defender in 2023 free agency—if he gets there. The 25-year-old has racked up 153 tackles, 4.5 sacks, six passes defended and three interceptions during his 2022 Pro Bowl campaign.

    Smith has also allowed an opposing passer rating of just 61.2 in coverage.

    However, the Ravens surrendered a 2023 second-round pick, a 2023 fifth-round pick and linebacker A.J. Klein to get Smith from the Chicago Bears. There's no chance they gave up that much for a short-term rental.

    The problem is that Baltimore also needs to lock up star quarterback Lamar Jackson in the spring, and it can only use the franchise tag on one player. Our guess is that the Ravens try to secure a long-term deal with Smith first and leave the tag as an option on the proverbial table.

    Indeed, The Athletic's Dan Pompei reported last month that the Ravens "are planning to try to sign him before the end of the season."

    There's no reason to believe that Baltimore will deviate from this plan, even as the playoffs rapidly approach. The prediction here is that Baltimore signs Smith to a long-term extension long before the free-agent tampering period begins.

    Prediction: Ravens sign Smith to a multi-year extension

Daron Payne

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    Commanders DT Daron Payne
    Commanders DT Daron PayneAndy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Washington Commanders defensive lineman Daron Payne is another marquee defender scheduled to reach 2023 free agency.

    The 2018 first-round pick has had a breakthrough campaign with 62 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 23 quarterback pressures. That's great for the Commanders. Him doing it in a contract year is, perhaps, not.

    The Commanders are projected to have $19.4 million in cap space this offseason, and Payne's deal could use up all of it. Payne will presumably want to top the $18 million annually that teammate Jonathan Allen got from Washington in his extension.

    However, the Commanders do hope to keep Payne around for the long-term.

    "We're going to do our due diligence on the situation and work to get something done with Daron," an unnamed Commanders team official told The Athletic's Ben Standig last month. "We're hopeful that we can keep him in Washington."

    Working out a long-term deal that benefits both parties won't be easy. The prediction here is that Washington uses the franchise tag on Payne while trying to hash things out. That too will be costly—the 2022 tag value for defensive tackles was $17.4 million—but it will give the Commanders the time and leverage needed to work on a long-term agreement.

    Prediction: Payne receives the franchise tag


    *Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference. Cap and contract information via Spotrac.

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