NFL Free Agency 2023: Previewing This Year's Class

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IJanuary 10, 2023

NFL Free Agency 2023: Previewing This Year's Class

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    Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
    Buccaneers QB Tom BradyMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    With the 2022 NFL regular season now complete, it's time for 14 fortunate teams to begin preparation for the playoffs. The rest of the league, however, can now turn its attention to the offseason.

    While there are many facets to the offseason—the pre-draft process will begin soon with exhibition all-star games and the scouting combine—free agency is the first big event of interest for casual fans. While some of us love diving into game film and getting Senior Bowl practice updates, everyone can look forward to their favorite teams signing a well-known veteran.

    And we're going to see plenty of big names in new homes this spring. With the salary cap possibly exceeding a record $220 million—according to Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Network—we're going to see a proverbial feeding frenzy when the market opens on March 15.

    The only real question is where some of these top players will find their next contracts.

    Here, you'll find an initial position-by-position breakdown of the biggest names scheduled to hit the market in a little more than two months. Players are listed by last name in alphabetical order.

Quarterback

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    Ravens QB Lamar Jackson
    Ravens QB Lamar JacksonG Fiume/Getty Images

    Notable Players:

    Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Jacoby Brissett, Cleveland Browns

    Daniel Jones, New York Giants

    Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers

    Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

    Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

    Baker Mayfield, Los Angeles Rams

    Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks


    Two big questions loom over the 2023 quarterback market. Will the Baltimore Ravens lock up Lamar Jackson, and will Tom Brady choose to play another season at age 46?

    Jackson is a top-tier signal-caller when healthy—he's currently sidelined by a knee injury—and he easily tops the wishlist if, for some strange reason, he reaches the market. However, it will be a major surprise if the Ravens don't extend him or use the franchise tag.

    Brady will be near the top for teams looking to win now, though he certainly isn't a long-term building block. He could return to Tampa, call it a career or try to win a Super Bowl with a third team.

    "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," Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Media wrote last month.

    New York Giants signal-caller Daniel Jones has developed into a quality starter this season, and the Giants are expected to offer him a new deal, according to Rapoport. Geno Smith has had a Pro Bowl campaign with the Seattle Seahawks and joins Jackson, Brady and Jones as a clear-cut starter.

    Sam Darnold (career-best 92.6 passer rating) looked good for the Carolina Panthers down the stretch and could get long looks as a potential starter. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has a lot of postseason experience but is injured again (foot) and has significant durability concerns.

    The rest of the quarterback pool is largely filled with developmental players, backups and potential bridge starters.

Running Back

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

    Notable Players:

    Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

    D'Onta Foreman, Carolina Panthers

    Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns

    Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

    Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

    Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

    Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

    Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions


    Rapoport also noted that the Giants are hoping to get a deal done with running back Saquon Barkley. That would take the two-time Pro Bowler off the market, though if Barkley is available, he'll draw no shortage of interest.

    Barkley dealt with numerous injuries (including a torn ACL) between 2019 and 2021, but he's healthy now and has helped carry New York to the postseason.

    Fortunately for running-back-needy teams, Barkley isn't the only starting-caliber option. Tony Pollard has shown himself to be a capable dual-threat back, racking up double-digit touchdowns while splitting time with Ezekiel Elliott for the Dallas Cowboys this season.

    Pollard should get an opportunity to be "the guy" if he lands with a new team.

    Las Vegas Raiders back Josh Jacobs is another two-time Pro Bowler and is likely to top the market if Barkley is retained by New York. He has a projected market value of $12.8 million annually during his 2022 breakthrough campaign.

    Miles Sanders has been a solid starter for the Philadelphia Eagles, while D'Onta Foreman has broken out as a dynamic power runner for the Panthers after they traded away Christian McCaffrey.

    While Cleveland Browns backup Kareem Hunt has seen a reduced role this season, he's another capable runner/receiver who led the league in rushing as a rookie in 2017.

    With several good complementary backs like Jamaal Williams (league-high 17 rushing touchdowns) and Mark Ingram also available, teams seeking backfield help will have plenty of options.

Wide Receiver

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    Odell Beckham Jr.
    Odell Beckham Jr. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Notable Players:

    Odell Beckham Jr., Free Agent

    Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts

    DJ Chark Jr., Detroit Lions

    A.J. Green, Arizona Cardinals

    Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs

    Jakobi Meyers, New England Patriots

    Sterling Shepard, New York Giants

    JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kansas City Chiefs


    Odell Beckham Jr. may top the wishlist for a few teams in 2023. While he suffered a torn ACL in Super Bowl LVI and didn't sign with a team this season, the 30-year-old showed that he can still be an impact player before the injury.

    In four playoff games with the eventual champion Los Angeles Rams, Beckham caught 21 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns.

    However, there isn't a true No. 1 receiver scheduled to be available this offseason, which may lead to an active trade market—something we saw last offseason. Wideouts Amari Cooper, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, A.J. Brown and Marquise Brown were all dealt before the end of the draft.

    Kansas City Chiefs receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster may be the closest thing we'll see to a (healthy) No. 1 receiver on the market, and the New England Patriots' Jakobi Meyers is a high-end second or third option.

    This year's receiver market, though, is largely filled with complementary options, injured players like Sterling Shepard (torn Achilles) and aging stars like A.J. Green (35 in July).

    Expect clubs to work the trade lines and put a premium on incoming receivers in the 2023 draft.

Tight End

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    Cowboys TE Dalton Schultz
    Cowboys TE Dalton SchultzCooper Neill/Getty Images

    Notable Players:

    Evan Engram, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins

    O.J. Howard, Houston Texans

    Hayden Hurst, Cincinnati Bengals

    Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys

    Robert Tonyan Jr., Green Bay Packers


    The player pool is even less impressive at tight end, though a couple of high-end options will be available.

    Cowboys pass-catcher Dalton Schultz, who played on the franchise tag this season, will likely top the market. He's proved to be a reliable contributor in the Dallas offense and one of Dak Prescott's favorite targets (three straight 80-target seasons).

    Though Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki has seen a diminished role under new head coach Mike McDaniel, he was spectacular over the previous two campaigns. Between 2020 and 2021, the 27-year-old caught 126 passes for 1,483 yards and eight touchdowns.

    Like Schultz, Gesicki played on the franchise tag this season.

    O.J. Howard and Hayden Hurst are former first-round picks who have been serviceable with the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively. However, neither is likely to command high-end starter money in free agency.

    Evan Engram is another former first-round pick who has flourished alongside Trevor Lawrence for the Jacksonville Jaguars. A 2020 Pro Bowler with the Giants, Engram returned to form this season and topped 700 receiving yards for the second time in his career.

    A few intriguing complementary options will be available, but teams seeking a surefire starter will likely be chasing Schultz and Gesicki during the free-agency tampering period and trying to lock one in on March 15.

Offensive Line

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    Chiefs OT Orlando Brown Jr.
    Chiefs OT Orlando Brown Jr. Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    Notable Players:

    Orlando Brown Jr., Kansas City Chiefs

    Nate Davis, Tennessee Titans

    Rodney Hudson, Arizona Cardinals

    Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles

    Mike McGlinchey, San Francisco 49ers

    Ben Powers, Baltimore Ravens

    Dalton Risner, Denver Broncos

    Rodger Saffold, Buffalo Bills

    Isaiah Wynn, New England Patriots


    Chiefs offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. headlines a deep and impressive group of free-agent offensive linemen. Brown made his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl this year, but the 26-year-old's resume doesn't end there.

    Brown was a Pro Bowler at right and left tackle with Baltimore before he was traded to Kansas City. He's also a player who is constantly looking to improve.

    "The thing I like and appreciate about him is that he understands and sees what we're trying to do and what he needs to work on," Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck said, per The Athletic's Nate Taylor.

    Brown played on the franchise tag in 2022. With a projected market value of $22.4 million annually, he may have a chance to reset the tackle market this offseason.

    49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey is another high-end starter, while New England's Isaiah Wynn is capable of playing on either side.

    Nate Davis, Dalton Risner, Rodney Hudson and Rodger Saffold lead a strong group of interior linemen and should immediately find starting jobs on the open market.

    The wild card here might be 35-year-old Eagles center Jason Kelce. While Kelce just earned his sixth Pro Bowl nod, he has said he is likely nearing the end of his playing career.

    "If I'm being honest, my body is starting to fall apart," Kelce said in September on his podcast, New Heights with Jason and Travis Kelce (h/t Liam Jenkins of Philly Sports Network).

    The Eagles used a second-round pick on center Cameron Jurgens this past April, so if Kelce decides to keep playing, it may be for a new team.

Defensive Line

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    Eagles DT Javon Hargrave
    Eagles DT Javon HargraveAndy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Notable Players:

    Zach Allen, Arizona Cardinals

    Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles

    Poona Ford, Seattle Seahawks

    Javon Hargrave, Philadelphia Eagles

    Akiem Hicks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Dre'Mont Jones, Denver Broncos

    Larry Ogunjobi, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Daron Payne, Washington Commanders

    Dalvin Tomlinson, Minnesota Vikings


    The other side of the line features a lot of high-end talent as well. Philadelphia has two notable defensive linemen, Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave, headed to the market, with Hargrave likely topping several wishlists.

    The 29-year-old was a Pro Bowler in 2021 and is having an even better campaign this season. He logged 60 tackles and 11 sacks during the regular season and will likely make a major impact for Philly in the playoffs.

    Washington Commanders defensive tackle Daron Payne is another top-tier defender who is scheduled to be available. He had a career year for Washington, finishing with 64 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 23 quarterback pressures.

    However, Washington is expected to try to retain Payne before the start of free agency.

    "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."

    Seattle's Poona Ford is a quality starter who can play multiple roles on the defensive interior. Larry Ogunjobi has had a decent campaign for the Pittsburgh Steelers but was even more impressive for the Cincinnati Bengals last year.

    Ogunjobi finished the 2021 season with 49 tackles, seven sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 24 quarterback pressures.

    The defensive-line pool is filled with high-level starters, versatile contributors and quality depth pieces, meaning teams seeking help in the interior will have plenty of possibilities.

Edge-Rusher

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    Eagles Edge Brandon Graham
    Eagles Edge Brandon GrahamAndy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Notable Players:

    Jadeveon Clowney, Cleveland Browns

    Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints

    Dante Fowler Jr., Dallas Cowboys

    Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles

    Arden Key, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Melvin Ingram, Miami Dolphins

    Yannick Ngakoue, Indianapolis Colts

    Robert Quinn, Philadelphia Eagles


    While the offensive- and defensive-line pools are stacked from top to bottom, this year's edge-rusher market is much more underwhelming. Philadelphia's Brandon Graham is arguably the only top-tier option available.

    Graham logged 11 sacks and 21 quarterback pressures this year, though at 34 years old, he might not be a fit for younger rebuilding teams.

    Yannick Ngakoue is a solid fit for rebuilding and contending teams alike, and while he's not a regular double-digit-sack defender, he's consistent. The 27-year-old has logged at least eight sacks in each of his campaigns. Ngakoue, though, finished his season on injured reserve following throat surgery.

    While Jadeveon Clowney might be the most recognizable name here—for casual fans, anyway—he's coming off a lackluster season in Cleveland. Though Clowney logged nine sacks in 2021, he's finished with three or fewer sacks in three of the past four years.

    It's worth noting the Browns sent Clowney home ahead of the regular-season finale after he publicly criticized his role with the team. The 29-year-old has a high ceiling, but his attitude and inconsistent production could leave him looking at a budget deal in free agency.

    The bulk of this year's pass-rusher pool is filled with complementary players and rotational pieces. Therefore, teams that need a true difference-maker on the edge may eye the 2023 NFL draft—where Alabama pass-rusher Will Anderson Jr. tops the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's player rankings.

Linebacker

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    Ravens LB Roquan Smith
    Ravens LB Roquan SmithG Fiume/Getty Images

    Notable Players:

    Devin Bush, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Tremaine Edmunds, Buffalo Bills

    Deion Jones, Cleveland Browns

    David Long Jr., Tennessee Titans

    Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Roquan Smith, Baltimore Ravens

    Drue Tranquill, Los Angeles Chargers

    Anthony Walker Jr., Cleveland Browns


    The 2023 free-agent class is filled with starting-caliber linebackers aplenty. Baltimore's Roquan Smith headlines the group, though it will be a surprise if he hits the open market.

    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. Their initial plan, according to The Athletic's Dan Pompei, was "to try to sign him before the end of the season."

    Smith racked up 169 tackles this season, excelled in pass coverage (73.6 opposing passer rating allowed) and made his first Pro Bowl. If the Ravens cannot keep Smith, he'll get a hefty payday on the open market.

    Smith is far from the only high-end linebacker scheduled to be available. Tremaine Edmunds is a 24-year-old two-time Pro Bowler and a steady star for the Buffalo Bills. Tampa's Lavonte David is a crafty 32-year-old vet who does a little bit of everything well.

    Anthony Walker Jr. was a strong starter for the Browns before suffering a torn quadriceps that ended his 2022 season. Cleveland then acquired Deion Jones from the Atlanta Falcons and had him on the field for 59 percent of the defensive snaps.

    As a full-time starter with Atlanta last season, Jones amassed 137 tackles, 87 solo stops and two sacks.

    Tennessee's David Long Jr. and the Los Angeles Chargers' Drue Tranquill are underrated starters who should score big paydays this spring. Tranquill has been a force against both the run (146 tackles) and the pass (five sacks), while Long has excelled in coverage (74.1 opposing passer rating).

    In summary, if your favorite team needs a good starting linebacker in 2023, it can probably find one.

Cornerback

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    Eagles CB James Bradberry
    Eagles CB James BradberryCooper Neill/Getty Images

    Notable Players:

    Anthony Averett, Las Vegas Raiders

    James Bradberry, Philadelphia Eagles

    Jamel Dean, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Byron Murphy, Arizona Cardinals

    Marcus Peters, Baltimore Ravens

    Patrick Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

    Cameron Sutton, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Rock Ya-Sin, Las Vegas Raiders


    Cornerback isn't as deep of a position as linebacker. While several quality role players should be available, James Bradberry and Jamel Dean are arguably the only true stars of the group.

    Bradberry had a phenomenal campaign with the Eagles, though he was somehow a Pro Bowl snub. The 29-year-old was excellent in coverage, allowing an opposing passer rating of just 49.4 in coverage.

    With a projected market value of $17.1 million annually, Bradberry is set to be paid like an elite cover corner.

    While Dean hasn't been as impressive as Bradberry (87.3 passer rating allowed), he's been a reliable starter for the playoff-bound Buccaneers. At only 26 years old, he should get a lucrative long-term deal.

    Raiders cornerback Rock-Ya Sin quietly put together a strong campaign before landing on injured reserve with a knee injury. He registered 45 tackles and seven passes defended while allowing an opposing passer rating of just 82.6 in coverage.

    Patrick Peterson and Marcus Peters are both noteworthy names. However, Peterson will turn 33 in July, while Peters (113.7 opposing passer rating) has been a borderline liability after missing all of 2021 with a torn ACL.

    Several starting-caliber cornerbacks will be available this offseason, but teams seeking a true lockdown defender will have limited options.

Safety

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    Bengals S Jessie Bates III
    Bengals S Jessie Bates IIIKirk Irwin/Getty Images

    Notable Players:

    Adrian Amos, Green Bay Packers

    Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals

    Vonn Bell, Cincinnati Bengals

    C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles

    Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

    Jabrill Peppers, New England Patriots

    Jordan Poyer, Buffalo Bills

    Jimmie Ward, San Francisco 49ers


    As is the case at cornerback, teams are likely to find a few high-end safety options with a lot of solid contributors rounding out the market.

    The Bengals are set to send two starting safeties, Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates III, to free agency. Bates played the 2022 season on the franchise tag and should get a sizable long-term deal in the spring—either in Cincinnati or elsewhere.

    Bell has had a career year, logging 77 tackles and four interceptions.

    Philadelphia's C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who was recently activated from injured reserve (lacerated kidney), is also in store for a huge payday. The former New Orleans Saints safety/slot corner emerged as a star with the Eagles this season. In 11 games before the injury, Gardner-Johnson logged 60 tackles, a sack and six interceptions.

    Gardner-Johnson returned for the season finale and logged seven tackles, including one for loss.

    With a projected market value of $14 million annually, Gardner-Johnson could provide the measuring stick for free-agent safety contracts.

    Jordan Poyer is an underrated but capable safety and an integral piece of the Bills defense. Adrian Amos and Jimmie Ward have been solid starters for the Green Bay Packers and 49ers, respectively.

    Like the Bengals, the Patriots are slated to send two safeties to market, though neither is likely to draw top-end attention. Jabrill Peppers is a versatile but inconsistent box safety, while Devin McCourty will turn 36 in August.

    Several talented safeties will be available, though we can expect Gardner-Johnson, Bell and Bates to be the market-setters.


    *Contract and market information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.

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