Best Fits for NFL's Most Intriguing Available Free AgentsMarch 18, 2023
Best Fits for NFL's Most Intriguing Available Free Agents
It's been six days since the legal tampering period started and NFL teams were allowed to negotiate with free agents, and the signings continue to come in fast and furious.
Many of the tops names that were anticipated to lead the class have already been signed. The deluge of free-agent additions can be hard to keep up with in the first week.
Yet, there are still some intriguing options that remain unsigned. Here, we'll take a look at the top names left from our free-agent big board heading into the weekend.
Best fits were determined by each player's potential role with a team as well as the resources those teams have considering the moves they have already made.
DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson
Best Fits: Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos
It's a bit surprising that C.J. Gardner-Johnson is the last of the top-tier safeties remaining on the market. Jessie Bates III, Jordan Poyer and even Jimmie Ward all either re-signed or were inked to new deals within the first few days, and the 25-year-old remains unaffiliated.
The most obvious choice for the boisterous safety is Philadelphia. The Eagles traded for him last offseason, and he rewarded their investment with six interceptions in 12 regular-season games and three starts during a playoff run that led to an NFC championship.
His ability to play as a safety or a slot cornerback was huge for Philly, and the Eagles proved they could maximize his skills.
If Gardner-Johnson is no longer feeling the brotherly love of Philly, then a reunion with former Saints defensive coach Ryan Nielsen in Atlanta could be in order. Nielsen was the associate head coach during Gardner-Johnson's last year in New Orleans, and now he's the defensive coordinator for the Falcons.
Atlanta already signed Bates, but Gardner-Johnson's skill set is different. His ability to play near the line of scrimmage and in the slot would create a dynamic pairing in the Falcons' secondary, and they still have the second-most cap space in the league.
The Broncos are among the teams interested in the defensive back, per Aaron Wilson of KPRC Houston 2. The fit there makes sense, as new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio possibly may be looking for a replacement for Kareem Jackson, who is also a free agent.
LB Bobby Wagner
Best Fits: Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills
Bobby Wagner is approaching 33 years old but is still playing at an elite level. He was PFF's highest-graded off-ball linebacker in 2022.
Wagner's release from the Seahawks was a major move in their perceived reset last year. The linebacker subsequently signed with the Rams, which went on to finish 5-12 while the Seahawks were surprisingly 9-8.
With Cody Barton signing with the Washington Commanders, the middle linebacker spot is once again vacant in Seattle. Wagner is an obvious fit if he's already interested in a homecoming.
The Eagles are going to be rebuilding parts of their defense on the fly. They've done a good job of retaining some free agents, but the gap left behind by T.J. Edwards will have to be filled. Nakobe Dean is waiting in the wings, but Wagner would be too good to pass up for the right price, as he would be an immediate plug-and-plat option that could keep them at a Super Bowl level.
If it's Wagner's goal to contend, the Bills aren't a bad destination, either. They also lost a linebacker (Tremaine Edmunds) to the Bears, and signing Wagner would give Buffalo another dominant linebacker to pair with Matt Milano.
WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Best Fits: Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys
Odell Beckham Jr. is a true wild card in this free-agent class. If he can come back from his ACL tear and look like the receiver that helped the Rams get to and win the Super Bowl in 2022, then he's going to be a strong addition.
Then again, he hasn't caught more than 44 passes since 2019, and his best days are likely behind him. The range of outcomes for him after tearing the same ACL he tore in 2020 is wide.
Kansas City would certainly maximize his potential. After watching JuJu Smith-Schuster get a three-year deal after one season in Kansas City, the Chiefs could become a career-rehabilitation center for receivers looking to bounce back. Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid can have that kind of effect.
If Beckham still has aspirations of being a No. 1 receiver, then Baltimore might be his best bet. Rashod Bateman is still relatively unproven, and the organization might need to make some signings to mend the relationship with Lamar Jackson after signing him to the non-exclusive franchise tag. Bringing in OBJ would be a nice start.
Jordan Schultz of The Score mentioned both the Chiefs and Ravens among the teams interested in the receiver, but he also noted that the Cowboys could be in the running. They sill need a running mate for CeeDee Lamb and were connected to OBJ last year.
TE Dalton Schultz
Best Fits: Los Angeles Chargers, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans
It's been a tough market for tight ends thus far. Evan Engram got the franchise tag, and Hayden Hurst signed a three-year deal with the Carolina Panthers, but it's been relatively quiet.
Dalton Schultz might not be an explosive receiver, but he's a solid starting tight end. He's a reliable target who can find the soft spots in zone coverage without being a liability as a blocker.
Kellen Moore knows this better than anyone. The former Cowboys offensive coordinator is now with the Los Angeles Chargers, and he might want to bring Schultz with him to offer Justin Herbert additional weaponry. The Chargers still have Gerald Everett on the roster, but Schultz is a more complete player.
The Lions have a receiving corps full of speed and options on the outside. But after trading away T.J. Hockenson, they could use a veteran tight end to bring things together in the passing game. Schultz would certainly qualify and is a good enough blocker to stay on the field for a Lions team that runs the ball well.
The Texans are likely bringing in one of the top quarterbacks in the 2023 draft class. Whether that's Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud or Anthony Richardson, they are going to need weapons to thrive.
A tight end like Schultz who can serve as a safety valve and efficient blocker would be huge for the Texans.
Edge Frank Clark
Best Fits: New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals
When the Chiefs decided to release Frank Clark, he immediately became one of the best edge-defenders in a shallow free-agent class. Clark is 29 years old and his regular season numbers aren't staggering, but he's racked up 10.5 sacks in four playoff runs with the Chiefs.
He's a savvy veteran with a skill set many teams would love to add, even if he's just a rotational player.
The Saints are a team that could use him as a starter. Marcus Davenport had a down year last season, but they will still miss him in their rotation. With Cam Jordan entering his age-34 season, it might be a good idea for the Saints to add a veteran like Clark who can take some of his snaps and help both players sustain success.
The Browns already replaced Jadeveon Clowney with Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, but he's more of a pure pass-rusher at 6'2", 253 pounds than a well-rounded defensive end. Pairing Clark with him as the bookends to Myles Garrett would give the Browns depth and the ability to put the 6'3", 272-pound Clark in situations where they might want to go bigger up front.
The Bengals should be looking for pass-rushing reinforcements after notching just 30 sacks as a team last year. Clark may be willing to come cheap so he can continue to contend for Super Bowl rings.
Edge Leonard Floyd
Best Fits: Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions
The Los Angeles Rams continued the teardown of their defensive core by releasing Leonard Floyd to clear cap space. It's a tough break for a franchise that is clearly resetting.
Floyd was an especially painful player to let go. He has 29 sacks over the past three seasons, including nine last year. Playing alongside Aaron Donald is obviously nice, but Floyd is a legitimate edge-defender in his own right.
The Packers could use a third pass-rusher to team with Rashan Gary and Preston Smith. Like the Rams, they operate from a base 3-4 front, and defensive coordinator Joe Barry worked with Floyd in his last season as the Rams' linebacker coach in 2020. Floyd had 10.5 sacks that season.
The Cardinals are in need of a veteran pass-rushing presence. Myjai Sanders and Cameron Thomas are the team's top two returning edge-rushers, and they are both going to be second-year players with three career sacks apiece.
Detroit has Aidan Hutchinson ready to anchor the pass rush for years to come. But defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn could use Floyd's expertise and skills to create a duo that can get after the quarterback in 2023.
Edge Yannick Ngakoue
Best Fits: Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams
It would appear that Yannick Ngakoue is going to be headed to his sixth team in five years. With the Indianapolis Colts signing Samson Ebukam, it would appear the Colts aren't likely to bring back Ngakoue.
Ngakoue's constant movement is likely in part because he's a one-trick pony. That one trick (getting after the quarterback) is pretty vital, though. Ngakoue does not work well as a run defender. Instead, he uses his quickness and athleticism as a pass-rushing specialist.
With 65 career sacks and 9.5 last season, it's hard to imagine he'll be available much longer.
He had nearly half as many sacks as the Bears' entire defense had last season (20). They added DeMarcus Walker already, but he's a very different player at 6'4", 280 pounds. Ngakoue would be a pure pass-rusher who could be a vital part of their rotation.
As mentioned earlier, the Bengals could stand to bolster their own pass-rushing rotation. They are a team with aspirations of beating teams like the Chiefs and Bills in the playoffs, and getting pressure on Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen is a critical element of that. Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard are well-rounded ends, but Ngakoue could add some athleticism and quickness to the group.
With the Rams losing Leonard Floyd, they obviously have a need for pass-rushing. The fact that Ngakoue hasn't been signed yet—along with the number of pass rushers still on the board—might mean that he has to take a deal cheap enough for the Rams to afford.
CB Rock Ya-Sin
Best Fits: San Francisco 49ers, Las Vegas Raiders, Indianapolis Colts
The concerns with giving Rock Ya-Sin a multiyear contract in free agency have nothing to do with the on-field product. Ya-Sin is a 26-year-old corner who has proven to be a reliable option.
The problem is he's coming off a back injury that ended his season early. Whatever team signs him is likely going to want a one- or two-year deal with an out after the first year in case he doesn't come back the same player.
The Niners are in a position where taking that kind of gamble is worth it. They lost Emmanuel Moseley to the Lions in free agency, so Ya-Sin would be a logical replacement with upside.
A return to the Raiders shouldn't be ruled out. Of all the Raiders' defensive players, the corner had the lowest passer rating allowed (82.6) among those who defended more than 30 targets. He was only charged with one touchdown in 11 games.
He's already familiar with the scheme, and the Raiders don't have a ton of other options at corner.
The Colts should also be looking into bringing back Ya-Sin. When they traded him away, they were essentially dealing a player at a position of strength to get some much-needed pass-rush help. Now, they are in need of corners again after trading away Stephon Gilmore.