The opening wave of NFL free agency saw a flurry of activity, with big-name quarterbacks and trades for big-time playmakers stealing the headlines. Let’s take a look at the free agency happenings — and non-happenings — that matter most.
BIGGEST MOVES SO FAR
Bears swapping No. 1 for a bundle: Bears fans have long wandered through a frustrating wilderness. Beyond a smattering of fool’s gold playoff appearances, Chicago has struggled to forge an enduring identity — especially on offense. It’s unusual to find that ray of hope during a three-win campaign, but suddenly the Bears house a hyper-promising young quarterback and the ammunition to build around him.
The decision to stick with Justin Fields and sell the No. 1 overall pick to Carolina has put general manager Ryan Poles in a position to warp-speed his roster-build. Gaining April’s ninth overall pick, a 2023 second-rounder, a ’24 first and a ’25 second was an appropriate asking price. Landing D.J. Moore tipped the swap in Chicago’s favor.
- Top 101 NFL free agents of 2023: Bobby Wagner, Odell Beckham among best available
- 2023 NFL free agency tracker: Latest signings, trades, contract info for all 32 teams
- 2023 NFL free agency: Free agents, notable departures for all 32 teams
- Bengals signing four-time Pro Bowl LT Orlando Brown to four-year, $64.09 million deal
- 2023 NFL free agency: Winners, losers from Wednesday's moves
- 2023 NFL free agency: Winners, losers from Tuesday's moves
We don’t know how Carolina’s quarterback of the future will fare, but the Bears can bank on Moore’s value. One of the game’s more promising young wideouts enters Year 2 of a three-year, $61.88 million pact. After throwing to a flock of ham-and-eggers last autumn, Fields has been laced with a leading man who can help hit the gas on Chicago’s air attack. Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet round out one of the NFC’s juicier collection of targets.
It’s unfair to pick at Fields as a rainmaking atomic blast on the ground and nothing more. He grew as a passer despite a rag-tag supporting cast and front five that left him vulnerable to punishment. Last year at this time, Jalen Hurts was pegged as a run-first quarterback facing a critical audition to keep his job. They aren’t the same player, but Fields deserves to be supported and built around to see if better weapons might coax a leap from the pocket.
Poles and the Bears told us how they feel about their electric frontman. Now the chore is turning picks and cap space into a powerful core. For Chicago’s tossed-around fan base, it’s about time.
Jets refusing anything but ‘I do’ from Aaron Rodgers: This is happening.
Green Bay and Gang Green have details to hammer out, but let’s all agree that Aaron Rodgers will be New York’s Week 1 starter.
It’s been a ponderous process. Jets fans have been yanked through the mill, but the frustrating lead-up now fizzles away into a more trenchant reality: You’ve just switched out a lost-in-space Zach Wilson for one of the greatest passers in human lore.
So what if Rodgers wants Allen Lazard invited to the party? Jets fans should welcome Florence Pugh as the club’s jackknife third-down back if that’s what it takes.
Maybe the Jets seemed a little desperate through it all. So what? While the Panthers and Texans are primed to start over with a rookie, New York’s tried all that to horrible results. The Jets are built for a veteran to come in, remove the chaos under center and set the coordinates for hyperspace.
If they’re vaulted to an even darker corner of the universe: It’s just football.
Seattle sticking with Geno: Geno Smith’s deal with Seattle feels like it happened two months ago. Still, putting a ring on the Comeback Player of the Year was the club’s most important piece of business. General manager John Schneider carved out a digestible, incentive-laden, three-year deal that pays Geno $40 million guaranteed. It creates the ideal environment for Smith to confidently lead the team this autumn while Seattle potentially drafts and develops a rookie heir with the fifth overall pick. Seattle’s post-Russell Wilson rebuild has doubled as a masterclass.
Niners landing Javon Hargrave: The Niners veered creative with their cap to land free agency’s top defensive tackle. Hargrave will nab $21 million annually, but just $6.6 million hits the books in 2023 thanks to a backloaded pact that gives general manager John Lynch time to adjust. It’s doubly sweet to steal a star disruptor away from an Eagles team that topped San Francisco in the NFC title game. Imagine Hargrave (and even one healthy quarterback) on the Niners side when they meet again.
Eagles keeping the band together: They lost Javon, but Philly’s front office is never down for long. Faced with a flock of defensive starters hitting the open market, general manager Howie Roseman cooked up “A Beautiful Mind”-esque formula to keep corners James Bradberry and Darius Slay — two rabbits pulled out of two hats — along with pass rusher Brandon Graham and fan favorite Fletcher Cox. So much for Philly’s defense turning into mush.
Roseman’s artistry extended to the offense, where the loss of Miles Sanders to Carolina was masked over by re-signing Boston Scott and adding a backfield newcomer in Rashaad Penny. The runner’s injury history is a concern, but the ex-Seahawk cost just $600,000 guaranteed on a one-year deal. There’s a world where a healthy Penny lands as one of the better fits in all of free agency.
Jerry Jones waving farewell to Zeke: Last offseason, Dallas clumsily shipped Amari Cooper to the Browns for essentially a fifth-round pick and paid for it all season long. They appeared wiser this week sending a fifth-rounder to Indy for former All-Pro corner Stephon Gilmore. Keeping safety Donovan Wilson, too, highlights an urge to motor Dan Quinn’s defense to the next level.
Even more encouraging was the release of Ezekiel Elliott. Jerry Jones openly adores the once-dominant veteran runner (handing him an insane six-year, $90 million extension in 2019) but made the right choice to part with Elliott. The move cracks open nearly $11 million in cap space.
Bengals landing a behemoth: While pounding out this piece for NFL.com on Tuesday night, the Bengals entered the chat by handing Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr. a four-year, $64 million deal with a whopping $31 million signing bonus. The former Ravens and Chiefs stalwart arrives as a massive-bodied protector for Joe Burrow after keeping Patrick Mahomes safe during Kansas City’s Super Bowl run. Plan for Brown to take over at bookend while moving Jonah Williams over to the right side. Orlando’s addition all but signals the end of La’el Collins.
Atlanta’s O-line obsession: The Falcons are spending as if an asteroid is about to shatter Georgia. It’s easy to grow suspicious of the splurge but not when it comes to keeping your big uglies around. Extending Kaleb McGary with a three-year pact worth $34.5 million comes after he pumped out a career year at right tackle. Chris Lindstrom’s five-year, $105 million contract keeps PFF’s top-rated guard around for years to come.
Dolphins adding Jalen Ramsey: Miami caught the Rams at the right time, nabbing star cover man Jalen Ramsey for a third-round pick. Nothing short of a coup after the Fins were forced to wave goodbye to Byron Jones. While Los Angeles heads into a thorny reset, Miami operates as one of the league’s most aggressive offseason outfits.
Browns bolstering their front seven and beyond: General manager Andrew Berry churned out an active week by adding rock-solid defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson and ascending pass rusher Ogbo Okoronkwo. Interior defensive line and edge were massive voids for a club that also nabbed productive safety Juan Thornhill after releasing John Johnson. Cleveland could still use another answer at wideout, but re-signing center Ethan Pocic keeps one of the game’s better lines intact.
Giants acquiring Darren Waller: Waller is coming off an injury-bashed campaign, but who can argue with the Giants acquiring his gifts for April’s 100th overall pick? The 6-foot-6, 255-pound tight end is two years removed from his last 1,000-yard campaign, but an upright Waller looms as a bounce-back candidate under the spell of crafty coach Brian Daboll.
BIGGEST NON-MOVES SO FAR
Raiders staying away from Aa-Rod: The Jets faced zero competition for the services of Aaron Rodgers. While I like the move for New York, it was wise for Las Vegas to take another path. Jimmy Garoppolo is a short-term, adequate patch for a Raiders team that should boldly swing for a quarterback in the draft with the No. 7 overall pick if the board falls their way. Davante Adams aside, this never felt like a good-energy landing spot for Rodgers. Too many holes on a roster still searching for itself.
Titans holding on to Ryan Tannehill (for now): Ran Carthon went out of his way in February to suggest Tennessee’s teardown wouldn’t nuke the quarterback room. Ryan Tannehill is “a Titan and he will be a Titan,” said the team’s newly minted general manager. Derrick Henry shipped elsewhere as a sell-high move makes sense, but Tannehill sticking around guarantees a level of competency, loyalty and rugged might under center.
TB12 not marching through that door: While Aaron Rodgers kept us waiting, Tom Brady made it clear he’s done for good this time, responding to chatter of a possible return with one trenchant tweet: “Anyone who thinks I have time to come back to the NFL has never adopted a 2 month old kitten for their daughter.”
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter.
Source: Read Full Article