Analysis

2023 NFL Free Agency: Every Team’s Biggest Decision To Make

The 2023 NFL offseason is rapidly approaching, and every team already has started meetings to figure out how they’ll attack it. Whether it’s to re-sign a player, use a franchise tag, move on from a player, or target an impending free agent from another team, those discussions are well under way.

Here’s the biggest free-agency decision each team needs to make on its roster: 

Biggest Decisions by Division

AFC: East | North | South | West

NFC: East | North | SouthWest

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

Upcoming free agent: S Jordan Poyer

Since 2017, Poyer is fourth among safeties in interceptions (22), fourth in forced fumbles (7), second in tackles for loss (33), and second in sacks (10). He missed just two games in his first five seasons with Buffalo until elbow, foot and meniscus injuries in 2022 caused him to miss five games. Yet, he still had 63 tackles and a team-high four interceptions, and Buffalo did not lose a single regular-season game with him in the lineup, going 12-0. Extension talks last year didn’t go far, and Poyer eventually switched agents. He’ll turn 32 in April.

jakobi meyers

New England Patriots

Upcoming free agent: WR Jakobi Meyers

Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019, Meyers has shown improvements year-over-year and could not have found a better time to be a free agent considering the spike in pay for receivers and how weak this year’s free-agent class is at the position. He finished this past season with 67 catches for 804 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games as the Patriots’ top receiving option. New England has allowed plenty of players to leave in the past, including another former undrafted gem in cornerback J.C. Jackson last year. 

New York Jets

Upcoming free agent: DT Sheldon Rankins

The Jets signed Rankins to a two-year deal in 2021, and he’s played in 31 out of a possible 34 games, racking up 75 tackles, including a career-high 43 this past season. A first-round pick of the Saints in 2016, Rankins has received praise from coach Robert Saleh for his leadership and for the bond he’s built with Quinnen Williams, who earned First-Team All-Pro honors this past season. “I always joke with Quinnen, my job was to be good enough so they couldn’t double team him every play. I was pretty much successful with that. I feel like I had a pretty good year,” Rankins told reporters after the season.

Other options: T George Fant, QB Mike White

Miami Dolphins

Upcoming free agent: Raheem Mostert/Jeff Wilson

The Dolphins currently don’t have a running back under contract for next season. They signed Mostert last year and traded for Wilson before the deadline – and both players have familiarity with coach Mike McDaniel from their days in San Francisco. Mostert had more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage, while Wilson had 94 carries for 515 yards and four touchdowns in nine games with the team. Considering the familiarity, Miami likely will focus on bringing at least one of them back for next season.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Upcoming free agent: QB Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson is by far the most fascinating name on this list. The Ravens have had talks about getting a long-term deal done for more than a year, but Jackson has been aiming for a fully-guaranteed structure similar to what Deshaun Watson got from Cleveland. Both sides failed to reach a deal last year, and Jackson played out the final year of his rookie contract and eventually suffered a knee injury, missing the final five regular-season games and a playoff game against Cincinnati, which Baltimore lost. 

The Ravens won’t allow Jackson to reach the open market, but they will have a decision to make on whether to place the exclusive franchise tag (roughly $45 million) or non-exclusive franchise tag (roughly $32.5 million). A non-exclusive tag would allow Jackson to seek offers from other teams, and if he signs an offer sheet, Baltimore would have the right to match or receive two first-round picks. The saga between the two sides is far from over.

Cincinnati Bengals

Upcoming free agent: S Jessie Bates

Cincinnati never made a serious attempt at re-signing Bates the past two years, allowing the safety market to reset three separate times since he became eligible for a new deal. He once again played 1,000-plus snaps this past season – which he’s done in all five years of his career – and he continued to prove dominant in both the run and pass game. Cincinnati eventually will have to pay big-time money to Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins, which could lead to Bates and other key free agents hitting the open market.

Other options: LB Germaine Pratt, S Vonn Bell

Cleveland Browns

Upcoming free agent: C Ethan Pocic

The Browns signed Pocic to a one-year minimum deal last offseason expecting him to be a depth option, but he ended up becoming their Week 1 starter after injuries at the position. He had a career year, with Pro Football Focus ranking him as the third-best center in the league. “I don’t make those decisions, but I don’t think there is anything in his play this year that we would say we wouldn’t want to see him back next year,” Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said after the season. Pocic will be 28 at the start of next season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Upcoming free agent: CB Cameron Sutton

A third-round pick in 2017, Sutton has turned into a consistent starter during the past two seasons, recording 44 tackles and setting career highs in interceptions (three) and passes defended (15) this past season. He’s played mostly outside during that span but has the capability to play in the slot as well. 

Other options: DT Larry Ogunjobi

AFC South

Houston Texans

Upcoming free agent: DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo

Okoronkwo signed a one-year deal with his hometown team last offseason after spending the first four years of his career with the Los Angeles Rams. The 27-year old finished with career-highs in tackles (44), sacks (five), pressures (36) and hurries (25). Houston has holes to fill throughout its roster, but Okoronkwo would seem to be a building block to keep around. 

Indianapolis Colts

Upcoming free agent: LB Bobby Okereke

A third-round pick in 2019, Okereke has been a full-time starter for two seasons and took a major step forward this year with 151 tackles (99 solo), six tackles for loss, five passes defended and two forced fumbles. He displayed his versatility in both run and pass scenarios, and he figures to be one of the top defensive players on the market. Considering how much they spent on fellow linebacker Shaquille Leonard, Indianapolis might be forced to let Okereke leave. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Upcoming free agent: TE Evan Engram

Engram took a one-year, prove-it deal to join coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and it could not have worked out any better for him. The former New York Giants first-round pick totaled a career-high 73 receptions and 766 yards, and his 481 yards after the catch was second-most among tight ends. Engram said after the Jaguars were eliminated that he would love to be back and this was the most fun he’s had in a season in his NFL career. 

Other options: OL Jawaan Taylor, DE Arden Key

Tennessee Titans

Upcoming free agent: LB David Long Jr.

A sixth-round pick in 2019, Long steadily grew his role on the Titans defense, earning more playing time each year. 2022 was his first season as a full-time starter, and he excelled against the run and improved in coverage. He finished the year with career-highs in tackles (86), tackles for loss (7) and quarterback hits (3), and he also added two interceptions. Injuries have been an issue as he’s missed 12 games the last two years, but Long is still just 26, and his best football is in front of him.

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Upcoming free agent: DT Dre’Mont Jones 

Jones is not a household name, but the numbers don’t lie. Since he entered the league in 2019, his 138 quarterback pressures are top-20 among interior defenders, and he’s added 22 sacks as well. Jones just turned 26, and one executive called him “the most underrated player in this year’s free-agent class.”

Kansas City Chiefs

Upcoming free agent: LT Orlando Brown

The Chiefs traded several draft picks to acquire Brown a couple years ago. He played out the final year of his rookie deal, and Kansas City placed the franchise tag on him last offseason with hopes of getting a long-term deal done – but the sides couldn’t reach an agreement. Brown bet on himself and started all 17 games this season, improving as the year went on, allowing  just one sack in the final 10 games. Kansas City could tag him again for about $20 million. 

Other options: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, T Andrew Wylie

Las Vegas Raiders

Upcoming free agent: RB Josh Jacobs

The new Raiders regime declined Jacobs’ fifth-year option, which was worth about $8 million last offseason. That move backfired on them as Jacobs had a league-leading 1,653 rushing yards and 2,053 overall from scrimmage. Raiders GM Dave Ziegler came from New England, where they almost never put significant money into running backs – so a big decision looms in Las Vegas.

Los Angeles Chargers

Upcoming free agent: LB Drue Tranquill

The Chargers have liked Tranquill ever since he came into the league in 2019, but injuries limited him early on. He played a full season as the starter this year, totaling 146  tackles (95 solo), 10 tackles for loss, four passes defended and five sacks. He also took over as the defensive signal-caller in Week 4. Coach Brandon Staley called Tranquill “a complete player,” who makes an impact in all phases of the defense — run defense, coverage and pass rush. GM Tom Telesco said at his end-of-season press conference: “Drue had a tremendous year, as a player, as a leader for us. I know when we drafted him we felt like he had the ability to be a captain for us in time. And that’s kind of what he is. He’s just a great leader, great feel, and represents our team really, really well.”

NFC East

New York Giants

Upcoming free agent: QB Daniel Jones

The Giants, under new general manager Joe Schoen, opted to decline the fifth-year option on Jones last offseason, which would have guaranteed him $22.4 million in 2023. Jones turned around and had a productive year with new coach Brian Daboll, completing 67.2 percent of his passes for 3,205 yards and just five interceptions — all career bests. He also led the Giants to a postseason victory over the Minnesota Vikings with arguably the best game of his young career. The Giants would like to bring back Jones, but the two sides did not have any contract talks during the season. A franchise tag (non-exclusive) will cost about $32.4 million.

Other option: RB Saquon Barkley

Dallas Cowboys

Upcoming free agent: TE Dalton Schultz

Schultz totaled 57 receptions for 577 yards and five touchdowns this season, taking a step back from the 78-808-8 line he had in 2021 that led to the Cowboys placing the franchise tag on him. Dallas values Schultz as a run-blocker, and there’s no hiding his talent as a pass-catcher. A second tag would cost $13.1 million for 2023 – which is still a very reasonable number for a position that has not seen the market move like other positions have in recent years.

Other options: RB Tony Pollard, S Donovan Wilson, LB Leighton Vander Esch

Philadelphia Eagles

Upcoming free agent: DT Javon Hargrave

General manager Howie Roseman again will be a busy man this offseason as Philadelphia has a lengthy list of key free agents. The Eagles are all about the trenches, and Hargrave has taken his game to another level. His 13.8% pressure percentage ranked second this season among all interior defensive linemen, per PFF. His 11 sacks were a career-high. Philadelphia has Jordan Davis as a key cog for the future, and keeping Hargrave next to him would seem like a priority. 

Other options: CB James Bradberry, CB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, DT Fletcher Cox, G Isaac Seumalo, LB T.J. Edwards

Washington Commanders

Upcoming free agent: DT Da’Ron Payne

Washington elected to let Payne play out the final year of his rookie deal, and he went on to have the best season of his career with 64 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, and 20 quarterback hits. The Commanders already have committed big money to Jonathan Allen, which brings the question if they want to add another big-money deal at the same position. A franchise tag could also be in play.  “I just want what I earned,” Payne said after the season.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Upcoming free agent: T Kaleb McGary

McGary is the third player on this list who had his fifth-year option declined last offseason only to come back and have a career year. His 91.6 PFF run-blocking grade ranked second among all tackles, and he showed significant improvement in pass protection, allowing only 19 pressures after giving up 120 in his first three years combined. 

Carolina Panthers

Upcoming free agent: C Bradley Bozeman

Bozeman did not garner the market he was expecting last offseason and ultimately landed in Carolina on a one-year deal. He took over as the starter in Week 7, and Carolina’s running attack flipped from bottom-five production to top-five. The Panthers averaged 147 rushing yards per game during the final 12 games of the season, and they ran for more than 100 yards in seven of those games, including three games over 200 yards, and a franchise-record 320 yards in a Week 16 win against Detroit. “He’s a guy that we would like back. He wants to be back. He’s part of our future,” general manager Scott Fitterer said after the season.

Other options: RB D’onta Foreman

New Orleans Saints

Upcoming free agent: LB Kaden Elliss

A 2019 seventh-round pick, Elliss was thrust into a starting role this season after injuries at the position and finished the year with 78 total tackles, two passes defended, two forced fumbles, 10 quarterback hits and seven sacks. The Saints would love to keep Elliss around, especially with Demario Davis having just turned 34.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Upcoming free agent: QB Tom Brady

Brady tried to plot his way to Miami with Sean Payton last offseason before the entire plan collapsed. He ultimately returned to Tampa for his age-45 season, and the team never seemed to gel, eventually losing in the Wild Card round to Dallas. He threw an NFL-record 733 passes this season, playing with a beat-up offensive line and virtually no run game. Tampa Bay would love to have him back considering all the resources and cap maneuvering they’ve done over the past couple of years. But Brady has a no-tag clause in his contract, meaning he’s guaranteed to become a free agent this offseason, assuming he decides to continue playing.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals

Upcoming free agent: DL Zach Allen

Arizona has not had many hits in its drafts in recent years, but Allen would qualify as one. Still just 25, Allen gave a ton of credit to the recently retired J.J. Watt for mentoring him during the past two seasons.  During that span, Allen racked up 95 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 61 pressures and 12 pass breakups. Arizona has a whopping 28 unrestricted free agents and is starting a new era with GM Monti Ossenfort. Keeping Allen as a cornerstone would make sense. 

Los Angeles Rams

Upcoming free agent: DL Greg Gaines

Picked in the fourth round in 2019, Gaines became a key player for the Super Bowl champs in 2021, tallying 55 tackles, four tackles for a loss, 38 total pressures, 26 hurries and 4.5 sacks. He played this entire past season with a lingering shoulder injury and saw his numbers dip. Considering Aaron Donald mulled retirement last offseason – keeping Gaines around will be something the Rams look to do this offseason. 

San Francisco 49ers

Upcoming free agent: T Mike McGlinchey

McGlinchey is a mauler who has done well in Kyle Shanahan’s wide-zone offensive attack. His 2021 season came to an end after just eight games due to a torn quadriceps, but he returned in 2022 to play more than 1,000 offensive snaps. PFF gave him a run-block grade of 73.3, which was top-20 among tackles who played at least 80 percent of snaps. 

 

Seattle Seahawks

Upcoming free agent: QB Geno Smith

Smith was one of the best feel-good stories of the 2022 season, leading Seattle to the postseason when no one thought the Seahawks had any shot before the season. Smith broke three of Russell Wilson’s single-season franchise records: completions (399), passing yards (4,282) and completion percentage (69.8 percent), and he also added 30 touchdown passes and a passer rating of 100.9. Seattle will almost surely use the franchise tag on Smith, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can find common ground on a potential long-term deal.

NFC North

Chicago Bears

Upcoming free agent: RB David Montgomery

The Bears will have the most cap space in the league this offseason and also own the top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft – which opens the door to what should be a fun offseason in the Windy City. Montgomery has value as a runner, pass catcher, and blocker. Since entering the league in 2019, he’s put up more than 1,000 scrimmage yards each season and has 30 touchdowns. No position is deeper this offseason than the running back position, which makes it possible that the price tag for some guys (like Montgomery) might end up dropping, and Chicago will look to keep him around.

 

Detroit Lions

Upcoming free agent: RB Jamaal Williams

Williams led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns and eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career this past season. More importantly for Detroit, Williams has developed into a leader for the team and one of the most likable players in the locker room. GM Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell value the culture they’ve built, and all sides would love to find some sort of solution to have Williams back in 2023.

Other options: DE John Cominsky, S DeShon Elliott

Green Bay Packers

Upcoming free agent: KR/CB Keisean Nixon

Nixon was named a First-Team All-Pro as a kick returner after he finished the season as the only player in the NFL with more than 1,000 kick return yards. All Packers fans were left wondering why the team didn’t use him earlier in the season.  Nixon became a major spark for a Green Bay team that made a late-season playoff push, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers consistently praised him for the field-position advantage he’d give the offense. Nixon also got some playing time on the defensive side as a reserve corner. It would be a shock if Green Bay didn’t prioritize bringing him back.

Patrick Peterson

Minnesota Vikings

Upcoming free agent: CB Patrick Peterson

Peterson, who will turn 33 this offseason, is the oldest starting cornerback in the NFL. None of that mattered as he started all 17 games this past season and had five interceptions (tied for fifth in the NFL) and 15 passes defended (tied for sixth). He held QBs to a sub-70.0 passer rating on targets in his coverage. Peterson is also an admired leader in the locker room and recently said on his podcast that he would love to be back in Minnesota for a third year.

Other options: DT Dalvin Tomlinson

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