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NFL's Most, Least Impactful Free Agent Signings of 2023 Offseason

NFL free agency always is a crapshoot where there are usually fewer hits than misses and major impact free agent signings are rare.

I challenge people to name several elite free agent signees who have been a key impetus for a franchise to become Super Bowl winners. Reggie White signing with the Green Bay Packers in 1993 is one. Deion Sanders being a key part of Super Bowl winning teams in San Francisco and Dallas in the mid-1990s is another. But it’s hard to come up with other free agent signings of that magnitude. 

That’s not to say free agency isn’t important in team building. It is when used as a vehicle to augment the draft while understanding it’s a risky proposition for the most part.

Five weeks into the 2023 NFL season, there are many free agents who are helping their teams and a bunch of disappointments. Here are the five most and five least impactful free agents who signed in the 2023 offseason:

Most Impactful Free Agent Signings

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Baker Mayfield

 Baker Mayfield, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The former No. 1 overall pick of the Cleveland Browns won a division title and a wild card game for the Browns over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. Then injuries and the Deshaun Watson acquisition led to Mayfield's trade to the Carolina Panthers last season.

Injuries and discontent with his situation derailed Baker Mayfield with the Panthers and after his release, he wound up with the Los Angeles Rams for five games. He played well enough to interest the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in signing him on a bargain one-year, $4 million contract (plus $4.5 million in incentives) to compete with Kyle Trask to replace Tom Brady.

Mayfield won the starting job and opened this season by leading an upset victory in Minnesota. He had an excellent performance in a key Week 4 divisional win in New Orleans with 246 passing yards, three touchdown passes and 31 rushing yards. The knock on him had been too many interceptions during his career but Mayfield has thrown only two picks this season. He has seven TD passes and has taken only four sacks. His 101.5 QB rating ranks eighth and would be a career-best over a season. 

Best of all, he has the 3-1 Bucs leading the NFC South as they come off their bye and have a big home game on Sunday against the 4-1 Detroit Lions. 

Gardner Minshew

 Gardner Minshew, QB, Indianapolis Colts

Quarterback obviously is the most impactful position and Gardner Minshew is likely the best backup QB in the league. He has a 3-0 record this season in games he's started or finished when top draft pick Anthony Richardson has been hurt. Minshew is expected to start the next few games at least as Richardson recovers from a shoulder sprain. 

Minshew is a big part of the Indianapolis Colts surprisingly being tied for the AFC South lead at 3-2. In Week 5, he came off the bench in the second quarter and completed 11 of 14 passes for 155 yards as he directed a 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans. 

In Week 3, Minshew was the starter and passed for 227 yards and one touchdown in leading a 22-19 overtime upset in Baltimore. He has a 95.1 rating with no interceptions while earning $3.5 million on a one-year deal. 

Minshew was the backup to Jalen Hurts the past two seasons in Philadelphia where he played under current Colts coach Shane Steichen who was the Eagles offensive coordinator. So Minshew had the advantage of knowing Steichen’s system when he was signed. He was a sixth-round pick in 2019 of the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he started 20 games before being traded to the Eagles. 

Jessie Bates, Safety, Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons signed Jessie Bates to a four-year, $64 million deal (with $36 million guaranteed) and he has rewarded them with an excellent season so far. Bates is tied for league lead with three interceptions and has two forced fumbles along with 35 tackles. Atlanta is 3-2 and its defense has improved significantly from No. 27 last season to No. 7 with the help of Bates.

He’s a former second-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals who had 14 interceptions and four seasons with 100-plus tackles during his five years there. He was selected Second-Team All-Pro in 2020. 

Leonard Floyd

 Leonard Floyd, Edge, Buffalo Bills

Leonard Floyd had two sacks on Sunday in a loss to the Jaguars in London to increase his season total to 5.5 sacks, which ranks sixth in the league. He also has contributed nine quarterback hits and 12 tackles to the 3-2 Bills’ 12th-ranked defense. 

Floyd was signed to a one-year, $7 million contract (plus $2 million in potential incentives) after producing 29 sacks over three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. He was part of a great defensive effort with a sack and five tackles in the Rams’ win over the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI. Floyd was a first-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 2016 and had four fine seasons there before signing with the Rams.

Los Angeles Rams Puka Nacua

 Bobby Wagner, ILB, Seattle Seahawks

After a one-year stint with the Rams, Wagner has made a successful return to Seattle where he was a second-round pick in 2012. In his first stint with the Seahawks he became an eight-time Pro Bowler and leader of the fierce defense on the Super Bowl XLVIII championship team.

Wagner took a pay cut this year to $5.5 million plus $1.5 million in incentives on a one-year deal. He has 50 tackles and two sacks for the 3-1 Seahawks, whose defense has improved with the help of Wagner’s strong play and leadership. In Seattle’s dominating 24-3 Monday night road win over the New York Giants in Week 4, Wagner made 17 tackles along with his two sacks of Daniel Jones. A tougher road test awaits Wagner and his team Sunday against a revived Joe Burrow and the Bengals.


Least Impactful Free Agent Signings

 Miles Sanders, RB, Carolina Panthers

It’s culture shock for Miles Sanders coming off a Super Bowl team in Philadelphia where he had 1,269 rushing yards and 11 TDs in a Pro Bowl season. The former second-round pick of the Eagles was not considered a priority re-signing so he moved on in free agency. The winless Panthers do not provide him with the great offensive line or Pro Bowl QB he played with in Philly. He works with rookie first overall pick Bryce Young instead of Second-Team All-Pro Jalen Hurts. 

Sanders is struggling with only 190 rushing yards (one TD), a 3.1-yard average per carry and 15 catches for 81 yards. He was signed to a four-year deal for $25 million and the return on investment is not good so far.  

Baltimore Ravens Odell Beckham Jr.

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Baltimore Ravens 

After missing last season as he recovered from a torn ACL sustained in the Rams' Super Bowl win, Odell Beckham Jr. is off to a slow start with only seven catches for 79 yards in three games. He’s already missed two games because of an ankle injury. Obviously, the Ravens were expecting a greater impact when they signed him to a one-year, $15 million contract. He returned to the lineup last week in the Ravens’ 17-10 loss in Pittsburgh and contributed only two catches for 13 yards on four targets.

Beckham’s career got off to a great start as a first-round pick of the Giants who made the Pro Bowl in his first three seasons. Injuries derailed his career and he has not had a thousand-yard receiving season since 2019 in Cleveland. The 3-2 Ravens and their star QB Lamar Jackson are hoping Beckham stays on the field and picks up his pace over the rest of this season in the tough AFC North.

 Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Las Vegas Raiders

The Las Vegas Raiders made a risky signing of the often-injured Jimmy Garoppolo with a three-year, $67.5 million deal ($34 million guaranteed). He's a quarterback who had a winning record when he was able to stay healthy during his New England and San Francisco years. He was a second-round pick of the Patriots in 2014 and backed up Brady before being traded to the 49ers in 2017. He led them to Super Bowl LIV but battled injuries during his six years in the Bay Area and finally hit free agency in March. 

Garoppolo comes off a hard-fought 17-13 Monday night win over the Packers in which he threw for only 208 yards with one TD and one interception. The 2-3 Raiders have not scored more than 20 points in any of his four starts (he missed the Week 4 loss to the Chargers with a concussion). Garoppolo’s season numbers are not impressive: six TDs, seven interceptions and an 82.7 rating that ranks 24th. He’ll have to step up his game for the Raiders to make the playoffs in the loaded AFC. 

 JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, New England Patriots

The New England Patriots are 1-4 and their offense is a train wreck with a combined three points scored the past two weeks in blowout losses to Dallas and New Orleans. JuJu Smith-Schuster is not helping the cause as he has only 14 catches for 86 yards and no touchdowns in five games. He signed a three-year, $25.5 million contact with $16 million guaranteed. 

Smith-Schuster spent his first five seasons in Pittsburgh where his best season was in 2018 with 111 receptions, 1,426 yards and seven TDs before his only season in Kansas City. He certainly hoped for more wins and personal production than what he’s seen so far this year after winning the Super Bowl last season with the Chiefs. He was Patrick Mahomes’ top target at wide receiver with 78 receptions for 933 yards and three TDs. Now he’s had to watch Mac Jones get benched during the last two ugly losses. Not fun times for Smith-Schuster or anyone connected with the Patriots. 

 Frank Clark, OLB, Denver Broncos

Speaking of train wrecks, how about coach Sean Payton’s last-ranked defense in his first season in Denver? The 1-4 Broncos have  gotten only two tackles and no sacks in the two games played so far by Frank Clark. Clark signed a one-year, $5.45 million deal after he produced 7.5 sacks last season for the Super Bowl champion Chiefs.

Clark has missed three games this season due to a hip injury which fortunately for him included the ugly 70-20 loss to the Dolphins in Week 3. He played only 11 snaps in the loss to the Jets on Sunday. It’s not a good start for the former second-round pick of the Seahawks who had two double-digit sack seasons in Seattle before becoming a three-time Pro Bowler in Kansas City.

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl.