Sunday, February 25, 2024

2023 NFL free agency: Ranking five best and five worst signings, from Lions roaring to Jimmy Garoppolo gamble

Must read

NFL free agency came quickly and packed a punch. Sean Payton touched down in Denver and immediately started upgrading the offense, as the Broncos signed right tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Ben Powers. The Broncos also made an intriguing signing in quarterback Jarrett Stidham. The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, were focused on defense, grabbing linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards.

As there are every year, some of these new contracts looked good and some … not so good. Some players are easy to identify as immediate-impact guys, while others are more puzzling fits. Sometimes these additions work out and other times they don’t. Remember when the Jacksonville Jaguars went on that spending spree last year? Doug Pederson is glad they did. 

Below, we will break down the five best and what we perceive to be the five worst signings in NFL free agency thus far. 

Best

CJGJ had a bit of a dramatic week, which included deleted tweets and allegations of blackballing. Spotrac’s market value tool projected Gardner-Johnson would sign a five-year $66,658,780 contract which carries an AAV of $13.3 million. Instead, he got a one-year, $8 million deal from the Detroit Lions. Not only is this a bargain, but Dan Campbell and Aaron Glenn also have familiarity with CJGJ from their time together in New Orleans. While it’s a one-year deal, I feel like the Lions are building the kind of culture that ends up attracting players. Depending on how 2023 goes, CJGJ may want to stay in Detroit.

The Lions needed to address the defensive side of the ball in free agency, and they’ve done a good job in doing so. More on this later. 

The Cincinnati Bengals had to upgrade the offensive line, and they scored a Pro Bowl left tackle from a rival. After the Kansas City Chiefs replaced Orlando Brown Jr. with a RIGHT tackle, he decided to take his talents to the Chiefs’ primary postseason rival! It’s a four-year, $64.09 million deal, CBS Sports NFL Insider Jonathan Jones confirmed. The contract is front-loaded, according to NFL Media, and includes a signing bonus north of $31 million — the largest ever given to an offensive lineman. So the contract contains plenty of guaranteed money, but Brown’s AAV ranks No. 10 among left tackles. His projected AAV was $22.4M. His new AAV with Cincinnati is $16M. 

In Brown, the Bengals and Joe Burrow get a legitimate left tackle that’s motivated to prove the Chiefs wrong. What more could you want? 

“I’m super thankful for the opportunity to carry on my father’s legacy and be a left tackle,” Brown told NFL Media in a statement. “It was important to be able to play that position and play for a winning team and a winning quarterback. Who Dey!”

“Gravedigger.” Despite the fact that he’s about to turn 30, there was no doubt Hargrave was going to be one of the most popular free agents. That’s why the San Francisco 49ers quickly jumped on him, signing the veteran to a four-year, $84 million deal. That sounds pretty pricy, but Pro Football Talk reports it’s basically a two-year, fully guaranteed contract, where Hargrave will make up to $40.75 million. The next two years reportedly represent team-held options. Bottom line is pairing Hargrave with Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa and Javon Kinlaw is an incredible move. Hargrave recorded 11 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and 16 QB hits from the interior last season. One of the first thoughts I had when I saw this move was “Steve Wilks is getting a head coaching job next year.”

Another Lions signing? Yep. Not only did Detroit do what was smart and sign multiple defensive backs early in free agency, but they signed one of the best — and definitely one of the most intriguing names — in Sutton. The University of Tennessee product was Pete Prisco’s No. 26 best free agent in this class, and he’s coming off of a career campaign in which he recorded 15 passes defensed and three interceptions. Sutton can play in the slot or on the outside, and could be poised for another career year under Aaron Glenn and Dre Bly. Plus, Sutton didn’t exactly break the bank. He’s tied for 17th among cornerbacks with an $11M AAV. 

Let’s get a deep cut in here. Hollins emerged into a fantasy football sleeper in the early stages of last season, and when the dust settled, he had what was by far the best season of his NFL career. Hollins caught 57 of 94 targets for 690 yards and four touchdowns in 17 games played. Previously, he hadn’t recorded more than 226 yards in a single season.

While Hollins turns 30 in September, I know I’m not alone in thinking there would be interest in him this offseason. The fact that the Atlanta Falcons got him on a one-year, $2.5 million deal is outstanding — especially when you factor in his special teams ability. Great signing. 

Worst

The Las Vegas Raiders have found their new quarterback, as Jimmy G is off to Sin City. He signed a three-year, $72.75 million deal that carries an AAV of $24.25 million. It’s not a “massive” contract, but I have two worries: Can Jimmy G remain healthy? He played a full season just once. More importantly, can he find success without offensive mastermind Kyle Shanahan?

Jimmy G looked pretty good in his two career starts with the New England Patriots, but is he the quarterback that’s going to take the Raiders to the next level? I’m not sure. 

The former Cardinal agreed to a three-year, $45.75 million deal that includes $32.5 million guaranteed with the Broncos — who were quick to throw money around in free agency. Allen averaged 2.8 sacks per year in four seasons with Arizona, but recorded a career-high 5.5 QB takedowns in 13 games played last year. This contract is obviously gambling on his upside. Allen is just 25, but is he worth $17.25 million yearly cash in 2023? His market value AAV was expected to be $9.3 million. His new AAV in Denver is $15.25 million. 

Congrats to Josh Oliver for getting paid. He received a three-year, $21 million contract from the Minnesota Vikings, while Dalton Schultz got a one-year, $6.25 million deal from the Houston Texans. Yes, Schultz’s deal includes incentives that can boost it, but that’s what it is at face value. Oliver gets top 20 tight end money to play alongside T.J. Hockenson. The deal is backloaded and his 2023 cap hit is just $2.55 million in 2023, but still, Minnesota must have really wanted him. 

Jawaan Taylor is a huge winner in free agency. Not only does he receive a nice bump in pay and get to join the reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs, but reports indicate he’s going to flip over from the right side to the left to serve as Patrick Mahomes‘ blindside blocker. Good for Taylor, but this is clearly a gamble for the Chiefs. Four years and $80 million for a player who hasn’t played left tackle in the NFL. That’s top tier left tackle money! Taylor has been a good right tackle, but is he going to be better than Orlando Brown Jr. was? 

The Texans actually made this move before free agency officially started. To be quite frank, the Tennessee Titans‘ decision to release Woods was an easy one. It saved north of $12 million against the cap, and he had the worst season of his otherwise impressive NFL career in 2022, catching 53 passes for 527 yards and just two touchdowns. Woods was coming off of a torn ACL in 2022, and it remains to be seen if that was the main issue behind last year’s struggles. The Titans’ horrendous passing attack was certainly a contributing factor to his down year as well.

Either way, Woods is turning 31 in April, and signing him to a two-year, $15.25 million deal that includes $10 million total guaranteed was surprising. 

Latest article