Now that the main wave of free agency has passed, we can now get a pretty good look at how the different teams have done. Some have addressed key needs, others have added depth, while a few teams are deciding to wait until the draft to tackle the holes in their rosters. Cap constraints had a major impact on what clubs were able to do. Regardless, free agency can be a critical way to build your team. Jacksonville spent a ton last year and went from picking first to winning the AFC South and a playoff game. Building through the draft is important, but this is another piece. With that in mind, let’s check out the free agency winners and losers for the 2023 NFL offseason. You can catch up on all the signings (and my grades for them) here.
Few teams entered the offseason with more momentum than the Lions. Though they didn’t make the playoffs, they rebounded from a 2-6 start to win 7 of their last 9 games, including a finale at Lambeau Field that kept their hated rival Packers out of the postseason. Jared Goff, well-protected by a stellar line, played great, and the front 7 improved. However, to truly contend, Detroit desperately needed a makeover in the secondary. They did just that, signing S CJ Gardner-Johnson and CBs Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley to varying deals. Though more depth is required, these players are critical for Detroit. Their addition makes a weakness a possible strength, and the Lions should be considered the favorites to win the AFC North.
The Panthers did a great job in free agency, and I’m not talking about their trade up to #1 overall, which isn’t considered here. I’m referring to all the moves they made to SUPPORT the QB they take with that pick. Their first signing was coach Frank Reich, who is known for his work with QBs. After losing WR DJ Moore as part of their trade with Chicago, they quickly signed Adam Thielen and DJ Chark to fill the void. Outgoing RB D’Onta Foreman was replaced with Miles Sanders, Hayden Hurst was brought in at TE, and Carolina’s nightmare QB room was thrown out in favor of Andy Dalton. Defensively, the Panthers added S Vonn Bell and DT Shy Tuttle. A team that was on the rise late last season could be competitive in short order with the right QB selection.
Like the Panthers above, Denver gets major props for how they’re supporting their QB. Unlike Carolina though, they’re tasked with supporting a Pro Bowler in decline, not a rookie. Russell Wilson had his worst career season in 2022, and it’s Sean Payton’s job to fix him. To do so, he completely revamped Wilson’s blocking, bringing in RT Mike McGlinchey, G Ben powers, blocking TE Chris Manhertz, and FB Michael Burton. New RB Samaje Perine will be a great outlet out of the backfield, Marquez Callaway was added to a loaded WR room and the Broncos now have a better backup plan at QB in Jarrett Stidham. The team also finally replaced OLB Bradley Chubb with DL Zach Allen from Arizona. Their only real loss was Dre’Mont Jones, and the run defense might actually improve as a result. The front office has done most of what it can do; the rest is up to Wilson.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When I mentioned “cap constraints” at the top of the article, this is the team I had in mind. If you lose Tom Brady (the G.O.A.T.) to retirement, you automatically lose free agency, but the struggle goes beyond that. Brady’s large cap hit that accelerated to this season upon his retirement left the Bucs in a terrible spot financially. They’ve had to let CB Sean-Murphy Bunting, DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches, and S Mike Edwards walk. Tampa was also forced to cut RB Leonard Fournette, K Ryan Succop, TE Cameron Brate, and LT Donovan Smith for cap relief. These aren’t necessarily elite players, but they’re useful contributors who haven’t been adequately replaced. Curiously, they’ve spent the little cash they had on QB Baker Mayfield and RB Chase Edmonds, two mediocre players. As much as Todd Bowles protests when someone says this, the Buccaneers are in a full rebuild.
Green Bay Packers
Once again, I’m not considering trades here, but trades can greatly impact a team’s free agency plan. In Green Bay’s case, it’s an impending trade that’s hurting them. Until Aaron Rodgers is finally moved, the Packers are stuck with his massive cap number. The Jets will be the ones to restructure his deal, so for now, Green Bay is in a holding pattern. They can’t commit money to free agents without knowing whether they’ll have the space. The team is also forced to sit and watch as their own players sign elsewhere. WR Allen Lazard, TE Robert Tonyan, and DTs Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed are just some of the players who have departed, and more could follow Rodgers to NY. Brian Gutekunst is not putting Jordan Love in a position to succeed.
I don’t really know what the plan is for GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. He seems conflicted about whether he can make a deep playoff run with QB Kirk Cousins and is not committing to how he wants to build the team. As usual, Minnesota’s biggest problem is in the secondary…so they let Patrick Peterson, their one good CB, walk? I like the signing of CB Byron Murphy, but the entire secondary needs work. The Vikings handed big money to blocking TE Josh Oliver while parting with franchise stalwarts like WR Adam Thielen and LB Eric Kendricks. DT Dalvin Tomlinson left for another team, and the main reinforcement on the defensive line is DE Marcus Davenport, who had just a half sack a year ago. Minnesota appears to be ceding the NFC North to Detroit. They won’t win a ridiculous number of 1-score games again, so expect some major regression to the mean.