The bulk of the top NFL free agents of 2023 have found new homes, so now’s a good time to reflect on the big winners and losers from this year’s open market.
Like every year, we saw a handful of teams quickly identify and address their main roster weaknesses — putting them in good position to improve next year. And, at the other end of the spectrum, there were teams who either added the wrong guys on bad deals, or they totally fell asleep at the wheel and failed to address their biggest needs.
Here are five teams that won 2023 NFL free agency, and five that totally blew it.
Won: Detroit Lions
The Lions greatly exceeded expectations in 2022 by finishing 9-and-8 — marking their first winning season since 2017.
GM Brad Holmes wasted little time going to work once free agency opened. He lost running back Jamaal Williams but replaced him with ex-Chicago Bear David Montgomery. The fifth-year rusher still has plenty left in the tank. And he should find a lot more running lanes behind a Lions offensive line that’s miles ahead of what he was working with in the Windy City.
Detroit had football’s third-worst pass defense last year. Holmes addressed that by signing corners Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Mosley and versatile safety CJ Gardner-Johnson.
Sutton garnered a 71.6 grade from Pro Football Focus in 2022, and Moseley graded out at 70.9. As for Gardner-Johnson, he finished with six interceptions — tied for a league high — as well as eight passes defended.
So the Lions’ pass defense should be that much better. And not having Aaron Rodgers in the division will make matters that much easier. We’re not used to saying this, but Lions fans — your team totally won the offseason! Congrats!
Blew It: Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals are entering a transition period with a new head coach in Jonathan Gannon and a new GM in Monti Ossenfort. This franchise needed a clean slate alright, but it’s truly difficult to comprehend their plan based on their inactivity during free agency.
Arizona lost star defensive end JJ Watt to retirement. Another standout edge rusher, Zach Allen, bolted for the Denver Broncos in free agency. Starting cornerback Byron Murphy went to the Minnesota Vikings, and now Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker wants out.
Ossenfort’s two big signings? A middle-of-the-road linebacker in ex-Philadelphia Eagle Kyzir White and former Indianapolis Colts wideout Zash Pascal. “NOT GREAT BOB!”.
Kyler Murray is going to miss considerable time recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in December, too. So uh, what exactly is the plan in The Desert? To make Murray even more frustrated to the point where he demands a trade?
…Hmmm… on second though, maybe that’s the Cardinals’ plan after all… Because based on their horrible offseason thus far, they could be setting themselves up to take Caleb Williams first overall in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Won: New Orleans Saints
The Saints land on this list because of quality, not quantity.
GM Mickey Loomis made just two notable splashes in free agency, but they were both brilliant. For starters, he got ex-Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr on a four-year deal worth $150 million — giving New Orleans stability at the game’s most important position.
With star running back Alvin Kamara facing a potential suspension, Loomis found valuable insurance by landing ex-Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams on a bargain three-year deal worth $12 million.
Williams is coming off a career year in which he rushed for 1,066 yards and a league-leading 17 touchdowns. He won’t repeat those numbers with Kamara also occupying space in the backfield, but this could easily be football’s best 1-2 punch at running back next season.
Carr’s final season in Vegas was a disappointment, no doubt. But he’ll have three key factors working in his favor that he didn’t have in Sin City: A top-flight offensive line, a top-10 defense AND the luxury of playing in football’s worst division.
Carr is already the best quarterback in the NFC South with Tom Brady long retired. With the second-easiest strength of schedule for 2023, a healthy New Orleans team and a revived Carr could totally return to Super Bowl contention.
Yeah, they could have torn it all down and kick-started a rebuild. But why not go for it when you still have all that talent on your roster and are playing in the NFL’s easiest division?
Blew It: Houston Texans
The Texans had a plethora of needs heading into free agency. Yes, they were armed with a bunch of draft capital, but why not spend some money when you have practically limitless cap space?
But GM Nick Caserio instead decided to mostly focus on one-year pacts for veterans who won’t be here next year. We liked the Devin Singletary and Dalton Schultz signings, but signing a past-his-prime, injury-prone wideout like Robert Woods? That’s your idea of replacing Brandin Cooks?
Adding ex-San Francisco 49ers safety Jimmie Ward for two years wasn’t the worst of moves, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and doesn’t fit their rebuilding plans.
Guys like Case Keenum, Denzel Perryman, Sheldon Rankins and Hassan Ridgeway were also signed to short-term deals. But again, why? These are just more veterans who are going to be gone in a year or two, and won’t make much of an impact.
Caserio could have made a play for bigger names like Javon Hargrave, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Zach Allen, Jakobi Meyers, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Tremaine Edmunds…and on and on the list goes. They have the cap space… and wouldn’t it be smart to surround all those incoming rookies with talented veterans who can support and mentor them?
Caserio’s 2023 draft better pan out, because he sure has squandered several opportunities here to rebuild a terrible roster with few potential franchise cornerstones.
Won: Buffalo Bills
The Bills lost star linebacker Tremaine Edmunds to the Bears in free agency, but GM Brandon Beane was wise to not engage in a bidding war. Buffalo has more than enough talent on their roster to make up for his departure.
Beane had limited financial resources but still managed to retain star safety Jordan Poyer on a bargain two-year deal. Ex-Saints speedster Deonte Hardy should also give Buffalo’s high-powered offense another big-play weapon.
The Bills lost Devin Singletary but found a nice replacement in ex-New England Patriot Damien Harris, adding the speedy back on a one-year deal. And the vastly underrated Taylor Rapp came in on a ridiculously cheap one-year contract worth $1.77 million.
With limited cap space, Beane was able to address several roster holes without spending large sums of money. That’s some savvy, grade-A management from a team that will once again be among the prime players for the Super Bowl.
Blew It: New England Patriots
Bill Belichick went on a giant offseason spending spree in 2021. The result? A 10-win season and a return to the playoffs following a one-year hiatus.
Belichick was surprisingly quiet in free agency last year. His one big move this year? Letting Jakobi Meyers walk and replacing him with the inconsistent, injury-prone JuJu Smith-Schuster.
JuJu had a bounce-back year with Patrick Mahomes throwing him the football. Mac Jones isn’t Mahomes, though. And on top of that, Meyers and Jones appeared to be building some solid chemestry with one another. Why wouldn’t New England just play it safe and keep that duo together, rather than signing Juju to similar deal?
Belichick also signed unreliable offensive lineman Riley Reiff and injury-prone running back James Robinson. We did like the Mike Gesicki signing, but he’ll likely walk after one year, even if he bounces back in Foxborough….
Retaining Jonathan Jones on a two-year deal was a minor victory, we suppose. But Belichick didn’t add any new impactful starters on defense, and Reiff isn’t the solution to helping the o-line rebound.
We hate criticizing the greatest head coach of all-time. But how are the Patriots supposed to return to relevance when all three of their AFC East rivals made significant moves to get better, and they didn’t? This just feels like a team that’ll be mired in mediocrity once again in 2023.
Won: Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons finally got out of Matt Ryan’s brutal contract and entered this year with plenty of cap space for the first time in forever.
GM Terry Fontenot wasted no time spending that money on key roster needs – specifically the defense. Though we still believe it was a giant overpay, adding ex-Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III was a worthwhile move. The ball-hawking specialist can only improve Atlanta’s never-ending issues against the pass.
Ex-Saints defensive linemen David Onyemata and Kaden Elliss and perennial Pro Bowler Calais Campbell were added to bolster the front seven. And bringing in Bud Dupree on a one-year deal was a low-risk move following his disappointing run with the Tennessee Titans.
If Dupree is healthy, he could push for double-digit sacks once again.
And if sophomore Desmond Ridder isn’t the answer at quarterback? Ex-Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke is more than serviceable as a bridge option — and he could flourish in that offense with Kyle Pitts, Drake London and Tyler Allgeier.
Fontenot addressed most of Atlanta’s pressing needs, and aside from Bates, he didn’t have to break the bank too much. If most of these signings don’t pan out, so be it. At least they tried to address their biggest needs.
Atlanta won seven games last year with one of football’s worst rosters. They can only get better from here, meaning they’ll certainly be a contender in the winnable NFC South.
Blew It: Baltimore Ravens
The fact the Ravens couldn’t get clarity on Lamar Jackson’s future was a giant loss for starters. Jackson revealed in a Twitter thread that he requested a trade before they placed the franchise tag on him.
So that’s a big “L”, for starters.
Baltimore’s defensive line was a weakness last season, yet they’ve already lost two reliable performers in Justin Houston and Calais Campbell. Guard Ben Powers was lost to the Denver Broncos in free agency, and the team didn’t find a suitable replacement for ex-Pro Bowl corner Marcus Peters.
As for the need for wide receivers? Signing a past-his-prime Odell Beckham Jr. and Mr. Inconsistent Nelson Agholor to help Jackson was…something. Those guys aren’t moving the needle, though.
So uh, how are the Ravens supposed to keep pace with the AFC’s top clubs, like the Chiefs, Bills, Bengals, Chargers and Dolphins? Their receiving corps is still a weakness, the d-line got worse, and the o-line lost a key starter.
And GM Eric DeCosta has done very little to fix any of this. It’s been a rough offseason for the Ravens thus far, to say the least.
Won: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks were football’s ultimate surprise team in 2022, winning nine games in year one of the post-Russell Wilson era. Geno Smith’s Comeback Player of the Year season and immense contributions from their 2022 rookie class propelled Seattle to nine wins and the NFC’s final wild card spot.
GM John Schneider won the offseason when he extended Smith to a reasonable three-year extension worth $105 million. Schneider’s big addition was ex-Broncos defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones, landing him on a three-year contract worth $51 million.
Jones addresses a pressing need on the d-line, having recorded at least 5.5 sacks in each of the last three years. But Jones wasn’t the only notable player the Seahawks signed to address a leaky front seven.
Old friend Bobby Wagner, who was surprisingly cut by the Los Angeles Rams, returned to Seattle on a one-year contract. Wagner was as good as ever for the Rams last year, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll suddenly drop off in his return to Seattle.
We loved the signing of ex-Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker and 2019 first-round pick Devin Bush, who just might revive his career under Pete Carroll. He wouldn’t be the first successful reclamation project in the Pacific Northwest.
Ex-New York Giants safety Julian Love also signed a cheap two-year deal worth $12 million, adding more depth to a rapidly improving secondary.
Add it all up, and the Seahawks should be even better than the 2022 group that greatly exceeded expectations.
Blew It: Las Vegas Raiders
Jimmy G signed a three-year deal worth $67.5 million with the Raiders, reuniting him with old friend Josh McDaniels. Sorry, but Garoppolo — without Kyle Shanahan — isn’t going to suddenly make this team a contender in the AFC West.
The Jakobi Meyers signing was a fine move, but receiver wasn’t exactly a pressing need. They didn’t at all address their pathetic offensive line and added exactly zero impact defensive players to one of football’s most helpless units.
So this was the Raiders’ master plan to rebound from a 6-win season following a surprise playoff berth in 2021? To replace Carr with a worse quarterback and to essentially swap out Darren Waller for Jakobi Meyers? Good luck with that, Raiders Nation.
Which other teams won 2023 NFL free agency, and which ones totally blew it?
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