The NFL combine is crucial to the 2023 draft, sure, but it might be more important for the non-draft news and notes two weeks ahead of the start of NFL free agency. That’s because it’s where everyone in the NFL gets together in one place, with coaches, general managers, scouts and agents mingling with reporters — and talking to each other. It’s where cuts are made, trades are negotiated and teams try to align their free agency priorities with their draft rankings.

We asked ESPN NFL insiders Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler to empty their notebooks from their week in Indianapolis. They hit the quarterback market — including the latest on Derek Carr, Daniel Jones, Geno Smith, Lamar Jackson and Aaron Rodgers — free agent sleepers and some draft risers. Teams can talk to free agents beginning on Monday, March 13, and free agency officially opens March 15. The draft lies ahead on April 27. It’s going to be a busy two months in the NFL, and our insiders have buzz coming out of the combine on how it all might play out.

Jump to a big topic:
D. Jones | L. Jackson | A. Rodgers
D. Carr | A. Richardson | G. Smith
Other big notes

Can the Giants reach a deal with QB Jones?

Graziano: The New York Giants met with the representatives for quarterback Daniel Jones several times this week, and by the weekend, it sounded as though decent progress had been made toward a long-term contract. The way it was put to me: While a good amount of work still needs to be done, there’s at least some optimism about the possibility of getting a deal in place before the Tuesday franchise tag deadline (4 p.m. ET). That would be massive for the Giants, who could then use the franchise tag to retain running back Saquon Barkley.

If there’s no deal in place with Jones by that point, the Giants will almost certainly tag Jones — who finished 2022 tied for sixth in QBR at 60.8 — to keep him off the market and would then be at risk of losing Barkley in free agency.

Fowler: Yeah, Jones’ representatives and the Giants have been working feverishly on a megadeal, with the firm understanding that if there’s no deal by the franchise tag deadline, he’s getting the tag. Some around the league expect this to be a four-year deal in excess of $160 million, though parameters are still fluid.

“A big number is on the table,” a source said about the negotiation. When I ask people in Indy what has surprised them the most this week, the main answer is that the Giants appear comfortable giving Jones a huge deal. They aren’t shying away from these talks.

And as Dan suggested, I’m also hearing that the Giants will franchise-tag Barkley at $10.1 million should they reach a long-term deal with Jones. New York could also be active in free agency despite the big money attached to Jones. It is looking at improving the defensive front seven.

Non-exclusive tag for QB Jackson?

Fowler: Several people around the league believe the Baltimore Ravens have strongly considered using the non-exclusive franchise tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson, which would deepen the intrigue on his future in a major way. While the Ravens haven’t officially made a decision leading up to the deadline, several league executives now believe the non-exclusive tag — which allows teams to offer Jackson a contract that Baltimore can either match or decline in exchange for two first-round picks — makes the most sense for Baltimore.

Baltimore has had a challenging time negotiating with Jackson, so this allows him to shop his own services and bring an offer to the Ravens, taking out the guesswork and the haggling over guaranteed money. The tag should also fall somewhere around $32 million, far less than the projected $45 million for the exclusive franchise tag. And transferring the work to Jackson and other teams helps Baltimore maintain neutrality in any potential breakup.

The flip side is the lower tag could damage goodwill with Jackson at a sensitive time, and the Ravens can’t control any potential trade for a bigger price than two first-rounders. A major decision looms for general manager Eric DeCosta.

What are the Raiders’ plans at QB?

Graziano: The Las Vegas Raiders remain a team to watch in the Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes, whenever those kick off. Coach Josh McDaniels has long been an admirer of his, and Rodgers would be the best possible addition at quarterback if the Raiders and McDaniels are trying to win in the 2023 season.



Why Darlington believes Aaron Rodgers could leave the Packers

Jeff Darlington and Rob Ninkovich discuss why signs are pointing to Aaron Rodgers leaving the Green Bay Packers this offseason.

If they can’t get him, a lot of people in Indianapolis this week expect McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler to pursue free agent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, whom they know from his time in New England early in his career. There’s also some chatter that McDaniels might try to acquire Mac Jones from the Patriots, though it seems unlikely New England would consider moving the 2021 first-rounder.

Which team will land QB Carr?

Fowler: The New Orleans Saints remain motivated to sign quarterback Derek Carr, who will take his free agency into next week. New Orleans believes it has made a compelling case to Carr, with solid pass-catching targets, a good defense and the chance to play in a dome at least 10 games per season. Carr is prioritizing the right fit, and once he commits to that, a potential contract will be hashed out. Garoppolo could be a viable backup plan for the Saints if things don’t work out.

The New York Jets and Carolina Panthers remain interested in Carr, too, but it’s more complicated with them due to the Jets’ interest in Rodgers and the Panthers’ chance to solve their quarterback position once and for all in the draft (No. 9 overall). Carolina his lurking here, with a follow-up call with Carr early this week. The Panthers are a factor. And at least two other teams have reached out on Carr in recent weeks.

How high will QB Richardson be drafted?

Fowler: The Anthony Richardson hype is relentless after the Florida quarterback jumped 40.5 inches in the vertical and ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds. One NFL scout I spoke to said his team was internally debating whether Richardson would go in the top 12, and most agreed that he would. And that was early in the week, before the fantastic workout.

One league exec called Richardson a blend of Cam Newton, Josh Allen and Justin Fields. And multiple teams I spoke to this week said his interviews were impressive, too, and that the QB was comfortable in those settings.



QB Anthony Richardson impresses at NFL combine

Anthony Richardson impresses at the combine with a 4.43 40-yard dash and a 40.5-inch vertical leap.

How big is WR Meyers’ market?

Graziano: The Patriots’ Jakobi Meyers could end up getting the biggest contract among a very thin group of free agent wide receivers. He has talked to the Patriots about a new deal, but they haven’t made very much progress, and it sounds like Meyers will hit the market when it officially opens March 15. He caught 67 passes for 804 yards and six TDs in 2022.

What will QB Smith’s deal look like?

Graziano: The Seattle Seahawks are working to sign quarterback Geno Smith to a long-term deal before free agency opens, but I’d be surprised if they used the franchise tag on Smith even if they got to the Tuesday deadline without a deal. They like Smith and want him back, but they also hold the No. 5 pick in the draft and have been doing a lot of work on the quarterback prospects at the top of the first round.

Fowler: The potential Seahawks contract with Smith could be in the three-year range and would aim to reward the QB for his excellent play while also helping Seattle manage its cap. With the tag deadline looming, Smith can wait for the Jones situation to shake out the quarterback market.

The expectation is Seattle will be patient here. So while I expect a deal to be reached relatively soon, the Seahawks could slow-play this a bit. Smith’s best fit is Seattle, so both sides should be able to find common ground. Smith tied Jones for sixth in the NFL in QBR (60.8) and threw 30 touchdown passes last season.

Who will the Chiefs sign?

Fowler: The Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs will have a difficult time keeping several free agents. They are bracing to lose receiver Mecole Hardman, who should have a sneaky-good market despite playing just eight games last season. Some teams believe he will hit a pretty good number on a per-year average. Safety Juan Thornhill should also do very well. Some teams are looking at him as the No. 2 safety, a viable option for those who can’t afford Jessie Bates III.

The expectation is the Chiefs will franchise-tag offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and attempt to re-sign receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, but that will cost them. Some teams have running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire on their radar as a potential trade option, though I don’t believe Kansas City is actively shopping him. It could be more of a “we will listen” situation.

Everything else we heard in Indy …


  • If you’re looking for a team in the top 10 of the draft that could trade up to take a quarterback, keep an eye on the Panthers. They pick at No. 9, right behind the Atlanta Falcons and Raiders, both of whom could be thinking QB there. And many people I spoke with in Indy expect the Panthers to be aggressive in their efforts to move up and secure their franchise QB.

  • The Tennessee Titans and defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons have had discussions about a long-term deal. Simmons is currently scheduled to play 2023 on his fifth-year option of $10.753 million, and he has obviously outplayed that number. He had 7.5 sacks and 27 pressures from the interior last season.

  • There are still some high-profile coaching moves to be settled. Matt Patricia, who interviewed for the Denver Broncos‘ defensive coordinator job that ended up going to Vance Joseph, has spoken with other teams about roles on their defensive coaching staffs. Patricia’s contract in New England is up, and it feels likely he’ll move on somewhere else after a rough year coaching the offense for the Pats.

  • The Dallas Cowboys‘ offense could look a lot different in 2023. They’d save $4.8 million on the cap by releasing running back Ezekiel Elliott ($10.9 million if they designate him as a post-June 1 cut). It would not be surprising to see them make that move, as Elliott has no more guaranteed money left on his contract. The Cowboys also seem likely to let tight end Dalton Schultz — who was their franchise player last year — leave in free agency. But they would like to bring back running back Tony Pollard and could use the franchise tag to do so. They will be looking to add explosive playmakers to an offense that really didn’t have any last season outside of Pollard and receiver CeeDee Lamb (who is another candidate for an offseason extension).

  • I spoke to a few scouts who were impressed with Houston’s Clayton Tune and Fresno State’s Jake Haener this week. They aren’t likely first-rounders, but they will be quarterbacks to watch on Days 2 and 3 of the draft.


  • One player with a massive market is Jacksonville Jaguars right tackle Jawaan Taylor, whom some teams believe could command up to $17-18 million per year. Pass-protecting right tackles are scarce. The Jags are pushing hard to keep him, and even though they plan to franchise-tag tight end Evan Engram, some teams are at least wondering if they’ll use it on Taylor instead. Jacksonville definitely plans to keep both players if it can.

  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have discussed the possibility of moving All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs to the left side. Wirfs would have to be comfortable with that, but the early belief is he’ll be open to the possibility. Veteran Donovan Smith has one year left on his deal with a $17.9 million cap hit, so the team needs to sort out his future.

  • Watch for the Los Angeles Rams to potentially unload multiple players, not just cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Receiver Allen Robinson II is a name of note. His career-low 52 targets last season could prompt a desire for change, and the Rams are clearly shedding salary. With a weak free agent receiver class, Robinson’s $15.75 million in 2023 cash flow could be a reasonable clip for a new team. As for Ramsey, several teams are pegging the Detroit Lions as a viable option, but Detroit has been a build-through-the-draft team under GM Brad Holmes, so true intentions are yet to be determined.

  • Watch for the Minnesota Vikings to make some moves with veteran players, too. Receiver Adam Thielen‘s $20 million cap hit must be reworked, and it wouldn’t surprise if talks resulted in a fresh start. His role in the offense could be an issue after Thielen averaged 6.4 targets per game, down from 7.3 in 2021. He believes he has more to offer than that, and Minnesota very well could enter the receiver market in free agency or via trade. Safety Harrison Smith ($19.1 million) and linebacker Eric Kendricks ($11.4 million) are veterans to watch, as well. The Vikings could ask them to restructure their contracts or take pay cuts. The sense here is Smith stays on, even if it’s at a reworked salary.

  • The Arizona Cardinals likely will be in the center market. The team expects Rodney Hudson to retire. Arizona also could have interest in cornerback James Bradberry, who was with new coach Jonathan Gannon in Philadelphia. In a clear rebuild, though, Arizona’s spending plans remain a mystery.

  • Despite not being a household name, free agent pass-rusher Samson Ebukam is getting some buzz here in early March. He could earn in excess of $11 million per season. Ebukam had five sacks with the San Francisco 49ers, playing well in an expanded role.

  • The Bucs and 49ers came up most often when I asked around about quarterback Baker Mayfield‘s market. Tampa Bay is looking at bringing in a veteran arm. Drew Lock, who was the backup in Seattle last year, is also an option there. And the 49ers need veteran help due to injuries to Trey Lance and Brock Purdy. Mason Rudolph would also make some sense there.

  • The Raiders have interest in re-signing Jarrett Stidham. Rolling with Stidham and a first-round pick at quarterback is on the table.

  • The Cincinnati Bengals are focused on keeping their own talent, starting with extending quarterback Joe Burrow and at least exploring that option with wide receiver Tee Higgins (2024 free agent). The team has not decided on the future of running back Joe Mixon ($12.7 million cap hit). And the Bengals are not expected to franchise-tag safety Jessie Bates III a second time, but they are following his market and will be on the lookout for safety help. They could possibly re-sign Vonn Bell, who played very well for Cincy.

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