We are just a couple of days away from the start of 2023 NFL free agency. Technically, it opens on March 15, although the negotiation window opens two days earlier. Not every team is active in free agency, but usually every team picks up at least one important veteran.
Who represents the best match for each of the 32 NFL teams?
Below, Football Outsiders suggest one important free agent signing for each team. We set a couple of rules for this exercise, though. We picked only one free agent for each team, and only one team for each free agent. We also didn’t assign any player to return to his current team, even on the franchise tag. Not all of the top free agents are listed, as certainly some of these teams will sign multiple big-name free agents, but we only listed one for each franchise.
Let’s start with Arizona and go through every team in alphabetical order:
Jump to a team:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LAC | LAR | LV | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH
The Cardinals need a No. 1 cornerback; why not give them a player that new coach Jonathan Gannon knows how to use? Don’t let one very high-profile penalty in the Super Bowl overshadow the outstanding year that Bradberry had in Gannon’s Philadelphia defense. Among qualifying cornerbacks, he ranked first with just 4.2 yards allowed per target and second with a 68% success rate in coverage.
If QB Desmond Ridder is going to be the man in Atlanta, he will need people to throw to besides Drake London and Kyle Pitts. Meyers, originally a 2019 undrafted free agent for the Patriots, could be the best wide receiver in this year’s market. He’s 6-foot-2 and an excellent inside route runner.
Last season, Meyers put up 10.2% receiving DVOA, 25th out of 85 qualifying wide receivers. That’s pretty remarkable given the total dysfunction of the Patriots offense playing around him. ESPN Analytics’ new receiving ratings based on game charting put him 28th among wideouts last season and 23rd the year before. Meyers is a natural No. 2 receiver, the perfect shorter-route complement while London and Pitts stretch the field.
The Ravens don’t have a ton of holes opening up from free agency unless they allow Jackson to leave town. They have David Ojabo ready to step in for veteran pass-rushers Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul, and there are plenty of backup guards around to replace Ben Powers. The biggest need might be at cornerback, where Marcus Peters and Kyle Fuller are free agents.
Sutton comes from a Pittsburgh team that mixes man and zone coverage much like Baltimore does, and he provides the Ravens with flexibility where they could rotate the slot between Sutton, Marlon Humphrey and safety Kyle Hamilton. Sutton had the best year of his career in 2022, ranking third in the league in coverage success rate according to Sports Info Solutions charting.
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A big free-agent splash for the Bills will take some cap manipulation but this is the time for Buffalo to be stacking talent and going for a championship. Jordan Poyer is probably leaving in free agency and needs a replacement. Damar Hamlin‘s eventual return to the field will be a fantastic story, but the Bills can’t count on it happening by September. So why not steal a young (age 26) star defensive player from one of the AFC’s other top contenders?
Bates ranked sixth among safeties last season in SIS’ points saved metric. The Bills like to use their safeties interchangeably, and Bates’ ability to both play deep and cover from the box makes him an excellent partner for Micah Hyde.
The natural expectation here would be to suggest a running back for Carolina, as that seems to be the biggest hole on the roster. But would a big-money free-agent running back be significantly better than bringing back D’Onta Foreman to pair with Chuba Hubbard?
NFL Next Gen Stats ranked Foreman and Hubbard sixth and seventh in rushing yards over expected per attempt last season. Instead, let’s help the Carolina pass rush by finding a defensive end who can rotate across from superstar Brian Burns.
Jacksonville’s Smoot led the Jaguars with 29 hurries in 2021 and was tied for third with 21 hurries in 2022 despite playing less than 40% of the Jaguars’ defensive snaps. He put up at least 5.0 sacks in each of the last four seasons and ranked 28th in PRWR last season (16.1%), higher than a number of better known pass-rushers including Demarcus Lawrence, Montez Sweat and Alex Highsmith. At age 28, Smoot is still in his prime, and he would come relatively cheap compared to other edge rushers.
The Bears have a lot of needs. Protecting Justin Fields is certainly a big one. Fields runs his way into a lot of sacks, but the offensive line last season was not helping things. Improved run-blocking would also be a plus. Enter 25-year-old Taylor, who was excellent for the Jaguars last season. SIS rated him as being worth 37 points earned, tying him with Lane Johnson for the top figure among right tackles, and he had only five charted blown blocks on running plays.
The Bengals have a lot of internal candidates to fill the holes free agency is opening up on the defensive side of the ball. Cam Taylor-Britt can take over for Eli Apple at outside cornerback, Dax Hill is ready to step in for Bates at safety and Akeem Davis-Gaither is a suitable replacement for Germaine Pratt at linebacker. So instead, let’s suggest the Bengals continue building on the other side of the ball.
Left guard is their weakest offensive line position and would be significantly upgraded by taking Powers away from the rival Ravens. Powers ranked fourth last season in SIS points earned. He was second in run block win rate and 10th in pass block win rate (PBWR). The player he would be replacing, Cordell Volson, was 53rd and 60th, respectively.
If Jim Schwartz is your defensive coordinator, you need to be able to get to the quarterback with four guys. If you want to get to the quarterback with four guys, you need strong pass-rushers in the interior. Enter Hargrave, who had 11 sacks last season and a pass rush win rate (PRWR) of 17.2% when lined up in the interior (third in the NFL). There’s also familiarity, as Schwartz’s time as defensive coordinator in Philadelphia crossed over with Hargrave’s time with the team in 2020.
WR Odell Beckham Jr.
This is another match that has been discussed so much that it feels like it’s already happened. The Cowboys could use an upgrade at receiver across from CeeDee Lamb, and Beckham’s time with the Rams showed that, if his knee is healthy, he can still create immediate separation and run detailed routes. Signing Beckham would have a great cascade effect, also turning Michael Gallup into one of the top No. 3 receivers in the NFL.
The Broncos could use Gardner-Johnson to cover slot receivers or to play strong safety. He had six interceptions last season in just 12 regular-season games, and his man coverage ability would come in handy in a division where the Broncos have to see Travis Kelce and Darren Waller twice each. Gardner-Johnson allowed 8.8 yards per target with Philadelphia in 2022 but only 6.2 yards per target in his previous three years with New Orleans.
LB Bobby Wagner
OverTheCap.com has the Lions near the top of the league with $22.1 million in cap space. This is a team that was surprisingly strong on offense last season but ranked 28th in defensive DVOA, so you could link them to any number of veteran defenders in free agency. For a young defense like this, you want to add a strong veteran for leadership — but a strong veteran who is still playing well.
Either Wagner or Lavonte David would fit the bill at inside linebacker next to Malcolm Rodriguez. We’ll list Wagner here, clearly still playing at a high level at age 32. In fact, he led all linebackers in SIS’ points saved metric last season. He allowed just 4.3 yards per target in coverage with two interceptions and was fourth in the NFL with 34 defeats, a metric that adds up turnovers, tackles for a loss and plays to prevent conversion on third or fourth down.
You may have heard that change could be coming to the quarterback position in Green Bay. You also should know that change is definitely coming when we look at who the Green Bay quarterback will be throwing to.
Veterans Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and Robert Tonyan are all free agents. Why don’t we complement the young Packers’ wideouts with a quality, dependable veteran at tight end? Schultz’s advanced stats weren’t great in 2022, primarily because of a low 64% catch rate and less yards after catch than he had in previous seasons. But it was just two years ago that Schultz ranked fourth in receiving DYAR among all tight ends, catching 78 passes for 808 yards and eight touchdowns with a 75% catch rate.
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WR DJ Chark
Brandin Cooks wants out of town, and we don’t know about the status of 2022 draft pick John Metchie III following a Leukemia diagnosis last season, so the Texans need help at the receiver position. Yes, a lot of articles about free agency have matched the Texans with Jakobi Meyers, mostly because of the sense that Nick Caserio wants to sign anyone who ever had anything to do with the Patriots. But why not replace Cooks with a receiver who is closer to his skill set?
Chark can run both intermediate and deep routes, and he’s more of a field-stretcher than Meyers. Last season, he ranked 10th in receiving DVOA (value per play) among receivers with at least 50 targets.
The Colts need to improve their offensive line to better protect whoever is playing quarterback for them next season, and that starts with finding a new right guard to replace the subpar Will Fries. Seumalo is the best choice in a good year for free-agent guards. He ranked 15th among guards last season with a 93.6% PBWR and was above-average in RBWR as well. Sports Info Solutions ranked him third among guards in their all-encompassing points earned metric.
TE Mike Gesicki
Evan Engram will be back on the franchise tag, but the Jaguars could put together a dangerous and flexible two-tight end set featuring two strong receiving options in Engram and Gesicki. Gesicki isn’t much of a blocker, which is why he didn’t fit what Mike McDaniel wanted to do in Miami, but Doug Pederson did plenty of good things with two-tight end sets when he was in Philadelphia. With more usage than he got in Miami last year, Gesicki can easily bounce back to his 2020-2021 levels when he had over 700 receiving yards each season.
Frank Clark is a strong cut candidate and Carlos Dunlap is a free agent, which means the Chiefs need a new edge rusher to play opposite George Karlaftis. Why not make a splash with the top young edge rusher in free agency, Davenport?
Who wouldn’t want to play for the defending Super Bowl champions and make another run with Patrick Mahomes? The only problem is keeping the 26-year-old Davenport healthy, as he’s never played more than 13 games in a season. But ignore his miniscule total of 0.5 sacks in 2022; SIS charting has Davenport with only slightly fewer hurries (25 to 22) and the same number of hits (22) than he had in two more games in 2021. Those numbers strongly suggest that Davenport will rebound in the sack department in 2023.
Every year, we talk about the Chargers struggling against the run, but Brandon Staley knows the truth about the modern NFL: The pass comes first. Jones is a strong interior pass-rusher who can line up both inside and on the edge. Last season, his 15.9% PRWR lined up inside ranked sixth among all defenders. He would also be an upgrade over Morgan Fox when it comes to the running game, and signing him would steal talent from a division rival.
CB Rock Ya-Sin
Troy Hill and David Long Jr. are both free agents, and Jalen Ramsey could likely be going elsewhere in a trade. So the Rams will need help at cornerback with both veteran free agents and young 2023 draft picks. Ya-Sin would be a good starting point. He can play in both man and zone schemes and last season allowed 6.0 yards per target (26th among qualifying cornerbacks) with a 57% coverage success rate (36th).
The Raiders need a wide receiver to play opposite Davante Adams, but they’re going to have a bit of a challenge finding the right one. The trick is not to sign a receiver who duplicates the skill set of slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. Most of this year’s top free-agent wideouts are primarily slot receivers, including Jakobi Meyers, Robert Woods and Parris Campbell.
Smith-Schuster is often thought of as a slot receiver too, but he lines up wide more often than you think. Last season, 42% of his targets came when he was lined up wide before the snap. Smith-Schuster’s ups and downs in Pittsburgh showed that he flourishes when he can be a No. 2 instead of a No. 1, and he would be a strong complement to Adams and Renfrow.
CB Jamel Dean
Miami needs a young cornerback who fits well in the zone coverages preferred by new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Enter Dean, the 26-year-old cornerback coming off a Tampa Bay team that led all defenses in zone coverage frequency last season. Dean ranked sixth in coverage success rate among qualifying cornerbacks last season according to SIS charting.
Three of Minnesota’s top four cornerbacks in snap count are now free agents, so they are going to need some additions to the secondary. Last year’s second-round pick Andrew Booth Jr. is probably ready to join the starting lineup across from Cameron Dantzler, but that leaves the slot.
Jones is an excellent veteran addition who has excelled in the slot but also played well outside last season. He ranked 17th among qualifying cornerbacks in coverage success rate.
The Patriots need to do a better job of protecting Mac Jones, but they also want strong run blockers because their offense is so run-heavy. Signing McGlinchey to replace the departing Isaiah Wynn should improve the Patriots in both areas. Although McGlinchey’s PBWR is in the bottom half of the league for tackles, he’s still a better pass protector than Wynn. And McGlinchey’s RBWR of 81.2% ranked fifth among all offensive tackles last season.
DT Jarran Reed
Now that the Saints have a quarterback, they need to take care of some of the other holes on the roster… and they need to do it cheaply because adding Derek Carr hasn’t made their cap situation any better. Last season’s top three defensive tackles are all free agents, so there’s going to be some movement there.
Reed, who played last year on a one-year deal with Green Bay, would be a good addition there at an economical price. Reed played 68% of Green Bay’s defensive snaps last year, which leads all free-agent interior defensive linemen. However, he cost only $3.25 million on his last contract. According to Sports Info Solutions’ points saved metric, Reed was worth 24 and 18 points each of the past two seasons. Compare that to Eagles veteran free agent Fletcher Cox, who was worth 24 and 19 points in the past two seasons but likely comes at double or triple the cost of Reed.
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Now that the Giants have taken care of Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, they need to address the huge hole at the linebacker position. The veterans the Giants used at the position last year were not good enough, and they are free agents anyway. How about getting serious with strength in the middle of the field with Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.
Edmunds had a 74% success rate in coverage with just 3.9 yards allowed per pass last season. His run defense was not quite that good, but it was functional, with his average tackle coming after a gain of 3.8 yards, about average for NFL linebackers. As a bonus, Edmunds is only 24 years old; he doesn’t turn 25 until May, so the Giants would be getting his prime years.
The natural inclination here is to match the Jets with a quarterback such as Jimmy Garoppolo. However, there’s still the chance the Jets will trade with the Packers to get Aaron Rodgers, and Garoppolo seems like less of a fit for the Jets now that Mike LaFleur is no longer the offensive coordinator.
Instead, let’s help the Jets take care of another hole, this one on defense. With Lamarcus Joyner likely departing in free agency, the Jets need a new free safety. Much like Joyner for the Jets, Gipson primarily lined up deep for the 49ers last season. He had only five broken or missed tackles according to SIS charting and allowed just 2.8 average YAC in coverage, excellent for a free safety. Gipson also had five interceptions, the fourth straight year he’s had multiple picks. The 49ers ranked just 24th in DVOA on deep passes, which does not sound impressive, but Gipson helped them improve from 31st the year before. San Francisco’s continued weakness against deep passes was much more a product of the cornerbacks, not Gipson’s performance.
The defending NFC champions will need a few players on defense depending on what happens with their own free agents. One of the areas they need: defensive tackle, in particular, a run-stopping defensive tackle. Starters Fletcher Cox and Hargrave are free agents. Veterans Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh, signed at midseason to help fix the run defense, were on one-year deals. Tomlinson is a 325-pound nose tackle who can also play 1-technique and will clog up running lanes next to 2022 first-round pick Jordan Davis. He can get to the passer a little bit too, with 15 hurries last season.
LB T.J. Edwards
Originally we planned to suggest 33-year-old Lavonte David for the Steelers, as he’s still playing at a high level. However, signing a veteran doesn’t really seem like the Steelers way. They’re more likely to sign a younger player still in his prime. So, how about the 27-year-old Edwards, who started for Philadelphia for the past three years. Edwards is not a supreme run-stopper, but he’s excellent against the pass. Last season, he allowed just 3.6 yards per pass in coverage with a 74% success rate.
The Seahawks’ biggest need in free agency is a center to replace the departing Austin Blythe and Kyle Fuller. So how about a homecoming from a prodigal son? Pocic was originally a second-round Seattle draft pick in 2017, but struggled with injuries. He left in free agency last year, signed a one-year deal with Cleveland and had a breakout season: fourth in RBWR and fifth in PBWR among centers.
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The 49ers could use a veteran rotational edge rusher. Last season, Nick Bosa only played 74% of defensive snaps in games where he was active. Even the greats need a breather occasionally! The other starter next year may be youngster Drake Jackson, a 2022 second-round pick who played only 29% of defensive snaps as a rookie. For pass-rushing help, the 49ers could bring in Ngakoue. Ngakoue has played for four different teams over the last three seasons, but he still had 9.5 sacks for Indianapolis in 2022. His 14.1% PRWR was not near the top of the league but was comfortably above average.
CB Eli Apple
Suggesting a free agent for the Buccaneers is very difficult. The Bucs have a ton of free agents likely to leave their defense, and they’re in terrible cap shape which should prevent giving out big contracts to new arrivals. Nonetheless, there should be some affordable veterans in the secondary, where the Buccaneers may lose cornerbacks Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting along with safeties Mike Edwards and Logan Ryan.
Apple only made $3.5 million per year on his last contract and isn’t going to break the bank in free agency this year either, but at 28, he should still have a couple of prime years left and his coverage success rate of 56% was a reasonable 37th among qualifying cornerbacks last season.
OT Orlando Brown Jr.
The Titans need help in a number of spots, including wide receiver and linebacker, but let’s start with a left tackle to help protect Ryan Tannehill. The Titans finished 30th in pressure rate in 2022 based on ESPN Stats & Information research and last season’s left tackle, Dennis Daley, finished dead last in PRWR among qualifying tackles. Brown, by comparison, ranked 18th.
Brown will be 27 years old this coming season, and there’s still plenty of good football left for him. He would be an important building block as the Titans look to return to the postseason. He was ranked by ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen as the top free agent this year.
The Commanders will need a new right guard to replace Trai Turner and could be a good match for Hernandez, who finally lived up to his second-round pedigree with a breakout year for the Cardinals. Hernandez was seventh among guards in PBWR last season as well as 19th in RBWR. SIS charting tracked him with just 10 blown blocks in 13 games started.