There are three distinct acts to the NFL offseason. The first is free agency. The second is the draft. And we’re now in the quietest act of the three. The period between the draft and the start of training camp is a window that teams use to sign players to extensions, retool spots on their roster and even think about making a trade or two.
The unofficial start of the third window is the Monday after the draft, when teams can start signing players without having those contracts impact the compensatory pick formula. It’s one of the reasons why the Jets waited to sign Randall Cobb and Billy Turner until after the draft, as they’re set to receive three comp picks in next year’s draft after the ins and outs of free agency. We didn’t see a flood of deals that week, but it’s easier for players who are still on the market to sign now than it would have been right before the draft.
Teams can also sign players who have been cut without incurring any compensatory damage, and that possibility led to the most impactful signing of last year’s third player movement window. After months of advertising him as a trade candidate, the Giants were forced to cut James Bradberry for cap reasons. The Eagles picked the veteran cornerback up on a one-year deal May 18 and got Pro Bowl-caliber play from him. Throw in the trade for C.J. Gardner-Johnson just before the season began, and you see how successful teams can shape their rosters even after the draft has ended.
Today, I’m going to hit on a handful of the moves and happenings that I either expect to happen or think should happen between now and the start of the season. Some are obvious; it’s only a question of when and how much players like Joe Burrow and Justin Jefferson will get paid on extensions with their teams. But others — like finding landing spots for players left in the free agent market — might be more difficult. Let’s start with one player who should head back to the only NFL home he has ever known.
Jump to …
FAs: Elliott | Bridgewater | Ngakoue
Trade candidates: Jeudy | Bourne
Extensions: Burrow/Herbert | Jefferson
While the Dallas Cowboys couldn’t justify paying Elliott just under $11 million in 2023 and cut the 2016 first-round pick in March, there’s still a logical fit for Zeke on the Dallas roster. Tony Pollard is back on the franchise tag, but the only moves the Cowboys have made to replace Elliott are to sign Ronald Jones II and use a sixth-round pick on Deuce Vaughn. Jones, who has won back-to-back Super Bowls with the Buccaneers and Chiefs, only has about $300,000 guaranteed on his deal and might not make the Week 1 roster.
Elliott’s market, meanwhile, hasn’t developed. He hinted through the media that he’d like to sign with the Bengals, Eagles or Jets by the end of March, all three teams decided to pass on bringing in the three-time Pro Bowler. The Bengals could still consider Elliott if they decide to move on from Joe Mixon, but it’s clear that Elliott isn’t seen as a priority signing around the league at the moment.
For a Cowboys team which already had plenty of hesitation about featuring Pollard for more than 30 snaps per game, bringing back Elliott on a cheaper deal would provide security at one of the team’s thinnest positions. Pollard is still recovering from the fractured left fibula he suffered during the postseason, so if the Cowboys don’t want to rush him back into the lineup in September, Elliott’s ability to pass protect and run effectively between the tackles would be a plus for coach Mike McCarthy. If Elliott — who ran for 876 yards and 12 TDs last season — is not going to land a deal for more than $5 million somewhere else, why not stay home in Dallas?
It’s a bit of a surprise to approach June and see one of the league’s best backup quarterbacks still on the open market. Bridgewater didn’t have his best season with the Dolphins while backing up Tua Tagovailoa in 2022, but the Louisville product did average a career-high 8.6 yards per attempt. Bridgewater’s 54.2 QBR since entering the league in 2014 is right in line with players like Jared Goff and Derek Carr, both of whom are entrenched as starters with significant paychecks. The taste of that disappointing 2020 season with the Panthers might have soured teams on Bridgewater, but he has otherwise gone 29-21 as a starter.
I thought Bridgewater could be the replacement for Lamar Jackson if the star quarterback held out into the regular season, but now that Jackson has come to terms on a new deal, this would be a backup role for Bridgewater on the Baltimore Ravens. Jackson’s not going anywhere anytime soon, but after seeing their league MVP miss the final five games of the regular season in 2021 and 2022, the Ravens need to boost their No. 2 role. Tyler Huntley has averaged just 5.8 yards per attempt as a pro, and the Ravens don’t need Bridgewater to be involved in the run game with the move from Greg Roman to Todd Monken.
Bringing in Jackson’s predecessor at Louisville would allow the Ravens to hold onto the fourth-round compensatory pick they’re set to receive for losing guard Ben Powers in free agency.
It’s frankly difficult to find a landing spot for the 30-year-old Wentz, who is only three years removed from being the franchise quarterback in Philadelphia. You all know what has happened since, and for the 2016 second-overall pick’s sake, I won’t rehash it here. Wentz hasn’t publicly announced that he’s retiring from football, but as quarterbacks like Blaine Gabbert and Sam Darnold have signed to take backup roles on Super Bowl contenders, Wentz’s name hasn’t been on many lips.
One NFL executive suggested to me that Wentz might benefit from being out of the Northeast and away from the major media markets. Green Bay Packers fans are just as obsessed about their team as the Eagles and Commanders, of course, but Wentz’s QBR during his lone season in Indianapolis was 60.6 — 22 points better than his mark across his final season in Philadelphia and lone year in Washington combined. The issues with Wentz aren’t going away — he’s stubborn under center, he extends plays to the point of creating mistakes, and he has struggled to stay healthy — but there has to be a point where his general NFL success has to appeal to contenders that would otherwise be relying on passers like Easton Stick or Kyle Allen if their starting quarterback went down.
The Packers are in transition after trading away Aaron Rodgers. Jordan Love is taking over as their new starter, but the quarterbacks behind him on the roster are Danny Etling and rookie fifth-rounder Sean Clifford. As we saw with Trey Lance a year ago, it only takes one hit for a succession plan to go awry in September. And while the 49ers were able to turn to Jimmy Garoppolo and then Brock Purdy with plenty of success, most quarterbacks drafted on Day 3 with zero career pass attempts won’t play as well as Purdy did in December.
Spears: Everyone in Green Bay is rooting for Jordan Love
Marcus Spears reacts to Jordan Love agreeing to a 1-year extension with the Packers.
An injury to Love would essentially end the Packers’ season, which is an argument for signing Wentz. The argument against the move comes down to the off-field stuff: Do you want to have your young quarterback in a room with a guy who has essentially been dumped by three NFL organizations in three seasons? Coach Matt LaFleur would have to ask himself whether the reward is worth the risk, but I could see a scenario where a one-year deal for Wentz to serve as the backup would pay off for Green Bay.
What, you were expecting Jordy Nelson? Lewis was one of the four players on Rodgers’ wish list back in March, and as of now, he’s the only one left on the open market. Receivers Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb have already signed with the New York Jets, and it took an extravagant one-year deal to get Odell Beckham Jr. to the Ravens.
Rodgers has denied the idea that he handed the Jets said list, but I don’t think New York was about to give a 32-year-old slot receiver who doesn’t play special teams $3 million for 2023, especially given how deep it already is at wide receiver. Only $250,000 of Cobb’s deal is guaranteed, so the Jets could just be doing Cobb a favor by getting him one last NFL paycheck. Let’s be realistic: Cobb isn’t going to camp with the Jets if Rodgers is playing anywhere else.
Lewis, the only active player remaining from the 2006 draft, has more of a tactical role than Cobb at this point of his career. Once a pass-catching tight end for the Jaguars, the soon-to-be 39-year-old has evolved into one of the league’s better run blockers at the position. He caught just six passes across 451 offensive snaps last year, but two of them went for touchdowns. Lewis can also block as part of the special teams unit, making him more relevant on game day.
The problem is that the Jets don’t really need a tight end. General manager Joe Douglas signed C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin in free agency last year and used a third-round pick on Jeremy Ruckert, who played just 46 offensive snaps as a rookie. Lewis is a better blocker than Ruckert, but would Douglas want to mothball the 101st pick for a second consecutive season to open up a spot for Lewis in the lineup? Well, maybe if Rodgers wishes …
Chiefs signing a pass-rusher
After winning the Super Bowl, Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has made the offensive line the focus of offseason spending. The Chiefs let starting tackles Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie hit the free agent market, then quickly moved to sign Jaguars tackle Jawaan Taylor to a significant deal. It looked like Taylor would be moving to protect Patrick Mahomes‘ blindside, but when former Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith‘s market didn’t develop, Veach signed him to play on the left side, leaving Taylor at right tackle for now.
The defensive line could still use a bit of work. The Chiefs moved on from Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap after the Super Bowl. Both are still on the free agent market, but the Chiefs have gone in other directions. Veach signed Charles Omenihu away from the 49ers and used the team’s first-round pick on Kansas State edge defender Felix Anudike-Uzomah. George Karlaftis gives the Chiefs another first-round pick (2022) in their edge rotation, but against an AFC full of devastating quarterbacks, I still think the Chiefs could stand to add another pass-rusher.
That could be Clark, though it would require him to take a significant pay cut from the $21 million he had previously been owed for 2023. Leonard Floyd, Justin Houston, Jadeveon Clowney and Yannick Ngakoue are all free agents, although each have their issues. Floyd has only been a productive player next to Aaron Donald. Houston, a former Chiefs star, was cut by the team for cap reasons in 2019 and may not want to return. Clowney has one season with more than three sacks over the past four years and left the Browns in acrimonious fashion.
Ngakoue is the most appealing option of the bunch, but he would also be the most expensive. He has been remarkably consistent in terms of pass-rush production, posting 8-12.5 sacks in each of his seven pro seasons. On the other hand, teams have seemingly fallen out of love with Ngakoue quickly; he has now played for five teams over the past four seasons. If the Chiefs are only looking to do a one-year deal, though, no long-term love affair would be necessary.
While the New York Giants don’t have a ton of cap space after re-signing Daniel Jones, extending Dexter Lawrence and franchising Saquon Barkley, they should have enough room to get creative with voidable years if they want to sign a player to a one-year deal. And Risner should be that player. The Giants rotated Nick Gates and Ben Bredeson at left guard last year, but Gates left for the Commanders in free agency. Joshua Ezeudu — a 2022 third-rounder — suffered a neck injury last November, leaving the Giants in a vulnerable position at left guard in 2023.
Risner started 62 games over four seasons with the Broncos, and while the 2019 second-round pick wasn’t a superstar, he was expected to land a multiyear deal for starter money somewhere in free agency. Instead, the Broncos signed Ben Powers to replace Risner, who hasn’t found a market. Risner missed the season finale against the Chiefs with a strained UCL in his elbow, but that injury wouldn’t have prevented the 27-year-old from finding a new team.
Instead, he appears to be looking at a limited market of teams who need meaningful help at guard. A one-year deal with the Giants in the $5 million range would make sense for both parties; Brian Daboll’s team would get a veteran protecting Jones and security if Ezeudu struggles to return, while Risner would play in a well-regarded offense and earn a shot at a long-term deal after 2023, either with the Giants or elsewhere.
We know general manager Howie Roseman and the Philadelphia Eagles aren’t going to spend much at inside linebacker. Philly lost both of its starters in Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards, but the only replacement it has added to the roster is former Bears and Raiders linebacker Nicholas Morrow, who is on a one-year deal for just over $1 million. Nakobe Dean, one of the many former Georgia defenders on Philadelphia’s roster, is expected to move into a starting role after playing 34 defensive snaps as a rookie, but the Eagles could stand to add at least one veteran contributor to the position group.
Jack seems like an obvious fit. The 27-year-old was originally drafted by the Jaguars in 2016, and their general manager at the time was David Caldwell, who now works for the Eagles. Jack’s calling card has typically been his range in coverage, but his numbers haven’t been impressive over the past couple of years. He allowed passer rating marks north of 100 in both his final season with the Jaguars and his lone year with the Steelers.
Those teams paid Jack a combined $17.8 million over the past two seasons, but a big-money deal is not going to happen in Philadelphia or anywhere else in 2023. If Jack wants to continue playing, though, the Eagles would be an ideal landing spot in terms of national attention. Philly’s deep defensive line should also help keep blockers off of Jack, giving him the best possible chance to make plays. Many Jaguars fans would argue that Jack was unfairly denied a chance to go to the Super Bowl, and going to the Eagles would give the linebacker his best opportunity to make one this season.
Two of the quarterback contract dominoes are down, with two to go. Jalen Hurts inked a five-year, $255 million deal with the Eagles. Then hours before the NFL draft, Lamar Jackson signed a five-year, $260 million deal with the Ravens. Hurts had $110 million fully guaranteed at signing and $153.1 million in new money practically guaranteed over the first four years of his new pact, while Jackson came in at $135 million fully guaranteed and $175.6 million in new practical guarantees over Years 1-4.
The Hurts deal will matter more for Burrow and Herbert because they’re realistically four years away from having a shot at unrestricted free agency. Each player has one year left on their original rookie deals — a fifth-year option — and could then be franchised twice before hitting free agency. Jackson, who had played out his rookie deal and fifth-year option, was two years away from unfettered free agency.
Both the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers are going to pay up. The only question is who blinks first. Regardless of what each player has accomplished, the quarterback who signs his deal last will end up with the most money. The difference might only amount to a half-million dollars per year on a contract paying Burrow or Herbert more than $52 million per season, but it’s a nice little bonus for winning this four-way game of QB contract chicken. I’d expect both Burrow and Herbert to sign before the start of the 2023 season, although their deals might not come before the start of camp.
Broncos trading one of their wide receivers
I covered this situation when I wrote about post-draft winners and losers earlier this month. With the Denver Broncos using some of their limited draft capital to move up and use a second-round pick on Marvin Mims Jr., the clock is ticking on the incumbents on the Denver depth chart. KJ Hamler may not make the team after battling injuries in each of his three pro seasons, but either way, Mims isn’t coming in to be the fourth wideout. It would be a surprise if Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick were all on the roster ahead of Mims come Week 1.
I argued that trading Jeudy made the most sense at the time, given the likely return and the physical traits that coach Sean Payton typically wants from his wide receivers. But he might also be the best of the bunch; Jeudy averaged 2.3 yards per route run last season in what might charitably be described as a broken Broncos offense. Sutton was down at 1.6 yards per route run, while Patrick missed the entire season with a torn ACL.
Will Jerry Jeudy flourish under Sean Payton?
Jeff Legwold explains why the Broncos picked up Jerry Jeudy’s rookie option.
For the Broncos, it might make sense to wait until training camp and see whether a team loses a star wide receiver to a season-ending injury. Jeudy would make sense for a team like the Giants, but Brian Daboll might need to evaluate their bevy of options in camp before making a more significant move for a potential No. 1 wideout.
Patriots trading one of their wide receivers
Likewise, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick probably has too many secondary and tertiary options in his passing game. The Patriots aren’t overwhelmed with stars at wide receiver, but new addition JuJu Smith-Schuster will be playing ahead of holdovers Tyquan Thornton, DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne. Parker and Bourne don’t play special teams in New England, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were competing for a roster spot in camp.
Given how Bourne fell out of favor with the organization last season, I wonder whether the Patriots would consider moving him for help elsewhere, like possible offensive line depth. Bourne’s making a reasonable $5.5 million in 2023, none of which is guaranteed. Could he end up somewhere like Houston, especially if John Metchie III — who is expected to return after missing 2022 with leukemia — doesn’t start the season on the active roster?
One player who isn’t going anywhere is Jefferson, who has emerged as arguably the best wide receiver in football. Over his first three seasons, Jefferson has averaged 96.5 receiving yards per game and more than 10 yards per target. He’s coming off a well-deserved Offensive Player of the Year award, highlighted by one of the greatest catches you’ll ever see to extend and eventually win a game over the Bills. The only blight on Jefferson’s record is inspiring some very questionable imitations of his signature touchdown celebration from other players around the NFL.
JUSTIN JEFFERSON ASDGJSKDNFGKSDF;K
📺: #MINvsBUF on FOX
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/uRjde5F169 pic.twitter.com/sxiLVx0NCi
— NFL (@NFL) November 13, 2022
Jefferson has been an absolute bargain for the Minnesota Vikings over the past three years, producing superstar numbers for a total of just $10.7 million. That’s about to change. The top of the wide receiver market is Tyreek Hill‘s four-year, $120 million deal, which paid the Dolphins standout $72.8 million over Years 1-3. (Hill’s deal has a $43.9 million base salary in its final season which exists solely to make it look like the contract is worth $30 million per season, just as Alvin Kamara‘s deal has a $22.4 million base salary in its final year; it’s strictly for agent bragging rights.)
With the salary cap rising by nearly 11% between 2022 and 2023, Hill’s $72.8 million mark would translate to more than $80 million on the current cap. I would expect Jefferson’s camp to push for north of $30 million per year on paper, $60 million guaranteed at the time of signing and something in the ballpark of $80 million over the first three years on the new deal. Jefferson’s deal will help set the market for Ja’Marr Chase, who will be up for his own extension next offseason.
Rams signing … anybody?
The Los Angeles Rams were celebrating a Super Bowl victory last season and now look virtually unrecognizable. In addition to moving on from key 2022 free agent additions Bobby Wagner and Allen Robinson II, coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead have responded to a wildly disappointing season by laying waste to the roster. If the Rams as constructed weren’t going to win another Super Bowl, you can understand ripping things up and mostly starting over. If they had moved on from Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp and the few remaining superstars the Rams have on the roster, it would seem like they were trying to tank for USC star quarterback Caleb Williams, who is expected to be the first overall pick in next year’s draft.
As it stands, though, the Rams are mostly holding onto their stars. They sat out free agency to help amass compensatory picks, netting what projects to be the maximum of four selections, albeit all in the sixth round or later. Snead didn’t pursue any players who were cut, though, despite the fact that they wouldn’t impact the compensatory formula.
So … are they going to sign anybody? Snead ended up drafting a whopping 14 players, but the Rams had no first-round pick and just four of the top 150 selections, so it would be a lot to ask their sixth- and seventh-rounders to step in and play meaningful snaps from Day 1. If anything, a veteran or two at a reasonable price might help sort things out on the field and help the young players along as they battle through what’s expected to be a difficult season.
One name I’m surprised to still see on the market is John Johnson III, who emerged as a standout safety for the Rams before signing a big-money deal with the Browns. Things didn’t work out in Cleveland, but Johnson is known to the organization and still only 27 years old. Targeting players in their 20s who could be part of a winning team in 2024 and beyond at the right price would seem to make sense for the Rams.
Titans moving on from their veteran stars
New general manager Ran Carthon has overseen a retooling of the Tennessee Titans roster since taking over this spring, but the most important decisions are yet to be made. Three of Tennessee’s four players with a cap hit north of $10 million might not be on the roster in Week 1. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry are entering the final years of their respective deals and have declined from their peaks over the past season and a half. Safety Kevin Byard was asked to take a pay cut after a disappointing season and refused, leading to speculation that the Titans could move on from the two-time first-team All-Pro.
At this point, though, does it make sense for the Titans to cut bait when there won’t be many veterans available as replacements? There’s nobody who projects to take over for Byard on the roster, making the pay-cut tactic look like a failed bluff. Carthon used a third-round pick on running back Tyjae Spears, but he doesn’t have Henry’s bruising style or frame. The general manager said that the Titans haven’t received calls about a possible Henry trade, but that may be because nobody wants to pay Henry $11 million in 2023.
Tannehill’s situation seems more precarious after the Titans used a second-round pick on Will Levis. He is owed a non-guaranteed $27 million in the final year of his deal, a significant amount in terms of both cash and cap. (The Titans can roll that space over into 2024 if they cut Tannehill.) If Levis is truly the quarterback of the future in Nashville, do the Titans really want to pay $27 million for a lame-duck season from Tannehill?
See for yourself why Will Levis is a top QB prospect
Check out highlight-reel plays from former Kentucky QB Will Levis as he gets ready for the NFL draft.
This could come down to the wire. If Levis impresses in camp, or the Titans find a desperate team dealing with an injury to their starter, it’s not out of the question that Tannehill is on another roster in Week 1.
Bucs holding onto LB Devin White into the start of the season
One of the stories which may have gotten lost in the pre-draft news cycle involved White, who is about to play out his fifth-year option in advance of possibly hitting free agency. The 2019 fifth-overall pick had an inconsistent season in 2022; he won Defensive Player of the Month in September before looking like a liability thereafter, particularly against the run. White was coming off of a Pro Bowl season, so this downturn in form was a bit of a surprise.
White is eligible for a contract extension and has an impressive resume, but he plays a position the league doesn’t typically value at a high level, he’s coming off of a disappointing season, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in dire cap straits after the Tom Brady era. This is the exact recipe for a frustrated negotiation and a trade request, which is what happened just before the draft.
GM Jason Licht has come out and said that the Buccaneers have no intention of trading White. In part, that may be because White wouldn’t have a great trade market, even if White played a key role in helping Tampa Bay win a Super Bowl.
The franchise tag for linebackers includes some edge rushers and is projected to come in at more than $20 million for 2024, which would be more than any off-ball linebacker in football is getting. I’m not sure White would get that much in terms of Year 1 salary on the open market, and the Bucs might not be in position to offer that much on a franchise tag. Other teams know that, too, which is why interest in White may be tepid.
The most likely scenario is that the two sides come together and find common ground on a new deal, especially if White plays well early in 2023. If the Buccaneers collapse and think White’s going to leave in free agency, though, he could return to the trading block before the midseason deadline.