Updated: Jun 29
The NFL's free agency period has started to wind down after a week or so of blockbuster signings and trades, and key players being released. Teams are now shifting their focus towards meetings with draft prospects ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft later this month (April 27-29) and assessing what they need to upgrade through the draft. Analysts and members of the media have already begun releasing their prospect rankings and several different mock drafts. But, before the NFL Draft season goes fully into effect, let's rewind and look at a few teams who most successfully capitalized on free agency.
Houston seems to have finally found some stability in their front office with General Manager Nick Caserio and a young Head Coach that they’re excited about in former Texans player–now coach–DeMeco Ryans. It’s no secret that Houston has been rebuilding for a few seasons now, but it appears that they’re finally ready to attack their rebuild head-on. Houston came into free agency with just over 37 million in cap space to work with ($37.6M) and made several great moves. Most notably, they were able to extend Left Tackle Laremy Tunsil to a three-year deal, which made Tunsil the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL. They continued to improve the trenches by extending their starting Center Scott Quessenberry for one year and trading a sixth-round pick to Tampa for Guard Shaq Mason who will be an instant starter. On the defensive line, they brought in former New York Jet, Sheldon Rankins, who will help improve Houston’s run defense which allowed the most rush yards per game a season ago (170.2). With a former Defensive Coordinator and defensive player as their new Head Coach, Houston was determined to make upgrades all over the defensive side of the ball. After signing Rankins, they continued by signing Defensive Back Jimmie Ward, who played for Ryans in San Francisco. The upgrades continued on defense as they boosted their Linebacker group with the acquisitions of Denzel Perryman and Cory Littleton. With the additions on defense, Ryans and the Texans will be looking to make a jump from last season, where they were one of the worst defenses in the league. Moving back to the offense, the improvements to the offensive line have already been highlighted, but the Texans also added some firepower for the soon-to-be new franchise Quarterback (the Texans currently hold the number two pick in the 2023 Draft). After trading Brandin Cooks to the in-state Dallas Cowboys for draft picks, there was an even larger hole at receiver and Tight End. However, Houston combated those holes by signing Super Bowl Champion receiver Robert Woods and former Cowboy Noah Brown. They continued by bringing in arguably the best Tight End on the free agent market, Dalton Schultz. Schultz has been one of the best Tight Ends in the NFL since 2020, hauling in seventeen touchdowns and 2,000 yards over the last three years. With the Texans holding two first-round picks in the 2023 Draft (picks 2 and 12), they’re widely expected to select their QB of the future and will also likely bring in more young Wide Receivers for whomever their next QB is. Houston is still far from contending for a Super Bowl but they did a great job in free agency of addressing areas of weakness, improving several different position groups, and setting up their next Quarterback with quality surrounding cast.
After finishing 7-10 last season, Atlanta came into free agency with the second-most cap space available ($56.5M) and was able to make a lot of moves. General Manager Terry Fontenot made an overhaul on defense, where the Falcons have struggled for years, especially on the defensive line. Atlanta brought in veterans David Onyemata from their division rivals in New Orleans, and six-time Pro Bowler Calais Campbell to boost the defensive front which has been atrocious for a while. They also re-signed Lorenzo Carter who joined the Falcons before the 2022 season. These additions will hopefully strengthen Atlanta’s middle-of-the-pack run defense, but more importantly improve their pass rush which has been towards the bottom of the league the last two seasons. Potentially Atlanta’s biggest move came in the secondary though, as the Falcons made a home-run signing by bringing in former Bengal and 2020 second-team All-Pro Safety Jessie Bates III. Bates signed a four-year deal with the team and will be a leader of the defense for years to come. The Falcons have been subpar against opposing passing offenses for quite some time, so the addition of Bates cannot be understated. Offensively, Atlanta locked in two of their former first-round picks on the offensive line. First Atlanta extended first-time All-Pro Guard (2022) Chris Lindstrom with a five-year deal which included the most total money for a Guard in NFL History. Lindstrom has been great for the Falcons since being drafted in 2019 and keeping him in Atlanta was an obvious priority. Atlanta also retained Right Tackle Kaleb McGary, their second first-round selection from 2019. There was uncertainty that McGary would return to the team, but the Falcons were able to bring him back on a three-year deal that cemented the right side of their offensive line for the future. The organization has decided that they’ll roll with 2022 third-round pick Desmond Ridder as the starting QB for next year. However, they’ll need to add more weapons to help Ridder and relieve the pressure on first-rounders Kyle Pitts and Drake London. The team somewhat did that by signing Mack Hollins who was with the Raiders previously and former divisional foe Scotty Miller who was with Tampa. The Falcons also traded for Tight End Jonnu Smith, who played under Head Coach Arthur Smith in Tennessee. These additions will help for now, but there is still a lack of talent and explosiveness for Ridder to throw the ball to. Atlanta will likely continue to address the receiver position in the upcoming draft with one of their middle or late-round selections. All-in-all, the team did well by bringing back starters on the offensive line and making upgrades all over the defense. The Falcons hold the number eight pick in the 2023 Draft, it’ll be interesting to see which positional group they choose to focus on with their top pick.
Detroit finished the season on a hot streak and nearly made the playoffs after starting the season 1-6 but came up just short, with a final record of 9-8. Dan Campbell and the franchise seem to have finally gained some positive momentum in turning their franchise around for the future. The Lions and General Manager Brad Holmes entered free agency with just under $14 million to work with ($13.9) and a large list of needs, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. They made massive moves to improve their secondary which was possibly the worst in the NFL in 2022. They aggressively pursued players at the Cornerback position in free agency, bringing in Cameron Sutton from the Steelers and Emmanuel Moseley from the 49ers. Two players who will instantly impact the team and may even be starters on day one of camp. The biggest signing for Detroit’s secondary though came at the Safety position. After not being re-signed by the Eagles Chauncey Garnder-Johnson, who was tied for first in interceptions in 2022, landed in Detroit on a one-year contract. Although it was a one-year deal, the Lions will obviously attempt to extend or re-sign him if their cap space allows it. The Lions’ fan base and Coach Dan Campbell are optimistic that these additions will slow down opposing offenses’ ability to move the ball through the air as easily as they did in 2022. An underrated move for Detroit’s defense was the re-signing of Middle Linebacker Alex Anzalone who led the team in tackles a season ago, and has been a consistent piece to their defense for the last two seasons. With the Linebacker spot still being somewhat of a weak area for the team, I wouldn't be surprised to see them sign another free agent at the position, or address it in the Draft. Offensively Detroit was one of the most explosive teams in 2022, and they continued to improve the offense in free agency. They improved an already strong offensive line with the addition of Graham Glasgow who previously played with Detroit from 2016-2019. Glasgow rejoined the team after playing for the Broncos for three seasons. They also brought back key pieces of their offensive line from a season ago like Guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai and backup Center Ross Pierschbacher. The most notable signing for the Lions’ offense was the acquisition of Running Back David Montgomery who comes over from division rival Chicago. Montgomery will create a dangerous backfield with former second-rounder D’Andre Swift that will be hard for opposing defenses to stop in both the rushing and passing offense. As a result of the Montgomery signing, the Lions had to let Jamaal Williams, who accounted for 17 rushing touchdowns in 2022, sign elsewhere in free agency. The loss of Williams will hurt, but the decision to bring in Montgomery should be viewed as an upgrade by the organization. The team also lost Wide Receiver D.J. Chark who was third on the team last season in both receiving yards and touchdowns. Without Chark or T.J. Hockenson in the lineup (Hockenson was traded to the Vikings during the middle of last season) Detroit will likely look to add another weapon at Wide Receiver or Tight End before the beginning of 2023 through remaining free agents or the Draft. The Lions currently hold the sixth and eighteenth picks in the NFL Draft and have two second-round picks as well. It’s unlikely they use the number six pick on a wideout, but it feels almost guaranteed one of their second-round picks will be used on a receiver. It’ll be captivating to see what positional group they address in the 2023 Draft.
Chicago ended 2022 with a record of 3-14 but as a result was awarded the number one overall pick. But they didn’t retain the pick for long, as they recently traded it to Carolina. Although this isn’t a free agency move, it would be impossible to not mention the massive haul that General Manager Ryan Poles received for the top selection in this year’s draft. Chicago sent the number one pick to the Panthers for Wide Receiver D.J. Moore, a first-round selection in 2024, a second-round pick in 2025, and picks nine and sixty-one in the 2023 Draft. This trade is a huge win for Chicago which picks up extra draft capital in the next three NFL Drafts, including this year. But even more notable was their ability to bring D.J. Moore to Chicago in the trade. Adding Moore to their offense will give Justin Fields the best-receiving threat of his career so far and should elevate what was arguably the worst passing offense in the NFL in 2022. In his five-year career, Moore has recorded over 5,000 yards, (5,201) including three seasons of over 1,000 yards, and hauled in twenty-one receiving touchdowns. The Bears further improved their offensive weapons by adding Tight End Robert Tonyan from their divisional rivals in Green Bay, who will pair nicely with 2020 second-rounder Cole Kmet. In the backfield, Chicago was, unfortunately, unable to bring back Running Back David Montgomery who was their lead-back for the last four seasons and produced greatly for the team. The Bears will rely on third-year back Khalil Herbert and free agent acquisition D’Onta Foreman to carry their running game when Justin Fields isn’t making jaw-dropping plays with his legs. Moving to the offensive line, the Bears upgraded at the Guard position by picking up former Tennessee Titan Nate Davis, who started twelve games for Tennessee a season ago. He will step in and start for the team right away. The front office will likely continue to improve the trenches as their offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL in 2022 as far as pass protection goes, allowing nearly three and a half sacks per game (3.4) (TeamRankings.com). Looking at the defense, Chicago was able to retain a few key players but they hit the mark on their free-agent signings at the Linebacker spot. Ryan Poles was able to pick up TJ Edwards from the Eagles who is coming off of career-highs in tackles, sacks, and passes defended. Edwards was a huge part of Philadelphia's success last season as he led the team and finished in the top ten in tackles across the league. Continuing to upgrade the Linebacker position, arguably Chicago’s biggest signing came from the addition of former Buffalo Bill, Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds is a former first-rounder and was a five-year starter in Buffalo, recording over 100 tackles in each of those five seasons. Edmunds was one of the most valuable members of this free-agent class as he will be just 25 years old heading into the 2023 season and has already been a Pro Bowl selection twice. With these two moves, the Bears added major talent to the middle of their defense for the next few years and even more importantly continued to add youth to their roster. Just like the other teams in the league, the Bears will now turn their attention to the NFL Draft, where it feels almost guaranteed that they’ll be addressing the offense and defensive line. As previously mentioned, the team now holds the number nine pick in the Draft, which is the perfect position for them to select one of the top Offensive Tackles, Defensive Tackles, or edge rushers in this year’s class. After the trade with Carolina, the Bears are loaded with draft assets for this year and the next two drafts and will be more than capable of making upgrades all over the roster. Even though they finished 3-14 in 2022, there’s plenty to be optimistic about for the future in Chicago.
New York Giants
The Giants came into the offseason with a few main goals, all revolving around bringing back or extending players from their 2022 roster. They were able to do this extremely well by finalizing a new contract for QB Daniel Jones, using the Franchise Tag on Running Back and former number two overall pick Saquon Barkley, and re-signing several key receivers. The front office was able to retain leading receiver Darius Slayton as well as Isaiah Hodgins and Sterling Shepard. Bringing back these familiar faces should help elevate Daniel Jones as a passer, as we saw his ability to use his legs and contribute to the running game in 2022. But the biggest move for the offense was the blockbuster trade for Pro Bowl Tight End Darren Waller. Waller comes over from Las Vegas in exchange for New York’s third-round draft pick in this year’s draft. The former sixth-rounder found his rhythm and burst onto the scene in his five years with the Raiders, tallying over one-thousand yards in 2019 and 2020. He was plagued by injuries in 2022, but if he’s able to stay healthy in 2023 he should bring huge contributions to an offense that ranked 26th in pass yards per game a season ago (TeamRankings.com). An underrated signing for the Giants was the pick-up of Colts Wide Receiver Parris Campbell, who’s coming off a season where he set new career highs in nearly every category. He, along with the other receivers, will have to step up to replace the production lost by Richie James’ departure, who signed with Kansas City. On defense, the Giants made a few moves that didn’t catch as much attention as the Darren Waller trade or Daniel Jones contract, but they were moves that will help right away. Most notable was the signing of Linebacker Bobby Okereke from the Colts. Okereke comes to the Big Apple after four years in Indianapolis where he was a key contributor. Okereke gives New York a young and talented Middle Linebacker that the organization has been desperately needing for a few years now. Last season, the former third-round pick set a new career-high in tackles and played all seventeen games for his second consecutive season. Sticking with the Linebacker corps, the Giants were also able to bring back starter Jarrad Davis. Davis may have only appeared in one game for the team in 2022 but is likely to see a more advanced role and should be a key contributor in 2023. In the secondary, the team was unable to bring back Safety Julian Love, who led the team in tackles and interceptions in 2022. Although Love is now in Seattle with the Seahawks, the team was able to somewhat rebound from that loss by signing Bobby McCain from Washington. McCain will step right into Love’s starting spot and the team will be hoping that he can have an impact similar to Love. Looking forward to the NFL Draft, New York currently holds the number 25 pick and could go several directions with their first selection. Their roster could use some more help at the Cornerback position which is arguably their weakest unit currently. Without any major signings at the position, it’s hard to believe the Giants won’t look to improve at that spot somewhere in the Draft. However, many also believe they could target a Wide Receiver or a position along the offensive line.
*All Stats were received from ESPN Stats & Info. Department and TeamRankings.com