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2023 NFL free agency: Best/riskiest moves in the opening wave of the veteran market

A wild opening week of free agency has come and gone, highlighted by big-money paydays, surprise re-signings and a splashy trade or four.

Now we're into the second phase of free agency, where lower-level and bargain deals are the name of the game. Heck, you could argue we're actually into phase three of the yearly process. Case in point: Of's Top 101 Free Agents, presented by Gregg Rosenthal, less than a third remain available on the open market -- with just one in the top 10 (Odell Beckham Jr. at No. 9).

At this stage, we have enough information to analyze all of the signings against each other, spotlighting the deals that really stood out, for better or worse. Which player-team fits make perfect sense? Which pairings raise an eyebrow? Before we get to each area, a couple of side notes:

1) I personally believe bargain shopping is the best utilization of free agency. Teams that draft, develop and pay their own top performers are generally the most consistent over time. Good teams use free agency to plug gaps, not spearhead their efforts. As such, many of my favorite deals are best viewed as bargains or low-cost/high-upside combos. So while I love the landing spots for, say, Javon Hargrave (49ers), Dre'Mont Jones (Seahawks) and Zach Allen (Broncos), among others, their big-money contracts are around what we expected.

2) Risk is in the eye of the beholder. It's easy to understand why certain teams made certain moves in free agency. And I would suggest that fans should look at the positives that come along with the additions. It's March. Find upbeat vibes and groove through the summer. Reality can hit in the fall. My perception of a "risky" addition is really a player who could be viewed as overpaid in a year or so. While clubs have gotten better at identifying fits and not losing financial discipline in the veteran market (it's one reason you've seen so many one-year deals this offseason), aberrations always emerge. Investing in an outlier comes with inherent risk. It's on the clubs to surround those players with the talent to mitigate the gamble.

Without further ado, onto the lists.

NOTE: Players are listed with the ages they will be on Sept. 7, when the 2023 NFL season is set to kick off.


Orlando Brown
OT · Age: 27
Cincinnati Bengals
2022 record: 12-4
  • CONTRACT: Four years, $64.092 million with a signing bonus over $31 million.

The combination of contract and talent makes Brown one of the best signings of this offseason. Is he an Andrew Whitworth-type left tackle? No. But he's stout in pass protection -- even if he sometimes gets beat around the edge by quicker rushers -- and brings power to the run game. While most offensive linemen get overpaid on the open market (see below), the Bengals actually inked Brown to a reasonable deal (a steal, on a certain level). At $16 million per year with $31 million fully guaranteed, it's a solid deal that places Brown at No. 10 among left tackles in per-year money and sixth in fully guaranteed dollars. The fit in Cincy is also ideal. Much like Patrick Mahomes in K.C., Joe Burrow's ability to step up when the LT gets beat around the edge will help mask the weakest part of Brown's pass-blocking. Adding Brown is also a giant leap from Jonah Williams, who has since requested a trade out of Cincinnati.

David Long
LB · Age: 26
Miami Dolphins
2022 record: 9-8
  • CONTRACT: Two years, $11 million.

Long puts the D in dawg. The linebacker flies to the ball and arrives with bad intentions. A downhill playmaker, Long gobbles up tackles sideline to sideline and can be a force when sent on the blitz. The veteran 'backer tackled ball carriers for a loss or no gain on 6.6 percent of his run-defense snaps last season, the second-highest rate in the NFL (min. 200 run snaps), per Next Gen Stats. His coverage leaves something to be desired, but I love Long joining Vic Fangio's defense. He'll clean up the middle -- racking up tackles for loss at a high rate -- and wreak havoc when asked to blitz. Yes, he has an injury history that clearly didn't sit well in Tennessee. But as the man himself noted, it's not like he's coming off an ACL tear. If Long stays healthy and continues his ascension, that two-year, $11 million deal could look like the bargain of this free agency cycle.

T.J. Edwards
LB · Age: 27
Chicago Bears
2022 record: 3-14
  • CONTRACT: Three years, $19.5 million with $12 million guaranteed.

Edwards enjoyed a fantastic 2022 campaign, piling up 159 tackles behind the Eagles' imposing defensive line. He excels against the pass, too, allowing a meager 0.6 yards per snap, tied for second-fewest among linebackers with at least 200 coverage snaps, per Next Gen Stats. Edwards' combination of run-stuffing ability and coverage quality makes him a great buy for Matt Eberflus' defense. Frankly, I expected him to garner more on the open market than $12 million guaranteed, but a free-agent class flush with off-ball backers likely pushed his price tag lower. The main question with Edwards joining Chicago is whether he'll produce at the same level behind a worse defensive line.

Cameron Sutton
DB · Age: 28
Detroit Lions
2022 record: 9-8
  • CONTRACT: Three years, $33 million with $21.5 million guaranteed.
This is a photo of C.J. Gardner Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles NFL football team. This image reflects the Philadelphia Eagles active roster as of Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. (AP Photo)
DB · Age: 25
Detroit Lions
2022 record: 9-8
  • CONTRACT: One year, $8 million with $6.5 million fully guaranteed.

After Sunday night's addition of Gardner-Johnson, I had to pair the two signings. The Lions desperately needed to upgrade the secondary. They scooped up two proven defensive backs without paying massive money. Now Detroit owns significant versatility on the back end. Sutton can play inside or outside. CJGJ can man the slot or play safety alongside Kerby Joseph. Frankly, it was a surprise the Steelers let Sutton out of the building after he gave up just 32 receptions on 72 targets in 2022 -- that 44.4 percent completion rate allowed was tied for the fourth-lowest in a season since 2016 (min. 50 targets), per NGS. Perhaps Gardner-Johnson overplayed his free agency hand, but the Lions benefitted. His hard-hitting and tenacity bring juice to a previously limp Lions secondary. Add in the reported low-cost deal for CB Emmanuel Moseley, and Detroit hit a home run in free agency, significantly upgrading its weakest position group in the past week.

Ogbo Okoronkwo
Edge · Age: 28
Cleveland Browns
2022 record: 7-10
  • CONTRACT: Three years, $19 million with $12.5 million guaranteed.

This might not be a name most fans are familiar with, but if you watched any Texans games last year, No. 45 was hard not to notice. With a quick first step and a relentless motor, Okoronkwo generated five sacks for Houston, despite playing a rotational role on a team that rarely held the lead, significantly limiting his obvious pass-rush situations. Per Next Gen Stats, the former fifth-round pick earned a 16.4 percent pressure rate in 2022, the third-highest in the NFL among players with at least 200 rushes. I love the fit. Cleveland has sought a consistent running mate opposite Myles Garrett, with the Jadeveon Clowney gambit not paying off in 2022. Now the Browns bring in an under-the-radar rusher who could shine in that role. Jim Schwartz's defensive style also meshes very well with Okoronkwo's skill set.

Rashaad Penny
RB · Age: 27
Philadelphia Eagles
2022 record: 14-3
  • CONTRACT: One year, $1.35 million deal with $600,000 guaranteed.

Penny's ability to stay healthy is a gargantuan question mark, but for the price, the former first-round pick has the potential to be a showstopper. When on the field, Penny has averaged the most yards after contact (4.6) and rushing yards over expected (+1.8) among RBs since 2021 (min. 100 carries), per Next Gen Stats. His scorching end to 2021 (four games of 135-plus yards in the final five) displayed his tremendous upside. He's a home run hitter who can fly through arm tackles. He thrived behind lesser blocking in Seattle. Now imagine what he can do following the Eagles' road graders. The low cost for the potential massive upside makes this one of my favorite deals.


Jimmy Garoppolo
QB · Age: 31
Las Vegas Raiders
2022 record: 6-11
  • CONTRACT: Three years, $72.75 million.

I understand the reasoning behind the Raiders' signing of Jimmy G. The familiarity with Josh McDaniels' scheme and the quarterback's ability to run an offense efficiently meshes well with this squad. After parting ways with Derek Carr, Vegas wanted a veteran presence, and Garoppolo represented the best one left on the market. That all makes sense on paper. But the signing comes with significant risk. Garoppolo has made it through an entire season just once in the past five years and is coming off a season-ending foot injury. Given the Raiders' lack of significant upgrades on the O-line, going down with injury yet again is a genuine concern. Yes, Jimmy's contract doesn't preclude the Raiders from adding a draft pick, but unless they make a move, sitting at No. 7, they could be looking at the fourth- or fifth-best QB in the draft. Garoppolo is solid enough to guide the Raiders to some victories in 2023, but they don't look like contenders in the AFC West right now. There is a real possibility that they'll be stuck in no man's land -- just good enough to keep themselves outside of the very top of the 2024 draft but not good enough to contend. The signing feels like a half measure for a club stuck in the middle of the road for too long.

Mike McGlinchey
OT · Age: 28
Denver Broncos
2022 record: 5-12
  • CONTRACT: Five years, $87.5 million with over $50 million guaranteed.

As we often see with positions lacking depth in free agency, the Broncos had to pay big to swipe McGlinchey. The 28-year-old is a solid player who is best as a run blocker, but the Broncos are paying him to be a stud. His $17.5 million per-year average is just $500K less than what Lane Johnson makes in Philadelphia. No offense to McGlinchey, but he's no Lane Johnson. McGlinchey struggles at times as a pass blocker, allowing six sacks and 27 pressures in 2022. Denver backed up the brinks truck and had to overpay to plug a hole along the line. It's a deal that could look onerous in a couple of years.

Jawaan Taylor
OT · Age: 25
Kansas City Chiefs
2022 record: 14-3
  • CONTRACT: Four years, $80 million with $60 million guaranteed.

The Chiefs couldn't agree to terms with Orlando Brown on a long-term contract, so they switched gears and added Taylor on a massive deal that includes $60 million guaranteed. That's a big-money gamble. The more significant risk comes in moving Taylor from right tackle, where he's played his entire pro career, to the blind side. The 25-year-old has played 18 career snaps at LT, all in 2022, and most of them in big packages for Jacksonville. Yes, the Chiefs had a former RT in Brown move permanently to the left side. But he had started 11 games at LT for Baltimore in 2020 before he joined K.C. Taylor is a good player and has the athleticism to possibly make a solid transition. Still, as Josh Sitton once famously said of O-linemen switching sides, it's like wiping your butt with the other hand. The trust in Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes and offensive line coach Andy Heck to mask any deficiencies will help mitigate the risk, but the guaranteed money is a gamble there won't be serious hiccups.

Tremaine Edmunds
LB · Age: 25
Chicago Bears
2022 record: 3-14
  • CONTRACT: Four years, $72 million contract with $50 million guaranteed.

While most off-ball linebackers in free agency signed team-friendly deals (like the Bears got with Edwards), Chicago blew the doors off the market in signing Edmunds. The former Bill is making $2 million less per season than ex-Bears LB Roquan Smith got from Baltimore and received a very similar amount of guaranteed money. Chicago believes Edmunds fits the scheme better, and perhaps that's true, but Smith has unquestionably been the more consistent player to this point. The biggest risk for Chicago: Which version of Edmunds are they getting? The one who came into his own in the final year of his rookie contract? Or the inconsistent player who posted a passer rating allowed north of 104.0 in each of the previous three seasons? Then there is the fact that Edmunds is going from Buffalo, where he was protected by a fine D-line that allowed him to flow to the ball, to Chicago, where there are significant questions on the defensive front. On the upside, Edmunds continues to ascend and is a lockdown cover linebacker who can tackle in space. On the downside, he regresses after the payday and struggles to get off blocks.

Matt Gay
K · Age: 29
Indianapolis Colts
2022 record: 4-12-1
  • CONTRACT: Four years, $22.5 million.

I have nothing against Matt Gay, a stellar kicker who made 93.8 percent of his field goal attempts over the past two years in L.A. and has a strong leg. My bigger issue is the Colts handing a kicker $5.625 million per year, the second-most in the NFL. Outside of Justin Tucker, there isn't a kicker I'd view worthy of hefty pay. The position often comes with massive swings in reliability. On a roster with needs on the O-line, at receiver and elsewhere, it seems an odd use of assets. To make the signing even more bizarre, after Tampa Bay waived Gay in 2020, he was on the Colts' practice squad for two months before L.A. snapped him up. Instead of elevating him at the time, Indy ultimately had to pay top dollar to bring him back. Good for Gay and his agent for getting a great deal, but for a Colts club that feels in flux, it looks anxious.

Follow Kevin Patra on Twitter.

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