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NFL Free Agency: Winners & Losers


Geno Smith (left), Lamar Jackson (middle) and Saquon Barkley (right), three players that all had expiring contracts this year. Smith got a new deal with the Seattle Seahawks, Barkley was franchise tagged by the New York Giants, and the Baltimore Ravens placed the non-exclusive tag on Lamar Jackson. (Photo: Pro Football Focus)

With the Super Bowl far in the rearview mirror, NFL teams are now in the process of trying to make their rosters better for next season. Free agency, the period when franchises can negotiate and sign players without contracts, began almost two weeks ago, coinciding with the new league year on March 15 (two days before that, the “legal tampering period” began, when teams can start negotiations with players with expiring contracts).

Since then, teams have been active. Well, some, at least. Lack of salary cap space, a (comparatively) illiquid owner (*something something escrow something something*) and high state taxes, are all things that can hinder a franchise from signing new players. But having a good offseason is also about creativity; the New Orleans Saints, for example, have mastered the art of gaming the salary cap, reworking the lengths of contracts and converting base salaries into bonuses with Houdini-like deft.

Just as teams can be active or inactive in free agency, so can players. Former superstars like wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and quarterback Cam Newton both hosted workouts to show off their skills and prove that they still can make a difference on an NFL roster. Others, like veteran linebacker Bobby Wagner, have been in no rush to sign a deal, likely waiting for the right offer to come his way.

Still, every year some teams and players do better than others. So, without further ado, here are some winners and losers of the first two weeks of the 2023 NFL free agency.


The Miami Dolphins

Jalen Ramsey during his opening presser. (Photo: Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Head Coach Mike McDaniel and General Manager Chris Grier have had a nice little offseason, managing to both keep core players and add new difference-makers to the fold. In addition to giving starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa the fifth-year option, the ‘fins also re-signed running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson. Despite not having a first-round pick (forfeited after owner Stephen Ross violated NFL tampering rules), they also pulled off one of the moves of the offseason, trading for one of the best defenders in the league, cornerback Jalen Ramsey. He will now be paired up with another star cornerback, Xavien Howard, to form — at least on paper — one of the most ferocious cornerback duos in the league.

Chicago Bears

Bears quarterback Justin Fields will have plenty of new weapons next year. (Photo: Bearswire/USA Today)

As the worst team in the league last year, the team from the Windy City had a lot of work to do. But with the most cap space in the league, the Bears were primed to make a number of splashes early — and they did. The team began by trading the first overall pick in this year’s draft to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for a bundle of picks, as well as wide receiver DJ Moore. Moore is a star who, because of questionable quarterback play, never got a chance to show his true potential in Charlotte, and he will be an instant difference-maker on an offense that desperately needed one. To the offense, Chicago also added tight end Robert Tonyan, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, and tail back D’Onta Foreman. In true Bears fashion, the team also signed off-ball linebacker Tremaine Edmunds to a massive four-year, $72 million contract. Look for the Bears to be a team on the rise come September.

Saint Omni

Roquan Smith on his former team, the Chicago Bears. He was one of the players who received help from Saint Omni. (Photo: Getty Images)

This one might have flown under the radar, but Saint Omni is a sneaky winner. Quite the enigma, Saint Omni is the unauthorized “player-representative” who first got Roquan Smith a big extension with the Ravens last season, and then helped agent-less left tackle Laremy Tunsil get $50 million in guarantees on a three-year extension from the Houston Texans. Now there is even rumors that he is helping Lamar Jackson find a team that wants to sign him away from Baltimore. Despite the NFL sending out a memo in August last year stating, “Mr. Omni is prohibited from negotiating player contracts or discussing potential trades on behalf of any NFL player,” he continues to elude league officials and wreak havoc on the traditional player-agent community.


Players betting on themselves

Chauncey “CJ” Gardner-Johnson during the Super Bowl against the Chiefs in February. (Photo: Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The last couple of weeks haven’t been great for players betting on themselves to get big money instead of taking the safer deal. The list of players that had to take below-market value deals include tight ends Dalton Schultz and Mike Gesicki, as well as former Eagles and Saints safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who ended up having to settle for a one-year, prove-it deal with the Detroit Lions. One player who hasn’t signed anywhere yet, Odell Beckham Jr., was reportedly looking for around $20 million, but that price has now come down after no suitors materialized.

Aaron Donald

Aaron Donald during Super Bowl 56 last year. (Photo: Getty Images)

Poor Aaron Donald. The Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman, who also happens to be one of the most dominant defenders of all time, is seeing his front office strip his house apart. In only a few weeks, the team has traded Jalen Ramsey, cut edge rusher Leonard Floyd and linebacker Bobby Wagner, and seen defensive backs Nick Scott and David Long Jr., as well as defensive tackle Greg Gaines, disappear in free agency. Left on the defensive side is Donald … and not many more. The roster in general is in shambles, and whatever general manager Les Snead says, this is a rebuild. The question is: is Donald, who already considered retiring after last year, up for a potentially multi-year reboot?

Los Angeles Chargers

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley during a press conference. He is on thin ice going into next season. (Photo: David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

Things are not looking so hot for the other LA team either. The Chargers’ disastrous loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the playoffs, where they gave up a 27-7 lead at halftime, left a sour taste in the mouths of many Bolts fans. Unfortunately, the team’s start to free agency hasn’t done much to change that. While the team hasn’t lost any cornerstone players and still has Justin Herbert manning the ship, the whole operation is simply uninspiring. It’s unclear what Head Coach Brandon Staley’s plan is, and the resistance against providing Herbert with more weapons is concerning. To make matters worse, running back and touchdown-machine Austin Ekeler has requested a trade unless a new deal can be worked out. The hiring of Kellen Moore as offensive coordinator could end up being the best coach signing of the offseason, though.

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