Early Predictions for Top 2023 NFL Free Agents After Trade Deadline
0 of 7
AP Photo/Gary McCullough
The 2022 NFL trade deadline was one of the wildest in history. Rosters are now fairly set in stone until the 2023 offseason, when we get to see what happens with an intriguing free-agent class.
Teams got aggressive at the deadline this year. With 12 deals going down on deadline day, it’s apparent teams are becoming less hesitant to take a big swing to improve their teams.
That boldness could spill over to free agency, which is the next opportunity for teams to radically change their roster.
We’ve already taken a preliminary look at who will be the top free agents in the 2023 class with our free-agent big board. Now it’s time to make some predictions as to what will happen with some of the biggest names with expiring contracts.
Players appear in the order they are ranked on the big board as we take a closer look at some of the most interesting cases.
TE Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
1 of 7
AP Photo/Alex Menendez
Free-Agent Big Board Ranking: No. 17
Mike Gesicki didn’t quite crack the top 15 of our free-agent big board, but he should still be a hot commodity on the open market.
The receiver market is relatively bare. JuJu Smith-Schuster was the only wideout who cracked our board. He’s revived his career in Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes, so it’s hard to see him not wanting to stay with one of the best quarterbacks in the game.
Dalton Schultz is the only tight end ranked higher than Gesicki on our big board, but the Cowboys essentially chose to tag him over retaining several other key players last offseason, so it seems unlikely they are backing off that commitment.
That leaves Gesicki as the most likely passing-game weapon who could hit the open market. He has recently emerged as a red-zone threat, but his overall numbers have taken a hit in the new-look Dolphins offense orchestrated by head coach Mike McDaniel and featuring Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
Gesicki has gone over 700 yards in each of the last two seasons, but he is on pace to fall just short of 500 this year. He doesn’t provide much as a blocker, either, so he doesn’t appear to be a long-term fit in South Beach.
He would, however, be the kind of big-bodied receiver who could help a young quarterback like Justin Fields in Chicago or add to Tom Brady’s arsenal in Tampa Bay. Even if the Dolphins have interest in bringing him back, a team that is willing to feed him more targets is going to come along and offer a better contract.
Prediction: Gesicki signs with the Chicago Bears
DT Daron Payne, Washington Commanders
2 of 7
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images
Free-Agent Big Board Ranking: No. 16
The trade deadline came and went with Daron Payne remaining a Washington Commander.
Considering the trade rumors surrounding the interior defender, it was a surprising development. Ben Standig of The Athletic reported the team received outside interest in the defensive tackle who is in the final year of his contract and could have garnered a Day 2 pick in return.
The Commanders standing pat might give fans hope that he’ll remain in burgundy and gold next season, but it really doesn’t make sense. The team already has a ton of money and resources invested in the defensive line.
That includes a contract for fellow defensive tackle Jonathan Allen that is the fourth-biggest contract for the position. Tack on new contracts on the horizon for Montez Sweat and Chase Young and it’s a lot of former first-round picks to retain.
Instead, the Commanders will likely watch him walk and hope for a compensatory third-round pick in 2024.
Several teams could use an interior pass-rusher of Payne’s caliber. The Las Vegas Raiders are certainly among those teams. They are slated to have the ninth-most cap space available to improve a team that is 2-5 right now.
The Raiders are 28th in pressure percentage despite having an edge rusher like Maxx Crosby hunting quarterbacks. Payne has 4.5 sacks on the season. No other defender on the Raiders roster other than Crosby has more than one.
Prediction: Payne signs a multi-year deal with Las Vegas Raiders
RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
3 of 7
Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images
Free-Agent Big Board Ranking: No. 8
Saquon Barkley is set to be the latest case study in how NFL teams value the running back position in 2023.
On one hand, Barkley is a top talent when healthy and at the peak of his powers. Going into Week 9, only Tyreek Hill has averaged more scrimmage yards per game than the Giants’ running back.
On the other, the back’s health has been an issue on his rookie contract. He struggled with an ankle injury in 2019 and a torn ACL in 2020, and he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry in 2021.
The easy answer here would be the franchise tag. That would allow the Giants to make Barkley prove he can stay healthy and explosive for more than one season. However, there’s a good chance the Giants will need to reserve the tag for Daniel Jones.
The quarterback has done enough for the team to be 6-2, but committing to him beyond 2023 is a scary proposition.
Ultimately, the Giants are going to have to bite the bullet and hand Barkley a multi-year contract. While other teams could use him, he’s especially valuable to the Giants. He has the highest dominator rating in the league, a metric that quantifies what percentage of a team’s touchdowns and total yards a player accounts for, per Player Profiler.
The optimal situation for the Giants would be getting Barkley to agree to a contract that’s around three years with as little guaranteed money as possible. But they aren’t in a position to let him walk given how much he means to the offense.
Prediction: Barkley signs a long-term extension with the Giants
S Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals
4 of 7
AP Photo/Julio Cortez
Free-Agent Big Board Ranking: No. 6
Jessie Bates III is in line for a big payday, but it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be with the Cincinnati Bengals. The safety didn’t even report to the team until late August after initially balking at the idea of signing the franchise tag.
Bates is not an All-Pro kind of player, but he is a safety capable of making plays on the back end. He has 11 interceptions and 37 passes defended since being drafted in 2018. However, he’s ranked 37th out of the 87 safeties that PFF has graded this season.
The Bengals drafted Dax Hill in the first round of the 2022 draft, meaning that Bates’ replacement is already on the roster.
There should be a healthy market for Bates. At this point, he’s a five-year veteran with the experience to help a struggling secondary and enough years in his prime at 25 years old to make sense as a free-agent signing on a long-term deal.
A team like the Falcons would be a good fit. They have the second-most cap space already cleared for 2023 and are giving up the sixth-highest passer rating to opposing quarterbacks.
Prediction: Bates signs a long-term deal with the Atlanta Falcons
LB Roquan Smith, Baltimore Ravens
5 of 7
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Free-Agent Big Board Rank: No. 4
The Baltimore Ravens gave up a second- and fifth-round pick in the 2023 draft to acquire Roquan Smith at the deadline. That would seemingly point to the Ravens getting a contract extension figured out, but it isn’t that easy.
The Ravens’ financial flexibility is going to depend on how they handle Lamar Jackson’s contract situation. The quarterback’s contract is set to expire and, as Dale Lolley of the Steelers’ website noted, the Ravens would likely get a third-round compensatory pick if Smith leaves in free agency.
The Spotrac market value for Smith comes in at $16 million, with Deion Jones’ and C.J. Mosley’s contracts as the comparable players.
Those contracts might be cautionary tales at this point. Jones was just traded to the Cleveland Browns for a sixth-round pick, and Mosley has not returned to Pro Bowl form since leaving Baltimore.
Still, the five-year, $80.4 million contract projected is one that would make sense for the Ravens. Both Jones and Mosley have dealt with injuries that have impacted their play.
Assuming that comes with a small base salary in 2023, it would allow the Ravens to still pursue Jackson with the franchise tag, thus giving them a chance to have their offensive and defensive cornerstones for the 2023 season.
Prediction: Smith signs a long-term deal with the Ravens
OT Orlando Brown Jr., Kansas City Chiefs
6 of 7
AP Photo/Ed Zurga
Free-Agent Big Board Rank: No. 3
Orlando Brown, Jr. is the top non-quarterback on our big board. His ability to play both right and left tackle at a high level makes him an ideal anchor on the offensive line.
Given the general disarray of several offensive lines in the league, a player like Brown would be a hot commodity on the open market. Spotrac projects his market value will be around $22.4 million in annual average value.
For the Chiefs, it’s a fairly large investment given how many players they already have making that kind of money on the roster. There’s some wiggle room with restructures, but Kansas City is scheduled to have Patrick Mahomes, Frank Clark, Chris Jones and Joe Thuney all making over $20 million next season.
On paper, there’s not a lot of money in the Chiefs’ coffers heading into next season. They are 19th in 2023 cap space with just $4 million to work with before they create more room with cuts and restructures.
The Chiefs are going to have to pay some receivers as well. Both JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman are set to be free agents.
A team like the Chicago Bears, who are set to have $114.7 million to work with next offseason, will swoop in and offer Brown a contract that is going to be hard for the Chiefs to compete with.
Prediction: Brown signs with the Chicago Bears
QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
7 of 7
Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images
Free Agent Big Board Rank: No. 1
All eyes are going to be on the contract negotiations between the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson as soon as the season is over. It isn’t often that a 25-year-old quarterback with an MVP Trophy on his mantel gets to the final year of his deal without an extension.
Both parties gave it a shot before the season. Chris Mortenson and Adam Schefter of ESPN reported the quarterback turned down a five-year, $250 million contract in which $133 million would be guaranteed at signing.
That’s a lot of money to turn down, but it makes sense Jackson wasn’t a fan after watching Deshaun Watson get a fully guaranteed contract worth $230 million over five years with the Cleveland Browns.
While it’s fun to think how big a true free agency would be for Jackson, there’s next to no chance that it actually happens.
In reality, Jackson is likely headed to the franchise tag. Jackson is right to want a fully guaranteed contract. Over the last five years, Jackson has 690 rushing attempts in 66 games. The next-highest number for a quarterback is Josh Allen with 475 across 68 games in that span.
Jackson missed five games last season with an ankle problem, and all of the extra running does leave him vulnerable to injury.
That added risk could lead to a situation where the Ravens feel more comfortable going with the franchise tag to keep Jackson around. The projected 2023 franchise tag value for a quarterback is $45.4 million, per Spotrac.
It seems like that’s the direction this is all headed given this year’s negotiations and the nature of Jackson’s play.
Prediction: Jackson plays on the franchise tag in 2023
This news is republished from another source. You can check the original article here