Blockbuster Signings and Trades Kick off NFL Free Agency

Chris Gooding, Staff Writer

The 2023 NFL Free Agency class was one filled with a number of excellent players available on both sides of the ball, most notably star quarterbacks and key linemen looking to secure big deals. Additionally, there were a number of teams ripe with cap space to improve their rosters and fill out key needs before supplementing them with additions in next month’s NFL draft. The Chicago Bears, who recently traded their number one overall selection in the draft to the Carolina Panthers, entered free agency with the most money to spend at nearly $76 million of cap space. The Bears, along with the Atlanta Falcons and Las Vegas Raiders, were three teams with amongst the most money to spend in the NFL, which, when coupled with their disappointing seasons, set them up as potential big spenders. 

On the other hand, seven teams entered free agency with negative cap space, including the Los Angeles Rams and the Baltimore Ravens, which is why it is no surprise that they have spent the least across the league. The Ravens have notably dealt with the contract situation of star quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is undoubtedly the best player available on the open market. He has not been able to come to terms with them due to differences in guaranteed money that he wishes to receive, and he has recently requested a trade. Overall, the NFL free agent market has been marked by big contracts, disputes, and a couple of notable trades. 

So far, the biggest contract in pure total dollars was given to former Raiders QB Derek Carr. The four-time Pro Bowler agreed to a four-year, $150 million deal with the New Orleans Saints, who look to contend in the suddenly wide-open NFC South following Tom Brady’s retirement. The next three biggest contracts were given to right tackle Mike McGlinchey, defensive lineman Javon Hargreave and right tackle Jawaan Taylor, who signed with the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively. McGlinchey and Taylor will look to shore up their new squads’ offensive lines, while Hargreave is a menacing interior defensive lineman who was a big reason why the Philadelphia Eagles made the Super Bowl this past season. All three received contracts worth over $80 million. Lastly, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who earned the fifth-largest contract, agreed to terms with the Raiders to replace Derek Carr and reunite with his former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. His deal is worth $67.5 million over three years. Other than Carr and Garoppolo, most of the big deals were given to key linemen and defensive players, who may not be household names but will be making a difference for their teams in January and February. 

Another massive aspect of free agency has been the budding trade market, headlined by the aforementioned deal for the number one overall pick. The Bears traded that pick to the Panthers in exchange for picks nine and 61 this year, a first-rounder next year and a 2025 second-rounder, in addition to star wide receiver DJ Moore in an effort to surround young star QB Justin Fields with more offensive talent. Other notable moves in the trade market include Pro Bowlers Jalen Ramsey and Darren Waller moving to the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants, respectively – two playoff teams this year who hope these additions will help put them over the hump in the 2024 playoffs.

While most key players are off the market, a few remain, in addition to the aforementioned Jackson. Former superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who did not play in 2022 as a result of the torn ACL he suffered in Super Bowl LVI, is looking to sign a contract in the $15-20 million per year range. While it remains to be seen if he will receive it, he will certainly be coveted by teams who look for a boost to the receiving corps. Other big-name veterans like cornerback Marcus Peters, defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney and defensive end Calais Campbell are still available and looking for new homes where they can compete for championships. As the 2023-24 season is still a few months away, teams will look to integrate these new players, plus draft additions, into their teams as they look to make a run at Super Bowl LVII.