The 2023 NFL free agency period is about to begin, and we’re about to see some big deals handed out. Because it’s coming a bit sooner than the 2023 NFL draft, it’s the first opportunity for teams to improve their rosters before they reset and take on rookies.
To that end, we’ve constructed a “free agency mock draft” that matches players to teams in free agency. Because free agency can go in an infinite variety of directions, we’ve laid down some ground rules to match the rigidity of the NFL draft.
2023 Free Agency Mock Draft
We used the NFL draft order to determine which teams select which players first, though we’re sensitive to the differing cap environments for each team. We won’t strictly adhere to the nominal cap space each team carries as of March 11, but we also won’t be matching top-level free agents to teams with the least amount of space.
Each one of the teams over the cap limit will find a way to get under the cap and sign some free agents on top of it, so while we won’t match big-money FAs to the tightest-strapped teams, we won’t ignore them either.
We’ll also pay attention to the actual draft. The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts are in prime position to draft a quarterback and, therefore, wouldn’t prioritize the position in free agency. There aren’t many examples of this, however, so it shouldn’t impact things too much.
Finally, there won’t be any trades, and we’ll ignore the trades that have already happened — sticking with the original draft order for the 2023 draft without taking into account pick trades that occurred before. Think of this like a waiver wire system in fantasy or a shadow draft instead of one that uses real picks.
1) Chicago Bears: Orlando Brown Jr., OT
This ends up being a bit of an interesting selection, as the Bears could go in a variety of directions, especially now that they’ve traded for the ninth overall pick in the actual draft, where a few positions have good value as draft selections.
As for the top pick in the free agency draft, the top receiver in free agency is probably not worth the value, given how weak the class is. On top of that, Chicago’s need at the position has diminished after acquiring D.J. Moore.
Given Orlando Brown Jr.‘s explicit desire to play left tackle, there could be a bit of a conflict with Braxton Jones, who played surprisingly well at left tackle last year despite his status as a fifth-round rookie.
But Jones has proven to be a quick study and impressed evaluators when at right tackle at the Senior Bowl, where he played both sides. Brown improves the line tremendously and also allows them to keep Teven Jenkins at guard, where he’s seemingly better. The Bears have the most cap space in the NFL and need to use it aggressively if they want to evaluate Justin Fields honestly.
2) Houston Texans: Dre’Mont Jones, DT
The areas where free agency is strong are also areas where Houston doesn’t need to spend big — either because of the draft or because of their own talent. The Texans are generally regarded as a team that needs help everywhere, but their secondary has played well. They should still bring in additional players at cornerback, but it’s not so much an emergency that they have to spend top dollar.
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The free agency market is not strong at their biggest non-draft needs — edge defender, guard, receiver, and so on — so they take the best interior defensive lineman that isn’t likely to retire in the next few years. Dre’Mont Jones has improved dramatically in Denver and is a high-level pass rusher. Though his work against the run has never been ideal, he will always provide value to any team looking for help along the defensive line.
3) Arizona Cardinals: Jamel Dean, CB
The edge defender market simply isn’t there for a team like the Cardinals to “pick” one this early in the free agency draft. They could go for a rental like Javon Hargrave — he would certainly give a boost, and the Cardinals seem committed to winning now — but they instead go with a cornerback here with the knowledge that defensive tackle or EDGE help could come in the draft, depending on how they play their cards.
Jamel Dean can play on the inside or the outside and demonstrated that fantastically well in Tampa Bay. His incredible athleticism — he happened to be one of the fastest, most agile, and most explosive cornerbacks at the 2019 NFL Combine at 206 pounds — gives him the kind of functional length that Jonathan Gannon knows how to use. Dean also sets up the Cardinals to do whatever they want in the draft — even draft a corner because Dean can kick inside.
4) Indianapolis Colts: Isaac Seumalo, OG
The Colts have to be careful here because they don’t have the kind of cap space the other top-of-the-draft teams have to kick around. But Isaac Seumalo is one of the few guards in the NFL that consistently establishes winning value without necessarily costing an arm and a leg.
Though guard isn’t typically a value position, the Colts would benefit more than most from re-establishing their right guard situation. While a left tackle would be a fantastic investment, many of the high-level tackles hitting free agency are right-sided tackles, and the Colts don’t need to rush to replace Braden Smith.
5) Denver Broncos: Mike McGlinchey, OT
The Broncos are losing two players in free agency, and guard Dalton Risner will be harder to replace than right tackles Billy Turner and Cameron Fleming, both in the draft and free agency. But right tackle is the more valuable position, and they can find a guard that will be functional for cheap in the second wave of free agency if they need to.
McGlinchey has played excellent football for the 49ers and has an argument to be considered a top-five right tackle in the NFL. But because those salaries are not as high as for left tackles, the Broncos will be able to absorb that kind of contract despite some cap squeeze from Russell Wilson’s contract.
6) Los Angeles Rams: Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE
The Rams don’t have a lot of cap room and have to use this “pick” to find the best value rather than the best player. But they intend to compete in the short term, and so that player is going to be an edge rusher — especially after the news that they plan to release Leonard Floyd.
Clowney shouldn’t cost as much against the cap as other big names in free agency, but the Rams get a premier run defender — important given how many light boxes they run — and a functional pass rusher. Clowney isn’t a great primary pass rusher, but he does a good job supplementing other high-level pass rushers like he did in Houston with J.J. Watt and in Cleveland with Myles Garret. He can do the same for Aaron Donald.
7) Las Vegas Raiders: James Bradberry, CB
The Raiders are in a position to draft a quarterback in the first round of this year’s draft. If they weren’t, they might be interested in Lamar Jackson (or Jimmy Garoppolo). They have a lot of needs elsewhere, like along the trenches on both sides of the ball, cornerback, and more — and so they’ll spend their first-round pick and some other draft assets to move up for a quarterback and take on a cornerback with length and speed.
James Bradberry is coming off a fantastic year in Philadelphia and will look for a payday. The Raiders have the cap space to accommodate that and a dire need at cornerback in a quarterback-dominant division.
8) Atlanta Falcons: Lamar Jackson, QB
Though only one spot later in the draft than the Raiders, their prospects for drafting a top quarterback in the class are a little further away — their second- and third-round picks are substantially less valuable than the Raiders’ picks. Not only that, the Falcons are in a bad division and could find themselves with a less valuable first-round pick next year than Las Vegas despite having, on balance, a worse team.
So they decide to give up two first-round picks to pursue Jackson and immediately make themselves favorites in the division. It’s true that the Falcons have signaled their lack of interest in Jackson, but we’ll ignore that here to try and create the best possible situation for teams. The Falcons have the second-most cap space in the NFL, and they should use it.
The rest of the offense needs a lot less help than a lot of people think, with Kyle Pitts and Drake London leading the way as receivers and fantastic running production available to them with Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson. They will need help along the offensive line, but this is an offense ready to go — and they have the offensive coordinator to really make it rumble.
9) Carolina Panthers: Jakobi Meyers, WR
The Panthers already had a need at wide receiver before they traded away D.J. Moore and now have a particular problem because they cannot use a first-round draft pick to secure a receiver for their quarterback of the future, whoever that may be. Free agency will be a priority for the Panthers and they might sign a few receivers. Here, we give them the top receiver on the market. They will probably have to overpay for Jakobi Meyers, but he’s still a solid receiver and the fact that they freed up cap space in their trade with the Bears makes it particularly easy to accommodate.
10) New Orleans Saints: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, EDGE
The Saints do not have very much cap room, especially after the Derek Carr signing, so they have to be stingy in free agency. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo will likely be a pretty cheap addition and should be great value, allowing them to consistently generate pressure off the edge without tripping into cap hell.
He’s a good player and had the seventh-highest pass-rush win rate in the NFL last year. The fact that they should be able to sign him to a cheap, long-term deal that can kick the cap down the road should help.
11) Tennessee Titans: Jawaan Taylor, OT
The Titans are out several tackles, a center, and a guard and want to craft a good environment around either Ryan Tannehill or Malik Willis. There aren’t many offensive linemen in free agency, and even if there were, the Titans would still need to invest in the position in the draft.
The fact that Jawaan Taylor played right tackle throughout his NFL career is kind of irrelevant — the Titans just need to find five starters. Taylor is a good player, won’t stress their cap situation too much, and gives them room to continue shopping in free agency while still investing in the draft.
12) Cleveland Browns: Marcus Davenport, EDGE
The Browns are short on cap and have to take a chance on a player that will likely go for a lot less than many project him to. Marcus Davenport showed up to Saints camp last year over their desired weight for him and played sluggish all season. If he remains committed to conditioning this offseason — something that should be a little easier without the ankle injury nagging him this time around — he could turn into a great asset for Cleveland.
His upside is tremendous, and they would have a remarkably powerful duo at edge rusher if it turns out. Regardless, the Browns have to take this chance because they have to go bargain-hunting.
13) New York Jets: Jessie Bates III, S
The Jets don’t have an enormous amount of cap room, but they should be able to squeeze some here or there. They have a greater need along the offensive line than at safety, but the Jets are genuinely a stacked team, so they don’t need to spread their cap dollars around. This gives them the ability to grab the top defensive back in free agency, allowing them to focus on offensive linemen in the draft — a need driven more by a lack of durability than a lack of talent.
Pairing Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed, and newly traded Chuck Clark with a great center-fielder like Jessie Bates III will make their good defense potentially elite, especially if they decide to play more dime with Jordan Whitehead as a third safety.
14) New England Patriots: Kaleb McGary, OT
Moving on from right tackle Isaiah Wynn to add a new right tackle in Kaleb McGary, the New England Patriots can become players in the AFC East if they use their draft picks to secure a receiver and find a way to plug up some holes at cornerback.
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McGary has not been a stellar player for Atlanta, but he’s been functional — especially last year, where he had a bit of a breakout season. One-year wonders are dangerous, but it’s also worth trusting a guy like that to the New England offensive line coaching staff.
15) Green Bay Packers: Dalton Schultz, TE
The Packers have been paired with tight ends in the draft for some time, and they seemingly just do not like to invest high-end picks in the position. No matter, they have the cap room to get a functional and productive tight end with Dalton Schultz, who is versatile enough to do whatever the scheme will ask him to do under presumptive starting quarterback Jordan Love.
16) Washington Commanders: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB
Without a chance to grab a top-level quarterback in the draft, the Commanders turn to free agency to find a player that’s had more success there than they’ve had in a long time.
The Carson Wentz experiment didn’t work out, and Taylor Heinicke is a capable backup, but the Commanders have the ability to take advantage of their excellent defense to win some games. That’s something Jimmy Garoppolo is familiar with.
17) Pittsburgh Steelers: Cameron Sutton, CB
Maybe it’s cheating to pair a player with the franchise they seem to be leaving, but it’s hard to find a quality player at a position of need that won’t kill the cap space that the Steelers have.
Cameron Sutton happens to fit all of those parameters — especially because the Steelers don’t really need a nickel corner, which is more readily available in FA. They will have to be diligent about some of their other needs, but this is a big one for them.
18) Detroit Lions: Javon Hargrave, DT
It has been fun watching the Lions occupy their defensive line room with nose tackles who can clog the run. But it’s time to rush the passer and stake a claim on the NFC North. The Lions may need a cornerback, but they’ll be able to grab one in the draft and later on in free agency.
For right now, they can sign the biggest “faller” in this free agent mock draft and grab a short-term rental who can rush the passer and help Aidan Hutchinson, James Houston, and the Okwaras out.
19) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Patrick Peterson, CB
The Buccaneers have one of the worst cap situations in the NFL, which is why Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting even hit free agency in the first place. Having a relatively cheap one-year rental like Patrick Peterson — who still showcases a lot of talent — should help them deal with that loss quite a bit.
20) Seattle Seahawks: Ben Powers, OG
The Seahawks solved their offensive tackle problems in essentially one fell swoop in the draft last year but still have offensive line issues to sort out. Those issues can be resolved with a quality player like Ben Powers, who can help stabilize that unit as Geno Smith proves he’s worth the deal they gave him.
21) Miami Dolphins: Miles Sanders, RB
The Dolphins value running backs and, in particular, value running backs with the skill set that Miles Sanders has. He won’t break the bank, but he’ll help resolve the fact that they essentially have no reliable RBs under contract right now. If the Dolphins could spend big at another position, like cornerback or tight end, they would. But running back is a little bit more appealing at this point.
22) Los Angeles Chargers: Tremaine Edmunds, LB
Tremaine Edmunds is one of many talented linebackers available in free agency and is likely the best one of the bunch. But there aren’t a lot of needs at that position throughout the league. And the teams that need them don’t really have the cap room to invest there instead of elsewhere.
In a lot of ways, the Chargers don’t have that cap room, either. But with a player this talented at the “22nd pick” of this mock, it’s too good to pass up. The Chargers can find a number of ways to make room, given how flexible the big contracts on their roster are, and it allows them to upgrade and move on from Drue Tranquill.
23) Baltimore Ravens: Jonathan Jones, CB
The Baltimore Ravens don’t have much cap room either and need to find a way to spend cheaply in the secondary to resolve their impending concerns at the position. The draft will help, but a versatile player like Jonathan Jones, who can play inside or outside and in man coverage or zone coverage, will help them a lot without costing too much against the cap.
24) Minnesota Vikings: Lavonte David, LB
After moving on from Eric Kendricks — and potentially moving on from other veterans on the roster — the Vikings need a player that can pick up Brian Flores’ defense quickly, can be an established locker-room leader, and has the ability to bring along Brian Asamoah.
Signing Lavonte David does all of that and allows them to move on from Jordan Hicks, who is underperforming his cap number. This would be a fantastic splash signing at a position of need that, in reality, doesn’t cost that much.
25) Jacksonville Jaguars: C.J. Gardner-Johnson, S/CB
Safety is not generally regarded as a need for the Jaguars, but it’s unquestionable that C.J. Gardner-Johnson is an upgrade over both of their starters while also providing flexibility to win as a cornerback in the slot when they need it.
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The Jaguars could use that kind of versatility on the back end as they find an offensive tackle or receiver in the draft.
26) New York Giants: T.J. Edwards, LB
The Giants have a few needs and can choose between talented players at those positions in free agency. But it’s good to secure a long-term linebacker with familiarity inside the division to replace the Jarrad Davis/Jaylon Smith duo that played so many snaps last season.
They can continue to build on some of the potential they have at safety and corner without relying on a weak linebacker draft class. Receiver will have to be addressed later in free agency or through the draft — ideally both.
27) Dallas Cowboys: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR
The Cowboys need to find someone to complement CeeDee Lamb, and they won’t be punished for double-dipping in the draft and free agency.
While they could be aggressive about finding some more defensive linemen, linebackers, or safeties, the scant few receivers left in free agency should push them toward a middle-of-the-road option like JuJu Smith-Schuster, who proved that he has value during his time in Kansas City, even if he won’t reach the heights he did in Pittsburgh.
28) Buffalo Bills: Jordan Poyer, S
This is the second time we pair a departing player with the team they’re leaving from, but just as we ignored Atlanta’s intentions in pairing them with Lamar Jackson, we’ll ignore the statements made by Jordan Poyer in this labor-restrictive “draft” scenario.
The Bills need a safety and don’t have a lot of cap room. Poyer likely won’t bruise anyone’s cap and knows the system. It’s a perfect fit, except for how cold it is.
29) Cincinnati Bengals: David Long, LB
The Bengals are losing Germaine Pratt to free agency and might be able to upgrade at the position despite how well Pratt played. Logan Wilson is a good pair for David Long, who has the ability to play all kinds of roles on defense from the linebacker position.
30) San Francisco 49ers: Dalvin Tomlinson, DT
The 49ers very much need to restock at cornerback and could use some offensive lineman, but the value proposition of being able to sign a do-everything defensive tackle familiar with every interior line position and every scheme is too much.
The 49ers have the room to sign Dalvin Tomlinson, and the draft picks to resolve the other positions in a weak DT draft. Given how poorly Javon Kinlaw has played for the team, getting some strength up front should help them maintain their dominant defense.
31) Philadelphia Eagles: Jimmie Ward, S/CB
The Eagles are seeing two of their defensive tackles hit free agency, along with their linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks. They could sign anybody on the defense, and it would make sense. So we went with the “best player available” left in Jimmie Ward.
Ward can play a similar role to the departing C.J. Gardner-Johnson, given his very similar experience as a former nickel and outside cornerback in addition to his safety work. This also projects to be a relatively cheap signing that should allow them to continue to be aggressive about all of those other positions.
32) Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham Jr., WR
The Kansas City Chiefs built a wide receiver corps out of gum and duct tape to win the Super Bowl and can do so again. Signing Odell Beckham Jr. should still allow the Chiefs to draft a shifty receiver in the second or third round of the draft while focusing on EDGE in the first round, if at all possible.
There are other holes to fill, but the Chiefs could generate unique value out of OBJ, who is no longer in his prime and has injury questions to answer but still may be very talented.