2023 NFL Free Agency Predictions: Lions Sign C.J. Gardner-Johnson, 49ers Land Jessie Bates, and Jimmy Garoppolo Is a Dolphin

    NFL free agency predictions are always entertaining but often overshoot the mark. It's impossible to know what will happen, but let's be realistic.

    Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear. We’re within a T-Rex’s reach from NFL free agency. Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen the NFL not just take a page out of the NBA’s offseason book but darned near rewrite the entire thing. The league is trying to dominate as many months of the sports news cycle as possible.

    A six-month league has found a way to control the calendar from late August until the beginning of May. It’s essentially a school season at this point, where we all get to twiddle our thumbs over the summer months as baseball aimlessly plays in the background. At least Formula 1 is there to take control of our Sundays!

    NFL Free Agency Predictions

    NFL Free Agency predictions can often be quite loosely based on reality. While it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint exactly where players will land throughout the process, hopefully, we can nail at least a few player-to-team fits correctly.

    Arizona Cardinals Deal DeAndre Hopkins

    It would be absolutely hysterical to see the Cardinals receive the same, or better, compensation for a 30-year-old DeAndre Hopkins — who has struggled to stay on the field recently — as they did when they traded for him in his prime.

    When Houston traded him for an exchange of 2020 fourth-round picks, a second-rounder, and David Johnson, Hopkins was coming off three consecutive first-team All-Pro nods. Since then, the receiver is averaging 20 fewer yards per game and has only managed 19 contests over the past two seasons.

    With a no-trade clause in effect on his contract and a steep contractual price to pay, Arizona won’t get what they’re asking for. But with no hopes of competing in 2023 without Kyler Murray for a good chunk of the season, recouping some value is imperative.

    The Atlanta Falcons Re-Sign Olamide Zaccheaus, Add Allen Lazard

    With inexpensive options between Kyle Pitts and Drake London, overpaying for someone like Allen Lazard doesn’t really hurt the bottom line for Atlanta too much, particularly with a QB on a rookie deal.

    Lazard is a great fit in Arthur Smith’s offense, and his ability as a run blocker is among the best in the league at his position. Lazard allows Olamide Zaccheaus to slide back into a primary slot role, but with the small receiver’s experience out wide, Smith can use London and Pitts in the slot as well, attacking the middle of the field with fervor.

    Lamar Jackson Plays for the Baltimore Ravens in 2023

    In an … interesting … twist, after the Ravens’ franchise tag announcement, many teams leaked to their favorite beat reporters that they were not interested in Lamar Jackson’s services. With so many QB-needy teams and the rush for Deshaun Watson just one offseason ago, it’s a peculiar situation.

    MORE: NFL Franchise Tag Deadline Winners and Losers — Lamar Jackson, Saquon Barkley, and Others

    Although the illusion is that Jackson holds the cards here because he’s essentially an old-school free agent, it appears Baltimore holds all the cards. They could, theoretically, keep Jackson on three single-season contracts for only $126.5 million, which averages out to under $43 million per season.

    Buffalo Bills Sign Odell Beckham Jr.

    There has been a connection between Bills receivers coach Adam Henry and Odell Beckham Jr. dating back to their time together at LSU. It appears the two are bound to one another by destiny. They crossed paths in New York and again in Cleveland.

    The Bills need an inexpensive option, and because of injuries, Beckham is exactly that. It also doesn’t hurt that Von Miller has continued with his recruitment of the wide receiver, who he won a Super Bowl with on the Rams.

    Carolina Panthers Add Dalton Schultz

    When Frank Reich was in Philadelphia, Zach Ertz had the most receptions on the team in 2016 and 2017. In his first season with Indianapolis, Eric Ebron commanded 110 targets. Jack Doyle was third on the team in receptions the following season. With what is likely a young QB entering the fold through the NFL draft, an established TE would be a godsend for the Panthers’ passing attack.

    They’ll need to find the money somewhere, but money is easy to find in a league that restructures contracts as often as the NFL and a salary cap that’s exploding like a Michael Bay film.

    Rapid Fire Chicago Bears Moves Include Javon Hargrave

    With over $90 million to spend in NFL free agency, it’d be difficult to make many truly bold claims about who the Bears might add this offseason.

    We know that Chicago wants to run the ball, and Miles Sanders’ lateral quickness will be welcomed in shotgun formations alongside Justin Fields. The team’s addition of Chase Claypool makes it seem like they covet height/weight/speed receivers, so they’ll add another in Parris Campbell, who is that exact type of player.

    Claypool and Campbell may seem redundant as big slots, but Chicago used Claypool on the outside almost exclusively, allowing for a free position inside.

    Javon Hargrave and Marcus Davenport make a ton of sense in a Matt Eberflus defense. He loves attacking three-technique defensive tackles, and both he and Ryan Poles have hammered home the fact that they want long, strong, athletic edge rushers, which is Marcus Davenport in a nutshell.

    Cincinnati Bengals Sign Veteran Right Tackle

    The Bengals have cap space, but they also have quite a few mouths to feed in the coming seasons, so we shouldn’t expect any fireworks from them. They do, however, absolutely need to address right tackle in free agency or the draft, and most likely left tackle as well because Jonah Williams is in the final year of his deal.

    There are no ideal options, but Cincinnati, as we’ve seen over and over, could do a lot worse than Kelvin Beachum. He’s obviously not a long-term solution for the team, but with few right tackles available on the open market, it’s likely the likes of Mike McGlinchey and Kaleb McGary are too expensive for Mike Brown.

    Cleveland Browns Stop Ignoring Run Defense by Signing Greg Gaines

    Is it sexy? Nope. But is it inexpensive? Yes, and the Browns need inexpensive help on the defensive interior. While 2022 was not necessarily anything to write home about for Greg Gaines, the entire Rams organization would rather forget last season altogether.

    Gaines plays with good natural leverage and a great trigger against different run concepts, which puts him in the correct positional leverage with consistency.

    Dallas Cowboys Re-Sign Leighton Vander-Esch

    If the Dallas Cowboys have the option to re-sign LVE or Donovan Wilson, it feels like Vander-Esch is the only real option. Malik Hooker and Jayron Kearse are a good enough starting duo on the back end, and Isreal Mukuamu played well in spurts for them as a hybrid defender.

    Meanwhile, Anthony Barr and Luke Gifford are both free agents. Damone Clark didn’t look ready as a rookie coming off a scary injury, and Jabril Cox still does not appear ready for starting action.

    Cowboys fans can hope for a splash like Eric Kendricks or Bobby Wagner, but they must consider Einstein’s definition of insanity.

    Denver Broncos Add Kaleb McGary and Re-Sign Dalton Risner

    We still don’t know what the Denver Broncos offense is going to look like, but improving their offensive line performance from a season ago is imperative. Denver absolutely must do everything within their power to make things work with Russell Wilson, who they are effectively locked into for the next three seasons.

    Kaleb McGary is a fantastic run blocker coming off a career year. However, he isn’t the best pass protector in pure dropback situations, but the best offensive game plan surrounding Wilson probably involves a heavy dose of play action, much like Arthur Smith’s offense in Atlanta.

    Detroit Lions Sign C.J. Gardner-Johnson

    “It’s limitless on what he can do. He does have the speed and the mentality to go out there and play corner. But he can play nickel, he can play in the box, he can play deep safety. You have fun with players like that, now.”

    That is what Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said of C.J. Gardner-Johnson in 2019 when Glenn was the Saints’ defensive backs coach. The Lions also just so happen to need an uptick in performance from both their nickel and strong safety.

    While this prediction is a bit bolder than the rest, the connections are there, and it’s hard to imagine that someone like Dan Campbell wouldn’t absolutely adore having a player like Gardner-Johnson in the building.

    Green Bay Packers Sign Dre’Mont Jones

    The Packers love defenders who can do a little bit of everything along the defensive line. Dre’Mont Jones fits that bill perfectly. He can play anywhere from the B gap all the way out to a wide-9, and he’s proven to be one of the better interior rushers in the NFL.

    They need even more help than that on the defensive side of the ball, but finding a starting-level replacement for Dean Lowry should be priority No. 1.

    Houston Texans Nab Tremaine Edmunds

    The Texans’ roster needs a lot more help before they become contenders, but stockpiling young, talented defenders isn’t the worst thing Houston could do to help DeMeco Ryans’ defense early on.

    Tremaine Edmunds is only 24, and the Texans could realistically lure him in with a long-term deal with a lot of guaranteed money and wiggle room for the team to maneuver around their salary cap situation.

    Edmunds is a good coverage defender already, and he should only get better with time. Deleting the middle of the field with coverage is a big reason the 49ers’ defense had been so successful with Ryans.

    Indianapolis Colts Re-Sign Bobby Okereke

    With Shaquille Leonard missing almost the entire season for the Colts in 2022, Bobby Okereke was the heart and soul of Gus Bradley’s defense. Losing him in free agency would be troubling, considering we don’t know what version of Leonard we’ll get in 2023. Okereke is fantastic in coverage and is an absolute tackle monster.

    Jacksonville Jaguars Retain Jawaan Taylor and Sign Melvin Ingram

    Nothing is more important than protecting Trevor Lawrence in the pocket. Jawaan Taylor was a high-ceiling blocker during his time at Florida, and he is just now realizing that potential. He had a career year a season ago and is still improving as a run blocker. Doug Pederson discussed his desire to retain Taylor, saying, “I know where Jawaan is this year, but he played outstanding football for us, and he’s another one that we hope to tie up if we can.”

    Arden Key will prove to be too expensive for Jacksonville, but veteran pass rusher Melvin Ingram will join the fold as a pass-rush specialist for the Jaguars on third downs. Because they’re set to lose Dawuane Smoot and Key, adding a veteran pass rusher is a necessity.

    Kansas City Chiefs Get Deal Done With Orlando Brown Jr.

    Orlando Brown Jr. avoids joining his third team in just six seasons by getting a deal done to remain the Chiefs’ left tackle for a few more seasons, protecting Patrick Mahomes from opposing pass rushers.

    The massive lineman played right tackle for years in Baltimore, but with Ronnie Stanley firmly cemented on the left side, Brown wanted out after stepping in during Stanley’s injury in 2020.

    MORE: Top 100 Free Agents in 2023 

    It won’t be inexpensive, but Kansas City has already proven that they can thrive offensively with a somewhat underwhelming receiving corps because Mahomes is an alien behind an outstanding offensive line.

    Las Vegas Raiders Add Juan Thornhill

    Las Vegas needs a ton of work on its roster, particularly considering most of their lineup are free agents. They will need to add many free agents with the cap space they currently possess, meaning they won’t break the bank on any one player. They’re a team with a considerable amount of star power but lack role players.

    Adding Juan Thornhill beside Trevon Moehrig brings Patrick Graham two intelligent safeties in the middle of his defense.

    Los Angeles Chargers Add Samson Ebukam

    It may seem peculiar for the Chargers to add a starting-caliber pass rusher when Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa are on the roster, but they’ve needed real depth on the edge for a while now. Adding Samson Ebukam adds a legitimate player that can start when Bosa or Mack are injured, which seems more like an inevitability than a possibility.

    Also, it’s easy to find ways to get all three on the field on passing downs, and because of their injury concerns, playing their stars on a lower snap count could be exactly what the doctor ordered for LA.

    Los Angeles Rams Retain Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott

    The Rams’ issues piled on like a high school bully last season. Realistically, their plan of attack has another year or so left in it before Les Snead and Co. are forced to rebuild the roster entirely. Los Angeles will still need to remain healthy because, no matter what, they’ll lack depth at multiple positions.

    Coverage is king, and keeping the secondary intact is important to their overall defensive success. While rumors swirl they may move Jalen Ramsey, it wouldn’t make sense for a team looking to make one final push before blowing things up.

    Miami Dolphins Add Jimmy Garoppolo

    Tua Tagovailoa is a fine starter for the Miami Dolphins, but his health history and most recent head injuries must strike fear in the Dolphins organization. If the Jets get a deal done for Aaron Rodgers, there aren’t many better options for the GQ QB.

    There was no market for Jimmy Garoppolo because of his shoulder surgery last offseason, but he once again landed on the injured reserve. He played well while healthy, but teams can’t trust him to stay healthy, and his market will suffer enough for Miami to feel comfortable paying him to be their backup.

    Minnesota Vikings Keep Patrick Peterson, Add Rock Ya-Sin

    Brian Flores needs guys who are comfortable playing aggressively in the secondary. Although it’s an outstanding CB class in the NFL draft, Peterson’s age doesn’t preclude them from drafting a young cover corner.

    Rock Ya-Sin is a perfect candidate for a man-heavy defense. He possesses good size, physicality, and reactionary athleticism for the position.

    Jordan Poyer, Robert Woods Join New England Patriots

    Devin McCourty’s days are numbered, and he’s been outstanding on TV. But his loss means Bill Belichick needs a free safety, and what better option than adding someone he’s faced twice a year since 2017? Jordan Poyer, alongside the playmaking ability of Kyle Dugger and the physicality of Adrian Phillips, makes for a terrifying trio.

    New England will undoubtedly decide to address wide receiver with a veteran or two as well. Robert Woods doesn’t appear to have a whole lot left in the tank, but he’ll be an inexpensive option on the open market.

    New Orleans Saints Keep Michael Thomas

    For a while now, we’ve thought that the Saints would move on from Michael Thomas, but it doesn’t really make a ton of sense for them, even from a money-saving perspective. Thomas will align alongside breakout rookies in Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed in 2023 as New Orleans makes one final push with a maxed-out credit card.

    New York Giants Retain Julian Love, Darius Slayton, and Richie James

    The Giants need some more help in the secondary, but they’ll have every opportunity to address cornerback at the end of Round 1. Julian Love is a versatile safety who was crucial to Wink Martindale’s aggressive nature a season ago.

    Meanwhile, Richie James and Darius Slayton commanded more targets than anybody else on the roster last year, and there is little else in free agency that could persuade them to spend more money at the position. Maybe they’re the ones who trade for DeAndre Hopkins or Allen Robinson, but it’s doubtful.

    New York Jets Get Aaron Rodgers

    Trading precious assets for a soon-to-be 40-year-old hallucinogenic QB may sound insane, and that’s because it is. However, all New York needed a season ago was bad quarterback play, and they would have been a playoff team. Instead, they received atrocious play and missed a ticket to the dance.

    While landing Aaron Rodgers may not put them in the driver’s seat inside their own division, it makes them one of the most dangerous teams in the AFC, which is incredibly talented at the top.

    Philadelphia Eagles Retain James Bradberry

    If one scrolls up a bit, you’ll notice that Javon Hargrave and C.J. Gardner-Johnson don’t return to Philadelphia in 2023. That doesn’t mean the Eagles cannot or will not retool their defense; they simply won’t be doing it with players that were already in the building.

    However, their two outside cornerbacks remain the same. James Bradberry was arguably better than Darius Slay in 2022, and he’s not that far removed from being one of the 10 best cornerbacks in the NFL with the Giants.

    Poona Ford and Morgan Fox Become Pittsburgh Steelers

    Tyson Alualu will be 36 before the start of next season, and while Larry Ogunjobi could return to Pittsburgh, they could use an even more inexpensive replacement option. Although Morgan Fox isn’t the best run defender in the world, the rest of the Steelers’ defensive front will have that covered.

    Alex Highsmith, T.J. Watt, and Cam Heyward are all good run defenders, and adding Poona Ford to slide back inside to the nose is best for everyone, including Pittsburgh’s run defense.

    49ers Make Room for Jessie Bates III

    There’s no reason for Steve Wilks to change much schematically from a season ago in San Francisco. While Ryans’ defense was multiple in coverage, he loved to show two-deep safeties before swinging Talanoa Hufanga down and running Cover 3 Buzz.

    Bates is one of the best middle-of-field free safeties in the NFL. He possesses outrageous range from sideline to sideline plus the ability to play in a split-field role.

    Seattle Seahawks Land Jamel Dean

    Seattle isn’t the same country Cover 3 team they were during the Legion of Boom era, but they still love their big, athletic cornerbacks. Although Dean doesn’t have the length they tend to prefer, they don’t have many great options on the outside.

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    Jakobi Meyers could be another consideration here. He would fit well alongside DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. However, the Seahawks’ defense underwhelmed last season, and retooling the cornerback room will go a long way toward improving that.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers Add Sam Darnold

    I just can’t fathom the Buccaneers heading into the season with Kyle Trask and Blaine Gabbert on the roster. Gabbert is a free agent who the Buccaneers could sign during camp if necessary. What they need is some hope, and Trask simply doesn’t bring that from a physical perspective.

    Maybe the Florida QB has become an absolute wizard processing information and delivering accurate passes learning behind Tom Brady, but we haven’t seen a player of his ilk find success at the NFL level in a long time.

    Washington Commanders Nab Eric Kendricks

    Jamin Davis still has a lot to learn about being a professional linebacker, so why wouldn’t the Commanders use some of their salary cap space to improve at linebacker while possibly helping one of their young players?

    If they are truly invested in starting Sam Howell under center, there is no reason why Washington wouldn’t try to load up on defense. Eric Kendricks still has a lot of good football left in him.

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