NFL Free Agency Day 2’s Winners: New York Giants Land Darren Waller, Aaron Rodgers, and Michael Thomas

We break down the most notable winners from Day 2 of the 2023 NFL free agency, including the New York Giants, Aaron Rodgers, and Michael Thomas.

Day 2 of the 2023 NFL free agency legal tampering period closed with one of the quietest days imaginable. Zero of our top 12 available free agents made a deal on Tuesday. This is a remarkable feat considering the massive need for talent and the number of teams flush with cap space across the league.

Nevertheless, there were shrewd deals and winners to be found even with a flurry of smaller moves. We’re breaking down all of the NFL free agency news all offseason, so continue to check back every day for the latest rumors and transactions.

Looking for the most up-to-date information? Check out our Day 4 (Thursday) free agent winners.

NFL Free Agency Winners

Aaron Rodgers’ Ego and His Friends

Aaron Rodgers has figured out that the New York Jets are so desperate to trade for him that he can leverage his way into playing with his friends. While the Green Bay Packers opted against giving in to Rodgers’ wishes to keep some of his favorites around until recent years, he is finding his input more valued by the Jets. Until the summer of 2021, the Packers worked independently of their star quarterback with personnel moves.

That changed after Rodgers called their bluff and demanded they trade for Randall Cobb, or he would ask out. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst acknowledged this was the case, describing the deal as one to make Rodgers happy.

“Without Aaron, we probably wouldn’t be pursuing that [trade],” he said after trading for the 31-year-old who had left for Houston in free agency.

MORE: 2023 NFL Free Agency Grades

Kowtowing to your star can be a good thing if the moves don’t impede production. Unfortunately for the Jets and latter-year Packers, Rodgers wants relatively benign players who he’s comfortable with. According to ESPN’s Dianna Russini, Rodgers told the Jets “he’d like them to target and acquire” Cobb, Allen Lazard, Marcedes Lewis, and Odell Beckham Jr.

The first three make little sense, as the Jets don’t need a slot receiver, a tight end, or a slow receiver who will cost them Corey Davis. Alas, the Jets have already signed Lazard to a four-year, $44 million deal, and it’d be surprising if anyone outbid them for Cobb or Lewis since neither moves the needle without Rodgers.

Rodgers has to be excited. The Jets offer a strong roster that will put him in a position to compete for the playoffs right away, and he already knows he’ll have front-office sway moving forward.

Darren Waller and the New York Giants

The biggest move of the day was a trade and not a signing. The Las Vegas Raiders shed the second of the five massive contracts they issued last offseason when they traded tight end Darren Waller to the New York Giants for the 100th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Both sides seem frustrated throughout the 2022 season as Waller missed eight games with a hamstring injury.

He produced only 388 yards and three scores despite expectations he’d bounce back after missing six games in 2021. Instead, Waller proved unreliable and, turning 31 this fall, fell out of the team’s plans. It may not have helped that McDaniels had publicly referred to Waller’s wedding with Kelsey Plum before it was announced the two would get married, per Vic Tafur of The Athletic.

It’s hard to blame the Raiders for wanting off the biggest tight end contract in the NFL after seeing his body break down. But Waller and the Giants are winners in this trade, as the Giants simply swapped the pick they received from the Kansas City Chiefs for Kadarius Toney for Waller. Now the Giants have someone capable of producing 70 yards per game, and they didn’t have to dip into a bad free agent class of pass catchers.

Pairing Waller with Daniel Bellinger gives Giants head coach Brian Daboll tremendous flexibility in the passing game. Waller is more like a vertical slot receiver than a tight end, but the two can complement each other effectively and help quarterback Daniel Jones continue improving.

Jakobi Meyers Cashes in

The Raiders aren’t quite losers for trading Waller because his health issues could be real, and they shed $11.38 million in cap space while obtaining a late third-round pick for an aging player. But they could be if Waller stays healthy and returns to stardom. The good news for the Raiders and wide receiver Jakobi Meyers is that both won when the two parties came to terms on a three-year, $33 million deal.

Meyers was an interesting free agent because, just one year ago, a similar player in Christian Kirk reset the receiver market with a shocking $72 million deal. However, Meyers, despite also being a sure-handed slot threat, received less than half that. That’s good value for a Raiders team that needed a No. 2 receiver in 2022 with Waller and Hunter Renfrow missing time.

MORE: Lamar Jackson Contract — Did Baltimore Ravens QB Turn Down a Fair Deal?

It’ll be fascinating to see if the Raiders now look to move Renfrow to Cleveland, New England, or another receiver-needy team. The New England-to-Las Vegas connection continues to be extremely strong, but that comfort can be a bad thing when talent is more important than familiarity.

Still, this was a good deal for both Meyers and the Raiders, as he looks to be Jimmy Garoppolo’s safety blanket next to Davante Adams.

Michael Thomas Stays in New Orleans

The Michael Thomas saga in New Orleans seemed to be coming to an end after the two parties restructured his contract in a way that was financially geared toward a release. However, after Thomas helped recruit quarterback Derek Carr to New Orleans, the two parties restructured his contract to a one-year, $10 million deal with another $5 million in incentives.

Thomas has played in only 10 games over the last three seasons, but he’s been effective when he’s on the field. He caught 16 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns in three games last year, ranking second in scores and first in contested catches before missing the rest of the season with a toe injury.

Often called “slant boy” because of his usage with Drew Brees in the QB’s waning years, Thomas is an excellent possession threat. I’ve enjoyed his career and hope he returns to form as an All-Pro playmaker. Keeping him in New Orleans for one more go-around is a win for both parties.

Cowboys Trade for Stephon Gilmore

It seemed as though the Cowboys were going to sit free agency out until value deals emerged, but they wisely acquired cornerback Stephon Gilmore from Indianapolis for a fifth-round pick. The 32-year-old will start across from star Trevon Diggs. The No. 2 cornerback role was a concern for Dallas as DaRon Bland was in line to start.

MORE: NFL Free Agency Tracker 2023

Gilmore is coming off a solid season while in the Colts’ Cover 3-heavy scheme. He was 29th in yards per reception allowed and notched 11 pass breakups and two interceptions. Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn runs a similar scheme but with better playmakers all around to maximize their turnovers.

Gilmore’s individual coverage numbers weren’t impressive, but that happens more in zone-heavy roles. Gilmore brings legitimacy with a $9.92 million cap hit in 2023, and he’ll be a free agent in 2024.

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