Every additional day in the 2023 NFL free agency cycle gives us new winners, whether that’s players who scored excellent deals, teams who have built out their rosters, or people whose situation has improved without having to change teams.
We’re only evaluating the news from today along with news late last night, meaning a team can have won the day and “lost” free agency and vice versa. It’s been a “team-friendly” market, meaning that players have mostly lost out in free agency while teams have scored good deals.
If you want to see how we felt about all of Wednesday’s moves, make sure to check out our Day 3 free agent winners.
Today’s NFL Free Agency Winners
Not only did the Falcons stay their hand at signing a franchise starter like Lamar Jackson, they committed publicly and privately to Desmond Ridder as their starting quarterback. Signing Taylor Heinicke at backup-level $7 million a year was one sign, but Heinicke shared that he was told by the Falcons to prepare to back up Ridder, telling the Athletic that “They drafted (Ridder) high for a reason.”
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This also implies — though it doesn’t completely rule out — that the Falcons won’t target a quarterback in the draft. Add in the trade for Jonnu Smith and the return of Kaleb McGary, and things are looking well set up for Ridder to prove he deserves a starting quarterback job next year.
New York Giants
The Giants scored a big win yesterday with their trade for Darren Waller but secured another several wins with their wide receiver moves. Though it won’t remove receiver from the list of needs the Giants will have heading into the draft, re-signing Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard, along with the addition of Parris Campbell, will allow the Giants to field both depth and breadth at the receiving positions.
In addition to Waller and that receiving group, they still have emerging young tight end Daniel Bellinger and franchise-tagged Saquon Barkley. If the Giants can add a premier receiver in the draft, they’ll have done a lot to improve the roster at their biggest weakness.
After losing Samaje Perine to the Denver Broncos, the running back situation in Cincinnati was up in the air following a legal investigation at starting running back Joe Mixon’s house. Chris Evans was the only RB under contract aside from the veteran. Not only have the charges been cleared up, but they re-signed Trayveon Williams, giving the Bengals a full running back corps to enter the season with.
This follows the bigger news of the Bengals securing Orlando Brown Jr. at left tackle for well below his projected market value, offering them a big upgrade at one of their positions of weakness. The Bengals had to tweak their offense and protection scheme to account for how poor their offensive line was, and this should give Burrow more time to make plays from the pocket — increasing their explosive play potential and overall passing game.
It seems somewhat cruel to identify a team as a winner for being able to control the market for their quarterback so tightly that they can secure him for a below-market deal but the second consecutive day without Lamar Jackson news is good for the Ravens, who will not have to match any onerous offers put in by other teams and can secure Jackson to a relatively cheap $32.4 million deal without taking on any risk for the injury-prone quarterback.
Without teams interested in giving up picks and putting in an offer sheet, the Ravens hold all the leverage and can either have Jackson play out the franchise tag – offloading all the risk from the Ravens onto Jackson – or negotiate with him with substantial leverage. One hopes that they don’t come to the table telling Jackson that “yesterday’s price is not today’s price.”
Teams that need an edge defender, which include the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons, and Chicago Bears, have seen the supply of available options expand substantially.
Not only is there a rich draft class at the position they can leverage against free agents, but additional players who were released onto the market also make it difficult for players to negotiate high prices.
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With players like Robert Quinn, Jadeveon Clowney, Yannick Ngakoue, Frank Clark, and Bud Dupree all unsigned by the end of the second official day of free agency, there is a real sense that their market values are depressed compared to their expectations.
With all of them competing against each other for the same services, it will be easy for teams to strike a deal for an impact defender on the edge.