Every day early in the cycle of NFL free agency has its losers and winners. As the league year officially began and we had a number of transactions finally come to fruition, there has been a lot of movement in the NFL. We’ll take a look at the major actors of the day who took the biggest losses — just as important as figuring out who won free agency.
We will be focused on news that broke today, even though all the official moves that were executed today broke in the previous two days.
Today, only one NFL team showed up on the list. The biggest news of the day helped both teams involved, and teams forced to make cuts were generally prepared to make them — replacing players they lost to cap casualty or having a plan in place to move on from them.
“Bad” NFL signings were at a minimum, at least in terms of news announced on the first official day of free agency. Instead, players took the brunt of the losses. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the biggest losers in NFL free agency.
Additionally, if you want to see how we felt about all of Tuesday’s moves, make sure to check out our Day 2 free agent losers.
NFL Free Agency Losers
Aaron Rodgers Watchers
For the third day in a row, those tasked with the job of figuring out what Aaron Rodgers was going to do end up as losers. The saga is functionally over, but it still felt like those on the Rodgers beat left the day more miserable than they started. In a long, drawn-out process, Rodgers indicated his intent to play for the New York Jets, leaving the details up to them and the Green Bay Packers to work out.
MORE: Does Aaron Rodgers Make the New York Jets Super Bowl Contenders?
Along the way, Rodgers went into his history, took shots at the Packers, lambasted the media, and claimed he was above all of that. It was a long watch, but it did at least resolve the biggest fulcrum point of the story — whether Rodgers was going to play this year and whether or not he even wanted to play for New York.
Early in the day, news broke that the Dallas Cowboys would likely release Ezekiel Elliott, a report the Cowboys ended up confirming with Elliott’s official release into free agency. Elliott competed last year for snaps with Tony Pollard, who was franchise-tagged by the team right before the tag deadline.
It certainly seems like the Cowboys made a choice between Pollard and Elliott and chose the more efficient back of the two despite the general understanding that Elliott’s value comes in ways that are hard to identify in most production scores — short-yardage running, pass protection, inside-the-tackles running, and the impact he has on the defense.
Those differences either didn’t matter enough to the Cowboys or weren’t much different at all, as they took on an expensive — if short — contract for Pollard and let go of one of the most high-profile players on their team.
The Browns, in a cap-saving move, let go of both defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and safety John Johnson III. The Browns have already invested in a potential replacement for Clowney in Ogbonnia Okoronkwo but do not have a clear replacement for Johnson.
Even in the case of Okoronkwo, the Browns are betting more on potential than talent. Clowney may have been oversold when he was drafted by the Texans first overall in 2014, but he’s been a fundamentally good player who does a great job complementing other rushers.
Okoronkwo, also a former Texan, is a good player but does not have the history of production that Clowney has had. It will be difficult to move on seamlessly from one to the other. In addition to that, both players were released with a post-June 1 designation, which allows them to clear up cap space and spread out the dead money hits over two years but doesn’t realize until June 1 — meaning that they can’t use those cap savings in free agency.
MORE: 2023 NFL Free Agency Day 3’s Grades
With Jacoby Brissett moving on to the Washington Commanders, the Browns have also lost the most efficient quarterback that they’ve had in years. Even though he wasn’t slated to start with Deshaun Watson on the roster, not having a chance to bring him back in case Watson’s struggles continue does sting — even though no one inside or outside of the building expected him back.
The Browns, on the whole, had a good free agency, signing Dalvin Tomlinson, Sione Takitaki, Ethan Pocic, and a number of other players on reasonable deals helps more than hurts. But the news of the day was generally not good for the team.
It seemed like Jordan Poyer was on his way out of Buffalo after recent comments on his podcast indicated that he would like to move to a state with a lower (or no) income tax and a place without much snow.
In order for that to happen, teams in low- or no-income tax states, like Florida or Texas, would have to offer him a compelling deal. Teams in those states have already signed new free agents or have reason to be confident in the safeties already on their roster.
Overall, it didn’t look like a strong market materialized for the nearly former Buffalo Bill, who re-signed with the team and committed to another two years of high in-state taxes (for games played in the state) and snow.
Roster cuts are a regularity right before the beginning of the new league year as teams become cap compliant and create space for expensive new free agents. Sometimes, the most impactful cuts happen at the most expensive position — quarterback. But despite some high-profile cuts at the position, including Matt Ryan, that wasn’t the position that saw the highest team cap savings.
Instead, it was cornerback. Darius Slay, scheduled to carry a $26 million cap hit for the Philadelphia Eagles, was set to be released ahead of the beginning of the new league year after he and the Eagles failed to materialize a trade partner to take on about half of the cap hit.
Update, 10:15 p.m. ET: Numerous reports cite that the Eagles and Slay are trying to work out an agreement where he remains with Philadelphia.
Beyond that, the cuts that were made official today included former Jaguars cornerback Shaquill Griffin, former Steelers cornerback William Jackson III, and former Broncos cornerback Ronald Darby.
MORE: 2023 NFL Free Agency Tracker
“Cap savings” isn’t always the best way to determine the biggest impact as it undercuts the impact of players who carried a high dead cap hit due to guaranteed money. But it does represent the most potential pain to players because dead money is money that had already been paid out. Cap savings are generally a good representation of the unrealized money that a player was set to earn had he not been cut.
In this way, veteran cornerbacks ended up coming out behind on the first official day of free agency.