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Fantasy Football: 29 early thoughts on 2023 free agency

Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws on the run during the second half against the Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

  • Not going anywhere: Lamar Jackson, Geno Smith and Daniel Jones stand out as the three quarterbacks who seem most likely to receive the franchise tag.
  • New workhorse in Buffalo?: Devin Singletary is an unrestricted free agent, meaning the Buffalo Bills could look to add a new early-down back to complement James Cook and Nyheim Hines.
  • Yuck: The 2023 free agent wide receiver class is largely underwhelming and could accordingly produce some contracts that result in plenty of Twitter-induced laughter.
Estimated reading time: 24 minutes

There’s still important football to be played for four teams, but the offseason is officially here for the other 87.5 percent of the NFL. The draft will be here soon – and PFF has you covered in the meantime – that said, free agency is one of the key dates of the 2023 season.

Don’t get it twisted, the track record of players changing teams in free agency is largely brutal, as teams typically don’t let good players walk if they can help it. None of the key names in the 2023 cycle are likely good enough to single-handily change the NFL hierarchy, but with that said, there are a number of big names and key players who at least could choose to take their talents elsewhere this March.

What follows are 29 early thoughts on free-agent storylines that might just cause some chaos in the fantasy football streets. Special thanks to the fine folks at Over The Cap for all salary cap and free agent-related information.

1. Who will receive the franchise tag?

There are a handful of big-time quarterbacks and skill-position weapons who might not make it into free agency due to their team choosing to franchise tag them:

  • Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson: The Ravens rank fifth in total points scored since drafting Jackson in 2018 — that’s sort of the quarterback’s primary job, after all. While the 2019 NFL MVP hasn’t managed to finish either of the last two seasons due to injury, medical analysis notes that mobile quarterbacks aren’t any more at risk of suffering injury compared to signal-callers who work primarily from the pocket.
  • Seattle Seahawks QB Geno Smith: He posted rather awesome marks in PFF passing grade (76.1, tied for No. 9), yards per attempt (7.5, No. 12) and adjusted completion rate (77.8%, tied for No. 7) among 49 quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks in 2022. Smith did cool off down the stretch – and this was his first extended game action since 2014 – but clearly, the longtime journeyman played well enough to earn a starting opportunity somewhere in 2023.
  • New York Giants QB Daniel Jones: He has decreased his turnovers in all four seasons as a starter. While Jones’ 3,205 passing yards and 15 scores through the air this season don’t exactly jump off the page, it’s tough to be overly critical of a signal-caller who was working without each of his projected top-three receivers in Kadarius Toney (traded to the Chiefs), Sterling Shepard (ACL, IR) and Kenny Golladay (a mannequin) for most of the season. Credit to the artist known as Vanilla Vick (120-708-7 rushing) for taking his ground game to another level in 2022.
  • Giants RB Saquon Barkley: The soon-to-be 26-year-old talent certainly bounced back in a major way with 1,650 total yards and 10 scores in 2022. That said, Barkley struggled to impact games in the same breathtaking manner as he did back in 2018, as his once elite ability to rack up yards after contact (2.8, tied for No. 27) and force missed tackles (0.14, tied for No. 30) was lacking. He also ranked outside PFF’s top-30 running backs in yards per route run and PFF receiving grade.
  • Las Vegas Raiders RB Josh Jacobs: The first-team All-Pro veteran racked up a league-high 2,053 total yards from scrimmage while serving as the workhorse of Josh McDaniels’ new-look Raiders offense. Twenty-five years old in February, Jacobs might draw more interest on the open market than anyone else at the position.
  • Dallas Cowboys RB Tony Pollard: His future is suddenly far less bright after suffering a fractured left fibula during the Cowboys’ divisional round loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Of course, Pollard is capable of pretty awesome heights when healthy: Only Nick Chubb (93.3) and Jacobs (93.2) have higher PFF rushing grades than Pollard (92.8) since he entered the league in 2019.
  • Cowboys TE Dalton Schultz: Has posted top-seven numbers in receptions (198, No. 4), receiving yards (2,000) and receiving touchdowns (17, No. 5) among all tight ends over the past three seasons. Recency bias be damned, he certainly produced more good than bad times during his time with the Cowboys. Schultz shouldn’t be confused for George Kittle or even Dallas Goedert when it comes to raw talent, but he joins Evan Engram as the clear-cut top-two options on the open market for those looking for proven production.

2. Is Tom Brady destined for the West Coast?

Whispers have trickled out linking TB12 to both the 49ers (via Ian Rapoport) and Raiders (also via RapSheet). Credit to PFF’s ninth-ranked offensive line for helping keep Brady upright for most of 2022, but the league’s 25th-ranked scoring offense offered arguably the single-worst rushing attack and far fewer high-end pass-game weapons than usual.

Both problems would be solved in a hurry with either team. The former offers arguably the deepest treasure chest of skill-position talent in the league between Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Christian McCaffrey and Brandon Aiyuk while the latter isn’t too far behind thanks to Davante Adams, Darren Waller, Josh Jacobs and Hunter Renfrow. There must be some level of allure to reuniting with longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, but then again, Kyle Shanahan hasn’t exactly been silent regarding his thoughts on the GOAT.

Brady certainly took a step back in 2022, but this lesser version didn’t look washed from a pure-arm talent perspective. Stepping into a far better offensive environment can only help, as the 49ers (No. 3) and Raiders (No. 5) both boasted far higher team marks in average PFF rushing, receiving and blocking compared to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 29).

3. Did Baker Mayfield do enough to earn a starting job somewhere?

America loves a comeback, but it might be a little early to crown Mayfield after he failed to throw for even 150 yards in three of his five starts with the Los Angeles Rams. His season-long numbers were largely atrocious:

  • PFF passing grade: 52.2 (No. 38 among 41 qualified quarterbacks)
  • Passer rating: 79.0 (No. 35)
  • Yards per attempt: 6.5 (No. 35)
  • Adjusted completion rate: 69.2% (No. 39)
  • Big-time throw rate: 2.2% (No. 34)
  • Turnover-worthy play rate: 2.9% (No. 17)

Perhaps the diagnosis on Matthew Stafford (neck) worsens and the Rams are forced to do everything they can to keep Mayfield onboard, but just realize the unrestricted free agent has spent far more time being bad than good over the past two seasons.

4. What’s next for Jimmy Garoppolo?

Jimmy G was playing his usual efficient, winning brand of football prior to breaking his foot in Week 13. And yet, the 49ers might not think they need to break the bank for him given Brock Purdy and Trey Lance‘s presence.

It’s tough to see Garoppolo ever putting up truly elite fantasy numbers due to his lack of rushing prowess, but he’s at least been the engineer of many elite scoring offenses that enabled multiple high-end fantasy assets. This sort of game-manager type would be welcomed with open arms by plenty of teams — the New York Jets and Washington Commanders immediately stick out as offenses with massive question marks under center despite having plenty of places to go with the football.

5. Will additional lesser quarterbacks manage to make a splash and emerge as surprise Week 1 starters?

There are another few handfuls of free-agent quarterbacks who could help provide either depth or even a short-term solution under center, including Teddy Bridgewater, Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett, Taylor Heinicke, Sam Darnold, Cooper Rush, Joe Flacco, Mike White, Gardner Minshew, Case Keenum, Mason Rudolph and Drew Lock (among others).


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