2023 NFL Free Agency: Non-quarterback free agents who could sign the biggest deals

Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III (30) takes the field during introductions before the first quarter of the NFL Week 14 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022. The Bengals led 13-3 at halftime. Cleveland Browns At Cincinnati Bengals Week 14

• Philadelphia Eagles DI Javon Hargrave: He could be in line for a major payday if he doesn’t come to terms on an extension with the Super Bowl runner-ups.

• Buffalo Bills LB Tremaine Edmunds: The former first-rounder offers so much promise with his special athletic ability coming off a career year.

• Jacksonville Jaguars OT Jawaan Taylor: The veteran could sign one of the surprise top deals of the offseason.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins

With everyone waiting for the first domino of the NFL quarterback carousel to fall this offseason, teams set at signal-caller are poring over free-agent options to improve their rosters, starting with the legal tampering window opening on March 13.

We wanted to highlight some of the non-quarterbacks we’re hearing could be signed early on in the first wave of free agency to big-time deals. 


DI Javon Hargrave, Philadelphia Eagles

PFF Free Agent Rank: 3

It’s hard to make this list as a third-contract, soon-to-be 30-year-old, but if Washington Commanders interior defender Daron Payne‘s franchise tag is any indication, Hargrave will have a long list of suitors.

Over the past two seasons including playoffs, Hargrave’s 92.4 pass-rush grade is second only to Aaron Donald, and his 12.5 sacks in 2022 were a career high by a decent margin.

We’re set to witness a market explosion at interior defender this offseason similar to the wide receiver boom last offseason, and Hargrave looks to be in the right place at the right time coming off a career year.

Hargrave’s situation is somewhat akin to Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Christian Kirk last offseason (although Kirk was 25 years old and seeking his first veteran contract, the idea is the same). Hargrave and his camp could negotiate a very strong deal with the understanding of where the position market is going, not where it currently stands. 


LB Tremaine Edmunds, Buffalo Bills

PFF Free Agent Rank: 17

It’s seemingly counterintuitive to suggest any players are beneficiaries of the franchise tag, but that is currently the situation with off-ball linebackers because of the way the positional designation works. Pass-rushing outside linebackers are lumped together with off-ball linebackers for value calculation purposes, and as a result, the “linebacker” tag value at $20.926 million for 2023 is second only to quarterbacks.

This exorbitant price in relation to the off-ball position market — higher than Baltimore Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith’s average annual value at the top — can help ascending, young players like Edmunds reach the open market. Buffalo has a handful of big contracts across their roster with some other major holes to address, and as good as Edmunds was in 2022, teammate Matt Milano is one of the best linebackers leaguewide and already on a veteran deal.

Long story short, Edmunds could sign a huge deal in free agency as the type of special athlete with the potential to become one of the best players at his position for the next several years. A team with more resources at their disposal would likely not let him out the door, but the former first-rounder who will still be just 25 in his sixth NFL season is in line for a major payday. 


OT Jawaan Taylor, Jacksonville Jaguars

PFF Free Agent Rank: 16

The Jaguars were smart to continue investing resources at one of the most important positions in the sport, using second-round picks in 2017, 2019 and 2021 on tackles. Now, they’re faced with a good problem to have, as it appears all three may have been hits. The team extended left tackle Cam Robinson last offseason after franchise-tagging him — perhaps a possibility for Taylor not receiving enough consideration — and have 2021 second-round pick Walker Little playing at a high level whenever he can get on the field.

The big-name right tackle free agents receiving more media attention so far this offseason are the San Francisco 49ersMike McGlinchey and the Atlanta FalconsKaleb McGary, perhaps because they are former first-round picks, but both are three years older than Taylor and better run blockers than pass protectors. With so many teams adopting a wide zone-based rushing attack, McGlinchey and McGary should have several suitors, but Taylor apparently intrigues a few teams that worry less about his movement ability in space.

At tackle, top-end pass protection is what gets you paid, and that’s where Taylor excels. On pass-blocking reps defined as “true pass sets” — straight dropbacks, throw between 2.0 seconds to 4.0 seconds, no screens, no play action — Taylor’s 76.7 pass-blocking grade ranked 14th among all tackles in 2022, with his 5.2% pressure rate allowed a top-10 mark.

Fans may be surprised when his contract this offseason lands comfortably within the top 10 deals among right tackles in average annual value, perhaps entering the top five, but they shouldn’t be. 


WR Jakobi Meyers, New England Patriots

PFF Free Agent Rank: 7

While factors like poor athletic testing and his undrafted status will probably keep Meyers from signing a truly massive contract, he should still get a nice deal this offseason as arguably the safest option among the top available wide receivers. There are troubling injury histories for almost every other wide receiver in our top 100: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Odell Beckham Jr., Michael Thomas, D.J. Chark Jr. and Parris Campbell.

Meyers, on the other hand, has missed just seven total games in his four NFL seasons. Beyond just staying healthy, consistency at wide receiver has seemingly become a bit underrated, with a lot of streaky players viewed more favorably compared to the week-in and week-out producers, which is exactly what Meyers has become. He’s had at least 59 receptions and 729 yards in each of the past three years.

Over the past three seasons, Meyers’ 3.1% drop rate ranks ninth among qualifying wide receivers, and he rarely loses in contested situations. Meyers is also capable of creating consistent separation with sharp route running, as evidenced by the below chart from PFF's Arjun Menon:

https://twitter.com/arjunmenon100/status/1626283165110390784?s=46&t=EHiIIwTsqCW6wMdJlSWx4g


S Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals

PFF Free Agent Rank: 4

After earning PFF’s top grade among safeties in 2020, Bates followed up with a bit of a letdown 2021 regular season and then a remarkable playoff run to the Super Bowl. Playing on the franchise tag in 2022, Bates was a veteran mentor, locker room leader and consistently good player throughout the season, earning an 84.8 run-defense grade and a 72.9 coverage grade. Now, it’s time to cash in on the multi-year deal he covets.

In recent years, the free agent market has been flooded with quality options, including last offseason when Bates was prevented from fielding any offers, but perhaps that pays off for him in a group with plenty of depth but no other top-tier players of his pedigree.

Look at the playoff teams in both conferences from this past season and you’ll notice a theme: many had impactful contributions from the safety position, with early draft picks and highly paid players aplenty. 

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