2023 NFL Free Agency: The 5 best signings so far

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Jamel Dean (35) on the field in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

NFL free agency is one of the most exciting times of the NFL offseason, especially when things really start to ramp up and the offers for star players start flying.

While most teams would love nothing more than to land the big-name free agent, not all those splash signings work out for the better. Sometimes, it's the smaller moves that really make a difference to the team-building effort.

Here are the five best free-agency signings so far, starting with cornerback Jamel Dean re-signing with Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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1. CB Jamel Dean re-signs with Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a four-year deal

  • Fit/need grade: B+
  • Value grade: A
  • Contract: Four years, $52 million ($13 million per year), $26 million guaranteed
  • PFF projected contract: Four years, $68 million ($17 million per year), $45 million total guaranteed

This is one of the surprises of the entire free agency period, as Dean was benched for Tampa’s playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, and reports indicated that he was in line to sign a really big deal outside of Tampa.

It was reported that Dean had a broken toe for that playoff game, but he played 17 special teams snaps, so the whole situation is a bit bizarre. 

Nonetheless, Dean was the top young cornerback available on the free-agent market, and Tampa gets exceptional value with this re-signing. Over the last three seasons, Dean ranks behind only Jaire Alexander and Jalen Ramsey in PFF coverage grade at the position. He’s also earned a top-15 coverage grade on press-coverage snaps, where he thrives as a big, physical corner who can bump the top outside wide receivers off their routes.


2. LB T.J. Edwards plans to sign a three-year deal with Chicago Bears

  • Contract: Three years, $19.5 million, $12 million guaranteed
  • PFF projected contract: Three years, $40.5 million, $24.25 million total guaranteed
  • Fit/need grade: A
  • Value grade: A+

A 2019 undrafted free agent, Edwards is coming off of a career year that saw him rank sixth among all linebackers with an 81.6 PFF grade. Edwards impressed both against the run and in coverage and finished the year tied for 15th at the position with 51 tackles resulting in a defensive stop.

Chicago replaces Roquan Smith with a three-year deal that doesn’t reach the per-year average of Smith’s new contract with the Baltimore Ravens. Concerns regarding Edwards' coverage ability on third downs are likely why this deal came in so much lower than our projection, but Edwards is capable enough in a zone-heavy scheme not to be a complete liability.


3. Edge Ogbonnia Okoronkwo signs a three-year deal with the Cleveland Browns

  • Fit/need grade: A-
  • Value grade: A-
  • Contract: Three years, $19 million ($6.33 million per year), $12.5 million guaranteed
  • PFF projected contract: Two years, $13 million ($6.5 million per year), $6.75 million total guaranteed

The Browns needed to generate more pressure up front outside of the great Myles Garrett, and new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz brings aboard an extremely intriguing player in Okoronkwo, who came on very strong over the second half of the 2022 season. 

Okoronkwo settled into a 4-3 defensive front in Houston after beginning his career in a 3-4 with the Los Angeles Rams, and his production skyrocketed. From Week 7 through the end of the regular season, he ranked top-10 among edge defenders in pass-rush grade (88.5), pressure percentage (17.5%) and pass-rush win rate (22.9%).

This could prove to be an under-the-radar signing that ages quite well during the season.


4. T Jawaan Taylor signs four-year, $80 million deal with Kansas City Chiefs

  • Fit/need grade: B+
  • Value grade: B
  • Contract: Four years, $80 million, $60 million total guaranteed
  • PFF projected contract: Four years, $68 million, $42.5 million total guaranteed

Taylor has never missed a game in his NFL career and will still be just 25 years old for the first few months of the 2023 season.

Taylor has become one of the better pass protectors on the right side across the NFL, ranking top fifteen in pass-blocking grade (76.7) and pressure rate allowed (5.2%) among tackles on true pass sets in 2022. 

Taylor is expected to play left tackle for Kansas City, which is interesting because he does not have much experience on the blind side, even dating back to his college days at Florida. With Andrew Wylie following Eric Bienemy to the Washington Commanders, Kansas City still needs to address the right side, but they make their splash signing with a big deal after letting Orlando Brown Jr. also walk in free agency.


5. S Jessie Bates signs with Atlanta Falcons

  • Fit/need grade: A-
  • Value grade: B+
  • Contract: Four years, $64.02 million ($16 million per year), TBD guarantees
  • PFF projected contract: Five years, $80 million ($16 million per year), $43.75 million total guaranteed

Bates hasn’t hit the heights he did when he produced a 90.1 PFF grade back in 2020, but he has still been an above-average player at the position over the past two seasons. His 72.6 PFF coverage grade over the past two seasons ranks 30th among safeties, but when you factor in the impressive 2020 season, his three-year PFF coverage grade of 90.5 trails only Kevin Byard of the Tennessee Titans and Marcus Williams of the Baltimore Ravens.

Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot comes from a New Orleans Saints organization that always emphasized the safety position. His second-ever draft pick with the team was selecting safety Richie Grant No. 40 overall in 2021. Fontenot continues that tradition with a splash signing for the top safety on the market in Jessie Bates III.


 

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