NFL News & Analysis

2024 NFL Free Agency: One positive takeaway for all 32 NFL teams

2WGKPGD Washington Commanders new head coach Dan Quinn, center, with Commanders managing partner Josh Harris, left, and general manager Adam Peters, right, speaks during an NFL football news conference at Commanders Park in Ashburn, Va., Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

• A new outlook in Atlanta: Kirk Cousins at quarterback changes everything for the Falcons, who already have elite playmakers in place.

• Dan Quinn is building out his defense in Washington: Bobby Wagner, Frankie Luvu, Jeremy Chinn and Dorance Armstrong, among others, were brought in to fix a defense that allowed the most points in the NFL in 2023.

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Some NFL franchises have made bigger splashes during this free agency period than others, but they all have something positive they can glean from it since the new league year started.

We’ll break down one of those positive developments here for each team.


ARZ | ATL | BLT | BUF | CAR | CIN | CHI | CLE | DEN | DAL | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LVR | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

Arizona Cardinals: Added veteran depth on defense

The Cardinals posted the lowest team defense grade in the NFL by a wide margin in 2023. It was also an incredibly young defense, with rookies or second-year players combining to play more than 3,100 snaps.

While they didn’t sign any superstars in free agency, they did add several useful veterans who should take some pressure off such a young group. Defensive tackles Justin Jones and Bilal Nichols have experience as good run defenders. Linebacker Mack Wilson had an excellent 2023 on limited snaps. Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting brings versatility and ball skills to the secondary.

Arizona will look to the draft for defensive stars, but the front office did a nice job of adding viable NFL experience to a defense that needs substantial improvement.

Atlanta Falcons: Signed Kirk Cousins

The Atlanta Falcons finished last in the NFL in passing grade in 2023. Kirk Cousins finished seventh. Assuming Cousins is healthy, the magnitude of improvement to the Falcons’ passing game cannot be overstated.

Pass protection shouldn’t be an issue with Atlanta’s stellar offensive line. They have dynamic skill players in Bijan Robinson, Drake London and Kyle Pitts. They could potentially draft another to add to that mix. Cousins is the centerpiece, though, and his presence immediately makes them the favorite to win the NFC South.


Baltimore Ravens: Created a backfield that is an opposing defense's worst nightmare

Lamar Jackson is arguably the most dynamic runner we’ve ever seen at quarterback. Derrick Henry is likely a future Hall of Famer after carrying the Tennessee Titans on his back for eight seasons. Now, they join forces as Henry looks to prove he still has plenty in the tank entering his 30s.

If 2023 is any indication, Henry will be just fine. He finished the year with an 86.8 rushing grade, ranking sixth, and led the league in yards after contact during the regular season despite the struggles of Tennessee’s offensive line. Henry figures to fit in seamlessly and shouldn’t have to bear the entire load once Keaton Mitchell returns from his knee injury.

Buffalo Bills: Held the defensive line together

The Bills didn’t sign many external free agents, though Curtis Samuel figures to bring some juice to the passing game. The team re-signed two key defensive free agents, however, providing at least some stability to a unit that struggled last season.

DaQuan Jones was the Bills’ highest-graded defensive lineman in 2023. His pass-rush grade has improved in each of the past three seasons, and the only thing that derailed him in 2023 was a pectoral injury that cost him 10 games. His presence inside is massive for a defensive tackle group that ranked last in the NFL in run-defense grade and in the bottom 10 overall.

A.J. Epenesa also returns as a disruptive edge rusher who ranked just outside the top 30 in pass-rush grade. He also tied for the NFL lead with six batted passes. He could be in line to start opposite Greg Rousseau after Leonard Floyd‘s departure.

Carolina Panthers: Provided Bryce Young with a chance to succeed

Carolina spent a ton of money improving at guard after that group posted a league-worst overall grade in 2023. The Panthers needed interior protection, especially for the diminutive Bryce Young. Young was pressured on more than 40% of his dropbacks last year. He stands no chance if that continues.

Former Dolphin Robert Hunt takes over at right guard after posting the sixth-best overall grade among qualified guards last season. He and Chris Lindstrom were the only two players at the position to rank inside the top 10 in pass-blocking and run-blocking grade.

Ex-Seahawks guard Damien Lewis arrives to fill the void on the left side. Lewis was better in 2022 than he was this past season, but he was a serviceable starter in each of his four years with the Seahawks. The Panthers still need to find someone to play center, but they are more than set at guard.

Chicago Bears: Constructed a roster that is ready for a rookie quarterback

The Bears came into this offseason with plenty of resources and made the most of them. They’ve acquired players at nearly every position on the roster and are creating a very nice situation for a rookie quarterback, presumably Caleb Williams, to walk into.

The most notable transaction was the trade acquisition of wide receiver Keenan Allen in exchange for a 2024 fourth-round pick. That’s a tremendous value for a player who ranked 11th at his position in receiving grade in 2023. His presence shouldn’t dissuade the Bears from taking another receiver early in the draft, either, as Allen has played primarily in the slot over the past six seasons.

The Bears also beefed up their offense by adding running back D’Andre Swift, tight end Gerald Everett and some offensive line depth. Their defense is improving, as well, and they could be in a rare position to have playoff expectations despite taking a quarterback with the first overall pick in the draft.

Cincinnati Bengals: Majorly improved at safety

The Bengals’ safeties ranked last in the NFL in overall grade and coverage grade in 2023. Rookie Jordan Battle did play very well down the stretch after earning an expanded role, but Cincinnati had to add to a group that allowed too many explosive plays. They managed to sign Geno Stone away from the division rival Ravens and reconnected with old friend Vonn Bell after he spent a year in Carolina.

Stone led all safeties in interceptions in 2023 and finished the year with an outstanding 85.3 coverage grade. Bell didn’t see the same success in Carolina, but his familiarity with the Bengals’ defense should make for an easy transition. Cincinnati suddenly turned its biggest weakness into a strength.

Cleveland Browns: Attacked their weaknesses

Two glaring weaknesses stood out for the Browns in 2023: a lack of receiving threats and poor run defense. They’ve made a couple of shrewd moves to remedy those issues.

First was their acquisition of Jerry Jeudy from Denver in exchange for minor draft capital. Jeudy hasn’t lived up to his first-round billing but can perform well when schemed open and finished 2022 as a top-25 receiver. A change of scenery and usage in Cleveland could create a bounce-back opportunity for Jeudy.

As for the run defense, the Browns lost linebackers Sione Takitaki and Anthony Walker in free agency but picked up a very good one in Jordan Hicks. Hicks finished last season with a 74.2 run-defense grade that would’ve led all Browns linebackers. He now reunites with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, under whom he played his best football in Philadelphia.

Dallas Cowboys: Signed Eric Kendricks

As of this writing, Eric Kendricks is the only external free agent that Dallas has signed this offseason. The Cowboys simply haven’t had the salary cap space to make significant additions. Kendricks’ addition is a good one, though, after he initially was expected to sign with San Francisco.

Kendricks has long been a solid run defender and continued that trend this past season in Los Angeles. His 73.6 run-defense grade led all Chargers linebackers and placed ahead of all Cowboys linebackers, as well.

Dallas had been running its defense with smaller, hybrid-type players at the position, but new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer can look to a familiar player in Kendricks to spearhead his linebacker group as he once did in Minnesota.

Denver Broncos: They should be fine at safety

It’s never easy to let go of a franchise stalwart like Justin Simmons, but the Broncos are in the middle of a hard reset after the disastrously short Russell Wilson era. While Simmons' leadership will certainly be missed, he posted his lowest grade since 2018 this past season and his price tag didn’t correlate to his level of play.

As Denver searched for cheaper options at safety, they managed to re-sign P.J. Locke, who played reasonably well alongside Simmons last season. They also brought in Brandon Jones from Miami. Jones broke out last season with a 75.4 overall grade that surpassed his previous career high by more than 14 points. He was also the 13th-highest-graded safety in the NFL from Week 12 onward.

Detroit Lions: Loaded up on defense

Despite the conversation about the Lions' fourth-down decisions, the real reason they didn’t make the Super Bowl is that their defense simply wasn’t good enough. Improving that unit has been a priority so far, and they are off to a fine start.

Carlton Davis III and Amik Robertson were brought in to improve the Lions' 30th-ranked coverage unit. Davis was a Super Bowl champion in Tampa Bay and has several years of solid, if unspectacular, coverage play under his belt. Robertson had an up-and-down tenure in Las Vegas but carried a top-20 coverage grade after Antonio Pierce took over as the Raiders’ head coach.

Lastly, Detroit added a monster in the middle by signing D.J. Reader. Reader’s 2023 season was cut short by injury, but he was still a top-15 defensive tackle. He showcased pass-rush skills during his time in Cincinnati that turned him into a near-elite force in the middle. Reader will complement Aidan Hutchinson and Alim McNeill extremely well.

Green Bay Packers: Swung for the fences

Jordan Love’s contract is a huge bargain heading into next season. Contrary to their usual frugality, the Packers decided to aim high in free agency, adding a couple of impact players in the process.

Josh Jacobs arrives from Las Vegas after a tumultuous season that involved a contract dispute and a late start. Jacobs, as well as the Raiders, never found his footing. However, he was the best running back in the league in 2022 with multiple prior years of success behind that. His resurgence could put Green Bay’s offense in elite territory.

The Packers entered the new league year with a desperate need for an impact safety. They found the perfect player in Xavier McKinney. He should fit seamlessly into new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley’s system after leading all safeties in coverage grade this past season.

Houston Texans: Created a potentially scary pass rush

Will Anderson Jr. was as good as advertised in his debut season, and the Texans set out this offseason to surround him with dynamic veterans who can attract protection and free him up for more production.

Houston first made a big splash by signing Danielle Hunter. He finished the 2023 regular season with 80 pressures, the ninth most among edge players, on the way to his fourth Pro Bowl appearance. They also added Denico Autry, who led Tennessee in pressures in each of the past two seasons. Assuming Anderson develops further, the Texans could have an elite pass-rush unit in 2024.

Indianapolis Colts: Retained their best perimeter players

The Colts still have needs at wide receiver and cornerback heading into the draft, but at least they managed to retain their best player in each of those units.

Michael Pittman Jr.’s contract extension is the headliner after he finished the 2023 regular season with the fourth-most receptions in the NFL and an 80.0 receiving grade. The Colts have some talented young players, but they could not afford to lose Pittman as they develop Anthony Richardson.

Kenny Moore II has long been an underrated unit at a severely underrated position. He deservingly reset the slot cornerback market after posting a team-leading 79.3 coverage grade. The Colts still have to find help on the outside, but locking Moore in for the next couple of years was a smart move.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Added an elite interior pass rusher

Arik Armstead posted a career-high 86.5 pass-rush grade in 2023 that tied him with then-49ers teammate Javon Hargrave for fifth among qualified defensive tackles. He showed up when it mattered most, as well, tallying 16 pressures in three playoff games — including a sack of Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl.

Armstead joins a Jaguars defensive tackle unit that ranked 31st in the NFL in pass-rush grade in 2023. They also ranked 31st in pass-rush win rate. Despite entering his 10th NFL season, Armstead is still just 30 years old, so he should have plenty of production left in him.

Kansas City Chiefs: Kept the core intact and added a high-upside receiver

Above all else, the Chiefs had to re-sign future Hall of Fame defensive tackle Chris Jones. Jones is now arguably the league’s best interior defender with Aaron Donald having retired. They also managed to keep several other defensive contributors, though L'Jarius Sneed’s status remains in question.

The defensive core remains intact for Kansas City, and they also addressed their biggest deficiency: wide receiver. Marquise Brown signed a one-year prove-it deal to revitalize his career. It’s unfair to judge Brown based on his 2023 production, with backup quarterbacks throwing most of his targets. His season was also cut short by a heel injury. Brown’s career-low 68.1 receiving grade still would’ve easily outpaced all Chiefs wide receivers other than Rashee Rice last season.

Las Vegas Raiders: Signed the best available defensive tackle

Chris Jones was never realistically leaving Kansas City, so Christian Wilkins became the best defensive tackle on the free-agent market after Miami declined to franchise tag him. He joins what was previously a middling defensive tackle group, one that should now take pressure off Maxx Crosby.

Wilkins racked up a career-high 61 pressures and 10 sacks in 2023. He is a balanced player who offers value in the pass and run games. Wilkins joins a quietly ascending defense that ranked seventh in overall grade after Antonio Pierce was promoted to head coach.

Los Angeles Chargers: Retained Alohi Gilman

The Chargers didn’t have much room to operate in free agency, given their horrendous cap situation. Franchise stalwarts Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler have all departed as the team starts a rebuild.

One player they did manage to retain is safety Alohi Gilman. He signed what will be a bargain contract if he resumes his 2023 production. Gilman finished the year with the seventh-best overall grade among safeties, along with a top-five coverage grade. Young, inexpensive players like Gilman will be crucial to the Chargers’ rebuild.

Los Angeles Rams: The offensive line appears to be set

The Rams' offensive line played surprisingly well in 2023. The team ranked fifth in the NFL in run-blocking grade. Their pass blocking vastly improved after a poor start and ranked seventh in the NFL after Week 5. Retaining right guard Kevin Dotson is a huge win, and adding Detroit’s Jonah Jackson is a better move than the surface-level numbers would suggest.

Jackson has been one of the league’s best blockers in man run schemes. The Rams lead the league in man running plays over the past two years as Sean McVay has leaned away from his usual zone tactics. Jackson also likely pushes Steve Avila to center, where he played the majority of his snaps in college. Jackson is a better fit with the Rams than any other team in the NFL.

Miami Dolphins: Kendall Fuller solidifies the cornerback room

Despite the presence of big names like Jalen Ramsey and Xavien Howard, Miami cornerbacks struggled throughout last season, earning the fifth-worst coverage grade in the NFL. They struggled mightily down the stretch, ranking last in the league in coverage grade after Week 12.

Kendall Fuller arrives from Washington looking to stabilize that unit. He’s been incredibly consistent and versatile throughout his career. He was a top-10 cornerback last season and, amazingly, ranks behind only Sauce Gardner in overall grade since 2021. Jalen Ramsey ranks third in that same span. The Dolphins could have an elite cornerback duo in 2024.

Minnesota Vikings: The defense is starting to take shape

The Vikings lost their best pass rusher, Danielle Hunter, to the Houston Texans, but they set out to make their defense more well-rounded. They have certainly done so by signing Jonathan Greenard, Blake Cashman and Andrew Van Ginkel, among others.

Greenard slides directly into Hunter’s defensive end spot after leading the Texans in sacks last season. Cashman also arrives from Houston after posting the eighth-best overall grade among linebackers in 2023. Van Ginkel reunites with Brian Flores as an outstanding standup edge rusher who can drop into coverage. The Vikings have added quality and quantity to an ascending defense, allowing them to home in on quarterbacks in the draft.

New England Patriots: Retained key pieces in the trenches

The Patriots are starting a rebuild, but at least the cupboard isn’t bare in the trenches. They re-signed Mike Onwenu to keep the right side of the offensive line stabilized. They need a long-term left tackle, but Chukwuma Okorafor was a shrewd signing to potentially fill that spot. They should be set on the interior with Cole Strange, David Andrews and Sidy Sow.

Defensively, New England retained a couple of key edge players without breaking the bank. Anfernee Jennings has blossomed into an excellent run defender, ranking fifth among all edge defenders with an 85.9 run-defense grade in 2023. Josh Uche chose to remain in Foxborough despite garnering bigger offers to leave. While he struggled in 2023, he has shown flashes of being a dominant situational pass rusher.

New Orleans Saints: Added linebacker depth

The Saints don’t have much cap space to work with, so they will be hoping that many of their improvements come through the draft. They did manage to sign a two-time Super Bowl champion linebacker who could either add depth or potentially compete for a starting role.

Willie Gay struggled in coverage this past season but posted a career-high run-defense grade during the Chiefs’ second consecutive championship run. He could compete with Pete Werner, who has struggled in two seasons since a stellar debut campaign, for a starting role. Otherwise, he provides nice depth as a solid contributor with a ton of postseason experience.

New York Giants: The defensive line could be elite

Dexter Lawrence is one of the best players in football, and Kayvon Thibodeaux has a ton of talent. The Giants still needed a bookend to alleviate the onus on him to be the premier pass rusher, though.

The team subsequently took a massive swing on Brian Burns. At his peak, Burns is a durable, elite pass rusher capable of taking over games. He just needs to play at that level more consistently to justify his massive new contract. One thing working in his favor is new defensive coordinator Shane Bowen’s scheme, which should allow Burns to play more often from a three-point stance as opposed to being an outside linebacker.

New York Jets: Plugged offensive holes

The Jets came into the offseason with major holes at three offensive line spots and at wide receiver. They’ve miraculously managed to fill those positions and have greatly improved their flexibility heading into the draft.

New York has added 2023’s best pass protector (Tyron Smith), the third-best right tackle in the NFL (Morgan Moses), the Ravens’ leader in snaps played (John Simpson) and a legitimate No. 2 receiver (Mike Williams) for pennies on the dollar.

With these positions now filled, the Jets could still look to add offensive line depth and a slot receiver. The real X-factor for their 2024 season is now the health and production of Aaron Rodgers.

Philadelphia Eagles: The EDGE group is still stacked

There are still trade rumors surrounding Haason Reddick, but fellow defensive end Josh Sweat appears to be staying in Philadelphia for one more season. Brandon Graham also chose to hold off on retirement and is still an excellent rotational player at 36 years old.

Bryce Huff was the team's big addition to the edge group after posting top-10 marks in pass-rush grade and pass-rush win rate. The team also added Julian Okwara and Zack Baun to round out the depth alongside 2023 first-round pick Nolan Smith. The Eagles will enter 2024 with at least six contributors off the edge, which is a pipe dream for most teams.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Attacked huge weaknesses on both sides of the ball

The Steelers finished 2023 with major deficiencies at quarterback, along the offensive line and at linebacker. They’ve managed to add productive players at two of those three spots in free agency.

The quarterback room is the big story, as Russell Wilson and Justin Fields replace the previous triumvirate of Kenny Pickett, Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph. Wilson is presumed to be the starter and played good football last year, finishing 18th among qualified quarterbacks with a 77.5 overall grade. Fields’ exploits as a runner are well-documented, and he’s as talented a backup as a team could have.

The Steelers also added a leader on the defensive side. Patrick Queen arrives from Baltimore as a young, ascending player who will immediately improve a subpar linebacker group. Since Week 5 of 2022, Queen ranks 14th among qualifying linebackers in PFF grade. During that span, Steelers linebackers own the third-worst overall grade in the NFL.

San Francisco 49ers: The pass rush should still be elite

Despite losing Arik Armstead and Chase Young, the 49ers have an excellent pass-rush foundation with Nick Bosa and Javon Hargrave. They’ve managed to navigate those losses by adding some solid players during the free agency period.

Two key acquisitions were Leonard Floyd and Maliek Collins. Floyd, a free agent who played in Buffalo last year, has racked up at least nine sacks in four straight seasons and still has a nice burst off the edge heading into his age-32 season.

Collins was acquired from Houston for minimal draft compensation. He tied his career high with 48 pressures last season, earning a solid 68.4 pass-rush grade along the way.

Seattle Seahawks: The front seven has some hope

Although the Seahawks' pass-rush and coverage units finished inside the top 10 in grading in 2023, their run defense failed them down the stretch. Their best run defender, Bobby Wagner, left to reunite with Dan Quinn in Washington, so the team had major work to do with their defensive front.

On the bright side, they were able to retain Leonard Williams, who was easily their best defensive tackle. Williams posted a team-best 78.4 defensive grade after arriving in Week 9. Signing Bills linebacker Tyrel Dodson could also prove to be a shrewd move. Dodson took over the starting role in Buffalo after Matt Milano was injured, and he posted a league-leading 90.2 overall grade.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They get to run it back

The Buccaneers were staring at the incredibly difficult task of retaining their Pro Bowl quarterback, future Hall of Fame receiver and best defensive player in the same offseason. They managed to get it done.

Baker Mayfield returns on a fair deal commensurate with his performance last season. Mike Evans will aim to keep his 1,000-yard season streak alive for at least two more years in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers had to stall by using the franchise tag on Antoine Winfield Jr., though. Winfield’s and Tristan Wirfs’ extension negotiations will be major storylines in Tampa moving forward.

Tennessee Titans: Added talent across the board

The Titans were incredibly active in free agency, adding talent at several key spots.

They handed Calvin Ridley a large contract to form a formidable wide receiver pair with DeAndre Hopkins. They replaced Derrick Henry with Tony Pollard, who had an underrated 2023 in which he posted an 84.7 rushing grade. They also upgraded their pass protection at center by signing Lloyd Cushenberry III. He finished last season ranked third among qualified centers in pass-blocking grade.

The Titans also added a couple of key defensive players in cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. Both are talented players looking to bounce back with a new organization. Tennessee still has a lot of work to do, but they’ve so far added enough talent to remain reasonably competitive.

Washington Commanders: Dan Quinn is building his defense

The prevailing story in Washington moving forward will be their future at the quarterback position. While the team signed a few offensive veterans, Dan Quinn’s primary goal was to fix a defense that allowed the most points in the NFL in 2023

Bobby Wagner, Frankie Luvu, Jeremy Chinn and Dorance Armstrong, among others, were brought in to jumpstart that process. Wagner and Luvu, along with Jamin Davis, could form a very good linebacker group. Chinn fits Quinn’s mold as a hybrid safety who can play multiple roles. Armstrong follows Quinn over from Dallas as a talented rotational edge defender.

There’s plenty more work to be done before Washington’s defense becomes a top-tier unit, but Dan Quinn and Adam Peters are off to a good start.


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