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NFL Free Agency 2023: Saquon Barkley and Geno Smith top the buyer beware list

East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) warms up before a game against the Chicago Bears at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

NFL free agency is theoretically a way for teams to add proven talent and avoid the minefield that is the NFL Draft. By signing players with a proven track record at the pro level, teams can avoid uncertainty, albeit at the increased cost they have to pay for that assurance.

The problem is that differences in scheme, supporting cast and environment — as well as a whole host of other factors — can influence that level of play, and sometimes players who once looked like a sure thing end up being free-agent mistakes.

So, which players should teams be wary of in 2023?

Here is a list of buyer-beware free agents — players who are either hitting free agency coming off a career year that may not be repeated or may inflate their price tag too much; or players hitting free agency coming off a down year that may point to problems to come.

PFF's free-agent rankings by position:

QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | IOL | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S

Players coming off a career year

RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Barkley is one of the most talented running backs in the league. That was true when he entered the draft and remains true now, but one truth that has not changed over that time is how little value even an elite running back can bring to an offense.

Barkley is hitting free agency coming off a season in which he scored 12 rushing touchdowns and hit almost 1,500 yards, averaging 2.75 yards after contact per carry and breaking 41 tackles in the process.

At 26 years old when free agency hits, he has set himself up perfectly to be the highest-paid back in the league, but that’s a contract no NFL team should want to hand out. Allocating that kind of money to any running back is just not good roster construction, and general manager Joe Schoen has hinted as much with postseason comments.

Read more: The top running backs set for free agency

RB Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

Another running back who has put himself in prime position for a big payday is Josh Jacobs, the NFL’s rushing champion in 2022.

The Raiders back finished the year with 1,653 rushing yards, averaging a massive 3.4 yards after contact per carry over 339 carries. Not only that, but Jacobs also broke 90 tackles over the year, the highest figure PFF has ever charted over a regular season.

Most broken tackles over a season (2006-present; regular season only)
Rank Name Season Rush Attempts Missed tackles forced
1 Josh Jacobs 2022 339 90
2 Marshawn Lynch 2014 280 88
3 Nick Chubb 2022 302 83
4 Marshawn Lynch 2013 301 75
4 Derrick Henry 2020 378 75
6 Derrick Henry 2022 349 69
6 Josh Jacobs 2019 242 69
8 Dalvin Cook 2020 312 68
9 DeMarco Murray 2014 392 67
10 Nick Chubb 2019 298 66
10 Jonathan Taylor 2021 332 66

In addition to the pitfalls of paying a running back big money covered in the Barkley section, Jacobs also saw a huge workload in 2022, setting up the possibility of decline due to the attritional nature of the position.

Jacobs had the kind of season that deserves a big financial reward, but any team ready to pay it should be wary.

Read more: The top running backs set for free agency

T Kaleb McGary, Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons fielded the league's most run-heavy offense this season, calling a run play on 50.1% of their snaps. They were the only team in the league to run the ball more than they passed it.

That makes life easier for their offensive linemen, as does the rushing threat a quarterback like Marcus Mariota poses. McGary earned an 86.6 overall grade and a 91.6 run-blocking grade this season — but before committing big money to him, teams will have to ask themselves how much of that was created by one of the most unusual offenses in the league.

McGary's PFF pass-blocking grade came in at just 66.9, and he allowed six sacks despite playing in the league’s most run-heavy attack. That’s something that could easily be exposed in a tougher offense somewhere else next season.

Read more: 2023 NFL Free Agent Rankings — Offensive tackles

QB Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks

The season Smith just had was remarkable. He passed for over 4,500 yards and threw 32 touchdowns with just 12 interceptions. It was most notable because of just how far it exceeded expectations, but it’s impossible to miss how far it fell away as the season wore on.

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