This article is part of our NFL Free Agency series.
We'll take a slightly different approach to the free agency recap for Wednesday, the first official day of the free agency and the 2023 NFL league year. Let's focus on the moves that are most impactful for fantasy first, and then I'll list all the other signings at the bottom. Adios, legal tampering period. Hola, actual signings.
- QB Aaron Rodgers confirms he intends to play for the Jets and now is waiting for the team to work out a trade with Green Bay.
Speaking on the Pat McAfee Show, per usual, Rodgers said the Packers informed him in January that he was welcome back. A few minutes later, Rodgers said it was clear the team wanted to move forward with Jordan Love... a sentiment that apparently made him switch from "90 percent retired" to wanting to play for the Jets. If all of this seems contradictory and/or self-indulgent... well, yeah, it is.
Regardless of what actually happened, Rodgers is highly likely to suit up for the Jets in 2023, which is what we care about for fantasy. He wants the team to do him a solid and push the trade through even if the Jets aren't offering that much; the Packers presumably aren't thrilled with that idea, though Rodgers might be right about at least one aspect of this (that it's the right thing to do for a franchise legend).
Anyway, we know Rodgers will be throwing passes to Garrett Wilson and Allen Lazard, whereas Corey Davis is likely to be released and Elijah Moore has been oft-mentioned as a trade candidate (possibly part of the trade compensation headed to Green Bay?). Additionally, the team has Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah at tight end, though neither played well last year after signing big contracts in the offseason.
I still want to see how the dust settles before making any fantasy proclamations, but my initial take is that Garrett Wilson should do quite well with the upgrade to Rodgers as the clear No. 1 target for a good quarterback. From a non-fantasy standpoint, I think this puts the Jets around fourth or fifth-best in the AFC, still well south of Buffalo, Kansas City and Cincinnati. They don't have a great offensive line, and relying on defensive dominance from one year carrying over to the next is a shaky proposition.
2. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster signs with the Patriots.
Initial reports put the contract at three years and $33 million, which is quite similar to what the Raiders just gave former Patriots Jakobi Meyers. Both receivers turn 27 in November, and both primarily have played the slot but also have a good bit of experience working outside. Meyers is slightly taller (6-2 vs. 6-1), while Smith-Schuster is both heavier and strong.
I'll almost certainly have Smith-Schuster ranked higher than Meyers, hoping a new coaching staff can help him recapture the early career form that was aided by Antonio Brown's presence (and a pass-heavy, uptempo Pittsburgh offense). But realistically, both are probably in the WR3/4 pot, as even a year with Patrick Mahomes wasn't enough to get Smith-Schuster back to fantasy prominence. Mac Jones, assuming he's the starting QB, will obviously be a huge downgrade from Mahomes, but there's also the possibility of more targets in an offense with Hunter Henry instead of Travis Kelce at tight end.
3. RB Ezekiel Elliott released by Dallas.
Elliott should find a role elsewhere, but I think his best chance at eeking out an RB2 season was staying in Dallas where he has friends throughout the organization and a strong offensive line. Maybe he finds another landing spot as friendly, but there aren't many that come to mind, especially with Dallas looking more favorable after Tony Pollard's late-season leg injury. Reports suggest Pollard should be fine for camp, and he's the unquestioned lead back after getting a franchise tag. The Cowboys do need to add another body or three in the backfield, with Malik Davis being the only other RB currently under contract.
4. Miles Sanders signs with the Panthers.
Initial reports have it as a four-year, $25 million contract, which seems like a lot for a guy who was largely defined by fumbles, drops and inconsistency until last season, though he's always been good as a pure runner. Of course, the initial reports won't mean much if it's the type of deal with only 40 percent guaranteed and well under half the money in the first two seasons.
Still, Sanders is almost definitely getting a lot more money than the RBs listed below, e.g. Jamaal Williams, Alexander Mattison, James Robinson. It's lead-back money, and Sanders is definitely better than Chuba Hubbard, who has all the same problems with inconsistency and butterfingers but without the speed and agility Sanders brings to the table. The Panthers' O-line looks solid behind a pair of talented OTs, so this could be a somewhat acceptable offense if their No. 1 pick is a hit and they do something about the desolate WR room.
- Baker Mayfield - LAR > TB
- Jacoby Brissett - CLE > WAS
- PJ Walker - CAR > CHI
- Kyle Allen - HOU > BUF
- Jamaal Williams - DET > NO
- Alexander Mattison (re-signed)
- James Robinson - NYJ > NE
- Justice Hill (re-signed)
- Myles Gaskin (re-signed)
Williams was done in Detroit after the David Montgomery signing Tuesday, and he could now enter a similar committee with Alvin Kamara instead of D'Andre Swift. Elsewhere, James Robinson could be the No. 2 back in New England with Damien Harris still unsigned (and likely headed to a new team). The Pats apparently weren't content to roll with 2022 draft picks Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris behind Rhamondre Stevenson.
Then there's Alexander Mattson, whose fantasy value hinges on a potential Dalvin Cook trade. Mattison is an average backup who lacks both vision and receiving skills, but the Vikings have always fed him heavily when Cook is out, which created some perception that he's a legit lead back in the making. NFL teams disagreed, apparently, forcing Mattison to return to Minnesota for backup money.
- Ashton Dulin (re-signed)
- Deonte Harty - NO > BUF
- Hayden Hurst - CIN > CAR
If nothing else, Hurst should have a chance to become one of the top targets for Carolina's rookie QB. The WR room is sparse and the other TEs (Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble) have shown next to nothing as receiving weapons.
- LT Orlando Brown - KC > CIN
- RT Riley Reiff - MIN > NE
- C Tyler Larsen (re-signed)
Even with the massive, $31 million signing bonus, this seems like a huge win for the Bengals. Granted, the huge bonus and low salaries mean Brown might hold out in two years if he continues to be a monster. And for the people trying to say Jawaan Taylor is a better player than Brown... delusional or blind. The Chiefs are a great organization; that doesn't mean everything they do is perfect.
- FA CB Darius Slay - RELEASED by PHI, reportedly will re-sign
- S Jordan Poyer (re-signed)
- LB Lavonte David (re-signed)
- DT Fletcher Cox (re-signed)
- LB Cole Holcomb - WAS > PIT
- DT Khalen Saunders - KC > NO
- DT Nathan Shepherd - NYJ > NO
- DT Sheldon Rankins - NYJ > HOU
- DE Clelin Ferrell - LV > SF
- DT Taven Bryan - CLE > IND
- S DeShon Elliott - DET > MIA
- S Juan Thornhill - KC > CLE
Most of the guys listed above are backups or low-end starters, but the Bills, Eagles and Bucs re-signed key veterans and the Steelers got an underrated linebacker who apparently is quite popular with his former teammates in Washington.
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