NFL Free Agency Signings | The Winners – 2023

by Matt Babich · Best Ball Plays & Strategy

With the 2023 free agency activity fading into a flatline, it’s time to look back and review the NFL free agency signings to determine the winners of the free agency period. Every team strives to make the savviest moves for their roster, but many teams’ front office executives lack a clear vision and direction with their roster construction.

I’ll discuss the five teams that have made the most valuable additions to their roster over the past month.

5. Denver Broncos

Top Acquisitions

  1. RT Mike McGlinchey (SF) – 5 years, $87.5 million
  2. DE Zach Allen (ARI) – 3 years, $47.8 million
  3. G Ben Powers (BAL) – 4 years, $51.5 million

Entering his first season as head coach of the Denver Bronco, Sean Payton has one clear philosophy: leave behind no trace of Nathaniel Hackett’s “vision.” This venture started with re-tooling their below-average offensive line by making former-49er Mike McGlinchey the fifth-highest-paid right tackle and former Raven Ben Powers the 10th-highest-paid guard in the NFL.

Both of these two pristine blockers, who specialize in run blocking, perfectly fit the system Sean Payton set up in New Orleans and is building in Denver. Adding these pieces to left tackle Garrett Bolles (8th-highest paid LT) and recent third-round draft picks Lloyd Cushenberry and Quinn Meinerz will have Denver boasting a potential top-10 unit in the trenches this season.

In terms of offensive skill positions, the Broncos don’t need many significant additions. With that being said, adding Samaje Perine for less than $4 million is a fantastic value. He’ll provide more value while being paid less than Nyheim Hines, Gus Edwards, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Kareem Hunt. Recording 1.34 (No. 15) Yards per Route Run and 3.06 (No. 16) Yards Created per Touch, Perine is an underrated playmaker and pass-catching back. Because of that ability, and his desirable pass-blocking IQ, Perine significantly ate into Joe Mixon‘s playing time in Cincinnati. Sean Payton will be implementing his two-back system and will continue to allow Perine to be a nuisance to fantasy managers.

Loss of Dre’Mont Jones

Following the loss of DE Dre’Mont Jones, the Broncos went out and acquired DE Zach Allen from Arizona to fill the void. Allen came alive in his fourth season at Arizona, setting a career-high six (No. 17) sacks and 16 (No. 20) Assists. Jones finished with uninspiring production over the past two seasons for Denver, moving on to Allen gives them a fresh start at the position and will save them $1.7 million per season.

4. San Francisco 49ers

Top Acquisitions

  1. DT Javon Hargrave (PHI) – 4 years, $84 million
  2. CB Isaiah Oliver (ATL) – 2 years, $6.8 million
  3. C Jake Brendel (SF) – 4 years, $16.5 million

San Francisco’s ferocious rush defense grew even stronger with the signing of star DT Javon Hargrave. The former Eagle is an emphatic disruptor of the run game, recording at least 33 solo tackles in three of his last four seasons. Compiling 25 sacks since 2020, he’ll provide a boost to their No. 31-ranked pressure rate in the passing game as well. The 49ers maintain their dedication to building an elite defense that creates a positive field position to prop up the slow-moving, run-heavy offense.

They addressed a key loss in starting cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (who signed with Detroit) by signing former Falcon Isaiah Oliver. Missing five weeks with extended knee rehabilitation following his 2021 season-ending injury, he performed moderately in a smaller sample. He only logged a 50-percent Snap Share or better three times, but he logged a positive Coverage Rating and limited quarterbacks to an 85 Passer Rating when targeted. He’s a downgrade from Moseley but will offer crucial depth as the 49ers will be spending draft capital on the position.

The biggest loss for the 49ers, and why they’re only ranked No. 4 on this list, is the departure of right tackle Mike McGlinchey. San Francisco has yet to address this hole in their roster as they’ll likely opt to wait until the draft. They did retain an important starter on their offensive line in center Jake Brendel. He played over 1,000 snaps for the first time in his career last season, allowing just one sack. The 49ers boasted a top-10 unit last season, and they can again if they find a quality replacement for McGlinchey.

3. Seattle Seahawks

Top Acquisitions

  1. FS Julian Love (NYG) – 2 years, $12 million
  2. ILB Bobby Wagner (LAR) – 1 year, $7 million
  3. DE Dre’Mont Jones (DEN) – 2 years, $51.5 million

The Seattle Seahawks are quickly building upon their 2022 success. In particular, they addressed glaring holes in their defense. The Seahawks were the definition of a run-funnel defense, allowing the No. 3-most rushing attempts and rushing yards while also allowing 150.2 yards per game on the ground. Accordingly, they addressed their biggest need by signing former Bronco Dre’Mont Jones, former Packer Jarran Reed, and long-time Seahawk Bobby Wagner to bolster the Front-7. Back in 2021, the Seahawks boasted the No. 8 best rushing DVOA (per Football Outsiders). These key additions will bring them closer to achieving that level of dominance once more.

Seattle also filled a significant gap by signing former-Giant free safety Julian Love. Love called the defensive plays for his former team, and Pete Carroll was overjoyed to sign a clubhouse leader who could provide a significant boost to the run game as well as the passing game. Safeties as dynamic and intelligent as Love don’t hit the market often, which makes this quite a significant signing. Assuming they address their cornerback concerns, their defense could make a complete 180-degree turn this season.

Finally, the Seahawks added linebacker depth by signing former Steeler Devin Bush. The once No. 10-overall pick looks for a fresh start in Seattle as he comes off of his third-consecutive season recording under 60 tackles. 

2. Chicago Bears

Top Acquisitions

  1. ILB Tremaine Edmunds (BUF) – 4 years, $72 million
  2. LB T.J. Edwards (PHI) – 3 years, $19.5 million
  3. WR D.J. Moore (CAR) – Acquired via trade

At long last, the Chicago Bears are once again a team with a vision. GM Ryan Poles wasted no time in putting his vision to work in Year 2, starting with the trading of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to the Carolina Panthers. In exchange for the No. 1 pick, Chicago received a plethora of draft capital and alpha wideout D.J. Moore. The move to acquire Moore rather than another future first was a bright one. This took an understanding that the window on Fields’ rookie contract is quickly closing, leaving little time to put together a competitive roster.

After trading away Roquan Smith, the Bears wielded a decimated linebacking core. They addressed this by bringing in two electric playmakers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards. Chicago viewed Edmunds as an upgrade from Smith since he was playing out-of-position in the Bears’ defensive formation, while Edmunds is a true fit. Acquiring Edwards at an Average Annual Value of $6.5 million is a colossal value for a linebacker who recorded 125 (No. 2) Solo Tackles last season. Both of these moves were pivotal improvements for their defense.

Finally, Chicago continued their investment in their offensive line. The expectation was that they’d come away with a tackle, but they settled for guard Nate Davis. Likely moving Davis to the left side, he and Tevin Jenkins make for a sturdy interior offensive line duo. They have plenty of cash and draft capital to address their tackle needs later in free agency or (more likely) the draft. 

1. Detroit Lions

Top Acquisitions

  1. CB Cam Sutton (PIT) – 3 years, $33 million
  2. S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (PHI) – 1 year, $6.5 million
  3. CB Emmanuel Moseley (SF) – 1 year, $6 million

After exceeding expectations and closing with their first winning record since 2017, the Lions have doubled down on their near-playoff roster. The Lions kept together a solid core of talent, retaining defensive free agents Alex Anzalone and John Cominsky without losing any major producers. Also, they made waves to improve their No. 22 best Defensive Pass DVOA by replacing CB Mike Hughes with Emmanuel Moseley, bringing in Cam Sutton to lead the cornerback unit, and stealing C.J. Gardner Johnson from the Eagles on team-friendly deals. The trio of secondary improvements will only cost the Lions $12.1 million in 2023. 

Their biggest loss was that of Jamaal Williams and D.J. Chark. Detroit went out and upgraded their RB1 to David Montgomery who, recording a 34.5-percent (No. 9) Juke Rate and 2.79 (No. 27) Yards Created per Touch, is a much more elusive and versatile back. Further, contributing at least 1.30 Yards per Route Run in each year of his career, he is far more usable in the passing game and could allow Detroit to better disguise their play-calling this season. The Lions were correct to move on from Chark. With Jameson Williams nearing a full season past his knee rehabilitation, he’s ready to fully take on the deep-threat/flanker role.

All of this being said, the Lions still have about $25 million in available cap space and can save an additional $21 million by moving on from Jared Goff this offseason. With three first-round picks over the next two seasons, the Lions are in a favorable position to bring Lamar Jackson to the Motor City (Should the team have enough money available for escrow).