2023 NFL Free Agency: Grading all the major transactions
Now that the NFL’s legal tampering period has begun, the vapor-deals for impending free agents, who can officially sign their contracts when the new league year begins at 4:00 p.m. EST on Wednesday, March 15, are coming thick and fast. While none of those deals are officially official, they’re as official as they can be from a legal perspective, and we can go with the years and numbers as written by various NFL insiders.
So, with that in mind, it’s time to assign grades to these deals months before we have seen these players in their new schemes, working with their new coaches, and aligning with their new players. It’s an inexact science at best, but based on tape and metrics to date, as well as how these players’ new teams are building their rosters in this free agency period, we have enough of an idea to at least opine on the transactions.
Here are our far-too-early grades for all the impact (almost) free agent signings in 2023.
Lions to give DB Cameron Sutton a three-year, $30 million deal. Grade: A+
(Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports)
In the 2022 season, per Pro Football Focus, the Detroit Lions’ cornerbacks allowed 16 touchdowns, and had just three interceptions. You don’t need to be a football savant to know that that is a Big Problem for a team that wants to contend at any level of football. It’s why most mock drafts are sending various cornerbacks to Detroit with the sixth overall pick as a default strategy, and it’s why the Lions have agreed to give former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Cameron Sutton a three-year, $30 million contract with $22.5 million guaranteed.
It’s a great deal to acquire a guy who was equally adept outside and in the slot last season. Overall in his 2022 season, Sutton allowed 36 catches on 71 targets for 411 yards, 132 yards after the catch, four touchdowns, three interceptions, eight pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 69.6, which was fifth-best in the NFL among cornerbacks playing at least 50% of their teams’ defensive snaps.
Sutton can go up against the NFL’s best receivers and come out on top. I’m not quite sure why he didn’t have a more robust market, but kudos to the Lions for leaping all over this one.
New Lions cornerback Cameron Sutton square-dancing with Davante Adams for a pass breakup. Sutton gave up the fifth-lowest opponent passer rating (69.6) among starting cornerbacks in 2022. An absolute steal for Detroit. pic.twitter.com/jGdZrRu9Bn
— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) March 13, 2023
Chiefs to give OT Jawaan Taylor a four-year, $80 million deal. Grade: B
(Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
The Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs have officially moved on from Orlando Brown in the person of former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor, and the Chiefs have done so quite decisively. Taylor will receive a four-year, $80 million deal with $60 million guaranteed, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The interesting thing about this move is that Taylor, who allowed five sacks, one quarterback hit, and 15 quarterback hurries in 775 pass-blocking snaps last season, was almost exclusively a right tackle. All indications are that Taylor will flip to the left side, which he hasn’t really done throughout his four years in the NFL. Taylor played a handful of snaps on the side side of the offensive line last season, but they were almost entirely situational.
New Chiefs OT Jawaan Taylor (No. 75) did play a handful of snaps on the left side of the line last season for the Jaguars, but they were mostly heavy personnel plays in which Cam Robinson was outside. It'll be interesting to see how Taylor makes the switch. pic.twitter.com/WwJZyAk6Dl
— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) March 13, 2023
No matter how talented an offensive tackle may be (and Taylor is a very good player), moving from right to left or vice versa is a transition that takes time. That’s the only hesitation on this deal, and given the success Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and offensive line coach Andy Heck have had overall, we’ll take the positive over here. It’s just a bit of a wonderment in the short term, and that’s a lot of money for a transitional move.
Broncos to give OT Mike McGlinchey a 5-year, $87.5 million deal. Grade: D
(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
Under Sean Payton, the Denver Broncos are not messing around with their offensive line. They’ve already added two major names in former Baltimore Ravens guard Ben Powers on a four-year, $52 million deal, and then, the decision to add former San Francisco 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey to a five-year, $87.5 million deal with more than $50 million guaranteed, per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.
It’s an… interesting move for a guy who has allowed at least five sacks and at least 28 total pressures in each of his four full seasons — his 2021 season was limited due to injury. Last season, on 650 pass-blocking reps, McGlinchey gave up six sacks, quarterback hits, and 27 quarterback hurries, and he was decent in the ruu game.
McGlinchey’s AAV of $17.5 million puts him in the top four among right tackles in the NFL, right below the $18 million sported by Lane Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles, who is unquestionably the best player at his position in the NFL. McGlinchey is a decent player, but he’s nowhere near Johnson’s level, and the fact that he’s getting at least $10 million per year guaranteed is still Top 10 money, and that money is more real.
Based on the tape, it’s hard to justify that, especially as McGlinchey is coming out of five seasons in a Kyle Shanahan system that inherently maximizes the attributes of its blockers.
The low grade here is not reflective of McGlinchey as a “horrible” player; it’s really about the Broncos seemingly engaging in wishful thinking at a key position.
Raiders to give QB Jimmy Garoppolo a three-year, $67.5 million deal. Grade: C
(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Jimmy Garoppolo has been reunited with Josh McDaniels, as the Las Vegas Raiders will give the veteran quarterback a three-year, $67.5 million contract with $34 million guaranteed, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
McDaniels, now the Raiders’ head coach, worked with Garoppolo as the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator from 2014 through 2016 after the Patriots took Garoppolo in the second round of the 2014 draft out of East Illinois. Garoppolo completed 67% of his passes for 690 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions as Tom Brady’s backup, which set him up for the San Francisco 49ers to trade for him in October, 2017. The 49ers signed Garoppolo to a five-year, $137.5 million extension in 2019, and Garoppolo walked through just about all of that contract, for better or worse.
Garoppolo’s numbers with the 49ers look very good — a 67.6% completion rate over six seasons, with 82 touchdown passes, 42 interceptions, and a passer rating of 99.2. But Garoppolo never really lifted his team above its station — certainly not in the 49ers’ Super Bowl season of 2019, and not since. The 49ers had already moved beyond Garoppolo with the major trade that netted them Trey Lance, and the fact that Brock Purdy was able to lead that offense last year at a level Garoppolo really couldn’t last season after both Lance and Garoppolo were hurt says a lot.
There’s little doubt that McDaniels will get the most out of Garoppolo, but what does that really mean? And is Garoppolo even better than Derek Carr, who McDaniels was so eager to jettison after one season? This low grade is not about how great Jimmy Garoppolo is or isn’t, and more about the Raiders’ plan. They have Garoppolo on a relatively lowball deal, which is nice, but a bridge quarterback with a bad defense isn’t a recipe for postseason success.
49ers to give DI Javon Hargrave a four-year, $84 million deal. Grade: A
(John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)
The Philadelphia Eagles just lost the epicenter of their dominant defensive line, as the San Francisco 49ers have agreed to give defensive tackle Javon Hargrave a four-year, $84 million contract with $40 million guaranteed, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The average of $21 million per year puts Hargrave right up there at his position, tied for third with Indianapolis’ DeForest Buckner and Leonard Williams of the New York Giants. Only Aaron Donald and Daron Payne of the Washington Commanders, who recently signed a massive four-year, 90 million extension, will have larger contracts on a per-year basis.
But Hargrave has proven to be worth the scratch. Philadelphia got Hargrave on a three-year, $39 million deal in 2020, and that turned out to be a real steal. Last season, Hargrave has 12 sacks, six quarterback hits, 48 quarterback hurries, and 36 stops.
But Hargrave’s effect on the Eagles’ defense went beyond his own stats – it’s how the Eagles’ defense changed when he wasn’t on the field. Per Sports Info Solutions, Hargrave was on the field for 649 snaps and off the field for 363. When he was on the field. The Eagles’ pressure rate went from 33.3% to 37.8%, their sack rate went from 8.4% to 12.0%, their yards per attempt allowed went from 5.4 through 4.7, and the opponent rushing touchdown rate went from 5.1% to 3.4%. You could argue that Hargrave has as massive an effect as any defensive tackle in the league in 2022.
The 49ers will put Hargrave in the middle of a defensive line that already had the personnel to give opposing offenses all kinds of problems, and with a true force multiplier in Hargrave, those offensive problems should continue to multiply.