NFL Free Agency: Who has already signed and who to keep an eye on?

It’s that time of year when the NFL’s biggest and best free agents test the market to see just how much their talent is really worth.

This year’s free agency period officially opens at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 13, although teams can negotiate with unrestricted free agents over the previous two days.

While some players remain on the board, some of the biggest free agents have already agreed to deals to move cities, potentially revitalizing their new team’s aspirations.

Will the next few days help decide which teams will head to New Orleans to take part in Super Bowl LIX?

What is NFL free agency?

A free agent is a player whose contract has come to an end.

From noon ET on March 11, teams were able to approach the agents of players who have become unrestricted free agents during a two-day negotiating period, coined the “legal tampering” period. An unrestricted free agent is someone who has accrued four or more NFL seasons upon their contract expiring.

Restricted free agents are able to be approached from March 13. When an offer is submitted for a restricted free agent, the player’s current team can match the offer with right of first refusal.

Who has agreed to new deals already?

Kirk Cousins, quarterback

Cousins was one of the hottest names on the free agency market ahead of the upcoming season.

The four-time Pro Bowler has been a reliable figure at quarterback for many years in the NFL and has shown he can provide invaluable veteran leadership.

Since 2018, Cousins has plied his trade for the Minnesota Vikings after moving from Washington where he spent the first five years of his NFL career.

After arriving in Minneapolis, Cousins enjoyed some of the best years of his career and formed a formidable partnership with wide receiver Justin Jefferson.

However, an ACL injury curtailed his last campaign, but despite any injury concerns, the 35-year-old has agreed a deal to sign with the Atlanta Falcons.

Cousins’ agent Mike McCartney announced the four-year deal on X – formerly known as Twitter – and according to NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero, the contract will be worth $180 million, which includes a $50 million signing bonus and $100 million in guaranteed money. CNN has approached the Falcons for comment.

Cousins could spearhead a potentially potent offense composed of running back Bijan Robinson, tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receiver Drake London.

Meanwhile, the Vikings – Cousins’ former team – paid tribute to him in a statement, saying he “holds a special place in Vikings history.”

Saquon Barkley, running back

Barkley has consistently been one of the most exciting running backs in the NFL since entering the league in 2018.

The explosive back was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in his debut season with the New York Giants where he rushed for an impressive 11 touchdowns and scored four receiving touchdowns – career highs to this day.

His speed, strength and elusiveness make him one of the biggest weapons available around the league, but his injury record has scuppered any regular playing time he has had.

However, he was one of the top-rated running backs on the market this year around and it didn’t take long for a team to acquire his signature.

Barkley agreed to a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he will sign a three-year, $37.75 million contract when free agency opens, per NFL Network. CNN has approached the Eagles for comment.

Barkley breaks a tackle by Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Zach Cunningham to rush for a touchdown. - Vincent Carchietta/USA Today Sports/Reuters

Barkley appeared to confirm the news himself on social media, tweeting two eagle emojis.

He also retweeted a post from Bleacher Report’s NFL insider Jordan Schultz which explained that he chose the Eagles after deciding between them, the Houston Texans and the Chicago Bears. Schultz also reported that the Giants never made an offer to retain his services. CNN has approached the Giants for comment.

Barkley, a Pennsylvania native, now joins up with an already explosive Eagles offense, with quarterback Jalen Hurts and wide receivers AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith already in place.

Josh Jacobs, running back

Josh Jacobs was arguably the second-best running back available on the free agency market after Barkley and the announcement of his new team came with repercussions.

NFL Network Insiders Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported on Monday that Jacobs will sign with the Green Bay Packers on a four-year, $48 million contract. CNN has approached the Packers for comment.

Jacobs led the NFL in rushing yards and scrimmage yards in 2022 and was named a first-team All-Pro with the Las Vegas Raiders. Last season, he missed four games as he struggled with injuries.

His signing was followed shortly by the announcement that the Packers will release their longtime star running back Aaron Jones to make space for Jacobs.

Jones spent seven years in Green Bay, compiling three 1,000-plus-yard campaigns and was a key catalyst in the team’s late playoff push this past season.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst called the decision to release “Jones one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make” while head coach Matt LaFleur paid tribute to the 29-year-old.

“Today is a tough day for the Packers and our community. As good of a player as Aaron is on the field, he is an even better person,” LaFleur said in a statement.

“When I arrived in Green Bay as a first-time head coach, he was instrumental in establishing our winning culture and always served as the greatest example of what it meant to be a Packer. Aaron will always be one of the best players I had the opportunity to coach.”

Who to keep an eye on?

Justin Simmons, safety

Justin Simmons’ release from the Denver Broncos comes as a money-saving move following the team’s disastrous trade for Russell Wilson and the financial implications it continues to incur.

The 30-year-old safety, who was drafted in the third round in 2016, quickly became one of the best at his position, being voted to the Pro Bowl twice and named second-team All-Pro four times.

In his eight seasons with Denver, he had 604 tackles, 64 passes defended and 30 interceptions, the most of any player during that time.

In a free agency market full of safeties, Simmons is arguably the highest level prospect available and could provide an immediate upgrade for any interested team.

Honorable mentions

There are more big names who will be entering free agency this year and among these are Derrick Henry, Odell Beckham Jr., and Ryan Tannehill.

Age is not on the side of any of these players, but they could still prove to be valuable additions wherever they end up.

If his best days as a running back might be behind him, ‘King Henry’ still has the ability to make those explosive plays that he has built his reputation on. The 6-foot-3-inch, 247-pounder could be a difference maker on big plays next season.

Beckham Jr. is not the same player that burst onto the scene with the New York Giants, but as seen in the last few seasons, he can still provide glimpses of excellence and be a weapon for a contender.

While Tannehill’s time in Tennessee came to a spluttering end last year – he was benched in favor of rookie quarterback Will Levis – he has shown that he could offer a steady hand at the position for a quarterback-needy team. At 36 years of age though, he might provide a high-level backup position.

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