It’s time to play the matching game, NFL free agency edition. Soon, with the new league year starting for 2023, several unrestricted free agents will change teams with new short- and long-term contracts.
Although the available quarterbacks no longer include Derek Carr (Saints), Daniel Jones (Giants) and Geno Smith (Seahawks), Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson can be acquired for the right high price via trade. Unsigned QBs behind them still include Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.
While Jackson got an non-exclusive franchise tag, running backs Josh Jacobs (Raiders), Saquon Barkley (Giants) and Tony Pollard (Cowboys) were also among the six players tagged to keep them off the open market. That leaves Derrick Henry, on the trading block for the Titans, along with a slew of top free agents led by Miles Sanders.
With that sorted, Sporting News projects who will end up where when the all the wheeling and dealing is done:
MORE: Ranking the 60 best NFL free agents for 2023
NFL free agency predictions 2023
Jets trade for Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers looks bound to give it one more show with a new team with a familiar and comfortable offensive coordinator before walking away from the NFL. The Packers have to make this move to get big return for an unhappy 39-year-old QB especially with their next hopeful franchise passer, Jordan Love, already on the team.
Colts trade for Lamar Jackson
Shane Steichen wants his version of a mobile QB a la Jalen Hurts in Indianapolis, which wants to break out of relying on shaky bridge pocket passers. The Colts should feel Jackson carries his own brand of young upside vs. the QB they can get at No. 4 overall in the draft.
Jackson would thrive in the offense playing off Jonathan Taylor’s running and thorwing to Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce. Quenton Nelson and the blocking should also rebound to help. The Colts would immediately push the Jaguars for the AFC South title with Jackson given they remain solid defensively.
Dolphins trade for Derrick Henry
Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. are free agents. The Dolphins would like a strong running game to be the bread and butter for Mike McDaniel’s scheme. Henry’s powerful presence would also set up better downfield passing to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Wadle for Tua Tagovailoa. The Titans are in clear cost-cutting mode and moving Henry’s contract at 29 makes a lot of sense, given the wear and tear from his previous volume should take effect soon.
Raiders sign Jimmy Garoppolo
Garoppolo should also consider the Texans, but they are positioned to roll with Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud as a rookie given their No. 2 overall selection. The Raiders are thinking about taking Will Levis early in the first round, but there’s more of a potential to lean on Garoppolo’s knowledge of Josh McDaniels’ system at first before throwing a rookie QB into the fire.
Bengals sign Kaleb McGary
The Bengals have a little more cap room to make a big splash one more time before they consider how to pay Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins. It would make total sense to go after the breakout Falcons right tackle for the sake of both better protecting Burrow and bolstering the running game.
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Bears sign Dalvin Tomlinson
The Bears need to shore up their run defense and also could use some pass-rush pop. With ample cap space, stealing Tomlinson from the NFC North rival Vikings makes a ton of sense.
Buccaneers sign Jacoby Brissett
The Buccaneers can not just simply flip the QB page from Tom Brady to Kyle Trask. They need a scheme-flexible veteran who can fit well in the new more run-oriented scheme of new offensive coordinator Dave Canales. Canales, coming from Seattle, should see some Geno Smith-like capacity from Brissett in facilitating top wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Browns sign Jessie Bates III
Bates can stay in Ohio moving on from the Bengals to fill a huge safety void in Cleveland. The Browns can’t do too much with their cap situation but this would be a bang-for-buck acquisition given Bates’ well-rounded playmaking.
Cardinals sign Javon Hargrave
This makes too much sense. The Cardinals saw J.J. Watt retire and Zach Allen is a free agent, meaning they need some inside pass rush pop for new defensive-minded coach Jonathan Gannon, for whom Hargrave played in Philadelphia.
Lions sign Bobby Wagner
The Lions need to give Malcolm Rodriguez more help on the second level and could use a cleaning-up venerable defensive leader for Aaron Glenn.
Raiders sign Lavonte David
The Raiders need to keep working on being more effective on the second level overall to help Maxx Crosby up front. David is the active veteran who would thrive for Patrick Graham.
Bears sign Orlando Brown Jr.
The Bears have a good run-blocking unit for Justin Fields but could benefit from a big move for shoring up pass protection with an ace left tackle. They should jump on the Chiefs not tagging Brown.
Texans sign Jimmie Ward
The versatile defensive back has been huge for the 49ers as their 2014 first-rounder. At 31, he should have appeal to lead DeMeco Ryans’ new defense in Houston.
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Cardinals sign James Bradberry
The Cardinals had some shaky cornerback play and Byron Murphy is a free agent. He is also a strong candidate to reunite with Gannon from the NFC champions.
Patriots sign Jamel Dean
He’s a versatile and cerebral defensive back. Bill Belichick needs one with Jonathan Jones also being a free agent. This can be New England’s big splash with good cap space.
Lions sign Dalton Schultz
The Lions need to replace T.J. Hockenson and give their blocking and passing games another reliable veteran element. Schultz could deliver immediately as a key target for Jared Goff to help their other recievers.
Raiders sign Jakobi Meyers
Meyers also should think about going to a familiar scheme and his inside-outside versatility would be great to bring in for Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow with Mack Hollins and Keelan Cole being free agents.
Bills sign Miles Sanders
Devin Singletary is a free agent and Sanders, based on his finally healhy production with the Eagles, represents a solid power back upgrade while also complementing James Cook well.
Giants sign JuJu Smith-Schuster
Daniel Jones likes throwing to the slot but he might lose Richie James in free agency. JuJu’s size and sometimes big-play presence would be a good start in getting their new-look wideouts back on track.
Seahawks sign Dre’Mont Jones
The Seahawks will be in the market for a rare disruptor up front to boost their pass rush and Jones would be ideal. They are one of few teams who should break the bank a little for the Broncos’ services.