Five key lessons from early moves in NFL free agency, according to The First Read

Five key lessons from early moves in NFL free agency, according to The First Read
Five key lessons from early moves in NFL free agency, according to The First Read

The two-day free agency negotiation window that precedes the start of the NFL’s new league year is underway, and so far, things are going as predicted. It doesn’t matter if there aren’t as many well-known brands on the market as there were during the previous offseason. Several major players have already relocated, and others will presumably follow suit in the near future.

The NFL as a whole is still watching what happens with Aaron Rodgers and a potential Green Bay to New York Jets deal. The Baltimore Ravens are unsure if their choice to place the non-exclusive franchise tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson — which gives them the option to match any offer another team makes to Jackson or accept two first-round picks as severance in the event of his departure — will ultimately be helpful in those contract talks. With his signing last week, Derek Carr is already adjusting to life with the New Orleans Saints. Now that Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett are among the less skilled signal-callers seeking for new opportunities, we’ll see what the market has to offer.

We do know that the NFL news cycle will continue for a while. This is also an excellent opportunity to explain what has transpired over the last several days. With the five most important lessons learned thus far throughout the 2023 NFL free agency period, The First Read launches into this issue.

1) Sean Payton is looking to make a power move in the AFC West. Around this time last year, the Denver Broncos shocked everyone by making a significant deal to acquire former Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. The buzz around that transaction persisted even after Wilson took over what would turn out to be one of the worst offences in recent memory. Wilson needed more support around him, and the Broncos were able to do just that on Monday by reaching an agreement with right tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Ben Powers.

Both players excelled in run-heavy offences in their respective cities of San Francisco and Baltimore last season. They will set the tone for what ought to be an eventual change in this team’s offensive strategy. For the Saints to develop into title contenders in their last years together in New Orleans, Payton had to surround Drew Brees with a superior rushing game. The same may be said about how Wilson needs to work with the Broncos’ rookie coach in Denver.

The fact is that Wilson is at his best in an attack with a strong running game, despite his desire to “cook” in Seattle and during his first season in Denver. Although the Pro Bowl left lineman Garett Bolles, running back Javonte Williams, and wide receiver Tim Patrick will all be returning for the Broncos this next season, attitude will be everything with this group. When Wilson came last year, the Broncos believed they were on the verge of being a playoff club. With the guys they signed up front, they seem to have much higher odds of doing that.

2) The Raiders took the appropriate action. Despite all the early speculation that the Raiders were interested in trying to trade for Aaron Rodgers, it has always made more sense to sign a guy like Jimmy Garoppolo. Rodgers’ price tag was always much too high to allow for that kind of cost-effective roster construction, and Las Vegas has to make further moves to strengthen its depth chart, particularly on defence. Garoppolo received a three-year, $72.75 million contract with a $34 million guarantee, making it a good deal.

He also provides the Raiders a tonne of flexibility in the 2023 NFL Draft since they can now consider picking a potential quarterback with the seventh overall choice instead of looking for another defensive standout. When it comes to being a bridge quarterback, Garoppolo has already shown he is a team player. He was eager to step up in San Francisco when the 49ers selected Trey Lance two years ago, and he has won many games during his career. Of course, whether Garoppolo can remain healthy is the important factor.

He has only played one complete season in the previous five years, and his 2022 campaign was cut short by a foot injury received in Week 12. The Raiders are aware of all of that, but they are also aware of the following: For the first three seasons of Garoppolo’s career in the NFL, McDaniels served as the offensive coordinator in New England. For a club that last month made the risky decision to let veteran starter Derek Carr depart, that history will be essential.

3) Jalen Ramsey is not enough for the Dolphins. There are several apparent reasons why this transaction is hot. Ramsey, who is 28 years old and the finest cornerback in football, is in the peak of his career. It will seem fantastic on paper if you add a player of his quality to a secondary that already has another star cornerback (Xavien Howard) and a promising young safety (Jevon Holland). The real concern is whether Miami can provide a consistent enough pass rush to improve the performance of the back end. While Jaelan Phillips showed some promise as a rookie and the Dolphins acquired edge rusher Bradley Chubb in a midseason trade in 2022, this unit finished tied for 14th in the league in sacks (40) and 24th in scoring (23.5 points per game).

The good news is that new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is one of the most innovative minds in the game. With that potential, he ought to be able to do much more than Josh Boyer was able to. The Dolphins will also benefit from Ramsey’s arrival as they move beyond the disappointment of former CB Byron Jones, who failed to live up to the enormous deal he signed in free agency in 2020. There is no denying Miami’s star power right now. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are on offence, while Chubb and Ramsey’s deals have strengthened the defence. These kind of decisions may be made while a quarterback is on a rookie contract. Of course, it goes without saying that the future of this squad much depends on how healthy quarterback Tua Tagovailoa can remain for a whole season.

4) Lou Anarumo can’t possibly be content. After failing to reach a long-term agreement with safety Jessie Bates III during the previous two years, the Cincinnati Bengals had little chance of keeping him (as well as Bates playing on the franchise tag last season). The Bengals were just seeing him and his teammate safety Vonn Bell exit the building. Bates settled on Atlanta, Bell picked Carolina, and Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is probably reaching out to Aaron Rodgers for advice on where to find solitude in the dark.

As much as we talk about the offensive ferocity Cincinnati has shown over the past two seasons—when it won the AFC in 2021 and lost in the AFC Championship Game in 2022—the truth is that Bates and Bell were the backbone of a defence that is sadly underappreciated and finished sixth in the league in points allowed in 2017. The adaptability and ingenuity of the pair enabled Anarumo to exploit shapeshifting extensively in his plans.

It would be hard to replace one. It’s devastating to lose both during the same offseason, particularly considering the Bengals’ aspirations of keeping Bell. Now that cornerback Eli Apple, another starter in the secondary, is a free agency, the Bengals must deal with that as well. Certainly, there are still plenty of reasons for the Bengals to be optimistic about their squad, including Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins. Yet if they hadn’t suffered these blows, they’d be feeling much better.

5) The 49ers’ quarterbacks should be worried about everyone on their schedule. The 49ers’ defence, which allowed a league-low 16.3 points per game, is led by reigning defensive player of the year Nick Bosa. Bosa was responsible for 18.5 of the 49ers’ 44 sacks in 2022, despite the fact that the defence was outstanding and the front seven included linebackers Fred Warner, Arik Armstead, and Dre Greenlaw.

On a Philadelphia team that led the League with 70 quarterback sacks previous season, Hargrave had 11 solo tackles for loss. Even though he’s 30 years old, the 49ers are counting on him to produce at that level this upcoming autumn. Armstead, Bosa, and Hargrave together should be enough to cause problems for rival quarterbacks, but in actuality, the NFC will once again be quite open. DeMeco Ryans, the 49ers’ previous defensive coordinator, will be much missed. The change will be a little bit simpler thanks to the inclusion of Hargrave.

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