Welcome to the start of the 2023 NFL League Year. Though Wednesday was the official start, we’ve known about some of the biggest NFL free-agency signings since the negotiation period began on Monday. In just under a week, a few teams have taken massive strides to improve their roster with a variety of free-agent signings. Here are the five biggest winners from the first week of 2023 NFL free agency (so far).
Bears GM Ryan Poles
Even outside of the massive haul the Bears received after trading down from the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Poles has had a very solid start to the offseason. He bolstered the interior offensive line in front of quarterback Justin Fields by signing 26-year-old guard Nate Davis, who fits well into the Bears’ outside-zone running scheme and isn’t too shabby as a pass blocker as well. On top of that, Poles was able to add a couple of excellent young linebackers that were among the best available in free agency to head coach Matt Eberflus’ defensive unit: T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds. Finally, his move to sign PJ Walker as Fields’ backup is a clear upgrade over the Nathan Peterman-Trevor Siemian tandem the Bears were forced to start when Fields was banged up last year. Walker also has proven chemistry with Chicago’s new WR1 and fellow former Panther D.J. Moore.
The aforementioned play, PJ Walker to DJ Moore: https://t.co/06fXMDIS0U pic.twitter.com/JXQcOOnGNv
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 16, 2023
Raiders HC Josh McDaniels
The Raiders needed a new quarterback and some outside weapons to complement Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow, especially with their second-most productive receiver, Mack Hollins, hitting free agency himself. Well, the Raiders got themselves a very solid quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo and a more-than-solid WR2/3 in Jakobi Meyers, who led the Patriots in receptions and receiving yards during the 2022 NFL season as their WR1.
The reason this is all a win for McDaniels is that he not only gets two upgrades for his offense but two upgrades that are familiar with his offensive system and schemes. Both guys were former Patriots that played in McDaniels’ offense when he was the offensive coordinator in New England. Now that they’re all in Las Vegas, McDaniels can maximize all of their offensive output alongside two excellent receivers in Adams and Renfrow.
Atlanta got to work upgrading several parts of its roster early and often to start the NFL free agency period. I wrote a little bit about how big of a move the Jonnu Smith trade was earlier this week, but the Falcons also brought in a bunch of big free-agent pieces. Bringing back right tackle Kaleb McGary was huge for the offensive line and their run game. Adding defensive tackle David Onyemata can take some heat off of Grady Jarrett and add to his pass-rushing opportunities up the middle. Jessie Bates III was the best option on the market to make an upgrade at free safety, and Taylor Heinicke is a fantastic veteran backup option for second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder.
New York Giants
With many of New York’s key offensive pieces—quarterback Daniel Jones, running backs Saquon Barkley and Matt Breida, and wide receivers Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins, and Sterling Shepard—set to hit free agency, the Giants needed to try to retain some of them. So far, the only player listed that isn’t in line to return is Slayton, though there are reports that he might return as well.
On top of everyone they’ve managed to re-sign, general manager Joe Schoen also brought in upgrades at linebacker and wide receiver—two of the biggest positions of need—with Bobby Okereke and Parris Campbell, respectively. That’s all without mentioning the addition of tight end Darren Waller in a trade as well, giving New York and their quarterback a potential new No. 1 pass-catching target in their offense.
49ers’ Defense and QB Depth
The 49ers ended last season as easily the best defense in football, which helped carry them to a division title despite midseason injuries to the top two quarterbacks on their depth chart. The impressive performance of third-string quarterback Brock Purdy certainly didn’t hurt, either. But the team’s undoing ended up being that quarterback depth when Purdy injured his elbow in the 49ers’ second playoff game.
Going into next season, the 49ers’ two leading quarterbacks will be returning from serious injuries, and after last season’s debacle, San Francisco knows best how important quality quarterback depth is. Well within the first week of NFL free agency, the 49ers have added defensive tackle Javon Hargrave—one of the best free-agent defensive linemen available and coming off of an 11-sack season—and quarterback Sam Darnold. Hargrave only makes the 49ers’ defense scarier, and Darnold provides the team with a guy that can start to begin the season should Trey Lance or Purdy be unavailable. Past that, he’s a great veteran depth piece to have around in the quarterbacks room.
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