After the NFL scouting combine, the beginning of the free agency period is the next major milestone in the upcoming season’s checklist.
While it officially opens at 4 p.m. Eastern Time on March 15 when the new league year begins in earnest, teams are able to negotiate with the agents of upcoming unrestricted free agents during a two-day period before that point.
Upon the beginning of the new league year, players can officially sign with new teams, trades become official and contracts come to an end.
In recent years, spending has risen – the annual salary cap for each team has grown to $224.8 million per team in 2023 – and teams have been more aggressive with their willingness to part with draft stock for proven assets.
And this year looks to be no different with some massive deals reportedly completed.
All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey has reportedly been traded from the Los Angeles Rams to the Miami Dolphins and numerous quarterbacks have agreed to deals already – Geno Smith at the Seattle Seahawks, Daniel Jones at the New York Giants and Derek Carr with the New Orleans Saints.
But there are some huge dominoes yet to fall, which could shape the fabric of the league.
As the most important position in the sport, it is only right that the biggest questions surround some of the highest profile quarterbacks in the league.
The majority of the interest surrounds two main names at very different points in their careers.
For Aaron Rodgers, he likely has one big decision left in his career at 39 years old.
Despite hinting at a divorce from the Green Bay Packers for multiple seasons, now seems to be the closest Rodgers has come to leaving, with the New York Jets pursuing the four-time NFL MVP with vigor.
With a young and talented team, the Jets seem just a quarterback away from serious contention and Rodgers could be that missing puzzle piece.
By contrast, Lamar Jackson has a lot more of his career to come but, like Rodgers, could also be heading for pastures new by leaving his longtime home with the Baltimore Ravens.
Having failed to come to terms on a long-term contract over the last two years, the Ravens applied the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson last Tuesday. That means that 26-year-old is free to negotiate with other franchises, but should he sign an offer sheet with another team, the Ravens will have five days to either match the deal or receive two first-round picks in return.
The Ravens have made it clear for a while that they want to have Jackson, an MVP winner in 2019, at the helm for many years to come, but the two sides haven’t been able to reach an agreement on a contract for a while now. The non-exclusive tag comes with a salary-cap cost of $32.4 million for the upcoming season.
While Rodgers’ decision appears to be remain in Green Bay or sign with the Jets, Jackson’s options seem wide open. Numerous teams across the league – Atlanta Falcons, Washington Commanders, Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers, Las Vegas Raiders and San Francisco 49ers – are reportedly all interested.
Both Rodgers and Jackson could transform franchises from outsiders to title challengers. But with as many as four quarterbacks projected to be drafted high up in this year’s draft, it throws into question whether teams prefer a long-term project or a short-term fix.
Defensive stars on the move
Although offenses have been prioritized over recent years as scoring has gone through the roof, we could see defenses around the league bolstered with some big names on the move.
The biggest move set to happen is Ramsey’s return to Florida after being traded from the Rams to the Dolphins in exchange for a third-round pick and tight end Hunter Long.
The arrival of three-time first team All-Pro Ramsey transforms a Dolphins team from up-and-comer to title challenging outfit, whilst also continuing the Rams’ rebuild.
Elsewhere, there are a number of key defensive players who are available through free agency, including two from last season’s Super Bowl runners up.
Safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and cornerback James Bradberry would all make excellent additions to new teams with their contracts with the Philadelphia Eagles having expired, whilst also earning themselves a pretty penny.
Bobby Wagner, Lavonte David, Byron Murphy and Jordan Poyer could all be valid contributors too.
Offensive weapons at a premium
In terms of the offensive side of the ball, teams will have to be selective about the talent they decide to acquire.
Many of the offensive weapons who were scheduled to hit the open market were given the franchise tag by their teams.
That means a one-year tender offer of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position for the current year, or 120 percent of his previous salary, whichever is greater.
Running back Saquon Barkley will return to the Giants, tight end Evan Engram to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Josh Jacobs to the Las Vegas Raiders and Tony Pollard to the Dallas Cowboys.
Elsewhere, firepower is in high demand and short supply. Odell Beckham did not play last season, Jackobi Myers is a solid No. 2 or No. 3 receiver and JuJu Smith-Schuster, coming off a Super Bowl ring, was quiet in the playoffs.
The tight-end market could prove a little more fruitful for teams, with Dalton Schultz, Mike Gesicki and Robert Tonyan all available.
Teams could also replenish offensive line needs with Orlando Brown, Kaleb McGary, Dalton Risner and Isaiah Wynn available.