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2023 NFL free agency: Five players who should stay with current team, five who should hit open market

Free agency's fast approaching on the horizon, with the market officially opening at the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 15. In the coming weeks, a number of high-profile players will change addresses. It's the kind of career move that can lead to breakout stardom, like when Ashton Kutcher left That '70s Show. Or you can be Topher Grace. (No offense to the man. But while Topher played Venom and appeared in the Ocean's movies, he's never been a real marquee-topper for the silver screen.) With that in mind, I wanted to explore the free agency pool with a "Stay or go?" mindset.

Below, you'll find five pending free agents who should stick with their respective teams -- and five who should go ahead and venture out into the great wide open. I've supplied my rationale on each determination, but I'm sure that won't stop you from roasting me on Instagram.


Josh Jacobs
Las Vegas Raiders · RB · Age 25

I know: Fantasy enthusiasts and those so-called "cap experts" on Twitter have downplayed the importance of running backs in today's NFL. But the Raiders really got something out of this former first-round pick in Year 1 of the Josh McDaniels regime. After Las Vegas declined his fifth-year option last April, Jacobs went out and won a rushing title while racking up a league-high 2,053 yards from scrimmage.

McDaniels' system screams for a strong runner, and the coach has spent months singing Jacobs' praises. Meanwhile, the back recently tweeted that a deal to re-sign with Las Vegas has to make sense for him. Indeed it does. And I believe it can and should. Jacobs and the Raiders made sweet music together in 2022. Encore! Encore!

Javon Hargrave
Philadelphia Eagles · DT · Age 30

Hargrave just enjoyed a career year, piling up 11 sacks while also being a key run-stuffer for a top-ranked defense. Time to hit the open market and cash in with the highest bidder, right? Well ...

The Eagles are about to run it back in the NFC. Have you seen the competition? Sure, the 49ers are legit, but the rest of the NFC is wide open. If the Eagles make a solid offer -- and seeing how they're fully in win-now mode, they should -- I'd sign on the dotted line and continue to grow my legacy in Philadelphia.

Daniel Jones
New York Giants · QB · Age 25

Tuesday at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine, Giants general manager Joe Schoen said he'd prefer to not use the franchise tag on Jones or Saquon Barkley.

"Ideally, that doesn't happen," Schoen said. "That's going to be better for the organization. I think it would be better for Daniel, and I think it would be better for Saquon if we can get deals done without having to use the franchise tag."

But even if the Giants end up slapping Jones with the tag, just staying in New York is a winning outcome for Jones. First of all, there's a glut of veteran quarterbacks hitting the open market, including more established starters like Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo, so Danny Dimes wouldn't be the unquestioned belle of that ball. More importantly, though, Jones blossomed in Year 1 under Brian Daboll. Why would you want to leave that situation to walk into the unknown? Stick with the guy who made Josh Allen Josh Allen. At least see what he can do for you in Year 2. This seems like a no-brainer to me.

Evan Engram
Jacksonville Jaguars · TE · Age 28

Look, I'm not against anybody taking one productive year and turning it into a tremendous payday. Not at all. Coaches do it all the time -- why shouldn't players?

But Engram finally just experienced the breakout campaign we've all been waiting for -- and he did so under Doug Pederson, a guy who consistently turns his tight ends into prolific stars. So, if Engram were asking for my opinion, I'd suggest sticking with Pederson and putting up NUMBERS, as opposed to just jumping to the highest bidder. And this advice is in no way tied to my dynasty fantasy team. (OK, maybe it is a little bit.)

Jamaal Williams
Detroit Lions · RB · Age 27

Jamaal stayed within the NFC North the last time he was a free agent, leaving the Green Bay Packers for the Detroit Lions in 2021. After being with a team that won 13 games and went to the NFC title match in back-to-back seasons, Jamaal went to -- perhaps -- one of the worst situations in the NFL at that time, with Detroit coming off a five-win season and having just hired new coach Dan Campbell after cleaning house from the Matt Patricia regime. Williams stayed with the Lions through a tough 2021 season, and then they became the "it" team of the NFL. 

Think about it. Seemingly only the Chiefs had a better season than the Lions last season. Detroit knocked the Packers out of the playoffs. Might have had a hand in Aaron Rodgers' future plans -- a potential retirement, or moving on from Green Bay. And now the entire world is rooting for the Lions to get to the playoffs in 2023. Plus, Williams led the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 17. I would even say Jamaal is the face of Dan Campbell's squad. Now thinking about it, he should be required to stay.


Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · QB · Age 26

Look, Lamar. It feels like the Ravens don't love you. You are a former league MVP and can't get the contract you are looking for. And yet, the Ravens traded for an off-ball linebacker (Roquan Smith) during the middle of the season, and that dude got a lucrative extension. This situation in Baltimore is more heartbreaking than every episode of The Last of Us. We can sit here and wax poetic and stuff, but it's just going to be better if you move on. And if you travel south to Atlanta, make Kyle Pitts better, OK?

Saquon Barkley
New York Giants · RB · Age 26

Again, Giants GM Joe Schoen hopes to avoid tagging either Daniel Jones or Saquon Barkley. But if the Giants do use the tag, it seems likely to go to Jones over Saquon, because of course it is. It seems like nobody ever wants to pay running backs. Well, maybe the 49ers (SEE: Christian McCaffrey trade). Running backs don't last forever. My advice to you, Saquon, would be to find that one team desperate for firepower and have them give you all the money.

Jakobi Meyers
New England Patriots · WR · Age 26

Christian Kirk signed a huge four-year, $72 million deal with the Jaguars in free agency last year, and it set off a spending spree for the position. And with so many wide receivers switching teams last offseason, there aren't a ton of big-name wideouts available this time around. The best thing for Meyers to do is leave New England and go get his own bag. His value has been projected at $15 million to $18 million annually. I'm not so sure the Patriots will pay him that. But some team will. 

Orlando Brown
Kansas City Chiefs · OT · Age 26

The four-time Pro Bowler played on the franchise tag last season after the tackle and the Chiefs failed to reach an agreement on a multi-year deal last year. It ultimately worked out with a Super Bowl win. Brown indicated prior to the Super Bowl that he'd like to stay with the Chiefs, but "the business is the business."

A second franchise tag remains an option, but the bottom line is, Brown has said he wants to be the highest-paid left tackle in the NFL. While the Chiefs have devoted a lot of resources to the offensive line in recent years, I'm not sure Brown will get that deal from Kansas City, which must navigate the cap gymnastics that come with having Patrick Mahomes on the books. Brown could play out one more season on the tag, then make himself available to the highest bidder next offseason. But with few elite tackles available, it seems like there should be at least one team willing to overpay for Brown in a potential tag-and-trade scenario. Perhaps it would be in the best interests of the Chiefs to seek some draft capital in return while allowing Brown to head for greener pastures.

Isaac Seumalo
Philadelphia Eagles · OG · Age 29

You don't have to be a headliner to get a lot of money in free agency. Remember, Basher got just as much of a share as Danny Ocean after they knocked off the Bellagio. And while it's tough to walk away from the defending NFC champions, it makes a lot of sense to do so right now. How many times is Seumalo, who'll turn 30 in October, going to be in this position? With so much scarcity in the market, and being one of the best available at his position, it's time for Seumalo to cash in. Teams will wonder: Do we need one more quality guard? And they will quickly realize they do.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter.

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