The 2023 NFL free agency period officially begins at 4 p.m. ET on Wed., March 15. Before the frenzy really kicks into gear, Nick Shook provides one fun free agency fit for each AFC team.
I am done pairing receivers with the Ravens. Sure, Todd Monken is in town to revamp Baltimore's offensive approach, but kowtowing to the "Lamar Jackson just needs more weapons!" crowd is so 2022. I'm looking toward cornerback for a couple of reasons. First, Baltimore has already learned how a number of secondary injuries can decimate a team's playoff hopes. And lastly, Marcus Peters and Kyle Fuller are both headed toward free agency, leaving the Ravens with a void at the position. Baltimore has Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Stephens and Daryl Worley -- recently re-signing the latter -- but that doesn't mean the Ravens don't have room to add more talent at the position. I'm choosing Jones, who'll turn 30 in September, because he fits the profile of a plug-and-play veteran who won't cost the Ravens much and who provides the versatility they may desire while working in some of their other options in the secondary. Jones won't fetch a Jamel Dean-level offer, which should also preserve some of the cap space Baltimore will need to keep Jackson -- whenever that happens.
The Bills need to massage their cap situation in a pretty big way, but if they can clear ample space, Risner should be among their top targets because of the current state of their offensive line. A number of Bills linemen are slated for free agency, including starting guard Rodger Saffold, and if the Bills are going to continue to operate an offense that depends heavily on the abilities of Josh Allen -- especially through the air -- they'll need to ensure their offensive line doesn't devolve in the years ahead. Risner's market value should fall somewhere near the $10 million-per-year range, which is somewhat affordable, provided the Bills clear some space before free agency begins. A few questions remain on the defensive side, too, but starting in the trenches makes the most sense.
If we're being honest, the best free-agent decision the Bengals could make is to keep tight end Hayden Hurst. But when looking for outside help, the Bengals are going to need to make a decision at safety. Jessie Bates is likely headed elsewhere, clearing the way for 2022 first-rounder Daxton Hill to see starting reps after spending his rookie season stuck behind Bates. The other safety position is also facing uncertainty with Vonn Bell headed toward the open market. Cincinnati should first attempt to keep Bell, but if it cannot, the Bengals have cap space to work with, thanks to Joe Burrow's existing rookie contract. There's no better time to spend some of it on defense; why not target a rising star from a rival? Thornhill's production is on par with Bell, which might make such a move seem more lateral than upward, but he's a year younger and likely won't cost too much. Pair Thornhill with an addition at edge rusher (opposite Trey Hendrickson), and you have a nice little offseason haul that should aid Cincinnati's next Super Bowl pursuit.
The Browns must invest in their defensive front, and they will, but they also need a deep-threat receiver who can perform more consistently than Anthony Schwartz. They don't have a ton of cap space to work with, though, meaning Cleveland will have to find a bit of a bargain to improve their corps. Enter Campbell, a speedster who has quietly started to develop into a quality receiver who can make plays with more than just his legs. Campbell's biggest hurdle has been health -- he played in just 15 games combined in his first three seasons -- but in 2022, he finally managed to stay on the field, appearing in 17 games and unsurprisingly posting the best season of his career while running routes for a revolving cast of quarterbacks in Indianapolis. He'd find a much better situation in Cleveland with Deshaun Watson and running mate Amari Cooper, and because he hasn't broken 1,000 receiving yards in his career, he likely won't cost much. There's a storybook element here, too: Campbell grew up in Akron, Ohio, just 45 minutes south of where he would play with the Browns.
With Dre'Mont Jones and DeShawn Williams headed for free agency, Denver is going to need a couple of defensive linemen, but the Broncos are also going to require a replacement for Kareem Jackson. Bell is precisely the type of safety who produces at a high enough level to draw a quality contract that won't be too expensive but likely worth it. Bell performed similarly to Juan Thornhill in 2022, with four interceptions, eight passes defensed and a pair of forced fumbles, and he'd go from playing alongside one excellent safety in Jessie Bates to another in Justin Simmons. Defense was Denver's strength in 2022, and with the future of the offense still uncertain, it's logical to invest further in the other side of the ball in a player who has some experience contending for championships.
The rebuilding Texans are going to have a tough time convincing big-ticket free agents to come to Houston, even with DeMeco Ryans now in charge. Hooper, however, might be a perfect fit. Hooper was released by the Browns in 2022 as a cap casualty and landed in Tennessee, where he mirrored his Cleveland production while running routes in one of the league's worst passing offenses. Hooper could at least match those totals in a more prominent role with the Texans, especially if they find a long-term answer at quarterback. Houston has 2022 draft choice Teagan Quitoriano, which could create an obstacle for featuring Hooper, but at 28 years old, he would provide the Texans with a veteran pass-catching option for whichever quarterback Houston proceeds with in 2023. And as we all know, tight ends are often a young quarterback's best friend.
We all know how Pratt's season ended in Cincinnati, with the linebacker openly criticizing his teammate for committing a crucial penalty at the end of the AFC Championship Game. If that is how Pratt goes out, he can find a new opportunity in Indianapolis, where the Colts assembled a quality defense that kept them in most of their games last season despite their offensive struggles. The end of Pratt's rookie deal could present him with an opportunity to join a linebacking corps that already includes a stud in Shaquille Leonard, who is among the league's best when healthy. The Colts could also make a play for Jadeveon Clowney, but they might be better off investing in a younger defender for less money -- which becomes even more attractive when considering Pratt just posted the best season of his young career.
It would behoove the Jaguars to retain Evan Engram. Now that I've made that clear, let's move on to an outside addition. Jacksonville would be wise to keep Jawaan Taylor, but as it stands now, the Jaguars don't have enough cap to get that deal done. If they're in the market for a cheaper veteran, Fant might be their guy. A year after spending like mad in free agency, the Jaguars have to get more economical, and because Fant is approaching his 31st birthday, he won't command the type of salary of Taylor or other more desirable tackles. He will, however, provide reliable blocking. Fant played both right and left tackle in New York, and would slot in on the right side in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars would benefit from protecting Trevor Lawrence (who could also use another receiver).
The Chiefs are another team that will need to massage their cap situation to create space for an addition, but after receiving a productive 2022 campaign from JuJu Smith-Schuster, who's set to hit the market, Kansas City would benefit from adding another veteran receiver for 2023. Chark finished his 2022 season strong in Detroit and would add a big-play element to an offense that was already explosive, but could be even more dangerous with Chark in the fold. He won't command a top-dollar deal, which makes this pairing more logical. Plus, who doesn't want to chase a ring with Patrick Mahomes?
Josh Jacobs successfully proved he is worth a long-term deal after being crowned the league's rushing champion in 2022, so he should be atop Las Vegas' list of free-agent priorities. So too should the offensive line, especially after the Raiders realized their former regime had made a mistake in selecting Alex Leatherwood. Seumalo brings a boatload of experience playing right guard for the Eagles, twice reaching the Super Bowl during his time in Philadelphia. Seumalo should have plenty of suitors as one of the top free agents at his position, and thanks to their split from Derek Carr, the Raiders have the cash to spend. Instead of trying to find veteran stopgaps, Las Vegas should invest in its protection -- especially with the anticipation of a new quarterback coming to town in 2023.
A year ago, Los Angeles spent plenty of money and wasn't afraid to flex its transactional muscles, but this time around, the Chargers will have to operate with a tighter fiscal belt. They're currently $20.3 million over the cap and will need to find a veteran replacement for Drue Tranquill at inside linebacker. A flier on Cunningham won't make headlines but could be a nice under-the-radar addition to a defense that already features playmakers at every level. At 28 years old, Cunningham seems as if he's closer to retirement than the start of his career, but the Chargers could be a perfect fit for a veteran looking to play for a contender. After landing on the Titans via waivers near the end of 2021, he shouldn't cost much, either.
The Dolphins are facing a sizable void at running back entering 2023, and currently don't have a ton of cap room to work with. Restructures could clear ample space, though, and after wading through irrelevance at the position in recent years, the time is now for Miami to take a decent swing at a lead back. Hunt hasn't been the primary runner in an offense since his Kansas City days, and with his time in Cleveland coming to an unceremonious -- and if you asked Hunt, a welcome -- end in March. Why not leave his home state for warmer weather and a chance to take a prominent role with an expected contender? Miami has plenty of weapons and truly hit its stride after adding to its running back room during the season, but it would be wise to replace Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson with Hunt, an explosive, three-down back who has produced when healthy. Get it done, Dolphins, and balance out the offense with a back who could thrive under the direction of coach Mike McDaniel.
Woods deserves better than what Tennessee's 30th-ranked overall offense rolled out in 2022. During his time in Los Angeles, Woods was among the most reliable and technically proficient receivers in the NFL, and it wasn't until he suffered an ACL tear that he had to start considering a future elsewhere. His one year in Tennessee didn't live up to anyone's expectations, and there's no reason for Woods to subject himself to a similar situation elsewhere in his age-31 season. Now, you might be looking at the Patriots and believe he'd have similar issues in New England, but I'm looking at 2022 as an anomaly that came as a result of putting a defensive coach in charge of an offense. Bill O'Brien is back with the Patriots as their play-caller, and his track record -- O'Brien oversaw an offense that threw for over 5,000 yards in his first season as OC in 2011 -- suggests New England will take a step forward in 2023. Woods feels like the perfect fit opposite DeVante Parker. Mac Jones needs a veteran who he can rely on to get open; Woods is that man.
Give up on the pursuit of Aaron Rodgers, Jets fans. Your man under center is indeed a veteran, but you don't need to aim for a gold jacket. Carr will do just fine. It's unlikely Carr will make a quick decision on his future, leaving plenty of time for New York to hold out hope it can land Rodgers, but the current state of the Jets calls for a veteran who will play for more than just a year or two. Despite how his Raiders career ended, Carr can certainly still sling it -- he threw for 4,000-plus yards in each season from 2018 to 2021 -- and carries a higher ceiling than fellow free agent Jimmy Garoppolo. He'll have plenty of weapons to work with in New York and won't need a long runway to get acclimated. Make the sensible move instead of window shopping out of your price range, Jets -- Carr will make you competitive for multiple years.
The Steelers received a quality season from veteran Larry Ogunjobi in 2022 but will need to replace him in 2023. I'm turning to the Chargers for his replacement because no matter the week, Fox seemed to consistently make plays for Los Angeles last season. It's not a spicy signing, but the Steelers don't need those on the defensive side of the ball. What Pittsburgh needs is a veteran to play while figuring out whether they have something in youngsters Isaiahh Loudermilk and DeMarvin Leal. Ogunjobi filled this role quite nicely last season; perhaps Fox could do the same.
The Titans need a left tackle, and they likely won't find one worth the money on the open market (Orlando Brown Jr. is going to cost too much for them). If Tennessee is committed to a future with Malik Willis under center and can't find a quality blindside protector in free agency, the next best thing it can do is supply him with a decent tight end. Moreau enters free agency as an under-the-radar player who has shown he can be counted on, and as we all know, a reliable tight end can help out a young quarterback a whole lot. Physically, Moreau isn't going to shock anyone, but he's coming off a career year with the Raiders and has quietly proven himself to be a nice run-after-catch producer, with 251 of his 420 receiving yards coming after the catch in 2022, per Next Gen Stats. If a young quarterback (or Ryan Tannehill) is going to regularly check down to the tight end, you might as well find one with good YAC ability.