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2023 NFL free agency: Winners, losers from Wednesday's moves

We were all winners on Wednesday, because we learned Aaron Rodgers' next team, even if the Packers and Jets haven't settled on a trade yet.

Here's a look at the other risers and fallers on the first official day of the NFL's new league year:


Jordan Love: The Packers chose Love. Speaking Wednesday on The Pat McAfee Show, Rodgers said it became clear to him the Packers were moving on from him last month after he returned from his darkness retreat. Green Bay figures to exercise Love's fifth-year option and pick up his guaranteed 2024 salary, which gives him a two-year runway to prove he's the right guy to take over the next position in the Packers' quarterback lineage.

I won't be surprised if the Packers' streak of declining to draft receivers in the first round ends next month. They could also look to spend valuable draft currency on a prospect from this deep tight end class. And it definitely makes sense for Green Bay to invest in more pass-catchers in free agency. If general manager Brian Gutekunst wants to be the next Ted Thompson, this transition from Rodgers to Love needs to work. The Pack should do everything possible to make Love's life easier.

Colts conspiracy theories: The Colts have cleared a lot of salary, between trading cornerback Stephon Gilmore and cutting QB Matt Ryan. They've already been leapfrogged in the 2023 NFL Draft by the Panthers, who traded with the Bears for the No. 1 overall selection. And with Houston picking second, Arizona drafting third and Indianapolis going fourth, the Colts could have the third choice, at best, of rookie quarterbacks in April. If there is a team to surprisingly jump into the mix for Lamar Jackson, Indy makes the most sense.

The Cowboys' self-scouting: Ezekiel Elliott's contract was another classic example of the Cowboys' struggles in this facet of team-building. In 2019, they gave $50 million in guarantees to a player whose career arc as a heavily used running back should not have surprised anyone. Throughout the Jerry Jones era, the Cowboys have constantly made moves that suggest they've believed their own hype, paying their own players too much money at the wrong time. But Elliott needed to go, and I look at his release Wednesday as a step in the right direction, even if Elliott didn't give them much choice, fresh off the worst season of his career at age 27. Previous Dallas front offices might have kept him around another season, perhaps for sentimental reasons.

The Titans: It's been a rough offseason for the Titans, but the rumored fire sale hasn't happened yet. QB Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry have not had their names mentioned by the insiders much in recent days. Tennessee had to cut some notable players, like receiver Robert Woods and tackle Taylor Lewan, but none of those moves were unexpected. The signings the Titans have made were intriguing risk-reward choices, like linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, defensive lineman Arden Key and offensive tackle Andre Dillard. Al-Shaair looks like a star in the making and is a worthy replacement for David Long. Key was one of my favorite versatile game-wreckers among those available in free agency.


The Patriots' offense: It was odd seeing JuJu Smith-Schuster sign in New England for virtually the same money (three years, $25 million, up to $33 million with incentives) that Jakobi Meyers received from the Raiders (three years, $33 million). As Meyers said on Twitter on Wednesday, it's a cold world.

The Patriots clearly decided that Smith-Schuster was a better player. Smith-Schuster is more injury-prone, but he's also more dynamic after the catch. They are both good receivers whom I struggled to choose between when making my Top 101 free agents list. It makes sense they got basically the same deal, but it's curious the Pats didn't stick with the player they know, especially when their record identifying wideouts from outside the organization (or in the draft) is so spotty.

Combine the Smith-Schuster move with the re-signing of a few defensive players and the addition of a couple journeyman tackles (Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson), and it feels like the Patriots are stuck in place while the rest of the AFC East gets better.


Sam Howell's job security: It always was a little odd to assume Howell, a fifth-round pick from a year ago, was locked in as the Washington Commanders' starter. That said, a Howell fan might also look at Washington's signing of Jacoby Brissett on Wednesday as a good thing: Some veteran quarterback was going to arrive, and at least it's not Lamar Jackson.

Coach Ron Rivera started the offseason saying Howell was the team's No. 1; however, Rivera also recently said that if a veteran beat out Howell, "so be it." There's little reason to think Howell could win a true competition against Brissett, who is coming off his best season. Rivera likely needs to win this year to keep his job, and the Commanders have an enticing group of skill position players, with Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel, Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson. I'm intrigued by Howell's talent after a flashy Week 18 start, but Brissett will likely claim the top job if it's a fair fight.

Aaron Rodgers' relationship with the Packers' front office: During his Wednesday appearance on The Pat McAfee Show, Rodgers said that he was a fan of direct communication -- while spending 20 minutes getting to the point of his gripes with Green Bay's front office. A.J. Hawk, the quarterback's friend and former teammate, did a good job of trying to keep it real by asking Rodgers if he would have been excited to come back if the Packers wanted him.

"Not really. I knew that wasn't going to happen, No. 1," Rodgers said.

The comparison is so obvious that people are almost afraid to talk about how eerily similar all of this is to the end of the Brett Favre era in Green Bay, with Favre also heading to play for the Jets, paving the way for Rodgers to start. The egos of Favre and Rodgers appear to manifest in different ways, but the contradictory interview with McAfee was a perfect example of why I believe Green Bay wanted to move on.

The Lions' backfield: Jamaal Williams having to leave the Lions is a crime against football humanity. It makes no sense. I also don't think the Lions upgraded when they gave David Montgomery a three-year, $18 million contract. The Lions are paying $2 million more per year than Williams ended up getting from the Saints (three years, $12 million) for a running back who is not a big playmaker and can't possibly have equal vibes to Williams, because no one on Earth does.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter.

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