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2024 NFL free agency: One signing that can impact each divisional race this season

The buzz of the free agency frenzy might have quieted down for now, but that does not mean the moves made in March will be forgotten when the 2024 NFL season kicks off in September -- especially when it comes to divisional races. While it's true that free-agent signings don't typically lift a team from worst to first, new talent can shift the balance of power between contenders.

After taking some time to sort through the transaction sheet from the past few weeks, I thought I'd spotlight one free-agent signing in each division with the potential to seriously impact the chase for the No. 1 spot in 2024.


New York Jets
2023 finish: 3rd place (7-10)

There is no doubt the Jets are in win-now mode after signing this big-play specialist. Williams gives Aaron Rodgers a big-bodied playmaker to target down the field, particularly on back-shoulder fades against one-on-one coverage. In addition, Williams' effectiveness on 50/50 balls makes him a dangerous option in the red zone, with teams looking to bracket Garrett Wilson in clutch moments. Buffalo and Miami each won 11 games in 2023, but neither team is a lock to dominate the division in 2024. Presuming Williams is able to stay healthy (he missed 18 games over the past two seasons, including most of 2023 after suffering a torn ACL), his presence should ensure the Jets' offense has the firepower to help Rodgers push this team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.


Baltimore Ravens
2023 finish: 1st place (13-4)

The mere thought of Henry and Lamar Jackson executing various versions of power-read plays will keep defensive coordinators up at night. Adding the extra-large sledgehammer enhances the Ravens' option attack. Henry is a downhill runner with the size, strength and power to pick up the tough yardage between the tackles. Forcing opponents to respect both Jackson's speed and Henry's power should also only make the Ravens' play-action game -- where Jackson already thrives, having posted the most total EPA (67.4) in the league on play-action in 2023, according to Next Gen Stats -- even better. Yes, Baltimore finished first in the AFC North last season, but the division is no cakewalk. The presence of the former NFL rushing champ in the backfield should increase the Ravens' chances of winning back-to-back titles for the first time since 2018-19. 


Houston Texans
2023 finish: 1st place (10-7)

The AFC South came down to the final week of the regular season in 2023, and at this point, the Jaguars and Colts figure to be just as competitive in 2024. With C.J. Stroud ready to settle in as the director of a high-powered offense, coach DeMeco Ryans needed to add another closer to the bullpen who could help seal wins in the fourth quarter. Hunter arrives in H-Town with 87.5 career sacks and 11 forced fumbles. The ex-Viking utilizes a variety of explosive pass-rush maneuvers to blow past edge blockers. Last season, Defensive Rookie of the Year Will Anderson and Jonathan Greenard combined to help Houston compile the fourth-most pressures in the NFL, per NGS. Greenard might be gone (ironically, he signed with Hunter's former team), but thanks to the addition of this four-time Pro Bowler, the Texans head into 2024 with a pair of elite pass rushers who can harass quarterbacks in crucial moments -- especially when opposing offenses chase points in an effort to keep up with Stroud and Co.


Las Vegas Raiders
2023 finish: 2nd place (8-9)

Kansas City will be tough to dislodge from atop the AFC West, but head coach Antonio Pierce did marshal the Raiders to a second-place finish in 2023 despite taking over midseason. And, for what it's worth, they did win their last matchup against the Chiefs, in Arrowhead Stadium, while sacking Patrick Mahomes four times and holding him to 235 passing yards. This signing no doubt juices a defense that finished in the top half of the NFL in points and yards allowed. Maxx Crosby desperately needed another blue-chip defender on the front line to lighten his load as a pass rusher. Wilkins is a disruptive interior defender with active hands and exceptional first-step quickness. He can win with force or finesse, as evidenced by his nine sacks with the Dolphins in 2023 on various pass-rush maneuvers. Crosby and Co. should benefit from seeing more one-on-one chances on crucial downs with an established pass-rushing threat positioned inside. 


Philadelphia Eagles
2023 finish: 2nd place (11-6)

The Eagles had a top-10 offense (in both yards and points) in 2023 -- but the unit faltered when it mattered most, failing to top 300 yards in a pair of losses in Weeks 17 and 18 that allowed Dallas to seize the NFC East. It surely didn't help that no Philly running back topped 62 rushing yards in either of those games. Barkley is an electric playmaker with score-from-anywhere potential who upgrades an attack that already featured a pair of 1,000-yard receivers (A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith) boasting big-play abilities. With a rugged dual-threat quarterback (Jalen Hurts) capable of producing explosive plays on the ground or through the air, Barkley's presence adds a different dimension to one of the NFL's most dynamic offenses. If the two-time Pro Bowler can remain healthy, the Eagles can trot out an unstoppable offense with blue-chip personnel at every marquee position -- and perhaps finish in first place.


Green Bay Packers
2023 finish: 2nd place (9-8)

The Packers jumped right back into contention during Jordan Love's first season as their starting quarterback, nabbing a wild-card spot and winning a playoff game. Now, the task is to dethrone the Lions in the NFC North. New defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley will be implementing a "vision and break" defense that extensively features zone-based schemes, and McKinney is an established ballhawk who can thrive in the middle of the field in that kind of approach. The fifth-year pro has nine interceptions and 27 passes defensed in 49 games, including three pick-offs in 2023. McKinney is an instinctive playmaker, and Green Bay's "see ball, get ball" defense should enable him to create splash plays all over the field, boosting the Packers' chances of holding their own in the division.


Atlanta Falcons
2023 finish: 3rd place (7-10)

The Dirty Birds had a playoff-caliber roster last season, but shoddy quarterback play robbed them of a postseason berth. The arrival of a veteran signal-caller with seven 4,000-yard seasons to his name should result in more explosive plays for a stellar cast of playmakers on the perimeter. Whether Cousins is throwing dimes to Drake London, Kyle Pitts and Darnell Mooney or he's handing the ball to Bijan Robinson, the four-time Pro Bowler should serve as the ideal point guard to direct the Falcons' fast-break offense. And that should give Atlanta a leg up in a division that looks as wide open in 2024 as it was in 2023.


San Francisco 49ers
2023 finish: 1st place (12-5)

After falling short in Super Bowl LVIII in part due to their inability to close out the game with a ferocious pass rush, the 49ers add the perfect complement to Nick Bosa. Floyd can dominate his one-on-one matchups on the back side as an energetic speed rusher with outstanding first-step quickness and a non-stop motor. Moreover, he gives the 49ers a double-digit sack producer who will enable new defensive coordinator Nick Sorensen to employ the traditional four-man rush scheme that has helped the defense play at an elite level throughout Kyle Shanahan's tenure -- making it that much tougher for the Rams or any other upstart to keep the Niners from winning their third straight division title.

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