13 NFL free agency predictions on Cowboys, Patriots, Bears, and Lamar Jackson

We thought that things would not get wild in the National Football League until next week.

But we were wrong.

NFL free agency is set to begin on Monday, with the league’s “legal tampering period” running from 12:00 p.m. Eastern Monday until the official beginning of the 2023 league year, which starts at 4:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday. However, that did not stop the first major domino from falling, as news broke late Friday afternoon that the Chicago Bears had agreed to trade the first-overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft to the Carolina Panthers, in exchange for a package of picks and wide receiver D.J. Moore.

Let the chaos begin.

Over the coming days, we will get a much clearer picture of where all 32 teams stand ahead of the next big event on the NFL calendar, the 2023 NFL Draft.

To that end, here are thirteen predictions for the upcoming free agency period.

Las Vegas Raiders sign Jimmy Garoppolo

New England Patriots Practice

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In recent weeks, thanks to the departure of Derek Carr for the NFC South, it has become clear that the Raiders are going in a new direction at the quarterback position. Given the fact that the Raiders are picking seventh in the first round later this spring, they have been linked to a number of different rookie quarterbacks. As of this moment at NFL Mock Draft Database, Kentucky quarterback Will Levis is the consensus pick for the Raiders.

That may ultimately be the path the Raiders take, but they might also want a veteran hedge in place, or at least a more established quarterback to being the 2023 season under center. Jimmy Garoppolo might be the perfect option. He has experience under Josh McDaniels, and has shown in the past the ability to step into the lineup in short order and keep the offense moving.

Carolina Panthers sign Jakobi Meyers

We knew that there were a few different teams that were interested in moving up to the first-overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, with the hopes of finding their next quarterback. The Indianapolis Colts were one popular option, and even the Houston Texans moving up a spot could have made such a jump.

Instead, it is the Carolina Panthers who now hold the top pick in the upcoming draft, which gives them their choice of quarterbacks in this draft class.

However, one question remains.

Who will that rookie be throwing to?

With the inclusion of wide receiver D.J. Moore in the deal, the Panthers now have a need at wide receiver. They can help to fill that need by adding Jakobi Meyers, perhaps the top option in this free agent class of receivers. Meyers can operate out of the slot as well as along the boundary, and his background as a quarterback himself gives him great feel for finding open spots in coverage. He will be a great asset for whichever rookie quarterback is throwing him the ball in the fall.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign Jacoby Brissett

With the retirement of Tom Brady, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a massive hole at the quarterback position. It is not a hole that can be filled overnight, particularly when a first-ballot Hall of Fame player retires, but there is another reason the Buccaneers need to address the quarterback position in free agency.

At the moment, Kyle Trask is the only quarterback on the roster.

Head coach Todd Bowles met with the media at the NFL Scouting Combine last week in Indianapolis, and had this to say about Trask, and the team’s quarterback situation:

“[Trask] doesn’t preclude you from anything,” Bowles said in Indianapolis. “It’s going to be a competition at every spot – that’s going to be every year.

“As long as [I’ve] been a coach, there’s going to be competition. We’ll look at everybody. We’ll try to take the best players available. We’ll see who can help us, who can try to help us, but Kyle will compete. He’s the only one on the roster right now.”

Veteran Jacoby Brissett makes a great deal of sense for Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are likely out of range for one of the top quarterbacks in the draft, and Brissett has been a solid backup/spot-starter his entire NFL career. He would give the team another option should Trask not seize the starting job, and frankly there is a chance that Brissett could win the job in training camp.

New England Patriots sign Julian Love

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Among the traits that Bill Belichick values, versatility is at or near the top of the list. Especially when it comes to the safety position. Belichick loves to have defenders at the position who can play in the box, in the slot, as linebackers, and in deep safety roles.

With Devin McCourty announcing his retirement on Friday, adding to the safety group should be high on New England’s to-do list this offseason. Julian Love seems like the prototypical Belichick safety. Last season for the New York Giants Love aligned all over the field, and was used in a variety of roles. According to charting data from Pro Football Focus, Love was used in the slot on 154 snaps, as a boundary corner on 37 snaps, in the box on 271 snaps, and as a deep safety on 494 snaps.

Watching him on film, you might see him drop into a deep half on first down, a deep third on second down, buzz to the flat on third down, and then rush the passer on a fourth-down situation.

That kind of versatility likely brings him to New England for the fall. And not just to see the leaves.

Lamar Jackson will not be going anywhere

Of course, the hot-button topic the past few days has been quarterback Lamar Jackson. With the decision by the Baltimore Ravens to use the non-exclusive franchise tag on the quarterback, that has opened the door to Jackson playing elsewhere next season, along with breathless speculation about where that might be.

However, when the dust settles, Jackson will still be a Raven.

According to recent reporting, most notably from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Ravens and Jackson have been working on a deal for almost two years. However, they were unable to come to terms. Sometimes you need a fresh viewpoint to reach an agreement. In the legal world, that might mean taking a case to mediation, where a third party evaluates each side’s case on the merits and offers recommendations to try and reach a resolution.

(And they told me my background as a lawyer would not help me as a sportswriter).

In the NFL world? That might mean letting the market help crystalize the terms. If a team — or teams — approach Jackson and even get as far as signing him to an offer sheet, that might point the Ravens and the QB in the direction that gets a deal done. And if no offers are incoming (which is frankly still difficult to believe) that is information the parties can use to finalize an extension.

Either way, Jackson is still in Baltimore next season.

Houston Texans sign Tremaine Edmunds

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The Buffalo Bills face some difficult decisions this offseason, as the team is up against the salary cap and has a number of impending free agents, including linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and safety Jordan Poyer. Edmunds had perhaps his best season in the NFL last year, and his biggest improvement came in coverage.

He allowed an NFL Passer Rating of just 82.1 last season when targeted in the passing game, the best mark of his career. He also posted a career-high six pass breakups.

Edmunds is athletic, has five years of experience under his belt, and is young, as he turns 25 in May.

New Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans is a former linebacker himself, and this seems like an ideal pairing. Edmunds can continue to develop his game under Ryans’s guidance, and the defensive-minded head coach can build a defense around Edmunds and his athleticism much like he crafted in San Francisco with Fred Warner.

Chicago Bears sign Mike McGlinchey

The Chicago Bears, thanks to the trade they pulled off with the Panthers, now have four picks in the first three rounds of the upcoming NFL draft. That gives them a lot of draft capital to build their roster for 2023, and beyond.

Making sure they can protect Justin Fields has to be part of the offseason plan for general manager Ryan Poles. While Orlando Brown Jr. is perhaps the best offensive lineman set to hit free agency after the Kansas City Chiefs declined to franchise tag him for the second-straight season, there might be a better path for Chicago.

At his end-of-season press conference, Poles singled out rookie offensive lineman Braxton Jones, who was pressed into action at the left tackle spot. There were ups-and-downs to be sure, but the GM liked what he saw overall. “He’s got a long ways to go to reach his ceiling,” Poles said. “But for his path, and if you look at — not many people look at the schedule for a player who goes into the offseason, Senior Bowl, Combine, comes in as a fifth-round pick, battles through camp, gets a spot and then plays every single snap through a season. That’s an accomplishment right there. That tells me he’s wired right. He’s got mental toughness, rode the ups and downs.”

So while Brown might be an upgrade at LT, that would require Jones to then move to RT after logging over 1,000 snaps at left tackle as a rookie.

Perhaps a smoother plan, then, would be to sign Mike McGlinchey, the right tackle most recently with the San Francisco 49ers. McGlinchey might be a perfect scheme fit in Chicago under offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

Pittsburgh Steelers sign C.J. Gardner-Johnson

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While there were rumblings that Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman would use the franchise tag on versatile defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson, the deadline came and went this week.

That led to Gardner-Johnson posting a cryptic message on social media, and rampant speculation that the defensive back could be on his way out of Philadelphia.

If that is the case, a move across Pennsylvania could be in the works. The Pittsburgh Steelers are on the verge of potentially losing safety Terrell Edmunds, and a versatile defensive back of their own in Cameron Sutton. The Steelers could add Gardner-Johnson, use Arthur Maulet in the slot, and end up with a very versatile safety tandem between Gardner-Johnson and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Atlanta Falcons sign Jesse Bates III

The Atlanta Falcons have some holes to fill on both sides of the football, but they also have some money to spend. Atlanta enters free agency with over $60 million available in cap space, second only to the aforementioned Chicago Bears.

A player that should be on their radar? Safety Jesse Bates III. After being given the franchise tag a season ago, the safety is set to hit free agency, after the Cincinnati Bengals declined to tag him for the second-straight season. Bates is a versatile defender, who spent the bulk of his time in a deep safety role last season, but he can also play in the slot or even down in the box. He would give a big boost to the Falcons’ secondary for the season ahead.

Dallas Cowboys sign James Bradberry

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys

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C.J. Gardner-Johnson might not be the only member of the Eagles 2022 secondary on his way out of Philadelphia. Darius Slay has been given permission to explore a trade, and James Bradberry is set to hit free agency as well.

Heading into the offseason, the Dallas Cowboys have needs at wide receiver, and cornerback. They would be wise to add Bradberry and put him across from Trevon Diggs, giving the Cowboys a very solid 1-2 punch in the secondary. Then they can add to the wide receiver room via the draft.

Or…they could do this.

Dallas Cowboys sign Odell Beckham Jr.

Last year, the Cowboys held lengthy discussions with free agent wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. about him joining Dallas for the stretch run. While those never materialized, as the team was reportedly concerned about his recovery from the knee injury he suffered in Super Bowl LVI, he has now enjoyed yet more recovery and rehabilitation time.

Given the questions about this wide receiver draft class, Beckham might be the best option for Dallas to add to their receiver room. He would give the Cowboys a pretty solid trio, along with Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb.

Furthermore, this might give the Cowboys a path towards addressing what has become another need, which is tight end. With Dalton Schultz likely set to earn a big payday in free agency, the Cowboys can dip into a very talented — and deep — tight end class in the draft.

Green Bay Packers sign Taylor Rapp

While the major storyline facing the Green Bay Packers right now centers on the ongoing Aaron Rodgers saga, the organization does have a need in the secondary. Adrian Amos is set to hit the open market, and fellow safety Darnell Savage is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and Savage was benched for a few games last season.

Ideally, the Packers would find a way to sign Jesse Bates III, the top safety set to hit free agency. However, assuming that the above prediction is true, and Bates finds his way to Atlanta, Taylor Rapp is another good option for the Packers. Rapp played all over the field for the Los Angeles Rams the past few seasons, and is as sure-handed as it gets as a tackler, something Packers fans likely love to hear.

Denver Broncos sign Jawaan Taylor

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New Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton has, at the top of his to-do list, “fix Russell Wilson.”

Part of that process? Making sure the Broncos have the five best options in front of Wilson to keep him comfortable in the pocket.

Jawaan Taylor is coming off perhaps his best season as a professional, and where he stands out is as a pass blocker. According to charting data from Pro Football Focus, Taylor allowed pressure on just 2.5% of dropbacks a season ago, and that was the third-best mark among NFL tackles. Bringing him in to solidify the right tackle spot gets the Broncos that much closer to putting their best five in front of Wilson.

And gets Payton that much closer to checking off the item at the top of that list.

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