It’s been a busy first two weeks of NFL free agency and some GM’s have made moves that have improved their team’s, not all though. Other teams have lost important players and are in no position to replace the talent they have lost. Some teams already look to be up against it in 2023. Which teams are already struggling six months out from their first game?
Some people will tell you Tom Brady is past it and the Buccaneers should have moved on last year. But it’s difficult to spin losing a quarterback who has won seven Super Bowls and who lead the league in completed passes per game in 2022 as a positive. TB12’s replacement Baker Mayfield is a fine starting quarterback but stylistically he’s a departure from Brady. And he hasn’t won seven rings.
They’ve also lost cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting who signed with the Titans and safety Mike Edwards. Edwards has become a Chief. So the Buccaneers lose a 25-year-old and a 26-year-old with Super Bowl winning experience in the defensive backfield. 29-year-old defensive tackle Rakeem Nunes-Roches has signed with the Giants. Tampa Bay have signed 25-year-old Greg Gaines to replace Nunes-Roches and have retained four members of their defense (notably Lavonte David). They have still lost three, relatively young, important contributors though.
Tampa Bay signed perennial backup Chase Edmonds who had 84 touches in 2022 to potentially replace Leonard Fournette. Fournette only started nine games in 2022 but still had 262 touches. 19 of the Buccaneers’ 2022 roster are still available in free agency (including Fournette), but they only have $1.4 million to spend. They do have nine picks, but they only really need another receiver or two and to add extra depth to the defensive line. It looks like life after Tom Brady will be a slow rebuild.
Lamar Jackson’s current situation blossomed into a full-on saga on the 24th of March as it was revealed an unregistered agent had contacted NFL teams on his behalf. Lamar responded on social media claiming “that man never tried to negotiate for me”. Which didn’t really clear the situation up at all.
It’s not just Jackson who isn’t going to be in Baltimore next season though. Calais Campbell has been released and safety Chuck Clark has been traded to the Jets, so their defense has lost some experience (21 seasons worth). Tight end Josh Oliver, centre Trystan Colon-Castillo and guard Ben Powers have also left Baltimore.
13 of the players out of contract on March 16th are still on the free agency market, but the Jackson impasse seems to have the Ravens on a holding pattern. They currently only have one quarterback on their roster, no centre’s and just six defensive linemen. The Ravens have re-signed four players though, running back Justice Hill, and three defensive players. Safety Geno Stone, cornerback Trayvon Mullen (who, incidentally, is Lamar’s cousin) and linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips, but those three only started seven games between them in 2022.
Baltimore has $4.2 million to spend before they hit the salary cap and only five draft picks. OTA’s don’t begin until late May but Eric DeCosta is leaving it late
The Packers’ biggest issue last season was a lack of pass rush after Za’Darius Smith left. Two more defensive linemen have left during free agency. Dean Lowry followed Smith to the Vikings and Jarran Reed has gone back to Seattle where he was drafted in 2016. 24-year-old linebacker Krys Barnes signed for the Cardinals. The Packers have re-signed safety Jonathan Ford and outside linebackers Justin Hollins and Eric Wilson though. They only have five defensive linemen on the roster at the moment, they need to fix that.
Offensively it looks like it’s the Jordan Love show in Green Bay from now on. Aaron Rodgers developing while Brett Favre played went pretty well so there’s no reason to believe this won’t work too. However, Love will still have to deal with the same bizarre play calling and lack of receiving talent that stymied Rodgers. They currently have just five receivers, a group headlined by Christian Watson who seemed to blossom at the end of 2022. As with all young stars there’s a real chance of “sophomore syndrome” in his second season, so even Love’s top receiver may be erratic. Allen Lazard and Robert Tonyan Jr. have both headed for greener pastures (Gang Green in Lazard’s case).
Green Bay has 10 draft picks and $18.1 million to spend before they reach the salary cap. Based on last season they really need to upgrade a few positions. But with Aaron Rodgers future still up in the air the Packers are in a similar holding pattern to the Ravens. In 2022 the Packers passed on 54% of their snaps, partly because they played from behind a lot. This time round they’ll need to run more to keep the pressure off a new quarterback. That plan will only work if the defense tightens up though. Last season they conceded 21.8 points per game, the 12th most in the league.
Dennis Allen knows Derek Carr, they teamed up in Oakland during Carr’s rookie year (2014). They ended that season with a 3-13 record and Allen was fired. That Raiders team had James Jones and Darren McFadden on the offence and Charles Woodson, Khalil Mack and Justin Tuck on the defensive side of the ball. The current Saints roster doesn’t have that many household names. The Saints aren’t exactly set up to help Carr succeed either. After Marques Callaway linked up with Sean Payton in Denver the Saints only have six wide receivers on their roster. One of those is the permanently injured Michael Thomas. They do have the impressive youngster Chris Olave, but their other four receivers only started 17 games in total last season.
Signing Jamaal Williams in free agency suggests the Saints intend to rely on the run game this season, but Football Outsiders ranked their offensive line 12th best in the league last season. Their run blocking at the second level was rated 28th. The Saints scored the 22nd most touchdowns on the ground so that seems like a sketchy plan. Williams is a downhill runner and Latavius Murray enjoyed some success doing that against the Vikings in London last year. After that game Murray was demoted to the practice squad and the Broncos signed him. Alvin Kamara could have some legal issues come September and the Saints seem reticent to use Taysom Hill. Despite Hill being second on the team for yards per carry he was fourth on the team for attempts per game.
On the defensive side of the ball they’ve lost safety Justin Evans to the Eagles. Defensive end Marcus Davenport signed with the Vikings and two defensive tackles left. Shy Tuttle has gone to divisional rivals the Panthers and David Onyemata followed defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen to Atlanta. Kaden Ellis signed with the Falcons too. Those five players accounted for 30% of the Saints sacks in 2022! They have added Nathan Shepherd and Khalen Saunders, but they only managed five sacks between them last season. Onyemata recorded five on his own, so, they need to get Cam Jordan some help.
The Saints have eight draft picks and, because Derek Carr’s contract is back-loaded, they have $12.8 million to spend. Their roster looks pretty full at the moment though, next season will be a bumpy one.