Every year someone gets overpaid, someone gets underpaid, players take discounts to play where they’re comfortable, and others embrace the chaos of new and unknown waters. Chances are, there will be a handful of 2023 free agents we’ll be talking about as key signings next January.
2022 Free Agency Steals Recap
Need proof that lesser-hyped free agents can make a significant year 1 impact with their new teams? We only have to travel back a year.
- Last March, we all had a chuckle when Christian Kirk set a high WR price tag early. Then he produced his best season by far for the division-winning Jags with 84 catches and over 1,100 yards. He then tacked on 15 catches for 130 yards and 2 Tuds in the playoffs.
- As we watched Sauce Gardner deliver a lockdown rookie season in which PFF ranked him the top cover corner in the league, Jets opponents were also concerned about the guy across from him, free agent pickup D.J. Reed, Jr, who was ranked 13th on that same list.
- EDGE Uchenna Nwosu left his rotational job on the Chargers for a bigger role in Seattle, which he turned into 10 sacks and solid run defense for the playoff-bound Seahawks.
- Lest we forget the haul brought in by the Super Bowl Champion Chiefs: WRs JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Safety/Backup Kicker Justin Reid.
With a new crop of free agents ready to make their mark in what they hope will be greener pastures, let’s count down the top 5 potential steals from this new class.
*Note: For the sake of reality, I’m not including players likely to get a franchise tag*
2023 Free Agency Sleepers
#5: S/CB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
Is he a “starting” corner or safety? Maybe. But who cares? He’s a smart player who can step into any secondary position and does well in the slot. As a safety, he’ll likely go later in the month after others set the market. But as a hybrid player who can cover the increasingly important slot, this could mean a nice discount for the team who signs him.
Update: Eagles declined to use franchise tag, reportedly made offer, but CJ is testing waters. Potential interest from Bengals.
Update: As defensive backs start to move around and make deals, CJ is moving to the top of the available FA lists. And the interest in him tracks with that. Bengals still seem a strong possibility, but the Eagles are still trying, and now there seems to be potential interest from the Dolphins and Broncos. All that interest may price him out of what the Eagles are willing to put on the table.
Update: Out of nowhere, CJ sign with the Lions for 1 year, $8 million. These 1 year deals are just silly.
#4: LB Kaden Elliss
A former 7th round pick and standout special teams player, Elliss, whose last name might break my autocorrect, made huge strides last season in New Orleans. Unfortunately for him, there just isn’t room in the middle of the Saints D to spend the kind of money Elliss could get. But one man’s trash and so on. He may not be worth $7-10 million a year to be 3rd string in New Orleans, but plenty of teams would give him that to start.
Update: Signed with Atlanta Falcons, 3 years, $21.5 million, $11 million guaranteed. Love this for both of them. He’ll have a real spot on a defense that needs help, and at a good price that just reached the low end of my prediction.
#3: TE Mike Gesicki
It’s doubtful he goes back to Miami, where he just put out his lowest numbers since his rookie year. It’s widely accepted that this drop isn’t because his play declined, but because Miami has too many mouths to feed. With the trade for Tyreek and sophomore explosion from Jaylen Waddle, there just aren’t enough targets to go around. Good problem for the Dolphins, bad for Gesicki’s checkbook, as a subpar statistical year at the end of his rookie contract makes upcoming negotiations more difficult. He’ll likely still get a big bag, but he may look to go to a TE-needy team for fewer years so he can bank one last monster deal at the turn of his 30s. Gesicki could be the big piece of a January run, so look for strong interest from NFC North teams like Green Bay and Detroit.
Update: No word yet, but he may be waiting for Dalton Schultz to set the market. Schultz reportedly has a high number in mind, so Gesicki is smart to let him do the dirty work.
Update: Schultz looks to be drawing interest from the Chargers (Kellen Moore is their new OC and Schultz’s old OC in Dallas), and the sooner he signs, the better for Gesicki. Some reports have suggested the Raiders as a new possibility for Gesicki after Darren Walker was traded out of Vegas. Don’t rule out the Bengals as another potential spot after Hayden Hurst got yoinked by the Panthers early in FA.
Update: Signed 1 year deal with Patriots, up to $9 million. Looks like Mike got tired of waiting for Dalton, and this FA period hasn’t gone the way guys were hoping. I’ve seen a lot of 1 and 2 year prove it deals, which works well for Gesicki to boost his numbers and land something more significant next offseason. Huge steal for the Pats.
#2: WRs D.J. Chark and Darius Slayton
Tell me I’m cheating. I make my own rules. But seriously, there’s a reason for a tie here and it’s what teams should’ve learned from last year’s champs. After losing Tyreek, they went and got MVS because you need guys who can take the top off the defense. Both Chark and Slayton can be productive, but more importantly, they can burn down the field.
At the 2019 combine, Chark ran a blazing 4.34 40. Slayton ran a 4.39 40 with an absurd 10 yard split of 1.45, faster than any WRs in the 2023 combine. That kind of acceleration makes defenses play differently, and that’s always an advantage to an offense. It also helps when defenders drop back to account for that acceleration, but over the years he also learned how to do this:
These guys will both be difference-makers this year for someone, and could cost their new team less than 8 figures.
Update Chark: No movement yet, interest from a lot of teams, including Chiefs
Update Slayton: Real potential for him to return to Giants. He seems to like Daniel Jones, who’s now locked in, and they have obvious chemistry.
Still no movement for either, but Jakobi Meyers and Allen Lazard deals should break the standstill in the WR market. Though the numbers mag not be all that enticing.
Update Slayton: All signs point to signing with the Falcons. Returning to the Giants is still a possibility, but Atlanta has definite interest. I already liked Atlanta before; now they may end up adding 2 of my FA sleepers this offseason.
Update Chark: In a fun little twist, if the Giants can’t hold onto Slayton, they may be looking to replace him with Chark. They’re also looking at Mecole Hardman. All that’s clear is that they see the value in having a track star receiver.
Update Slayton: Back to the Giants! 2 year deal for $12 million, up to $16.5 million max with incentives. Idk if the Falcons were just leverage, but end of the day, he’s going back to the offense and QB who helped him take off last season.
Update Chark: Not sure where the Slayton signing puts Chark, but it’s likely no longer with the Giants. Though you can never have too much speed, so I won’t completely write it off. Chark is meeting with the Panthers today, and Slayton’s contract lays out a simple roadmap for a potential quick deal if the two sides want each other.
#1: QB Jacoby Brissett
Someone needs this guy, and in the right situation, he could play in February. I’m not kidding. Miami’s situation will be monitored all year and they’ll likely want a solid backup ready to go. San Francisco has their very own QB carousel surrounded by gobs of talent. If Green Bay moves on from Rodgers, they may want someone like Brissett in camp with Jordan Love, either to challenge him, mentor him, or be ready to take over an offense with solid playmakers. J.E.T.S seems to think they’re a QB away from a title run, so if they can’t land Rodgers, perhaps they’ll go to a proven asset like Brissett.
Maybe I’m overhyping him. But his numbers speak, and his attitude is refreshing. We’re starting to see teams excel by surrounding a quality game manager with weapons, and Brissett could be the missing piece on a young and talented team, or perhaps the veteran starter while a young draft pick develops. Or perhaps the second QB in a dynamic 2-QB system.
Update: Drawing real interest from Eagles and Bucs, among others. Bucs would obviously be more appealing as he could win the starting job.
Update: Will sign with Commanders and likely compete for starting spot. Terms not yet released, but this is a solid move for both the Commanders and Brissett.
Update: Signed with the Commanders for 1 year, $8 million, with $7.5 million guaranteed. He could make up to $10 million if he gets the starting role and hits playing time incentives. Could this be another Geno resurgence? He’ll have the weapons around him, and he’s a hell of a leader with more patience and at least as much talent as Heinicke. Early favorite for Comeback Player of the Year.