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9 winners and losers (everyone waiting on Aaron Rodgers) from Day 1 of NFL free agency

By Robert Zeglinski,

2023-03-14
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What a wild (and weary) way to start this year’s NFL free agency.

At the horn of the negotiation window (there are other creative names for it!), a flurry of deals for foundational talents and upside players started to fly in. It’s almost as if these contracts were talked about in advance. (Noooo, that would never happen. Impossible!)

For example, in Chicago, the Bears revamped their defense. In Denver, the Broncos rebuilt an offensive line in front of Russell Wilson on the fly. What a productive day for both franchises all around.

And in Green Bay and New York?

Well, both the Packers and Jets kind of just hung around a swing together, hoping their mutual misery in waiting over Aaron Rodgers would soon conclude. Some NFL personalities were right there with them, wading in frustration. Who am I kidding? So were we.

As we head into the second day of the 2023 NFL free agency period, let’s break down some of the more notable winners and losers from Day 1.

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The ascending Chicago Bears

The Bears already unofficially let off some of the first salvos of free agency when they traded the No. 1 overall pick for D.J. Moore and a war chest of high-end draft picks. They spent the first day of the negotiation window reloading on defense with T.J. Edwards, Tremaine Edmunds, and DeMarcus Walker. Oh, and they added a high-upside guard in Nate Davis.

Ho-hum!

Edwards and Edmunds together help transform one of the league’s formerly worst linebacking corps into one of the best. Walker is a solid player who can swallow up blocks against the run and play a huge role off the pass-rushing edge. And Davis will presumably be part of a wholesale effort to help keep Justin Fields upright as he unleashes bombs to Moore and Co.

All in all, a solid day for a Chicago team now on the rapid ascent.

Sean Payton's offensive fortress for the Denver Broncos

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Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Payton knows what it means to field an elite offensive team. Through his decade and a half-plus with the New Orleans Saints, it was a rare instance when they didn’t field an elite attack. And aside from the quarterback, you need a dominant offensive line that can protect said quarterback.

No questions asked.

While it wasn’t the sole explanation for Russell Wilson’s struggles in 2022, Denver’s offensive line was a collective turnstile. It let Wilson get sacked a league-leading 63 times, as the veteran was seldom not under relentless pressure. Adding Mike McGlinchey (the arguably premier right tackle available) and guard Ben Powers (a future foundational piece) was a dramatic step in the right direction to “fixing” Wilson.

Payton understands very well what it’ll take to turn the Broncos around. Day 1 of free agency proved as much.

The Atlanta Falcons' underrated savviness

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AP Photo/Paul Sancya

A year ago, the Falcons couldn’t stop a nosebleed on defense and didn’t know how to utilize Kyle Pitts. After the opening tip of free agency, something tells me that won’t be an issue moving forward.

In one day, the Falcons, among other moves:

  • Retained 26-year-old guard Chris Lindstrom to one of the richest interior offensive line contracts in pro football history
  • Traded a seventh-round pick for a perfect TE2 in Jonnu Smith, potentially freeing Pitts up to terrorize safeties, linebackers (and corners)
  • Brought in Jessie Bates, a veteran safety with a legitimate postseason degree earned from the Cincinnati Bengals

On paper, in March, the NFC South is a trash heap. At minimum, the Falcons’ start to free agency put them in the conversation for the division title.

The Kansas City Chiefs' capacity to simply never miss

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Michael Chow/The Republic via USA TODAY Sports

How did the Chiefs — the defending Super Bowl champions — recover from likely losing Human Eclipse left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.?

Why they acquired former Jacksonville Jaguar Jawaan Taylor, who, at age 25, is widely considered one of the highest upside offensive linemen in the sport. The Chiefs know their bread and butter is having Patrick Mahomes and asking him only to do 80 percent of everything they need.

Getting a youthful building block like Taylor in the fold will ensure Mahomes continues to treat the Kansas City offense like his personal orchestra.

Former Notre Dame offensive linemen getting the bag as pros

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AP Photo/Josie Lepe

In a small aside, I’ve been impressed with Notre Dame’s recent NFL offensive line pedigree. It is abundantly clear this is a premier program that produces big-boy players in the trenches. Take the state of the Fighting Irish’s offensive line in 2015, as told by former Notre Dame guard Mike Golic Jr. With McGlinchey finding his way to the Colorado Front Range, almost every member of that unit has enjoyed lucrative second-contract compensation at the next level.

Look at NFL teams’ substantial financial commitments to these respective young men. They do it for a good reason — they’re very good at their jobs! Notre Dame is now an offensive line factory (at least in 2015).

If my math is correct, that’s $192 million guaranteed, spread over four of five players. In other words: phew.

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AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Everyone (so, all of us) waiting on some kind of resolution with Aaron Rodgers

What else is there possibly to say about the Aaron Rodgers saga at this point? He might be traded to the Jets. Or he might not be. He might retire. Or he might not. A deal is done. But we still have to wait? What?

Everything concerning Rodgers remains so needlessly exhausting. At a time when our energy should be focused on other exciting players who aren’t over the hill, Rodgers continues to be an annoying center of attention, draining whatever fun there is from free agency and this offseason.

NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, a frustrated Jets fan, put it best:

Can this just end already? Please?

The New York Jets and Green Bay Packers, who are being forced to twiddle their thumbs

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Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

How happy do you think the Jets and Packers are right now, on a scale of 1-10? A nice and neutral 6 or 7 because they know they’ll see an end to the Rodgers’ madness sooner rather than later? A 3 or 4 because they’re getting frustrated, but they can still see the forest for the trees?

I’ll venture to safely it’s more along the lines of an abysmal 1 or generous 2. Why?

Rodgers’ colossal contract, currently hanging in the wind, is preventing the Jets and Packers from making any free-agent moves. Without clarity on his future, New York and Green Bay must sit on the sidelines, watching players who could fill needs be gobbled up by other teams.

Great, grand, wonderful!

I know the Packers are ready to move past Rodgers. Are we sure the Jets aren’t already done with Rodgers?

The Philadelphia Eagles losing grip of their NFC mantel

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Jalen Hurts has reached the glorious stage of his career where the Eagles will be a relevant playoff force as long as he’s their elite starting quarterback. But Philadelphia isn’t in “it” for general postseason success. This franchise wants championships and lots of them.

The launch of free agency was rough in this regard.

A stalwart linebacker in Edwards left for Chicago. A stalwart defensive tackle in Javon Hargrave left for San Francisco. A solid starting safety, Marcus Epps, is headed to Las Vegas. (Oh, and 2022 co-interception leader, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, probably isn’t returning either.)

I’m sure GM Howie Roseman is thrilled that Brandon Graham and Jason Kelce are coming back. But they’re 34 and 35 years old, respectively. There’s no doubt it: the Eagles’ NFC crown took a few significant dents Monday.

The Los Angeles Rams, Sean McVay, and a new state of stasis

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

You see that kind of picture where Sean McVay is celebrating a fantastic triumph? Take it in. Revel in it. Because it’s probably not going to happen for a while. The Jalen Ramsey trade for pennies to the Miami Dolphins was a sign of the times in L.A. This rebuilding team is in no position — either salary cap-wise or in the draft — to fill in necessary roster holes. And its best players in Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald are already coming off injury.

I want to be clear that the Rams would never be big players this free agency. But they’ve still got some relative faces of the league who … feel stranded right now? And L.A. management doesn’t have much of many extra lifeboats. A shame, really, for a team at the top of the football world less than 14 months ago.

No wonder Ramsey was so happy to escape this sinking ship.

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