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20 things that happened (and didn't happen) on NFL free agency's first day

By Matthew Coller of Purple Insider,

2023-03-14

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The Vikings added a pass rusher and tight end and lost a corner and DT in free agency

The first day of the “legal tampering” period prior to the official start of free agency did not disappoint. Dozens of players found new homes and the Minnesota Vikings’ roster began to morph with both signings and exits. Let’s have a look at all the highlights…

The Vikings signed pass rusher Marcus Davenport

Late Monday night NFL Network reported that the Vikings agreed to a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints’ pass rusher for $13 million. When you first glance at Davenport’s stat page, you might have some serious questions about the Vikings taking a swing at him based on his lowly sack total from 2022. However, the underlying statistics point toward the Vikings grabbing a buy-low player with plenty of upside — namely that he’s one year removed from a 9.0 sack season and still posted a top-15 pass rush win rate last season (per PFF).

Davenport, who will turn 27 this season, gets an opportunity in Minnesota to get a second swing at a contract year and the Vikings get a young-ish player who could end up becoming a long-term staple for them if everything clicks. This is the type of move we expect from a team that’s transitioning their roster looking for steals on the free agent market rather than going hunting for the biggest fish.

Here’s Davenport’s year-by-year PFF pass rush grade rankings by year (among players with at least 20% of snaps):

  • 2022: 25th of 126
  • 2021: 12th of 123
  • 2020: 44th of 123
  • 2019: 30th of 120

Mark Wilf gave no indication of a long-term deal for Kirk Cousins

Evidence continues to grow that the Vikings and quarterback Kirk Cousins aren’t close to agreeing to a contract extension. Over the weekend NFL Network reported that Cousins was willing to “bet on himself” and play out 2023 with plans to hit free agency for 2024. The Vikings’ owner went on NFL Network Monday morning to talk about the team’s terrific performance in the NFL Players Association survey and he was asked about Cousins’s future.

“We’re looking for great things in ’23 and Kirk is going to be our leader on the offense,” Wilf said.

That certainly leaves the door open for more speculation about Cousins’s future. Of course, the Vikings are still cap-strapped and could use an extension to lower his cap hit but the more time that goes by the more unlikely an extension appears. Cousins signed his last two extensions around this time in 2020 and 2022.

The Vikings signed a blocking tight end

Raise your hand if you heard of Josh Oliver before Monday. The run-blocking expert from the Ravens signed a three-year deal worth $21 million with just over $10 million guaranteed, which seems like a lot but according to OverTheCap.com he will carry just a $3.5 million cap hit for 2023 and the Vikings can move on after two years with minimal dead cap. It’s clear that Kevin O’Connell wants to improve the team’s running game and versatility on offense after struggling to create a consistent attack. They also have plenty of room to improve in play-action performance. O’Connell stressed the connection between the run and passing game when speaking with beat reporters at the NFL Combine.

Oliver isn’t inept in the passing game. He caught 14 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns last year. At 26, Oliver is another player who could help immediately and in the long run.

Rumors swirled but there was no movement on other veteran Vikings

With Davenport signed, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reported that Za’Darius Smith is likely on his way out. There were reports earlier this week that Smith wanted to be released so he could sign elsewhere at a higher price. Whether that’s going to actually work is yet to be seen but it would appear that if the Vikings can’t find a trade partner they will grant his wish. The rest of the uncertain players remain up in the air. Rumors continue to float about a Dalvin Cook trade and there was no movement with Harrison Smith. That could change soon as the Vikings must be under the cap by Wednesday afternoon.

Patrick Peterson signed with the Steelers

On a live podcast, Patrick Peterson explained that he talked with the Vikings about a potential return but they couldn’t quite come to an agreement on the details. He praised the Vikings’ organization and said that he thought of Minnesota as home. But when his contract was reported, it made sense why the Vikings wouldn’t want to match the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offer. Peterson signed for two years, $14 million and a $5.85 million signing bonus. With Brian Flores changing schemes, it probably works out better for Peterson to land elsewhere but his leadership and 2022 production will be missed.

The Vikings will need to add cornerbacks in his place as the only CBs presently on the roster are Andrew Booth Jr., Akayleb Evans, Tay Gowan and Kalon Barnes.

Eric Kendricks joined the Chargers

The long-time Vikings linebacker announced on Instagram that he’s joining the L.A. Chargers. It would appear to be a good fit with the Chargers needing help on defense and Kendricks looking to provide help to a championship-chasing team.

Nobody signed receivers

If you need a receiver, there are plenty available because none of the free agents signed on the first day of the “legal tampering” period. It seems that teams are waiting until the second wave of free agency to sign them rather than paying top-notch prices for second-tier free agents. The list is very thin with top talent. The top names are Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster, Jakobi Meyers, Adam Thielen, Allen Lazard and Marvin Jones. All players who could be useful but none worth peak receiver dollars.

The Bears went on a spending spree

Chicago entered the free agent store with free money and they chose to spend every dollar they could on Day 1. GM Ryan Poles landed linebackers Tremaine Edmonds and TJ Edwards along with pass rusher DeMarcus Walker, who had seven sacks last year, and guard Nate Davis. Their plan to fully tear down the roster and rebuild it from scratch is well under way having already traded out of the No. 1 pick to get a quality receiver in DJ Moore and plenty of draft capital from the Carolina Panthers. The Bears will likely continue to make offers to free agent defensive players as they look to make major gains in the NFC North next season.

There was one Aaron Rodgers-to-Jets report

Trey Wingo, formerly of ESPN and now with Pro Football Network, reported that Aaron Rodgers will be traded to the Jets. All the other NFL Insiders looked befuddled on TV as they attempted to corroborate the report. There were other hints like ProFootballTalk reporting that Rodgers was reaching out to other free agents about joining the Jets but nothing official. The world waits another day.

If Rodgers does indeed complete the deal, it will end 30 years of dominance by Brett Favre and Rodgers over the NFC North (and Central before it) and the Packers will turn to Jordan Love. With almost no sample size of Love playing, there’s no way to project whether he can carry the torch in Green Bay and end the streak of greatness at the QB position. Uncertainty in Titletown isn’t something anybody in the North is used to having.

Jimmy G joined the Raiders

It didn’t take long for Jimmy Garoppolo to find a landing spot. The Las Vegas Raiders signed him to a very reasonable three-year deal with $34 million guaranteed. The mid-tier quarterback market continues to become a reality following reasonable contracts signed by Derek Carr, Geno Smith and Daniel Jones earlier this offseason. Garoppolo’s deal allows the Raiders to cut him after two years, which could open the door for them still considering drafting a quarterback with the seventh overall pick.

The OL market went wild

It was good to be a large guy on Monday. Here’s a rundown:

— Atlanta gave guard Chris Lindstrom a five-year, $105 million extension

— Denver signed guard Ben Powers for four years, $52 million

— Denver gave Mike McGlinchey five years, $87.5 million

— Chicago signed Nate Davis for three years, $30 million

— Kansas City signed Jawaan Taylor to a four year, $80 million contract

Vikings guard Ezra Cleveland is currently eligible for an extension and Christian Darrisaw can sign a long-term deal next year.

Two free agent centers went off the board but not Garrett Bradbury

Ethan Pocic of the Browns and Bradley Bozeman from Carolina both agreed to contracts with their present teams. Both players got extremely reasonable $18 million deals over three years, which opens the door for the Vikings to ask Bradbury to return on a similar contract if they so choose.

The Lions landed a top cornerback

Cameron Sutton seemed like he might make a good fit for the Vikings considering he played for the same team where Brian Flores was coaching last year but the Lions landed him with a three-year, $33 million deal with $22.5 million guaranteed. Detroit had an elite offense but struggled mightily to slow down opposing passing games, giving up the third most yards in the NFL last year. Sutton should be a big part of the solution for the Lions on defense.

Two other top corners also went off the market

The Vikings will likely have to wait until the cornerback market cools down before dipping their toe in to search for a P2 replacement. Jamel Dean re-signed with the Bucs for four years, $52 million and the Patriots kept Jonathan Jones at two years, $19 million. The top CBs looking for landing spots are: James Bradberry, Marcus Peters, William Jackson, Shaq Griffin and Emmanuel Moesley. There are potential options down the board like former Ram Troy Hill, Byron Murphy, Rock Ya-Sin and Anthony Brown. There hasn’t been any movement yet on Duke Shelley aside from him tweeting out an eyeball emoji, which, in 2023 is basically breaking news.

The 49ers’ defensive line somehow got better

As if San Francisco’s defensive line wasn’t intimidating enough, they added Javon Hargrave, who set a career high 11 sacks with the Eagles last year. Now the 49ers’ top four pass rushing D-linemen already produced 31 sacks in 2022. Hargrave’s deal is four years, $84 million.

Dalvin Tomlinson signed elsewhere because interior DL are expensive

The Vikings made it clear they wanted to sign Dalvin Tomlinson to an extension but the Cleveland Browns outpriced them, adding the D-tackle at four years, $57 million. Tomlinson was hardly the only interior defensive linemen to get rich with the Falcons signing David Onyemata for three years, $35 million ($24.5 million guaranteed) and Daron Payne staying in D.C. for four years, $90 million.

Now the Vikings have another position to fill. Harrison Phillips, Ross Blacklock, Khyiris Tonga, James Lynch and Esezi Otomewo make up the current IDL on the roster.

The Falcons improved their defense

Aside from picking up Onyemata, Atlanta also gave safety Jassie Bates III a $64 million contract. He’s been a huge part of Cincinnati’s defense over the last five years, playing over 5,000 snaps for the Bengals during their surge as a Super Bowl contender. Atlanta’s QB situation is up in the air but they are steadily adding pieces as they rebuild in the post Matt Ryan era.

Can Dantzler found a home

Earlier this week the Vikings cut their 2020 draft pick. He was picked up by Washington off waivers. Dantzler will get a shot at reinvigorating his career after struggling to remain healthy in three years with the Vikings.

Sam Darnold joined the QB factory

The 49ers spit out successful quarterbacks and Sam Darnold is the next man up hoping to thrive under Kyle Shanahan. As San Francisco faces QB uncertainty with Trey Lance having hardly played in two years and Brock Purdy undergoing elbow surgery, Darnold was their veteran of choice. It’s hard to say there’s hope for him after playing for two teams already but he does at least provide an experienced backup to the banged up youngsters.

Some new rules got proposed

While the free agent world was going batty, some interesting new rules were proposed by teams including the Eagles asking the league to allow players to wear the No. 0. Less silly were a request to allow the old No. 3 quarterback rule to come back into play, for Skyjudge to have more say over reviewable plays, for personal fouls to be reviewable and for teams to have the option to go for fourth-and-20 rather than onside kick. Some forms of these rules are being used in the XFL presently.

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