NFL free agency begins March 15, and while teams and agents set the groundwork for future deals and discussions during the NFL Combine, the negotiating window is set to officially open on Monday, March 13, which means some star players could be moving to new zip codes.
Likewise, there are a handful of impending free agents flying just below the radar who are on the cusp of cashing in. Here are some of the lesser-heralded free agents who could be in line for big deals when free agency begins:
Jakobi Meyers – WR, New England Patriots
Potential Fits: Las Vegas Raiders, New England Patriots, New York Giants
Meyers is hitting free agency at exactly the right time. The 26-year-old headlines a relatively weak crop of free agent receivers, and is coming off one of the more productive seasons of his career. After catching 67 passes for 804 yards and a career-high 6 touchdowns, don’t be surprised if he commands upwards of $15 million annually.
“This kid is savvy as they come,” an NFL offensive coach told Heavy. “He has a good feel for getting open, good hands, and extremely tough.”
Arden Key – EDGE, Jacksonville Jaguars
Potential Fits: Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens
Key seemed to find a home in the swarming Jaguars front-seven. With the versatility to stop the run on the way to the quarterback and explosiveness off the snap, Key is coming into his own at at age 26. Last season, Key notched 4.5 sacks and 27 tackles to go with 44 quarterback pressures, while notching an 81.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.
“He’s a really good third-down guy who can really rush the passer,” an NFC personnel executive told Heavy. “He’s a tweener, but definitely on the bigger end as far as smallish linebackers go.”
A strong market is shaping up with Key, as sources tell Key that several teams are lining up to make their pitch to the Jaguars EDGE.
Vonn Bell – S, Cincinnati Bengals
Potential Fits: Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles
Bell is a playmaker, who always seems to be around the football, at his best, Bell is a turnover machine. Playing alongside Jessie Bates in the Cincinnati secondary, Bell carved out his own niche by producing 77 total tackles with 1.0 sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and intercepting 4 passes in 2022. More than just a box safety, Bell held opposing quarterbacks to a 65.1 passer rating when targeting him last season.
Devin Singletary – RB, Buffalo Bills
Potential fits: Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos
Singletary is as explosive and elusive as the come, as illustrated by his 4.7 career yards per carry average, while largely splitting time in the Buffalo Bills’ backfield. Singletary is just as dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield as he is a runner, catching 38 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown in 2022. If Singletary lands with a team that deploys its running backs frequently in the passing game, especially as a security blanket for a young quarterback, he’ll crack into the top tier of backs across the league in short order.
Kaden Elliss – LB, New Orleans Saints
Potential fits: New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys
Elliss is a rising star. Despite only playing 632 snaps in 2022, Elliss made a real impact on the Saints’ defense, logging 64 total tackles, 8.0 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, while holding opposing quarterbacks to a 97.1 passer rating when targeted. Teams that ask their linebackers to rush the passer as well as drop into coverage frequently could be getting a steal to build around for years to come.
Quote of the Week
“In a situation like this, you’re trying to do what’s best for you and your family while also balancing being part of a team and understanding the goals and the vision we have as a team.” – Daniel Jones on his new contract with the New York Giants
Giants general manager Joe Schoen and Daniel Jones’ representatives at Athletes First knocked this contract out of the park.
Jones came away with a deal that allows him to claim $40 million per season, which was important to him, and the Giants emerged with a contract that counts just $19 million against the cap in 2023, and according to Pro Football Talk, averages out to just $37.5 million annually. Both are major advantages in terms of building around Jones, which could remain a Herculean lift for Schoen and the front office.
The onus is now equally on Jones, to make a monumental leap in his fifth season from a campaign that saw him pass for just 15 touchdowns to 5 interceptions, as well as on Schoen to actually build out a competent and NFL-caliber wide receiving corps.
Isaiah Hodgins (33 catches for 351 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2022) and Richie James (57 catches for 579 yards and 4 touchdowns) are nice complementary weapons, but neither would sit at the top of any depth chart in the league outside of East Rutherford.
By structuring the contract the way Schoen and the Giants did, New York now has the ability to surround Jones with playmakers, fortify the offensive line, and do so without being locked into a commitment to the quarterback beyond the 2024 season.
Last fall, Jones led the Giants to the postseason for the first time since 2016, and first playoff win since 2011. And, after the way these negotiations played out, New York has the chance to build around him to see if he can take the franchise to heights not seen in 11 years.
Final Thought: The Lamar Jackson Saga
Something isn’t adding up, when it comes to Lamar Jackson.
The Baltimore Ravens applied the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson at approximately 3:02 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7, and within 14 minutes, teams began leaking publicly to reporters that they have “no interest” in pursuing the 2019 MVP.
Despite talks advancing “tremendously” between the Ravens and Atlanta Falcons at the NFL Combine, the Falcons were the first team to deny having any interest. This, despite Jackson seemingly being an ideal scheme fit for head coach Arthur Smith’s run-based system with dynamic pass-catchers like Drake London and Kyle Pitts in the fold. So, too, did the Las Vegas Raiders, Washington Commanders and cap-rich Carolina Panthers.
There might not be organized collusion going on between NFL owners against handing out another fully-guaranteed contract such as the $250 million pact the Cleveland Browns signed Deshaun Watson in March 2022, but there certainly seems to be a consensus desire against that becoming Jackson’s outcome and the league’s new normal.
By applying the non-exclusive tag, Baltimore is allowing Jackson to go out and discover his value within the league. If Jackson signs an offer sheet that the Ravens don’t match, Baltimore would receive two first-round picks as compensation, effectively seemingly trying to prove to the 26-year-old with a 45-16 record that there is no fully-guaranteed contract to be had.
It remains to be seen what kind of deal Jackson is able to find, or that he and Baltimore agree to, or if he plays under the tag in 2023.
But, with Daniel Jones fetching $40 million per season over four years, it is hard to envision in an environment where the salary cap is expected to rise exponentially in coming years that Jackson would have no market. Especially when quarterback trades such as the Russell Wilson blockbuster last spring commanded a far steeper asking price than a pair of first-round picks.
Jackson doesn’t have an agent, which complicates things. He also has a lengthy injury history, without a track record of postseason success. Still, it is almost unfathomable that he would not draw interest for an asking price of two first-round picks, and uniquely strange that so many teams would so publicly distance themselves from even showing interest in acquiring him at all.