Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. In today's installment, he identifies 10 free agency moves that deserve more attention.
The first week of NFL free agency always features a slew of high-profile deals that dominate the headlines, with observers attempting to connect the dots between offseason champions and emerging Super Bowl threats. Although it is rare for a team to "win" March and proceed to claim a Lombardi Trophy 11 months later, eventual title contenders routinely look back and reference the underrated offseason additions that helped bring everything together.
Sometimes it's a talented playmaker finding the perfect scheme to maximize his abilities. In other instances, it's a role player whose unique trait fills a crucial void on the roster. And of course, some acquisitions prove vital by getting the best out of everyone else. But in the whirlwind of activity that is the free agency frenzy, a significant number of potentially impactful pickups just get lost in the shuffle.
After taking some time to review all of the roster reconstruction from the first few days of the new league year, I'm here to spotlight 10 free-agent signings that you should NOT overlook.
NOTE: Players are listed with the ages they will be on Sept. 7, when the 2023 NFL season is set to kick off.
- CONTRACT: Two years, $10 million with $5 million guaranteed.
Perhaps the former Raider simply joined a division rival to fill the backup role, but Russell Wilson's struggles in 2022 make the fifth-year pro an intriguing insurance policy for Sean Payton. Stidham's IQ, arm talent and promising flashes as a spot starter for Las Vegas undoubtedly raised his profile as a developmental player with QB1 potential. Although Wilson's hefty contract makes it nearly impossible for Denver to swiftly unload him if his woes continue, Stidham gives the Broncos a viable option if Payton needs to make a change in order to spark the offense. Furthermore, this signing proves the new coach isn't going to kowtow to the team's highest-paid player. Not surprising when it comes to Payton, but he is indeed the head man and this is his show.
- CONTRACT: One year, up to $9 million.
The super-sized pass catcher is a wide receiver in a tight end's body. As a matchup problem for linebackers and defensive backs due to his rare mix of athleticism and length, Gesicki will create playmaking opportunities for himself and/or others, depending on how opponents elect to defend him. With the former Dolphin joining an offense directed by a coordinator (Bill O'Brien) who wants to make the game easy for the quarterback, Gesicki could become the focal point of an attack that forces opponents to adjust to unique formations and personnel groupings.
- CONTRACT: Two years, $11 million.
With the Dolphins transitioning to a read-and-react defense under new coordinator Vic Fangio, the team needed a dynamic playmaker on the second level with sideline-to-sideline capabilities. Long fits the bill as a key-and-diagnose specialist with outstanding instincts, awareness and range. While most of the offseason attention will focus on what highly decorated cornerback Jalen Ramsey brings to South Florida, once the 2023 campaign kicks off, this veteran linebacker could emerge as the difference-maker who truly takes Miami's defense to the next level.
- CONTRACT: Three years, $19 million with $12.5 million guaranteed.
The Browns have been searching for a complementary pass rusher opposite game-wrecking extraordinaire Myles Garrett, but no one has been able to consistently fill the void, with former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney departing Cleveland after a two-sack season. Okoronkwo will get his shot to star in the role after a mini-breakout campaign in Houston. As a high-motor pass rusher with outstanding first-step quickness, the sixth-year pro should enjoy plenty of success in his one-on-one matchups opposite Garrett. Considering how many sacks are produced on sheer effort and hustle, the Browns might have shored up a weakness that needs to become a team strength in a conference loaded with premier quarterback talent.
- CONTRACT: Two years, $13 million (reportedly).
The veteran DB follows his former defensive coordinator to fix a downtrodden D and disjointed locker room culture in Houston. Ward is an elite cover man in the slot with the speed, quickness and agility to handle shifty receivers in the space, but he also possesses the requisite toughness and physicality to take care of business as a run-stopper on the perimeter. Given how new head coach DeMeco Ryans wants to build a hard-hitting squad around a collection of high-character players, Ward's signing is a big part of the Texans' transformation under their former star player. And the 32-year-old will be an invaluable resource to talented young defensive backs Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre.
- CONTRACT: One-year, $1.35 million with $600,000 guaranteed.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman is no stanger to praise these days, and this savvy pickup could be his next applause inducer. Penny is a low-cost signing with the potential to produce a huge return on investment due to his explosive playmaking potential. The oft-injured running back has teased evaluators with flashes of elite production and a career average of 5.7 yards per carry, but the former first-round pick has never panned out as a consistent workhorse in the backfield. If Penny can avoid the injury bug that has plagued his NFL tenure, he could emerge as a star playing alongside Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia's RPO-based offense.
- CONTRACT: Two years, $22 million.
A pickup that undoubtedly made Minnesota's new defensive coordinator smile. This underrated cover corner is the kind of scrappy hybrid defender Brian Flores loves to feature in his secondary. As an experienced starter with inside/outside capabilities, Murphy can fill multiple roles as a matchup specialist with a high football IQ and outstanding instincts. In a scheme that is expected to deploy more "snowflake" game plans specifically tailored to the Vikings' opponents, adding a cerebral playmaker should help the unit blossom under Flores' direction. Not to mention, Murphy could just be entering his prime at age 25.
- CONTRACT: Two years, $10 million (reportedly).
Coaches often have a few "pet cats" who follow them from team to team due to reliability in the scheme and fit in the culture. Considering White was handpicked by new Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon to fill one of the off-ball linebacker spots on a young team, the veteran is expected to show an underachieving group (SEE: first-round picks Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins) how to win while also teaching the nuances of a new scheme. If the sixth-year pro can make a few plays while handling those leadership duties, Arizona can establish a solid foundation that keys Gannon's rebuilding effort in the desert.
- CONTRACT: One-year deal.
Pete Carroll loves a reclamation project, as evidenced by his work with Geno Smith, among many others, during his tenure with the Seahawks. Bush is next on the list as a former top-10 pick who struggled with injuries and inconsistency in Pittsburgh. Despite failing to live up to expectations as a Steeler, the ultra-competitive defender still has the dog in him that made the Michigan product a ballyhooed prospect in the Class of 2019. If Carroll can crack the code and unlock the feisty defender who delivered a number of splash plays as a rookie, the Seahawks' defense could rejoin the ranks of the elite with Bush and a group of junkyard dogs leading the way.
- CONTRACT: Three years, $33 million with $21 million guaranteed.
The undervalued route-running specialist will team with Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow to give Josh McDaniels a trio of crafty playmakers on the perimeter. Meyers' sneaky combination of speed, quickness and burst is complemented with subtle maneuvers that keep defenders on their heels. With the Raiders' scheme featuring a variety of "get open" routes that provide receivers with the freedom to create on the perimeter, Meyers could become an unstoppable weapon for Las Vegas as he terrorizes CB2s and CB3s in space.