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2023 NFL Free Agency matchmaking: One fit for each NFC team

The 2023 NFL free agency period officially begins at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 15. Before the frenzy really kicks into gear, Kevin Patra provides one fun free agency fit for each NFC team.

NOTE: All cap figures and projections cited below come from Over The Cap, unless otherwise noted. As with Gregg Rosenthal's Top 101 NFL Free Agents of 2023, each player's listed age represents how old he will be on Sept. 7, when the 2023 NFL season is poised to kick off.

New head coach Jonathan Gannon's secondary needs an infusion of talent, particularly if the Cardinals don't retain free agent Byron Murphy. Enter Bradberry, who was the ideal cover man in Philly under Gannon during his time as Eagles defensive coordinator -- notwithstanding the holding call at the end of Super Bowl LVII. The veteran allowed a 54.7 passer rating in 2022, fourth-best among corners with at least 100 coverage snaps, per Next Gen Stats. Bradberry might be getting up in age, but his style of play portends productive years on the horizon. He would be a trusted corner for Gannon, someone who understands the system and can be leaned on in Year 1.

Outside of re-signing right tackle Kaleb McGary, adding Bates seems like one of the more obvious moves for Atlanta. The Falcons have money to spend, and Bates is due to finally get the long-term deal he's earned. A movable-chess piece with a nose for the football, Bates makes everyone around him better. Yet, even while the Bengals' defense shined the past two seasons, Bates never got the national attention he deserved as the back-end glue. The Falcons have needed to upgrade their defense for years. Yes, adding a pass rusher or four remains necessary, but filling out the secondary with a ballhawk like Bates would give Atlanta a potentially elite back-end pairing with corner A.J. Terrell.

The quarterback situation must be solved, but Frank Reich's squad also has a glaring need to upgrade the tight end room: The Ian Thomas-Tommy Tremble combo ain't selling. Schultz is a QB-friendly tight end who can get open in close quarters and provide a red-zone threat. He's also a solid blocker. Carolina must furnish playmakers (alongside DJ Moore) for whomever is under center. Adding a weapon like Schultz would fit Reich's scheme and bring YAC capability and third-down reliability to an offense that has been missing both.

The Bears need weapons for Justin Fields, but how about spending a chunk of their salary-cap space on one of the top offensive tackles on the market? McGlinchey excels as a run blocker, which fits the Bears' offense well, even if they end up wanting to air it out more in 2023. Chicago has attempted to fill the O-line holes through the draft (2021 second-round pick Teven Jenkins, who's missed 15 games the past two seasons) and less costly veterans (Riley Reiff, headed for free agency after signing a one-year, $3 million deal). Neither avenue has worked out. Shelling out cash to bring in a bona fide right tackle immediately improves the Bears' trench play.

Retaining free-agent running back Tony Pollard is priority No. 1, and upgrades at corner are a must, but discussing those tasks isn't nearly as fun as mulling an OBJ-Cowboys marriage. Dallas goofed big time by trading away veteran receiver Amari Cooper last year, and now the team must make up for it by importing a legit pairing for CeeDee Lamb. Beckham, who went unsigned all last season after tearing his ACL in Super Bowl LVI, might not be the consistent target-gobbler he was early in his career, but he can give the offense a threat it is sorely lacking. Last year's in-season dalliance fizzled. Now it's time for the Joneses to seal the deal. 

Byron Murphy
CB · Age: 25

Detroit's D needs help all over, but corner remains the most pressing weakness. The Lions are wafer-thin in the secondary, even if Jeff Okudah continues to improve. They were especially torched from the slot. That's where Murphy steps in. A versatile corner, Murphy showed he can play on the outside in 2022 after thriving inside his first three seasons. A foot injury that wiped out the end of his season early could dampen Murphy's free agency value. He'd immediately upgrade Aaron Glenn's defense in Detroit -- and his presence wouldn't necessarily preclude the Lions from using an early draft pick on another young corner.

Arden Key
Edge · Age: 27

In keeping with what seems like an annual tradition for GM Brian Gutekunst, I will also presumably irritate Packers fans by eschewing the offensive side of the ball in free agency. What, you thought I'd name a Dalton Schultz type here? Green Bay's lack of edge depth showed up last season, when the pass rush essentially disappeared after Rashan Gary suffered an ACL tear in November. Key boosted the Jaguars' rush when on the field last season, netting 4.5 sacks and 38 pressures as a rotational presence, per Next Gen Stats. Adding a rusher who might be overlooked in free agency fits well with where the Packers are financially and would pay immediate dividends. 

The Rams desperately need help along the offensive line. The run blocking was particularly poor last season, opening few holes. Seumalo, a road-grader, would fit Sean McVay's zone scheme well. With a pummeling style, the 29-year-old guard would bring toughness to the interior that the Rams currently lack. The big question for Seumalo is whether he's durable enough, given that he missed 21 games in the 2020 and '21 seasons. But he did start all 17 games in 2022 and allowed just one sack, per Pro Football Focus.

Among the clubs facing a cap crunch, the Vikings will likely be looking for potential bargains, particularly at corner. Ya-Sin would provide a physical presence in the Minnesota secondary. He didn't give up many big plays last season in Vegas. He just hasn't lived up to the hype as a former second-round pick by Indianapolis. Perhaps Ya-Sin could reach that ceiling in Brian Flores' defense.

Let's not get too into the weeds here. The Saints know they need an upgrade at quarterback. They signaled as much by visiting with Carr before his release. Many outside observers have viewed New Orleans as a rebuilding club, but the front office and coach Dennis Allen -- who recently said the Saints are "not as far off as maybe some might think" -- seem to approach the team like they're a piece or two away from competing for a championship. As such, snagging Carr makes sense. He's the best veteran option currently set to be available, presuming the top of the free-agent market is winnowed by franchise tags. The Saints provide Carr a chance to win in a weak NFC South, and they have some pieces on offense (Alvin Kamara and Chris Olave) for him to work with.

The Giants have needs all over the roster. With few free-agent options at receiver available, GM Joe Schoen can turn his attention to the defense. Schoen should know Poyer well from their time together in Buffalo. He'd bring a veteran presence, versatility and playmaking to the back end of a Big Blue defense that is poised to lose Julian Love and Tony Jefferson to free agency. Last year's injury issues (he missed four games) are a concern, but Poyer would immediately upgrade a Giants D that relied heavily on youngsters in 2022. 

We'll guess that, with a host of pending free agents, GM Howie Roseman focuses on the ones he'd most like to retain, with CJGJ topping that list. The 25-year-old's versatility is a rare trait. He owns proven playmaking ability from the slot and at safety. A speeding bullet, his ball skills are stellar, and he can spearhead to the line to stuff the run. As tough as they come, CJGJ has an edge that raises the level of play of the defenders around him. If Philly allows him to escape, it would significantly hinder the creativity that new defensive coordinator Sean Desai could deploy in 2023. 

This choice might be wish-casting for a 49ers club with fewer holes than most teams entering free agency. Allen came on strong in 2022, generating 5.5 sacks and 33 pressures (per Next Gen Stats) in 13 games for the Cardinals. He's an ascending talent who would provide pop opposite Nick Bosa. His versatility would fit nicely along a defensive line that has depth questions, especially if the Niners don't retain Samson Ebukam.

The Seahawks need to boost the interior defensive line. Hargrave proved his Pro Bowl 2021 campaign wasn't a fluke, netting 11 sacks from the defensive tackle spot in 2022. The big-bodied penetrator would immediately bolster the Seahawks' pass rush. Hargrave fits the mold Pete Carroll wants from his disruptors: He's a playmaker who can live in the backfield and bully O-linemen in one-on-ones. The Seahawks have money to spend this offseason, with significant funds needing to go to the defensive side. Swiping Hargrave from Philly would be the crown jewel of the defensive remake.  

If the Bucs move away from longtime star Lavonte David, they'll be looking for a younger playmaker to fill the gap. Al-Shaair fits the bill. Though he was trapped behind Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw for much of his time in San Francisco, Al-Shaair showed flashes of playmaking ability when on the field, including during a 102-tackle campaign in 2021 when he replaced an injured Greenlaw. With several off-linebacker options hitting free agency, Al-Shaair's market will be an interesting one to track. Whoever ultimately inks the LB will be getting a playmaker on the rise.

With Washington applying the franchise tag to Daron Payne, one question on Washington's defense was answered. Now let's fill another hole. Beyond Jamin Davis, the linebacking corps lacks reliable playmaking. The Commanders are almost certain to seek a free agent to plug the gap in the middle of Jack Del Rio's defense. Edwards would be a massive upgrade as a rising player who excels against the pass and owns the ability to play all three downs. Edwards can clean up against the run, cover in space and isn't too shabby when asked to rush. Swiping the LB away from the NFC East rival Eagles would also be a nice sweetener for Washington. 

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