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NFL free agency: Baltimore Ravens among winners on Day 2 of negotiating period; WR market lagging

Day 2 of the NFL's free agent negotiating period is the day to catch your breath.

The blockbuster deals were agreed to on Monday, but the negotiations on Day 2 are the ones that often form the backbone of free agency -- for the less-heralded hole-fillers who don't garner headlines in March, but whose absences would definitely be felt in October if they never signed. When the day began, some bold-faced names, like Danielle Hunter and Justin Fields, were still in limbo. When the day ended, it was possible to have a much better sense of what teams need going into the 2024 NFL Draft (April 25-27) -- and Hunter was headed for Houston.

Below are some key takeaways from Tuesday's action:


1) Bridge and backup quarterbacks: Baker Mayfield is the patron saint of this group, after toiling as a backup, then going to Tampa as the bridge quarterback and playing so well he was just given a new long-term contract by the Bucs. From late Monday night into Tuesday, we saw a run on these QBs.

Sam Darnold and Jacoby Brissett are hoping for the same kind of career revivals. In the overnight hours, we learned that Darnold agreed to a one-year contract worth up to $10 million to potentially replace Kirk Cousins in Minnesota. Darnold has long been held in higher regard by football types than by fans, in large part because the football types know how lousy his past situations were with the Jets (who drafted him third overall in 2018) and Panthers (to whom he was traded by New York in 2021). In 2022, he started six games for Carolina and went 4-2, throwing seven touchdown passes and three interceptions. He'll benefit from being around Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell and QB coach Josh McCown, a former teammate of Darnold's.

It seems quite probable now that the Patriots will draft a quarterback with the third overall pick, but Brissett is the perfect choice as a placeholder. He did well coming off the bench for the Commanders last year, but was even more impressive when he started 11 games for the Cleveland Browns in 2022, while Deshaun Watson served his suspension. Brissett's return to New England (where he was a third-round pick in 2016, going on to start two games that year) means he could be the placeholder until a rookie is ready or, if the Patriots ultimately switch gears and decide to build in other places instead, be the bridge through 2024.

Gardner Minshew is heading to the Raiders, who, like New England, could be drafting a quarterback. Marcus Mariota is landing with the Commanders, who are also expected to draft a quarterback, putting Sam Howell's status in doubt. Jameis Winston is set to take on Brissett's old role as Watson's backup for the Browns. Last month, Jets owner Woody Johnson bluntly stated his team did not have a backup in 2023; on Monday night, the Jets got one for 2024, snagging Tyrod Taylor to play behind Aaron Rodgers. And the Giants, who needed veteran insurance in case Daniel Jones is not ready for the start of the season as he recovers from an ACL tear, are signing Drew Lock.

2) Joe Mixon, RB: When Tuesday started, the Bengals were expected to release Mixon, who spent seven years in Cincinnati and took a pay cut to remain with the team last year. He would have become a street free agent, with many of the running back slots already taken in Monday's rush. Instead, the Houston Texans agreed to a trade for him, preserving Mixon's contract, which will pay him a $3 million bonus in a few days. He replaces Devin Singletary, who is signing with the Giants, and he'll give C.J. Stroud a versatile weapon to add to a blossoming and dynamic offense. Mixon leaves a Super Bowl contender for a team on the rise -- a much softer landing than he was facing Monday night.

3) Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens had the league's top rushing attack last season, with the elusive Lamar Jackson as the leading rusher and an army of other ball-carriers. With Gus Edwards leaving for the Chargers, the Ravens needed a back to go along with Keaton Mitchell, who is coming off a significant knee injury, and they got the pound part of ground and pound by landing Derrick Henry. The Ravens long coveted Henry, and had been rumored to be interested in a trade multiple times. How badly did the Ravens need this? Remember that they lost the AFC Championship Game to the Kansas City Chiefs in large part because they could not -- and would not -- run the ball.

Even after more than 2,000 career touches, the 30-year-old Henry still has tread left. He rushed for 1,167 yards last season, has had just one sub-1,000 yard season in the last six and is famously difficult to tackle, especially late in the season. The Ravens are in a Super Bowl window right now, with a superb quarterback, an outstanding defense and weapons everywhere -- and they've managed to add the most dominant running back of his generation. The rich get richer, and goal-line situations are going to be a nightmare for opposing defenses.

4) The revenge factor: The first two days of movement created the prospect of juicy revenge games twice a year, as five big-time free agents agreed to leave the teams with which they came of age and head to division rivals: running back Saquon Barkley is going from the Giants to Eagles, linebacker Patrick Queen is going from the Ravens to Steelers, running back Aaron Jones is going from the Packers to the Vikings, safety Geno Stone is going from the Ravens to the Bengals and Jordan Poyer is going from the Bills to the Dolphins.


1) The wide receiver market: There wasn't much of one at all on Day 1 of the negotiating period, a reflection of the fact that the draft class is considered rich at the position (that's the opposite of running backs, who had a strong free agency in large part because of the lack of ballyhooed backs in the draft). On Tuesday, Calvin Ridley, Marquise Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., Curtis Samuel and Tyler Boyd, among others, were still waiting for deals. Ridley's situation may at least have an explanation -- one of the terms of his trade from the Falcons in 2022 was that if Ridley were to sign an extension in Jacksonville before the start of the league year on Wednesday, the Jaguars would owe the Falcons a second-round draft pick. If he signs after the start of the league year, the compensation drops to a third-round pick. The fact that Ridley hasn't agreed to sign elsewhere yet suggests the wideout wants to remain with the Jaguars. Darnell Mooney was one of the bright spots, signing with the Atlanta Falcons early on Tuesday to become another weapon for Kirk Cousins. And the Panthers traded for Steelers receiver Diontae Johnson. But one of the league's glamour positions has mostly been left on the sidelines of free agency so far.

2) Chicago Bears: They hopefully had plans A, B, C and D for a Justin Fields trade, but with quarterback jobs -- starting jobs, bridge jobs, backup jobs -- filling up in the first two days of free agency, it's getting harder to see many obvious landing spots for Fields right now. Consequently, the Bears land in this category one day after my colleague Jeffri Chadiha placed Fields there in his breakdown of Day 1.

Holding onto Fields post-draft seems less than ideal, because Fields is popular in the Bears' locker room, and that would create an awkward arrival for the expected first overall pick, USC quarterback Caleb Williams. Still, waiting for a trade may be best -- injuries inevitably happen, and a team will need a quarterback, driving up Fields' trade value from where it is now. That scenario would also give Fields the best opportunity to start. With so many jobs already filled and little apparent call for his services at this moment, Fields' current value has dropped. The Bears will still land the best quarterback of the draft, so that's a win for this offseason, but the return they are likely to get for Fields, a former first-round pick, may take a hit because they weren't able to find a suitable trade partner earlier.

3) Jimmy Garoppolo, QB: When the Raiders agreed to terms with Gardner Minshew late Monday, with Aidan O'Connell still on the roster, it likely spelled the end of Garoppolo's Raiders career after just one season. The problem for Garoppolo is that while he waits for his release -- which will likely come on Wednesday once the Minshew deal becomes official -- many of the open quarterback jobs have been filled. Garoppolo is also suspended for the first two games of the regular season for a violation of the performance enhancing substances policy. There are still teams that need a quarterback, either as a potential starter or backup (Denver is one), but Garoppolo's market will be limited not only by his poor performance and benching last season, but by how late his release is coming.

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