Analysis

Top 25 NFL free agents in 2023: Prospective class headlined by Lamar Jackson and Tom Brady

The recent explosion of wide receiver contracts made the 2023 free-agent crop less spicy, so it's up to Tom Brady to add some flavor. If past behavior is any indication, he may already be working on his next home.

Brady will turn 46 years old before next season. In contrast to most of the top-10 players on the list below, however, it's reasonable to imagine Brady playing in a different uniform next season.

The depleted WR supply is one takeaway from my initial study of this prospective free-agent class. There are plenty of notable quarterback names, a deep (if unflashy) cornerback crew and a lackluster batch of edge rushers. NFL teams have learned the hard way not to let quality starters get away, and the rising salary cap has made that easier to accomplish.

Enough preamble. To the list!

Rank
1
Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · QB · Age 25

The closer Jackson gets to free agency, the more I'm convinced the Ravens will sign him to a long-term agreement before they need to use the franchise tag. He doesn't appear that interested in going the Kirk Cousins route.

Rank
2
Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · QB · Age 45

Brady has made it sound like this will be his final season, but an ability to choose his next destination as a free agent may be too hard to pass up if he's still playing well.

Rank
3
Quenton Nelson
Indianapolis Colts · OG · Age 26

It will be a shock if Nelson doesn't eventually sign the biggest contract for a guard in NFL history with the Colts. Still, there hasn't been much chatter about a deal being close.

Rank
4
Derwin James
Los Angeles Chargers · S · Age 26

James is conducting a "hold-in" at Chargers training camp and there's every expectation he'll get a new contract shortly.

Rank
5
Roquan Smith
Chicago Bears · LB · Age 25

Smith is at Bears training camp, but not practicing. The linebacker has a strong argument as the best player on Chicago's roster, although the two sides are reportedly far apart in negotiations.

Rank
6
Orlando Brown
Kansas City Chiefs · OT · Age 26

Brown will play this year under the franchise tag. He said he wants to stay in Kansas City long term, but was looking for more guaranteed money from the Chiefs. A second tag would be expensive next season.

Rank
7
Erik McCoy
New Orleans Saints · C · Age 24

Brandon Thorn of the Trench Warfare newsletter -- one of the best voices on offensive line play -- ranks McCoy fourth among all centers. He's been a steady pro since Day 1 and will hit free agency at 25 years old.

Rank
8
Jessie Bates
Cincinnati Bengals · S · Age 25

Bates and the Bengals appear headed for a divorce in 2023, as the safety's staying away from camp with his franchise tag unsigned. The rangy center fielder's playoff performances were a huge reason Cincinnati made the Super Bowl.

Rank
9
Elgton Jenkins
Green Bay Packers · OL · Age 26

Jenkins has already shown he can play virtually any position along the offensive line at a high level. If he weren't coming off a torn ACL, he'd be ranked even higher.

Rank
10
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
New Orleans Saints · S · Age 24

"Ceedy Duce" isn't practicing fully at Saints camp as he seeks a new contract. He's one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league, partly because he can do a lot more than just cover receivers out of the slot.

Rank
11
Mike Gesicki
Miami Dolphins · TE · Age 26

Gesicki has improved every season as a field-stretching receiver, although I'm skeptical about new coach Mike McDaniel trying to turn him into a blocker.

Rank
12
Javon Hargrave
Philadelphia Eagles · DT · Age 29

One of the better free-agent signings of the last few years, the former Steeler won at an elite level in 2021. He will be 30 years old when he hits free agency again.

Rank
13
Marcus Davenport
New Orleans Saints · Edge · Age 25

I admittedly have a soft spot for Davenport, who wins with ferocious power. He's a plus starter entering his prime, which is hard to find in this edge class.

Rank
14
Dalton Schultz
Dallas Cowboys · TE · Age 25

A revelation in Big D last season, Schultz is set up to earn himself some money as a key cog in the Cowboys' depleted receiving corps.

Rank
15
Poona Ford
Seattle Seahawks · DT · Age 26

A unique talent who has grown better as a pass rusher, supplementing his tried-and-true run-stopping ability. The Seahawks were smart to give him a contract extension in March of 2021, but they didn't go long enough.

Rank
16
Yannick Ngakoue
Indianapolis Colts · Edge · Age 27

It's not a great sign that Ngakoue is on his fifth team, but he absolutely provides speed off the edge if he's used correctly.

Rank
17
James Bradberry
Philadelphia Eagles · CB · Age 29

Even Bradberry's relative down year with the Giants in 2021 wasn't that down. He could be the latest prove-it deal recipient to prove it.

Rank
18
Lavonte David
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · LB · Age 32

It's hard to know what David will bring heading into his age-33 season in 2023, but it's easy to see he remains one of the keys to the Bucs' defense.

Rank
19
Baker Mayfield
Carolina Panthers · QB · Age 27

Mayfield has limitations processing and holding the ball too long. He also has a beautiful, accurate arm that has shown the ability to make him an above-average starter for stretches.

Rank
20
Saquon Barkley
New York Giants · RB · Age 25

That eye-popping rookie season feels like a lifetime ago. Barkley is among the players who could most help his value with a return to form in 2022.

Rank
21
David Montgomery
Chicago Bears · RB · Age 25

In many ways the inverse of Barkley, Montgomery is a master of making defenders miss in small spaces to pick up 5 yards. The big plays are harder to come by.

Rank
22
Bradley Chubb
Denver Broncos · Edge · Age 26

In a career marred by injuries, Chubb enters this season healthy and knowing exactly what's at stake for him.

Rank
23
Daniel Jones
New York Giants · QB · Age 25

Jones has shown enough to engender belief that he can be a mid-level starter if given better surroundings. Mid-level starting quarterbacks have value!

Rank
24
Rock Ya-Sin
Las Vegas Raiders · CB · Age 26

This is a bit of a projection, but I love Ya-Sin's toughness and ability to play press-man coverage on the outside. Look for the CB to enjoy a big debut season in Vegas.

Rank
25
J.J. Watt
Arizona Cardinals · DE · Age 33

When Watt plays, he still plays really, really well. Plus, it's more fun to put him on this list than in the "JUST MISSED" group below.

JUST MISSED: Vonn Bell, S, Cincinnati Bengals; Jadeveon Clowney, Edge, Cleveland Browns; Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers; Dre Greenlaw, LB, San Francisco 49ers; Jakobi Meyers, WR, New England Patriots; Daron Payne, DT, Washington Commanders; Jordan Poyer, S, Buffalo Bills; Dalton Risner, OG, Denver Broncos; Irv Smith Jr., TE, Minnesota Vikings.

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