D.J. Chark Jr.

Chargers Sign WR DJ Chark

DJ Chark is catching on with his fourth team in four years. The free agent wideout has agreed to a deal with the Chargers, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Chark will be signing a one-year deal worth up to $5MM, per Rapoport. The veteran wide receiver visited the organization prior to the draft.

The former second-round pick spent the first four seasons of his career with the Jaguars, including a 2019 campaign where he compiled 1,008 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. He couldn’t put up the same volume in 2020, and he hit free agency following an injury-riddled 2021 campaign.

Still, Chark managed to garner a $10MM contract from the Lions that offseason, and he bounced back with 30 catches for 502 yards in 2022. He got a one-year, $5MM deal with the Panthers last offseason and put up similar numbers, finishing with 35 catches for 525 yards and five scores.

After moving on from both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams this offseason, the Chargers have been connected to several of the remaining veteran WRs on the market. In addition to Chark, the team also expressed interest in Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Considering the team’s depth chart, this latest move shouldn’t take them out of the running for further reinforcement.

The team’s current receivers room is led by 2023 first-round pick Quentin Johnston, and the team is still rostering Josh Palmer. The organization recently used a second-round pick on Ladd McConkey, and they also added rookies Brenden Rice and Cornelius Johnson in the seventh round (along with three UDFAs at the position). That makes Los Angeles a solid landing spot for Chark, who could improve his market value receiving passes from Justin Herbert. The free agent acquisition should also have a bit of a head start with the offense, as he played under current Chargers WRs coach (and former Jaguars WRs coach) Sanjay Lal when the two were in Jacksonville.

Chargers Host WR DJ Chark

The Chargers could be positioned to add one of the top receiver prospects in next week’s draft, especially if they elect to retain the No. 5 pick. While a decision on that front is yet to be made, veteran options are also being considered.

Los Angeles hosted DJ Chark on a free agent visit yesterday, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports. Chark is one of several veteran wideouts still on the market, and that will likely remain the case until after the draft. The former Jaguars Pro Bowler is coming off his second consecutive one-year tenure, having spent the 2023 season in Carolina.

Chark joined the Panthers on a $5MM deal last offseason, aiming to give the team a deep threat following his Lions stint. While ankle surgery aimed at preventing a repeat of the lingering ankle and foot issues he has dealt with did not produce a full campaign last year, Chark did manage to play 15 games with Carolina. He posted 525 receiving yards – the third-highest total of his career – and five touchdowns. The 27-year-old remained a field-stretching option, averaging 15 yards per reception.

The Chargers have also been linked to Marquez Valdes-Scantlinganother veteran wideout known to be able to operate as a vertical option in the passing game. Los Angeles has a need at the WR spot with Mike Williams having been released and Keenan Allen being traded. Both Chark and Valdes-Scantling have experience as a starter which could help the team transition to the likes of Quentin Johnston and Josh Palmer in a larger role moving forward.

The latter two are in place as key figures in the Chargers’ passing game as things stand. Johnston had an underwhelming rookie campaign after being selected in the first round last year, though, and Palmer is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Another Day 1 investment at the receiver position would thus come as little surprise, but any rookies added in the near future could be accompanied by Chark or Valdes-Scantling next season.

WR Notes: Watson, Metchie, Chark, McLaurin, Smith-Njigba

Jordan Love‘s tenure as the Packers‘ full-time starting quarterback will have a bit of a hurdle to navigate this week. In his first start since November 2021, Love will be without the team’s top returning receiver Christian Watson, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.

Watson is dealing with a hamstring injury that could potentially lead to an extended absence. Head coach Matt LaFleur claimed that he doesn’t think Watson will reach a three- or four-week absence but classified the second-year wideout as week-to-week.

The top target in Watson’s absence, fellow sophomore receiver Romeo Doubs, is also dealing with a hamstring injury but is only listed as questionable heading into the weekend. Rookie wideout Dontayvion Wicks is the third such receiver on the team dealing with a hamstring injury, but he managed to avoid the injury report altogether. Star tackle David Bakhtiari is also available after staying off the injury report.

Here are a few more reports on wide receiver injuries from around the league heading into Week 1:

  • The world will have to continue to wait for the NFL debut of Texans wide receiver John Metchie III, according to Aaron Wilson of KPRC2. Despite making a recovery from both a torn ACL and leukemia, Metchie is still dealing with a nagging hamstring injury. Houston is being patient, taking a “big-picture approach” to Metchie’s return. The team will be without safety Jimmie Ward and linebacker Blake Cashman for Week 1, as well.
  • The Panthers are slowly working their way back to full health in their receiving corps, according to Panthers writer Augusta Stone. Back ups Terrace Marshall and Ihmir Smith-Marsette are now fully participating in practice after recent injury trouble. Starters Adam Thielen and D.J. Chark Jr. both returned to practice today in a limited capacity. While Thielen was listed as questionable and could still play, Chark has been ruled out for the team’s season opener.
  • The Commanders drew lots of criticism when leading receiver Terry McLaurin sustained an injury as the team played its starters fairly deep into a preseason game in an effort to end the Ravens’ preseason win streak. They’ll dodge a bullet, though, as McLaurin will be active this week after making good progress from his turf toe injury, according to Commanders senior writer Zach Selby. He’s had a couple of full participation practices and should be good to go for Week 1. Defensive end Chase Young has been listed as questionable, though. Head coach Ron Rivera claimed that “if (Young’s) cleared, he’ll go.”
  • Despite undergoing wrist surgery just two and a half weeks ago, Seahawks rookie first round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba is expected to play in the team’s season opener against the Rams this Sunday, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. Head coach Pete Carroll, who was optimistic on the recovery timeline, confirmed as much this week.

Panthers WR DJ Chark Undergoes Ankle Surgery

DJ Chark was one of two notable receiver additions made by the Panthers this offseason. He comes to Carolina with injury concerns from his previous stops, but a step aimed at ending them has been taken.

Chark recently underwent ankle surgery, as confirmed by head coach Frank Reich (Twitter link via The Athletic’s Joe Person). The new Panthers coach added that Chark could be available to take part in at least some of the team’s OTAs later this offseason. The procedure, if successful, could help the latter move on from the lingering foot and ankle issues he has dealt with in his career.

The 26-year-old did not play a full regular season campaign during his four years in Jacksonville or his one-year stint in Detroit. Chark’s time with the Lions only lasted 11 games, but he averaged 16.7 yards per catch in 2022, demonstrating his continued ability to stretch the field. His production led to a one-year Panthers contract featuring $5MM in guaranteed money. That will give him the opportunity – along with fellow veteran Adam Thielen – to contribute in Carolina’s new-look WR room, one which no longer includes D.J. Moore.

Chark was one of the better members of this year’s weak receiver class in free agency, and he had interest from the Lions in remaining for at least one more season. Instead, he chose to come to Carolina in no small part due to the connection between himself and Duce Staley. The latter – hired by Reich with the title of running backs/assistant head coach – worked alongside Chark in Detroit last season.

“Duce was a big factor in DJ coming here,” general manager Scott Fitterer confirmed, via Mike Kaye of the Charlotte Observer“He reached out to him once we hit free agency… He reached out and said, ‘Hey, listen, here’s the role, what do you want to do? I’ve been with you’… And really, he recruited him.”

Chark will have a rookie quarterback throwing to him in 2023 as part of his adjustment to a third career NFL team. His connection with Staley will give him a familiar face, however, as he looks to put together a healthy season and boost his free agent value in the process. Assuming he recovers in full from surgery, he will be well-positioned to do just that.

Panthers To Sign WR DJ Chark

Both the Lions and Panthers continued their DJ Chark pursuits this week. Carolina already bringing in Adam Thielen will not deter the team from adding Chark as well.

Chark agreed to terms on a one-year Panthers deal Friday, The Score’s Jordan Schultz tweets. ESPN’s Field Yates subsequently tweeted that Chark, who will join Thielen and a to-be-determined rookie quarterback in Charlotte, will earn a fully guaranteed $5MM, which is comprised of a $3.92MM signing bonus and a $1.08MM base salary. The deal also includes four void years for cap purposes.

One of the better wideouts to hit the market, Chark joined Mecole Hardman and Nelson Agholor in agreeing to terms during free agency’s second week. While Thielen will provide the Panthers with a possession receiver, Chark stands to sign on as a field-stretching presence. Injuries have interrupted Chark’s progress over the past two seasons, likely leading to the one-year deal. But the Panthers, shortly after including D.J. Moore in their trade for the No. 1 overall pick, hosted both Thielen and Chark on visits.

The Lions expressed interest in re-signing Chark just after the 2022 season ended, and the former second-round pick also indicated a Detroit return would be on his radar. The sides could not come to terms, however, leading to the Panthers adding another starter. This will position Chark to either prove a fit in Carolina ahead of a potential long-term extension or hope for a more lucrative deal on the 2024 free agent market.

Over the past few months, Carolina had lost both its top receivers — Moore and Chosen Anderson — with the latter being traded after a sideline incident before last year’s deadline. Chark and Thielen may not represent long-term pieces for Carolina’s next quarterback to target, but Thielen is signed to a multiyear deal (worth $14MM guaranteed) and Chark is only going into his age-27 season.

Chark broke through back in 2019, totaling 1,008 receiving yards while teaming with Gardner Minshew in Jacksonville. The Jaguars reached their franchise nadir over the next two seasons, earning the No. 1 overall pick in 2021 and ’22, but Chark still contributed 706 yards to their cause in 2020. He suffered a fractured ankle early in the team’s 2021 season, but the Lions thought enough of the 6-foot-4 pass catcher to give him $10MM last year.

Although Chark ran into more ankle trouble that landed him on IR, he showed promising form upon returning. En route to a 508-yard season for a surprising Lions squad, Chark played a role in Detroit’s late-season surge by producing three 90-plus-yard receiving games in a four-week span in December. Chark reached a season-high 108 yards during a Week 16 loss to the Panthers, and GM Scott Fitterer will bring him aboard to help Frank Reich‘s team.

The Panthers now have two former LSU wideouts on their roster, in Chark and 2021 second-rounder Terrace Marshall. It cannot be ruled out Carolina looks to this position again in the draft, but Thielen and Chark give the team some veteran options in case it prefers to look elsewhere with its early- and mid-round picks.

Lions, Panthers Still Interested In DJ Chark

Two DJ Chark suitors have made their intentions known this offseason. The Lions said they were interested in re-signing the former second-round pick back in January, while the Panthers met him last week. While we are nearly a week into the 2023 league year, Chark still has a market — but perhaps not quite on the level he expected.

Panthers GM Scott Fitterer said Monday (via Panthers.com’s Darin Gantt) that, despite Adam Thielen agreeing to terms on a three-year deal worth $25MM, the team is still talking with Chark. The Lions have also kept tabs on Chark, per NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo, who notes (via Twitter) the team has discussed a Detroit return with the sixth-year wide receiver over the past week.

The Lions took a higher-end flier on Chark last year, giving him $10MM to join Amon-Ra St. Brown in a retooling receiving corps. Chark, 26, battled more ankle trouble — after a broken ankle ended his 2021 Jaguars finale — but re-emerged to become a key weapon for Jared Goff as the team made a late playoff push. Averaging a career-high 16.4 yards per reception, the 6-foot-4 target totaled 502 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games.

Lions GM Brad Holmes said he wanted to re-sign Chark, and the ex-Jaguars 1,000-yard receiver indicated he wanted to stay as well. St. Brown is in Year 3 of his rookie contract; he cannot negotiate an extension until 2024. Jameson Williams can be kept on his rookie deal through 2026. The Panthers became a player here following their trade-up for the No. 1 overall pick, which cost them D.J. Moore. Chark joined Thielen in meeting with the team last week, but even with the longtime Viking in the fold, the Panthers still have a need. They traded Chosen Anderson to the Cardinals last season; Terrace Marshall (490 yards) is Carolina’s top returning pass catcher.

Carolina will soon be building around a rookie-quarterback contract, leaving room to spend in other areas. Chark, however, will not likely qualify as a significant expense. As expected, this year’s receiver market is not producing windfalls. This FA class was not believed to be driving too much interest, and the deals handed out to its top prizes reflect that. Jakobi Meyers landed an $11MM-per-year pact, while JuJu Smith-Schuster‘s Patriots accord came in just south of $9MM per year. Neither AAV is among the top 25 at the position. Odell Beckham Jr. denied his long-rumored $20MM-per-year ask is rooted in reality, but he should not be expected to do too well, either.

Thielen did do fairly well, all things considered. The 10-year Viking was a cap casualty who is going into his age-33 season. His Panthers deal includes a $2MM roster bonus on Day 3 of the 2024 league year, Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 tweets, but the $14MM guaranteed could point to the Division II product playing two seasons in Charlotte. The Panthers could get out of the contract after one year, but even in a post-June 1 cut scenario, releasing Thielen in 2024 would still tag the team with $6.2MM in dead money.

Panthers Still Seeking WR Help In Free Agency

The Panthers have been working extremely hard this offseason to become unrecognizable from last year. After major changes all over the coaching staff, the team made moves to acquire the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2023, following that up with a litany of free agent moves aimed at improving the roster for new head coach Frank Reich and company.

There’s no doubt that Carolina has been swinging big in their attempts to bring in talent. Apart from retaining center Bradley Bozeman, who joined a much-improved offensive line last year, and extending their defensive leader Shaq Thompson, the team has acquired some major talent on both sides of the ball. Former Bengals safety Vonn Bell and former Saints defensive tackle Shy Tuttle will come in to bolster a defense that ranked in the bottom half of the league in point allowed, total yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and rushing yards allowed.

While the Panthers’ defensive unit wasn’t great, it wasn’t one of the league’s very worst. The team’s offense, on the other hand, ranked 29th in the NFL in total yards and passing yards, leaving Carolina’s passing attack in need of some major upgrades. The Panthers were a top-10 rushing team, and despite trading away Christian McCaffrey and losing D’Onta Foreman to free agency, they are set up extremely well at running back after signing former Eagle Miles Sanders.

In the passing game, the Panthers biggest move was perhaps the trade that gave them the first pick of the draft, but they’ve made other complimentary moves, as well. While it’s widely expected that Carolina will use the pick to draft a franchise quarterback, the team made an extremely savvy move by signing former Saints and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton became superfluous in New Orleans after the arrival of Derek Carr and the announcement that Jameis Winston would remain with the team. In Carolina, though, Dalton serves a new, major role. He will either serve as a transitionary starting quarterback bridging the gap from last year’s starters to whomever the Panthers select in the draft, allowing that player to sit, learn, and develop, or he will remain one of the league’s more experienced backups, capable of starting in case of injury to or inconsistency from the team’s rookie starter.

The team also addressed the tight end position, bringing in a strong receiving tight end in Hayden Hurst, who has joined his fourth team after stints with the Ravens, Falcons, and Bengals. This addition surely helps, but after trading away D.J. Moore in the deal that gave them the top overall draft pick, more help at wide receiver is clearly needed. The team currently rosters some decent options in Terrace Marshall, Shi Smith, and Laviska Shenault, but without Moore, there is an obvious absence of a No. 1 receiver.

The Panthers aren’t content with finding only one new contributor at wideout, according to Dov Kleiman of BroBible. The team has wanted two major free agent wide receivers: long-time Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen and former Jaguars and Lions receiver DJ Chark. Carolina hosted Thielen on Wednesday and, as of minutes ago, are finalizing a deal to bring in the 32-year-old veteran. Chark visited two days ago and would be a strong option across from Thielen. Chark also provides the benefit of long-term potential at only 26 years old.

The Panthers’ locker room will be looking extremely different in 2023. Already on offense, Dalton, Sanders, Hurst, and now Thielen form an impressive collection of experience and talent. If the team can bring in the right quarterback in the draft and lure Chark in to join his former NFC North rival in Carolina, the Panthers’ offense could become a new strength for the team next season.

Panthers To Host WR DJ Chark

After the deals which have taken place so far amongst free agent wideouts, DJ Chark may very well be the top option still available at the position. He will visit the Panthers tomorrow, as first reported by Jordan Schultz of The Score (Twitter link).

Chark went through free agency for the first time in his career last offseason, after his rookie contract with the Jaguars expired. He inked a one-year, $10MM deal with the Lions as a contract aimed at giving Detroit a boost in the passing game and allowing the 26-year-old to prove his abilities when healthy. He was limited to just 11 games this season, but his production was still noteworthy.

The former second-rounder recorded 502 yards and three touchdowns on 30 receptions in his debut Lions campaign. That yielded a yards-per-catch average of 16.7, the second-highest total of his career. Having reaffirmed his status as one of the league’s top deep threats, Chark figures to have a notable market for his services this offseason. The Lions are interested in a deal which would keep him in the Motor City, but outside offers are likely as well.

The Panthers have a need at the position after they included D.J. Moore in the trade package sent to the Bears for the top pick in this year’s draft. Replacing Moore’s contributions will likely involve multiple additions out wide after the former first-rounder comfortably outpaced the rest of the team’s contributions in the passing game. As a team, Carolina ranked 29th in the league with an average of 176 passing yards per game in 2022.

The new quarterback the Panthers will draft next month will go a long way in determining the team’s ability to improve in that regard in 2023. To little surprise, though, they have already hosted fellow veteran free agent Adam Thielen as part of their search for additions in their receiver room. Chark will be the next member of that process, as he searches for his best fit on what will be his third NFL contract.

2023 Top 50 NFL Free Agents

Super Bowl LVII provided the latest example of the value free agency can bring. The Chiefs revamped their receiving corps on last year’s market, while the Eagles acquired three defensive starters — including sack leader Haason Reddick. The Jaguars also used a March 2022 splurge to ignite their surprising surge to the divisional round.

Beginning with the legal tampering period, which starts at 3pm CT on Monday, and continuing with the official start to free agency (3pm Wednesday), the next several days represent a highlight on the NFL calendar. Which teams will change their 2023 outlooks for the better next week?

While the 2023 free agent class has absorbed its share of body blows and indeed lacks depth at certain spots, a few positions will bring waves of starter-level talent. Right tackle will invite some big-money decisions, and the safety and off-ball linebacker positions feature considerable depth. A few ascending talents and hidden gems appear in this class as well.

This list ranks free agents by earning potential. In terms of accomplishments, Bobby Wagner, Fletcher Cox and Lavonte David would lap most of the players included here. With each defender going into his age-33 season, however, the standouts’ ability to command big contracts is certainly not what it once was.

In terms of possible destinations, not every team is represented equally. Some teams will bring more needs and cap space into this year’s marketplace than others. With some help from Adam La Rose, here is this year’s PFR top 50 free agents list, along with potential landing spots for each player.

1. Orlando Brown Jr., T. Age in Week 1: 27

As the 49ers did two years ago with Trent Williams, the Chiefs will let Brown hit the market. This could end up benefiting the veteran tackle, who was offered a deal with an average annual value north of Williams’ tackle-record $23MM per year before last July’s franchise tag deadline. Citing insufficient guarantees, Brown turned it down. Kansas City’s offer did contain a bloated final year to bump up the AAV to $23.1MM, but will Brown – a quality left tackle but not a top-shelf option at the position – do as well this year? He will soon find out.

Brown has now made four Pro Bowls and carries positional versatility that would intrigue were he open to a return to right tackle, which by all accounts he is not. The 363-pound blocker can struggle against speed-rusher types, but he is set to be the rare accomplished left tackle in his prime to hit the market. The Chiefs sent a package including a first-round pick to the Ravens for Brown, whose bet on himself led to a $16.6MM tag and an open market. The bidding will run high, though it might not reach the places the Williams pursuit did in 2021.

The Chiefs’ exclusive negotiating rights with Brown end March 13; they have had nearly two years to complete a deal. The market will determine if the league views the sixth-year blocker as an elite-level left tackle or merely a good one. Then again, bidding wars drive up the prices for O-linemen on the market. O-line salary records have fallen four times (Williams, Corey Linsley, Joe Thuney, Brandon Scherff) in free agency since 2021. This foray could give Brown the guaranteed money he seeks, and it puts the Chiefs at risk of seeing their two-year left tackle depart. The Ravens also passed on this payment back in 2021, in part because they already had Ronnie Stanley on the payroll.

The defending champions have Brown and right tackle Andrew Wylie eligible for free agency; some of their leftover funds from the Tyreek Hill trade went to Brown’s tag. Although some among the Chiefs were frustrated Brown passed on last year’s offer, the team will be hurting at a premium position if he walks. Given the importance the blindside position carries, fewer teams are in need compared to right tackle. The Titans losing Taylor Lewan and continuing to clear cap space could point to a run at Brown, though the team has a few needs up front. The Jets likely have needs at both tackle spots. Would the Bears relocate Braxton Jones to the right side? Ryan Poles was with the Chiefs when they traded for Brown, and the Bears could outmuscle anyone for cap space.

Best fits: Titans, Chiefs, Commanders

2. Mike McGlinchey, T. Age in Week 1: 28

Teams in need of right tackles will participate in one of the more interesting markets in recent memory. Above-average-to-good offensive linemen do well in free agency annually, and this year will send three experienced right tackles in their prime to the market. A five-year starter in San Francisco and former top-10 pick, McGlinchey has a good case as the best of this lot. The five-year vet’s run-blocking craft eclipses his pass-protection chops exiting Year 5, but he will walk into a competitive market. The former Notre Dame left tackle should have a lucrative deal in place during next week’s legal tampering period.

Although mutual interest existed regarding a second 49ers-McGlinchey agreement, John Lynch acknowledged the only viable path for McGlinchey to stay in San Francisco would be his market underwhelming. That seems unlikely, so right tackle-seeking teams – and there are a handful – will jockey for the sixth-year veteran. McGlinchey turned 28 in January, making this his obvious window to cash in. He rated fifth in ESPN’s run block win rate stat last season, bouncing back from the quadriceps injury that ended his 2021 season.

There is no shortage of Kyle Shanahan– or Sean McVay-influenced schemes around the league. The Bears employ Luke Getsy as their play-caller; Getsy worked for Shanahan/McVay tree branch Matt LaFleur, and the Bears’ cap space dwarfs every other team’s. After fielding a shaky O-line (on a team full of substandard position groups), Chicago needs a better idea of Justin Fields’ trajectory. Outbidding the field for the top right tackle available is a good start. The Patriots want a right tackle – on a line without a big contract presently – and the Raiders might have a say here as well. In need at multiple O-line spots, Las Vegas will have cash as well if it passes on a big QB investment.

Best fits: Bears, Patriots, Raiders

3. Jawann Taylor, T. Age in Week 1: 26

As expected, the Jaguars took Evan Engram off the market via the franchise tag. The tight end tag being $7MM cheaper than the $18.2MM offensive lineman tag always pointed Taylor toward free agency, and after never missing a start in four Duval County seasons, Taylor will be tough for the Jags to retain. They already drafted Walker Little in the 2021 second round, and no team that is currently paying a left tackle top-10 money (Cam Robinson is seventh) has a top-10 right tackle contract on the books. Taylor is expected to land at least a top-10 right tackle deal, with a $17MM-AAV figure being floated. That would place the former Florida Gator in the top five at the position, depending on how McGlinchey fares next week.

Taylor resembles the genre of player that usually populates the top of a position’s free agency market: a dependable performer who checks in below the top tier at his job. Taylor enjoyed his strongest year in his platform campaign. The former second-round pick dropped his hold count from 11 in 2021 to two in 2022. While PFF charged Taylor with five sacks allowed, Football Outsiders measured his blown-block rate at a career-low 1.3%. Offering a disparate skillset compared to McGlinchey, Taylor has fared better as a pass protector than in the run game. PFF slotted him as a top-10 pass protector among right tackles but viewed him as a dismal run-blocker.

The Jags have presumably made Taylor an offer, but other teams will probably top it. The Dolphins gave Terron Armstead a five-year, $75MM deal in 2022 but have needed a right tackle ever since Ja’Wuan James’ 2019 exit. They were forced to start in-season pickup Brandon Shell for much of the year and have cleared more than $45MM in cap space over the past two days. The team just picked up Tua Tagovailoa‘s fifth-year option, and the league’s lone southpaw starting QB needs better blindside protection after a season in which he suffered at least two concussions. Overspending on O-linemen is not the Patriots’ M.O., but they have a need at right tackle and do not have big dollars devoted to quarterback or any position up front. New England is on the hunt for a right tackle upgrade, and the team’s 2021 free agency showed it would spend when it deemed expenditures necessary.

Best fits: Dolphins, Patriots, Jaguars

4. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB. Age in Week 1: 31

The quarterback market cleared up this week, seeing Geno Smith and Daniel Jones extended and Derek Carr’s lengthy street free agency stretch end with $70MM in practical guarantees. Garoppolo’s injury history will affect his value, but teams kind of make it a priority to staff this position. The former Super Bowl starter is in his prime and on the market for the first time. How high this market goes will depend on what the Raiders want and what Aaron Rodgers decides.

The 49ers’ 12-game win streak that included Brock Purdy’s stunning displays began with Garoppolo at the controls. Guiding San Francisco to four straight wins, Garoppolo was at or close to his best when he suffered a broken foot in Week 13. He sported a 7-0 TD-INT ratio during that win streak and closed the season 16th in QBR. He would have walked into a better market had the injury not occurred; the setback came after a string of health issues. He tore an ACL in 2018, missed 10 games in 2020 after an ankle sprain and was significantly limited by the end of the 2021 slate due to a three-injury season. Garoppolo’s March 2022 shoulder surgery hijacked his trade market.

Ideally for Garoppolo, Rodgers returns to Green Bay or retires. While that is looking unlikelier by the day, it would put the Jets in a desperate position following Carr’s decision. The Raiders represent the other wild card. Garoppolo would slide into Josh McDaniels’ system seamlessly, given the parties’ three-plus years together in New England. The Raiders have operated a bit more stealthily compared to the Jets; they have been connected to Rodgers, Garoppolo and rolling with a rookie. Plan C here would be a tough sell given the presences of 30-year-old skill-position players Davante Adams and Darren Waller, but Las Vegas’ plans cloud Garoppolo’s market. If the Raiders pass and Rodgers chooses the Jets, Garoppolo’s earning power could drop.

McDaniels not fancying a Garoppolo reunion opens the door for the Texans, who hired ex-49ers pass-game coordinator Bobby Slowik as OC, and others. Houston’s situation may not appeal to Garoppolo, but Slowik and Nick Caserio being in Houston make this connection too clear to ignore. The Buccaneers and Commanders are in win-now positions but are giving indications they do not want to spend much at QB. The Commanders were deep in talks for the then-49ers QB last year, however. Garoppolo will test those squads, along with the Falcons, who are entering Year 3 of the Terry FontenotArthur Smith regime. The Panthers’ acquisition of the No. 1 pick likely takes them out of the running, and Carolina not being in the mix could also affect how high the Garoppolo price goes.

Bottom line, there should be enough teams interested in staffing their 2023 QB1 spots that the best free agent option should do OK no matter what happens with Rodgers.

Best fits: Raiders, Texans, Commanders

5. Jamel Dean, CB. Age in Week 1: 26

The Buccaneers retained Carlton Davis last year, but their dire cap situation should force a Dean departure. Dean’s age/performance combination should make him this year’s top cornerback available. With corner a position of need for many teams, the former third-round pick stands to do very well. Dean has only been a full-time starter in one season, however, seeing his defensive snap share jump from 67% in 2021 to 90% last season.

Excelling in press coverage, Dean played a major role for the 2020 Super Bowl champion Bucs iteration and overtook fellow free agent Sean Murphy-Bunting last year. Dean did perform better in 2021 compared to 2022, allowing no touchdowns and limiting QBs to a collective 50.0 passer rating; those numbers shot up to four and 86.0 last season. Still, PFF rated Dean as last year’s 10th-best corner. J.C. Jackson did not break into the top five among corners upon hitting the market last year; Dean should not be expected to do so, either. But many teams will be interested.

The Patriots have paid up for a corner previously, in Stephon Gilmore (2017), but Jonathan Jones – forced to primarily play a boundary role in 2022 – wants to re-sign and will be far cheaper than Dean. The Falcons need help opposite AJ Terrell and trail only the Bears in cap space. Although a Terrell payment is coming, it can be tabled to 2024 due to the fifth-year option. The Dolphins are clearing cap space and now have a corner need, with Byron Jones no longer with the team after his missed season.

Best fits: Dolphins, Falcons, Patriots

6. Jessie Bates, S. Age in Week 1: 26

Bates stands to be one of this free agency crop’s safest bets, combining extensive experience – the final two years as a pillar for a championship threat – with a host of prime years remaining. Beginning his career at 21, the Wake Forest product has started 79 games and anchored the Bengals’ secondary for most of his tenure. The Bengals did not tag Bates for a second time, passing on a $15.5MM price. With the team planning to let Bates test the market, it looks like the sixth-year defender will leave Cincinnati.

The Bengals and Bates went through two offseasons of negotiations, ending in the 2022 tag. The Bengals have some big payments to make at higher-profile positions. Safety does not qualify as such, but Bates has been a cornerstone in Lou Anarumo’s defense and will be handsomely rewarded. Bates finished as Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 overall safety in 2020 and, after a shakier 2021 in which he admitted his contract situation affected his play, Bates came through with impact plays in the postseason. He graded as a top-25 safety, via PFF, in 2022.

Safety is one of this year’s deeper positions in free agency. Of the top 10 safety contracts, however, only one went to a free agent (Marcus Williams in 2022). Bates should be expected to join the Ravens defender, who signed for $14MM per year. It will be interesting if he can climb into the top five at the position; Justin Simmons’ $15.25MM-AAV accord sits fifth. Bates should be expected to approach or eclipse that, though moving to the Derwin JamesMinkah Fitzpatrick tier will be more difficult. Still, after the Bengals offered Bates less than $17MM guaranteed last summer, he should depart for more guaranteed money.

The Browns are interested in Bates, who will cost more than John Johnson cost Cleveland two years ago (three years, $33.75MM). Clear of the record-setting Matt Ryan dead-money hit, the Falcons have cash to spend and a Terry FontenotArthur Smith regime entering Year 3. The Falcons need to make progress, and they do not have much in the way of talent or costs at safety. The team has not featured much here since the Keanu NealRicardo Allen tandem splintered. Bates would be a way to remedy that.

Team fits: Falcons, Browns, Raiders

Read more

OC Ben Johnson To Stay With Lions

JANUARY 19: As could be expected, the Lions will reward Johnson for staying. The second-year Detroit OC will receive a large pay raise, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). While the Byron Leftwich development shows the risk of coordinators bypassing potential opportunities, Johnson will be attached a higher salary ahead of a potential 2024 HC bid.

JANUARY 17: Part of multiple teams’ HC searches during this year’s cycle, Ben Johnson is bowing out. The young offensive coordinator is opting to stay with the Lions, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets.

Despite entering this season having not called plays before, Johnson became a hot name. The Colts, Panthers and Texans requested interviews with him. Carolina’s meeting was to take place Wednesday, but that will no longer come to pass.

Johnson, 36, had already interviewed virtually with the Colts and Texans. But he was viewed as a frontrunner for the Panthers job. Assistants’ stocks can change quickly, making Johnson’s decision somewhat risky, but the Detroit play-caller views the Detroit situation as promising enough to pass on this year’s lot of available jobs.

Dan Campbell promoted Johnson to OC last year, after the team moved on from Anthony Lynn after one season. The Lions’ offense led the way to the team becoming one of the season’s biggest surprises. Jared Goff delivered a bounce-back showing, ranking fifth in QBR and going from bridge starter to a player the Lions believe they can use as a long-term option. Jamaal Williams also led the NFL in rushing touchdowns. The former Packers draftee finished the season with 17, breaking Barry Sanders‘ record during the Lions’ upset win in Green Bay that prevented a Pack playoff appearance.

The Lions also have Amon-Ra St. Brown signed through 2024 and Jameson Williams inked through 2025. Williams stands to be available for all of 2023, after his January ACL tear shelved him for much of this season. The team wants to bring back DJ Chark, and the former Jaguars second-round pick said recently (via the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers) he wants to stay in Detroit. D’Andre Swift battled injuries this season, and Williams’ rise impeded the 2020 second-rounder’s role. But he remains under contract. Although Williams is a free agent, his Hard Knocks performance and season-wrapping NBC interview certainly point to an interest in sticking around. The Lions also have four starting offensive linemen from this season under contract for 2023.

This would set up Johnson to draw interest again in 2024, though he is passing on parlaying his first Detroit OC season — which produced top-five rankings in scoring, yardage and DVOA — into a gig this year. But Johnson has been with the Lions since 2019, moving from the quality control level to tight ends coach to OC. While Matt Patricia hired Johnson, he had worked with Campbell in Miami. Johnson will bet on his value remaining high at this time next year.