JuJu Smith-Schuster

Patriots Submit Offer To WR Calvin Ridley

The Patriots’ reported interest in receiver Calvin Ridley is very real. According to Josina Anderson, the Patriots have made an offer to the free agent wideout.

[RELATED: Patriots Pursuing Calvin Ridley]

The organization is also opting to “keep a deal on the table” following today’s reports that focused on the interesting logistics of the previous Jaguars/Falcons trade. If Jacksonville re-signs Ridley before 2pm tomorrow, they’ll owe Atlanta a second-round pick. If they wait beyond that deadline and re-sign the receiver, the Jaguars would only owe the Falcons a third-round pick.

This led some pundits to believe that Ridley was destined to return to Jacksonville and was simply biding his time to provide his organization with better draft capital. However, it sounds like the Patriots are still very much in the hunt, and it’ll be interesting to see how negotiations progress over the next 24 hours.

New England holds more than $80MM in cap space, and with Ridley sitting atop the WR market, it only made sense that the Patriots would target the free agent for their new-look offense. The team moved on from Mac Jones and added veteran Jacoby Brissett, and the organization appears to be leaning towards selecting a QB with the third-overall pick. Ridley would represent an intriguing target for whoever is under center for the Patriots in 2024 and beyond.

The Patriots’ receivers struggled in 2023, although that was partly due to the team’s inconsistent play at quarterback. The team has already moved on from DeVante Parker and is looking to unload JuJu Smith-Schuster, leaving plenty of question marks atop the depth chart. The team did agree to new deals with Kendrick Bourne and Jalen Reagor, but the rest of their depth chart features unproven options like Demario Douglas, Tyquan Thornton, and Kayshon Boutte.

Patriots Place JuJu Smith-Schuster On IR

JuJu Smith-Schuster‘s first season with the Patriots has come to an end. The team announced on Saturday that he has been placed on injured reserve.

The 27-year-old has missed the past two games, and he will not return for the final two contests of the campaign. Smith-Schuster joined New England on a three-year, $25MM deal in free agency following his one-year stint in Kansas City. Today’s move marks an end to a disappointing first run with the Patriots.

Smith-Schuster – who upped his value in 2022 by posting 933 yards on 78 catches with the defending champions- put up far less production this year. The former Steelers draftee delivered a 29-260-1 statline in 11 contests with New England, ranking him just sixth on the team in receiving. Especially given the lack of high-end playmakers on the team, his ability to return to full heath and his previous form in 2024 will be critical for the Patriots.

Not much has gone according to plan on offense for New England, a team which faces uncertainty under center and on the sidelines heading into the offseason. Smith-Schuster’s $7MM base salary for next season is guaranteed, however, meaning he will at least remain in place for the start of the next campaign. A rebound would help a passing attack which has struggled with both Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe at the helm in 2023, something which has produced a league-low 14.1 points per game on offense.

Today’s news means that as the Patriots close out the campaign – a two-game stretch which could see them move higher up the 2024 draft order – they will be without another skill-position player. Lead running back Rhamondre Stevenson has also been moved to IR, shutting him down for the season. New England will finish its schedule against the Bills and Jets with a shorthanded group of pass-catchers. To fill Smith-Schuster’s roster spot, safety Joshuah Bledsoe was signed off the practice squad.

Latest On DeAndre Hopkins, Patriots

DeAndre Hopkins‘ visit with the Patriots has come to an end, and it sounds like there’s serious interest from both sides. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tweets that there’s “definitely intrigue from player and team” following the meeting. Meanwhile, Jeff Howe of The Athletic tweets that the Patriots are “making a push” for the free agent wideout. Hopkins posted about the visit on Instagram, posting a picture of himself and Matt Judon with the caption “La Familia” (per ESPN’s Mike Reiss).

It sounds like there’s some building optimism towards a deal. Howe notes that while Hopkins “has departed Gillette Stadium,” he’s still remaining local. There was a report earlier this week that Hopkins could consider additional visits following his scheduled stops in Tennessee and New England. However, no definitive additional suitors have emerged since that time, so Hopkins’ choice may come down to the Titans and Patriots.

Fowler previously reported that Hopkins has been in no rush to sign with a team and could wait until closer to training camp to ink a deal (via Reiss). The Patriots are also set to be off for a month after finishing their offseason program tomorrow.

Hopkins would be an intriguing addition to a receivers corps that lacks a clear number one WR. The Patriots let Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor walk this offseason, adding receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and tight end Mike Gesicki to a grouping of targets that also includes DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton, and tight end Hunter Henry.

While Hopkins will be entering his age-31 season in 2023, he’d still provide more upside than any of the team’s current options. The veteran missed a chunk of games due to suspension in 2022, but he still managed to finish the year with 64 catches for 717 yards and three touchdowns. His 79.7 yards per game was a massive improvement from his 2021 campaign (57.2 ypg), and his 2022 average would have led the Patriots by a significant margin.

While a Hopkins signing could come at the expense of one of the team’s current wideouts, it’d still be a massive addition in what will be a crucial year for Mac Jones. The quarterback flashed his first-round pedigree during his rookie campaign, but after the Patriots replaced Josh McDaniels with former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia (plus a sprinkle of former ST coordinator Joe Judge), Jones took a step back in 2022. The Patriots will have to make a decision on the QB’s fifth-year option following the 2023 season, so it’s crucial that the organization puts him in a position to succeed before making the commitment.

“I think DeAndre is a great player. You watch his film from college all the way through the NFL, he’s done a great job. So obviously we’d love to have him, but we do have a great group of guys,” Jones said earlier this week (via Reiss).

“I’ve been really pleased with the playmakers we have on the team; we’ve come out here and really bought into the system. We have a good group and I feel like we need to keep growing together and whoever is in that room, we’re going to try to dominate together.”

While considering the merits of adding Hopkins to their team, the Patriots will also have to consider that they haven’t gotten an extended look at their major FA acquisition. Per Mike Giardi (on Twitter), Smith-Schuster has been dealing with “physical ailments” throughout minicamp and has spoken to “how challenging this playbook is to learn.” The learning curve is one thing, but Giardi notes that the injuries are especially concerning since the Chiefs were forced to manage the veteran for the second half of last season. The Patriots will be counting on Smith-Schuster to replace some of the production lost when Meyers left for Las Vegas, and if there’s any doubt about his availability for all 17 games, there might be some added urgency to add to the depth chart.

AFC West Notes: JuJu, Chargers, Broncos

After two years of low-level deals in free agency, J.J. Smith-Schuster finally cashed in via his Patriots pact. The seventh-year wide receiver signed a three-year, $25.5MM deal that came with $16MM fully guaranteed. The Pats guaranteed Smith-Schuster exactly what the Raiders locked in for Jakobi Meyers, and they will expect upper-echelon performance. Smith-Schuster, 26, increased his market through his 78-reception, 933-yard Chiefs season, becoming the Super Bowl champions’ top Tyreek Hill replacement. Smith-Schuster wanted to stay in Kansas City, and the Chiefs aimed to keep him. While Andy Reid confirmed the sides discussed a deal all the way up to the Patriots agreement, the Chiefs are going with lower-cost options at receiver presently.

You’ve got to manage all the cap stuff. We couldn’t give him what they gave him,” Reid said, via the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin, of matching the Patriots’ offer. “We talked all the way through it. It’s good for him; he deserves that opportunity.”

The Chiefs have been connected to both Odell Beckham Jr. and DeAndre Hopkins, but the OBJ path is now closed after the Ravens handed the injury-prone receiver a surprising $15MM guaranteed. Kansas City is planning bigger roles for Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore, and the team has Marquez Valdes-Scantling attached to what is now a pay-as-you-go contract. Valdes-Scantling’s deal runs through 2024. Here is the latest from the rest of the AFC West:

  • While the Chiefs may be looking to add a piece at receiver in the draft, the Chargers appear ready to add an early-round target. The Bolts are believed to be looking for pass-catching help early in the draft, Jordan Reid of ESPN.com notes. Holding the No. 21 overall pick, the Chargers are coming off a season in which Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both missed extended stretches. While Tom Telesco pushed back against an Allen trade, the Pro Bowler is going into his age-31 season. The Chargers still roster Josh Palmer as a WR3, while DeAndre Carter signed with the Raiders. The Bolts, who have deep threat Jalen Guyton coming off an ACL tear, are seeking perimeter speed, per Reid, who adds Jordan Addison could be a name to watch. Chargers wideouts coach Chris Beatty recruited Addison while at Pitt.
  • The Broncos appear to have four locked-in starters on their offensive line, having signed Mike McGlinchey and Ben Powers to go with left tackle Garett Bolles and guard Quinn Meinerz. Center Lloyd Cushenberry has struggled during his Denver tenure and is going into a contract year after an injury-plagued 2022. The Broncos are doing work on centers ahead of this draft, Reid adds. The team holds the Nos. 67 and 68 overall picks. Beyond top center John Michael Schmitz, ESPN’s Scouts Inc. views second- and third-ranked centers Olusegun Oluwatimi (Michigan) and Luke Wypler (Ohio State) as third-round-caliber snappers.
  • One of the Broncos’ stopgap O-line solutions last year, Billy Turner, is not expected back with the team. Turner, whom the Broncos used at right tackle in 2022, told the Denver Gazette’s Chris Tomasson he is not in the team’s 2023 plans (Twitter link). Turner, 31, has enjoyed two Denver stints but followed Nathaniel Hackett over from Green Bay last year. The nine-year veteran said he is 100% after knee trouble limited him last season.
  • Broncos cornerback Faion Hicks was arrested earlier this month for carrying a concealed firearm, Mike Klis of 9News notes. This is a third-degree felony charge; the arrest occurred in Hallandale, Florida. Hicks is free on bond. The Broncos drafted Hicks in the 2022 seventh round; he saw action in only two games and did not play a defensive snap.

Patriots Notes: QBs, Mayo, Patricia, JuJu

Mac Jones struggled mightily during his second season in the NFL. After earning a Pro Bowl nod and guiding the Patriots to a 10-7 record as a rookie, Jones went 6-8 while tossing 14 touchdowns vs. 11 interceptions in 2022. Rookie fourth-round pick Bailey Zappe started a pair of games while filling in for an injured Jones last season, winning both of his starts while tossing three touchdowns vs. one pick in those two games.

Jones’ 2022 struggles can easily be attributed to the loss of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (and replacing the OC with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge), and when you consider New England’s first-round investment in Jones, it’s easy to assume that he’ll retain his starting gig heading into the 2023 campaign. However, coach Bill Belichick refused to give Jones a vote of confidence following the 2022 season, leading some to wonder if the Patriots could have a QB competition heading into next year.

In typical Belichick fashion, the head coach didn’t provide too much insight into the QB situation while speaking to reporters today, noting that “everyone will get a chance to play” and the Patriots will opt for “the best player.”

“If they earn an opportunity to play based on what they do in practice and all that, then they’ll get an opportunity to play,” Belichick said (via Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald). “Certainly the veteran players that have been on the team before, if they’re still on the team, they’ll all get an opportunity to play.”

It’s not a huge surprise to see Belichick playing coy, but as Callahan notes, Belichick definitively stated that Tom Brady and Cam Newton were the starting QBs throughout their respective tenures with the Patriots. Now, Jones certainly doesn’t have the resume of either of his predecessors, but it’s certainly interesting that Belichick continues to avoid answering questions about his quarterbacks depth chart.

While Belichick might not want to publicly support Jones, the QB has a fan in Robert Kraft.

I’m a big fan of Mac,” the Patriots owner said (via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on Twitter). “We experimented with some things last year that didn’t work. We made changed to put him in position to excel.”

More notes out of New England…

  • When Jerod Mayo rejected head coaching interviews and decided to stick with the Patriots, it was assumed the organization promised him a larger role…with some wondering if Mayo may have the inside track on succeeding Belichick as head coach. Kraft somewhat acknowledged as much during an interview on NFL Network, saying he views Mayo as a potential heir apparent to Belichick (via NFL.com’s Judy Battista on Twitter). Kraft also told NFL Network that he doesn’t see a ceiling on Mayo’s coaching career. Following an eight-year playing career with the Patriots, Mayo joined New England’s coaching staff as linebackers coach in 2019. Recently, he’s served as the unofficial defensive coordinator alongside Steve Belichick.
  • Patricia earned plenty of criticism last season while serving as the team’s de facto offensive coordinator. The Patriots have since brought in Bill O’Brien to guide their offense, but there hasn’t been a reported resolution on Patricia’s status with the organization. Naturally, Belichick didn’t provide many additional details on the situation, telling reporters that he’s unsure if Patricia will be coaching for the Patriots in 2023 (via AtoZSports’ Doug Kyed on Twitter). After serving as the Patriots defensive coordinator for six years, Patricia returned to the organization in 2021 following a three-year stint as the Lions head coach.
  • New Patriots receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has incentives in his contract tied to receiving yards, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss (on Twitter). In 2023, the wideout can earn $750K if he hits 950 yards and he can earn another $750K at 1,100 yards. In 2024 and 2025, Smith-Schuster can earn $1MM for 800 yards, $1MM for 950 yards, and another $1MM for 1,100 yards.
  • James Robinson‘s new contract with the Patriots contains no guaranteed money, per Kyed (on Twitter). He’ll earn a $150K roster bonus if he sticks on the 2023 roster, plus $160K via a workout bonus and up to $680K in per-game roster bonuses.

Patriots To Sign WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

MARCH 16: The $33MM number turned out to be the max value here. Instead, the Patriots signed the seventh-year wideout to a three-year, $25.5MM contract, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe tweets. Like Meyers, he received $16MM guaranteed at signing, but he did not reach an eight-figure AAV. Smith-Schuster can get to that $33MM mark via performance, with Volin adding $7.5MM remains available through receiving yards-based incentives. Only $4.5MM of those incentives are achievable during the deal’s guaranteed years, with SI.com’s Albert Breer adding $3MM are part of Smith-Schuster’s 2025 potential earnings (Twitter link).

MARCH 15: While mutual interest existed between the Chiefs and JuJu Smith-Schuster, the veteran wide receiver looks set to change teams again. The Patriots are signing the seventh-year wideout, Taylor Bisciotti and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com report (on Twitter).

The Chiefs made efforts to bring back Smith-Schuster, their leading wide receiver in 2022, Dianna Russini of ESPN.com tweets. But the Pats will acquire a versatile performer to replace Jakobi Meyers, who committed to the Raiders on Tuesday.

This situation appeared to come down to how much of a hometown discount Smith-Schuster would accept; he said before Super Bowl LVII he wanted to stay in Kansas City. It is unclear how much the Chiefs offered, but Mike Giardi of NFL.com tweets the money did not reach the place the Pats went (Twitter link).

New England is giving Smith-Schuster a three-year, $33MM deal, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. Guarantees are not yet known, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter adds JuJu will collect $22.5MM through 2024 (Twitter link). After settling for one-year deals in 2021 (with Pittsburgh) and ’22 (with Kansas City), Smith-Schuster finally scores a multiyear commitment.

Used mostly in the slot with the Steelers, Smith-Schuster shuffled across formations with the Chiefs and produced a rebound season upon teaming with Patrick Mahomes. The 26-year-old target caught 78 passes for 933 yards and three touchdowns. The 933 yards marked Smith-Schuster’s most since his 2018 Pro Bowl season in Pittsburgh. He finished with the fifth-most YAC over expected (plus-141), per Next Gen Stats, in 2022.

Smith-Schuster’s AAV matches the money the Raiders and Jets gave to Meyers and Allen Lazard, respectively, and this represents another medium-term accord the Pats are giving out to bolster the position. They handed Nelson Agholor a two-year, $22MM contract in 2021. The former first-rounder did not live up to it, and he is unlikely to return in 2023. It is interesting the Pats passed on Meyers to pay an outside hire similar cash — something Meyers has since noticed (Twitter link) — but Smith-Schuster has shown a slightly higher ceiling. These two are also the same age, despite Meyers entering the league two years later. The Patriots did not offer Meyers the kind of guarantees the Raiders did, Giardi adds. Meyers signed for $22MM guaranteed in total and $16.5MM fully guaranteed.

Although Smith-Schuster’s 1,400-yard season during Antonio Brown‘s Steelers swansong still looks like an outlier, he showed plenty in Kansas City last season. The Chiefs signed Smith-Schuster, a free agent target for two years, to an incentive-laden deal — initially a $3.8MM pact — and the USC alum ended up adding millions to his 2022 earnings by hitting a few of those benchmarks. Kansas City obviously features a favorable setup, with Reid calling the shots in a Mahomes-piloted attack, but Smith-Schuster became the No. 1 receiver for a team that managed to win the Super Bowl after trading Tyreek Hill. It will be interesting to see who the Chiefs target to fill Smith-Schuster’s role. While the team is keen on expanding Kadarius Toney‘s responsibilities, the talented ex-Giant’s rampant injury trouble could interfere.

Mecole Hardman remains unsigned, and while the Chiefs were planning to let the speedster walk, perhaps the Smith-Schuster defection changes their thinking. Kansas City will be an attractive setup for wide receivers, and Odell Beckham Jr. remains available. OBJ would undoubtedly need to set a new price point, as his reported $20MM-per-year ask is out of step with his value. But the Chiefs were connected to OBJ in 2021 and ’22.

As for the Patriots, Smith-Schuster will join a team in transition at receiver. Kendrick Bourne enjoyed a solid season in 2021 but fell into the doghouse last season. The Pats used a second-round pick on Tyquan Thornton, but an injury halted his rookie-year development. DeVante Parker remains under contract, as does Bourne, but Smith-Schuster is now positioned to be the No. 1 receiver in Bill O’Brien‘s offense.

The team has also looked into Jerry Jeudy, per Denver7’s Troy Renck (on Twitter), and DeAndre Hopkins. It is unclear how serious it is to making more upgrades after landing JuJu. The Pats are not currently pursuing Hopkins, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets.

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

Chiefs Aiming To Keep JuJu Smith-Schuster, Likely To Let Mecole Hardman Walk

This year’s franchise tag deadline passed without the Chiefs re-tagging Orlando Brown Jr. They will take their chances on the market, with the veteran left tackle seemingly unlikely to sign before seeing what else could be out there for him. The defending Super Bowl champions are, however, interested in retaining at least one of their notable free agents.

The plan remains for the Chiefs to re-sign JuJu Smith-Schuster. After making substantial changes to their receiving corps in 2022, the Chiefs want to keep Smith-Schuster in the fold, James Palmer of NFL.com tweets. It will take a fairly significant raise to keep Smith-Schuster, though the allure of returning to Kansas City’s Andy Reid– and Patrick Mahomes-led offense will be a factor in the seventh-year receiver’s free agency. Smith-Schuster has said he wants to return to the Chiefs, but after playing on an incentive-laden deal, he will command a nice contract in what will be his third run at free agency.

Although the Chiefs carved out some cap space via the Frank Clark release, they remain a few million over the salary ceiling as of Tuesday afternoon. Teams have until 3pm CT March 15 to move under the 2023 cap. On that note, the Chiefs are viewing Mecole Hardman as a likely departure candidate. They are expecting Hardman’s market to be out of their price range, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes. Palmer doubles down on that, with the former second-round pick who missed Super Bowl LVII due to injury likely to leave Kansas City (Twitter link).

Hardman, 25 on Sunday, submitted an inconsistent four seasons with the Chiefs. The Pro Bowl return man did, however, eclipse 500 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons as a tertiary Mahomes target. He has totaled 18 touchdowns; three of those came in a Chiefs rout of the 49ers last season. A groin injury that required surgery shelved Hardman shortly after, and although he suited up for the AFC championship game, an aggravation led to a Super Bowl absence and a surgery.

Hardman, however, is not in danger of missing 2023 time, and Fowler adds some teams believe he will do well in free agency. This promises to be a thin market, headlined by the likes of Smith-Schuster, Jakobi Meyers and Odell Beckham Jr., the latter of whom having not played since Super Bowl LVI. The Panthers are believed to be one of the teams interested in Hardman, Joe Person of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Carolina traded the now-Chosen Anderson last season but still has D.J. Moore and Terrace Marshall under contract. Hardman would make for an intriguing complementary piece in Frank Reich‘s offense.

The Chiefs have big plans for their most recent receiver addition as well. They are viewing Kadarius Toney as a No. 1 wide receiver candidate, Palmer adds. Toney’s substantial injury history clouds that vision. Hence, the Smith-Schuster interest. Marquez Valdes-Scantling also remains under contract, and Skyy Moore should be expected to make bigger contributions in 2023. But Toney has a first-round pedigree and often flashes when he gets the ball. He set a Super Bowl punt-return yardage record and scored a walk-in touchdown in the narrow win. The high-variance speedster will also have a full offseason to acclimate in Reid’s offense, pointing his arrow up despite the injury troubles.

Kansas City may also lose safety Juan Thornhill in free agency, Fowler adds. The Chiefs drafted Thornhill in the 2019 second round as well. This is a fairly crowded safety market, but Thornhill has 52 career starts and made steady contributions for two Super Bowl-winning teams. Some teams view him as this class’ No. 2 safety, behind only Jessie Bates. That is high praise considering Jordan Poyer, Vonn Bell, Julian Love, John Johnson and Adrian Amos join Thornhill in free agency. Pro Football Focus rated Thornhill as a top-30 safety in each of the past two seasons.

Circling back to Brown, the Chiefs are taking the chance they will lose a central part of their O-line rebuild. The team brought in Brown, Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith in 2021, fortifying an O-line that had a brutal night in Super Bowl LV. Rather than another Brown tag, Albert Breer of SI.com notes the Chiefs want to solidify their long-term tackle spot this offseason (Twitter link). A Brown tag could have tabled matters to 2024 and created a Kirk Cousins-like situation, when a tag — at 144% of his 2023 salary — would have been untenable. Brown leaving this year, however, will make the Chiefs a candidate to draft a tackle or trade for one; this left tackle market is not particularly deep, Donovan Smith‘s Tuesday addition notwithstanding.

Chiefs Expected To Tag Orlando Brown Jr. Again, Want To Re-Sign JuJu Smith-Schuster

Jettisoning the likes of Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu, the Chiefs retooled a bit this past offseason. Patrick Mahomes and Chris Jones‘ cap numbers ballooned from 2021, but the team managed to build a Super Bowl-winning roster. Two components of that blueprint are in Kansas City’s 2023 plan.

The Super Bowl champions are not expected to let Orlando Brown Jr. hit the market. Other teams expect the Chiefs to use their franchise tag on their left tackle for a second time, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes. This would mean Brown stays on Kansas City’s payroll at 120% of his 2022 salary, setting the Pro Bowler’s 2023 cap number at $19.99MM.

Additionally, mutual interest looks to exist between the Chiefs and one of their post-Hill solutions. They are interested in bringing back JuJu Smith-Schuster, per Fowler. Smith-Schuster signed an incentive-laden one-year deal worth just $3.76MM in base value in March 2022. The ex-Steeler collected millions via incentives, finishing off that run by pocketing $1MM by playing at least 50% of the Chiefs’ offensive snaps in Super Bowl LVII. It will be more expensive for the Chiefs to retain Smith-Schuster this time around, but he is interested in staying.

Brown, 26, has made the Pro Bowl in both seasons since the Chiefs acquired him. While the former Ravens right tackle may not be a top-shelf left-sider, he was the centerpiece of the Chiefs’ 2021 offensive line overhaul. A considerable market would await Brown in free agency, but the Chiefs should not be expected to bid against other teams for their blindside cog.

Brown passed on a deal that would have made him the league’s highest-paid left tackle last year — a six-year, $139MM pact — but he said the offer included insufficient guarantees. The Chiefs looked to have expected the offer to lock down Brown, and it will be interesting to see what the team proposes now that Brown’s baseline — thanks to the higher tag number and the salary cap’s $16MM bump — will check in higher.

While the Chiefs navigated Mahomes and Jones’ cap figures rising, Joe Thuney‘s number will go from $8.2MM in 2022 to $22.1MM in ’23. Mahomes’ $45MM-per-year contract will also produce a higher cap hit in 2023; the superstar quarterback’s number will spike from $35.8MM to $49.3MM. The latter number would be an NFL record, but if the Browns do not restructure Deshaun Watson‘s megadeal, the Cleveland QB’s 2023 cap figure would come in higher ($54.9MM). No NFLer has played on a cap number north of $46MM previously. Kansas City restructured Mahomes’ deal in 2021 but did not do so in ’22.

The Mahomes and Thuney numbers climbing would make it more challenging for the Chiefs to re-tag Brown; that $19.99MM hit would stay on the Chiefs’ payroll until the sides reached an extension agreement. As of Monday, the Chiefs have just more than $7MM in cap space.

Smith-Schuster, 26, finished his season with a six-catch, 53-yard Super Bowl, drawing the debated defensive holding call that effectively dashed the Eagles’ hopes. In the regular season, the free agent-to-be caught 78 passes for 933 yards and three touchdowns. No other Chiefs wideout came close to Smith-Schuster’s yardage total, and as Travis Kelce enters his mid-30s, the team will probably need more help from its wideouts.

The six year veteran’s desire to stay in Kansas City notwithstanding, a lukewarm receiver market stands to put him in stronger position compared to his 2021 and 2022 free agency runs. Seeing how much of a hometown discount Smith-Schuster would take to remain with Mahomes and Co. will be worth monitoring.

JuJu Smith-Schuster Wants To Re-Sign With Chiefs

JuJu Smith-Schuster used this season to show form resembling his early-career version, leading Chiefs wide receivers in yardage by a wide margin. Soon set for a third run as a free agent, the sixth-year veteran has put himself in position to cash in.

The former Steelers second-round pick has signed one-year deals in each of the past two offseasons, but his 933 receiving yards are his most since the 2018 Pro Bowl season. That ’18 campaign alongside Antonio Brown still looks like an outlier (1,426 yards), though Smith-Schuster has been integral to the Chiefs’ post-Tyreek Hill operation. Already collecting millions in incentives, the USC alum can earn another $1MM by playing 50% of the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LVII offensive snaps. With Smith-Schuster no longer on Kansas City’s injury report, that seems likely to happen.

Although Smith-Schuster should have a bigger market compared to his 2021 and ’22 free agency forays, he said (via NFL.com’s Mike Giardi, on Twitter), “Yeah, I want to come back. Of course, man. Look where I’m at? I want to come back to this.”

The Chiefs gave Smith-Schuster a one-year deal worth $3.76MM. This came after the Steelers re-signed him for one year and $8MM in 2021. This year’s unremarkable free agent wide receiver contingent will benefit Smith-Schuster, who is still just 26. He joins the likes of Jakobi Meyers, DJ Chark, Allen Lazard, Parris Campbell and teammate Mecole Hardman as the top young wideouts available. Odell Beckham Jr. will resurface, but the 30-year-old’s injury past will complicate his market — as it did this year.

Smith-Schuster stands to be one of the top pass catchers available come March, unless he re-signs with the Chiefs before the market opens. Spotrac pegs his value at north of $14MM per year; that could complicate a path back to Missouri. The Chiefs will likely look to retain their nominal No. 1 wide receiver, with Hardman a free agent-to-be and Kadarius Toney (signed through 2024) not shaking the injury-prone label that helped lead the Giants to trade him. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, however, is under Chiefs control beyond this season.

When the Chiefs signed Smith-Schuster, they still had Hill on their roster. But the eventual AFC champions may have been in the initial stages of moving on from their unparalleled deep threat. Smith-Schuster’s low-cost pact came hours after the Raiders transformed the receiver market with their Davante Adams trade.

It was crazy. I was hoping Tyreek and Travis [Kelce] were going to be our guys,” Smith-Schuster said, via the New York Post’s Ryan Dunleavy. “Come to find out the changes and we’re still here [in the Super Bowl]. I don’t think it was ever about me filling shoes. It was, now I have more opportunities to make plays for this team.”

The Chiefs may have advanced to the Super Bowl without Hill, but the new Dolphin totaled a career-high 1,710 yards this season. Kansas City’s deep-passing numbers also dropped, with Next Gen Stats charting Patrick Mahomes throwing deep on just 8.2% of his attempts — a career-low figure. That marked a steep drop from his first MVP season (15.2%); that number also stood at 10% in 2021, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe notes.

We had hoped to bring him back; it was our goal initially to bring him back. But the receiver market really shifted this offseason,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said (via Volin) of Hill, whom the team traded March 23. “It was something that nobody wanted to see happen, but it was the right decision. And then [GM Brett Veach] did a fantastic job with the draft capital that he received in bringing in new players, mostly on the defensive side.”

The Chiefs had begun Hill extension talks in early March; his previous deal ran through 2022. But Hill confirmed his price point changed after Adams’ $28MM-per-year deal surfaced. Hill said it would not have taken $30MM per year for him to stay in Kansas City, but the Chiefs moved on anyway. Veach addressed the franchise’s roster-building shift compared to Mahomes’ rookie-contract years. It will be interesting to see how high Kansas City will go to retain Smith-Schuster, who will have a tough decision to make in the coming weeks.