Julian Love

Seahawks Rookie CB Devon Witherspoon Competing For Starting Role

The Seahawks return two starting cornerbacks next year in Michael Jackson and Tariq Woolen, as well as Coby Bryant, who started six games as the team’s primary nickel cornerback last year. Still, Seattle decided to draft Illinois’s Devon Witherspoon as the draft’s first cornerback off the board at No. 5 overall. Despite his high draft pedigree, Witherspoon will have to compete with the incumbent starters to establish his role as a rookie.

The team is currently running Witherspoon in the slot with two former college teammates out of Miami (FL) in Jackson and Artie Burns on the outside, according to Brady Henderson of ESPN. Burns is simply filling in for a currently injured Woolen, while Bryant has reportedly been sidelined lately, allowing Witherspoon more time in the slot early.

There are some early ideas out of workouts concerning how the depth chart might shape up. Henderson posits that the team may work with Witherspoon starting on the outside across from a healthy Woolen in base packages. When the defense needs to add an extra defensive back, Witherspoon will shift inside to the slot with Jackson replacing him on the outside.

His spot in the starting lineup isn’t guaranteed, though, as Henderson reports that Jackson is have a strong spring with regular dominant outings in 7-on-7. Jackson was a surprise for the Seahawks’ defense last year, starting every game despite only having appeared in four games in his first three seasons of NFL play before that. Playing alongside the rookies in what was perhaps the league’s least-experienced cornerbacks group, Jackson was third on the team with 75 total tackles, adding an interception, 12 passes defensed, two fumble recoveries, and a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. If he continues to impress throughout the summer, it’s not out of the question that he may retain a starting role.

In that case, Witherspoon will likely start games at nickelback and rotate in when needed on the outside. In situations when a slot corner is needed while Witherspoon is outside, Seattle can go back to Bryant or even turn to safety Julian Love, who has experience working in the slot, as well. He hasn’t been working at the position much lately, though, as the team has opted to keep Love working at safety, in case Jamal Adams‘s return to the field takes longer than anticipated, but Love does have the requisite experience.

So for now, the depth chart appears to have Woolen and Witherspoon as the top outside options with Jackson and Burns behind them, though Jackson has a chance to retain his starting spot by continuing to impress. At the slot, Witherspoon should be the first option, moving out of his outside position, with Bryant and, potentially, Love behind him. The most experienced members of the position room, Burns and Love, are contributing as depth pieces in what is expected to continue being one of the youngest cornerbacks rooms in the league.

Giants Expected S Julian Love To Re-Sign

Given their financial commitments at safety coming into free agency, the Seahawks made a surprising move by signing Julian Love to join Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs. The Giants appear to have been surprised as well.

Like they did with Saquon Barkley during what became a narrow in-season negotiation — during the bye week — the Giants made Love an offer believed to be worth more than the two-year, $12MM Seahawks pact Love signed. The Giants then submitted a second offer earlier this year, according to the New York Post’s Paul Schwartz, who notes this proposal was worth more than what the team offered midseason.

[RELATED: Barkley Not Planning To Show For Team Workouts]

When Love chose the Seahawks offer, Schwartz adds the Giants were somewhat surprised. They gave Bobby McCain a one-year deal worth $1.3MM, but the team may still be on the lookout for a safety starter to replace Love alongside Xavier McKinney.

I think I’m a player on the rise and I’m young, so a lot of things were going for me, I felt. Then the market was tough for safeties, that’s just the reality,” Love said recently. “I wouldn’t have expected it, but it was what it was. When Seattle saw where I was at contract-wise, they jumped at the opportunity to bring me on, which is exciting and it makes you feel like you’re wanted in this process. There were a few teams down at the end, but I think the appeal of Seattle was too great for me to pass on.”

No numbers have emerged regarding the Giants’ midseason or offseason Love offers, but this year’s non-Jessie Bates safety market not producing any deals worth at least $8MM per year did not bode too well for Love, even after a strong contract year. The new Giants regime used the same timetable with Love and Saquon Barkley, making an initial fall offer before upping it slightly ahead of free agency. But Barkley ended up being franchise-tagged — the expected outcome in the event a Daniel Jones extension surfaced — and Love hit the market. When free agency opened, the sides were not close on terms; that led to the Seattle visit.

McKinney has missed chunks of two seasons — 2020 and ’22 — but looks to remain in New York’s long-term plans. The former second-round pick could rebound and command a nice raise with a quality contract year, and Schwartz notes the Giants were not going to have Love making more than McKinney on a long-term deal. McKinney is now extension-eligible, but it would make sense for the Alabama alum — considering the ATV accident that cost him seven games last season — to bet on himself raising his value in 2023.

As for Love, he now sits 28th for safety AAV. Vonn Bell, Jordan Poyer, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Donovan Wilson and Juan Thornhill checked in a bit higher on their offseason deals, but Bell’s three-year, $22.5MM Panthers pact was the closest any safety came to Bates’ four-year, $64MM Falcons windfall. Gardner-Johnson signed a one-year deal after turning down a multiyear Eagles offer, joining Love in perhaps overestimating this year’s safety market. Love is expected to play a regular role, regardless of Adams’ health, in Seattle; the Seahawks are planning to use Adams closer to the line of scrimmage more often in 2023.

The Giants have McCain, Dane Belton and Jason Pinnock under contract alongside McKinney. Love took over after the Giants cut Logan Ryan and let Jabrill Peppers walk in 2022. The team has higher priorities entering the draft, and while safety can be considered an auxiliary need, the Giants may rely on McCain or one of their younger holdovers to team with McKinney.

Seahawks Withdraw Ryan Neal’s RFA Tender

Before they signed Julian Love, the Seahawks extended a restricted free agent tender to Ryan Neal. With Love now forming a trio with safeties Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs, the Seahawks are moving on from Neal.

Seattle rescinded Neal’s RFA tender Friday afternoon, according to ESPN.com’s Field Yates (on Twitter). This will make Neal an unrestricted free agent. The four-year Seahawk is coming off a season in which he started a career-high 10 games.

Neal will almost certainly generate immediate interest on the open market. Pro Football Focus graded his 2022 work quite well, slotting the 6-foot-3 cover man as the No. 4 overall safety last season. Neal, 27, made 66 tackles (four for loss), deflected eight passes an intercepted another during a season in which the Seahawks played 16 games without Adams. PFF graded Neal as the No. 3 overall safety in coverage last season, which represented by far his most favorable marks from the advanced metrics site.

The Seahawks gave Neal the low-end tender, which cost them $2.63MM. The team will pick up that cap space but part with Neal, who could be a candidate to land elsewhere as a starter. The transaction will bump Seattle’s cap space past $8MM. A Southern Illinois alum, Neal started 19 games with the Seahawks from 2020-22. With the new money, the Seahawks should be expected to look into more D-line additions, Brady Henderson of ESPN.com tweets.

During the parties’ in-season negotiations, the Giants offered Love more money than he ultimately received from the Seahawks, per The Athletic’s Dan Duggan (subscription required). But the breakout starter passed and ended up with Seattle on a two-year, $12MM deal. Love agreed to terms with the Seahawks three days after they tendered Neal as an RFA.

With Love in the fold, Henderson notes the Seahawks are planning to use Adams more at the line of scrimmage. The former Jets All-Pro will work as a pseudo-linebacker more often, per Henderson, opening the door for Adams, Diggs and Love to see the field together. Box work has generally been best for the aggressive defender, who makes his living in that capacity rather than as a pure coverage player. Adams set a safety record with 9.5 sacks in 2020 but did not register any in 2021.

Even with this tender off the books, the Seahawks are set to allocate an NFL-leading $41MM at the safety position. They will count on Adams, who has missed extensive time due to injuries over the past two seasons, staying healthy to justify the cost. It will be interesting to see where Neal lands.

Seahawks To Sign S Julian Love

Two of the Seahawks’ three visitors Thursday will end up signing. Hours after Devin Bush committed to Seattle, CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson reports Julian Love will do the same (Twitter link).

Love will sign a two-year, $12MM deal with the Seahawks, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. This represents an intriguing addition, as the former Giants safety is only going into his age-25 season and will now do so for a team rostering Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs. While Love wanted to stay with the Giants, he will add to what was already the NFL’s most expensive safety group.

Adams suffered a torn quad tendon in Week 1 of last season, but the former All-Pro is still tied to the league’s third-most lucrative safety contract. Diggs is also in the top 10 at the position, having re-signed with Seattle last year. Love joining the duo represents a staggering commitment to the position. Before Love’s addition, Seattle had $39.7MM committed to its safety position. No other team has more than $31MM, in 2023 cap dollars, tied to that spot.

Three-safety looks would appear to be in the offing for the Seahawks, unless the team is making unexpected plans to jettison one of its well-compensated incumbents, and Love is coming off his best season. The Notre Dame product played 1,006 snaps for a depleted Giants secondary last year, and DC Don Martindale used him all over the formation. Love’s versatility figures to help the Seahawks keep their three safeties on the field together often.

The Giants negotiated with Love prior to the legal tampering period and were in talks with the young defender after that point, but it did not sound like the sides were too close on terms. That said, the $6MM-AAV point would seemingly not have been too much higher than what the Giants were prepared to spend. But Big Blue has an Xavier McKinney extension to consider. That stood to affect their Love offer, and the former fourth-round pick heading to the Pacific Northwest marks the third Giants safety starter to move on over the past two offseasons. The team let Jabrill Peppers walk last year and cut Logan Ryan. That opened the door for an impact Love contract year.

Pro Football Focus slotted Love 44th overall among safeties, which is middle-of-the-pack placement among regulars at the position. But Love, PFR’s No. 39 free agent, commanded a midlevel market after his solid Giants contract season. Love finished with 124 tackles — nearly double his 2021 total — and intercepted two passes. Love also forced a fumble and deflected five more. It will be interesting to see how the Seahawks deploy their new DB, presuming Adams recovers in time for Week 1.

Seahawks To Host LB Devin Bush, S Julian Love, DB Lonnie Johnson

On Day 2 of the 2023 league year, the visit stage of free agency appears upon us. The Seahawks will act accordingly, being set to host two defenders coming off their respective rookie contracts.

Linebacker Devin Bush and safety Julian Love will head to Seattle for summits with Seahawks brass Thursday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The Seahawks have been busy along their defensive front but have thus far waited out the markets at linebacker and in the secondary.

Love’s inclusion here is interesting, both given the Seahawks’ personnel at the position and the Giants’ in retaining their young safety starter. Although the Giants began negotiations with Love before free agency began, the New York Daily News’ Pat Leonard notes (via Twitter) the sides are not close on terms.

Love is just 24 (25 this weekend) despite having been in the NFL four seasons, and after Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan relocated last year, the former Giants fourth-round pick played a vital role for Don Martindale’s defense. He logged 1,006 snaps during a season in which Xavier McKinney and Adoree’ Jackson missed extended stretches, helping Big Blue secure its first playoff berth in six years. Love made 124 tackles and intercepted two passes last season.

The Seahawks are already the most well-invested team at the safety position, having Jamal Adams still on a top-market contract and having re-signed Quandre Diggs last year. Even after the Falcons added Jessie Bates for $16MM on average, Diggs’ $13MM-per-year contract still ranks within the top 10 at the position. The Seahawks are coming off a season in which Adams played one game, but Love might prove too pricey for a role alongside this duo.

Following a productive rookie season, Bush could not become a Steelers anchor at linebacker. The team, which traded up for Bush in the 2019 first round, reduced his playing time last season. Bush logged a career-low 62% defensive snap rate with Pittsburgh in 2022, after the team passed on his fifth-year option.

Pro Football Focus slotted Bush just outside the top 50 at linebacker last season; that did mark a bump after the advanced metrics site rated him as one of the worst players at the position in 2021. The Michigan product did play 17 games, making a sufficient recovery from the ACL tear that sidetracked his career back in 2020, but he did not check in as one of this crowded off-ball linebacker market’s top options heading into free agency.

Seattle has Jordyn Brooks signed through 2023, with a fifth-year option decision looming, but lost 2022 starter Cody Barton to the Commanders. The team has been connected to a possible Bobby Wagner reunion; GM John Schneider intends to monitor the Seahawks legend’s market. Bush would be a much lower-profile addition, but the Seahawks will kick the tires on the younger linebacker today. Bush is going into his age-25 season.

Defensive back Lonnie Johnson will also be part of this visit, Schefter adds (on Twitter). The former Texans second-round pick spent 2022 with two teams — the Chiefs and Titans — following a trade and waiver claim. The Texans bailed on Johnson, whom they tried at cornerback and safety, by trading him to the Chiefs. Kansas City waived Johnson in August. He ended up playing in 12 games as a Tennessee backup last season. The fifth-year defender has 19 career starts on his resume.

Giants Rumors: Lawrence, Edwards, WRs, Love

The Giants have been eyeing an extension for star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence for a while now and, following a breakout season, the team has made it a priority. New York started preliminary conversations with Lawrence about two weeks ago, but Jonathan Jones of NFL on CBS claims he wouldn’t be surprised to see a new deal done “sooner than later.”

Despite the ever-growing markets for every position, the league’s market for defensive tackles has never been near the contract of generational talent Aaron Donald. It appears that this will continue to be the case as we see the defensive tackle market reestablished this offseason. Washington has already made Daron Payne the new second-highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL behind Donald with a four-year, $90MM contract. Payne’s average annual value of $22.5MM is still well short of Donald’s $31.67MM per year.

It will be interesting to see where the Giants go from Payne’s deal. Payne established himself as a premier pass-rushing defensive tackle in the league this season but struggled in run defense. Lawrence didn’t have the pass rush production that Payne did but still excelled in the area while also being strong against the run.

Lawrence graded out as the second-best defensive tackle in the league this year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). It would make perfect sense for the Giants to reward Lawrence with a contract that surpasses that of Payne’s new deal, but will Lawrence be able to come anywhere close to the heights reached by Donald?

Here are a few more rumors surrounding the Giants’ priorities at the start of the new league year:

  • Starting the offseason with 21 unrestricted free agents, New York had a laundry list of names and positions to take care of. One of those positions that has been getting some chatter is inside linebacker. Specifically, the Giants have continuously been connected to Eagles pending free agent linebacker T.J. Edwards, according to Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. The four-year Philadelphia defender has had two increasingly impressive breakout seasons, recording career-highs last year in total tackles (159), tackles for loss (10), sacks (2.0), quarterback hits (5), and passes defensed (7). Aside from Edwards, the top name expected to be available at the position is Tremaine Edmunds from Buffalo. Other names of interest for the G-Men include the Commanders’ Cole Holcomb, the Bengals’ Germaine Pratt, the Cowboys’ Leighton Vander Esch, the Lions’ Alex Anzalone, and the Chargers’ Drue Tranquill.
  • The wide receivers position has been an obvious need on the Giants’ roster for some time now, but it doesn’t appear that the Giants intend to address that through free agency, according to Pat Leonard of New York Daily News. With their focuses in free agency and the draft reportedly on inside linebackers, defensive linemen, cornerbacks, and interior offensive linemen, thoughts are that the trade market may make more sense for New York. If the Bills aren’t able to reach an extension agreement with Gabriel Davis, the Giants could be strong contenders to acquire his talents. The Rams have granted receiver Allen Robinson permission to seek a trade. Cardinals star receiver DeAndre Hopkins appears to be available for a price, as well. There are other names that could be interesting additions to the trade market such as Cincinnati wideout Tyler Boyd or Denver’s Jerry Jeudy. The team might still make free agency moves for veterans like Cole Beasley or Odell Beckham Jr., but the trade market could be a more attractive way to bring in established talent to New York.
  • There is reportedly optimism that the Giants will be able to come to an agreement to re-sign pending free agent safety Julian Love. After two seasons of relatively down play, Love had a bounce-back, breakout season in a contract year. He led the team in tackles by a mile with 124 total and tacked on two interceptions for good measure. Love may not be expected to make top money at the position, but after playing out his rookie contract, it appears Love is on the right track to remaining in New York long-term.

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

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Giants, Saquon Barkley Moving Closer To Deal; Team Begins Dexter Lawrence Talks

Sitting as the second domino in the Giants’ offseason equation for weeks, Saquon Barkley remains unsigned. He and the Giants have been in talks since midway through last season, but Joe Schoen pointed to progress Tuesday.

The second-year Giants GM said the sides are “a little bit closer” on terms. It is believed the Giants offered Barkley a deal in the $12.5MM-per-year range; that did not move the needle much during the fall talks. The Giants have not been connected to being open to moving too much higher, but they might be willing to climb a bit to retain their dynamic back.

We haven’t totally bridged [the difference]. We’re a little bit closer,” Schoen said, via ESPN.com’s Jordan Raanan. “There’s still a gap, [otherwise] would’ve done it. We’ll still work through that. We’re working with Roc Nation and [Barkley’s agent] Kim [Miale]. We have a great relationship with them and her.

“… Again, you have to draw a line in the sand — like we’re not going any further. And if it goes past this [line], alright, let’s shift to Plan B. Again, hopefully we don’t get to all that but we went through all these plans.”

A recent report indicated a deal at around $14MM per year could move this lengthy process past the goal line. That still would place Barkley outside the top three among running backs, and with those deals (for Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott) all being signed in 2020 or before, it would obviously be somewhat unsatisfying for the Giants back to accept such terms now that the cap has spiked to $224.8MM. But the Giants could have both the advantage of the franchise tag and a robust running back market that could suppress players’ values.

Barkley, 26, has already pocketed considerable cash, being a former No. 2 overall pick and having finished his fifth-year option season. But this offseason represents his best chance to cash in during a career not expected to last too much longer. Barkley should still have multiple prime years left, but backs routinely do not play past 30 in the modern game. The Giants have until March 13 to keep Barkley off the market, but their real deadline may be March 7 — the last day to apply franchise tags.

Schoen reiterated the Giants’ plan to tag Daniel Jones (at a steep $32.4MM) unless an extension is reached. A $10.1MM Barkley tag would, then, only commence if Jones is extended. While the GM expressed cautious optimism extensions for Barkley and Jones will be completed, via the New York Daily News’ Pat Leonard (on Twitter), the Giants are likely to go down to the wire here.

Beyond the Jones-Barkley components of this offseason, the Giants have Dexter Lawrence coming off a breakout year and heading into a contract campaign. The Giants have already begun talks with Lawrence, Schoen said (via Leonard), but the discussions look to be preliminary in nature. It is not known if the Giants want to be the team that first bridges the gap between Aaron Donald and the field at defensive tackle. The Commanders just tagged Daron Payne, but he will be part of that mix that includes Jeffery Simmons and Chris Jones, who are each in contract years.

Those contracts would stand to drive up the price for Lawrence, who is going into his fifth-year option season. But the former Clemson standout (and last piece of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade still on either the Giants or Browns) said he wants to stay in New York. The Giants would have the option of a 2024 franchise tag with Lawrence, though their 2023 tag candidates obviously take precedence.

Scrolling further down Big Blue’s expanding priority list, Schoen confirmed the Giants want to keep Julian Love. The Giants will speak with Love’s agent at the Combine, but a deal may not transpire until the Giants survey the market. Schoen said the team will wait to see if teams cut safeties to create a market surplus, which would affect Love’s value. John Johnson will be one of the cap casualties, joining a market set to house Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Jordan Poyer, whom Schoen has close ties to from his Buffalo days. Additionally, Schoen mentioned Jihad Ward as a leadership type the Giants will not want to lose (Twitter links via Leonard). The rotational edge rusher just played out a league-minimum contract.

Giants Notes: Jones, Love, McKinney

Earlier this week, we heard that the Giants had not yet engaged in contract talks with quarterback Daniel Jones, who is set to hit free agency in March. The contract statuses of Jones and running back Saquon Barkley, another impending FA, have been intertwined for some time, and while the cost of a nonexclusive franchise tag for Barkley (~$10MM) is much lower than it is for Jones (~$32MM), tagging Barkley would considerably reduce the club’s leverage in its negotiations with Jones, because Jones would then have the power to reject any offer and hit the open market.

As such, it makes sense that GM Joe Schoen has resumed discussions with Barkley and may want to get that matter settled before turning his attention to his signal-caller, whose surprisingly strong 2022 has him in an enviable financial position. Previous reports indicated that New York would be eyeing a $35MM/year contract for the Dave Gettleman draftee, and in speaking with six current or former high-ranking NFL execs, Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post says that number sounds about right.

All six experts suggested that a new contract for Jones would feature an AAV between $30MM and $40MM. Of course, guarantees and cash flow are better indicators of the value of an NFL contract than the yearly average, but Jones is in good shape in that regard as well. Dunleavy’s sources suggest that Jones could be in line for $70MM in full guarantees and up to $100MM in total guarantees.

The Brian Daboll/Schoen partnership led to a playoff berth much sooner than many anticipated, and whether or not New York builds on its 2022 success will depend in large part on how it resolves the Jones and Barkley situations. Indeed, the Giants have plenty of other needs, including wide receiver, and even assuming they retain their QB1 and RB1, they will still need to maximize their cap flexibility to prevent regression from a roster that generally overperformed last year.

In addition to outside acquisitions, Schoen has current players not named Jones or Barkley that he may want to take care of. One of those players is safety Julian Love, who saw a massive spike in playing time in the fourth and final year of his rookie deal and who paced Big Blue with 124 tackles. Player and team talked contract during the Giants’ bye week, and Schoen recently reiterated his desire to keep Love in the fold. Per Connor Hughes of SNY.tv, the bye week discussions were fruitful, and it sounds as if a new deal could be on the horizon (Twitter link).

Fellow safety Xavier McKinney missed a chunk of time in 2022 due to a hand injury suffered in an ATV accident, but he has now accrued three years of service time and is therefore eligible for an extension. As Dan Duggan of The Athletic tweets, McKinney recently retained super-agent David Mulugheta, who represents some of the highest-profile safeties in the game. With so many other irons in the fire, it remains to be seen if Schoen will commence contract talks with McKinney in the coming weeks, but whenever it does happen, McKinney will be in good hands.

S Julian Love Eyeing New Giants Deal

With their offseason now underway, the Giants have a number of important decisions to make on a roster which made a surprising run to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. While the team’s offensive catalysts have understandably drawn plenty of attention on that front, a few key defenders are due for new contracts as well.

One of them is safety Julian Love, who became a full-time starter this season, the final one of his rookie contract. The former fourth-rounder remained an important special-teamer, but also logged a 95% snap share on defense, representing a major jump in playing time compared to previous campaigns. He responded by registering a team-leading 124 tackles, along with two interceptions and five pass breakups.

Those totals no doubt boosted his free agent stock considerably, but Love, 24, is hoping to remain in New York in 2023 and beyond. His comments on the subject of a new deal, however, also reflected his understanding of his importance to the team’s success and his desire to turn his 2022 production into a considerable raise.

“I think I had a huge impact on this team this year, not just with play but with who I am as a person,” Love said, via Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. “I was the level-headed person this locker room needed at times… This year, having to hold down the fort – it felt like at times – and be the guy for us, I feel like I did a solid job.”

Indeed, Love was a rare constant for a Giants secondary which saw fellow safety Xavier McKinney and top corner Adoree’ Jackson each miss significant time due to injuries. His value will be tempered by the fact that he was only a full-time starter for one season, but he added that contract talks did take place during the bye week which left the two sides “in a better place.” In his season-ending press conference, general manager Joe Schoen indicated (via FOX Sports’ Ralph Vacchiano, on Twitter) his desire to get a deal done.

When going into further detail about his situation, Love reiterated his affinity for the only team he has played for in the NFL to date. He also acknowledged, however, the opportunity free agency will give him to secure a financial windfall.

“I love this place,” the Notre Dame alum said. “The staff has been the best. That’s the stuff you want to come back to, but football is not forever. I put my body on the line every game. When I say, ‘I have to do the best thing for me,’ it’s short-term thinking. You have to do the best to secure generational wealth for your family.”