Fantasy football: Where will the NFL's top free agents play in 2023?

Fantasy football: Where will the NFL's top free agents play in 2023?

NFL free agents and fantasy football impact

Fantasy football: Where will the NFL's top free agents play in 2023?


Tuesday is the NFL’s deadline for franchise tagging, and we’ve already seen the likes of Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Evan Engram, Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, and Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard get slapped with the tag as of Monday evening.

Free-agent quarterback Derek Carr inked a four-year, $150 million pact with the New Orleans Saints as the only notable fantasy name to be free to sign anywhere before the market officially opens next week.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith was given a three-year, $105 million contract extension Monday, which comes as no surprise.

With that out of the way, we’ll take a look at the most likely landing spots for marquee fantasy football names prior to the opening of free agency.

QB Lamar Jackson

Chris Pedota/

The financial chasm between the Baltimore Ravens and Jackson appears to be vast, but at this point the likeliest thing is he gets tagged for 2023. He still can sign a long-term deal until July 17 even after being hit with the franchise designation. Don’t be entirely shocked if we see a tag-and-trade scenario here. Jackson would have to sign the tender to be eligible for such a situation, but there’s NFL precedent for it. Ultimately, expect him to play in 2023 under the tag.

Projected 2023 team: Baltimore Ravens

3/7 update: Jackson received the non-exclusive franchise tag.

QB Daniel Jones

Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran, The Record

Whether it be under a one-year franchise tag or via a contract extension, it’s improbable Jones plays anywhere other than New York in 2023. He showed too much progress in the first year under Brian Daboll for New York to let him walk.

Projected 2023 team: New York Giants

3/7 update: Jones was extended four years at $160 million.

QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a great deal of incentive from both parties for him to sign in Las Vegas and reunite with Josh McDaniels. It’s not entirely out of the question that he could stick around in San Fran for an open competition given the injury concern with Brock Purdy (elbow) and lack of significant development by Trey Lance, but it’s far-fetched at this point. The latter’s ankle fracture isn’t of much worry since it happened in September … his minimal progress on the field might be an issue, however, for a team that is in win-now mode.

Projected 2023 team: Las Vegas Raiders

RB Saquon Barkley

Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

With the presumption Daniel Jones will be receiving the franchise tag, Barkley is in line for a huge contract. Extension talks have reportedly shown about a $4 million-per-year gap between the two sides, and much of whether Saquon plays another season in New York depends on how Jones is handled. Should the Giants work out a last-minute extension with the quarterback, it frees up the franchise tag for Barkley. But if that tag has to be used on Jones, all bets are off. Today, I’m not so confident. My lukewarm final answer is the two sides work something out.

Projected 2023 team: New York Giants

3/7 update: Barkley received the non-exclusive franchise tag.

RB Jamaal Williams

Credit: Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

This one will come down to numbers more so than many situations. Williams was a strong contributor in 2022 and fits the mold of what Dan Campbell wants to see from half of a one-two punch out of the backfield. D’Andre Swift is already under contract, so how much is Detroit willing to pony up for a soon-to-be 28-year-old back coming off a season he’ll never be able to match? The two sides were negotiating during the combine week, and there’s mutual interest in working out a deal. That said, this is Williams’ last chance at a big payday, and his market value won’t be higher. One team to watch is the Carolina Panthers and the Duce Staley connection to Detroit. Several clubs will make offers to Williams, and if that number is too good to pass, expect him to sign elsewhere. Detroit has the money to retain him at a fair price, so that’s my lean.

Projected 2023 team: Detroit Lions

RB Miles Sanders

Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a career year, Sanders will cash in somewhere other than Philly. The Eagles don’t have the required cap space to splurge on a luxury position, and there are enough suitors for Sanders to end up in a different jersey with near certainty. The Buffalo Bills don’t have a ton of cash to throw around, so it may come down to the Penn Stater feeling the desire to gamble on himself for a one-year deal at slightly less money than market value. Kansas City also makes sense, and the Chiefs threw in the towel last year on the Clyde Edwards-Helaire experiment, but Isiah Pacheco is much cheaper than Sanders and has room to grow. Miami has a need and the money, but it’s not an ideal system fit. The likeliest spot to me is Carolina, where a need is obvious, though money could be an issue. Even though Sanders never played under Frank Reich, the coach still has ties to the Eagles and knows Sanders is a quality system fit as a result.

Projected 2023 team: Carolina Panthers

RB David Montgomery

Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

He’s all but out the door before free agency even begins, and Montgomery will wind up being part of a tandem approach. Depending upon a few moving pieces that we have yet to see settle (Saquon Barkley, Jamaal Williams, for example), the Iowa State product may find himself replacing another veteran if their existing team cannot come to terms on a new deal. The top team right now in my eyes is the Miami Dolphins. They don’t need him to be a workhorse or carry the team, but he sure would be a strong complementary piece to the puzzle. Don’t discount the Buffalo Bills finding a way financially to make it happen, even if on a one-year deal, and it would give Montgomery a legit chance at a title. Should I be wrong about Miles Sanders heading to Carolina, it also would be a fine landing spot for the veteran.

Projected 2023 team: Miami Dolphins

RB Alexander Mattison

Credit: AP Photo/Stacy Bengs

The understudy of Dalvin Cook finally has a chance to lay claim to the primary share of a backfield’s workload, but he’ll need some of the other free-agent dominoes to break in his favor. There’s definite upside to him from a fantasy perspective, in the right environment, but his market may be too narrow given the relatively deep class of backs this year. While Mattison isn’t known for his receiving chops, he’s no slouch, and the system as well as familiarity with Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski makes a little too much sense. The Browns will move on from Kareem Hunt, who is a superior receiver to Mattison, but the coaching staff had zero interest in showing such in 2022. Jerome Ford is slated to get a larger workload, and money is tight in Cleveland.

Projected 2023 team: Philadelphia Eagles

RB Kareem Hunt

Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

He fascinates me more than most free agents at the position, only because I have a difficult time accepting there still isn’t at least one more year of RB1 production inside. As for a landing spot, Hunt has plenty of options for an RB1b role, and it may take a little luck to find the chance for an RB1a gig. If he’s willing to take a massive reduction in pay, Philadelphia would be a good fit. Otherwise, their cap situation suggests he’ll be signing elsewhere. He’d make a great fit in Miami, and KC could use him in a return home if Jerick McKinnon walks. Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Minnesota, and Denver all could be in play.

Projected 2023 team: Denver Broncos

RB Devin Singletary

Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

It required three seasons in Buffalo before the team chose to utilize Singletary in a meaningful way, and his fourth season with the team was much of the same — just enough action to tease fantasy owners. There’s RB2 fantasy worth in his skill set, but it will require the right situation for Singletary to maximize his opportunities. He’s not built to be a three-down back, and his receiving skills were underutilized in Western New York, hinting at a potential niche role in 2023. While there’s a slim chance he may return to Buffalo, the current outlook has him moving on. After all, the front office tried to replace him several times. Depending on the price tag, he could make sense for the New York Giants, Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Denver, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and New Orleans.

Projected 2023 team: New Orleans Saints

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a few clutch catches in the Super Bowl, Smith-Schuster isn’t expected to have a hot market on his own merits. This class of wideouts isn’t particularly strong, and that alone makes him the top commodity. Knowing how he has handled his last two forays into free agency, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he’s willing to play on yet another one-year deal to stay in Kansas City and have as strong of a chance at heading back to the title game as any team can offer. Now that he has a championship ring, I can see the highest bidder piquing his interest to a greater degree. That could include the New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots, and Carolina Panthers, among others. Smith-Schuster has vocalized his desire to return to KC, though it’s unclear if the feeling as as strong on the team’s end. He’ll have a vast array of suitors, and my projected landing spot comes with little confidence.

Projected 2023 team: Baltimore Ravens

WR Jakobi Meyers

Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago, it seemed like Meyers and the franchise would reunite given that he has been the favorite target of quarterback Mac Jones. That doesn’t say a whole lot since the former Carolina Panthers‘ ceiling has been just 866 yards in the last two years, but a pivotal Year 3 for Jones’ development and career path could lead to Meyers returning on a one-year deal for continuity. The two sides reportedly are far apart in contract terms, so this absolutely could go any number of directions. Veteran slot receivers are always in demand.

Projected 2023 team: New England Patriots

WR Allen Lazard

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a career season, even if it wasn’t special, Lazard will look to capitalize on a weak class of free agents at his position. Quite possibly a better blocker than receiver, his services will fit in with a number of clubs. A downfield presence isn’t the strength of Lazard’s game, making him a respectable possession outlet who fits into most systems. The need for such is great in Tennessee, Baltimore, Carolina, Chicago, Dallas, and a few others. Lazard said he will be selective with deciding where to play, which seems to rule out teams that aren’t contenders. However, money talks, and it may be difficult to ignore a subpar team that is willing to spend up in a shallow talent pool.

Projected 2023 team: Tennessee Titans

TE Dalton Schultz

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Consecutive strong seasons have positioned Schultz to be the top tight end in free agency, and there have been no indications that he’ll return to Dallas. The versatile tight end has a few options as teams will look to bolster their passing games in an offseason with a weak class of wide receivers, which may amplify a franchise’s desire to make Schultz a large factor in the offense. Frank Reich taking over in Carolina makes the tight end position more important to the club, and Green Bay also could be in the hunt with Robert Tonyan a free agent and WR Allen Lazard having a foot out the door. Carolina doesn’t have a ton of cash on hand, but we still have a week for renegotiating deals to free up space. Houston has a boatload of money and a need. The same goes for Cincinnati. Detroit, Arizona, and Washington are worth monitoring. His blocking skills and hands will make Schultz a coveted option for a gritty team with a former tight end as its head coach.

Projected 2023 team: Detroit Lions

TE Mike Gesicki

Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Miami’s new system in 2022 had no desire to rely on the position, yet having two of the top wideouts in the league on the roster played a larger role in Gesicki’s significant step backward in 2022. His target count dropped from 112 in 2021 to just 52 in last year, and if not for five TD grabs, it would have been an abysmal campaign. He’ll get a shot to be the man in a new city, and it comes down to contract demands vs. cap space. Houston has a wealth of cash on hand, and so does the New York Giants, but the latter may want to save a few bucks to see what they have in Daniel Bellinger. Furthermore, it’s a deep rookie pool this year at the position, so Gesicki’s leverage isn’t at its peak. Detroit, Cincinnati, Arizona, Green Bay, and Washington could financially duke it out over Gesicki’s services next week. Being a poor blocker will limit his options, seemingly ruling out Detroit.

Projected 2023 team: Cincinnati Bengals


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