Day 2 of the 2023 NFL free agency legal tampering period concluded with one of the quietest days imaginable. Zero of our top 12 available free agents signed a deal on Tuesday. This is a remarkable feat considering the huge need for talent and the number of teams depleting with cap space across the league.
Still, there were smart deals and winners to be found even with a plethora of smaller moves. We’re breaking down all of the NFL’s offseason free agency news, so keep checking back each day for the latest rumors and transactions.
NFL Free Agency Winners
Aaron Rodgers’ Ego and his friends
Aaron Rodgers has found that the New York Jets are so desperate to trade for him that he can take advantage of the road to play with his friends. While the Green Bay Packers chose not to give in to Rodgers’ wishes to keep some of his favorites for his final years, he finds his input more valued by the Jets. Until the summer of 2021, the Packers worked independently of their star quarterback with personnel moves.
That changed after Rodgers called their bluff and demanded they trade for Randall Cobb or he would ask out. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst acknowledged this was the case, describing the deal as one to make Rodgers happy.
“Without Aaron, we probably wouldn’t pursue it [trade]”, he said after trading for the 31-year-old who had left for Houston in free agency.
MORE: 2023 NFL Free Agency Tracker
Kowtowing to your star can be a good thing if the moves don’t hinder production. Unfortunately for the Jets and last year’s Packers, Rodgers will have relatively benign players with whom he is comfortable. According to ESPN’s Diana RussiniRodgers told the Jets “he would like them to target and acquire” Cobb, Allen Lazard, Marcedes Lewis and Odell Beckham Jr.
The first three make little sense, as the Jets don’t need a slot receiver, a tight end, or a slow receiver that will cost them Corey Davis. Alas, the Jets have already signed Lazard to a four-year, $44 million deal, and it would be surprising if anyone outbids them for Cobb or Lewis since neither moves the needle without Rodgers.
Rodgers must be excited. The Jets offer a strong roster that will put him in a position to compete for the playoffs right away, and he already knows he’ll have front office sway moving forward.
Darren Waller and the New York Giants
Today’s biggest move was a trade and not a signing. The Las Vegas Raiders lost the second of five massive contracts they released last offseason when they traded tight end Darren Waller to the New York Giants for the 100th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Both sides appear frustrated throughout the 2022 season as Waller missed eight games with a hamstring injury.
He produced just 388 yards and three scores despite expectations that he would return after missing six games in 2021. Instead, Waller proved unreliable, and when he turned 31 this fall, he fell out of the team’s plans . It may not have helped that McDaniels had publicly referenced Waller’s wedding to Kelsey Plum before it was announced that the two were getting married, per Vic Tafur of The Athletic.
It’s hard to blame the Raiders for wanting the biggest tight end contract in the NFL after watching his body break down. But Waller and the Giants are winners in this trade, as the Giants simply traded the pick they received from the Kansas City Chiefs for Kadarius Toney for Waller. Now the Giants have someone capable of producing 70 yards per game, and they didn’t have to dip into a bad free agent class of pass catchers.
Pairing Waller with Daniel Bellinger gives Giants head coach Brian Daboll tremendous flexibility in the passing game. Waller is more of a vertical slot receiver than a tight end, but the two can complement each other effectively and help quarterback Daniel Jones continue to improve.
Jakobi Meyer’s cash in
The Raiders aren’t exactly losers for trading Waller because his health issues could be real, and they threw $11.38 million into the cap while acquiring a late third-round pick for an aging player. But they could be if Waller stays healthy and returns to stardom. The good news for the Raiders and wide receiver Jakobi Meyers is that both won when the two sides came to terms on a three-year, $33 million deal.
Meyers was an interesting free agent because just one year ago, a similar player in Christian Kirk reset the receiver market with a shocking $72 million deal. However, Meyers, despite also being a surefire slot threat, received less than half. That’s good value for a Raiders team that needed a No. 2 receiver in 2022 with Waller and Hunter Renfrow out of time.
MORE: Lamar Jackson contract – Did Baltimore Ravens QB turn down a fair deal?
It will be fascinating to see if the Raiders now look to move Renfrow to Cleveland, New England, or another receiver-needy team. The connection between New England and Las Vegas continues to be extremely strong, but that comfort can be a bad thing when talent is more important than familiarity.
Still, this was a good deal for both Meyers and the Raiders, as he looks to be Jimmy Garoppolo’s security blanket next to Davante Adams.
Michael Thomas will stay in New Orleans
The Michael Thomas saga in New Orleans appeared to be coming to an end after the two sides restructured his contract in a way that was financially geared toward a release. However, after Thomas helped recruit quarterback Derek Carr to New Orleans, the two parted ways restructured his contract to a one-year, $10 million deal with an additional $5 million in incentives.
Thomas has only played in 10 games over the past three seasons, but he has been effective when he is on the field. He caught 16 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns in three games last year, ranking second in scoring and first in contested catches before missing the rest of the season with a toe injury.
Often called “slant boy” due to his usage with Drew Brees in the QB’s waning years, Thomas is an excellent possession threat. I have enjoyed his career and hope he returns to form as an All-Pro playmaker. Keeping him in New Orleans for an extra round is a win for both parties.
Cowboys trade for Stephon Gilmore
It seemed like the Cowboys were going to sit free until value deals emerged, but wisely so acquired cornerback Stephon Gilmore from Indianapolis for a fifth-round pick. The 32-year-old will start opposite star Trevon Diggs. The No. 2 cornerback role was a concern for Dallas as DaRon Bland was in line to start.
MORE: 2023 NFL Free Agency Grades
Gilmore is coming off a solid season while in the Colts’ Cover 3-heavy scheme. He was 29th in yards per reception allowed and had 11 pass breakups and two interceptions. Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn runs a similar scheme, but with better playmakers around to maximize turnovers.
Gilmore’s individual coverage numbers weren’t impressive, but that happens more in zone-heavy roles. Gilmore brings legitimacy with a $9.92 million cap hit in 2023, and he will be a free agent in 2024.