2023 Opening Day Nfl – Free agency is always a moving target in the NFL. Some important players are given last-minute extensions or, much to their chagrin, given the franchise tag, limiting their access to long-term contracts with big guaranteed money.
With exactly 75 days since the start of 2023 NFL free agency, here are 11 players who had big seasons in 2022 to set themselves up for a huge payday:
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First, hire an agent, Lamar. Then sign a long-term deal with the Ravens because they franchise you before you release them. His numbers haven’t matched his MVP season in 2019, but injuries have weakened his receiving corps. His rating is still over 90 with 17 touchdown passes and has run for 764 yards and three TDs.
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The offense isn’t nearly as good without him as it has been in the last three-plus games he’s been out with a knee injury (the Ravens have scored 25 points per game with him and 12 without him). Jackson went 7-4 as the Ravens’ starter before being injured on the final play of the first quarter in Game 12. Despite the poor record, Tyler Huntley has gone 3-1 in his last four games.
Projection: His injury won’t help his bargaining position, as he’ll likely ask for $50 million per year (Aaron Rodgers’ average is the highest of any quarterback), especially if he doesn’t play well when/if he returns and the team has a first-round playoff exit. I think Jackson will be tagged, but he re-signed in Baltimore for $47 million a year — just a hair more than Deshaun Watson and Kyler Murray ($46 million a year), but didn’t fully guarantee Watson’s contract.
I have two quarterbacks on the list, but they don’t have Geno Smith or Jimmy Garoppolo. Both have played well this year, but in Smith’s case, they lack poise and the injured Garoppolo is too much to attract top offers.
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The underrated Jones gets better every year. The Giants declined his fifth-year option on the former top-10 pick, but under coach Brian Daboll he improved his accuracy (66.5%) and went over 90 for the first time in his career. He is also a dangerous rusher with 617 yards, which is more than double the previous year.
If Jones had a No. 1 receiver like Justin Jefferson, I think he’d be a top-10 quarterback. Most importantly, he led the Giants to the brink of the playoffs. His arrow was pointing up, he was only 25 years old.
Prediction: I think he’s in line for an extension with the Giants that will pay him $35 million a year (but only three more years so he can make even more money if he continues to elevate his game). Otherwise, he will be hit with the franchise tag unless the Giants want to franchise their candidate, the next name on my list, in which case Jones’ price would likely increase as a true free agent.
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He played in every game for the first time since his rookie year in 2018, and his production has been excellent as a two-time Pro Bowl running back (fourth in the league with 1,254 yards, 10 TDs, plus 55 receptions for 343 yards). The Giants have made big strides this season, and Barkley has been a big part of the offense.
Barkley’s situation reminds me of when I took a leap of faith in 1998 and signed Minnesota’s Robert Smith to a huge five-year deal. Smith was hurt early in his career, but it ended in a 1,266-yard season. I had to respond to the offer he received as a transitional player. It paid off when Smith stayed healthy and had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, leading the NFC in rushing with 1,521 yards in 2000.
Prediction: I think he’ll get a contract worth $16.5 million per year, slightly more than Christian McCaffrey’s deal (which is two years), but will include significant active roster bonuses, so he should be on track to get the most out of the deal. the .
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He had 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, but fell short of 872 yards last year, prompting the Raiders to decline his fifth-year option. He looked to be out the door in 2023, but now he’s costing the Raiders extra franchise or expansion money as he leads the league with 1,539 yards (and 11 TDs plus 47 catches for 369 yards).
Prediction: Jacobs used the option sparingly as motivation for a big season, and it worked out for him. He’ll likely take an open-market deal that averages $14-15 million per year, but he might be the franchise’s first.
Speaking of wanting to prove people wrong (especially the Giants, his former team), Engram was often labeled the underdog as a former first-round pick in New York. He is on a one-year, $9 million deal in Jacksonville and has set career highs in receptions (68) and receiving yards (723) with two games left in the regular season.
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Engram has had two 100-yard games in the past three weeks and played a big role in their playoff run against Trevor Lawrence.
Projection: Should get close to what Hunter Henry got in New England ($12.5 million per year) if he can sign a long-term deal after the Jaguars likely franchise tag him.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been a Pro Bowl player the past four years. He’s having another great season after playing under the franchise’s $16.7 million. Outside of quarterbacks, teams prefer to pay big money for players in their mid-20s, where the risk of injury tends to decrease. Brown, 26, is in a perfect position this season.
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Prediction: To get better team numbers, I think the Chiefs will pay him the most money in the series than the 49ers gave Trent Williams ($23 million six-year average) in 2021.
He is an elite interior pass rusher who has an NFL-best defensive record of 10 sacks this season. This is a good opportunity for Hargrave to have his best season in the pass rush when his $13 million-a-year contract expires. In addition to his 50 tackles, he is also a stable defender. He will turn 30 in February, but he has mostly been a durable player.
Prediction: With many key players on the Eagles leaving in free agency and cap space in the Premier League tight, I expect Philly to avoid the expensive one-year franchise coup and sign Hargrave long-term (four years). Up to 20 million per suit
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He had a career-best season with 9.5 sacks and 57 tackles and earned every penny of his five-year, $8.6 million option. The problem for him is that the Chiefs are paying Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jonathan Allen a well-deserved $18 million a year and former second-rounder Chase Young is on his second contract next year.
Prediction: Payne will likely have to look elsewhere for a deal that falls within the reach of Allen, who he’s sure to seek. I think he will move after the season, but the timing is great as he played so well in his contract year on a playoff team.
Smith was so productive this season (144 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 15 games) that he was selected to the Pro Bowl despite being traded from the Bears to the Ravens during the season. He had 41 tackles over the past four games as Baltimore’s defense has been forced to carry the team in Jackson’s absence.
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It was surprising to see the Bears trade one of their best defensive players, but Smith was reportedly looking for a deal that would put him on par with Fred Warner and Shaquille Leonard ($20 million per year). The bears thought that was too much money. He’s making $5.4 million this season and is prime age (25) for a long-term contract.
Prediction: With Jackson likely to receive the franchise tag, the Ravens will try to sign Smith before free agency after sending a second- and fifth-round pick to Chicago. Smith is a lazy guard who plays it off and passes well. I believe the contract is $18 million per year.
The Bills’ Pro Bowl safety has missed four games this season with various injuries, but is still very productive with 54 tackles and four interceptions. He had 93 or more tackles in each of the previous five seasons and consistently excelled against the pass and run. His stats may be down because of the games he’s missed, but he’s a solid player on the Bills’ best defense.
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Projection: At age 31, Poyer will sign a contract worth $9.75 million per year. He will be asking for Harrison Smith’s contract ($16 million per year), but I expect the Bills to sign him for less because
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