Top NFL free agency takeaways from Day One including Jimmy Garoppolo to Raiders

Aside from the annual draft, NFL free agency represents the best way for franchises to turn weaknesses into strengths. Yet, it always comes at a cost. Typically when adding impact players in free agency, teams have to spend through the roof, often resetting the market in earnings.

That’s no different this year. While this year’s crop of free agents may not feature that blockbuster name, there are several players who can transform an offense or a defense next season. Recapping what’s been a wild Day One of the legal negotiation period on Wednesday, here are our top takeaways from NFL free agency so far.

Related: 2023 NFL mock draft: Round 1 outlook after Bears, Panthers trade

Denver Broncos invest in stronger foundation around Russell Wilson

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos
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It’s clear where the Denver Broncos’ priorities lie heading into free agency. It’s all about getting the most out of Russell Wilson, which was the same story when hiring Sean Payton as head coach. While Payton may be able to draw up plays that place Wilson in a better situation, he can’t get out there and offer better protection.

So, the Broncos spent a combined $139 million on adding offensive guard Ben Powers and right tackle Mike McGlinchey to reinforce the trenches. Powers received a four-year, $51.5 million contract with $28.5M guaranteed, and McGlinchey got a five-year, $87.5 million contract.

Dalton Risner, last year’s left guard for the Broncos, ranked as the 42nd-best guard per Pro Football Focus. Powers ranked 38th, but he was PFF’s second-best pass protector at the position, signifying a massive upgrade.

McGlinchey graded as the 35th-best tackle in football, per PFF, receiving stronger marks as a run blocker, and he’s expected to be the team’s new starting right tackle. This gives the Broncos a line of:

  • LT Garett Bolles, LG Ben Powers, C LLoyd Cushenberry III , RG Quinn Meinerz, RT Mike McGlinchey

Needless to say, expect the Broncos to improve upon 2022’s dead-last finish in points per game now that the offensive line has become a strength.

Related: Top NFL free agents of 2023: Rankings the best players available from 1-400

NFL’s best defense gets even better with 49ers adding Javon Hargrave

NFL: NFC Championship-San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles
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Last year the San Francisco 49ers had the NFL’s best defense, allowing a league-low 16.3 points per game. While safety Jimmie Ward is set for free agency, the 49ers aren’t set to lose any other defensive starters this offseason. One big loss may be defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who has since taken over for the Houston Texans, but the 49ers are also making a big addition to their defensive interior.

Javon Hargrave, who had a career year last season with the Philadelphia Eagles with 11 sacks on his way to a Pro Bowl season, has taken his talent to San Francisco. Hargrave inked a four-year, $84 million contract, making him tied for the third-highest-paid defensive tackle in football.

It’s a scary development for the rest of the NFC West, as the 49ers already had a game-wrecking defensive line led by 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa, complemented by Arik Armstead. Now they have three players with double-digit sack potential and are still waiting for Javon Kinlaw, the 14th pick from the 2020 NFL Draft to show what he can do.

With a defense that already held the NFL’s 11th-best pressure rate last season, it appears the 49ers somehow are set to get even better, at least along their defensive line.

Related: NFL free agent tracker 2023: Latest signings, contract info, news for all 32 teams in NFL free agency

Chicago Bears begin building a defense

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills
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It’s early, but the Chicago Bears have already been one of the most active teams of the offseason. In addition to adding receiver D.J. Moore in their trade down to pick No. 9, the Bears have now turned their attention to patching up their 32nd-ranked defense from a year ago.

First, the Bears added outside linebacker T.J. Edwards from the Philadelphia Eagles on a wise three-year, $19.5 million contract, but they weren’t done. Boasting the most cap space in the NFL, the Bears also signed former Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds to a four-year, $72 million contract, the largest amount for a middle linebacker in NFL history.

The latter is certainly a splashy signing, but any time you can add a two-time Pro Bowl player who’s somehow still just 24, you have to consider it. In this case, the Bears entered the offseason with one of the NFL’s worst rosters, but they’ve already taken a giant step toward contention in the NFC North.

Related: NFL offense rankings: Reviews and outlook heading into NFL free agency

Las Vegas Raiders make lateral move for Jimmy Garoppolo

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at San Francisco 49ers
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This is perhaps the most fascinating yet expected signing of the day. We knew well ahead of time that Derek Carr wouldn’t be returning in 2023, yet even the decision to move on from the nine-year pro was a bold move. The whole point of being ready to move on from Carr was to find an improvement at the QB position, yet the Raiders were so sold that they could pull it off.

Enter Jimmy Garoppolo. So, the Raiders made a lateral move? There’s no question that Jimmy G is a competent QB and certainly deserving of a starting role. He has a career win rate of nearly 72% in the regular season, yet some question the 31-year-old QB’s durability being that he’s missed 17 games in the past three seasons.

Not to mention, Garoppolo has less arm talent than Carr, with less zip on his passes, and has been much less productive throughout his career. Can the Raiders really sell this move as an improvement to their fan base? We’re not so sure.

Ultimately it appears this transaction was done for coach Josh McDaniels, not necessarily for the Raiders. While McDaniels was Garoppolo’s QB coach and offensive coordinator for three seasons in New England from 2014-16, was that really worth casting Carr aside?

The Raiders may be able to save face, knowing they got Garoppolo at a great rate of just $22.5 million per season for the next three years, which is far below what Carr got with the Saints at $37.5 million with the New Orleans Saints.

Yet, we can’t help but wonder how Davante Adams feels about all this. He specifically sought out the chance to reconnect with his old Fresno State college teammate with Carr, spurning Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers just to have his dream pairing ruined one season later. Garoppolo better form a strong connection with Adams early on.

Related: NFL QB Rankings: See where Raiders QB Jimmy Garoppolo lands

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