NFL experts debate free agency: Which team is the most improved after a week of deals?
After a busy first week to 2023 NFL free agency, the deals have started to slow down. Teams have added impact playmakers across their depth charts, though free agents like Odell Beckham Jr. and Bobby Wagner are still on the market. Notably, Orlando Brown Jr., Javon Hargrave, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jessie Bates III have found new homes. And the Miami Dolphins and the Chicago Bears made a lot of noise to start free agency, both bolstering their defenses.
What are the best signings so far, and which teams have already gotten a lot better this offseason? Our NFL experts are weighing in on what we’ve seen in this offseason’s free agency, starting with the most improved teams. (We will continue to update this file throughout the week, with insight on the best and worst signings.)
What is the most improved team after the past week of moves?
Stephania Bell, fantasy football analyst: Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins said goodbye to cornerback Byron Jones (who missed all of 2022 while recovering from Achilles surgery) and added six-time Pro Bowler Jalen Ramsey to play alongside Xavien Howard. Couple that upgrade with the very reasonably priced re-signings of running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. — two Mike McDaniels disciples from their 49ers days who have proven adept at jointly executing his brand of offense — and the Dolphins have fared nicely.
Matt Bowen, NFL analyst: Cleveland Browns. The Browns made some savvy moves to upgrade their defense. Edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson bolster the Cleveland front, and safety Juan Thornhill brings much-needed post range and ball skills to the Cleveland secondary.
Mike Clay, fantasy football writer: Dolphins. They already had a pretty good core in place, but the Dolphins’ additions of Ramsey, David Long Jr. and DeShon Elliott position new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio with arguably the league’s best unit on paper. The offense didn’t require much work, so if quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is healthy and continues to play well — he was third in QBR in 2022 — Miami could emerge as a real threat next season.
Jeremy Fowler, national NFL writer: Carolina Panthers. Carolina committed $116.75 million in free agent contracts, with $70 million in guarantees, in Week 1 of free agency. It filled several defensive holes, from safety Vonn Bell to defensive tackle Shy Tuttle, while also adding firepower for whoever ends up being the new quarterback with tight end Hayden Hurst and running back Miles Sanders. Andy Dalton is the perfect backstop QB for a young draft pick, too. He can win games but is not threatening to a rookie.
Matt Miller, NFL draft analyst: New England Patriots. Going from Matt Patricia/Joe Judge to Bill O’Brien at offensive coordinator was by itself a big enough move to warrant inclusion here. But pass-catchers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mike Gesicki are also huge additions to boost the play of third-year quarterback Mac Jones.
Eric Moody, fantasy football writer: Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are much improved, especially on defense after trading for cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who will be paired with Trevon Diggs. In addition, Dallas brought back linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and safety Donovan Wilson, keeping the defense intact for next year. It also released running back Ezekiel Elliott, so it can pair Tony Pollard with another back and lean more on Pollard. Wide receiver Brandin Cooks is Dallas’ biggest offensive addition, giving the Cowboys another vertical threat and a great complement to CeeDee Lamb.
Jason Reid, senior Andscape writer: Chicago Bears. General manager Ryan Poles entered the offseason with a whole lot of cap space, the No. 1 overall pick in next month’s NFL draft and a plan to upgrade a roster with canyon-sized holes. Poles made many cost-efficient moves to sign veterans who should provide the Bears with a significant boost next season. And in their trade with the Panthers, the Bears acquired productive wide receiver DJ Moore (and a haul of picks). He is exactly the type of wideout that young quarterback Justin Fields needs to take the next step in his development.
Jordan Reid, NFL draft analyst: Browns. The Browns had major holes along the defensive line and at safety. Tomlinson, one of the top defensive free agents on the open market, was the team’s marquee signing. The former Vikings interior defender is exactly what the Browns needed, as the middle of their defense struggled mightily last season. Okoronkwo brings more pressure off of the edge and a lot of versatility. And signing Thornhill following the release of John Johnson III was a swap for a better player and one that better fits the free safety role in new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme.
Mike Tannenbaum, NFL front office insider: Denver Broncos. When you factor in the hiring of coach Sean Payton and the signings of guard Ben Powers and offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, this sets up the best-case scenario for any hope of success for quarterback Russell Wilson. Having offensive tackle Garett Bolles and running back Javonte Williams return from injury will also go a long way.
Seth Walder, sports analytics writer: Dolphins. I was already bullish on the Dolphins’ defense once Vic Fangio came aboard to be the defensive coordinator. But after they added Ramsey to play opposite Howard at cornerback and Long to play linebacker up the middle, I think the defense could be a serious strength. That’s remarkable because, when healthy, the Dolphins’ offense also can be a serious strength.
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Seth Wickersham, NFL writer: New York Jets. Even though the Aaron Rodgers trade has yet to be worked out, they’re going from a young struggling quarterback to one of the top 10 quarterbacks of all time — and one with a major point to prove.
Field Yates, NFL analyst: Bears. They entered the free agency period with more resources to use than any other team but still managed to thread an important needle: They added a ton of talent without spending above market value on said players. And when you factor in the trade down from pick No. 1, the Bears also added a top-20 wide receiver to their roster in Moore.