Future of Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers clouds free agency
NFL free agency kicks off next week and the biggest questions surround two star quarterbacks who aren’t on the list.
Will Aaron Rodgers retire, return to Green Bay or get traded to the Jets or another team?
Will Lamar Jackson get a contract offer from any team knowing Baltimore can match it?
The league’s legal tampering period opens Monday and plenty of free agents will be on the move when players can officially start signing new deals Wednesday.
Quarterbacks, of course, get the most money and attention.
Derek Carr, Geno Smith and Daniel Jones are already off the market after receiving huge contracts this week.
The Ravens gave Jackson a nonexclusive franchise tag so he can negotiate with other teams. Jackson would make $32.4 million if he plays this season on the nonexclusive tag.
If Baltimore lets him go, it’ll receive two first-round picks. Some teams may be reluctant to pursue Jackson knowing the Ravens could end up keeping the 2019 NFL MVP. But it only takes one team to come up with a contract structured in a way — perhaps more guaranteed money than Baltimore wants to pay — to snatch the dynamic QB.
“We’re always preparing for every contingency,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said last week. “We look at every situation — free agency, the draft. We’re talking about any possible situation that might arise with players. In this business, you get surprised daily.”
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As for Rodgers, he has two years left on his contract and is due to make about $59.5 million this season. The Packers are waiting on the 39-year-old, four-time MVP to decide his future. He could end up in New York, stay put or hang up his cleats. Until Rodgers tells the Packers what he wants to do, they’re in a holding pattern.
“Free agency’s coming up here. That’s an important part of what we’re doing. So it’d be nice to have some answers before then,” Packers GM Brian Gutekunst said last week. “But until we have any conversations, we’re still in a good spot.”
The most accomplished quarterback among the unrestricted free agents is Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s 44-19 as a starter, including 4-2 in the playoffs and has been to one Super Bowl and an NFC championship game.
Jacoby Brissett, Gardner Minshew, Taylor Heinicke, Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston, Baker Mayfield, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold and Carson Wentz are also free agents. A few could get opportunities to start for teams who are grooming a rookie.
Beyond the QBs, the top players available play in the trenches.
Chiefs four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. headlines the list. Kansas City’s decision not to use the franchise tag on Brown surprised many and now he hits the open market with a huge payday awaiting.
San Francisco right tackle Mike McGlinchey, Atlanta left tackle Kaleb McGary and Jacksonville left tackle Jawann Taylor are also going to get huge deals.
On the defensive line, Eagles tackle Javon Hargrave leads the list. Hargrave had a career-best 11 sacks in 2022. Denver’s Dre’Mont Jones and Arizona’s Zach Allen are also top talents.
At defensive end New Orleans’ Marcus Davenport and Kansas City’s Frank Clark lead the way.
Four defensive backs are among the top-tier free agents set to test the market. Buccaneers cornerback Jamel Dean, Eagles cornerback James Bradberry, Bengals safety Jessie Bates III and Eagles safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson are among a strong group.
Bobby Wagner, Buffalo’s Tremaine Edwards, Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David and Tennessee’s David Long Jr. are the top linebackers.
The wide receiver and tight end positions are thin. Odell Beckham Jr., who missed last season following ACL surgery, and New England’s Jakobi Meyers should get the biggest deals among wideouts. Dallas’ Dalton Schultz, Miami’s Mike Gesecki and Cincinnati’s Hayden Hurst stand out among tight ends.
Running back is deep despite Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard getting the franchise tag. Philadelphia’s Miles Sanders, Detroit’s Jamaal Williams, Chicago’s David Montgomery and Seattle’s Rashaad Penny are among the available runners.
The NFC champion Eagles might be most impacted by free agency. They have 10 starters from the Super Bowl who will be free agents along with several others who played key roles.
“We’re going to prioritize the things that are important to us, that we build our team on,” general manager Howie Roseman said. “We’re going to make sure those areas are strong. Are we going to get all the free agents back? We’re just not. We’re not capable of getting all those guys back, but we also understand we’re in a good situation in terms of picks that we have going forward. We have a lot of guys under contract, not only for this year, but going forward. We’re not going to make excuses for the position we’re in.”
The Bears, Falcons, Texans, Raiders and Bengals have the most salary cap space. The Buccaneers, Saints, Bills, Cowboys and Rams have the least.
It’s almost time to let the frenzy begin. ___ Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi ___
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