PFF’s free agency grades have been available throughout the flurry of 2023 free agency, but here is a chance to take a broader look at the first real team-building opportunity of the offseason and grade how each NFC team has been performing in 2023. Click here for AFC team grades.
For even more information about the best free agents on the market, monitor PFF’s free agent rankings, which include contract projections, wins above replacement figures, PFF grades and analysis.
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ARZ | ATL | CAR | CHI | DAL | DET | GB | LAR |
MIN | NO | NYG | PHI | SF | SEA | TB | WSH
• Additions: LB Kyzir White
• Re-signings: RB Corey Clement, G Will Hernandez, OT Kelvin Beachum, K Matt Prater
• Losses: Edge Markus Golden, WR Chosen Anderson, CB Byron Murphy Jr., DI Zach Allen
White — After using first-round picks in back-to-back drafts on off-ball linebackers Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, Arizona adds a veteran who fits really well opposite Collins and started to come on in 2022. Simmons has played various roles, including as more of a strong safety hybrid player, and also started to play better football in 2022 once he settled into that new role. This move enables the Cardinals to deploy their back seven in a lot of different ways.
White has five straight seasons earning a coverage grade above 60.0 and racked up 56 stops in run defense over the past two seasons, the 12th most among off-ball linebackers.
Hernandez — Hernandez missed a chunk of time in the middle of the 2022 season, which was unfortunate because it derailed a quietly excellent pass-blocking campaign for the former second-rounder. From Week 7 through Week 18, Hernandez earned 80.0-plus pass-blocking grades in five of six starts. He recorded a pressure rate allowed below 3.0% on the year and may be tapping back into his potential as a quality pass-blocking guard in this league.
Arizona was set to lose its top four guards in snaps played from 2022 but now retains Hernandez on a win-win, two-year deal.
PFF WAR GAINED: 0.120
PFF FREE AGENCY GRADE: C-
• Additions: TE Jonnu Smith, DI David Onyemata, S Jessie Bates III, LB Kaden Elliss, QB Taylor Heinicke
• Re-signings: Edge Lorenzo Carter, G Chris Lindstrom, P Bradley Pinion, FB Keith Smith, T Kaleb McGary
Smith — Smith’s time with the Patriots was forgettable, but he earned a four-year, $50 million contract with the team because of his production with the Tennessee Titans and then-offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.
While he produced solid PFF receiving grades in New England, coming in at 67.7 in 2021 and 72.1 in 2022, a reduction in targets meant that he recorded less than 300 receiving yards in each of those seasons, after putting up at least 450 in his final two seasons in Tennessee. He takes a safe pair of hands with him to Atlanta, having never dropped more than three passes in a single season across his six-year career. While he saw just 27 catchable passes in 2022, all of them resulted in a reception.
The need here is still a bit puzzling, with Atlanta drafting Kyle Pitts fourth overall in 2021 and with an H-back type of player in Parker Hesse involved in the offense already. Atlanta has a lot of cash and cap space to burn, but inheriting $11 million to acquire Smith isn’t the best use of resources.
Onyemata — Ryan Nielsen, Onyemata’s defensive line coach with the New Orleans Saints from 2017-22, is the new Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator. Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot also spent nearly two decades with the Saints, so there is a lot of familiarities here.
Over the past three seasons, Onyemata’s 11.4% pressure percentage ranks 11th among interior defenders, and he earned back-to-back pass-rush grades above 75.0 in 2020 and 2021.
Onyemata began the 2022 season with a suspension, but Atlanta does not appear overly concerned with his production going forward.
Bates — Bates hasn’t hit the heights he did when he produced a 90.1 PFF grade back in 2020, but he has still been an above-average player at the position over the past two seasons. His 72.6 PFF coverage grade over the past two seasons ranks 30th among safeties, but when you factor in the impressive 2020 season, his three-year PFF coverage grade of 90.5 trails only Kevin Byard of the Tennessee Titans and Marcus Williams of the Baltimore Ravens.
Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot comes from a New Orleans Saints organization that always emphasized the safety position and his second-ever draft pick with the team was selecting safety Richie Grant No. 40 overall in 2021. Fontenot continues that tradition with a splash signing for the top safety on the market in Jessie Bates III.
Elliss — This will be a truly fascinating deal to look back on in a few years, with another reunion between Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen and one of his former New Orleans Saints players. Prior to 2022, Elliss had played just 197 career snaps after being drafted in the seventh round in 2019.
Finally earning an increased role, Elliss broke out with an 81.5 overall grade on 632 total snaps on the year, becoming a full-time player in Week 9 after an injury to Pete Werner. Elliss is a very versatile player, with 250 snaps down on the line and 330 in the box last season. He racked up 20 pressures and seven sacks on 103 pass-rush snaps, plus an impressive 36 defensive stops given his limited reps. Elliss’ 21 stops in run defense from Week 9 through the end of the season were tied for the fourth most among linebackers.
This could end up being a great signing on an ascending young player, and Nielsen has obviously seen him practice every day for four years, but Atlanta went pretty high here for a guy with a small on-field sample.
Heinicke — Atlanta should be focused on finding its next starting quarterback if the team isn’t 100% certain that’s Desmond Ridder. And in the meantime, the Falcons should spend very little money at the position behind Ridder because he’s proven at the least to be a fine bridge to the future.
Heinicke is an awesome story and a fun player, but he had ample opportunity in Washington this past season, and his 48.9 passing grade ranked 47th out of 48 quarterbacks with 100 or more passing attempts in 2022. The journeyman also led all quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts in turnover-worthy play rate (6.2%) in 2022, a half of a percentage point higher than the next player. He’s not a game-managing backup, he tries to be a gunslinger and Atlanta probably could’ve just gone cheaper here with their sights set on the future.
McGary — McGary’s 91.6 PFF run-blocking grade in 2022 was second only to the San Francisco 49ers‘ Trent Williams among offensive tackles, and third across all offensive linemen. It was by far the best season of his career to date, but McGary has improved every season since entering the NFL as the 31st overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft out of Washington.
Atlanta reset the guard market earlier this week extending right guard Chris Lindstrom, and now the team brings back McGary on a multi-year deal, as well. Former Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff selected both players in the first round in 2019, and both now stick around on veteran contracts.
Lindstrom — Lindstrom is coming off a career year during which he thrived in Atlanta’s run-heavy offense, finishing the season with a 95.0 PFF grade that led all offensive linemen. His 93.1 PFF run-blocking grade was also the best across all positions on the offensive line, but he wasn’t limited to just a run blocker. Ranking sixth among all guards with an 81.7 PFF pass-blocking grade, Lindstrom allowed just two sacks, one hit and six hurries from 517 pass-blocking snaps.
Lindstrom was able to capitalize on the recent market reset by Indianapolis Colts guard Quenton Nelson, joining him in the $20 million per year club and signing the first-ever $100 million contract at guard. Atlanta was probably smart to get a deal done on the interior of the offensive line as soon as possible with the pending market explosion on the opposite side for interior defensive linemen, with reps often arguing the position markets should reflect the players they battle against.
PFF WAR GAINED: -0.955
PFF FREE AGENCY GRADE: B
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