This has been an interesting NFL offseason in that several of the biggest stars on the move have come via trade — not free agency — Jalen Ramsey to Miami, D.J. Moore to Chicago, and of course, Aaron Rodgers to the Jets.
But some big names have also switched teams during free agency — new Saints quarterback Derek Carr, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who got a four-year, $84 million contract from the 49ers, and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who still had enough pull to earn a one-year, $15 million deal from the Ravens. Other free agents still available include wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and running back Dalvin Cook.
But you don’t have to be a household name to become a major difference-maker for a new team. Here are some under-the-radar free agent signings that could be poised to make major waves for their new teams.
Mike Gesicki, TE (1 year, $4.5 million — Patriots)
Gesicki’s contract is half as large as the one-year deal fellow free agent tight end Dalton Schultz got from the Texans, but the former Miami tight end could prove to be a key part of the offense for New England.
In addition to signing Gesicki, the Patriots brought back Bill O’Brien to coordinate the offense, who got 2,237 receiving yards out of his top two tight ends when he last worked as New England’s offensive coordinator in 2011.
Gesicki, Hunter Henry, and Mac Jones are far from Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Tom Brady, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gesicki make a substantial impact considering the 27-year-old has a pair of 700-yard receiving seasons under his belt.
Parris Campbell, WR (1 year, $4.7 million — Giants)
Campbell struggled to stay healthy after being drafted in the second round by the Colts in 2019, but he finally managed to play all 17 games last year after being limited to 15 combined games over his first three seasons. He finished second on the team with 623 receiving yards in 2022, but the Colts chose not to re-sign him.
Though his contract with the Giants pales in comparison to the free agent deals signed by higher-profile wide receivers such as OBJ, Allen Lazard, and Jakobi Meyers, Campbell could prove to be one of the most impactful signings at the position.
The soon-to-be 26-year-old joins a crowded receiving corps in New York, but Campbell could carve out a starting role in a group that also includes Isaiah Hodgins, Darius Slayton, rookie third-round pick Jalin Hyatt, and 2022 second-rounder Wan’Dale Robinson, who is recovering from a torn ACL.
The athletic Campbell has also been getting reps in the backfield for New York in OTAs, so this acquisition could prove to be even more important if Big Blue’s contract impasse with star running back Saquon Barkley persists.
Jamaal Williams, RB (3 years, $12 million — Saints)
Williams quietly scored a league-high 17 rushing touchdowns for the Lions last season but the Saints were able to pick up the 28-year-old Williams on the cheap thanks to the depressed running back market.
While his touchdown production will surely normalize considering Williams never ran in more than four touchdowns in a season prior to last year’s outburst, he should still play a key role in New Orleans’ new-look offense.
Williams projects as the bruising inside rushing complement to Alvin Kamara’s speed on the outside, but Williams would be called upon for an even larger role should Kamara face a suspension stemming from battery charges.
Orlando Brown, OT (4 years, $64 million — Bengals)
Brown is one of the best offensive tackles in football, but offensive linemen generally fly under the radar. Not only will the addition of Brown likely improve the protection in front of Joe Burrow, he also left the Chiefs — this signing could prove crucial if Cincinnati and Kansas City were to meet in the AFC Championship Game for a third consecutive season.
C.J. Gardner-Johnson, S (1 year, $8 million — Lions)
The Lions needed all the help they could get on defense after allowing a league-high 392.4 scrimmage yards per game last season, and Gardner-Johnson should be a key contributor for Detroit’s defense in 2023 after tying for the league lead with six interceptions in just 12 games for the Eagles last year.
The versatile safety can also moonlight at nickel corner if called upon to do so. With the additions of Gardner-Johnson and cornerback Cameron Sutton (three years, $33 million), Detroit’s hoping that its revamped secondary can help the franchise notch its first playoff win since 1991.
David Long, LB (2 years, $11 million –– Dolphins)
Miami will have to be up for a tough fight in a division that now features Aaron Rodgers, in addition to Josh Allen and Bill Belichick, but the Dolphins have done what they can to keep up in the AFC East arms race.
The team’s trade for star cornerback Jalen Ramsey was the highlight of Miami’s offseason, but the acquisition of Long via free agency could prove just as important for Miami’s defense.
While Ramsey should help against the pass, Long figures to be a key figure when it comes to stopping the run. The inside linebacker had 86 tackles in just 12 games for the Titans last season.
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