The first week of NFL free agency was certainly a dramatic one. We saw Aaron Rodgers announce his “intention” to play for the New York Jets in 2023, Derek Carr signed with the New Orleans Saints, Orlando Brown Jr. left the Kansas City Chiefs for the rival Cincinnati Bengals and the Chicago Bears not only dealt the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but also made a few underrated additions.
With Rodgers moving over to the AFC, the American Football Conference is absolutely loaded. There’s zero question it is the better conference, but how have the dynamics shifted since free agency started? Below, we will rank the AFC teams from 16-1.
16. Houston Texans
Key addition: TE Dalton Schultz
The Texans have been rebuilding for a couple seasons now, but 2023 is where the real rebuild begins. Nick Caserio made a good hire in head coach DeMeco Ryans, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise up the coaching ranks, and he’s brought a couple former San Francisco 49ers with him to H-Town in safety Jimmie Ward and defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway. The Robert Woods signing was confusing. At least, giving him over $15 million following his worst NFL season was confusing. Losing Brandin Cooks doesn’t exactly help either, but Dalton Schultz is a nice addition at tight end.
The Texans still have plenty of holes to fill, but all that matters is hitting on their new franchise quarterback at No. 2 overall in next month’s draft.
Key addition: DE Samson Ebukam
The Colts added defensive end Samson Ebukam, defensive lineman Taven Bryan and quarterback Gardner Minshew, but lost linebacker Bobby Okereke and wide receiver Parris Campbell. The Colts are rebuilding, but Shane Steichen was potentially the hire of the offseason, and the Colts are going to draft their quarterback of the future this time around instead of riding the veteran carousel again.
The Colts possess talent on both sides of the ball. We’ll see how quickly Steichen hits the ground running.
Key addition: QB Jimmy Garoppolo
It’s a new era in Sin City, and they may as well call this era the “Patriots” era. Josh McDaniels has gone full New England, as he and former Patriot executive Dave Ziegler have brought on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and wide receivers Jakobi Meyers and Phillip Dorsett. Meyers was probably the best signing of the group. He was arguably the top wideout in this free agency class, and should be a very solid No. 2 alongside Davante Adams. As for the Jimmy G signing … sure, he’s 40-17 as a starter in his career, but Kyle Shanahan had a lot to do with that. It will be interesting to see how he fares with another team.
The likely headline of the Raiders’ offseason is a negative one, as they shipped star tight end Darren Waller to the New York Giants for a third-round pick. Correct, one of the best tight ends in the NFL cost just a third-round pick. The Raiders did make a couple of underrated moves in acquiring linebacker Robert Spillane and safety Marcus Epps. The top earner for the NFL’s from the 2022 season was actually the latter, but did the Raiders really get better this past week? Are they a team that can flip the script and win more games in 2023?
13. Tennessee Titans
Key addition: DE Arden Key
The question has been asked for months in Nashville: Are the Titans rebuilding, or retooling? I maintain if this team remained healthy instead of suffering injuries at quite literally every position in 2022, they would have been alright. They certainly would have won the division. However, Tennessee has a new general manager, a new offensive coordinator and plenty of questions to answer.
The Titans made several notable cuts including left tackle Taylor Lewan, wide receiver Robert Woods and pass rusher Bud Dupree, but those were expected. They lost right guard Nate Davis in free agency, and let linebacker David Long leave for the Miami Dolphins on a deal that wasn’t too expensive. At the same time, they made a couple of underrated moves in picking up former Philadelphia Eagles tackle Andre Dillard, 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair and Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Arden Key. These are all solid additions, but Tennessee still has work to do. The looming decisions concerning the offensive line and wide receiver corps will determine how far Tennessee can go in 2023, but with Mike Vrabel, you know the Titans will be a scrappy team that can defeat anyone.
12. New England Patriots
Key addition: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
The Patriots needed to upgrade the wide receiving corps, and they replaced Jakobi Meyers with JuJu Smith-Schuster. We’ll see if that ends up being an upgrade. I also don’t know how excited we should be about the Mike Gesicki signing after seeing what happened to Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, but that’s another intriguing weapon for Mac Jones to utilize. Speaking of Jones, he scored a victory with offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. That hire should automatically improve the offense. It’s wild to think about, but Bill Belichick’s squad appears to be last in what is a surging division. The Patriots going 3-3 against their rivals again next year would be considered a win.
Key addition: OG Isaac Seumalo
The Steelers made two great additions in free agency with former Eagles offensive guard Isaac Seumalo and Washington Commanders linebacker Cole Holcomb. Both players will make immediate impacts on offense and defense, respectively, and Kenny Pickett is surely excited to have a talented guard to help keep him upright.
Mike Tomlin kept his “.500 streak” alive with a 9-8 record in 2022, and you can’t help but be intrigued by this young offense. Pickett, Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth and George Pickens are all talented, and maybe Calvin Austin III surprises some people in Year 2. Best believe fans are hoping for more from Matt Canada. The AFC North is incredibly tough, however, and it’s difficult to nail down where exactly Pittsburgh fits.
10. Cleveland Browns
Key addition: DT Dalvin Tomlinson
The Browns have been busy on defense over the last week, as they added former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, former Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill and Texans defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Tomlinson is probably the headline, but the Thornhill acquisition could be a very important one.
The play of Deshaun Watson is what will decide Cleveland’s season. Will he return to Texans franchise quarterback form, or make the team regret their massive investment? After a full offseason with Cleveland, it’s fair to assume Watson should be better in 2023.
Key addition: RT Mike McGlinchey
Are the Broncos going to do a 180 in 2023 with Sean Payton and be a legitimate squad, or will they disappoint yet again? This is one of the biggest questions for the 2023 season, and it’s hard to accurately place them on this list. Improving the offensive line was a clear point of emphasis for GM George Paton, so the Broncos grabbed the top right tackle available in Mike McGlinchey, as well as 26-year-old Ben Powers, an offensive guard formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. Protecting Russell Wilson is going to be important if he’s going to rebound.
The Broncos have one of the best defenses in the NFL, which is going to make Payton’s job a bit easier. The AFC West is tough, but I expect Denver to be improved in 2023. How could you not after last year? Keep an eye on new Broncos running back Samaje Perine. I think he was an underrated signing.
8. Baltimore Ravens
Key addition: N/A
The Ravens are another team that hasn’t done too much in free agency, which is fine. They’ve re-signed a few players such as running back Justice Hill and cornerback Trayvon Mullen. The headline of course is Lamar Jackson, who received the non-exclusive franchise tag. Originally, I was concerned about whether this was the right call, but there was not as much initial interest in the 2019 NFL MVP as I thought there would be. There has to be one or two teams that approach Jackson to talk this offseason, but either way, this placement of the tag did nothing to help Baltimore’s relationship with its quarterback. Also, it doesn’t look good that the Ravens were reportedly looking into Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett in free agency.
The Ravens are a playoff team with Jackson under center, and I’m fascinated to see how Todd Monken changes the offense. Baltimore needs to go out and get a receiver, but more importantly, find a way to mend fences with Jackson.
Key addition: LB Eric Kendricks
Justin Herbert is a beast, but the Chargers were on the wrong end of the third-largest comeback in NFL postseason history a couple months ago — 27 points to the Jaguars! L.A. hasn’t really made any acquisitions in free agency aside from adding Eric Kendricks, and then Austin Ekeler was granted permission to seek a trade. That’s a situation to keep an eye on.
It’s worth being excited for Kellen Moore’s arrival in L.A., but the Chargers need another weapon. We know Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are a great duo, but they missed a combined 11 games last year due to injuries.
6. Jacksonville Jaguars
Key addition: WR Calvin Ridley (reinstated)
The Jaguars have suffered more losses than wins in free agency, but there’s no reason to panic. Jawaan Taylor is a big winner this offseason. Not only did he receive a bump in pay, but he’s joining the Super Bowl champion Chiefs to reportedly serve as Patrick Mahomes‘ blindside blocker. Arden Key is another notable loss, as he elected to join the rival Titans.
Jacksonville hasn’t made a signing in free agency yet, but did retain safety Andrew Wingard, defensive end Adam Gotsis and cornerback Tre Herndon. The Jags also placed the franchise tag on tight end Evan Engram, keeping him in the fold. Really, the key to Jacksonville’s success moving forward is quarterback Trevor Lawrence. He improved in 2022. What can he accomplish with Doug Pederson in 2023? Additionally, Calvin Ridley could be a very special weapon now that he has officially been reinstated. As of now, Jacksonville should be favored to win the AFC South in 2023, and return to the postseason.
5. Miami Dolphins
Key addition: CB Jalen Ramsey
The Dolphins had their 2022 campaign ruined by injuries. Tua Tagovailoa suffered multiple concussions, which is a shame because he clearly took a step forward in his development as a quarterback. That’s credit to head coach Mike McDaniel and of course Tyreek Hill. The Dolphins needed to improve their defense, so they went out and traded for star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and signed former Titans linebacker David Long to a two-year deal. That’s a sneaky good add. Miami lost tight end Mike Gesicki to the rival Patriots, but it was expected he would leave.
If Tua can remain healthy, this Dolphins team is very good. You have to be impressed with what McDaniel accomplished in Year 1.
Key addition: OG Connor McGovern
The Bills lost star linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, but picked up an offensive guard in Connor McGovern, and an intriguing wideout in Deonte Harty. The big win for the Bills this offseason was retaining safety Jordan Poyer. The way he was talking prior to free agency made it seem like he was out the door.
Buffalo is undoubtedly one of the best teams in the NFL and a favorite to win it all. But we have to ask ourselves if they are the best team in their own division anymore.
3. New York Jets
Key addition: QB Aaron Rodgers (not official)
It’s not recency bias. I think the Jets are for real with the addition of Rodgers, assuming his ‘intention’ becomes reality as expected. New York’s defense, led by reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Sauce Gardner, is one of the best in the league, the wide receiver corps, led by reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson, is talented, and then the Jets have a few talented backs in Breece Hall, Michael Carter and then Bam Knight. New York was just missing a quarterback.
Another reason to expect a lot from the Jets in 2023 is because they are going to be all-in. Who knows how much longer Rodgers is going to play? New York is going to be aggressive in free agency and the draft to prepare for this upcoming season.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
Key addition: LT Orlando Brown Jr.
The Bengals came one game from making the Super Bowl for the second straight season, and Joe Burrow took another step into superstardom. The Bengals started free agency slow by allowing safeties Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates to walk, but they rebounded with one of the biggest signings of the offseason in Orlando Brown Jr. That’s a great addition for a line that absolutely needed it.
Cincinnati also added safety Nick Scott and retained linebacker Germaine Pratt, but lost tight end Hayden Hurst and running back Samaje Perine. Overall, the Bengals are still one of the best teams in the NFL.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
Key addition: DE Charles Omenihu
I was very ready to count the Chiefs out last offseason following the Tyreek Hill trade. Well, that was silly. Point is, Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes deserve to be No. 1 on this list as the reigning Super Bowl champions, even if Kansas City hasn’t dominated in free agency.
General manager Brett Veach made an aggressive move to sign former Jaguars right tackle Jawaan Taylor in free agency, and reports indicate he’s going to be moved over to the left side. Orlando Brown Jr. clearly took offense to this, and signed with the rival Bengals. How Taylor fares on the opposite side will be something to watch in 2023.
Kansas City also lost wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, offensive tackle Andrew Wylie and safety Juan Thornhill, but did pick up former 49ers pass rusher Charles Omenihu, Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill and Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Mike Edwards. Mecole Hardman is still searching for a new deal, but I’m interested to see what Kansas City does at receiver moving forward.