2023 NFL free agency grades: Raiders earn ‘B+’ on Jimmy Garoppolo, Steelers get ‘A’ on Patrick Peterson deal

The NFL’s annual game of musical chairs is underway as the legal infringement period began Monday afternoon. This is really the unofficial start of free agency, as teams are allowed to contact incoming free agents and negotiate contract terms until the start of the new league year — when those deals can become official — on March 15.

On Monday, we saw arguably the biggest defensive free agent come off the board as former Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave signed a massive deal with the San Francisco 49ers, who are now even more dangerous on the defensive side of the ball. Speaking of the Niners, former quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has agreed to join the Raiders, reuniting Josh McDaniels. Meanwhile, Denver bolstered its offensive line with the additions of right tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Ben Powers.

And the madness is just beginning.

Below you will find points for each deal that has been agreed upon by two concerning top 100 free agents, according to CBS Sports senior NFL writer Pete Prisco.

Jimmy Garoppolo lands in Sin City

The Raiders found their replacement Derek Carr, inked by Garoppolo on a reported three-year deal worth $67.5 million and includes $34 million guaranteed. Of course, Garoppolo has a relationship with coach Josh McDaniels, who was his offensive coordinator during their days together in New England. So, there is familiarity between these two sides. Garoppolo is a slight upgrade over Carr, but the big concern will be whether or not he can stay healthy. If he can, he could have the Raiders in AFC playoff contention. Meanwhile, the short-term deal still leaves open the possibility for Las Vegas — which holds the No. 7 pick in the NFL Draft — to draft and develop a quarterback behind Garoppolo, which is intriguing.

Degree: B+

49ers load with Hargrave

It didn’t seem possible for San Francisco’s defense to get any scarier and then they came out and signed arguably the best defensive player in the free agent market to Javon Hargrave. The former Eagles defensive tackle earned a four-year, $84 million deal to join the 49ers and build one of the most feared defensive lines in the league. Hargrave is coming off a 2022 season in which he had 11 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits, all while playing primarily inside. He will now line up alongside Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw, while Nick Bosa will work on the wing.

Degree: ONE

The Steelers lock down Peterson

While they lost Cam Sutton to the Lions, the Steelers replaced him with a cornerback who may end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Steelers compromised with eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson to a reported two-year, $14 million deal.

Peterson’s ability to make splash plays is one of the things that probably led the Steelers to sign him. Last season, Peterson caught five passes, his highest total in 11 years. Pittsburgh will likely look to add playmakers to its defense after the unit largely struggled to do so during the early stages of the 2022 season (Pittsburgh picked up several interceptions in a Week 8 loss at Miami).

Age is the only concern here, as Peterson will be 33 before the start of next season. But given what he did last year (he played in each of the Vikings’ 17 games), Peterson appears to be playing younger than his actual age. He can also serve as a potential mentor should the Steelers use the No. 17 overall pick to select Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr.

Degree: ONE-

No more bagless in Seattle

One of the league’s top scoring defenses last season got a big addition on Monday. Seattle did it let’s agree with former Broncos linebacker Dre’Mont Jones to a three-year, $51.53 million deal. A very solid player in Denver, Young is a solid pass rusher and is also solid against the run.

This situation is eerily similar to Javon Hagrave signing with the Eagles four years ago. A solid player in Pittsburgh, Hargrave blossomed into a Pro Bowl player in Philadelphia. Seattle certainly hopes the same will happen with Jones.

Degree: ONE

Broncos Boster O-line

The Broncos made two major moves to stabilize the offensive line ahead of Russell Wilson and we’re combining them here for scoring purposes. Denver first agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with guard Ben Powers, then signed one of the top offensive tackles on the market in Mike McGlinchey to a five-year, $87.5 million contract. Guard and right tackle were two huge needs for the Broncos entering this offseason after a 2022 season in which Wilson was sacked 55 times, which was tied for the NFL. Now, they just solved both in the blink of an eye.

Degree: ONE

Denver plays defense

The Broncos compromised Former Cardinals quarterback Zach Allen to a three-year, $45.5 million deal. Allen, who came in to replace Dremont Jones, is getting a lot of money for a player with 11.5 sacks in his four seasons in Arizona. That’s a big bet for the Broncos to pay off.

Degree: Hey

Davenport is getting a fresh start in Minnesota

Former first round pick Marcus Davenport agreed to terms to a reported one-year, $13 million deal with the Vikings. While it’s not a ton of money, it’s a surprising amount to pay a player who recorded less than one sack last season. The Vikings certainly expect Davenport to be the player who had a career-high nine sacks in 2019.

Degree: DO-

The Bears bring in Edwards

Chicago is expected to be a major player in free agency and made its first splash by signing former Eagles linebacker TJ Edwards. three-year, $19.5 million contract. The Bears defense needs improvement where it can find it, and Edwards is someone who can put the ball in the middle of the defense. There is also some familiarity with Edwards as Chicago assistant GM Ian Cunningham was a former Eagles executive when he signed with the team in 2019.

Degree: B

Chargers land former Pro Bowl LB

About a week after being released, longtime Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks has found a new home with the Chargers. While the teams in the deal have not been revealed at the time of writing, it’s hard not to like this move for both sides. Kendricks has a chance to continue his career with a playoff team. The Chargers are getting a talented player who can bolster the middle of their defense.

Degree: ONE-

Winston lives in New Orleans

Jameis Winston has reportedly decided to stay with the Saints as the two finalize new contracts. This is a great move for both sides. The Saints have a known commodity backing up new starting quarterback Derek Carr. Winston stays in New Orleans instead of trying to stick somewhere else.

Degree: ONE

New England addressed one of the key interior free agents at the start of the legal foul period, retaining cornerback Jonathan Jones. He signed a two-year, $20 million deal with $13 million guaranteed. Jones had made it clear he wanted to stay in New England, so that was his preferred outcome while the Patriots kept a flexible piece of their secondary. Jones appeared primarily as a receiver corner, but moved to the outside and played well in that role in 2022.

Degree: B

The Lions address the secondary with Sutton

Detroit had one of the worst defenses in the league last year, so the expected result was to dive into free agency to help fix it. Their first move in their attempt to strengthen this team signed former Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton to a three-year, $33 million deal that includes $22.5 million fully guaranteed. Sutton is coming off a career-best season in 2022, where he totaled 15 pass breakups and three interceptions. He also held opposing quarterbacks to a 65.3 passer rating, which was a dramatic improvement from the 104.9 passer rating he delivered in 2021. If the Lions take the 2022 player, he should help them a lot.

Degree: B-

The Buccaneers keep the starting CB

While they are a team in transition, the Buccaneers were able to keep one of their key players in Tampa. The team re-signed cornerback Jamel Dean to a four-year, $52 million deal. Dean contributes on special teams, so he’ll definitely get his money’s worth. And while continuity is a good thing, the Buccaneers need Dean to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber player to justify the money they’re giving him.

Degree: SI-

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