The Super Bowl is now in the rearview and now the league is earnestly preparing for the offseason, with free agency, trades and the 2023 NFL Draft all on the horizon.
First up is the veteran market, where all 32 clubs will be pressed to prioritize their own internal free agents. From Lamar Jackson to dozens more, here's a look at the most important free agent for each and every team going into the offseason:
The Cardinals aren't exactly overflowing with long-term building blocks, and Allen, 25, has improved every year as a relative mainstay on their defensive front. A year after emerging more as a presence in the pass rush, he logged a career-best 5.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and 19 quarterback hits despite missing four games due to injury.
Winning starts in the trenches, and McGary is fresh off an impressively graded run as the team's starting right tackle. He's a bit older for a first-time free agent, going into his age-28 campaign, but with 62 starts in four years, you can't ask for much more experience. The rebuilding Falcons need to keep the front intact for whichever QB could potentially be on the way.
This one's more self-explanatory than all the rest. Jackson has his issues, namely the fact he's now missed at least five games due to injury in back-to-back years. His playoff resume remains unfortunately thin, especially as a passer. But he's also just 26, with an MVP under his belt and nearly unmatched electricity as a dual threat when healthy. If the Ravens won't pay him to stick around long term, then someone else will happily take the risk, even if it means restructuring their offense around him.
Fellow defensive starter Jordan Poyer is the bigger name, but Edmunds' value was accentuated by his brief absence this year. Unlike Poyer, who is going on 32 and fresh off his own injuries, the former first-rounder has lots of green grass in front of him. Still just 24, Edmunds has logged five straight seasons with at least 100 tackles as a rangy centerpiece of their defense.
Sam Darnold had a decent stretch as the QB1 late in 2022, and D'Onta Foreman showed fight replacing Christian McCaffrey, but both veterans are expendable as new coach Frank Reich looks to import offensive upgrades. Bozeman, meanwhile, stood out after a takeover at the center of the Panthers' improved line, and could be a locker-room leader for Reich's front.
This isn't because the Bears will -- or even should -- commit big money to the running back position, but more so because they don't have many other free agents who command attention. Montgomery is a tough ball carrier when healthy, but it's really his blocking and pass-catching experience that justifies a potential new deal alongside the more explosive Khalil Herbert.
Linebacker Germaine Pratt is a worthy alternative, but Bates has been a superior player at a more dynamic position for longer, hence a holdout last summer following the Bengals' decision to retain him under the franchise tag. His penchant for finding the ball is matched by few on the back end; he's totaled 14 picks and 43 pass deflections in five seasons.
Anthony Walker deserves consideration at linebacker, and maybe Jacoby Brissett does, too, considering he offered roughly the same as a rusty Deshaun Watson at QB. But Pocic stepped in seamlessly as the anchor of a big-name front after a five-year run with the Seahawks. Prioritizing the line is key if they want to remain a run-heavy attack and/or oversee Watson's return to form.
Positionally, tight end Dalton Schultz is probably more important, but his numbers and efficiency dipped under the tag in 2022, whereas Pollard, when healthy, probably offers the most juice of anyone on their offense besides CeeDee Lamb. A true multipurpose threat, thanks to his hands and wheels, the question is how much he's worth coming off a late-year injury.
One of the underrated cogs of a consistently stingy defense, Jones has now gone three straight seasons with at least 5.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and 11 QB hits working the edge in their 3-4 scheme. And he's logged those marks in long stretches without steady availability from pass rushers Randy Gregory and Bradley Chubb, who's since been dealt to the Dolphins.
D.J. Chark isn't nearly as crucial with Amon-Ra St. Brown and an emergent Jameson Williams in tow out wide, while pass rusher John Cominsky looked good in 2022, albeit in a small sample size. Brown, on the other hand, registered as an above-average blocker during Jared Goff's surprisingly productive year. When in doubt, pay to uphold the trenches.
Green Bay Packers
They've got a slew of mid-range receivers, tight ends and defensive backs set to hit the open market, but Nijman is more valuable than all of them as a 27-year-old swing tackle with starting experience. Regardless of whether it's Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love or someone else under center in 2023, Green Bay has to ensure the injury-riddled front is well-stocked.
The Texans have been shuffling spare parts with all their cap space ever since Nick Caserio took over, so it's no surprise they don't even have premium pieces to retain. Owens, 27, is an intriguing low-risk, high-reward safety, however, after a fifth-year breakout as a full-time starter. His 125 tackles ranked second on a young but occasionally feisty defense.
Health is a concern here; while he played all 17 games in 2022, he was active for just 15 combined games the previous three seasons. Fellow free agent Bobby Okereke is probably equally important, coming off a career year and considering Darius Leonard's own injury history at linebacker. But speed kills in today's NFL, and Campbell has tons of it as a utility-type wideout.
Shepherding Trevor Lawrence's continued growth as the franchise QB is paramount, which makes Engram an easy priority. Athletic but unreliable in five years with the Giants, the big man was far more trustworthy in Jacksonville, securing a personal-best 74.5% catch rate. With Calvin Ridley joining their offense, he should be primed for even more opportunities over the middle.
Kansas City Chiefs
He may cost a fortune as a four-time Pro Bowl left tackle, but so be it: Protecting Patrick Mahomes will be the No. 1 responsibility of this team as long as No. 15 is in tow. Besides offering top-level pass blocking (he owns a 75.8 grade from PFF this year), Brown has been durable, missing just one game in five NFL seasons split between the Chiefs and Ravens.
Las Vegas Raiders
There's a strong argument to be made that OT Jermaine Eluemunor is a more worthwhile priority strictly because of his position; you simply don't wanna be overcommitting to a running back, especially when he possesses such a punishing style. But Jacobs was their offensive MVP in 2022. Maybe he's not a five-year investment, but he's currently a top workhorse at the position.
Los Angeles Chargers
On a maligned Brandon Staley-led defense that paid big bucks for Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson, Tranquill was easily the superior difference-maker, leading the team with 146 tackles in his first year as a full-timer, while staying around the ball with five sacks, eight QB hits, 10 tackles for loss and an interception. The question is what price he'll command as an inside linebacker.
Los Angeles Rams
Safety Taylor Rapp is arguably the bigger name, logging six INTs over the last two years. But Gaines has quietly offered solid push as both a run stuffer and pass rusher despite injuries across their lineup. With Aaron Donald's future unclear, L.A. could use some longer-term building blocks along the defensive front, and Gaines shouldn't necessarily break the bank, either.
Mike Gesicki is the biggest name among Dolphins free agents, but they didn't utilize the tight end as a pass catcher, making him a virtual lock to depart. Wilson, meanwhile, is one of two injury-prone former 49ers backs to warrant consideration, as Miami enters 2023 without a ball carrier under contract. In his rotational role over the years, Wilson has always flashed some pop.
Cornerback Duke Shelley flashed much-needed spunk in an otherwise porous secondary late in 2022, but Bradbury's role as the anchor of Kevin O'Connell's front might be a touch more important, especially considering his growth after a frustrating start to his career. Kirk Cousins stepped up as a more resilient QB with Bradbury as his interior bodyguard.
New England Patriots
A makeover of the receiver position could be in order with Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne both potential cap casualties, but Meyers has been Mr. Consistent in spite of mixed results at QB. He may be more serviceable than spectacular, but you can't argue the production: With three straight years of at least 55 catches and 750 yards, he's a trusty possession target.
New Orleans Saints
Marcus Davenport is the splashier name at pass rusher, and David Onyemata logged solid numbers on the interior in 2022, but Elliss is suddenly the Saints' most enticing long-term option off the edge. With the pricey Cameron Jordan entering his 13th season, Elliss' emergent impact for Dennis Allen's "D" (seven sacks, 10 QB hits in 11 starts) is worth another investment.
New York Giants
What is Jones' ceiling as an actual passer? We don't know. Could his price tag affect New York's ability to rebuild the trenches and skill positions? Perhaps. And yet it's hard not to be impressed with the growth he showed in 2022, his first year under Brian Daboll. Question marks and all, Jones proved to be a legit threat as a runner, as well as a composed leader in crunch time.
New York Jets
Maybe you can make a case for QB Mike White, but to what end? New York is bound to land a new starter under center, and you can find a comparable backup later. McGovern, meanwhile, logged 100 percent of the snaps as a respectably graded starter in the middle of the Jets' improved line. He's been a durable lineman for six years, dating back to his days with the Broncos.
The NFC champions have a small mass of key free agents, including retirement candidates Jason Kelce and Brandon Graham. Star corner James Bradberry, for example, could easily warrant an extension. But Howie Roseman wisely prioritizes the trenches, and Hargrave has overtaken Fletcher Cox as the pocket-pusher there, logging a career-high 11 sacks in 2022.
Reliable cornerbacks have been relatively hard to come by for Pittsburgh, and Sutton, 27, finally looked the part in a breakout 2022 campaign. After five middling seasons in which he primarily came off the bench, the Tennessee product was physical in all the right moments for a surprisingly sturdy "D," especially down the stretch, logging 15 pass deflections and three picks.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers defense was dominant in 2022, and both Jimmie Ward and Samson Ebukam had a hand in that. But Kyle Shanahan's offense is built to win with just about any QB (well, to an extent, as we saw in the NFC title game), and that means keeping the O-line intact. McGlinchey hasn't been perfect, but he's been an above-average right tackle for most of his career.
One of the trickiest evaluations of this year's available veteran QBs, Smith looked like a genuinely different man for much of 2022, showcasing poise and decisiveness that was never apparent early in his career. Down the stretch, he was far more prone to forced throws, and Seattle's draft capital suggests a new face of the franchise could -- and should -- be on the way. Still, as a potential placeholder, you can do quite a bit worse. His familiarity with the system is a bonus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady's second -- and supposedly final -- retirement means the Buccaneers don't have to worry about re-signing the seven-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. So that leaves Dean as the obvious priority, fresh off a career year opposite Carlton Davis in Todd Bowles' secondary. In his first year as a 15+ game starter, he nabbed two picks and a 77.9 PFF coverage grade.
The four-year veteran has missed multiple games due to injury in three NFL seasons, but he's generally registered as a solid blocker when healthy, helping pave the way for several all-star campaigns from Derrick Henry. All in all, Tennessee just can't afford to get much worse in the trenches, and paying for the possibility of Davis staying upright feels worthwhile.
Ron Rivera's club isn't short on long-term pieces on the defensive front, with Jonathan Allen, Chase Young and Montez Sweat all onboard. But Payne was the most productive of them all in 2022, exploding for a career-high 64 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and 20 QB hits in a contract year. At 25, he's precisely the kind of interior force who warrants a lucrative investment.