NFL free agency 2024 grades: The good, bad and ugly of every major deal – The Athletic

By Mike Jones1h ago

This year’s NFL free agency began with a bang late Sunday night, when quarterback Russell Wilson announced on social media he would join the Pittsburgh Steelers. League sources said it’s a one-year deal.

Wilson was allowed to negotiate early with teams after the Denver Broncos told Wilson last week they would be releasing him from his mammoth contract. The legal tampering window for everyone else began Monday at noon ET. Players and teams can officially sign deals when the new league year begins Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.

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We’re grading all the noteworthy deals, many of which will include players from our list of the top 150 free agents, so keep checking back to see how your favorite teams and players are faring. (Players are listed below in order of their free-agent ranking.)

Live updates: Free-agent news from across the NFL
FA tracker: New teams and contract details for the top 150 free agents
Best available players: Who’s still on the market?

March 11

Eagles add RB Saquon Barkley

Grade: B-plus

Randy Mueller’s top 150 ranking: No. 2

Another running back comes off the market as the former Giants star heads to NFC East neighbor Philadelphia. Barkley, who played on the franchise tag last season, lands a three-year deal that could pay him up to $46.75 million and includes $26 million guaranteed. Barkley will not reset the running market with this deal, but if he meets incentives, he could draw an average salary of $15.83 million, which would be the second-most for running backs in NFL history.

The Eagles wanted to upgrade their rushing attack despite receiving a 1,000-yard season from newcomer D’Andre Swift last season. Philadelphia let Swift depart via free agency to the Bears, however, and zeroed in on Barkley, who has recorded three 1,000-yard seasons in the last six years, and came close last season (962 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 247 carries). Barkley just turned 27, but the Eagles expect him to continue to produce like one of the top backs in the league, which would add a welcome element to an offense that features dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts and the dynamic wide receiver tandem of A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith.

Falcons add QB Kirk Cousins

Grade: A

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: No. 3

Kicking off a new era under recently hired head coach Raheem Morris, the Falcons also are starting over at quarterback after landing the four-time Pro Bowl passer on a four-year, $180 million contract that comes with a $50 million signing bonus and $100 million guaranteed.

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Cousins had spent the last six seasons in Minnesota. He now heads South, where he reunites with Morris, who was an assistant during Cousins’ early years in Washington.

Cousins is coming off a season shortened by a torn Achilles, but has looked good in recent workouts and is expected to be ready to go by the start of the season. Cousins not only has familiarity with Morris, but he will also recognize elements of Atlanta’s offensive scheme because Falcons coordinator Zac Robinson learned under Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell when both were assistants with the Rams in 2020 and 2021.

The NFC South is wide open, so Cousins and the Falcons, who boast a roster full of young, up-and-coming talent, could make some noise immediately.

Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, a hot commodity on the FA market, chose the Raiders. (Sam Navarro / USA Today)

Raiders add DT Christian Wilkins

Grade: A

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: No. 5

Eager to bolster the interior of a line that features the talented Maxx Crosby on the edge, the Raiders added Wilkins, the top defensive tackle outside of Chris Jones. Wilkins, who recorded nine sacks for the Dolphins last season, is expected to sign a four-year deal worth $110 million with $85.75 million guaranteed.

Wilkins drew interest from the Vikings, Browns, Texans and Lions, but opted for Las Vegas, where head coach Antonio Pierce and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham seek additional impact players to bolster their attack in the trenches.

Vikings add edge Jonathan Greenard

Grade: B

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: No. 6

It appears likely they will lose pass rusher Danielle Hunter to free agency, so the Vikings are bringing Greenard into the mix. The 27-year-old recorded 12 1/2 sacks and 48 pressures for the Texans last season. Hunter’s deal features $42 million in guaranteed money, according to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe.

The Vikings are hoping that last year’s career year was a sign of things to come from Greenard and not just a flash in the pan. He had eight sacks as a second-year pro in 2021, but just 1 1/2 sacks in an injury-shortened campaign in 2022. He rebounded with his first double-digit sack season in 2024. If he can stay healthy, Greenard has the potential to be a real force up front for Brian Flores’ defense, which is among the most blitz-happy in the league.

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Packers add RB Josh Jacobs

Grade: A

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: No. 7

Hoping to provide young quarterback Jordan Love the support of a more effective rushing attack, the Packers agreed to a deal with the two-time Pro Bowl running back. Jacobs, who has recorded 1,000-yard campaigns in three of the last five seasons with the Raiders, was regarded as one of the top backs on the market, along with Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry and Austin Ekeler.

He should help ensure balance to Green Bay’s offense, which wants to establish the run and then capitalize on big plays downfield out of the play action. It’ll be interesting to see how this impacts the role of Aaron Jones, who is in the final year of his contract.

Packers add S Xavier McKinney

Grade: A

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: 8

After opting to let safety Darnell Savage depart earlier in the day (he agreed to terms with the Jaguars), the Packers upgraded with McKinney, who agreed to a four-year deal worth $68 million.

McKinney has great range and ball skills and should help shore up the back end of a Packers defense that ranked among the bottom third in the league in takeaways. It now finds itself in transition after coach Matt LaFleur switched defensive coordinators in the offseason, firing Joe Barry and luring Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley to Green Bay.

Titans add C Lloyd Cushenberry

Grade: A

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: No. 9

Second-year general manager Ran Carthon has attacked this offseason with the goal of upgrading the offense around young quarterback Will Levis and finding a reliable center to anchor the line is a big part of that. Cushenberry, a third-round pick out of LSU in 2020, steadily improved each season with the Broncos and now comes to Tennessee. His strength, athleticism and keen instincts are a big reason why he’s regarded as one of the best young centers in the game.

Eagles add edge rusher Bryce Huff

Grade: A

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: No. 10

Adding disruptive edge rushers ranked high on the Eagles’ shopping list this offseason, and they have acquired one in Huff, agreeing to pay him $51.1 million over three seasons. Huff, who went undrafted out of Memphis in 2020, had a breakout season with the Jets in 2024, racking up 10 sacks and 29 tackles as a rotational pass rusher. Now he’ll presumably move into a starting role with the Eagles, who hope he can continue to ascend and give new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio a force off the edge.

GO DEEPER

Why the Jets let Bryce Huff leave, and how they plan to fill his void

Giants add G Jon Runyan

Grade: B

Randy Mueller’s top 150 ranking: No. 11

The Giants have questions at running back (with Saquon Barkley now headed for Philadelphia) and quarterback, where Daniel Jones continues to disappoint. But they’re trying to at least ensure whoever lines up at those positions will have adequate pass protection and run support.

Runyan comes to New York from Green Bay, where he established himself as an effective and versatile interior lineman. He’ll try to help upgrade a line that surrendered a league-high 85 sacks in 2022.

WR Gabe Davis joins the Jaguars after four seasons with the Bills. (Gregory Fisher / USA Today)

Jaguars add WR Gabe Davis

Grade: C-plus

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: No. 32

This may not be the wide receiver news the Jaguars and their fans most desperately want to hear. Leading wideout Calvin Ridley (1,016 yards, eight touchdowns) remained unsigned during the opening of the legal tampering window. But in Davis, the Jaguars get a solid No. 2 option on a three-year, $39 million deal. Incentives could bump his earnings up to $50 million.

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Davis spent the first four seasons of his career as Stefon Diggs’ sidekick in Buffalo, averaging 682 yards and 6.75 touchdowns on 40.75 receptions a season. At 6-2, 225, Davis knows how to use his size to his advantage and plays with physicality, but still needs to execute with greater consistency.

Chargers add RB Gus Edwards

Grade: C

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: 35

The Chargers appear set to move on from Austin Ekeler and have reunited Edwards with his former Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Curious move. Edwards is a good runner, but he has always shared the workload and has never had a 1,000-yard season. He will come at a cheaper price than Ekeler, but Ekeler is one of the most versatile backs in the game. So unless the Chargers are planning on drafting someone as well and using him as the lead back (and Edwards as the complementary piece), the Chargers will likely see a drop-off here.

Panthers add G Robert Hunt

Grade: B-minus

Randy Mueller’s top 150 ranking: No. 39

With protecting and developing second-year quarterback Bryce Young the highest of priorities, the Panthers made a move to fortify the interior of their offensive line. Hunt is a 2020 second-rounder who has played both guard and tackle, but he’s now viewed as a guard. Hunt has dealt with some injuries, but is big, physical and powerful. If he can remain healthy, he’ll make an impact. He will have good familiarity with the concepts of the Panthers’ offense because new coach Dave Canales runs an offshoot of the Shanahan offense that Mike McDaniel runs in Miami.

Bears add RB D’Andre Swift

Grade: A

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: No. 45

Agreeing to a three-year deal worth a reported $24 million, the fifth-year veteran cashes in on a career season with the Eagles in which he served as a feature back for the first time. Swift rushed for 1,049 yards and five touchdowns on 229 carries; he also recorded 39 catches for 214 yards and a touchdown for Philadelphia. Regardless of what they do at quarterback, the Bears badly needed a reliable back after trying to piece together a rushing attack last season. Justin Fields led the team with 657 rushing yards while Khalil Herbert and D’Onta Foreman combined for 1,036 yards and six touchdowns. Swift receives a significant raise after playing on a one-year, $1.7 million deal last season.

Steelers add QB Russell Wilson

Grade: B

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: No. 46

After two tumultuous years in Denver, Wilson gets a fresh start with Pittsburgh. He’ll sign a one-year deal for the league minimum (just over $1 million) to play for the Steelers while also earning the almost $38 million owed to him by the Broncos.

Adding Wilson creates an intriguing situation for the Steelers, who have said they remain committed to 2022 first-rounder Kenny Pickett. The former Pitt star has been rather mediocre, however. Presumably, Pickett and Wilson will battle for the starting job. Wilson’s resume certainly dwarfs Pickett’s, but does Wilson still have the skills to be an effective NFL starter after posting some of the worst numbers of his career in Denver? Multiple talent evaluators around the league believe the answer is yes and chalk up the struggles of 2024 and 2022 to two bad situations with the Broncos.

This is a low-risk move for Pittsburgh. If Pickett wins, the Steelers have a veteran mentor/backup in Wilson at a low cost. If Wilson wins the starting job, which he should if he does indeed still have his fastball, new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith has a crafty veteran capable of directing a unit that must contend with the Ravens, Bengals and Browns and their star quarterbacks.

GO DEEPER

Kaboly: Russell Wilson could set the Steelers back years, so they better win now

Rams add G Jonah Jackson

Grade: A

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: No. 49

Aiming to extend Matthew Stafford’s career a bit further, the Rams are investing heavily in the interior of their offensive line after reaching an agreement with Jackson on a three-year, $51 million deal that features $34 million guaranteed. The Pro Bowl left guard became an instant starter for the Lions, who selected him out of Rutgers in the third round of the 2020 draft (Stafford’s final season with the team). Now Jackson will reunite with the quarterback and aim to solidify a line that has endured a good deal of change the last two seasons.

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Commanders add C Tyler Biadasz

Grade: B

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: No. 65

With their offensive line badly in need of an overhaul, the Commanders and new head coach Dan Quinn lured the Pro Bowl center to Washington. The Commanders last season ranked 27th in rushing and yielded the second-most sacks in the league (65), so Biadasz and other reinforcements (who could follow through free agency and the draft) meet a real need. Adding a quality, veteran center also is a smart move with Washington expected to use the No. 2 pick on a quarterback. Whether it’s Jayden Daniels or Drake Maye, the young passer will have the luxury of leaning on Biadasz to help identify blitzes and the necessary protections.

Vikings add edge rusher Andrew Van Ginkel

Grade: B

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: 67

Brian Flores gets a familiar face in Van Ginkel, a 2019 fifth-round pick who played under the Vikings defensive coordinator when Flores was head coach in Miami. Van Ginkel brings good versatility as an edge rusher capable of bringing pressure from either side. He also comes at an affordable price (two years, $20 million — $14 million guaranteed).

Titans add RB Tony Pollard

Grade: B-minus

Randy Mueller’s Top 150 ranking: No. 93

It seemed highly likely that Derrick Henry would be moving on from Tennessee, and now that is essentially a surety. The Titans agreed to terms on a three-year, $24 million deal with Pollard, the former Cowboys running back. The 26-year-old Pollard isn’t as accomplished as Henry. He has two 1,000-yard seasons to his name compared to Henry’s five (including Henry’s 2,000-yard 2020 campaign). But Pollard is three years younger and has 1,268 fewer carries, meaning he could have longevity on his side.

Pollard’s first season as a feature back came in 2024, after he split time with Ezekiel Elliott to start his career in Dallas. But he proved versatile as a runner and pass-catcher out of the backfield. Pollard lacks the power of Henry, but the Titans apparently are looking for a different brand of running back to support young quarterback Will Levis. Pollard also is likely a cheaper alternative to Henry, who likely seeks an increase on last year’s earnings of $10.5 million.

(Top photo of Kirk Cousins: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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Mike Jones joined The Athletic as a national NFL writer in 2022 after five years at USA Today, where he covered the NFL, and eight years at The Washington Post, where he covered the Washington Commanders. He previously covered the Washington Wizards for The Washington Times. Mike is a native of Warrenton, Va.

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