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

The NFL’s annual game of musical chairs is underway as the legal tampering period began Monday afternoon. This is really the unofficial start of free agency, as teams are allowed to contact prospective 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 inked a monster deal with the San Francisco 49ers, who are now even more dangerous on the defensive side of the ball. Speaking of the Niners, their former quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo agreed to join the Raiders and reunite with Josh McDaniels. Meanwhile, Denver bolstered its offensive line with the addition of right tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Ben Powers.

And the madness has just begun.

Below you will find grades for each agreement that has been agreed two involve the top 100 free agents, according to CBS Sports senior NFL writer Pete Prisco.

Jimmy Garoppolo lands in Sin City

The Raiders have found their Derek Carr replacement, which points to Garoppolo to a reported three-year deal worth $67.5 million and includes $34 million guaranteed. Of course, Garoppolo has a relationship with head coach Josh McDaniels, who was his offensive coordinator during their days together in New England. So there is confidentiality 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 can have the Raiders in the playoffs in the AFC. Meanwhile, the short-term deal still leaves open the option for Las Vegas — which owns the No. 7 pick in the NFL Draft — to draft and develop a quarterback behind Garoppolo, which is interesting.

Grade: B+

49ers fill up with Hargrave

It didn’t seem possible for San Francisco’s defense to get any more intimidating, and so they went out and signed arguably the best defensive player on the free agent market in Javon Hargrave. The former Eagles defensive tackle cashed in on a four-year, $84 million deal to join the 49ers and create one of the more 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 on the interior. He will now line up next to Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw while Nick Bosa works off the edge.

Grade: A

Steelers lock Peterson up

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. Steelers get along with eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson on a reported two-year, $14 million deal.

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

Age is the only concern here, as Peterson will be 33 before the start of next season. But considering 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 could also serve as a possible mentor in the event the Steelers use the No. 17 overall pick to select Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr.

Grade: ONE-

No more bag free in Seattle

One of the league’s top scoring defenses last season got a big addition on Monday. Seattle made it to get along with former Broncos defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones on a reported three-year, $51.53 million deal. A very consistent player in Denver, Young is a steady pass rusher who 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 happens with Jones.

Grade: ONE

Broncos bolster O-line

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

Grade: A

Denver plays on defense

Broncos get along former Cardinals defensive end Zach Allen to a three-year, $45.5 million deal. Allen, who was brought in to replace Dre’Mont Jones, is getting paid a lot for a player with 11.5 sacks over his four seasons in Arizona. This is a big play that the Broncos need to pay off.

Grade: D

Davenport gets a fresh start in Minnesota

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

Grade: C-

Børne brings Edwards aboard

Chicago is expected to be a big player in free agency and made its first strike by signing former Eagles linebacker TJ Edwards to a three-year, $19.5 million deal. The Bears defense needs improvement wherever it can get it, and Edwards is someone who can stick the ball into 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.

Grade: B

Chargers land former Pro Bowl LB

About a week after being released, longtime Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks found a new home with the Chargers. Although the team of the deal was not revealed at the time of writing, it is hard not to like this move for both sides. Kendricks will get a chance to continue his career with a playoff-caliber team. The Chargers are getting a talented player who can back up the middle of their defense.

Grade: ONE-

Winston stays in New Orleans

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

Grade: ONE

New England turned to one of its key in-house free agents at the start of the legal tampering period, retained cornerback Jonathan Jones. He signed a two-year, $20 million deal with $13 million guaranteed. Jones had made it abundantly clear that he wanted to remain in New England, so this was his preferred outcome while the Patriots retain a versatile part of their secondary. Jones primarily came up as a slot corner, but moved to the outside and played well in that role in 2022.

Grade: B

Lions addresses secondary with Sutton

Detroit had one of the worst defenses in the league last year, so dipping into free agency to help fix that was an expected outcome. Their first step in trying to strengthen that group signed former Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton to a three-year, $33 million deal that includes $22.5 million fully guaranteed. Sutton is coming off the best season of his career in 2022, where he tallied 15 passes 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 surrendered in 2021. If the Lions land the 2022 player, he should be a big help to their secondary.

Grade: B-

Buccaneers hold on to starting CB

While they are a team in transition, the Buccaneers managed to keep one of their key starters in Tampa. The team re-signed cornerback Jamel Dean to a four-year, $52 million deal. Dean is a contributor on special teams, so he will definitely earn his keep. And while continuity is a good thing, the Buccaneers need Dean to become a Pro Bowl-level player to justify the money they’re paying him.

Grade: B-

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