There are three distinct acts to the NFL offseason. The first is free agency. The second is the draft. And we’re now in the quietest act of the three. The period between the draft and the start of training camp is a window that teams use to sign players to extensions, retool spots on their roster, and even think about making a trade or two.
The unofficial start of the third window is the Monday after the draft, when teams can start signing players without having those contracts impact the compensatory pick formula. It’s one of the reasons the Jets waited to sign Randall Cobb and Billy Turner until after the draft, as they’re set to receive three comp picks in next year’s draft after the ins and outs of free agency. We didn’t see a flood of deals that week, but it’s easier for players who are still on the market to sign now than it would have been right before the draft.
Teams can also sign players who have been cut without incurring any compensatory damage, and that possibility led to the most impactful signing of last year’s third player movement window. After months of advertising him as a trade candidate, the Giants were forced to cut James Bradberry for cap reasons. The Eagles picked the veteran cornerback up on a one-year deal May 18 and got Pro Bowl-caliber play from him. Throw in the trade for C.J. Gardner-Johnson just before the season began and you see how successful teams can shape their rosters even after the draft has ended.
Today, I’m going to hit on a handful of the moves and happenings that I either expect to happen or think should happen between now and the start of the season. Some are obvious; it’s only a question of when and how much players like Joe Burrow and Justin Jefferson will get paid on extensions with their teams. But others — like finding landing spots for players left in the free agent market — might be more difficult. Let’s start with one player who should head back to the only NFL home he has ever known.
Cowboys re-signing RB Ezekiel Elliott
While the Dallas Cowboys couldn’t justify paying Elliott just under $11 million in 2023 and cut the 2016 first-round pick in March, there’s still a logical fit for Zeke on the Dallas roster. Tony Pollard is back on the franchise tag, but the only moves the Cowboys have made to replace Elliott are to sign Ronald Jones II and use a sixth-round pick on Deuce Vaughn. Jones, who has won back-to-back Super Bowls with the Buccaneers and Chiefs, has about $300,000 guaranteed on his deal and might not make the Week 1 roster.
Elliott’s market, meanwhile, hasn’t developed. He hinted through the media that he’d like to sign with the Bengals, Eagles or Jets by the end of March, but all three teams decided to pass on bringing in the three-time Pro Bowler. The Bengals could still consider Elliott if they decide to move on from Joe Mixon, but it’s clear that Elliott isn’t seen as a priority signing around the league at the moment.
For a Cowboys team that already had plenty of hesitation about featuring Pollard for more than 30 snaps per game, bringing back Elliott on a cheaper deal would provide security at one of the team’s thinnest positions. Pollard is still recovering from the fractured left fibula he suffered during the postseason, so if the Cowboys don’t want to rush him back into the lineup in September, Elliott’s ability to pass protect and run effectively between the tackles would be a plus for coach Mike McCarthy. If Elliott — who ran for 876 yards and 12 TDs last season — is not going to land a deal for more than $5 million somewhere else, why not stay home in Dallas?
Ravens signing QB Teddy Bridgewater
It’s a bit of a surprise to approach June and see one of the league’s best backup quarterbacks still on the open market. Bridgewater didn’t have his best season with the Dolphins while backing up Tua Tagovailoa in 2022, but the Louisville product did average a career-high 8.6 yards per attempt. Bridgewater’s 54.2 QBR since entering the league in 2014 is right in line with players such as Jared Goff and Derek Carr, both of whom are entrenched as starters with significant paychecks. The taste of that disappointing 2020 season with the Panthers might have soured teams on Bridgewater, but he has otherwise gone 29-21 as a starter.
I thought Bridgewater could be the replacement for Lamar Jackson if the star quarterback held out into the regular season, but now that Jackson has come to terms on a new deal, this would be a backup role for Bridgewater on the Baltimore Ravens. Jackson isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but after seeing their league MVP miss the final five games of the regular season in 2021 and 2022, the Ravens need to boost their No. 2 role. Tyler Huntley has averaged just 5.8 yards per attempt as a pro, and the Ravens don’t need Bridgewater to be involved in the run game with the move from Greg Roman to Todd Monken.
Bringing in Jackson’s predecessor at Louisville would allow the Ravens to hold on to the fourth-round compensatory pick they’re set to receive for losing guard Ben Powers in free agency.