2024 NFL free agency: Experts debate best, worst deals

Mahomes eyes 3-peat with Chris Jones, Hollywood Brown (0:48)

Patrick Mahomes joins "SportsCenter" to discuss the additions of Chris Jones and Marquise "Hollywood" Brown to the Chiefs this offseason. (0:48)

NFL free agency has started to slow down over a week after officially opening. Teams have added impact playmakers across their depth charts, though free agents such as Xavien Howard and Connor Williams are still available for more moves. Notably, Kirk Cousins, Saquon Barkley, Calvin Ridley, Danielle Hunter, Arik Armstead, Robert Hunt and Russell Wilson have found new homes. Some teams made a lot of noise with top-dollar additions, while others focused on value signings.

What are the best overall signings, top value contracts and most questionable moves? Which teams improved the most and least? Our NFL experts are weighing in on what we've seen in this offseason's free agency.

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Best moves | Head-scratching moves | Best bargains
Most improved teams | Teams that took a step back

Which team has taken a step backward over the past week?

Stephania Bell, fantasy football analyst: Dallas Cowboys. There's a saying about addition by subtraction ... but it doesn't apply here. The Cowboys appear to have subtracted lead talent during free agency. The backfield now seems lackluster with no free agency move to replace RB Tony Pollard, despite several available experienced options. The loss of OT Tyron Smith complicates matters up front, and while Smith dealt with health issues in recent years, when he was on the field there was no better friend to QB Dak Prescott. Even if the Cowboys consider moving tackle Tyler Smith -- and it's not clear that they will or should -- their draft strategy has to prioritize the O-line.

Matt Bowen, NFL analyst: Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens added running back Derrick Henry, who is an upgrade and a scheme fit in Todd Monken's offense. However, this is more about the players (and the coaches) who have moved on this offseason. Linebacker Patrick Queen, guard John Simpson, safety Geno Stone and cornerback Ronald Darby signed free agent contracts with new clubs. Plus, former defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald is now the head coach in Seattle, and defensive back coach Denard Wilson took over as the coordinator in Tennessee.

Jeremy Fowler, national NFL writer: Ravens. Baltimore lost three starters along the offensive line that it must replace. This is the Baltimore way, letting veterans walk in exchange for compensatory picks down the line. The Ravens need to shore up that O-line, but they could also replenish at receiver with a veteran or high draft pick, preferably a true X receiver that Lamar Jackson hasn't had.

Eric Moody, fantasy football writer: Cowboys. They have multiple positions that need to be addressed -- and there are also legitimate questions surrounding Prescott's ability to lead them to a Super Bowl. With Prescott's contract expiring after the 2024 season, uncertainty looms over the team. As the NFL offseason progresses, more questions than answers remain about the Cowboys' future. Dallas should sign Calais Campbell, who would immediately improve the defensive line and rotation. The locker room would also benefit from his leadership.

Jason Reid, senior Andscape writer: Ravens. Henry boosts what was already the league's best running attack, but they've lost a lot in other places. They entered the season with many pending free agents, so the losses aren't shocking. But the Ravens appear to be weakened. It wouldn't be surprising if the Ravens took a step backward next season. Jackson needs more help at wideout.

Jordan Reid, NFL draft analyst: Cowboys. They have lost key players and have failed to replace them so far. Not re-signing Tyron Smith creates a huge void at left tackle, and allowing Pollard to hit the open market without a succession plan was also questionable. The draft is still yet to happen, but it places a lot of pressure on hitting on those draft picks to replace players that were an integral part of the team's success.

Aaron Schatz, NFL analyst: Buffalo Bills. They had to make a lot of cuts to get under the cap -- there's a real downgrade at safety in particular -- and I'm not really too excited about the addition of Curtis Samuel to their receiving group. He has never ranked higher than 43rd in receiving DVOA, and he was 58th last season among qualifying receivers.

Mike Tannenbaum, NFL front office insider: Cowboys. They still have needs at left tackle, center, running back, defensive tackle and receiver. While a lot of their resources will be tied up in extensions for Prescott, CeeDee Lamb and Micah Parsons, it was surprising not to see them make a move on Henry or AJ Dillon. They deserve credit for outstanding drafting and patience in the past, but they're going to need an almost perfect draft to fill all of their needs.

Which team is the most improved after the past two weeks?

Bell: Houston Texans. They shocked the league last season -- in large part because of the play of C.J. Stroud and the coaching and leadership of DeMeco Ryans -- and they're only getting better. One of the areas where they struggled, the run game, improved with the veteran addition of Joe Mixon. Their defense got a boost from the additions of Danielle Hunter and Denico Autry to complement Defensive Rookie of the Year Will Anderson Jr. It almost makes you feel bad for the rest of the AFC South.

Bowen: Philadelphia Eagles. It's hard to argue against the Eagles after they added some difference-makers in free agency. Running back Saquon Barkley has the explosive, dual-threat ability to elevate the Philly offense. On defense, outside linebacker Bryce Huff is a flamethrower off the edge, while safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson has the versatility and demeanor to boost a secondary that struggled in 2023.

Fowler: Tennessee Titans. Tennessee has needs all over the field, so credit to GM Ran Carthon for recognizing the deficiencies and addressing them decisively in his first year without former coach Mike Vrabel. Calvin Ridley is a game-changer. Center Lloyd Cushenberry, running back Tony Pollard, linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. and corner Chidobe Awuzie will make immediate impacts.

Moody: Texans. We all know what this team is capable of offensively with Stroud and receivers Nico Collins and Tank Dell. And the Texans have a new addition at running back, Mixon, who will make an impact. The defensive side of the ball was addressed by general manager Nick Caserio, too. Edge rusher Danielle Hunter, who signed a two-year, $49 million deal, should make an immediate impact.

Jason Reid: Kansas City Chiefs. In addition to signing Marquise Brown to bolster the receiving corps, they re-signed both All-Pro defensive lineman Chris Jones and versatile linebacker Drue Tranquill before they could hit the open market. Jones wrecks the best-laid plans of opponents while moving between tackle and end, and he is to the Chiefs' defense what Patrick Mahomes is to the Chiefs' offense. Tranquill was outstanding, especially in coverage, after signing a one-year deal following his release by the Chargers.

Jordan Reid: Carolina Panthers. After finishing 2-15 last season, the only way to go is up, but signing both Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis provides a good guard tandem inside for second-year quarterback Bryce Young. Plus adding receiver Diontae Johnson via trade makes that offense better than it was a season ago.

Schatz: Atlanta Falcons. The upgrade at quarterback to Kirk Cousins is so important and makes them the most improved team, but I also like the moves Chicago has made, in particular the trade for wide receiver Keenan Allen and re-signing of cornerback Jaylon Johnson.

Tannenbaum: Texans. I love the addition of Hunter, who has elite traits and ability as an edge rusher and is now paired with Anderson -- wow, what an incredible pass-rush tandem. Mixon immediately improves their running game, and he's also excellent out of the backfield. Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair had 163 tackles last season and is extremely underrated. Re-signing tight end Dalton Schultz and adding Autry are two other moves that will pay dividends during the season.

What was the best bargain signing of free agency?

Bell: Steelers signing QB Russell Wilson to a one-year, $1.2 million deal. From a financial perspective, it's hard to argue with a deal in which the player's new team is paying so much less than the former team ($37.8 million). And it will be interesting to see what version of Wilson the Steelers can unlock. He might not move like he used to, but he can still throw the ball and the Steelers should be able to stretch the field in ways we haven't recently seen. The addition of Justin Fields as backup, even if not a true threat to start, only helps incentivize Wilson to prove he still has something left in the tank.

Bowen: Saints signing LB Willie Gay to a one-year, $3 million deal (with a max value of $5 million). This is a value move for the Saints, adding a 26-year-old second-level defender with pursuit speed and the ability to match defenders in space. In Dennis Allen's system, Gay will be put in a position to produce as an off-ball linebacker with sub-package versatility.

Fowler: Commanders signing RB Austin Ekeler to a two-year, $8.4 million deal. He's an immediate upgrade to the Commanders' passing game with his ability to catch 50-70 passes per season. He's a good complement to power back Brian Robinson Jr., and he's only 28. Washington read the tailback market correctly, refusing to pay double for the top stars.

Moody: Vikings signing RB Aaron Jones to a one-year, $7 million deal. While Jones is 29 years old, he has spent most of his career in a committee and averages 14.9 touches per game. Last season, Jones averaged 15.6 touches and 80.8 total yards per game and performed great for the Packers. With Ty Chandler, he forms a formidable running back committee for the Vikings.

Jason Reid: Steelers signing Wilson. Wilson, 35, is coming off consecutive disastrous seasons in Denver. The Steelers will pay him the league minimum to be their starting quarterback -- that's a bargain! It's easy to forget now, but Willson once was a perennial Pro Bowler who seemed destined for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And even if he's merely competent under center, that would be much more than the Steelers have gotten from the position recently.

Jordan Reid: Steelers signing Wilson. The search for a franchise QB continues in Pittsburgh, but for such a low cost, it's impossible to argue with the team bringing in Wilson. The team also recently acquired Fields, but Wilson is expected to be the starter entering the season.

Schatz: Bengals signing S Geno Stone to a two-year, $15 million deal (with $6 million in total guarantees). Stone had a breakout season in 2023, and this was a real position of need for Cincinnati. The Bengals were able to steal from a division rival, and if Stone for some reason doesn't play well in 2024, they can get out of the contract with just $1.5 million in dead money.

Tannenbaum: Chiefs signing WR Marquise Brown to a one-year deal worth up to $11 million. He is 26 and has 28 career touchdowns, bringing an explosive element to the Chiefs' offense that they were hoping to get with Marquez Valdes-Scantling. With TE Travis Kelce and WR Rashee Rice doing a lot of the underneath work, Brown should thrive as the deep threat in this offense.

What was the most head-scratching move of free agency?

Bell: Running back Josh Jacobs to the Packers. It's true, last season was an off year for Aaron Jones. He suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1, and it limited his availability throughout the season. But the oft-repeated mantra was that Jones was the heart of the team, a critical presence in the locker room and the key to its run game. The argument against Jones is he's an aging running back who was going to cost too much to re-sign. Yet the Packers brought in a back on a more expensive multiyear deal (four years, $48 million) who has fewer years of play in the league but has accrued mileage at a faster rate. This is not about Jacobs' undeniable talent, it's about the rationale.

Bowen: Running back Tony Pollard to the Titans. Pollard fits best in a rotational role, maximizing his running and receiving traits. But I didn't expect Tennessee, who drafted Tyjae Spears in the third round last year, to be in the mix here. Let's see if the Titans target a running back in the draft with downhill power and goal line ability to complement the skills of both Pollard and Spears.

Fowler: Safety Kevin Byard to the Bears. Byard has had a great career, but jumping out pre-free agency with $15 million over two years seemed impulsive, especially with Justin Simmons and Quandre Diggs still out there in an oversaturated safety market. For contrast, Kamren Curl, who is five years younger, signed for $8.75 million over two years, with upside to $12.75 million.

Moody: Receiver Gabe Davis signing with the Jaguars. He had some great moments with the Bills playing alongside Stefon Diggs, totaling 746 receiving yards last season. However, if the Jaguars' plan was to pair Davis with Calvin Ridley, then that plan won't come to fruition -- Ridley signed a more lucrative deal with the Titans. Davis could struggle as the Jaguars' No. 1 receiver in 2024, given the defensive attention he'll now command.

Jason Reid: Byard to the Bears. The Bears bucked the trend of teams moving on from veteran safeties, signing Byard, who turns 31 in August, after he was cut by the Eagles. Hoping he would be a big part of another Super Bowl run, the Eagles acquired Byard at last season's trade deadline, but the secondary was a mess down the stretch. Obviously, Byard shouldn't be blamed for all of the Eagles' coverage issues, but there's no sugarcoating it: He didn't play well and, then, got a sizable deal from the Bears.

Jordan Reid: Byard to the Bears. The safety market was very good entering free agency, and there were much better and younger fits for the Bears to sign. Considering the amount of cap space they had prior to that signing, there seemed to be better fits than the aging Byard.

Schatz: Guard Robert Hunt to the Panthers. Hunt was below average among guards in both pass block win rate (89.6%) and run block win rate (68.6%) last season. The season before, he was 20th in pass block win rate but again below average in run block win rate. It doesn't scream, "Hey, make me the second-highest paid right guard in the NFL."

Tannenbaum: Receiver Calvin Ridley to the Titans. Yes, he has two 1,000-yard seasons and 36 career TDs, and he's 29 years old -- but he has never been a bona fide No. 1 receiver. I think the Titans overpaid at $23 million per year.

What was the best overall free agent signing?

Bell: Ravens signing RB Derrick Henry to a two-year, $16 million deal. Yes, he is 30 years old, but Henry is built to steamroller opponents with size and power. And he has shown durability with only one season in his eight-year career in which he has played fewer than 15 games. Henry will continue to pose problems for defenses that now have to account for other offensive talent alongside him, including a quarterback (Lamar Jackson) who is even more nimble as a runner than Henry.

Bowen: Packers signing S Xavier McKinney to a four-year, $68 million deal. As a safety with multidimensional traits, McKinney tracks the ball well and has the coverage skills to match in the slot. That's a fit for a Green Bay defense that will be much more aggressive with its coverage and pressure tendencies under new coordinator Jeff Hafley. McKinney, 25, has nine interceptions and 14 pass breakups in his four pro seasons.

Fowler: Steelers signing LB Patrick Queen to a three-year, $41 million contract. Pittsburgh gets a defensive cornerstone at a position that has long been depleted. Adding a fourth defensive star alongside T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cameron Heyward will pay off in the AFC North. And bonus points for stealing Queen from the rival Ravens. His contract is reasonable, as the Steelers can get out of it after one year and $13.84 million -- though they won't want to do that.

Moody: Panthers signing G Robert Hunt to a five-year, $100 million contract. The Panthers made sure they secured one of the top offensive linemen in free agency to help protect quarterback Bryce Young. Hunt will improve an offensive line that ranked near the bottom of the league in pass block win rate last season (23rd at 54.3%).

Jason Reid: Chiefs signing WR Marquise "Hollywood" Brown to a one-year deal worth up to $11 million. Kansas City GM Brett Veach addressed the team's biggest offseason concern. The Chiefs led the league in dropped passes (38) last season. Veach needed to acquire a potential difference-maker at the receiver position, and Brown has elite speed and is an elusive runner after the catch. In his five NFL seasons, Brown has 3,644 receiving yards and 28 touchdowns. He gives the Chiefs their best deep threat since they traded Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins.

Jordan Reid: Chiefs signing Brown. It's not a secret that, outside of Rashee Rice, the Chiefs' receivers last season were underwhelming. A huge missing element of the scheme last season was the lack of downfield consistency. Brown brings that added dimension and immediately becomes the No. 1 target for quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Schatz: Falcons signing QB Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180 million deal. Quarterback is the most important position in the game, so additions at that position are going to move the needle a lot more than at other positions. Cousins is a major upgrade over Desmond Ridder. He doesn't make the Falcons Super Bowl contenders but does make them division favorites, so Atlanta fans will have a reason for optimism over the next couple of seasons.

Tannenbaum: Eagles signing RB Saquon Barkley to a three-year, $37.7 million contract. Barkley will give Jalen Hurts a much better chance of getting through the season healthy. Over the past three seasons, Hurts has run the ball 491 times, which is the most by any quarterback in that span. Those numbers take a toll, and he didn't look the same at the end of last season. With a true elite runner in the backfield, there won't be as much pressure on Hurts to run, which will potentially keep him healthy down the stretch.