NFL Players Who Will Benefit Most from 2024 Free-Agency Roster Changes

NFL players can benefit from free agency in various ways. In addition to new contracts, some veterans need a change of scenery. Others will have the opportunity for expanded roles thanks to teammate departures.

This offseason, quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson signed with new teams, which will have ripple effects on both their former and current clubs.

We also saw top running backs move around in free agency, and the 2024 draft class isn’t chocked full of early-round talent at the position. That may lead to the emergence of lesser-known ball-carriers across the league.

The Washington Commanders have completely remodeled their defense after they gave up the most points and yards of any team last year. Multiple defenders could establish themselves in full-time starting positions on a rebuilding roster this year.

Taking free-agent signings and trades into consideration, these 10 players could benefit most from offseason roster changes.

Dorance Armstrong, DE, Washington Commanders

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LANDOVER, MD - JANUARY 07: Abdullah Anderson #92 of the Washington Commanders celebrates after a sack against the Washington Commanders during the second half of the game at FedExField on January 7, 2024 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Dorance Armstrong followed former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to the Washington Commanders. Quinn is the Commanders’ new head coach, and he’ll allow defensive coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. to call plays for the defense, but his influence will likely impact the unit.

Quinn worked with Armstrong for three seasons in Dallas. He knows the pass-rusher’s strengths and how Whitt can get the most out of him.

After three nondescript campaigns, Armstrong played an expanded role on the edge after Quinn became the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator in 2021. He logged 55 pressures and 21 sacks over the last three campaigns.

Armstrong could be a full-time starter in Washington. The Commanders traded edge-rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat midway through the 2023 season, which left them woefully devoid of a pass rush.

Armstrong will have a chance at a full breakout year under Whitt while Quinn oversees the team as a CEO-type head coach.

Marquise Brown, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

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GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 17: Marquise Brown #2 of the Arizona Cardinals runs out of the tunnel prior to an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers at State Farm Stadium on December 17, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Marquise Brown struck gold in free agency by signing a one-year, $7 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. He’ll now be catching passes from Patrick Mahomes, which should put him in line for a much larger contract next offseason.

Mahomes has led the NFL in touchdown passes twice over the past six seasons. He also threw for a league-leading 5,250 yards in 2022.

Brown played with quarterback Lamar Jackson when Jackson won his first league MVP in 2019, but the Baltimore Ravens operated a run-heavy offense (No. 1 in rushing attempts) under former offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

Last year with the Arizona Cardinals, Brown played with backup quarterbacks in the first half of the season while Kyler Murray recovered from a torn ACL. Though Murray returned to action in Week 10, Brown missed the last three games with a heel injury.

Assuming Brown stays healthy, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to rack up big numbers in a contract year.

Mahomes hasn’t missed a start because of an injury since 2019, and there are question marks among his pass-catching corps. At 34, tight end Travis Kelce could see a slight decline in targets. Meanwhile, the league could suspend wideout Rashee Rice for his involvement in a recent car accident in Dallas.

Brown could post career highs across multiple receiving categories as a key contributor in the Chiefs’ aerial attack.

Jeremy Chinn, S, Washington Commanders

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CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 18: Jeremy Chinn #21 of the Carolina Panthers reacts to a defensive stop against the New Orleans Saints during the first quarter in the game at Bank of America Stadium on September 18, 2023 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

As the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, Dan Quinn unlocked Jayron Kearse’s potential as a hybrid defender who can play safety, linebacker and slot cornerback.

Kearse (6’4″, 215 pounds) and Jeremy Chinn (6’3″, 220 pounds) are similar players in size, position flexibility and skill set.

As the Cowboys’ secondary coach between 2021 and 2023, new Commanders defensive coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. likely had a hand in helping Kearse carve out a key role in Quinn’s defenses. If Chinn fits the same mold as Kearse, he may also play his best football under Quinn and Whitt in Washington.

In four seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Chinn recorded 324 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 17 pass breakups and two interceptions. However, he struggled to find consistency as a playmaker at the linebacker, safety and slot cornerback positions.

If Quinn and Whitt fully utilize Chinn’s versatility, he could be a bargain-bin steal on a one-year, $4.1 million deal.

Sam Darnold, QB, Minnesota Vikings

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SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 20: Sam Darnold #14 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up before the NFC Divisional Playoffs against the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium on January 20, 2024 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Minnesota Vikings lost quarterback Kirk Cousins to the Atlanta Falcons in free agency, which caused them to sign Sam Darnold to a one-year, $10 million deal as a stopgap option. They could select a quarterback early in the 2024 NFL draft—they have two first-round picks (Nos. 11 and 23), which they could package to move up—but Darnold expects to compete for the starting job regardless.

Similar to Baker Mayfield with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, Darnold may have a chance to reinvent himself as a starter after failing to play up to the expectations of a top-three 2018 draft pick. He’ll have a talented pass-catching group if he’s the Vikings’ starter.

Minnesota’s passing game features All-Pro receiver and 2022 Offensive Player of the Year Justin Jefferson, ascending second-year wideout Jordan Addison, who caught 70 passes for 911 yards and 10 touchdowns in his rookie campaign, and two-time Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson, who is recovering from a torn ACL and MCL.

Even though Cousins went down with a torn Achilles midway through last season, the Vikings fielded a top-five passing offense in yards and touchdowns.

If Darnold beats Nick Mullens, Jaren Hall and possibly a rookie for the lead role, he could revive his career in Minnesota and garner far more interest in free agency next offseason.

A.J. Epenesa, Edge, Buffalo Bills

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ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 19: AJ Epenesa #57 of the Buffalo Bills warms up prior to a game against the New York Jets at Highmark Stadium on November 19, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images)Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Buffalo Bills edge-rusher A.J. Epenesa may be on the cusp of a breakout season. Despite playing roughly 40 percent of the Bills’ defensive snaps over the past two seasons, he’s logged 14 pressures, 6.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss in back-to-back campaigns.

Epenesa played behind Von Miller, Greg Rousseau and Leonard Floyd over that span, but the Bills allowed Floyd to walk in free agency. Meanwhile, Miller’s production plummeted last season upon his return from a torn ACL, as he logged zero sacks in 258 defensive snaps.

With a key departure on the edge and Miller in the latter stages of his career, the Bills may rely more on Epenesa to generate a consistent pass rush opposite of Rousseau on the edge. They signed him to a two-year, $12 million extension in March.

If Epenesa’s production in a limited role is any indication, he could make massive strides in his fifth year.

Bryce Huff, Edge, Philadelphia Eagles

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CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 28: Bryce Huff #47 of the New York Jets looks on from the field during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on December 28, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)Cooper Neill/Getty Images

As a rotational pass-rusher along the New York Jets’ stout defensive line, Bryce Huff turned heads in a breakout 2023 season, logging 33 pressures, 10 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.

The Jets developed Huff, an undrafted player out of Memphis in 2020, into one of the league’s most underrated pass-rushers, only for him to walk in free agency. He signed a three-year, $51.1 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Gang Green will essentially replace Huff with Haason Reddick, whom the team acquired from Philadelphia for a conditional second-round pick. Meanwhile, Huff is going to an appealing situation for an ascending pass-rusher.

Huff will play under new Eagles defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who is a well-respected defensive play-caller. Though the Eagles (like the Jets) have layers of depth across their defensive line, Huff isn’t likely to take a backseat to 36-year-old Brandon Graham or second-year pro Nolan Smith, who had only 18 tackles, one tackle for loss, four pressures and one sack as a rookie.

Coming off his first double-digit sack campaign, Huff should be able to sustain that momentum and put together a Pro Bowl-caliber year with more time on the field.

Darnell Mooney, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 15: Wide receiver Darnell Mooney #11 of the Chicago Bears warms up prior to an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field on October 15, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg/Getty Images)Todd Rosenberg/Getty Images

Former Chicago Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney could have been a more productive receiver over the previous four years if he had a stable quarterback situation and played with an efficient pocket passer. In 2021, he caught 81 passes for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns with Andy Dalton, Nick Foles and then-rookie Justin Fields under center.

Chicago may draft its new franchise quarterback in April, though Mooney shouldn’t feel like he’s missing out. He signed with the Atlanta Falcons after they landed new starting quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Even though Cousins is coming off a torn Achilles, the four-time Pro Bowl signal-caller has been an efficient and accurate pocket passer throughout his career. If Cousins trusts his offensive line and continues to be accurate from the pocket, he should be able to connect with Mooney downfield.

Cousins’ pinpoint ball placement should allow Mooney to rack up yards after the catch for big plays. The speedy receiver could be an explosive playmaker who complements the big-bodied Drake London and Kyle Pitts in the Falcons’ aerial attack.

Khalil Shakir, WR, Buffalo Bills

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ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 31: Khalil Shakir #10 of the Buffalo Bills warms up prior to a game against the New England Patriots at Highmark Stadium on December 31, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills’ wide receiver unit will look much different from last year thanks to what the team did this offseason. Khalil Shakir could emerge as a key playmaker in the new group.

In March, Gabe Davis left the Bills to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency. On Wednesday, the Bills dealt No. 1 receiver Stefon Diggs to the Houston Texans.

For the past four years, the Bills had a one-two combination at wideout with Diggs in a go-to role and Davis equipped to make plays over the top. Now, Buffalo will shuffle the deck at the top of its wide receiver depth chart, though Shakir is an intriguing roster holdover.

Last year, Shakir caught 39 passes for 611 yards and two touchdowns. He’s capable of filling Davis’ role as the Bills’ explosive perimeter playmaker.

Buffalo signed wideouts Curtis Samuel and Mack Hollins in free agency, and it could draft multiple receivers. But don’t underestimate Shakir’s rapport with quarterback Josh Allen.

Allen’s big arm and Shakir’s speed could allow the Bills to continue generating fireworks in the passing game even without Diggs and Davis.

Jarrett Stidham, QB, Denver Broncos

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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 07: Jarrett Stidham #4 of the Denver Broncos throws a pass during the first quarter in the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on January 07, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images)Candice Ward/Getty Images

At the moment, Jarrett Stidham looks like a strong contender to start under center for the Denver Broncos in 2024.

The Broncos cut quarterback Russell Wilson, who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they didn’t add an experienced veteran signal-caller in free agency. That leaves Stidham and Ben DiNucci as the only passers on the roster for now.

Last season, Stidham played in three games and started in the final two weeks in place of Wilson. He threw for 496 yards, two touchdowns and an interception with a 60.6 percent completion rate. Meanwhile, DiNucci spent most of the 2023 campaign on the Broncos’ practice squad. He hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2020 with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Broncos could draft a quarterback, but barring a move up from 12th, they will likely miss out on the top prospects at the position. As a result, Stidham could be competing against a veteran who has one career start in four seasons and a rookie who may not be ready to take over the offense right away.

Stidham has made only four career starts, but he’s had decent performances in the last two years with the Las Vegas Raiders and Broncos. With regular-season experience in head coach and offensive play-caller Sean Payton’s system, Stidham could head into training camp in the pole position to start.

Zamir White, RB, Las Vegas Raiders

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KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 25: Las Vegas Raiders running back Zamir White (35) reacts after a play during the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs on December 25th, 2023 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

According to The Athletic’s Vic Tafur, Las Vegas Raiders head coach Antonio Pierce wanted to retain Josh Jacobs, but Jacobs instead signed with the Green Bay Packers.

For most of the past five seasons, Jacobs led the Raiders backfield in a workhorse role. But last year, he missed the final four weeks of the season with a quad injury.

With Jacobs sidelined, the Raiders turned to Zamir White, a fourth-rounder from the 2022 draft. He may have earned the coaching staff’s trust in those four outings, as he recorded 84 carries for 397 yards and a touchdown.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said the Raiders “have confidence” in White, although he added that the team will “likely” draft a running back. If Rapoport is right, we’ll probably see a running back committee in Las Vegas this season.

The Raiders signed Alexander Mattison in free agency, but White could be the Raiders’ featured ball-carrier. He’s logged 17-plus rushing attempts in all four of his career starts, and he averaged roughly 4.7 yards per carry over those games.

Mattison’s yards-per-carry average has plunged in recent years as he gained more of a workload. He averaged less than four yards per carry in each of the past three seasons.

The Raiders should add a speedy change-of-pace running back to the roster, but White seems primed for an expanded role as the team’s lead rusher between the tackles.

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