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2023 NFL season: Player departures that will have biggest impact on former teams

With OTAs and mandatory minicamps wrapped up, teams have begun to shape their rosters with players acquired via free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft. However, some voids left by offseason departures are larger than others.

Now that the bulk of the offseason has taken place, here's my ranking of the most notable losses across the league.

Aaron Rodgers
New York Jets NYJ · QB

Rodgers, a four-time MVP, was traded to the Jets after negotiations took place for more than a month in what felt like a state of stasis. The Packers received a haul of draft picks in the trade but left themselves with a question mark at the most important position on the field. Jordan Love is poised to be the next starting quarterback in Green Bay, but it's hard to know what to expect given his small small NFL sample size (one career start).

NOTE: The Jets also signed former Packers receiver Allen Lazard, a move that didn’t make the top 10 on this list but is worth mentioning given the circumstances here.

Tom Brady
Retired · QB

Despite a poor ground attack and plenty of injuries, the Bucs were still able to host a playoff game last season, winning the NFC South with an 8-9 record. Brady accounted for nearly 80 percent of the team’s offensive yardage while setting a career high with 733 passing attempts. Tampa Bay signed Baker Mayfield in free agency, but will he be able to match the production of the retired G.O.A.T.?

This is a photo of C.J. Gardner Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles NFL football team. This image reflects the Philadelphia Eagles active roster as of Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. (AP Photo)
Detroit Lions DET · DB

In just 12 games played with the Eagles, Gardner-Johnson tied for the league lead with six interceptions (more than his interception total in the previous three seasons combined). His large production spike and versatility as a ballhawk helped Philadelphia secure a Super Bowl berth. As for filling the void, Reed Blankenship had a promising playoff performance for the Eagles in his rookie campaign. The team signed Terrell Edmunds in free agency and drafted Sydney Brown in the third round, but Gardner-Johnson’s playmaking ability will still be difficult to replace. 

Jalen Ramsey
Miami Dolphins MIA · CB

A season after their Super Bowl victory, the Rams were plagued by injury and slipped to 21st in scoring defense. However, Ramsey stood out among his teammates as a bright spot, leading the team with four interceptions and 18 passes defended. Ramsey was traded to the Dolphins this offseason, leaving the Rams’ secondary with a very young and inexperienced core; as of this writing, every defensive back on the roster is 25 years old or younger. The talent, experience and leadership that the 28-year-old Ramsey can provide played an integral part in the team’s success. The absence of a proven, lockdown corner hurts Los Angeles moving forward.

D.J. Moore
Chicago Bears CHI · WR

The Panthers sent a package of assets, including Moore, to the Bears for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, which they used to secure quarterback Bryce Young as the new face of the franchise. Carolina did snag Adam Thielen in free agency to help replace Moore, but the 32-year-old Thielen has been more of a complementary player than a No. 1 pass-catching threat with the Vikings in recent years. The Panthers also signed veteran DJ Chark and drafted Jonathan Mingo in Round 2, but Chark has struggled to stay healthy in recent years and Mingo is still an unknown quantity as a rookie. Moore might not have a Pro Bowl or All-Pro selection on his résumé, but don’t let a lack of accolades overshadow his talent and value. Despite playing with a carousel of mediocre passers, he’s posted three 1,100-yard seasons in his five-year career. At 26 years old, he still has a bright future ahead of him.

Mike McGlinchey
Denver Broncos DEN · OT

The 49ers’ run game has been anchored by one of the best offensive lines in the league, with McGlinchey playing a key role at right tackle since being drafted ninth overall in 2018. During that span, the Niners have ranked 13th (’18), second (‘19), 15th (‘20), seventh (‘21) and eighth (‘22) in the NFL in rushing. McGlinchey ranked among the top 25 offensive tackles in PFF run-blocking grade last season (73.3) and is now one of the highest-paid players at his position after signing with Denver. The next man up at right tackle for San Francisco, Colton McKivitz, was a fifth-round pick in 2020 and has made just five career starts, which means there’s some uncertainty at the position. McGlinchey’s rank on this list is reflective of the potential impact of not having a clear-cut upgrade at the position ready to take his place.

J.J. Watt
Retired · DE
Zach Allen
Denver Broncos DEN · DE

The Cardinals allowed an abysmal 26.4 points per game last year, second-most in the NFL. Watt and Allen were the team’s primary sources of pass-rush production and they have been included together on this list for that reason. Watt posted a team-high 12.5 sacks and Allen generated a career-high 35 quarterback pressures, per PFF. That’s a lot of production to replace with Watt retiring and Allen leaving for Denver in free agency. The Cardinals’ defensive line (and defense as a whole) is in a rough spot and could now be one of the weakest positional groups in the NFL, at least on paper. With Arizona in rebuilding mode, new head coach Jonathan Gannon could be in for a rough transition after coordinating an Eagles defense that led the NFL with 70 sacks last season.

Dalton Schultz
Houston Texans HOU · TE

After making just 13 catches in his first two NFL seasons, Schultz developed into a top option for Dak Prescott, averaging 66 catches for 666.7 yards and 5.7 touchdowns over the past three seasons. After reeling in a career-high eight touchdowns in 2021, good for fifth-most among tight ends, the Cowboys saw Schultz’s value and placed the franchise tag on him. This year, however, the team used the franchise tag on running back Tony Pollard and allowed Schultz to walk in free agency. Dallas has young tight ends on the roster like Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot. The team also drafted Luke Schoonmaker in Round 2, but the loss of Schultz leaves the offense without an established middle-of-the-field threat at the position.

David Montgomery
Detroit Lions DET · RB

In a year when Justin Fields put the NFL on notice by rushing for the second-most yards by a quarterback in a single season (1,143), Montgomery still managed to run for 801 yards and five touchdowns. While Fields poses a dynamic threat as a mobile quarterback for one the most improved teams this offseason, Montgomery’s reliability took some pressure off Fields as he continued his development. The Bears signed D’Onta Foreman after Montgomery’s departure in free agency. However, Montgomery has produced at least 800 rushing yards in all four of his NFL seasons. Foreman reached those marks only once (2022) in his five-year career. Perhaps Khalil Herbert (731 yards rushing last season) and rookie fourth-rounder Roschon Johnson can also help fill the void.

Follow Brendan Walker on Twitter.

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