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In NFL verbiage, the legal tampering period means agree to deals with as many free agents as you want to and can under the salary cap. There's no more waiting until Wednesday. NFL free agency is here, y'all. In the spirit of the free-agency floodgates now open in the middle of draft season, let's evaluate how these decisions will impact the 2024 NFL Draft

Here are the Day 1 signings that will impact a team's strategy-- and other clubs drafting near them -- on draft night.

Falcons signing Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins
ATL • QB • #18
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  • How it impacts the draft: Vikings all in on quarterback in first round?

As free agency approached, reports started to surface hinting at Atlanta as the next stop in Cousins' incredibly lucrative NFL career. There were also newsbits about Minnesota working to potentially retain Cousins once again. Now we know he'll be taking his talents south to the Falcons

However, given Cousins' age and his Achilles tear in 2023, along with the strength at the top of this quarterback class, it felt like this offseason would mark the end of Kirk's era in Minnesota, didn't it? Armed with the No. 11 overall pick, even if the Vikings sign a Sam Darnold, all sights *have* to be set on the club drafting its heir apparent to Cousins this April. Whether they can get who they want at No. 11 or have to trade into the top 10 -- presumably ahead of the Giants at No. 6 overall -- remains to be seen. But this departure signals the Vikings will be key players in the draft's quarterback market. They have to be, and probably should be at this point of the Kevin O'Connell/Kwesi Adofo-Mensah era. 

This may not even be worth a sentence, but the Falcons, armed with pick No. 8, are all but officially outside of the quarterback running in this draft and could be a trade-up locale for any team wanting to get ahead of the Vikings to pick a passer. 

Giants acquire Brian Burns in trade with Panthers

  • How it impacts draft: New York loses ammo in potential trade-up for quarterback; much-needed draft capital for Carolina

First, let's get to the details of this mega-swap. New York is sending No. 39 overall (first of two second-round picks) along with a 2025 fifth-round pick to land Burns. Not exactly an arm and leg. However, those two Round 2 selections were shiny trade assets for a team sitting at No. 6 overall assumed to be squarely in the quarterback market in the draft. 

Now the Giants have No. 46, No. 70, No. 107, No. 141, and No. 183 in the 2024 draft. Of course, that 2025 first-round pick will be the most coveted -- and expected -- asset to perhaps ascend the board a few spots in late April. New York may very well be including to use that future selection to get the quarterback its front office and coaching staff wants most. But losing the top-40 pick in 2024 hurts for the long-term team building. Then again, they now have a 26-year-old explosive and bendy outside rusher on the same defensive front as Kayvon Thibodeaux and Dexter Lawrence. If it's not a quarterback for the Giants in the first round, it won't be Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner. Bank on a wide receiver, or, maybe, an offensive tackle. 

As for the Panthers, fresh off what instantly amounted to a brutal trade to get the No. 1 spot to pick Bryce Young a year ago, now are armed with two selections in the top 40 -- No. 33 and No. 39 overall -- helpful for a club still in dire need of vast improvements across its roster. Even after signing guard Robert Hunt to a gigantic deal on Day 1 of free agency, expect more help on offense for the 2023's top pick, and of course, edge rusher will now come into focus for Carolina with Burns gone. This defensive end class is has quality depth, starting in the early stages of the second round. 

Steelers signing Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson
PIT • QB • #3
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  • How it impacts the draft: Heightens Steelers' offensive line need

The Steelers weren't believed to be in the 2024 quarterback market, mostly because of their draft position at No. 20 overall, which is viewed well out of the perceived range of the "top-tier" of prospects, which right now consists of Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye and J.J. McCarthy. 

So, it's not as if a QB-hungry team is suddenly out of the running for Round 1 of the draft. Even with Wilson's mobility as a creator, he is in now in his mid-30s. So if anything, signing in Pittsburgh intensifies the team's need to continue to build in the trenches. While cornerback can't be ruled out after the Patrick Peterson release, it'll be a surprise if the Steelers don't add one of the premier blockers in what is a loaded offensive tackle class. Chukwuma Okorafor signed with the Patriots already, and 2023 left tackle Dan Moore surrendered a whopping 56 pressures. 

Vikings invest in EDGE Jonathan Greenard, LB Andrew Van Ginkel

  • How it impacts the draft: Greatly reduces Minnesota's chances to pick EDGE at No. 11; helps EDGE-needy teams behind them

With Danielle Hunter an unrestricted free-agent, we weren't sure if Minnesota would retain him or look elsewhere at the edge position. The Vikings provided an answer with this signing, then added the pesky and underrated Van Ginkel a few hours later. With the young-ish, ascending defensive end now under contract with $46 million in total guarantees, and Van Ginkel a 2023 breakout player, it's highly unlikely Minnesota prioritizes that position in the first round. There's a strong expectation Minnesota will be major players in the quarterback sweepstakes early in the draft, but there are many scenarios in which they may not be able to pick the passer they covet most, meaning they'd have to either trade back or go with another position with their first-round selection just outside of the top 10. Now, the chances of that being, say, Alabama edge rusher or Dallas Turner, Penn State's Chop Robinson, or Florida State's Jared Verse, are reduced. 

That could be music to the ears of teams picking behind the Vikings like the Saints at No. 14, Colts at No. 15, and Seahawks at No. 16. It'd make sense for all three of those clubs to be interested in a top edge rusher in this class. 

Raiders sign DT Christian Wilkins

  • How it impacts the draft: Pushes top defensive tackle prospects down the board; Raiders in QB draft market?

This is not a defensive tackle class comparable to, say, the 2019 class that featured Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver, Dexter Lawrence, and Wilkins in the first round. There's Texas' Byron Murphy II and Johnny Newton from Illinois, while Florida State's Braden Fiske may have tested himself into the first round at the NFL Scouting Combine. 

Before this move, the Raiders were a team picking inside the top 15 with a glaring needed inside along its defensive line that felt like a sweet spot for potentially the first defensive tackle to be taken. Now, no way that happens. Also too, the Raiders feel like much more of a "win-now" team that even a year ago, with a defense that flashed down the stretch and now boasts two bonafide stars up front in All-Pro Maxx Crosby and the super-steady Wilkins on the interior. Does this hint at Las Vegas preparing to be aggressive to land a quarterback in Round 1 as opposed to adding to the defense? Yes, they signed Gardner Minshew to pair with Aidan O'Connell, but if the opportunity presents itself to select a QB whom they may love, it would be hard to pass up.

Packers sign S Xavier McKinney

How it impacts the draft: Maybe no safeties in the first round?

Many times since the start of my mock-draft voyage that begins in September have I sent a safety to Green Bay in the first round. The problem has been that this safety draft class is lacking, particularly at the top. There's no an elite, must-have, locked-in Round 1 talent. Minnesota's Tyler Nubin or Washington State's Jaden Hicks, maybe. 

With McKinney getting $17 million per year, Green Bay has made its splash at the safety position. It'll be a shocker if the Packers draft a safety with their first-round pick at No. 25 overall. Of course, all it takes is one team, yet with this trade, it throws water on the safety idea for Green Bay, one of the clear-cut teams in need of an upgrade at that position entering 2024.