Dre’Mont Jones, Vonn Bell, Parris Campbell Among Former Ohio State Players Set to Hit NFL Free Agency

By Dan Hope on March 13, 2023 at 8:35 am
Dre’Mont Jones
Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports

Eleven former Ohio State football players are set to become NFL free agents this week.

NFL free agency officially begins at 4 p.m. Wednesday with the start of the new league year. However, impending free agents can begin negotiating with other teams starting at noon Monday, which means the top free agents on the market could begin agreeing to deals as soon as today.

Whether they end up staying with their current teams or relocating, free agency presents an opportunity for numerous Buckeyes to test the market and cash in with new deals, though some will certainly be more coveted than others.

The Buckeye who’s expected to have the hottest market when the negotiation period opens Monday is Dre’Mont Jones. Entering free agency for the first time after playing out his four-year rookie contract with the Denver Broncos, Jones is expected to be one of the highest-paid defensive linemen in this year’s free-agent market, with ESPN ranking him as the 10th-best available free agent this year.

Jones tweeted last month that he wants “to be a Bronco for as long as possible,” but he’ll also be listening to offers from other teams this week. One of those offers is expected to come from the Cleveland Browns, and the Cleveland native told cleveland.com over the weekend that his family “would be really excited” if he signed with the team he grew up rooting for.

That said, Jones is open to playing for any NFL team that might make him a lucrative offer.

“I’m treating this more from a business perspective,” Jones told cleveland.com. “I’m not really putting any type of biases or outside factors really into any decision that I’ve got going on. I’m from Cleveland, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m all in on Cleveland. I’m open for every team.”

(Update: Jones signed a three-year, $51 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks on Monday.)

In the other corner of the state, the Cincinnati Bengals have two former Buckeyes of their own set to hit free agency: Vonn Bell and Eli Apple. 

Between the two of them, Bell is seen as the more likely Buckeye to return to the Bengals’ secondary after serving as one of their team captains for the past three years. With Jessie Bates expected to leave Cincinnati in free agency, retaining Bell will be one of the Bengals’ top priorities; otherwise, they’ll need to find two new starting safeties next season. (Update: Bell agreed to a deal with the Carolina Panthers on Monday.)

On the other hand, the Bengals are expected to let Apple test free agency despite starting 30 games for Cincinnati over the past two years. Apple is not regarded as one of the top cornerbacks hitting the market – he did not make ESPN’s list of the top 100 free agents – so he may not be snapped up as quickly as Jones and Bell are likely to be this week, though his experience could make him a second-wave option for teams who miss out on the market’s top cornerbacks or have less salary cap space available.

On the other side of the ball, Parris Campbell is the offensive Buckeye likely to garner the most interest as free agency opens. Like Jones, Campbell is a fifth-year Buckeye hitting free agency for the first time after playing out his four-year rookie contract with the Indianapolis Colts.

Campbell is coming off of his best year by far as an NFL player, appearing in all 17 games and catching 63 passes for 623 yards and three touchdowns for the Colts last season after missing time with injuries in all of his first three seasons. That is expected to lead to significant interest in Campbell on the open market.

That said, Campbell told the podcast Bleav in Colts last week that he wants to stay in Indianapolis.

“I would love to be back,” Campbell said. “There’s been meetings the past couple of weeks with the Colts and (general manager Chris Ballard), he wants to bring me back. I feel the mutual respect and love. So we’ll see what happens.”

Another former Ohio State wide receiver who will look to parlay a career year into a free-agency payday is Noah Brown. While Brown signed one-year deals with the Dallas Cowboys each of the past two offseasons, he could have a more active market this year after moving from playing almost exclusively on special teams to starting at wide receiver for the Cowboys in 2022, catching 43 passes for 555 yards and three touchdowns.

Other Buckeyes set to become free agents this week include Cowboys defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and long snapper Jake McQuaide, New Orleans Saints cornerback Bradley Roby, Arizona Cardinals center Billy Price, Carolina Panthers guard Michael Jordan and New York Giants tight end Nick Vannett. None of them are expected to receive high-market deals, though Price started 11 games for the Cardinals last season and Roby started 10 games for the Saints.

Four additional Buckeyes who would have become free agents this week agreed to new contracts with their respective franchises to keep them off the open market. Defensive end Tyquan Lewis reportedly agreed to a one-year, $2.1 million contract with the Colts on Sunday. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan reportedly agreed to a one-year, $2.2 million deal with the New England Patriots. Long snapper Liam McCullough inked a one-year deal in February to remain with the Atlanta Falcons as an exclusive rights free agent. Guard Wyatt Davis re-signed with the New York Giants as an exclusive rights free agent.

Two other Buckeyes to watch as free agency begins are Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, who will likely have to rework their current contracts to remain with their current teams. That’s especially true for Thomas, who the Saints would owe a roster bonus of more than $31 million if he is still on his current contract as of Friday. New Orleans Football’s Nick Underhill reported last week that “there has been progress recently in conversations between the Saints and Mike Thomas on a contract extension,” though no deal has been finalized yet.

Elliott has also been viewed as a candidate for either a pay cut or an outright cut due to his $16.72 million cap hit for the 2023 season. That said, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones indicated to reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Cowboys want to keep Elliott in the fold, making a release seem unlikely unless they are unable to come to terms with Elliott on a new contract.

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