For a sport that's entire season unfolds in less than six months, the NFL has done well to maintain relevance year-round. In striving for authenticity, Madden NFL 23 needs to reflect that. With NFL training camps re-opening soon, football fans may be looking back on what has been, without a doubt, the most eventful off-season in recent memory--arguably in all of NFL history. Big-name wide receivers like Tyreek Hill and Devante Adams pushed themselves out of cemented roles onto new teams for massive paydays. Star QBs were traded, like Russell Wilson, retired (and then un-retired) like Tom Brady, while other vets like Bobby Wagner and Von Miller joined teams already knocking on the door to the Super Bowl.
For this year's Madden, the team at Tiburon has sought to give Franchise players more of that control fans have watched the likes of Adams and Brady claim for themselves. New contract tools and a deeper free agency experience are some of the marquee changes to the game mode, and if they're done right, should give players a similarly frenzied feeling when it comes time to build a championship-caliber team.
Every NFL team knows that you don't just win games on the field. A season can sometimes be decided in the draft room and front office. Madden 23's new contract tools finally replace the series' outdated model of guessing the sweet spot for getting a player to sign with you based on a vague starting position. Tiburon calls these new tools "simplified," and they are, but they're also objectively more nuanced and detailed than ever before, which is great news for capologists in both solo and online leagues.
Starting with Madden 23, you'll be able to offer one of four basic contracts to free agents: team-friendly, player-friendly, neutral, and max offer. Fine-tuning it beyond those templates is still available, but at the very least being able to compare what a good deal for the player versus the team looks like should go a long way to making sense of one of Madden's most opaque components.
Those free agents will weigh your deal from a financial standpoint, but they'll also consider a much longer, sometimes even humorously lifelike list of factors. This includes things like whether they look poised to be in the starting lineup, what the team's overall prospects for winning games looks like, and even whether the team exists in a state with an income tax. Yes, teams like the Dolphins, Bucs, and Jags may sometimes get a leg up in free agency, but this is just one of many factors.
This system isn't brand-new to Madden. Longtime players may remember something like it has been in the game in years past, but not for a few seasons now. The presumption is it'll be done better and more authentically, which may still mean the money tends to win out in the end, but not always.
Players will have new roles added to their attributes, too, making some players a better fit for your team for more reasons than just their on-field skills. Someone like Bobby Wagner, for example, will wear the figurative "Mentor" badge, which gives XP boosts to players younger than him at his same position. These roles play into free agency directly, as knowing who is in the locker room will help players decide where to sign, such as wideouts looking to team up with an elite QB.
Another new wrinkle is how the free agency period plays out. Unfolding in stages has long been the case, but Madden 23 will now limit your available contract offers within each stage. An example GameSpot was given suggested the initial free agency period will allow each team to make up to five offers, but no more than that. In subsequent stages during the free agency period, more offers will be available. This is meant to ensure players don't thoughtlessly throw money around (even though the Jaguars do in real life).
For online franchises, the effect of these changes seems destined to be amplified. In my Madden league, we already place certain out-of-game restrictions on the free agency period to seek something closer to parity, or at least something that accounts for our variable time zones. Madden 23 will bring systems like that directly into the game, ensuring one deep-pocketed team doesn't go out and nab every viable player on day one right at the deadline.
For players who want to pinch pennies more often than throw them into the wind, Madden 23 will also feature rollover cap for the first time. Though the specifics are still a bit fuzzy until I see it in action, it was explained to me that unused cap space can be applied toward the following league year, giving Madden players more flexibility in how they build their team. I'm curious to learn precisely when this rollover occurs and what happens in years further down the line, but with what I know so far, it's a welcome addition.
Last year's scouting update greatly enhanced the talent pool and the process of uncovering future stars in each year's draft, and Madden 23 will build on that with a smarter team of AI scouts. As the process has been streamlined to essentially play out in the background of a week-to-week franchise, scouting reports will now reveal more relevant information. In Madden 22, scouting a pocket-passing QB may needlessly reveal attributes like Break Tackle and Spin Move, but in this year's game, you'll unlock relevant info first and foremost--things like Throw Power and Short Accuracy, for example.
While Madden 23 will be marketed chiefly on its new "Fieldsense" overhaul, which encompasses new mechanics for basically every spot on the field, one of the biggest changes, Skill-Based Passing, will be optional on a player level even in a Connected Franchise. This means a league won't need to decide collectively whether to implement the new passing controls. Each team owner can decide for themselves. That's welcome news, as major new systems in Madden can go either way--maybe the community will love it and it'll be around forever after, like the Hit Stick, or maybe it'll be a mess that Tiburon scraps in a hurry, like QB Vision.
I'll be diving into the Madden 23 beta this week and offering more thoughts from the virtual gridiron soon. In the meantime, it seems like Franchise mode's biggest changes in Madden 23 aren't back-of-the-box material, but what they may be are much-requested tools to allow all team-builders to compete not just in jerseys on the field, but in suits in the front office, too. Madden NFL 23 launches on Xbox Series X, PS5, Xbox One, and PS4 on August 19.