So misleading. It's bad enough that Verizon uses these marketing gimmicks, but for a "news site" to perpetuate their garbage is even worse.
You only get a "free phone" if you finance the purchase of the phone over 36 months, assuming you even qualify. What you actually get is up to $800 in credit if the phone is new enough and expensive enough (iPhone 12 or Galaxy S21 for example). In addition, whatever credit you do get is deducted from your monthly bill in 36 equal installments, not immediately.
So you either finance the phone to pay off over 36 months (if you qualify) and then get a deduction from your bill each month for the credit, or if you don't qualify for financing (or by choice) you pay full price for the phone at the time of purchase (not free) and have a lower monthly bill because of the credit. Also if you leave Verizon before the 36 months are up, you have to pay off the remaining balance owed for the phone, but no longer get the monthly credit to offset the cost (not free).
So I guess, technically, after 36 months, assuming you meet multiple requirements for financing and trade in value, you can get the phone for a net zero cost. Cool cool cool.