While the NFL free agency period is not over, a lot has already happened. So, it’s fair to judge some of the successes. It’s also fair to look at some of the failures.
Who orchestrated those failures? Which teams are in the midst of a tough NFL free agency period?
What NFC West teams need to make a sharp 180? Which teams in the AFC North are heading in the wrong direction? The Redskins have made headlines, but have they been for the right reasons?
Which six teams are striking out in NFL free agency? We’re on the case.
What did we learn in the 2016 season? The Steelers are still one of the AFC’s best teams. But in the AFC Championship Game, Pittsburgh was clearly a level (or five) below the New England Patriots. So, for the Steelers to overtake the Patriots, either they had to get better or New England had to get worse.
So far, the exact opposite has happened. The Pats have reloaded and already look like a juggernaut in the AFC.
#Patriots current offense:
QB Tom Brady
RB James White
WR Brandin Cooks
WR Julian Edelman
WR Chris Hogan
TE Rob Gronkowski
TE Dwayne Allen
— Nick Mensio (@NickMensio) March 11, 2017
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has gone the other way.
Markus Wheaton missed most of 2016, but had 749 receiving yards in 2015 for 17 yards a catch. He’s now a member of the Chicago Bears. Lawrence Timmons, who had 114 combined tackles, recorded 2.5 sacks and two interceptions in 2015 is now a member of the Miami Dolphins.
Other than re-sign a few of their own free agents, the Steelers have done nothing.
Granted, Pittsburgh doesn’t have a ton of cap space. But the championship window is closing on the Ben Roethlisberger era. This isn’t a team that’s all that well positioned for a rebuild.
For the Steelers to have a real chance to win a Super Bowl in 2017, the remaining free agency period must be far more productive. Signing Dont’a Hightower away from the aforementioned Patriots would be a fantastic start.
The Seahawks are a lot like the Steelers. It’s fairly clear that they have a good team and can make the playoffs. But with two straight divisional round losses, it’s clear they need a roster upgrade to be a real Super Bowl contender.
Seattle entered the 2017 offseason with 19 free agents. So far, three of them have signed — none of whom re-signed with Seattle. Now, should we go freaking out over the losses of Brock Coyle, Steven Hauschka, and Damontore Moore? No. Not at all. But the overall inactivity is troubling.
Now, in the interest of fairness, we do have to point out that the Seahawks have signed Luke Joeckel. In some respects, that’s a step in the right direction.
Luke Joeckel is an offensive lineman. Not a converted defensive lineman. Not a college basketball player. It's an upgrade in that regard.
— St. Paddy Joe Veyera (@JoeVeyera) March 9, 2017
But at the same time, Joeckel has been a complete bust since entering the NFL in 2013. Maybe a move to right tackle will do him some good if he’s not utilized inside at guard. But he’s still a question mark and Seattle’s offensive line was abysmal in 2016. Signing Joeckel is fine. Making him the biggest signing, however, is not. If he doesn’t show significant improvement, it becomes a disaster.
Much like Pittsburgh, don’t expect Seattle’s lack of activity to lead to a 4-12 season. But the Seahawks should be focusing on returning to the Super Bowl.
Based on the activity (or lack thereof) coming out of Seattle, it’s hard to say that this group is being given the best chance to return to the top of the mountain. They better continue nailing the draft, because free agency isn’t doing it for them.
After five straight years of first-round playoff losses, the Bengals decided to give their fans a break in January by missing the playoffs completely in 2016. Entering the 2017 offseason, it seemed obvious that this team needed improvement on a number of fronts.
The good news for Cincinnati is that the Bengals entered free agency with plenty of cap space. The bad news? Cincinnati still has plenty of cap space.
Now, losing two starters from a bad unit may not seem like a bad thing. But Whitworth and Zeitler were unarguably the Bengals’ best two players up front. Additionally, they’ve yet to be replaced by anyone externally. So, even if Whitworth and Zeitler weren’t that good, what are the chances that the guys behind them on the depth chart will be better?
Now, one of two things is possible.
One possibility: The Bengals are significantly smarter than everyone and this is all part of a master plan that will lead to Cincinnati hosting the next NFL dynasty.
The other possibility: The Bengals really don’t know what they’re doing.
You can decide for yourself. Before you make your decision, though, know that six full presidential terms (and parts of two others) have passed since Cincinnati last won a playoff game.
Based on the path that the 2017 offseason has taken, the smart money says that that streak won’t be ending any time soon.
As we’ve already detailed, it’s been a rough offseason for the Seahawks. That’s a potential opening for Seattle’s NFC West rivals. But, as the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers both have a long way to be playoff contenders, it’s really an opening for the Cardinals.
While he opening may be there, Arizona has not gone through it.
Integral parts of the defense like Calais Campbell (Jacksonville Jaguars), Tony Jefferson (Baltimore Ravens) and D.J. Swearinger (Washington Redskins) are gone. Replacing them are people like Antoine Bethea and Karlos Dansby. Those may not be bad additions. But the goal of a defense should be to get younger and quicker. The Cardinals have gotten older and slower.
So, can the offense carry the day? Well, there’s certainly talent there. If he comes back healthy (and he looks to be on track), David Johnson is one of the NFL’s most dangerous weapons. But outside of Johnson, the offense will again rely on players like Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer, both of whom are very close to the end of their careers.
Arizona has simply failed to take advantage of any opening creating by an underwhelming Seattle offseason.
From 2013-2015, the Cardinals made two playoff appearances and went 34-14. Based on the current trend of 2017 offseason, it’s going to be awfully hard for Arizona to regain even a part of that magic.
The 2016 Texans were a team that dominated on defense and struggled on offense, especially at quarterback. So, as far as the 2017 offseason went, a pretty basic blueprint to becoming a true Super Bowl contender would have had Houston keep its defense together while upgrading the quarterback position.
That has not happened.
Granted, getting Brock Osweiler (and his salary) off the team was addition by subtraction. But the Texans still have Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden as their quarterbacks. Not exactly a duo that’s going to help unseat the Patriots atop the AFC.
To be fair, Houston ridding itself of Osweiler’s salary could have been a way to clear money for a Tony Romo trade, which has been rumored.
But obviously, that deal is yet to occur.
Really, that’s only part of the problem.
Houston’s secondary has also lost two key members. One is ball-hawk safety Quintin Demps. He intercepted six passes in 2016 and has been one of the NFL’s best safeties at forcing turnovers over the last several years.
Most interceptions by NFL safeties last four years:
18 … Reggie Nelson
16 … Glover Quin
14 … Kurt Coleman
14 … Quintin Demps
— Reuben Frank (@RoobCSN) December 25, 2016
A.J. Bouye is also gone, having signed with the division rival Jacksonville Jaguars (for a veritable fortune, we might add).
So, in a nutshell, the quarterback position has not been upgraded and the defense has been downgraded. If the Texans want to wiggle out of looming playoff obscurity in 2017, then they need to spend the remaining free agency period filling at least some of those gaps.
Unlike some of these other teams, the Redskins haven’t had a boring offseason.
They’ve added Swearinger, Stacy McGee and Terrelle Pryor, who has a lot to prove after being humbled with a one-year deal. Unfortunately for Washington, stalwarts such as, Pierre Garcon (San Francisco 49ers), DeSean Jackson and Chris Baker (both to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) have both gone elsewhere.
Really, Washington’s disastrous offseason has even more to do with the dysfunction of the organization than it does with who’s come and gone. General manager Scot McCloughan was fired right at the onset of the free agency period. Kirk Cousins reportedly “really wants” to play for the 49ers.
A player wanting to go leave a team for San Francisco — an organization that’s had plenty of dysfunction in its own right — should be telling. Unfortunately for Cousins, a trade to the 49ers doesn’t seem to be in the works because Dan Snyder doesn’t want to help old second-hand rival, Kyle Shanahan.
So, we have an owner not making moves out of spite. If that doesn’t scream dysfunction, what does? With Snyder, the dysfunction has been going on for two decades. The current offseason is showing that an end may not be in sight, either.
Washington’s swing-and-a-miss has been different than the other teams. Still, the Redskins offseason has been unavoidably disastrous.