It happens every year in the NFL. Big-name free agents or players coming off of a particularly successful campaign land new contracts and fail to deliver.
Remember last season’s fiasco in Green Bay after the Packers signed tight end Martellus Bennett to a three-year deal that guaranteed him $6.3 million? How about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signing wideout DeSean Jackson to a whopping $35 million deal? He tallied 668 yards and three touchdowns in 2017.
Even worse, is losing a newly-paid player to a season-ending injury prior to September — just like the San Francisco 49ers had happen with linebacker Malcolm Smith.
There are bound to be some similar situations occurring in 2018 when the following players could easily deliver fool’s gold.
Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback
Bridgewater has been medically cleared to play professional football after suffering a ghastly knee injury in August of 2016. This is awesome and something that was speculated might never be possible for him to do again. But potential teams interested should beware. Spending too much for this former Vikings first-round pick from 2014 might come back to bite. Other than throwing an interception in two passing attempts late last season, we must look at his numbers from when he last played.
From 2014 to 2015, the most yards Bridgewater passed for was 3,231. His average quarterback rating stands at 86.3 and he has a 28-to-22 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Now healthy, there is still no guarantee Bridgewater suddenly produces at a high level.
Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle
Richardson proved to be a contributor when he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 2017. He tallied 44 combined tackles, two fumble recoveries, one sack and managed his first-career interception. The Seahawks would be wise to try retain him. But other teams, including his former Jets, may attempt to pay highly for Richardson to leave Seattle.
This is great. But Richardson is not exactly known for his charisma around the locker room. He has also been fined for unnecessary roughness, posting vulgar content on social media, and was arrested on some outrageous traffic charges. This is a potential free agent that is one poor decision away from facing a lengthy suspension. Teams interested in Richardson need to weigh out the risks before opening their wallets.
Dion Lewis, running back
Lewis exploded onto the scene in 2017, recording 1,110 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns on offense and another 570 yards and one touchdown on kick returns. So, Lewis carries some impressive stats as he hits free agency. This should drive his asking price high and a team in need of a better running back will bite.
But, Lewis thrived under one of the best-coached teams in the league in that of the New England Patriots. And prior to Lewis’ rock star 2017 season, he dealt with injuries and played in only 14 games total for New England between 2015-16. Outside of staying healthy for all 16 games last season, the most Lewis has played since 2012 was nine games for the Philadelphia Eagles. Any teams targeting Lewis should take this too into consideration.
A.J. McCarron, quarterback
We know there will be a desperate enough team out there to sign McCarron to an overpaid contract now that he has won his grievance to become a free agent. But, we are talking about a quarterback who could not oust Andy Dalton out of his starting job in Cincinnati. In his four years as Dalton’s backup, McCarron played in only 11 games and threw for 920 yards on 86 completions. The positives any potential suitors may be looking at is McCarron has a 64.7 completion rate and has thrown six touchdowns compared to two interceptions.
But overall, this is a very pint-sized sampling for teams to base decisions on. In the past, the Cleveland Browns had McCarron on their radar. Now that he will be free, we can expect the Browns to show interest. They also have the most salary cap space available and could certainly attempt to woo him with a ridiculously high offer.
If not the Browns, then surely another needy team will buy the hype.
DeMarcus Lawrence, defensive end
Lawrence is slated for free agency if the Dallas Cowboys don’t fork up some big bucks for an extension or place a pricey franchise tag on him. If Lawrence tests free agency, he will garner plenty of interest by teams willing to pay him pretty sweetly.
After all, Lawrence is coming off of his best season yet having started in all 16 games. He also put up a career-high 14.5 sacks, 58 combined tackles and four forced fumbles. But, Lawrence has only one stellar year of production stemming from his four in Dallas. Prior to 2017, Lawrence had a grand total of just nine sacks on record.
He has also dealt with multiple injuries and after failing another drug test, he was suspended four games in 2016. Lawrence is going to get paid no matter what, but will he stay healthy and out of trouble?
Sam Bradford, quarterback
We hate to pick on Bradford, but his new contract had better come with some extra money to pay for bubble wrap. Bradford is one of the more fragile quarterbacks in the league and has started in only 80 of 128 games since being selected first overall by the Rams in 2010. Though, with plenty of time to get completely healthy, Bradford will be on some quarterback-needy teams’ radar. He is currently viewed as a bridge quarterback that can help a team out while its rookie quarterback evolves.
For this, the demand will be high and Bradford will likely be signed to a deal that pays him a pretty competitive salary. But buyers should beware. Unfortunately, the former Oklahoma standout is always one tackle away from a serious or lingering injury.
Sammy Watkins, wide receiver
It is very likely that Watkins doesn’t remain a free agent long and re-signs with the Los Angeles Rams. But whether it is the Rams, or another team Watkins calls home in 2018, he should cash in a decent payday. The 24-year-old receiver stayed healthy for 15 games and scored eight touchdowns last season. This was a drastic improvement over his last year playing in Buffalo.
This reminds us, however, that Watkins has an injury-riddled past. He has just one season — his rookie year — that he played in all 16 games. And only once has Watkins surpassed 1,000-plus receiving yards. That happened in 2015.
If the Rams are the team that commits to him on a big extension, Watkins will continue to fight for targets with fellow receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Because of this, Watkins tallied only 39 catches for 593 yards in 2017. If it weren’t for his eight scores, these numbers are hardly worthy of grand pay.
Tyler Eifert, tight end
When healthy, Eifert is a force. This might be what teams in need of a tight end will focus on when he hits free agency. It was only in 2015 that Eifert recorded 615 yards and 13 touchdowns in just 13 games. But, multiple injuries are a huge concern. Two back surgeries and a knee procedure have prevented Eifert from playing in 41 games. It is more than likely the Cincinnati Bengals will move on from him.
But a positive here for Eifert is that he is only 27 years old. And if watched on tape, he is a major red-zone scoring threat. The former first-round pick is likely to garner only a one-year contract once he hits free agency. Though if the injury bug strikes Eifert again, his new team stands to get burned.
Kenny Vaccaro, safety
Vaccaro will hit free agency either hoping the Saints will re-sign him for a rich new deal or that another team will be generous. The 28-year-old safety just recorded a career-high three interceptions. He proved to be amazing in coverage and helped the Saints’ defense improve immensely last season.
These are some accomplishments that will bode well once Vaccaro can begin negotiating. Though, Vaccaro did battle some injuries in 2017. He had a wrist injury and also underwent core surgery in late December. And, we must note that Vaccaro sat out four games in 2016 after being suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Along with solid production, there is also some baggage that comes along with signing Vaccaro to an upgraded new deal.
Case Keenum, quarterback
After a near Super Bowl run and his most productive season to date, Keenum rightfully can aim to sign a long-term deal as a starting quarterback with a team in need. He is definitely an upgrade over several other quarterbacks who held starting roles in 2017.
Last year Keenum meshed well with the Vikings, putting up 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions. He also completed a career-high 67.6 percent of his passes. Though, this alone is what Keenum is going to have to sell in free agency.
He will have to prove the that old Keenum who previously held a 9-15 record as a starter is long-gone. And it was just in 2016 that Keenum passed for only nine touchdowns versus 11 interceptions in 10 games with the Los Angeles Rams.
Whichever team pays Keenum in 2018 will also hope that he doesn’t turn out to be one-year wonder.
Carlos Hyde, running back
The recent buzz is that the 49ers will likely let Hyde test out the free agent market in 2018. Offering plenty of upside, Hyde will attract his fair share of suitors. When Hyde is in top form and not sharing the backfield, he thrives. He is also a great pass-catcher and recorded a career-high 59 receptions in 2017. Plus, Hyde stayed healthy all season and added 938 rushing yards and eight touchdowns to his totals.
This is all good for interested parties to note. Though, missing time on the field in the past for various injuries is a concern. Last year marked the first season in his four-year career Hyde escaped injury.
It may be that a team takes Hyde’s 2017 healthy run and trusts that he has turned a new leaf. We hope this is the case. But, an injury-plagued past that dates back to college needs to be considered.
Malcolm Butler, cornerback
There are going to be teams willing to offer this two-time Super Bowl champion cornerback a sweet long-term deal. After all, it was Butler himself who made that famous game-clinching interception in Super Bowl 49.
Over the course of his four years playing in New England, Butler recorded eight interceptions, 50 defended passes, and 209 combined tackles. He made some fabulous plays, remained healthy and will hopefully keep this pace up with a new club.
However, we must also remember that Butler originally went undrafted, and from there, ended his tenure as a Patriot four years later on a sour note. Well-coached by New England, hopefully Butler’s best years are not already behind him.
Terrelle Pryor, wide receiver
What Pryor most recently takes to free agency is a horrific and overpaid 2017 season with the Washington Redskins. This consisted of him managing only 24 receptions for 240 yards in nine games. But, we do not see Pryor being entirely snubbed in free agency.
He was impressively productive in 2016 when he played for the Cleveland Browns. That year saw Pryor tally 77 receptions for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns. It was not too shabby considering Pryor played with Cleveland’s revolving door of quarterbacks.
Perhaps franchises in need will keep these numbers in mind. Who knows, Maybe the Browns will bring Pryor back? He’s got the ability to either shine or crash and burn.
Jeremy Hill, running back
Hill failed to make our list of top-50 free agents and their potential landing spots. But, we still expect teams to reach out to a player in Hill who did have some highlights as a Cincinnati Bengal and who is only 25-years old.
Hill rushed for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns at 5.1 yards per carry during his rookie season back in 2014. He also led the league with 11 rushing touchdowns back in 2015. For this, Hill stands out. But by no means should Hill be overly compensated for accomplishments that happened this long ago.
He most recently landed on IR after playing only seven games last year. His yards per carry plummeted from that 5.1 in 2014 to 3.1 in 2017. He also failed to score. After a poor year, Hill bid the Bengals a farewell and is looking forward to a new chapter.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, tight end
We commend Seferian-Jenkins for getting his life on course and for setting career-bests across the board in 2017 with the New York Jets. First of all, Seferian-Jenkins played in 13 games which is the most of his four-year career that began with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014. He tallied 50 catches for 357 yards and scored three touchdowns. And, he made some tricky and difficult grabs along the way.
For this, the 25-year-old tight end could try to sell his services in the free agent market. Maybe the Jets will pay him to stick around.
And while Seferian-Jenkins performed well last year, his receiving yards ranked 26th among the league’s tight ends in 2017 and he dealt with injuires. This is something for any interested party to note.