We see it every single offseason around the NFL. Teams with ample cap room reach deep into their pockets to overpay for free agents. It’s something that has plagued cellar-dwelling teams over the course of the past several years.
Last offseason alone, the likes of DeSean Jackson, Kenny Britt and Martellus Bennett signed huge contracts with new teams. Each player ultimately bombed out in a big way. We can expect much of the same once free agency starts next week.
From a backup quartback in Cincinnati likely to find a surprisingly strong market to previously injury-plagued running back in New England, here are 10 NFL free agents who could spark buyer’s remorse.
A.J. McCarron, quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals
It’s all going to be about the type of market that greets McCarron in free agency. Even if it’s limited to what we saw with Mike Glennon last offseason, we could very well be looking at a major case of buyer’s remorse. After starting a grand total of five games in his final three seasons with Tampa Bay, Glennon inked a three-year, $45 million deal with Chicago. He ultimately started three games and was released by the team after being handed a cool $18.5 million.
McCarron himself started three games in four seasons with the Bengals. He couldn’t beat out a struggling Andy Dalton for the starting job. This is nowhere near the Jimmy Garoppolo situation with San Francisco. Garoppolo was seen as the Patriots’ quarterback of the future. He was sitting behind all-time great Tom Brady. And he shined in a five-game sample size with the 49ers prior to inking a lucrative long-term deal. Should McCarron receive north of $20 million annually, it will be seen as a major red flag around the NFL community. It will also tell us a story of a quarterback market that’s bloated out of control.
Dontari Poe, defensive tackle, Atlanta Falcons
Working under a one-year, prove it deal with the Falcons last season, Poe was excellent. He was among the game’s best run-stuffing defensive tackles and still found a way to put pressure on the quarterback. The issue here is not what he did in 2017. Instead, it’s all about weight and conditioning issues in Poe’s final two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Simply put, he didn’t act as much more than a big body along the Chiefs’ defensive line during that span.
There’s definitely going to be a question about Poe’s motivation. Did he perform well and keep in shape this past season because he knew free agency was looming? It’s a story we have seen over and over again. But some team will surely come biting with a lucrative offer. That could potentially backfire big time.
Sammy Watkins, wide receiver, Los Angeles Rams
Acquired by Los Angeles from the Buffalo Bills immediately prior to last season, Watkins responded by recording 39 receptions for just 593 yards. It led to the Rams deciding to place the franchise tag on safety Lamarcus Joyner rather than Watkins. Prior to his stint in Southern California, the still young 24-year-old Watkins dealt with two injury-plagued seasons in Western New York. That has to be a red flag for teams.
Despite this, Watkins still found a way to reach the end zone eight times on his 39 catches last season. He’s still young. He still boasts a tremendous amount of upside. Seen as the second-best receiver on the market, Watkins is surely going to get paid big time. It will either be a magnificent signing or bomb out big time. There’s really no in between here.
Kenny Vaccaro, safety, New Orleans Saints
A full-time starter in his five seasons with the Saints, Vaccaro will more than likely get a lucrative long-term deal in free agency. Not necessarily a cover safety, Vaccaro has spent his time in New Orleans playing both safety positions. He’s also coming off a 2017 season that ended prematurely when he suffered a torn groin muscle. To be more exact: Vacarro’s groin muscle tore completely off his bone. That’s just a whole bunch of gross.
It’s not yet known how this injury will impact Vacarro’s market. What we do know is that he’s struggled from a pass-coverage standpoint throughout his career. This likely limits the former first-round pick to being viewed as a strong safety in free agency. We also know the Saints are pretty much preparing to let him walk after five less-than-stellar seasons in the Bayou. In fact, New Orleans exausted picks on safeties Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams in each of the past two drafts. That should tell us something about the quality of player Vaccaro is.
Carlos Hyde, running back, San Francisco 49ers
The raw numbers for Hyde in San Francisco are not bad. He put up nearly 1,300 total yards and eight touchdowns while catching 67 percent of the passes thrown in his direction last season. The issue here is two-fold. Hyde still averaged less than four yards per rush. He’s also been seen as injury prone in his four-year career, having missed 19 of a possible 64 games during the span.
Any team making a play for Hyde likely won’t be going out on a huge financial expedition. That’s not how running backs are viewed in today’s NFL. Instead, it will be all about said team limiting what it does at running back after adding Hyde as a starter. That’s concerning. It’s also a bit of a red flag that what we then a talent-depleted 49ers team almost moved on from Hyde altogether heading into the 2017 season.
Malcolm Butler, cornerback, New England Patriots
Butler’s falling out in New England could have very well been precipitated by a regression on the field. The veteran split time with Stephon Gilmore covering the opposing teams’ No. 1 receiver for a Patriots defense that finished the season having yielded the third-most passing yards in the NFL. In fact, Pro Football Focus notes that Butler yielded an incredibly high 103.3 passer rating when targeted last year. Those aren’t even starter-caliber numbers right there.
The question here is whether 2017 was an exception to the rule for the 28-year-old corner. Though, some team is going to throw $12-plus million in Butler’s direction following a down season. If said team doesn’t use him properly, it will end up regretting the decision big time. Add in some perceived off-field issues late last season, and that’s magnified even further.
Nate Solder, offensive tackle, New England Patriots
It’s been noted that this soon-to-be 30-year old left tackle is going to have a huge market for his services in free agency. This, despite the fact that he failed to earn a single Pro Bowl or All-Pro nod in his seven seasons with the Patriots. Last year alone, Solder gave up more than twice as many quarterback pressures than fellow impending free agent and teammate Cameron Fleming.
There’s always concern that players are a product of the Patriots’ system. In this case, the ability of Tom Brady to burn defenses with a quick release could have covered up some pass-protection issues on Solder’s part. That’s not going to stop a team from throwing $12-plus million annually in Solder’s direction, expecting him to be a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle over the long haul with a contract that will start in his Age-30 season. Buyer’s remorse, indeed.
Paul Richardson, wide receiver, Seattle Seahawks
Richardson is going to be an extremely popular free agent option for teams with a down-field threat need. Here’s a guy that averaged 16 yards per reception while putting up a career best 44 catches for 703 yards and six touchdowns last season. He is entering his Age-26 season and has a bright future ahead of himself. It’s in this that Richardson’s market will be much bigger than most anticipate. After all, the Colorado produce has dealt with injury after injury throughout his career. In fact, he missed all but one game of the 2015 season to a torn ACL.
That’s the crux of the issue for teams looking to add this dynamic deep threat. At 6-foot and under 180 pounds, can Richardson hold up in the NFL over the long term? Are his lower-body injuries behind him? The team that hands this receiver a multi-year deal with plenty in guarantees could very well be in a situation of buyer’s remorse shortly after the ink has dried on a new deal.
Dion Lewis, running back, New England Patriots
Prior to last season, Lewis had not put up more than 64 rush attempts in a season. In fact, the smallish Pittsburgh product sat out two full seasons earlier in his career. Sure he’s coming off an 1,100-plus yard season that saw him average 5.3 yards per touch. That’s great. When on the field, Lewis is a dynamic back. But here’s a dude that’s looking at potentially $6 million per season in a market that has not been friendly to running backs.
There’s certain systems that Lewis would be a tremendous fit. Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers come to mind. We’re also going to have to pay attention to the guarantees in his free agent deal. With all that said, there seems to be a ton of hype directed at a player that had no large sample size prior to an awe-inspiring 2017 campaign. That should bring some red flags.
Case Keenum, quarterback, Minnesota Vikings
Is Keenum as good as his 2017 campaign showed? No. Is he has bad as his first five NFL seasons displayed? No. More than likely, it’s somewhere in between. That’s not to say the career backup was a fluke or a one-year wonder. Instead, it’s simply an indication that teams really have no idea just how good Keenum is going to be moving forward.
Despite this, there’s going to be a strong market for the quarterback. With the Denver Broncos as potential front runners, Keenum is looking at north of $20 million annually on a long-term deal. Such is the nature of the beast in an NFL where quarterbacks are valued at a high clip. Cleveland giving up a top-65 pick for Tyrod Taylor is the latest example of this. Much like most of the starter-caliber quarterbacks set to hit free agency, Keenum could bring a certain level of buyer’s remorse.