Now that the first couple waves of free agency are over and the NFL is preparing for the annual draft, it’s time to look back at what was a drama-filled month of March around the league.
We had previously focused on the best move each team has made thus far this offseason. Here, we put on our negative hats and check in on the worst move each team has made.
That includes the New England Patriots letting Nate Solder walk, the Seattle Seahawks handing one of their best players to a division rival and the Washington Redskins replacing Kirk Cousins with Alex Smith.
In between all of this, teams overpaid in a massive way for talent that’s not elite. Yeah, we’re looking at the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans as case studies. It’s in this that we check in on the worst move each NFL team has made thus far this offseason.
New England Patriots: Letting Nate Solder walk in free agency
It’s safe to say that Solder was somewhat of a product of New England’s offensive system. Tom Brady’s quick release ability might very well have covered up some pass-protecting issues from the left side. Even then, Solder started 95 games in seven seasons for a Pats squad that earned four Super Bowl appearances during his time with the team.
Sure the Pats don’t overpay to retain their own free agents. That’s fine. But with fellow offensive tackle Cameron Fleming now in Dallas, this means New England will have to go tackle heavy in a weak draft class at that position. It’s definitely a less-than-ideal scenario for the two-time defending AFC champs.
Buffalo Bills: Signing A.J. McCarron
Buffalo got tremendous value in signing McCarron to a two-year, $10 million contract. In no way does this mean the team hasn’t shown its hand here. By trading Tyrod Taylor prior to signing McCarron, it became rather obvious that the Bills are looking quarterback in Round 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft. By moving up from the 21st pick to 12th overall with Cincinnati in the Cordy Glenn trade, it seems Buffalo is desperate to land that franchise guy.
The issue here is that Buffalo now needs to move up even further. And while the team has ample draft capital to do that, other squads know the Bills are in desperation mode. In no way was McCarron signed to even be a stop-gap starter. The contract details show this in a big way. Should that end up happening without Buffalo adding a quarterback of the future, the 2018 offseason will go down as an unmitigated disaster in Western New York.
Miami Dolphins: Releasing Mike Pouncey
We fully understand moving on from Ndamukong Suh. It just wasn’t sustainable for the Dolphins to utilize that much of their cap room on a defensive tackle. Though, the idea of releasing the team’s best offensive lineman to save cap room made absolutely no sense. Here’s a guy that earned three Pro Bowl appearances in his seven seasons with the Dolphins. He’s among the best centers in the game.
Miami saved just $7 million against the cap by releasing Pouncey. It then swapped out seventh-round picks with the 49ers for a center in Daniel Kilgore who is not even seen as an average player at his position. Oh, and Kilgore’s cap hit for the 2018 campaign comes in at $5.4 million. Yuck.
New York Jets: Signing Trumaine Johnson
New York did well to add talent on both sides of the ball. And with a ton of cap room to work with, it’s not a big deal that the team overpaid in free agency. The issue with this one is that Johnson is a borderline No. 1 cornerback being paid like an elite-level player. The deal called for $72.5 million over five seasons with $45 million guaranteed. Johnson’s average salary of $14.5 million is second among NFL cornerbacks behind only Josh Norman. That’s a whole lot of cash.
According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson graded out as the 68th-best cornerback in the NFL last season. Sure it might have been a down season for a former Pro Bowl caliber corner. He seemingly didn’t fit into Wade Phillips new defensive scheme. Even then, there’s a whole lot of projection that comes with handing Johnson so much cash.
Los Angeles Chargers: Letting Jeremiah Attaochu walk
For the most part, Los Angeles has aced this offseason in a big way. Signing Casey Hayward to a below-market extension was a tremendous start. The Chargers then took advantage of Miami’s idiocy by adding Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey in free agency. These are two tremendous moves.
Though, letting this former second-round pick walk on a one-year, $3 million deal with San Francisco made little sense. Los Angeles does have two elite edge pass rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. But it would have been better served keeping Attaochu on the cheap if he was willing to re-sign. Struggling with injuries the past two seasons, the former Georgia Tech standout hasn’t performed up to level recently. He did, however, record six sacks as a sophomore back in 2015. Keeping that depth would have been big for Los Angeles.
Kansas City Chiefs: Trading Marcus Peters
Not too often do we see a player that’s already proven to be among the game’s best traded. Add in the fact that Peters still has not hit his prime, and this deal made absolutely no sense. The Chiefs might conclude he was a malcontent in the locker room. But there’s no evidence out there pointing to the 25-year-old Pro Bowler being a bad character individual.
What makes this trade even more ridiculous is that Kansas City exchanged mid-round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft with Los Angeles, only to pick up a second rounder in the 2019 NFL Draft from the Rams. With an average of eight forced turnovers in his three NFL seasons, Peters has proven to be a tremendous ball hawk. Losing that for pennies on the dollar will surely come back to haunt Kansas City.
Denver Broncos: Trading Aqib Talib
We get that Talib is on the wrong side of 30 and was set to count $11 million against the cap next season. We also understand that Denver needed to trim cap space in order to sign Case Keenum. Given just how bad the team’s quarterback situation has been over the past two seasons, that made a whole lot of sense.
What we don’t understand is Denver picking up a mere fifth-round pick in exchange for a guy that’s earned five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. The team might think it has a corner of the future in Bradley Roby to replace him, but he has yet to proven he is anywhere near Talib’s level. Downgrading a key position to make a move on the other side of the ball could prove to be fruitless here. Doing so in a trade that brought back no real value makes this trade pretty darn bad for John Elway and Co.
Oakland Raiders: Releasing Michael Crabtree, signing Jordy Nelson
The idea of adding Nelson to the mix was obviously too enticing for the Raiders to pass up on. General manager Reggie McKenzie was with the Packers when they selected Nelson. New wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett also worked with Nelson in Green Bay. That’s fine. There’s definitely a level of comfort here. This doesn’t mean the Raiders actually upgraded at WR2 by adding Nelson and releasing Crabtree.
During his three-year run in Oakland, Crabtree averaged 77 receptions for 848 yards an eight touchdowns. Nelson is two years older and coming off a 2017 campaign that saw him put up less than 500 receiving yards. He’s never proven to have success without Aaron Rodgers tossing him the rock. Meanwhile, Crabtree has had success with Derek Carr, Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith. That has to matter.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Not extending Le’Veon Bell
Pittsburgh simply can’t continue to kick this contract issue down the road. By franchising Bell for a second consecutive season, the team has guaranteed he will hold out through training camp this summer. It’s also a clear indication that Bell himself might walk in free agency following the 2018 campaign. If the Steelers were to franchise him for a third consecutive season, Bell’s cap hit would be $21 million in 2019. That’s simply not sustainable.
In Bell, the Steelers have a running back that has accounted for 3,830 total yards over the past two seasons. That’s 32 percent of the team’s total yards during this span. Bell is right in wanting to completely reset the running back market at $17-plus million per season. Pittsburgh is apparently unwilling to do that. And now, the situation drags on for yet another season.
Baltimore Ravens: Signing John Brown
Getting Brown for $5 million over one season wasn’t a bad move. He gives the Ravens yet another proven target to team up with Michael Crabtree for Joe Flacco. The issue here is that Brown has put up just over 800 yards over the past two seasons. He can’t seem to stay healthy. So if the issues we saw plague Brown during his final two seasons in the Arizona pop up again, that reliable target will be sitting on the sideline in street clothes.
By signing Crabtree and Brown, the Ravens are committing to $8.3 million in cap room this coming season. Crabtree’s deal also calls for $13 million guaranteed, which means the Ravens will have him count $9.3 million against he cap in 2019. Why not use this money to sign a true No. 1 receiver. In fact, with a little more of an investment, the Ravens could have landed Allen Robinson.
Cincinnati Bengals: Retaining Marvin Lewis
The definition of insanity. History is doomed to repeat itself. Yada, yada, yada. When it was reported late last season that Lewis decided he would not return to the Bengals, fans in Cincinnati were jumping for joy. When it was later decided that he would in fact return to the Bengals, said joy was replaced with the realization that this franchise has absolutely no idea what it’s doing.
Boasting a 0-7 career postseason record and having seen his Bengals regress in a major way over the past two years, we can’t have any real confidence that things are going to change moving forward. Add in the fact that Lewis seemingly lost his team last season, and that’s taken to a whole new level. Simply put, Lewis has proven himself to be a fraud in Cincinnati. This marriage should have ended years ago. One now has to wonder if Lewis has compromising photos of the powers to be in Cincinnati. That’s the only explanation here.
Cleveland Browns: Trading for Tyrod Taylor
Is Taylor an upgrade over what the Browns have thrown out there at quarterback in recent seasons? Sure. Does trading for him limit the Browns’ ability to select a quarterback No. 1 in next month’s draft? No. The problem with this deal is that Cleveland yielded the very first pick in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft for Taylor. That’s a huge price to pay for a player that the Bills were likely going to release anyway.
Consider this: San Francisco yielded what is now the 43rd pick in the draft for Jimmy Garoppolo. That’s less than two dozen picks higher than way Cleveland gave up for Taylor. Let us not forget about Taylor’s whopping $16 million cap hit for the 2018 season. Whew.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Signing Donte Moncrief
It’s not that Jacksonville sought to find a replacement for Allen Robinson in free agency. In order for Blake Bortles to take that next step from mediocre quarterback to the upper-echelon, he’s going to need receiving targets. But to give $9.6 million guaranteed to a player in Moncrief that has not put up as much as 400 yards in any of the past two seasons is downright absurd.
There might be a lot of untapped talent here. At just 24 years old, Moncrief also boasts a tremendous amount of upside. Even then, he’s now the 18th highest-paid receiver in the NFL in terms of cap hit. What did Moncrief show in Indianapolis to justify this deal? We’d love to know.
Tennessee Titans: Signing Malcolm Butler
Having added Logan Ryan in free agency and selected Adoree’ Jackson in the first round of last year’s draft, the Titans committed big time to the cornerback position heading into the 2017 season. The end result was a bottom-eight pass defense. This was a clear indication that the Titans would go back to the drawing board at corner once free agency started.
It still makes absolutely no sense that Tennessee went out there and gave Butler a five-year, $61.3 million contract with $30 million guaranteed. Here’s a guy that yielded a 102-plus passer rating when targeted last season en route to being benched for the Super Bowl. He might be a starter-caliber cover guy in the NFL. But Tennessee paid Butler to be a true shutdown No. 1 corner that he obviously isn’t.
Houston Texans: Ignoring offensive tackle need
After moving Duane Brown last season, the expectation was that Houston would be in the market for a top-end free agent offensive tackle. They dabbled in the sweepstakes for both Nate Solder and Chris Hubbard before the bidding got too high. Now without a pick in each of the first two rounds of next month’s draft, the Texans find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place.
As of right now, Julie’n Davenport and Seantrel Henderson will likely battle it out for the starting left tackle job next season. That’s a less-than-ideal scenario with franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson coming off a torn ACL. Simply put, Houston was stupid to move on from Brown without having an in-house replacement. Let’s just hope it doesn’t impact Watson’s ability to progress under center and remain healthy.
Indianapolis Colts: Signing Eric Ebron
Having already doled out $6.3 million annually to retain Jack Doyle last March, the Colts are now doubling down at tight end by giving the enigmatic Ebron a two-year, $13 million deal. That’s nearly $13 million per season for two tight ends on a Colts roster that lacks talent pretty much everywhere else outside of quarterback.
Ebron might have put up decent numbers for the Lions, but he was not the consistent receiving threat the team hoped he might be when it selected him 10th overall back in 2014. Sure the Colts are banking on a healthy Andrew Luck to get the most out of this young tight end. But the track record isn’t there indicative of success moving forward.
Philadelphia Eagles: Letting Patrick Robinson walk
While Philadelphia found itself cash strapped following a Super Bowl-winning campaign, most figured the team would find a away to retain this surprising cornerback. Fresh off a 2017 campaign that saw him record 45 tackles, 18 passes defended and four interceptions, Robinson ultimately signed a smallish four-year, $20 million deal with his original New Orleans Saints squad.
All the while, Philadelphia moved Torrey Smith to the Carolina Panthers for young cornerback Daryl Worley. Based on the track record we’ve seen from both Robinson and Worley, this seems to be a dramatic downgrade at an extremely important position.
Dallas Cowboys: Signing Deonte Thompson
This just seemed to be nothing more than the Cowboys signing a player for the sake of signing a player. Limited in cap room, Dallas exhausted some of that space to sign a player that likely won’t be any better than its No. 4 receiver in 2018. This came before Dallas made the stellar move to add former 1,000-yard receiver Allen Hurns.
Even with a low $1.8 million cap hit, the Cowboys would have been better served using their limited resources to add depth at linebacker or safety. There’s no reason to kick the cap issues down the rod (Jason Witten’s restructure) to add a depth piece at a position that’s already pretty strong. Thompson isn’t going to make enough of an impact to justify this.
Washington Redskins: Letting Kirk Cousins walk
The entire Cousins situation prior to him leaving for the Minnesota Vikings in free agency painted this Redskins squad in a really bad light. The team paid him a total of nearly $44 million in two seasons under the franchise tag. It then yielded a third-round pick and young corner Kendall Fuller in the trade that brought in Alex Smith to replace Cousins. If that wasn’t enough, Washington ultimately doled out a four-year, $94 million contract to Smith that came with $71 million guaranteed for three seasons.
So let’s get this straight for a second. Washington will have ended up paying its quarterbacks $125 million over a five-year span. That’s $25 million per season when Cousins himself received $90 million over three seasons. Needless to say, someone in Washington is not necessarily good at math.
New York Giants: Trading for Alec Ogletree
After signing Ogletree to a four-year, $42.8 million extension back in October, it became readily apparent that he was not in a fit in Wade Phillips defensive scheme with the Los Angeles Rams. According to Pro Football Focus, the former first-round pick graded out 830th of 856 defensive players in the NFL last season. That’s all sorts of bad.
Making matter even more interesting for the Giants, he’s set to count $44-plus million against the cap between 2019 and 2021. So unless he performs at a high level in 2018, this might very well be a one-year marriage between the Ogletree and the Giants. On that note, giving up a fourth and sixth-round pick in exchange for a seventh rounder in this trade made very little sense.
Los Angeles Rams: Signing Ndamukong Suh
This is definitely a case of the rich getting richer. Already boasting reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald at tackle, the Rams doubled down on this position by adding a three-time All-Pro in Suh. The deal came in at $14 million over one season. It adds another elite-level defender to go with recently acquired corners Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. That’s great. But it could also create somewhat of an issue.
Remember, Donald held out throughout training camp and the preseason last year. He wants a new contract. With the Rams now having committed $14 million to Suh, how is Donald going to react? And now that the Rams have to worry about expensive extensions for Toddy Gurley as well as the above-mentioned Peters, where is that money going to come from? Going all in is fine. But we’re not sure what the plan is here.
San Francisco 49ers: Signing Jerick McKinnon
The football world was thrown for a loop when San Francisco made McKinnon the fourth highest-paid running back in the NFL in terms of average salary. The deal calls for $30 million over four years with a $10.5 million cap hit this coming season. Sure San Francisco can turn this into a one-year deal should McKinnon fail to impress. But that $10.5 million tag is an absolute whopper for a running back that has not even put up as much as 1,000 total yards in a season.
We’re excited to see how McKinnon performs in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. He’s an upgrade from Carlos Hyde when it comes to both pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield. That should make an already improved San Francisco offense better. Even then, McKinnon is now making more annually than Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley. That’s all sorts of insane.
Seattle Seahawks: Releasing Richard Sherman
Not only did the Seahawks release Sherman to save room under the cap, they have done next to nothing to add anyone of substance with said cash. Oh, and Sherman ultimately signed with the division-rival San Francisco 49ers less than 24 hours after being released by Seattle. Talk about a crushing blow for a team in Seattle that is now firmly a second-class citizen behind both Los Angeles and San Francisco in the NFC West.
One really has to wonder what exactly the Seahawks were doing here. Given the low number of guaranteed cash Sherman received in his deal with San Francisco, it’s highly likely that he would have taken a pay cut to remain with Seattle. Now, the Seahawks have to face him twice per season.
Arizona Cardinals: Releasing Tyrann Mathieu
Moving on from one of your best defenders as a way to fit the injury-plagued Sam Bradford under the cap. While there was more to the decision to release Honey Badger, optics in this regard are not good for a Cardinals team that’s quickly becoming irrelevant in the NFC West.
Equally as important, the Cardinals moved on from a player in Mathieu who has been a fixture in the desert community over the past five years. That’s a hard blow, especially given that the team just recently extended him on a five-year, $62.5 million deal.
Minnesota Vikings: Giving Kirk Cousins fully guaranteed deal
This sets a bad precedent for teams around the NFL. And we’re pretty darn sure that the league office is none too happy with Minnesota for giving Cousins $90 million fully guaranteed over three seasons. Sure Cousins has proven himself to be a top-10 quarterback. We’re not going to sit back and conclude he isn’t an upgrade from Case Keenum. He is.
Instead, it’s all about the contract. Cousins’ $30 million annually is a new NFL record. His $90 million fully guaranteed is also a new record. For a team that has proven it can win with average play under center, it just seems that this deal was more about filling a need that simply wasn’t there. Time will tell on that front.
Green Bay Packers: Ignoring defensive back needs
Signing Kyle Fuller to an offer sheet showed that the Packers were interested in upgrading one of the league’s worst defensive backfield. But there was no real way that the Bears were going to let the young cornerback walk after handing him the transition tag. Outside of that, the Packers have done very little in this regard.
Bringing back Tramon Williams isn’t going to help matters a whole heck of a lot here. So it stands to reason that Green Bay has to once again go defensive back heavy in the coming 2018 NFL Draft. That has in the past proven to be fruitless.
Chicago Bears: Re-signing Prince Amukamara
Retaining Kyle Fuller was an absolute necessity for the Bears, as was re-signing this veteran corner. The issue here is that Chicago overpaid dearly to bring Amukamara back in the mix. He got a three-year, $27 million contract with $18 million guaranteed. For an average starting cornerback, that’s a whole lot of cash.
Overpaying for Amukamara might have been mitigated a bit by the ample amount of cash room Chicago had at its disposal. But cap hits of $9.5 million in 2019 and $10 million in 2020 is a massive overpay on the team’s part. Why not front load the contract to limit the cap hit in the two later years?
Detroit Lions: Franching Ezekiel Ansah
Now seemingly far apart in extension negotiations, it sure looks like Ansah will be playing under the $17.1 million franchise tag next season. That’s a whole heck of a lot of cash to pay a 28-year-old contender that sandwiched two double-digit sack seasons with a two-sack performance in 2016. In reality, he’s proven to be way too inconsistent for our liking.
This money would have been better served with Detroit signing a top-end running back instead of LaGarrette Blount or adding one of the market’s top cornerbacks to team up with Darius Slay. Instead, the Lions head into next month’s draft with a ton of holes to fill.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Signing Ryan Jensen
Center might very well have been a major need for Tampa Bay. That doesn’t mean the team should have forked out the richest contract to a player at this position that has started a grand total of 25 career games. A former sixth-round pick, Jensen turned that experience into a four-year, $42 million deal with a whopping $22 million in guaranteed money. For comparison’s sake, Weston Richburg received a five-year, $47.5 million deal from San Francisco after having already proved himself to be a Pro Bowl caliber center.
For a Buccaneers team that’s coming off a five-win season and has a plethora of holes to fill on both sides of the ball, it just seemed that this contract was a luxury the squad couldn’t afford. Surely Jensen could prove us wrong. He might have a Pro Bowl career ahead of him. Even then, $10-plus million annually was a massive overpay.
New Orleans Saints: Signing Demario Davis
Prior to a breakout performance in his second go-around with the Jets last season, Davis had not proven himself to be even a starter-caliber linebacker. He’s a two-down backer without an ability to cover at an NFL level. This was proven time and again during his stints with both New York and the Browns. Despite that, the Saints decided to hand the former mid-round pick a three-year, $24 million deal with $16 million guaranteed.
Wouldn’t this money have been better served on a defensive lineman to fix what was a below-average run defense last season? We’re not questioning the Saints for targeting upgrades on a defense that took a major step in the right direction last season. Instead, it’s all about the $8 million annual price tag for a sub-package player.
Atlanta Falcons: Retaining Steve Sarkisian
Sark was a complete fish out of water in his first season as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator. He was brought in to replace Kyle Shanahan in that role primarily because the Falcons’ offense wouldn’t change a whole lot. While that’s technically true, the production we saw from this unit was just horrendous under the former USC coach in 2017.
Atlanta scored 12-plus points per game less than the previous season, finishing in the middle of the pack in that category. After putting up an MVP performance in 2017, quarterback Matt Ryan fell back to earth in a big way. All of this led to an early exit in the playoffs despite Atlanta’s defense yielding the eighth-fewest points in the NFL. At some point, Atlanta should have admitted its mistake. Instead, the team is doomed to repeat what we saw last season.
Carolina Panthers: Not franchising Andrew Norwell
The All-Pro guard might have signed a five-year, $66.5 million contract with Jacksonville. That’s a whole lot of cash. In fact, that’s elite left tackle money right there. Though, Carolina could have avoided this by paying Norwell $14.1 million under the franchise tag. Protection for Cam Newton has long been an issue in Carolina with the team’s front office refusing to do anything of substance to actually provide him a good offensive line.
That’s the biggest issue here. We fully understand that Carolina was up against the cap. Kicking the Norwell contract situation down the road didn’t make a lot of sense. It also makes little sense for the team to go into the 2018 season with a career backup in free agent addition Jeremiah Sirles as its starting left guard. Short of the Panthers adding a guard in the draft, that’s going to be the case.