The first wave of NFL free agency has come and gone with some of the top NFL free agents coming off the board. While there are still plenty of talented players available, a majority of the marquee names have now signed deals and there’s a lot of excitement for what’s ahead.
However, spending big on free agents doesn’t always work out. Many of the most notable cap casualties are players who were once headliners in NFL free agency. So while there is a new wave of the highest-paid NFL players, it won’t take long for some of these deals to backfire.
Here, we’re looking at some of the moves we think stood out as the worst around the league. Whether it’s a team overpaying for a player or putting too much value into one position, several signings raised more questions than they solved problems.
Here are the worst moves of 2023 NFL free agency so far.
Denver Broncos overpay for Mike McGlinchey
Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton made it quite evident days into NFL free agency that he wasn’t satisfied with the offensive line in 2022. Minutes into the legal tampering period, Denver signed guard Ben Powers and offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey.
While we like the Powers addition, the money given to McGlinchey is questionable. The 6-foot-8 right tackle ranked 57th in PFF‘s pass-blocking grade (65.4) this past season, allowing 27 pressures with six sacks surrendered in 561 pass-blocking snaps. Once the 9th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, McGlinchey didn’t even rate as a top-25 offensive tackle in run blocking this past season.
Yet the Broncos paid McGlinchey ($17.5 million AAV, $35 million fully guaranteed) like he’s one of the best right tackles in the NFL. It feels like this deal will backfire on the Broncos relatively quickly and they’ll be looking for ways to get out of it by the end of the 2024 season.
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Kansas City Chiefs take a massive risk with Jawaan Taylor
The Kansas City Chiefs’ decision to move on from Orlando Brown Jr. makes sense. He viewed himself as a left tackle with contract demands that were outside of the team’s comfort range. Considering he is historically a better run blocker than he is in pass protection, it’s logical to view him as a poor fit for the Chiefs’ offense.
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Replacing Brown Jr. with Jawaan Taylor is a gamble. Taylor, the 35th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, played only 18 snaps at left tackle in 2022 and that’s his only real experience at the position. While he fared well in pass protection – 16 pressures and five sacks allowed in 675 pass-block snaps – it’s not easy making the transition to left tackle.
There’s a chance it’s a smooth change without any significant hiccups. However, Kansas City paid Taylor ($20 million AAV, $40 million fully guaranteed) more than All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley makes. Already taking a massive risk by moving him to the other side of the offensive line, the gamble is amplified by the staggering salary.
Chicago Bears place strange value in off-ball linebackers
The Chicago Bears kicked off NFL free agency with a bang, signing off-ball linebacker T.J. Edwards to bolster one of the worst defenses in the NFL. It was a smart signing, even if it came at a high cost for a player who has been inconsistent throughout his career. Things got weird when Chicago’s next big signing was also an off-ball linebacker.
Yes, Chicago went into the offseason with a need in the middle of their defense. However, the first building blocks of any great modern defense are found on the defensive line and in the secondary. Creating pressure and excellent coverage are the two best ways to stop offenses.
Spending more than $91 million on two off-ball linebackers suggests Chicago is trying to approach defensive roster construction in a vastly different way than everyone else. Maybe it works out for them, but teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles are great examples of why spending on the defensive line and secondary is more important.
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Tennessee Titans waste money on Andre Dillard
The Eagles’ front office received overwhelming praise when it selected offensive tackle Andre Dillard with the 22nd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Washington native offered the highest upside of any tackle in the draft class and many were confident the Eagles’ coaching staff would get the most out of the 6-foot-5 offensive lineman.
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It never worked out in Philadelphia. Dillard played just over 300 snaps in his rookie season, with a majority of them coming at left tackle and he struggled (25 pressures allowed in 183 snaps). He didn’t play in 2020, only made marginal improvements in 2021 then played just 37 total snaps this past season. Finally, the Eagles moved on from their former first-round pick.
Most players like this receive a one-year deal, allowing them to prove themselves with the benefit of a change of scenery. The Tennessee Titans signed Dillard to a $29 million contract, committing to him for three seasons. Maybe it suddenly all comes together for Dillard, but this was an overpay.
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Las Vegas Raiders settle for mediocrity with Jimmy Garoppolo
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo always felt like an inevitable title. If there’s one thing Josh McDaniels proved with the Denver Broncos, it’s that he wants to recreate the “Patriot Way” and he wants to be surrounded by players and coaches who do what he wants and follow his orders to the letter. The same thing that happened to Denver seems to be in the Raiders’ future.
Garoppolo was an adequate starting quarterback when everything was perfect. The San Francisco 49ers put multiple All-Pro weapons around him, an outstanding offensive line and one of the best play-callers in modern NFL history. Quite frankly, the Raiders fall well short of all those things.
Our criticism of the Raiders isn’t for overpaying Garoppolo, the contract is reasonable and it’s not a true long-term commitment. However, it’s a reminder that McDaniels hasn’t learned anything from what led to his failure in Denver. Yet, the Raiders remain committed to him and that signals the entire organization’s willingness to accept mediocrity being the best-case outcome.