In the fast-paced world of the NFL, free agency leaves teams, players and fans with no room to breathe. Teams have spent the last few weeks working to clear cap space for this moment, hoping to secure their immediate and long-term futures.
Unfortunately, as is the case in every sport, some teams that have money to spend don't make the best decisions. These are often the franchises that aren't successful building through the draft, want to make a splash for headlines and need to convince fans they are on the right track.
Of course, some teams are really good at playing the free-agent game and just make one bad decision. The whole thing is a crapshoot that can pay huge dividends or blow up in teams' faces. These are the moves from Day 1 of free agency with the greatest bust potential.
Raiders sign OT Rodger Saffold for five years, $42.5 million ($21 million guaranteed)
No team had more money to spend this offseason than the Oakland Raiders—nearly $60 million, according to Spotrac.com—so this was a golden opportunity to start rebuilding a roster that lacks star power and depth.
Instead, the Raiders made one of the most puzzling free-agent decisions right out of the gate by reportedly signing Rodger Saffold to a massive five-year, $42.5 million deal, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter:
Former Rams OT Rodger Saffold reached agreement on a 5-yr, $42.5M deal that includes $21M gtd with Raiders.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 11, 2014
It's not that the Raiders didn't need help on the offensive line, but they let Jared Veldheer walk away for nothing. Veldheer is one year older than Saffold and only played in five games last year, but he had started every game the previous two years.
Plus, Veldheer's reported deal with the Arizona Cardinals was for $7 million less total money and $4 million less in guaranteed money than the Raiders paid for Saffold:
Former Raiders OT Jared Veldheer reached agreement on a 5-yr, $35M deal with Cardinals, per ESPN league sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 11, 2014
Jared Veldheer Cardinals deal $35 million, $17 million guaranteed, $6.25 million bonus,— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) March 11, 2014
Saffold is a player most analysts see as on the decline. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the No. 33 free agent this year, while Veldheer ranked fifth on the list.
If that's not enough the Raiders also let 26-year-old Lamarr Houston, their best pass-rusher, sign with the Bears for less total money than they gave Saffold:
Former Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston reached agreement on a five-year, $35M deal with the Chicago Bears, per league sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 11, 2014
Two bold, strange move by the Raiders, who seem to specialize in those kinds of deals. Perhaps that's why they haven't had a winning season since 2002.
Broncos sign CB Aqib Talib for six years, $57 million ($26 million guaranteed)
No one denies that the Denver Broncos needed to upgrade their secondary, especially after releasing Champ Bailey and letting Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie hit free agency, so it's only natural that Aqib Talib was on their radar.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Talib's going to get paid like one of the elite cornerbacks in football:
Filed to ESPN: Denver has reached agreement on a 6-year, $57M deal that includes $26M gtd with former Patriots CB Aqib Talib, per sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 12, 2014
Based on his 2013 season, Talib certainly warranted a huge deal. He was instrumental in New England's success last year, lining up opposite elite receivers like Jimmy Graham (zero receptions) and Demaryius Thomas (four receptions, 41 yards).
However, Talib has always been a volatile player. He was a bust with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before going to New England, thriving under Bill Belichick. Perhaps that will continue moving forward, but we have seen plenty of players come back to earth after leaving New England (Lawyer Milloy, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Deion Branch, etc.).
Talib has more raw talent than the players mentioned, but he's also never played an entire 16-game season in seven years.
The Broncos needed to find an attitude on defense to keep up with physical teams, something that Seattle exploited in the Super Bowl, but investing so much money in Talib with so much depth at cornerback this year seems too steep.
Buccaneers sign DE Michael Johnson for five years, $43.75 million ($24 million guaranteed)
The Buccaneers unofficially kicked off free agency on Tuesday when ESPN's Josina Anderson reported the team agreed to a massive deal with former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson:
More specifics: Sources: DE Michael Johnson has agreed to a 5-year, $43.75M deal with 24M guaranteed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 11, 2014
Lovie Smith is remaking the Buccaneers in his image, as you would expect from a new head coach. They needed help up front after registering 35 sacks last season and ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in that category since 2010.
Johnson had a brilliant 2012 season with the Bengals, registering 11.5 sacks and one interception, but he came crashing back to earth with just 3.5 sacks last year.
Pro Football Focus noted in its free-agent rankings that Johnson, who was sixth on the list, is a run-stopping specialist off the edge and that 2012 was likely an aberration:
After a breakout 2012 with big sack numbers, Johnson came crashing back down to earth with numbers that were a truer reflection of the player that he is. A strong run defender with flashes of brilliance rushing the passer.
The Buccaneers were middle of the pack in run defense last year, allowing 110.1 yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry, so upgrading that area was a priority.
But if you are paying a defensive end huge money, you want him to get after the passer first and foremost. Johnson, as Pro Football Focus noted, does have moments where he looks dominant in that area, but they are too few and far between save for one season.
Note: Stats courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
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