Chris Simms Dishes on the Most Boneheaded Moves of the NFL Offseason
I hate it when general managers and team decision-makers make boneheaded moves. I've seen firsthand during my time in and around the NFL just how much of the regular season is based on offseason moves—and how dumb moves can bring unfair criticism.
Fans are usually quick to blast a new coach for performing poorly or criticize a player for being overpaid. More often than not, though, it's some stupid offseason decision that really lies at the root of the matter. Whether it's ego, a case of personal relationships getting in the way or a general manager sitting too deep in the weeds to see the big picture, some decisions aren't made with the best interests of the team in mind.
I can tell you this: NFL executives hate to be wrong. They'll give multiple chances to high draft picks they've selected and they'll turn their backs on those against whom they have a personal issue. Sometimes they'll actually outsmart themselves in an effort to appear smarter than their peers.
It might make the executive feel good at the time, but this thick-skulled approach more often than not comes back to hurt a team in the regular season. Unfortunately, we've already seen a number of boneheaded moves in the 2017 offseason—I'm going to run down the biggest ones here.
Dismantling Denver's Defensive Staff, Not Going After Kyle Shanahan
Look, on very rare occasion I'll disagree with John Elway. He's done a tremendous job of running the Denver Broncos organization since taking over. I have to say, though, I'm going to disagree with him this year.
This offseason, Elway may have made the biggest bonehead move of his executive career by not retaining Wade Phillips and keeping Denver's defensive staff intact. This was a special group that helped Denver field a phenomenal defense—one that two years ago was one of the best defenses we've ever seen on an NFL field.
You should never break something like that up.
Instead of revamping the defense, Elway should have kept that side of the ball together and gone after Kyle Shanahan in order to spark the offense. Shanahan showed just how well he could retool an offense during his time with the Atlanta Falcons. Allowing him to do that in Denver while keeping a special defensive staff intact would have been the smart strategy for Elway.
Instead, the Broncos went with Vance Joseph as head coach. Now, Joseph is certainly deserving of a head coaching job, but he's a defensive coach coming from a Miami Dolphins team that was ranked just 29th in total defense (382.6 yards per game allowed) last season.
Now Denver is saddled with a new defensive staff, and defense is as far as you can get from the team's biggest problem last season. The Broncos should have gone after Shanahan, and I can't help but wonder if the personal history between Elway and Mike Shanahan played a part in the team going in a completely different direction.
Giving Jason Pierre-Paul $40 Million Guaranteed
I like New York Giants pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul—don't get me wrong—but I don't understand the team's decision to give him a four-year, $62 million deal with $40 million guaranteed. The Giants are paying Pierre-Paul like he's one of the 10 best defenders in the game, and he isn't. He only had 7.0 sacks in 12 games last season. Three of those sacks came against Austin Pasztor, who has no business starting in the NFL.
Is that worth $40 million guaranteed? Not for my money. Heck, I'm not sure the Giants couldn't have found a seven-sack guy in this year's draft for a fraction of the cost. Now, the only defensive ends making more money than Pierre-Paul are J.J. Watt, Muhammad Wilkerson and Olivier Vernon. If you add outside linebackers into the equation, Pierre-Paul is the seventh-highest-paid pass-rusher in football.
Simply put, the money the Giants have given Pierre-Paul doesn't match his play. He hasn't been the same guy to me since first suffering a lower-back injury.
What makes this move look even more boneheaded is it may have prevented New York from re-signing defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who is a better lineman for my money.
According to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, the Giants offered Hankins a four-year deal worth $7 million a year. Hankins signed a three-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts worth $9 million per year. Are you really telling me the $2 million a year that cost the Giants Hankins had to go to a 28-year-old end with an injury history and marginal production? I don't buy it, and I think this was a boneheaded move.
Not Re-signing Bill Musgrave
One of the most under-the-radar moves of the offseason—and one not nearly enough people are talking about—was the Oakland Raiders' decision to let offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave walk.
To me, it just doesn't make sense to mess with a good thing. The Oakland Raiders offense was sixth in football (373.3 yards per game) last year, and Musgrave was a huge part of the development of players like quarterback Derek Carr and wideout Amari Cooper. Musgrave was really a large part of everything successful that was happening on the offensive side of the ball.
As was the case in Denver, Oakland went out and fixed the side of the football that didn't need to be fixed. That's what I don't get and it's boneheadish to me.
Oakland was 26th in total defense (375.1 yards per game allowed) last season. Yet, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. got to keep his job. Instead, Musgrave is the one who is out. He's replaced by Todd Downing, who has zero experience as an offensive coordinator.
Maybe there's more to the story from behind the scenes that I'm not getting, but I just don't understand why you'd mess with the side of the ball that's been carrying your team these past couple of years. I've agreed with most of the moves Oakland has made since hiring Reggie McKenzie as general manager, but this one's a head-scratcher to me.
Exercising the Fifth-Year Option on Blake Bortles
OK. This might be the bonehead move of the offseason. Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said it was "good business" to exercise the fifth-year option on quarterback Blake Bortles. I'm here to tell you that it isn't good business—and I'm not even a businessman.
In Bortles, we're talking about a quarterback who has been the downfall of the team. Period. I'm not going to say this is a playoff-caliber team, but this is a team that could be trending toward the playoffs if not for Bortles.
Bortles has hampered the offense and the team with his inaccuracy and his inability to take care of the football. He's committed 45 turnovers over the last two seasons. Not even Jacksonville's rebuilt defense can make up for that.
Who the heck would the Jaguars be bidding against that it made sense to use the fifth-year option? He's now set to get more than $19 million next season, and that money is already guaranteed for injury. Why? The Jaguars are essentially giving one of their biggest contracts to their worst offensive player. What other team is going to do that? None.
This move doesn't make sense for the Jaguars now and it doesn't make sense for the team's future. If the Jaguars find themselves in position to draft a Sam Darnold or a Josh Allen next offseason, they may be forced to pay $19 million for their backup or short-term transitional quarterback. Bortles' 2018 contract becomes fully guaranteed on the first day of the new league year, long before the draft will actually take place.
This was a bonehead move for the team and a bonehead move for the organization as a whole.
Trading for Brock Osweiler
It was dumb to sign a quarterback as bad as Blake Bortles for another year at $19 million. It's equally dumb to trade for a quarterback as bad as Brock Osweiler with a $16 million guaranteed base salary. Yet, this is exactly what the Cleveland Browns did—simply because they had the cap space and want to do things differently.
I could maybe understand the move if the Browns had a clear plan in place for the quarterback position—they did get a second-round pick out of the deal—but they don't. Cody Kessler is going into camp as the starter, and that in itself is boneheadedness.
Cleveland literally doesn't have a quarterback on its roster who can dependably complete a 12-yard out route on 3rd-and-10—and I'm talking about hitting a wide-open receiver. Adding Osweiler to the equation does nothing to change this fact.
I know Hue Jackson has a little bit of a reputation as a quarterback whisperer, but the Browns are making it really hard on him with the collection of quarterbacks they have—Kessler, Kevin Hogan, DeShone Kizer and Osweiler. I still don't get what Cleveland wasn't seeing in Carson Wentz last year, but the big problem the team had when it passed on him still exists.
Trading for Osweiler did absolutely nothing to improve Cleveland's quarterback situation, and paying his guaranteed salary is likely to piss off some of the few good players in Cleveland deserving of contract extensions.
Pissing off players is how the Browns drove out guys like Mitchell Schwartz and Terrelle Pryor. Was it worth it just to get a second-round pick and show that the Browns are going to do things differently? Not in my book.
Letting Go of Lang and Tretter
I recognize that offensive line is Mike McCarthy's area of expertise. However, the Green Bay Packers are a team that hasn't had much running success in the last couple of years and a team that has a quarterback in Aaron Rodgers nearing the end of his prime.
Why the hell does it make sense, then, to let go of a quality starting guard and a quality starting center?
Rodgers isn't going to be able to carry this team by himself for many more years, and the pass protection of the offensive line was one of the offense's biggest strengths. Two pieces of that line—guard T.J. Lang and center JC Tretter—are now gone, and let's not act like the team is happy about it.
According to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Packers coaches were "incensed" that GM Ted Thompson allowed Lang to leave in free agency.
Tretter, while injured for much of the season, proved himself to be one of the better pass-blocking centers in the NFL. He and Lang are guys the Packers have groomed to fit the Green Bay style of offense—which revolves around Rodgers' ability to buy time and fling the ball downfield into tight spaces. I don't understand the point of letting them both walk.
Now, you can argue that opposing defenses don't rush Rodgers much because of his ability to eat up yards with his legs. Yet, this doesn't mean just anyone can step in and fill roles on the interior of the line. The Packers are heading into a year where they might finally have a quality run game again to complement Rodgers—and Thompson goes and ditches one of the top guard-center combinations in football.
Giving Matt Kalil $55 Million Deal
Listen, I'm not mad at the Carolina Panthers for going out and getting a left tackle in free agency. Cam Newton needs help, and actively addressing the line is a smart move. What I don't get is going after a left tackle who played just two games in 2016 and is coming off a hip injury. Yet, this is what the Panthers did with left tackle Matt Kalil.
For me, the hip injury is a huge risk for a left tackle who has to plant his legs in the ground and try to hold up against strong, physical pass-rushers. I can understand at least taking a chance on Kalil. However, the Panthers aren't taking a chance on Kalil. They're going all-in with him.
Kalil's new deal is worth $55 million with $31 million guaranteed over five years. Carolina is giving top-end tackle money to a guy who is anything but a top-tier player.
If we look past the injury and only at the player, Kalil isn't worth $55 million. He was inconsistent and often ineffective even when healthy in 2015. Pro Football Focus rated him 104th overall among all offensive tackles that season. I definitely don't put all my stock into analytics sites like PFF, but that's a pretty telling ranking however you look at it. You just can't justify giving $55 million to someone who isn't even one of the 100 best players at his position.
You certainly don't give $31 million guaranteed to that kind of player. I realize contracts continue to go up each year, but perennial All-Pro Joe Thomas didn't even get that much guaranteed money in his last deal.
Now, this is the point where we need to recognize the Panthers do have a potential out after the 2018 season thanks to a fifth-year option and future guarantees. However, it would still cost the Panthers over $25 million for their two seasons with Kalil. That's still way too much money for a player of questionable health and uncertain talent.
Every Trade Teams Made with the Patriots
When the hell is the league going to realize that it's the New England Patriots versus the other 31 teams? Seriously, if you give me the Patriots versus the field to win the Super Bowl in any given year, I'm picking the Patriots. Do they win it every year? Of course not, but you can't tell me they don't have a legitimate shot at it.
So why the hell do teams keep playing into the Patriots' game? If there's one flaw we've seen with Bill Belichick over the years, it's his drafting. The man is great at scouting NFL players, but his biggest misses have come when scouting college talent. Guys like Dominique Easley, Ras-I Dowling, Aaron Dobson and Jordan Richards have been high draft picks and disappointments with the Patriots.
There's only one real weakness Belichick has as a head coach and a team-builder—and teams refused to exploit it this offseason. Instead of making the Patriots pick in the draft, teams were tripping over themselves to make deals.
The New Orleans Saints traded Brandin Cooks. The Panthers traded Kony Ealy. The Colts traded Dwayne Allen. The Buffalo Bills didn't match an offer for Mike Gillislee. Did these teams think they were going to outsmart Belichick? If so, they failed miserably.
I get that teams are trying to make themselves better, but by trading with the Patriots, they're removing New England's biggest weakness from the equation. Sure, the Panthers moved up in the draft, but tell me how they're going to feel if the two teams meet in Super Bowl XLII and Ealy sacks Cam Newton to kill a drive.
Teams have to stop dealing with the Patriots. Every time they do, it's a boneheaded decision.