The Worst Moves of NFL's 1st Free-Agency Week
Now that the weekend has come to an end, we can officially close the door on the opening phase of the 2016 NFL free-agency period.
Though the market opened at 4 p.m. ET on March 9, teams were able to begin contacting player agents two days prior. The following week saw a number of notable players change teams and a whole lot of money exchange hands. Some NFL teams are now better on paper than they were a week ago, while some are worse. Some of the deals struck were brilliant, while some, well, not so much.
We're going to take a look at some deals from the first week of free agency that initially appear to be substandard. There is some subjectivity here, of course, and the moves could well look successful a year or so down the road.
For now, though, these are our picks for the worst moves of free agency's first week based on factors like financial terms, player potential, injury risk and scheme fit.
Do you agree with our picks? Be sure to let us know in the comments section.
Giants Give Janoris Jenkins a Megadeal
The New York Giants added a young, talented piece to their secondary last week by signing former Los Angeles Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
In terms of talent, this was a solid move by the Giants. Jenkins is still only 27 years old, and he finished the 2015 season rated 24th overall among cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus. Financially, though, the signing reeks of desperation.
In order to land Jenkins, the Giants shelled out a whopping $62.5 million for five years. According to OverTheCap.com, $28.8 million of the deal is fully guaranteed. This is an average of $12.5 million per season.
By comparison, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman received $56 million for four years with $12.4 million fully guaranteed on his last deal. Sherman will be earning an average of $1.5 million more per season than Jenkins, but these are comparable deals.
Most will argue that Sherman is unquestionably a top-five cornerback in the NFL. Jenkins isn't there yet, and there's a chance he never will be. It should be somewhat telling that the Rams moved to franchise-tag fellow cornerback Trumaine Johnson but allowed Jenkins to hit the open market.
The reality is that New York is now paying Jenkins like an elite cornerback when he isn't and may never be one. In terms of salary implications, this is an incredibly risky deal.
Falcons Strike Five-Year Deal with Mohamed Sanu
The Atlanta Falcons entered the free-agency period in need of a No. 2 receiver to complement superstar Julio Jones. They may have found one in former Cincinnati Bengals wideout Mohamed Sanu, so the move in and of itself isn't a terrible one.
However, Sanu has never managed to emerge as a true standout at the receiver position. He did receive an opportunity to be Cincinnati's No. 2 receiver in 2014 when Marvin Jones was out with a foot injury. His numbers that season—56 receptions, 790 yards and five scores—were decent, but not impressive.
Last season, Sanu only managed to haul in 33 passes for 394 yards and no receiving touchdowns.
Given Sanu's past production, it feels like the Falcons overpaid in a big way. According to OverTheCap.com, Sanu's new deal is for five years and $32.5 million with $14 million fully guaranteed. If Sanu cannot establish himself as an upper-tier player, $6.5 million a year is going to feel like a lot.
Mike Clay of ESPN.com recently explained why the expectations in Atlanta should be low:
Sanu is the current favorite for a starting gig opposite Julio Jones, which would put him in position for decent volume in Atlanta's pass-first, high-volume offense. That said, Sanu's inefficiencies could very well lead to sophomore Justin Hardy or a future draft/free-agent acquisition overtaking him on the depth chart.
If a rookie receiver steps in and knocks Sanu down the depth chart, this deal could end up looking downright dumb.
Lions Give Marvin Jones $40 Million Deal
Calvin Johnson's decision to walk away from football at the age of 30 left the Detroit Lions in need of wide receiver help this offseason. The team ended up snagging former Cincinnati Bengals wideout Marvin Jones, which should help, but he won't outright replace Johnson.
On one hand, this was a sound move by the Lions. The team needed a receiver, and Jones was arguably the best available option at his position when the market opened. On the other hand, this could turn out to be a bad move, because Jones has never been more than a No. 2 option and has an injury history.
Jones amassed 712 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns in 2013. He then produced 816 yards and four scores in 2015. Despite being drafted in 2012, Jones has just 1,729 yards and 15 touchdowns in his pro career.
Jones missed the entire 2014 season with a foot injury.
It's hard to predict what the Lions can expect to get from Jones over the next several seasons, but we do know that he will be well-paid to show up for work. He is set to earn $40 million over the next five years with $13 million fully guaranteed, according to OverTheCap.com.
This is a lot of money for a guy who averaged just over 750 yards per season in his last two healthy years and had a lost year sandwiched between them.
If Jones plays at his current level, the Lions simply overpaid for an additional complementary receiver. If, however, Jones regresses in the production department without A.J. Green playing opposite him, this could end up looking like one of the worst deals of the entire offseason.
Jaguars Give Chris Ivory $32 Million
Newly signed Jacksonville Jaguars running back Chris Ivory led the AFC in rushing least season while with the New York Jets. He finished the 2015 season with 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
It's easy to see why the Jaguars were interested in signing Ivory. It's a bit more difficult to see why they were willing to give him starting-back money when he will most likely only be a piece of the backfield.
According to OverTheCap.com, Ivory is set to make $32 million over the next five years with Jacksonville and will get $10 million in guaranteed money. That's a lot of money for a role player, which is what Ivory has been pretty much his entire NFL career.
Last year was the first time Ivory eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark as a pro. It was also the first time he logged over 200 carries in a season, and he appeared to show fatigue as the season wore on. In Jacksonville, he'll most likely split carries with second-year man T.J. Yeldon.
“It wasn’t a pressing need for us, because we feel like we have a young back,” Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said, per Hays Carlyon of Jacksonville.com. “But, in this league, you need two guys.”
More than $7 million of Ivory's guarantees will be paid out in his first two seasons, so this isn't necessarily the big-money, long-term deal it appears to be. However, it still doesn't look like a great move. If the Jaguars wanted a short-term complementary back, they could have gone after a free agent like James Starks or Alfred Morris, likely for less money. They could have also taken another back in the draft.
For a young team that still may be a couple of years away from contending, spending on Ivory doesn't seem like the wisest decision.
Rams Re-Sign Mark Barron with $45 Million Deal
The Los Angeles Rams moved to retain outside linebacker Mark Barron, and they brought him back with a big-money, five-year extension.
According to OverTheCap.com, Barron's new deal will pay him $45 million and included $15 million guaranteed. When you view Barron as one of the league's better linebackers, this seems fair—and Pro Football Focus did rate him 15th overall among 4-3 outside linebackers for the 2015 season.
When you look more closely at Barron, however, the deal doesn't seem to favor the Rams much at all.
Barron is a converted safety and coming off his first full season at the linebacker position. He is also significantly undersized for the linebacker position. The Rams list him at just 6'2" and 213 pounds.
As a safety, Barron rarely lived up to his first-round draft status in his first three years in the league, which is why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded him to the Rams for late-round picks in 2014.
The Rams are taking a huge risk here in a couple of ways. If Barron can't continue to excel at linebacker, he could always return to the defensive backfield. Yet he hasn't proven he can be a Pro Bowl talent at either position. At his size, Barron could also prove to be an injury risk at the outside linebacker position.
Buccaneers Give J.R. Sweezy $32.5 Million
In a move meant to help upgrade the offensive line in front of second-year quarterback Jameis Winston, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers added guard J.R. Sweezy early in the free-agency period. The problem with bringing in the former Seattle Seahawks starter is that Tampa drastically overpaid.
According to OverTheCap.com, Sweezy's new deal will pay him $32.5 million over five years with $12 million guaranteed. This is a lot of money to give a guy who isn't among the best players at his position in the NFL.
Pro Football Focus rated Sweezy just 131st overall among all guards for the 2015 season while crediting him with allowing four sacks, four quarterback hits and 24 pressures. In 2014, Sweezy was rated 125th overall with four sacks, six quarterback hits and 23 pressures allowed.
What makes the Sweezy deal look even worse is the type of money that has been going to other free-agent linemen. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, by comparison, received a five-year, $33 million deal from the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency.
We can't exactly make an apples-to-apples comparison between Sweezy and Schwartz because they play different positions. Just consider, however, that Pro Football Focus rated Schwartz as the league's top right tackle in 2015.
Schwartz is among the best players at his position; Sweezy isn't. Yet their deals are nearly identical in terms of total contract dollars.
Jaguars Sign Tashaun Gipson to Long-Term Deal
The Jacksonville Jaguars signed former Cleveland Browns safety Tashaun Gipson to a five-year deal on the opening day of free agency. Considering Gipson has missed eight games over the past two seasons and has yet to fully rebound from his 2014 knee injury, this could end up being a terrible deal.
Gipson was rated just 83rd overall among safeties for the 2015 season, per Pro Football Focus.
According to OverTheCap.com, Gipson's new deal will pay him $36 million over five years with $12 million fully guaranteed. This is an awfully large sum to shell out for a player with an injury history and coming off a disappointing season.
It's clear that Gipson chose the Jaguars because he thinks this is an organization on the rise.
“Coming here, I see that this organization is turning around,” he said, per John Oehser of the Jaguars' official website. “What you look for is when you come to the organization and the feeling is mutual.”
The question is whether Gipson can stay healthy, help the Jaguars improve or ever live up to his contract. It's a lot to live up to, especially when you examine the current safety market.
To put things into perspective, consider the deal the Philadelphia Eagles gave to safety Rodney McLeod. McLeod's new deal, according to OverTheCap.com, is $35 million over five years with $13 million fully guaranteed.
Pro Football Focus rated McLeod 10th overall among safeties for the 2015 season.
The McLeod we saw in 2015 is worth the deal he just received. The Gipson we saw in 2015 is not.
Browns Pull Offer to Mitchell Schwartz
Of the four starters the Cleveland Browns lost on the opening day of free agency—Alex Mack, Travis Benjamin, Mitchell Schwartz and Tashaun Gipson—Schwartz is the guy the team really should have kept.
Schwartz is just 26 years old, never missed a game with the Browns and finished the 2015 season as the league's top right tackle, according to Pro Football Focus.
It's not like Cleveland couldn't have retained Schwartz with a fair contract, either. According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, the Browns offered Schwartz an offer in the $7 million-per-year range. After testing the free-agency waters, Schwartz went back to the Browns for the deal but was told the offer was off the table.
Schwartz ended up signing a five-year, $33 million deal from the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency.
So the Browns initially valued Schwartz at a rate that ended up being higher than what he got on the open market but pulled the offer when it was time to put pen to paper. In doing so, the team ensured one of the league's top young offensive linemen would play elsewhere in 2016.
It's hard to imagine the 3-13 Browns getting much worse, but letting a starter like Schwartz walk just might make it happen.