The Biggest Mistakes of the 2016 NFL Offseason So Far

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJune 6, 2016

The Biggest Mistakes of the 2016 NFL Offseason So Far

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    Will the Texans' signing of Brock Osweiler prove to be a brilliant move or a monumental mistake?
    Will the Texans' signing of Brock Osweiler prove to be a brilliant move or a monumental mistake?Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    We may only be three months into the 2016 NFL year, but much of the stage for the coming season has been set. The draft is over, and free agency is done. With the exception of looming roster cuts, teams have already made their biggest offseason decisions.

    Of course, this doesn't mean that the biggest moves have all been smart ones. In fact, some of them could be seen as outright errors.

    This is the nature of the NFL offseason. Remember when the Philadelphia Eagles' signing of DeMarco Murray to a massive contract in March 2015 looked like a smart move? In retrospect, that decision looks silly.

    Let's examine some noteworthy moves from the 2016 offseason that are likely to be viewed as mistakes in the future. Factors like past player performance, coaching and scheme fit, injury risk, draft positioning and contract value will be considered.

Buccaneers Give J.R. Sweezy $32.5 Million Deal

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    J.R. Sweezy will presumably be a long-term starter in Tampa Bay.
    J.R. Sweezy will presumably be a long-term starter in Tampa Bay.Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took some steps this offseason to ensure their running game would be a strength in 2016. Re-signing running back Doug Martin to a long-term contract was a smart move.

    The acquisition of former Seattle Seahawks guard J.R. Sweezy on a five-year deal looks more like a mistake.

    Sweezy's new deal will pay him $32.5 million with $14.5 million in guarantees. This doesn't seem like an excessive amount for a starting-caliber guarduntil you realize Sweezy hasn't been one of the better starting guards during his NFL career.

    Pro Football Focus rated him 131st overall among all guards for the 2015 season and 125th overall for 2014. Other, better guards have gone for less money on the open market.

    Richie Incognito, for example, just received a three-year, $15.75 million deal to remain with the Buffalo Bills. Pro Football Focus rated him second overall among all guards for the 2015 season.

    All of this suggests the Buccaneers overpaid in order to shore up a single starting spot. Tampa could have found a lower-tier starter in the middle rounds of the draft, which makes this pricey move questionable.

Browns Let Mitchell Schwartz Walk in Free Agency

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    Cleveland lost a quality starter when Mitchell Schwartz signed with the Chiefs.
    Cleveland lost a quality starter when Mitchell Schwartz signed with the Chiefs.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    While J.R. Sweezy's five-year, $32.5 million deal is a mistake, tackle Mitchell Schwartz's five-year, $33 million deal looks like more of a steal.

    Pro Football Focus rated Schwartz sixth overall among all offensive tackles for the 2015 season and first overall among right tackles. This means the Kansas City Chiefs got a heck of a deal by signing the four-year veteran.

    It also means the Browns screwed up, especially considering Schwartz has never missed a snap during his NFL career.

    What makes this look like more of a blunder for the Browns is the fact that Schwartz seemed interested in returning to Cleveland on a new deal. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com explained the situation a few weeks after Schwartz signed with Kansas City:

    On Wednesday morning, the first day of free agency, a source told cleveland.com that Schwartz planned to return to the Browns because their deal was the best and he wanted to remain in Cleveland. But when [agent Deryk] Gilmore went back, the original deal was no longer there. The Browns thought Schwartz was gone when he didn't engage with the original offer, and moved on.

    The Browns have since claimed they never rescinded the offer. "No offer pulled," executive Sashi Brown said of the situation, per Cabot.

    We can't know for sure whether Cleveland pulled the proverbial rug out from under Schwartz and his agent. What we do know is the team allowed arguably the league's best right tackle to walk out the door when he was interested in returning.

    Considering Cleveland isn't known as a prime player destination, this looks like a major blunder.

Redskins Give Josh Norman $75 Million

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    Can Josh Norman turn one stellar season into a strong career?
    Can Josh Norman turn one stellar season into a strong career?Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The Carolina Panthers made the curious decision to remove the franchise tag from Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman after failed contract negotiations. Once Norman hit the open market, the Washington Redskins scooped him up with a five-year, $75 million deal that includes $50 million guaranteed (his 2018 salary is fully guaranteed at the start of that league year)—$36.5 million of which was guaranteed at the time of signing.

    That's an insane amount of guaranteed money.

    Norman played well in 2015, to be sure. Pro Football Focus rated him sixth overall among cornerbacks for the season. However, Norman has only one year under his belt as an elite defensive starter—PFF rated him 31st overall for 2014—and he produced on a defense that ranked sixth in the NFL in yards allowed (322.9 per game) in 2015.

    What Norman has to prove is he wasn't a product of a strong defense. He will have to do so in a Washington defensive system that is different than the one he saw in Carolina. He'll also be facing different offensive looks in his new home.

    “There are a lot more quick games and short routes and patterns,” Norman said, per John Keim of ESPN.com. “If I can keep picking up things like that and see how they run things in the NFC East, then everything takes its just due and I’ll be where I need to be.”

    Norman struggled against top-tier competition in 2015. Between Weeks 14 and 16, he faced Julio Jones twice and Odell Beckham Jr. once. PFF rated him dead last among 160 cornerbacks for that three-game stretch.

    Now he'll have to prove he can hold his own against elite receivers like the New York Giants' Beckham and the Dallas Cowboys' Dez Bryant, as he'll face each twice a year.

    Washington is stuck paying Norman $36.5 million, even if he can't prove a thing.

Saints Fail to Restructure Drew Brees' Contract

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    Drew Brees will carry a cap hit of $30 million this season.
    Drew Brees will carry a cap hit of $30 million this season.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The New Orleans Saints still have time to get a new contract done with quarterback Drew Brees, but it's discouraging that the team couldn't accomplish the task earlier in the offseason.

    Under his current deal, Brees carries a salary-cap hit of $30 million.

    That gave the Saints limited offseason cap space. New Orleans did a good job of freeing up some money and signing some promising free agents like Nick Fairley and Coby Fleener. However, the Saints could have been even bigger players in free agency had a deal been reached earlier.

    According to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, league sources indicate Brees' next contract will land "somewhere in the neighborhood of four years and $95 million to $100 million."

    This suggests that in raw dollars, the Saints could have created $5-10 million in cap space this offseason with a new deal—depending on how the contract was structured.

    Brees may be entering the tail end of his career but is still an above-average quarterback. He led the league with 4,870 yards passing in 2015, and Pro Football Focus rated him sixth overall among signal-callers for the season.

    There should be no question Brees deserves a new deal, and the Saints should have been quick to get one done when saving cap space still mattered.

Dolphins Replace Olivier Vernon with Mario Williams

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    Olivier Vernon looks to be one of the league's top young defenders heading into the 2016 season.
    Olivier Vernon looks to be one of the league's top young defenders heading into the 2016 season.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Miami Dolphins saddled defensive end Olivier Vernon with the transition tag heading into free agency. However, the team pulled the tag before the market opened and allowed Vernon to become a free agent.

    He signed a five-year, $85 million deal with the New York Giants.

    Based on the value of Vernon's new contract, Miami's decision to avoid a bidding war seems understandable. However, the move still hurts, as the 25-year-old pass-rusher appears to be one of the league's best up-and-coming defenders. Pro Football Focus rated Vernon second overall among edge-rushers for the 2015 season.

    What compounded the mistake is the team's decision to then sign 31-year-old Mario Williams as Vernon's replacement. PFF rated Williams 184th overall among edge-rushers for the 2015 season.

    Williams received a two-year, $17 million deal from Miami.

    Essentially, the Dolphins traded a young, budding star for an aging veteran with motivation issues.

    CBS Sports' Pete Prisco wrote the following of Williams shortly after his Buffalo release:

    It's clear to anybody who watched the Bills' tape from last season that Williams wasn't the same player. Yes, he was asked to do some different things in Rex Ryan's defensive scheme, but not much. He dropped out maybe once or twice a game into coverage, yet his on-field demeanor for much of the season was awful. The body language was bad. The tape was even worse.

    The Dolphins are betting Williams can find some new motivation and regain his previous Pro Bowl form. However, they are also gambling that his addition will lessen the sting of Vernon's departure. It's a huge double wager, one that could prove to be a major mistake if Vernon develops into a perennial All-Pro.

Colts Give Dwayne Allen $16 Million Guaranteed

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    Tight end Dwayne Allen received a new four-year deal from Indianapolis this offseason.
    Tight end Dwayne Allen received a new four-year deal from Indianapolis this offseason.George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    The Indianapolis Colts re-signed tight end Dwayne Allen to a four-year, $29.4 million deal that includes $16 million guaranteed. This is a lot of money for a marginally productive tight end with a history of injuries.

    He caught just 16 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in 2015, and has a mere 1,045 yards receiving in his four-year career. Pro Football Focus rated Allen 136th overall out of 137 tight ends for the 2015 season.

    Allen has also missed a 21 games due to injury over the past three years. His first goal this season should be to stay on the field.

    Conrad Brunner of ESPN 1070 The Fan recently asked Allen what he expects of himself this season. Allen's response? “To use all of my resources to make sure I am on the field for all 16 to 20 games.”

    Allen's resources now include $16 million in guaranteed money. If he can't stay on the field and start producing at a higher level, this move is going to look like one big misstep for the Colts.

Steelers Reach on Artie Burns

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    Former Miami cornerback Artie Burns was a big reach at 25th overall.
    Former Miami cornerback Artie Burns was a big reach at 25th overall.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Steelers—whom Pro Football Focus rated just 24th overall in pass coverage for the 2015 season—came into the offseason needing help at cornerback.

    Pittsburgh may have found some from former Miami (Florida) corner Artie Burns, but it made a significant reach by taking him in the first round of the draft.

    Burns is a physically gifted corner with great size (6'0", 193 pounds), but he needs polishing.

    "Burns is raw as the day is long," Bleacher Report's Matt Miller wrote before the draft. "With his focus split between football and track, he’s never had time to commit to learning the intricacies of the position."

    Burns showed some flashes on the field last season, coming away with six interceptions and 36 total tackles. However, he is more likely to be a long-term project than make an instant impact.

    "Tape is just average. Betting on the combine with him, and he'll test off the charts," one NFL executive said of Burns before the draft, per NFL.com. "He's got the traits, but he's not ready yet."

    The Steelers grabbed Burns at No. 25 overall, with four defensive backs going before him in the first round. If Burns struggles to develop quickly and become a standout player, his drafting will look like a mistake.

Texans Give Brock Osweiler $72 Million

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    Brock Osweiler's new deal includes $37 million guaranteed.
    Brock Osweiler's new deal includes $37 million guaranteed.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Subpar quarterback play—Brian Hoyer committed five turnovers—cost the Houston Texans in the opening round of the playoffs this past season. Naturally, improving the position was an important goal heading into the offseason.

    The Texans may have found an upgrade in former Denver Broncos starter Brock Osweiler, but the team handed out an awful lot of money to get him. Osweiler, who has all of seven career starts, will make $72 million over the next four years.

    His contract includes $37 million in guaranteed money.

    This is a ton of cash to give a guy who has proved little in the NFL. All seven of Osweiler's starts came in 2015, and Pro Football Focus rated him 26th overall among quarterbacks for the season. This means the Texans just paid high-level money to a signal-caller who was good—but not great—in 2015.

    The Texans are gambling on the idea that Osweiler's flashes of greatness in 2015 are indicative of something bigger. The reality, though, is the Texans are also gambling on a quarterback who was benched in favor of a turnover-prone Peyton Manning before the start of the 2015 postseason.

    Gambling $72 million on that quarterback feels like a mistake.

Buccaneers Draft Roberto Aguayo in 2nd Round

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    Roberto Aguyao needs to be a special NFL kicker to justify his second-round draft status.
    Roberto Aguyao needs to be a special NFL kicker to justify his second-round draft status.Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    We aren't going to criticize the Buccaneers too much for drafting a kicker in the second round, though such a move is always going to raise its fair share of eyebrows. We aren't even going to bash the Bucs for trading up to draft a kicker in the second round, even though the idea seems borderline absurd.

    We are going to criticize the decision to trade up for a kicker who hasn't shown the long-distance leg needed to be special at the pro level.

    Tampa Bay traded third- and fourth-round picks to move up to No. 59 overall to select Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo. The move seems fine when you consider Aguayo's made-kick percentage (fields goals and extra points) of 96.73 is the highest of all time for a college kicker.

    When you examine Aguayo's field-goal statistics, however, the move doesn't seem so stellar. Aguayo only made 80.8 percent of all field-goal attempts in 2015 and made just 14 of 22 attempts of over 40 yards during the past two seasons.

    Aguayo should upgrade Tampa's kicker position and be reliable on shorter field goals and extra points. However, he is far from a sure thing when it comes to longer attempts.

    If Aguayo can't improve his distance and develop into a long-range weapon, his Round 2 draft status will look foolish.

Eagles Shell Out Money to Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel

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    Sam Bradford may be the Eagles' starter in 2016, but he isn't likely to be there over the long haul.
    Sam Bradford may be the Eagles' starter in 2016, but he isn't likely to be there over the long haul.Elsa/Getty Images

    The Philadelphia Eagles' handling of their quarterback situation already looks like a financial mistake.

    Shortly before the start of free agency, the Eagles locked up 2015 starter Sam Bradford with a new two-year, $35 million deal. After the market opened, the team brought in Chase Daniel on a three-year, $21 million pact.

    The Eagles have $34 million in guaranteed money tied to the two contracts.

    At the time, this pair of moves looked smart. Bradford appeared to be starting material for much of the previous season but still brought questions about his durability and long-term potential. Daniel played under new Eagles head coach Doug Pederson when the two were with the Kansas City Chiefs. He looked like the ultimate journeyman insurance policy.

    Between the two, it seemed, the Eagles would find their starter for the next few seasons.

    However, the Eagles then traded up to select quarterback Carson Wentz with the second overall pick in the draft. Presumably, Wentz is now the quarterback of the future in Philadelphia, not Bradford or Daniel.

    The good news is it appears Bradford can lock down the starting job for this season.

    "I think he's really done a nice job and taken that next step to be the leader of this football team and be the starter," Pederson recently said of Bradford, per Phil Sheridan of ESPN.com. "He's done a good job there."

    Giving hefty contracts to both Bradford and Daniel ensures the Eagles won't have to rush Wentz onto the field. However, it also means Philadelphia is giving $34 million in guaranteed money to two guys who aren't likely to be part of the team's long-term plans.

    *All contract information via Spotrac unless specifically noted.

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