Every NFL Team's Riskiest Move So Far This Offseason

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2016

Every NFL Team's Riskiest Move So Far This Offseason

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    Allowing Josh Norman to become a free agent was risky, but so was giving him big money after just one standout year.
    Allowing Josh Norman to become a free agent was risky, but so was giving him big money after just one standout year.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Later this month, NFL teams will begin training camp before the preseason kicks off shortly after.

    For fans, this will mark the official start to the 2016 NFL season. However, teams began laying their foundations for the coming season many months ago.

    Some teams are headed in entirely new directions, having made major changes to their front offices after the 2015 season. Others are looking to build upon the varying degrees of success they saw last year. Some invested heavily in the futures of rookie draft picks. Others invested in the players already on the roster.

    Every team made adjustments through free agency and the draft, though the level of activity varied greatly from team to team.

    One thing every NFL franchise did during the offseason was take risks.

    Every major decision looks like a gamble when you consider the amount of money the league spends and generates on a yearly basis. Yet some risks are obviously bigger than others.

    We're going to take a look at the biggest risk each team took this offseason. Every move made—including roster moves, trades and front-office decisions—will be considered. We're not here to judge whether these moves were good or badeach will obviously take time to bear fruit. We're only here to identify them as risks.

    Our choices will be based on factors like player and coach history, injury risk, team fit and level of investment.

Arizona Cardinals

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    The Cardinals selected Robert Nkemdiche with the 29th pick in the first round.
    The Cardinals selected Robert Nkemdiche with the 29th pick in the first round.Jon Durr/Getty Images

    Drafting Robert Nkemdiche in Round 1

    The Arizona Cardinals decided to address their defensive line in the first round of this year's draft by selecting former Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.

    There are few questions surrounding the talent and the potential of Nkemdiche. The 6'2", 294-pound defender produced quite a few highlight-reel plays during his time at Ole Miss.

    However, Nkemdiche also produced some pretty inconsistent game tapes.

    "I can’t find him against Arkansas, I can’t find him against Florida, I can’t find him against Memphis," ESPN Analyst Todd McShay said of Nkemdiche before the draft, per Adam Gorney of Rivals. " So now I’ve got an inconsistent player on the field, I don’t know what I’m getting week-to-week."

    This inconsistency represents a major gamble. Despite all his physical tools, Nkemdiche produced just 29 total tackles and 3.0 sacks last season. 

    "Nkemdiche is the biggest boom-or-bust prospect in the draft," NFL Media's Bucky Brooks said before the draft, per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com. "If you can figure out what he is and what motivates him, you could uncover a star."

    If Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians can keep Nkemdiche consistently motivated, this is a wager the Cardinals are likely to win. Yet there's no denying that Arizona's first-round pick is far from a sure thing.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Can Mohamed Sanu become a legitimate No. 2 receiver with the Falcons?
    Can Mohamed Sanu become a legitimate No. 2 receiver with the Falcons?Andrew Weber/Getty Images

    Signing Mohamed Sanu

    The Atlanta Falcons weren't exactly staring down a deep pool of available wide receivers when free agency opened this offseason. Yet the team still gambled on former Cincinnati Bengals wideout Mohamed Sanu with the hope that he could develop into a legitimate complement to star Julio Jones

    The problem is that Sanu has obtained the opportunity to be a No. 2 receiver before, and he struggled in the role. In 2014, when Marvin Jones was sidelined by injury, Sanu served as the complement to A.J. Green in the Cincinnati offense. He finished the year with a subpar 790 yards and five touchdowns. 

    Pro Football Focus rated Sanu just 181st among wide receivers for the 2014 season. 

    Can Sanu prove to be a different player in the Atlanta offense? Absolutely. However, the Falcons wagered a five-year, $32.5 million contract that he can. Plus, $14 million of that contract is fully guaranteed, so if the gamble doesn't pay off, Atlanta could lose in a big way.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Kelechi Osemele played both guard and tackle for the Ravens last season.
    Kelechi Osemele played both guard and tackle for the Ravens last season.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Letting Kelechi Osemele Leave in Free Agency

    The Baltimore Ravens made the decision not to pay emerging offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele in free agency. This was a calculated move, and an understandable one.

    Osemele ended up getting a five-year, $58.5 million deal from the Oakland Raiders, which is quite a lot of money to invest in a guard.

    Yet allowing Osemele to walk still presents a big risk for the Ravens. The former second-round pick is just 27 years old and is likely entering the prime of his career. He is already one of the better young guards in the league today.

    Pro Football Focus rated him 13th overall among all guards for the 2015 season.

    Bo Smolka of CSN Mid-Atlantic reported that John Urschel was working with the first-team offense in Osemele's vacated left guard spot during minicamp. Urschel saw just 24 snaps at guard last season and was rated just 72nd overall at the position by PFF.

    The risk of potential letdown at the position is quite palpable.

    Losing Osemele hurts the Ravens' depth along the line, in addition to costing the team a top-tier complement to Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda. Osemele was a versatile piece of the line, as he proved last season by appearing in four games at left tackle. With rookie Ronnie Stanley widely expected to start at left tackle, this lack of depth could be another issue.

    Baltimore may have enough talent on its line to minimize the impact of Osemele's departure, but betting on it is definitely a big gamble.

Buffalo Bills

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    Will the Bills come to regret letting Chris Hogan sign with the rival Patriots?
    Will the Bills come to regret letting Chris Hogan sign with the rival Patriots?Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    Not Matching New England's Offer Sheet for Chris Hogan

    The Buffalo Bills decided not to match a restricted-free-agent offer sheet for wide receiver Chris Hogan this offseason. As a result, the Monmouth product became a member of the New England Patriots on a three-year, $12 million deal.

    Hogan was never a major piece of the Bills offense, but he did start to come into his own last season. He finished the year with 36 receptions, 450 yards and two touchdowns. Buffalo could end up missing his presence, but the bigger risk was allowing him to join the rival Patriots.

    For at least the next three seasons, the Bills are going to have to face Hogan twice a year. If he becomes a big part of the Patriots offense, this could wind up strengthening New England's grip on the AFC East and haunting the Bills.

    It seems there's a very real possibility that Hogan could become a star in New England, too.

    "Hogan was the Patriots' best wide receiver in the offseason workout program," Doug Kyed of NESN.com wrote. "Though he didn't have Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola to compete with."

    If Hogan can become a reliable No. 3 receiver behind Edelman and Amendola, it could really help the Patriots while hurting the Bills. Buffalo is betting and hoping that he won't.

Carolina Panthers

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    Will the Panthers regret parting ways with Josh Norman?
    Will the Panthers regret parting ways with Josh Norman?Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Pulling the Plug on Josh Norman

    Cornerback Josh Norman had what was easily the best season of his four-year pro career in 2015. He finished the year with 56 tackles, 19 passes defended and four interceptions. He also started all 16 regular-season games for the first time in his career.

    Pro Football Focus rated Norman sixth overall among cornerbacks for the season.

    Originally, the Carolina Panthers gave Norman the franchise tag, but when it became apparent a long-term deal wasn't going to come easily, the Panthers removed it. Norman immediately became a free agent and signed a five-year, $75 million deal with the Washington Redskins.

    There are a couple of reasons why the Panthers may have chosen to pass on retaining Norman. He does have just one year of elite play, and his big-money deal brings its own set of risks (we'll be revisiting that contract later).

    However, the Panthers still let a quality defender and the team's top cornerback from last season walk out the door. It's a gutsy gamble by the Panthers—one that could look really bad if the 28-year-old Norman continues playing at a Pro Bowl level with his new team and the Panthers secondary takes a step back.

Chicago Bears

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    After eight seasons, the Bears have said goodbye to running back Matt Forte.
    After eight seasons, the Bears have said goodbye to running back Matt Forte.David Banks/Getty Images

    Letting Matt Forte Walk in Free Agency

    Running back Matt Forte has been a mainstay of the Chicago Bears for the past eight seasons. Parting ways with him represents a pretty big risk.

    Yes, Forte has reached the dreaded 30-year-old mark and battled through some injuries last season, but he is still an extremely productive back. In his 13 appearances last season, Forte racked up 1,287 combined rushing and receiving yards and seven total touchdowns. He also averaged a solid 4.1 yards per carry.

    Keeping Forte wasn't likely to break the bank for Chicago, either. He signed a reasonable three-year, $12 million deal with the New York Jets in free agency.

    Now the Bears turn to rookie back Jordan Howard and second-year man Jeremy Langford. Howard is obviously unproven at the pro level. Langford showed flashes last season, but his instincts and vision as a runner seemed to be lacking at times.

    Langford averaged just 3.6 yards per carry in 2015.

    Chicago's decision to let Forte go is understandable—there comes a time when even the most beloved players have to say goodbye. However, the fact remains that the Bears are heading into the season with questions at the running back position for the first time in nearly a decade.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Safety Reggie Nelson was one of Cincinnati's top defenders in 2015.
    Safety Reggie Nelson was one of Cincinnati's top defenders in 2015.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Saying Goodbye to Reggie Nelson

    Safety Reggie Nelson spent the past six seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, but his 2015 campaign may have been the best of the bunch. He finished the year with 77 tackles, eight interceptions, 14 passes defended and a Pro Bowl nomination.

    Pro Football Focus rated Nelson 13th overall among all safeties for the 2015 season.

    Despite his stellar year, the Bengals had little interest in re-signing Nelson this offseason. He eventually landed with the Raiders on a two-year, $8.5 million deal. This seems like a relative bargain for the 32-year-old, even for the cash-conscious Bengals.

    Letting Nelson go leaves the Bengals with a glowing question mark at the free safety position. If Cincinnati cannot find an adequate replacement for Nelson, the team could be in trouble. Strong-armed division-rival quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco will be itching to test the team's deep coverage without him.

    Cincinnati may be able to replace Nelson with a young player like Derron Smith—who saw just 14 snaps at safety last season. The team may also survive by moving a veteran like Adam Jones to the safety position and allowing one of the three young first-round cornerbacks—Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard or William Jackson III—to start on the outside in his place.

    Regardless of what the Bengals decide to do from here, letting Nelson go was a seemingly unnecessary risk.

Cleveland Browns

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    The Browns are hoping Robert Griffin III can finally solidify their quarterback position.
    The Browns are hoping Robert Griffin III can finally solidify their quarterback position.Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Signing Robert Griffin III

    It's no secret that the Cleveland Browns have struggled to find consistency at the quarterback position. Since returning as an expansion team in 1999, the Browns have gambled on first-round picks, Heisman winners and free agents to no avail. 

    This offseason, Cleveland bet on a free agent who was a former first-round pick and a former Heisman Trophy winner. The team inked former Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III to a two-year, $15 million deal.

    The risk with Griffin isn't necessarily financial, though it's never good to throw away money. The risk is that if Griffin cannot regain some of the magic he flashed as a rookie, the Browns could be wasting another season on bad quarterback play. Griffin was named to the Pro Bowl and named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 but has struggled since.

    Injuries cost Griffin three games in 2013, and injuries and poor play cost him seven games in 2014. He couldn't even get on the field in 2015, as the Redskins gave firm control to quarterback Kirk Cousins.

    The Browns are obviously betting that Griffin can rebound from his recent struggles. If he can't, it's likely back to Josh McCown for Cleveland. Unless the Browns really believe rookie third-rounder Cody Kessler can be the future, this would delay Cleveland's search for a franchise quarterback for another long year.

Dallas Cowboys

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    What do the Cowboys do if Tony Romo suffers another serious injury in 2016?
    What do the Cowboys do if Tony Romo suffers another serious injury in 2016?Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Ignoring the Quarterback Position in Free Agency

    A pair of clavicle injuries limited quarterback Tony Romo to just four games last year and were largely responsible for derailing the Dallas Cowboys' season. The issue for Dallas was that the team simply couldn't field an adequate replacement when Romo was sidelined.

    The Cowboys went 3-1 with Romo at the helm and just 1-11 without him.

    Dallas had opportunities to strengthen the position in the offseason by grabbing a veteran with at least some starting success. The Bears did so by signing Brian Hoyer. The Denver Broncos did so by trading for Mark Sanchez. However, the Cowboys decided to stand by Kellen Moore, who started the final two games of last season.

    "He doesn't have an overly powerful arm," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said of Moore, per Todd Archer of ESPN.com. "He's not overly athletic. But he has a lot of the things that really good quarterbacks have. He understands the game. He has a good feel for the game. He's instinctive."

    Moore showed some promise in his limited opportunity at the helm. However, he only passed for four touchdowns compared to six interceptions and finished the year with a passer rating of just 71.0. Perhaps more importantly, Moore's two starts in 2015 are the only two of his pro career.

    This leaves the Cowboys with little experience behind Romo—though the team did add Dak Prescott in the fourth round of the draft—which could be a major issue if Romo suffers another significant injury.

    We're not saying Moore can't get the job done if called upon, and if Romo stays healthy, the point is moot. However, the Cowboys are staring at a window of contention right now, and entering the season without a seasoned backup is risky.

Denver Broncos

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    Will the Broncos get Von Miller under contract by July 15?
    Will the Broncos get Von Miller under contract by July 15?Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Playing Chicken With Von Miller

    Denver Broncos pass-rusher Von Miller has developed into one of the most disruptive defenders in the NFL today. He proved as much last season by producing 5.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception in the postseason alone. Miller, by the way, also won MVP honors for his play in Super Bowl 50.

    Naturally, Miller is looking to secure a big contract after his finish to the 2015 season, but he hasn't gotten one from the Broncos. The team slapped him with the franchise tag, and the two sides have yet to come to terms on a long-term alternative.

    Had the Broncos pushed to get a deal done early in the offseason, they might have found an agreeable contract that was still relatively team-friendly. After seeing some of the contracts to come out since the start of free agency, however, it feels like Miller now holds all the leverage. Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Fletcher Cox, for example, just signed a new six-year, $102.6 million deal.

    According to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, Miller and the Broncos have agreed that a six-year, $114.5 million deal is fair. However, the two sides aren't seeing eye-to-eye on the structure of the deal. If the Broncos can't finalize a deal by July 15, they might not have Miller at all this season.

    After July 15, Miller will only be able to play on the franchise tag, something he has said he wouldn't do.

    "I love my teammates, coaches and my fans," Miller posted on Instagram. "But there is 'no chance' I play the 2016 season under the franchise tag."

    One of the two sides may cave before July 15, and the Broncos could come out on top by staring Miller down in negotiations. Yet it's hard to argue that Denver isn't risking a lot by doing so.

Detroit Lions

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    Marvin Jones won't make Lions fans forget about Megatron, but he can help the offense.
    Marvin Jones won't make Lions fans forget about Megatron, but he can help the offense.John Grieshop/Getty Images

    Signing Marvin Jones to a Big Contract

    The retirement of star wide receiver Calvin Johnson was probably the most disheartening part of the Detroit Lions' offseason, but the team didn't have a hand in that. The team, however, did make the decision to bring in free-agent wideout Marvin Jones to help lessen the impact of Johnson's departure.

    Detroit inked Jones to a five-year, $40 million deal that includes $20 million in guarantees. This is an awful lot of money to wager on a guy who has never been more than a No. 2 receiver at the NFL level.

    Of course, Jones has had some quantifiable success as a No. 2 during his time with the Cincinnati Bengals. Last season, for example, he racked up 65 receptions, 816 yards and four touchdowns while playing opposite A.J. Green in the Cincinnati offense.

    Pro Football Focus rated Jones 53rd overall among receivers for the season.

    In Detroit, though, Jones won't be playing opposite Green. He'll be playing opposite Golden Tate, who is certainly quite good but doesn't command the defensive attention of Green. At the same time, Jones isn't going to command enough attention to open things up for Tate the way Johnson previously did.

    What the Lions are likely to end up with is two high-priced No. 2 receivers. This could certainly work for offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, and it's better than some teams have. Unfortunately, there's also the chance that it will simply leave quarterback Matthew Stafford without a consistently open target.

    Additionally, Jones brings with him some injury risk: A series of ankle and foot injuries cost Jones the entire 2014 season.

Green Bay Packers

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    Cornerback Casey Hayward will be making plays for the Chargers this season.
    Cornerback Casey Hayward will be making plays for the Chargers this season.Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Saying Goodbye to Casey Hayward

    The Green Bay Packers typically do an excellent job of retaining players the team deems critical to success, while not spending to keep role players. This fact—along with last year's additions of Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall—help explain why the Packers were willing to let 26-year-old cornerback Casey Hayward walk in free agency.

    However, this doesn't reduce the risk involved with allowing one of the team's top defensive backs to sign elsewhere while entering his prime.

    Hayward appeared in all 16 games last season for the Packers, starting 11 and finishing with 65 tackles and seven passes defended. Pro Football Focus rated him 33rd overall among cornerbacks.

    Hayward signed a modest three-year, $15.3 million deal with the San Diego Chargers, so it's not as if keeping him would have been financially harmful.

    Green Bay fielded a strong pass defense last season, allowing just 227.6 yards per game through the air. There's a good chance the team will be just fine without Hayward. By allowing him to leave, though, the Packers also run the risk of seeing that stellar secondary take a step back.

Houston Texans

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    Will Brock Osweiler be the future in Houston or just an overpriced mistake?
    Will Brock Osweiler be the future in Houston or just an overpriced mistake?David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Signing Brock Osweiler to Massive Contract

    The Houston Texans were quick to add Brock Osweiler to the team in free agency once it became clear they could lure him away from Denver. Theoretically, the move solidifies the quarterback position and helps make the Texans legitimate contenders. 

    However, there are a couple reasons why the signing of Osweiler is a gamble for Houston—and one of the biggest risks in this year's NFL offseason.

    For starters, the Texans gave Osweiler a massive four-year, $72 million deal. That deal includes $37 million fully guaranteed. Even if Osweiler were an established starter, this would represent a sizable financial risk.

    The problem is that Osweiler isn't an established starter. He made all seven of his pro starts last season for a championship Denver team and produced mixed results. Osweiler showed some promise, to be sure, but his 2015 passer rating of 86.4 isn't jaw-dropping in any way.

    Pro Football Focus rated Osweiler 26th overall among quarterbacks last season—good but not great. Houston's 2015 starter, Brian Hoyer, was rated five spots higher.

    The Texans are obviously betting on Osweiler's future based on one partial season. It's a gamble that could definitely pay off, but also one that could blow up in spectacular fashion.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Can running back Frank Gore rebound for the Colts in 2016?
    Can running back Frank Gore rebound for the Colts in 2016?Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Investing Little Into the Running Back Position

    The Indianapolis Colts just gave quarterback Andrew Luck a shiny new contract extension. Unfortunately, the team hasn't invested much into the guys running the football for Luck this offseason.

    For a quarterback who spent the majority of last season on the injury report, this could be an issue. A strong running game not only takes pressure off the shoulders of a quarterback but also helps slow the opposing pass rush.

    Indianapolis' pass rush in 2015? It wasn't good. The team averaged just 89.9 yards per game on the ground, 29th in the NFL. Last year's prized acquisition, Frank Gore, averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. Pro Football Focus rated him just 54th overall among running backs for the season.

    It seems the Colts are banking on Gore having a resurgent season in 2016, because the team didn't take steps to bring in real competition for the starting job. The team did add Robert Turbin—you know, the guy who was dumped by the Browns, Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks in the past year—and Jordan Todman. One of these guys could surprise, but it's looking like it's going to be Gore's show again in 2016.

    If the ground game struggles again this season, Luck will again be under a lot of literal and figurative pressure. Luck might be able to handle that pressure, though, and it's a chance the Colts seem willing to take.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    When healthy, safety Tashaun Gipson can be an absolute game-changer.
    When healthy, safety Tashaun Gipson can be an absolute game-changer.George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    Signing Tashaun Gipson

    The Jacksonville Jaguars added a slew of new defensive players this offseason. Each of them comes with his own individual uncertainty, but the riskiest addition is probably that of safety Tashaun Gipson.

    Gipson can be an absolute star when he's healthy. In his four years with the Browns, he produced 14 interceptions, 22 passes defended, two defensive touchdowns and a forced fumble.

    The problem is that Gipson has struggled to stay healthy in recent years.

    A sprained MCL ended Gipson's 2014 campaign after only 11 games, and injuries limited him to 13 games in 2015. Those injuries also affected Gipson's play when he was healthy. A year after being named to the Pro Bowl, Gipson found himself rated just 182nd overall among safeties by Pro Football Focus.

    The Jaguars signed Gipson to a five-year, $36 million deal that includes $12 million guaranteed. If Gipson can stay healthy and regain his Pro Bowl form, the Jaguars will come out winners. However, the team is betting pretty heavily that he'll be able to do so.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Just how much will the Chiefs regret letting Sean Smith leave in free agency?
    Just how much will the Chiefs regret letting Sean Smith leave in free agency?Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Letting Sean Smith Sign With the Rival Raiders

    The Kansas City Chiefs managed to retain a few key free agents like Tamba Hali, Jaye Howard and Derrick Johnson this offseason. The team also added a top-tier addition by signing offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz. However, while making these moves, the team allowed cornerback Sean Smith to depart.

    Smith ended up signing a four-year, $38 million deal with the Oakland Raiders.

    The risk here is that the Chiefs waved goodbye to their No. 1 corner and one of the better defensive backs in the game. Pro Football Focus rated Smith 17th overall among all corners for the 2015 season.

    Smith's numbers weren't overly impressive last year—45 tackles, 12 passes defended and two interceptions—but this may be because teams were more interested in testing then-rookie Marcus Peters.

    Teams tested Peters often, and while he responded with eight interceptions, he also allowed a whopping 939 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. Only two cornerbacks allowed more yardage in 2015. If Peters is going to spend the 2016 season shadowing every opponent's top receiver, it could spell trouble. He won't have a top-notch veteran playing opposite him anymore.

    On top of the uncertainty in the Chiefs' secondary is the fact that Smith is now playing with the rival Raiders. Perhaps Oakland overpaid and the Chiefs will be just fine without Smith. Of course, the other possibility is that the Chiefs hurt themselves and strengthened a divisional opponent by letting Smith walk.

Los Angeles Rams

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    Is Jared Goff ready to be the face of an NFL franchise?
    Is Jared Goff ready to be the face of an NFL franchise?Leon Bennett/Getty Images

    Trading up for Jared Goff

    The Los Angeles Rams clearly believed they were a quarterback away from true contention this offseason. Otherwise, the team wouldn't have mortgaged a large chunk of its future in order to trade up and select former California quarterback Jared Goff.

    To secure the rights to Goff with the first overall selection, the Rams traded away their first-round pick, two second-round picks and a third-round pick in this year's draft. The team also traded away first- and third-round picks in the 2017 draft.

    The risks with the trade for Goff are twofold. First of all, the kid is an unproven product at the pro level. Every rookie quarterback is going to come with risks, but the risks with Goff are magnified because of the overall cost to secure him.

    This is a gamble that can only pay off if Goff starts early, plays well and establishes himself as a legitimate franchise quarterback. Fortunately, he seems to be adjusting to the pro game.

    "I’ve started to slow down," Goff said, per Myles Simmons of the team's official website. "At first it was fast, and then you get more comfortable when you see stuff more often, you see the looks a few more times. And it starts to slow down a little bit.”

    It's great that things are starting to slow down for Goff in practice. However, he's a long way from facing in-game competition, and an even farther distance from dominating it.

Miami Dolphins

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    Olivier Vernon was one of the top pass-rushers in the NFL last season.
    Olivier Vernon was one of the top pass-rushers in the NFL last season.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Pulling Transition Tag From Olivier Vernon

    Shortly before the start of free agency, the Miami Dolphins made the curious decision to pull the transition tag from pass-rusher Olivier Vernon. The tag would have allowed Miami to match any offer he received from another team in free agency.

    In actuality, the Dolphins' riskiest move may have been giving Vernon the transition tag in the first place. Had the team franchised him, it likely could have kept him for at least another season. 

    The Dolphins apparently had no interest in keeping Vernon around for another season or long-term, though, especially after signing veteran Mario Williams as a potential replacement. The entire series of events was clearly financially motivated.

    Vernon ended up getting a five-year, $85 million deal from the New York Giants, a deal that obviously carries a lot of risk itself.

    The fact remains, however, that the Dolphins let go of one of the top young pass-rushers in the league and replaced him with an aging counterpart. Pro Football Focus rated Vernon second overall among edge-rushers for the 2015 season. Williams was rated just 184th overall.

    Williams didn't exactly come at a bargain-basement price, either. Miami gave him a two-year, $17 million deal that included more than $8 million guaranteed at the time of signing.

    Yes, the Dolphins are getting Williams at about half the cost of Vernon on a per-year basis, but the team is also betting that a short-term piece can alleviate the loss of a long-term building block. It's a gamble that the Dolphins could have avoided altogether.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Can guard Alex Boone revive his career with the Vikings?
    Can guard Alex Boone revive his career with the Vikings?Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

    Giving Alex Boone a Big Contract

    The Minnesota Vikings were one of the few teams that seemed to concoct a nearly ideal offseason this year. The team added to its offensive line in free agency, added a potential top receiver in the draft and retained key contributors from 2015.

    The one questionable move the Vikings made was giving guard Alex Boone a four-year, $26.8 million contract in free agency. The deal included $10 million in guarantees.

    It's not that Boone is a bad player or doesn't fill a position of need. The truth is that he should immediately upgrade the interior of the Vikings line. The problem is that Boone seems to be a player on the downswing, and his long-term value to the team is uncertain.

    Two years ago, Boone was one of the top guards in the NFL. He appeared in 15 games for the San Francisco 49ers, and Pro Football Focus rated him 20th overall at the position for the year. Last year, however, he played in just 13 contests and was rated 37th overall among guards by Pro Football Focus.

    The bigger concern for a run-first team like Minnesota is the fact that Boone was rated just 124th in run blocking by Pro Football Focus last year.

    If Boone rebounds in his new home, then his deal with Minnesota could look like a steal. If he continues trending down, it could look like a gamble that simply didn't pay off in the long run. It's a calculated risk by the Vikings, but it's still a risk.

New England Patriots

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    Chandler Jones is now a member of the Cardinals.
    Chandler Jones is now a member of the Cardinals.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Trading Chandler Jones

    The New England Patriots decided to trade pass-rusher Chandler Jones this offseason. likely because he's entering the final year of his rookie contract. If the Patriots didn't have plans to keep Jones long-term, it makes sense that they'd want to get value for him while they could.

    The Patriots did get some solid value for Jones. The Cardinals gave up a second-round draft pick and guard Jonathan Cooper.

    That's nice and all, but the Patriots still gave up one of the best young defensive ends in the NFL.

    Jones produced 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles last season to go with 44 tackles and an interception. Pro Football Focus rated him 17th overall among 4-3 defensive ends for the 2015 season.

    The Patriots did add defensive end Chris Long in the offseason, so maybe things will balance out. Still, this is a risk because the Patriots are still in a Super Bowl window. It would be a shame to see this year's opportunity suffer because the New England pass rush takes a step back.

New Orleans Saints

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    Will Coby Fleener become a star in New Orleans?
    Will Coby Fleener become a star in New Orleans?Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Signing Coby Fleener to Big Deal

    The cap-strapped New Orleans Saints found some ways to create salary-cap space early this offseason, then immediately used some of that space to add former Colts tight end Coby Fleener. The Saints gave Fleener a five-year, $36 million deal that includes $18 million in guarantees.

    The risk with this deal comes from the fact that the Saints are paying Fleener based on his potential, not on past production. During his four seasons with the Colts, Fleener averaged a little over 500 yards and four touchdowns per season. That's solid tight end production, but it's certainly not spectacular.

    Quarterback Drew Brees has a habit of making tight ends look like superstars—he helped turn Jimmy Graham into a stud and got 74 receptions and 825 yards from Benjamin Watson last year—so the Saints have reason to be confident in Fleener's ability to emerge.

    Still, there's no guarantee Fleener can be anything more than an average or above-average tight end. Andrew Luck is a pretty darn good quarterback in his own right, and Fleener never grew beyond being a complementary piece in the Colts offense.

    If Brees and Fleener click on offense, this deal could end up looking like a steal. However, it could also look like a gross overpayment if Fleener fails to break out with his new team.

New York Giants

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    Will Olivier Vernon live up to his big new contract in the Big Apple?
    Will Olivier Vernon live up to his big new contract in the Big Apple?Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Signing Olivier Vernon to a Massive Contract

    We've already mentioned that the Dolphins took a big risk by allowing pass-rusher Olivier Vernon to depart in free agency. Well, the New York Giants also took a big risk by signing Vernon to a five-year, $85 million deal

    Vernon's new deal with New York includes $40.5 million that was guaranteed at the time of signing. This means that no matter what Vernon does over the next half-decade, the Giants are going to be out a sizable chunk of money.

    The financial risk of the Vernon deal is magnified by the fact that the Giants were in position to add pass-rushing help early in the 2016 draft. Instead, the team used the 10th overall pick on former Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple.

    Obviously, the Giants could have spent on a free-agent cornerback and addressed the defensive line early in the draft. Instead, the team made a big-money wager on Vernon's ability to evolve into one of the top sack artists in the league.

New York Jets

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    Will the Jets get Ryan Fitzpatrick under contract in time for training camp?
    Will the Jets get Ryan Fitzpatrick under contract in time for training camp?Jerome Davis/Getty Images

    Staring Down Ryan Fitzpatrick

    The riskiest move the New York Jets have made—and continue to make—is the refusal to get a deal done with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

    According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, the Jets offered Fitzpatrick a three-year deal worth $24 million that included $12 million in the first year. Fitzpatrick suggested a one-year deal worth $12 million, but the Jets aren't interested.

    So for now, Fitzpatrick remains without a contract. This is a huge risk for the Jets, because the guy helped win 10 games last season. On top of winning 10 games as a starter, Fitzpatrick threw for 3,905 yards with 31 touchdowns and a passer rating of 88.0.

    If the Jets don't get Fitzpatrick under contract, they'll be facing the prospect at opening the season with Geno Smith under center. The last time he started was in 2014, and he finished that year rated 68th overall among quarterbacks by Pro Football Focus.

    There's a real possibility that New York is risking its 2016 season by playing hardball with the bearded bomber. If Smith really is ready to be a quality starter, then great. However, the Jets will be playing a major game of chance if he doesn't win the starting job over Fitzpatrick in training camp.

Oakland Raiders

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    Oakland selected former Illinois defensive lineman Jihad Ward in the second round of the draft.
    Oakland selected former Illinois defensive lineman Jihad Ward in the second round of the draft.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Drafting Jihad Ward in Round 2

    The Oakland Raiders had a very strong offseason, adding the likes of Reggie Nelson, Bruce Irvin, Kelechi Osemele and rookie Karl Joseph. In fact, it's hard to find a big risk in the Raiders offseason.

    However, rookie second-round pick Jihad Ward has all the traits of a boom-or-bust prospect, so he's our pick.

    Ward is a former wide receiver who is still learning to play along the defensive line. He's incredibly gifted but incredibly raw, and Ward is coming off a bit of a down year. He produced 51 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and 3.0 sacks in 2014 but saw just 3.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks last year.

    Regardless of statistics, Ward is a guy with a lot of potential, as Bleacher Report's Matt Miller explained before the draft:

    Ward can play double duty on the end of the defensive line. He’s stout enough to stack up blockers in the run game but explosive enough to shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield against the run and the pass. He’s aware and instinctive, which makes him dangerous on the fly. College offensive tackles could rarely keep pace with Ward’s first-step speed when he got loose, and even Taylor Decker struggled at times to match his power toe-to-toe.

    The Raiders, naturally, are gambling on the idea that Ward can continue improving and reach his full potential as a pro. We've seen plenty of raw prospects succeed in the past, so it's definitely possible. However, his selection at No. 44 overall is still a sizable risk.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    It will likely be some time before the Eagles know whether Carson Wentz can be their franchise quarterback.
    It will likely be some time before the Eagles know whether Carson Wentz can be their franchise quarterback.Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Trading up for Carson Wentz

    The Philadelphia Eagles decided to get in on the pre-draft trade frenzy and go after a quarterback to be the future of the franchise.

    The Eagles ended up trading away a first-round, third-round and fourth-round pick in this year's draft, along with a first-round pick next year and a third-rounder in 2018. In exchange, Philadelphia got the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft and the rights to North Dakota State product Carson Wentz.

    The trade to acquire Wentz brings obvious risks because of the overall cost involved. The actual selection of Wentz carries unknowns as well, because we're talking about a former FCS quarterback making the jump to NFL competition. Wentz might have no trouble making that jump, or he might fall flat on his face.

    The good news here is that the Eagles aren't expected to push Wentz into action anytime soon.

    In fact, Jimmy Kempski of PhilyVoice.com believes the Eagles won't even make Wentz active on game days.

    This is good news, because the Eagles don't have a need to rush Wentz onto the field. The team gave Sam Bradford a new deal this offseason and signed Chase Daniel in free agency. Unless one of them gets injured, Wentz should stay on the sideline.

    For fans, though, the long wait to see Wentz could be seen as a painful one. It won't be until he's had the opportunity to start several games before we'll be able to start forming real opinions about the payoff of this gamble.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Artie Burns is considered by most to be a gifted, but raw cornerback prospect.
    Artie Burns is considered by most to be a gifted, but raw cornerback prospect.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Drafting Artie Burns in Round 1

    Four cornerbacks were already off the board when the Pittsburgh Steelers got on the clock with the 25th overall pick in this year's draft. Instead of looking for a safer pick at a different position, the Steelers decided to gamble on former Miami cornerback Artie Burns.

    To say that opinions on Burns' potential vary would be an understatement.

    "Burns is a tall cornerback and has world-class speed," draft analyst Mike Mayock said after Burns' selection, via NFL.com. "He's very raw. I know teams with a third-round grade on Burns and others that believe he could end up the best corner in this draft."

    The Steelers are clearly betting on future potential here. Burns was not consistently productive at Miami—he had just 76 tackles and 11 passes defended over the past two seasons. However, Burns did emerge as a bit of a ball hawk in 2015, snagging six of his seven career interceptions that season. If he can continue to force turnovers, he'll bring a ton of value to the Pittsburgh secondary.

    In a couple of years, we should know whether Pittsburgh landed one of the steals of the draft or grabbed Burns a round too early. Either way, his selection was risky.

San Diego Chargers

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    The Chargers had their pick of non-quarterbacks in this year's draft and went with Joey Bosa.
    The Chargers had their pick of non-quarterbacks in this year's draft and went with Joey Bosa.Jon Durr/Getty Images

    Selecting Joey Bosa Third Overall

    Former Ohio State standout Joey Bosa appears to have all the tools to be a consistent and disruptive defensive lineman at the pro level. He was a terror in college—just last season he racked up 51 tackles, 16.0 tackles for a loss and 5.0 sacks.

    However, his selection by the San Diego Chargers at third overall was still risky because, well, it came at third overall.

    With Carson Wentz and Jared Goff off the board, the Chargers had their pick of every non-quarterback in the draft class. Not only will Bosa long be compared to seventh-overall pick and fellow defensive end DeForest Buckner, but he's going to be compared to every other top player taken in the draft not named Wentz or Goff.

    If Bosa fails to establish himself as a top-tier defender within a few years, his selection could easily look like a big mistake—especially if a guy like Buckner or rookie offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley is regularly seeing Pro Bowls.

    For what it's worth, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers really seems to like San Diego's draft-day decision.

    "I know it's still a little early to say, but I think we nailed that pick at No. 3 overall," Rivers said earlier this offseason, per Will Brinson of CBSSports.com.

    The Chargers haven't been able to get a good look at Bosa on the practice field because he still isn't under contract. Regardless, it'll be Bosa's play on the game field that determines whether or not San Diego's gamble at the top of the draft pays off or backfires.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Has Chip Kelly learned from his mistakes in Philadelphia?
    Has Chip Kelly learned from his mistakes in Philadelphia?Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Hiring Chip Kelly as Head Coach

    There is always an inherent level of risk when an NFL team hires a new head coach. Yet the San Francisco 49ers' hiring of Chip Kelly appears even riskier due to recent history.

    Remember, this is a coach who was fired despite a 27-20 regular-season record and a man with a reputation for straining player and co-worker relationships.

    Kelly had a hand in shipping off successful Eagles players during his time in Philadelphia. He also played a role in acquiring guys who never really seemed to fit.

    According to reports, he immediately began to turn off talent evaluators upon gaining final say over the team's roster.

    "Almost immediately, you had a lot of scouts looking around and wondering, 'Why am I even working? Why the hell are we even here?'" an unnamed member of the Eagles front office told Matt Lombardo of NJ.com. "We put all of this work in, put the information in and Chip changed everything and took whoever he wanted to take."

    Kelly won't have full roster control in San Francisco, but this doesn't guarantee he won't butt heads with general manager Trent Baalke over the direction of the team. Kelly will have to learn from his past mistakes and change his way of coaching in order to find sustained success with the 49ers.

    If Kelly can learn from his tenure with the Eagles, the 49ers could be in very good hands for the foreseeable future. The obvious danger is that Kelly could also fall into old habits and only increase the dysfunction in San Francisco.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Gary Gilliam could move from right to left tackle this season.
    Gary Gilliam could move from right to left tackle this season.Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

    Whatever the Seahawks are Doing With Their Offensive Line

    For some reason, the Seattle Seahawks seem to have little interest in investing in their offensive line. The Seattle line was one of the worst position groups in the NFL last season—Pro Football Focus rated the unit 30th in pass blocking and 29th in run blocking—and there seem to be even more questions this offseason.

    Seattle watched as starting left tackle Russell Okung and starting guard J.R. Sweezy left in free agency. Given the overall play of the line last season, these might not be seen as huge losses, but it's difficult to see where the Seahawks are improving the overall product.

    Drafting guard Germain Ifedi in the first round may improve one spot, but having a hole at left tackle isn't good news for quarterback Russell Wilson. The team may move right tackle Garry Gilliam over to the left side and replace him with J'Marcus Webb. Both moves seem unappealing, however.

    Webb was rated just 98th overall among offensive tackles by Pro Football Focus last season. Gilliam was rated 133rd overall.

    Offseason acquisition Bradley Sowell is another possible option at tackle, but he played just 33 snaps at the position last year, according to Pro Football Focus.

    The Seahawks also seem to be counting on former guard Justin Britt solidifying the center position this season. That position has been in flux ever since the team traded Pro Bowler Max Unger in order to acquire Jimmy Graham.

    Wilson has been sacked a whopping 195 times in his four seasons, including playoffs. It doesn't appear that Seattle is going to reduce his level of punishment anytime soon.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Buccaneers are counting on J.R. Sweezy to upgrade their offensive line.
    The Buccaneers are counting on J.R. Sweezy to upgrade their offensive line.Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

    Giving J.R. Sweezy a Big Contract

    We just mentioned that starting guard J.R. Sweezy was one of the players Seattle allowed to walk this offseason. Well, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were quick to jump on Sweezy, giving him a fat five-year, $32.5 million contract.

    The addition of Sweezy might help improve the Buccaneers line, but the team is paying him like a top-level guard when he has never been one. In fact, some might argue that Sweezy is one of the worst starting guards in the entire league.

    Sweezy's biggest problem seems to be in pass protection, which isn't great news for second-year quarterback Jameis Winston. According to Pro Football Focus, Sweezy allowed five sacks, four quarterback hits and 26 quarterback hurries in 2015. He could prove to be a liability against teams that thrive on interior pressure—like, say, the division-rival Panthers.

    As an overall player, Sweezy doesn't look any more appealing. Pro Football Focus rated him just 131st overall among guards for the 2015 season and 125th overall in 2014. 

    We might look at this as a smart signing in retrospect, but Tampa is putting a lot on the line by expecting Sweezy to play at a level his contract would indicate.

Tennessee Titans

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    Did the Titans make the right decision by selecting Jack Conklin?
    Did the Titans make the right decision by selecting Jack Conklin?Jon Durr/Getty Images

    Selecting Jack Conklin over Laremy Tunsil

    Former Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil was widely considered one of the safest prospects in the entire 2016 draft class—at least in terms of on-field potential. When a certain facial-apparatus video clip surfaced online, however, Tunsil's draft stock took an immediate hit, and he began a first-round fall.

    The Tennessee Titans had an opportunity to stop Tunsil's fall when the team traded up to the No. 8 spot in the first round. The Titans—possibly under the influence of the bizarre events surrounding Tunsil—selected Michigan State product Jack Conklin instead.

    Conklin wasn't considered one of the draft's elite prospects and wasn't even seen as a first-round candidate by some. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, for example, graded Conklin as his fifth-best tackle in the draft and a second-rounder.

    It's hard to fault the Titans too much for passing on Tunsil, given the circumstances. However, trading up to snag Conklin was definitely a gamble, one that could look a bit silly if Conklin struggles while Tunsil becomes a perennial Pro Bowler.

Washington Redskins

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    Could Josh Norman struggle in Washington? The Redskins are betting that he won't.
    Could Josh Norman struggle in Washington? The Redskins are betting that he won't.Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Signing Josh Norman to a Massive Contract

    When the Panthers decided to pull the franchise tag from cornerback Josh Norman, the Washington Redskins were quick to pounce. The team quickly signed him to a five-year, $75 million deal.

    Norman's new deal includes $36.5 million fully guaranteed at signing. However, this isn't the only thing making the move a big financial risk. The Redskins are gambling on the idea that Norman can continue building on his big 2015 campaign.

    Washington's gamble is far from a sure thing. Norman is leaving championship-caliber Panthers team and entering an entirely new situation with Washington. Norman also has just one year of elite cornerback play on his resume. Pro Football Focus rated Norman sixth overall among cornerbacks last season, but just 31st overall in 2014 and 150th in 2013.

    It's fair to wonder if Norman's success last season was at least partially due to his role in the Carolina defense. Panthers cornerback Bene Benwikere was rated 16th overall among corners by Pro Football Focus in 2014. Captain Munnerlyn was rated 10th overall when he started for the Panthers in 2013. This definitely does not prove that Norman is a product of a system, but it is worth noting that Carolina has a recent history of producing top-16 cornerbacks.

    It's also fair to wonder if Norman will struggle facing elite receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant twice a year in the NFC East. During a three-game stretch last season, Norman played Beckham once and fellow top-flight receiver Julio Jones twice. He was the worst-rated cornerback in the league during that span, according to Pro Football Focus.

    These are questions that Norman can directly answer on the playing field. Time will tell how Norman will answer them, but the Redskins definitely made a perilous move in signing him.

    All contract information via Spotrac.


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