One Offseason Move Every NFL Team Could Regret
The 2018 NFL offseason is young, but more than 200 players have signed free-agent contracts worth a combined total of more than $2.4 billion dollars. Free agency doesn't have an official end date, but the circus has left town.
And though we can't draw any indisputable conclusions right now, the future will tell us that a multitude of mistakes have already been made.
Next month's draft in Arlington, Texas, will give birth to many more football regrets, but why wait for that to start speculating on the most regrettable moves of the 2018 offseason? As we enter the short respite between peak free agency and the draft, let's note every team's most potentially ill-advised decision thus far.
Contract information via Spotrac.
Arizona Cardinals: Signing Sam Bradford
The veteran quarterback is simply too expensive considering his injury history. Sam Bradford has missed the majority of three of the last five seasons due to knee injuries, and Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer told NFL Network's Tom Pelissero earlier this month that the 30-year-old's knee condition is "degenerative."
The Arizona Cardinals aren't likely going to keep up with the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West, especially considering the losses they've suffered the last two offseasons. Bradford is likely a bridge quarterback, and bridge quarterbacks shouldn't be guaranteed $15 million for what might be only one season of football.
Atlanta Falcons: Failing to Re-Sign Dontari Poe
It didn't take long to get all nitpicky on somebody. Sorry, Atlanta Falcons, but it's been a quiet offseason down there. The good news is that letting Dontari Poe walk likely won't cost them in a major way, but the two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle is coming off a strong solo season in Atlanta, and he signed with the division rival Carolina Panthers for a reasonable $28 million over three years.
His absence will likely put a lot of pressure on Ahtyba Rubin and Jack Crawford next to Grady Jarrett inside, which could cause the Falcons to miss him in 2018—especially in their two matchups with the Panthers.
Baltimore Ravens: Failing to Re-Sign Ryan Jensen
Two years ago, the Baltimore Ravens let top-notch guard Kelechi Osemele walk in free agency. Last year, solid right tackle Rick Wagner got away. This year, they again neglected the offensive line by failing to re-sign Ryan Jensen, who, according to Pro Football Focus, had the sixth-best qualified pass-blocking efficiency rating at the center position in 2017.
The 26-year-old capitalized on a breakout fourth season by landing a four-year, $42 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But that could leave the Ravens real thin inside, especially if an aging and rehabbing
Marshal Yanda again has trouble staying on the field.
Baltimore's unpredictable running game could suffer as a result of Jensen's departure.
Buffalo Bills: Signing Star Lotulelei
The Buffalo Bills might regret not re-signing tackle machine Preston Brown, especially considering the linebacker signed a cheap one-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. But there's a better chance they wind up wishing they could get their money back for Star Lotulelei, who signed the sixth-richest deal on the 2018 open market in terms of total value ($50 million over five years, with $24.7 million guaranteed).
That's a lot of green for a 28-year-old defensive tackle who underachieved during his five seasons in Carolina. Lotulelei was a first-round pick in 2013 but a mediocre starter for most of his time with the Panthers. Now, he's the highest-paid player on the Bills roster.
This was an overspend.
Carolina Panthers: Trading Daryl Worley for Torrey Smith
It's possible the Panthers gave up on Daryl Worley too quickly, especially considering the return. The 23-year-old cornerback hasn't become a star, but he has shown glimpses as a regular starter during his first two NFL seasons.
So it was weird to see a team that was already shallow at that position trade Worley away in exchange for a receiver like Torrey Smith, who has caught fewer than half of the passes thrown his way during his seven-year career. The former Raven, 49er and Philadelphia Eagle peaked a half-decade ago, but he'll cost Carolina $5 million if he makes the roster. And he'd better do that, because otherwise this trade will look even sillier.
Chicago Bears: Signing Trey Burton
The Chicago Bears have improved thanks to several splashes this offseason, but they could wind up regretting their decision to make Trey Burton the sixth-highest-paid tight end in professional football.
After all, the undrafted 26-year-old has just five career starts under his belt. He did score five touchdowns in 2017, but he's never caught 40 passes or accumulated 400 yards in a single campaign.
The Bears are paying Burton for what they hope he'll do, not for what he's done. Even though there are signs he could become a high-quality starter, that's always a risk.
Cincinnati Bengals: Trading for Cordy Glenn
In a deal with the Bills, the Bengals dropped back nine spots in the draft (12th to 21st) in exchange for Cordy Glenn. Using the NFL draft value chart, that's like trading a mid-second-round pick for a six-year veteran on the back nine of his career who has never been to a Pro Bowl and has missed 15 games the last two years.
There's a chance Glenn provides a slight (at best) upgrade over incumbent Bengals left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi—but with a $9.3 million salary-cap hit in his age-29 season.
Cleveland Browns: Signing T.J. Carrie
The Cleveland Browns entered the 2018 offseason with so much cap space and draft capital that they could afford to regret some of the moves they've made this month. They might have given too much money to Carlos Hyde, and the Tyrod Taylor trade might never pay off, but investing $15.5 million guaranteed in T.J. Carrie is more likely to cause remorse.
Carrie is a nickel cornerback with three career interceptions as he approaches his 28th birthday. He's coming off his best season, but he hadn't done much in his career before 2017, so there's a chance that was an aberration.
Signing Carrie likely won't hurt the Browns now or later, but there's a chance they'd take a do-over in a year or two.
Dallas Cowboys: Using the Franchise Tag on Demarcus Lawrence
The Dallas Cowboys were once again MIA in free agency, probably because they once again had little money to spend. It didn't help that $17.1 million of salary-cap space was occupied by the franchise tag they used on Demarcus Lawrence.
The Cowboys might not regret keeping the defensive end after a Pro Bowl season in which he put up 14.5 sacks and forced four fumbles, but they could rue that they didn't find a way to sign him to a long-term contract that would have allowed them to chase more top-tier free agents.
Who knows? With Lawrence signed, Dallas might have been able to land someone like Dontari Poe, Vinny Curry, Allen Robinson or Jimmy Graham, all of whom would have addressed major needs.
Denver Broncos: Failing to Re-Sign Cody Latimer
The Denver Broncos took a big chance on quarterback Case Keenum in free agency, but their decision to let Cody Latimer walk could actually become a bigger regret. That's because Keenum has a real chance to excel as a late-blooming starting quarterback, but also because Latimer has the ability to become a legitimate weapon with his new team, the New York Giants.
The 2014 second-round pick was a disappointment on offense during his first three years in the league, but he appeared to be taking off (albeit within a small sample size) in 2017. Despite playing only 33.6 percent of the team's offensive snaps, per Pro Football Reference, the wideout caught 19 passes for 287 yards in 11 games. He averaged a superb 15.1 yards per reception while hauling in an impressive 61.3 percent of the passes thrown his way.
Also a special teams ace, Latimer is still only 25 years old. Look for him to have a chance to excel in New York, which could cause plenty of frustration for Broncos general manager John Elway.
Detroit Lions: Trading in Eric Ebron for Luke Willson
The Detroit Lions must have run out of patience with Eric Ebron, who failed to live up to expectations as a No. 10 overall pick during his four seasons there. But Detroit let the 24-year-old tight end walk after a quietly promising season for only $15 million on a two-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts.
Luke Willson is making a lot less money, but his ceiling is also a lot lower. The 28-year-old averaged just 9.4 yards per catch the last two years with the Seattle Seahawks (Ebron averaged 11.3 during the same span), and his cumulative stats pale in comparison to Ebron's.
Throw in that the Lions also let big tight end Darren Fells get away, and you've got a recipe for regret.
Green Bay Packers: Trading Damarious Randall for DeShone Kizer
If the Green Bay Packers are in a position in which they need to use DeShone Kizer at quarterback, they've got a problem. That's not to say that adding reinforcements under center is a bad idea, but it was too early to give up on Damarious Randall.
The 25-year-old cornerback is coming off his best (and healthiest) season. He intercepted four passes to bring his career total to 10 in just 39 games. And while his future remains up in the air at corner, Randall has a history at safety. He might have had a chance to excel in a broader role within that Green Bay secondary, but the revamped Packers regime threw in the towel.
Now they could find themselves watching as he succeeds in a new position with the Browns.
Houston Texans: Signing Zach Fulton
Versatile interior offensive lineman Zach Fulton could give a boost to the Houston Texans offense as either a center or a guard, but a four-year, $28 million deal is quite rich for a middle-of-the-pack player at a non-premium position.
The Texans might be paying the 26-year-old for what they hope he can become, but he was just a sixth-round pick in 2014, and he didn't do anything special with the Kansas City Chiefs the last four years. It wouldn't be surprising if the Texans regret giving Fulton $13 million guaranteed.
Indianapolis Colts: Failing to Re-Sign Rashaan Melvin
Considering that 28-year-old cornerback Rashaan Melvin signed a simple one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Oakland Raiders, the Colts probably could have brought him back cheap. But instead a team in need of all the help it can get on defense let a potential long-term starter walk following a season in which he intercepted three passes and had 13 passes defensed in just 10 games.
PFF called Melvin "a breakout star in 2017" while noting that "his 60.3 passer rating on throws into his coverage was the 10th-lowest among all the league's cornerbacks."
Like recently released defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, Melvin might not be an ideal fit for the new defensive scheme in Indy. But talent is talent, and he would have had a chance to start opposite Quincy Wilson in 2018. The cap-rich Colts could have at least given it a shot at an affordable rate, but now it seems likely they'll flounder while the Northern Illinois product continues to flourish in Oakland.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Trading in Aaron Colvin for D.J. Hayden
Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye got most of the credit, but Aaron Colvin had a strong season as the Jacksonville Jaguars' slot cornerback in 2017. Per PFF, the 26-year-old "finished sixth in the league in terms of fewest yards allowed per snap in coverage."
But even though they had the salary-cap space to bring back Colvin, the Jags watched him sign a four-year, $34 million contract with the division rival Texans.
That's a lot of money for a nickel corner, but by saving a few bucks and instead signing bust D.J. Hayden for $19 million over three years, Jacksonville took a small step backward in the secondary. Hayden just isn't as strong of a player and is coming off a poor season in Detroit.
Odd considering that the Jags were willing to spend $66.5 million on guard Andrew Norwell, despite the fact that the non-premium position wasn't a major area of need.
Kansas City Chiefs: Signing Sammy Watkins
The Chiefs have taken several potentially regrettable risks this offseason: trading away veteran quarterback Alex Smith and top cornerback Marcus Peters, releasing veteran edge-rusher Tamba Hali and giving $9 million a year to linebacker Anthony Hitchens.
But the biggest risk they took was signing Sammy Watkins to a three-year, $48 million deal with $30 million guaranteed.
For a team already loaded with offensive weapons, that's a wild amount of cash to promise an embattled wide receiver who has caught just 55 percent of the passes thrown his way the last two seasons and is joining his third team in as many years.
Watkins is only 24, but he hasn't played a full season since he was a rookie in 2014 and has never caught more than 65 passes in a single campaign.
The Chiefs are hoping he'll take off in Kansas City. If he doesn't, they'll have egg on their face for making him the fourth-highest-paid receiver in the league.
Los Angeles Chargers: Failing to Bring Back Tre Boston (So Far)
The Los Angeles Chargers haven't made any major regrettable moves in what's been a quiet offseason, but it's a tad surprising they've yet to re-sign Tre Boston, who experienced a breakout season after coming over from the Panthers in 2017.
The 25-year-old safety intercepted five passes and recorded 79 tackles along with eight passes defensed while starting 15 games, but he remains on the open market.
The Chargers could turn this potential regret into a stroke of genius if they bring Boston back on a cheap prove-it deal now, but by letting him twist in the wind as a free agent, they're taking a risk. There isn't much roster depth at the position.
Los Angeles Rams: Trading for Aqib Talib
The Rams were going to have to take a risk regardless of what they did about their cornerback situation this offseason. Top cover guy Trumaine Johnson would cost a lot to re-sign after receiving the franchise tag in 2016 and 2017, but letting him walk would also be risky.
Not only did Los Angeles decide against re-signing Johnson, but instead of saving the cash and focusing on cornerback prospects in the draft, the Rams also traded for veterans Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib.
While Peters comes cheap at the age of 25, Talib's six-year, $57 million deal makes the 32-year-old the fourth-highest-paid player in the Los Angeles roster. Considering he's entering his 11th year and coming off the first season of his career in which he failed to record multiple interceptions, there's a chance the Rams will be paying Talib as he rapidly declines.
Miami Dolphins: Trading Jarvis Landry
The Miami Dolphins have made some big changes this offseason, but they'll undoubtedly try to contend again with quarterback Ryan Tannehill on track to be fully healthy in 2018. That's why trading Tannehill's top receiver was such a big risk.
The Dolphins saved a lot of money by cutting ties with Jarvis Landry (who would have hogged $16 million in cap space under the franchise tag), but it won't be easy to replace a guy who has caught a record 400 passes in his first four NFL seasons and is coming off a 112-reception, nine-touchdown campaign.
Free-agent replacements Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola will make less money combined in 2018 than Landry would have, but Wilson has failed to hit the 600-yard mark in all four of his pro seasons, and Amendola is wearing down at age 32.
If the offense struggles in 2018, the Dolphins might miss Landry.
Minnesota Vikings: Signing Kirk Cousins
I mean, the Vikings are paying Kirk Cousins a record $28 million per year. And while that's not surprising considering the 2016 Pro Bowl quarterback should be in his prime at age 29, the fact is that some of his rate-based numbers have dropped in back-to-back seasons.
Cousins is not a perfect quarterback, and the Vikings could have had Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater or AJ McCarron for a lot less money. If any of those guys outplay Cousins in 2019, the Vikes could have buyer's remorse really quickly.
New England Patriots: Failing to Re-Sign Nate Solder
The New England Patriots routinely let veterans walk for more money elsewhere, and they almost always look like geniuses for doing so. There's a good chance they won't miss Nate Solder or fellow free-agent departures Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis, but it's fair to wonder if losing Solder will hurt them.
Forty-year-old Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is the oldest position player in the NFL, and he's had Solder protecting his blind side for the majority of the last six years. Brady has basically had two solid left tackles protecting him since the start of his career: Matt Light from 2001 to 2011 and Solder since 2012.
But right now, the top candidates to replace Solder are 2017 third-round pick Antonio Garcia (who missed his rookie season because of blood clots in his lungs), Matt Tobin (who couldn't crack the Seahawks' starting lineup last year) and undrafted 26-year-old LaAdrian Waddle (who struggled in four starts at right tackle in 2017).
New Orleans Saints: Signing Demario Davis
Demario Davis hasn't missed a game in his six-year NFL career, but the steady linebacker has caused just two turnovers (an interception in 2013 and a forced fumble in 2016) in his 96 games. He isn't a playmaker to begin with, but it's also possible the 29-year-old's best days are behind him.
For $24 million over three years with $16 million guaranteed, Davis was an expensive investment for the cap-strapped New Orleans Saints.
New York Giants: Signing Nate Solder
While the Patriots could regret letting Nate Solder get away, the Giants could just as easily regret making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in terms of average annual salary in the NFL.
Solder signed for $62 million over four years with $34.8 million guaranteed, which is steep for a soon-to-be 30-year-old with zero Pro Bowl nods on his resume. He'll likely help bolster a bad offensive line, but he'll take up a lot of salary cap space while seemingly on the decline.
It might not take long before the Giants wish they could have this one back.
New York Jets: Trading Up to the No. 3 Pick in the Draft
In order to move up three spots from the sixth pick, the New York Jets surrendered three second-round selections (two in 2018, one in 2019) to the Colts. That's a hell of a ransom considering they still have to pick behind the Browns and Giants.
A day before the Jets made that trade, Bills GM Brandon Beane told Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News that it was still too early to know whom he might favor among the top quarterbacks in the draft. It's hard to believe New York GM Mike Maccagnan is that much further along in the process, which suggests this move could have been hasty.
And even if the Jets are already in love, does that mean they've fallen for three separate players? That's even more far-fetched.
It's an odd move that could backfire considering the crapshoot-like nature of the draft.
Oakland Raiders: Hiring Jon Gruden
After a nine-year absence from the coaching world, the new Raiders head coach hasn't done much to prove that he's up with the times. Weeks after he said he isn't down with analytics and wants to "throw the game back to 1998," Jon Gruden's Raiders signed two headliner free agents who would have made much larger headlines half a decade ago.
Running back Doug Martin is 29 years old, has missed 13 games the last two years and in 2017 averaged just 2.9 yards per carry for the second season in a row. Meanwhile, soon-to-be 33-year-old wide receiver Jordy Nelson's numbers have declined in two straight seasons, but for some reason they signed him and dumped the much younger and much more productive Michael Crabtree.
The Raiders had money to spend this offseason, but they have gotten older without getting much better.
Might they soon wonder if giving Gruden a 10-year, $100 million contract was a mistake?
Philadelphia Eagles: Failing to Re-Sign Patrick Robinson
It has often felt as though Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman can do no wrong, but the cap-strapped reigning Super Bowl champions did have trouble keeping players on the open market.
The one whom they might most regret letting get away is Patrick Robinson, who experienced a career year as Philadelphia's slot cornerback in 2017. The 30-year-old picked off four passes and allowed a completion percentage of just 54.5 in the slot. According to PFF, that was the second-best mark in the league.
Yet Robinson left town to take a four-year deal with the Saints worth only $5 million a year.
The Eagles better hope Ronald Darby stays healthy and 2017 draftee Sidney Jones plays big in 2018.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Failing to Sign Tyrann Mathieu
The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the offseason in need of talent at safety. Unsurprisingly, they were connected to Tyrann Mathieu the moment the Honey Badger was released by the Cardinals, but the versatile 25-year-old defensive back signed with the Texans for just $7 million on a one-year deal.
A few days later, the Steelers got veteran safety Morgan Burnett for a good price (three years, $14.4 million), but the 29-year-old former Packer was a consolation prize. He's missed 10 games and has intercepted just two passes over the last three years, and he's likely beyond his prime.
Mathieu has a much higher ceiling, and if he goes on to rediscover his superstar abilities in Houston, the Steelers will kick themselves for not outbidding the Texans.
San Francisco 49ers: Signing Jerick McKinnon
The greatest fear among 49ers fans is surely that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will fail to deliver on the five-year, $137.5 million contract the team gave him based on just a seven-start sample, but that's what you have to give a high-ceiling 26-year-old at that position.
Besides, I believe in Garoppolo.
There's a better chance San Francisco will soon wonder what it was thinking when it gave Jerick McKinnon $30 million over four years with $15.7 million guaranteed. The 25-year-old has room to grow and excels in the passing game, but he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry over the last two years in Minnesota.
Four years into his career, the 2014 third-round pick has rushed for 100 yards in a game just twice. And yet the 49ers decided to make him the fourth-highest-paid running back in football.
That contract might not age well.
Seattle Seahawks: Failing to Re-Sign Jimmy Graham
We'll go with this because it would be a cop-out to say "everything." The Seahawks are gambling that they can avoid a full rebuild by trimming aging fat this offseason, which is why Jimmy Graham, Sheldon Richardson and Richard Sherman are no longer on the roster.
Sherman is about to turn 30, recovering from a major injury and had become too expensive. Besides, the secondary should still be in decent shape with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. And Richardson was only in Seattle for a cup of coffee anyway.
Graham's loss could be the one that hurts the most because quarterback Russell Wilson has so little support. The five-time Pro Bowl tight end might not be the player he was in New Orleans, but he was Wilson's safety valve and one of the top red-zone targets in football.
It'll be difficult to replace the only tight end who scored 10 touchdowns in 2017, especially since the solid Luke Willson also departed on the open market. And it's not as though Graham struck gold in Green Bay; he signed for $30 million over three years.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trading for Jason Pierre-Paul
For the second consecutive offseason, the Buccaneers spent big money in March. They committed $55 million guaranteed to Mike Evans, gave another $22 million guaranteed to center Ryan Jensen and spent a combined $78.8 million on Cameron Brate, Vinny Curry and Beau Allen.
But those last two additions joined a defensive line already anchored by six-time Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy. So, it seemed like overkill when Tampa Bay traded a third-round pick for Jason Pierre-Paul, whose four-year, $62 million deal makes him the third-highest-paid player on the roster.
The 29-year-old defensive end has just 16.5 sacks in 36 games over the last three years. He isn't the player he was earlier in his career, which is why new Giants GM Dave Gettleman was probably happy to get his salary off the books.
Don't be surprised if Bucs GM Jason Licht feels the same way in a year or two.
Tennessee Titans: Signing Malcolm Butler
The Tennessee Titans have so many ties to the Patriots that you'd have to imagine GM Jon Robinson and/or new head coach Mike Vrabel got to the bottom of Malcolm Butler's Super Bowl LII benching. Still, it's not a good sign that Belichick the Great seemed to sour on his No. 1 corner when it mattered most.
Butler will forever be a Super Bowl hero, and he deserves credit for following his game-saving pick in 2014 with a Pro Bowl season in 2015 and a four-interception campaign in 2016. But he had a down year in 2017. That didn't stop Tennessee from making the 28-year-old one of the 10 highest-paid cornerbacks in the game with a five-year, $61.3 million deal.
If he doesn't get back to his 2015-16 ways, the Titans will regret that investment.
Washington Redskins: Trading for Alex Smith
The first big move of the 2018 offseason might also be the most regrettable one for the Washington Redskins, who five days before the Super Bowl essentially confirmed they were done with Kirk Cousins by agreeing to trade a 2018 third-round pick and promising young cornerback Kendall Fuller to the Chiefs in exchange for Alex Smith.
Not only did Washington surrender a good draft pick and a starting-caliber player to go from a 29-year-old with a career passer rating of 93.7 to a 33-year-old with a career rating of 87.4, but it also then doubled down by giving Smith a four-year, $94 million contract extension.
Now a notorious playoff choker is under contract with the team through his age-38 season, and according to Over the Cap's Jason Fitzgerald, he will make more than Cousins will from Minnesota over the same time span.
Something tells me it won't take long for the regret to creep in.