The Most Boneheaded Moves of the NFL Offseason
Grading the NFL draft or free agency is difficult in a vacuum because there is so much crossover in player acquisition. But with all but seemingly Dez Bryant and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie signed, we finally have a solid grasp on how the offseason has shaken out.
With that perspective, we can look at the worst decisions from the last few months. That includes instances where teams overpaid—either with money or draft picks—made ill-advised new additions or undervalued in-house players who since moved on.
These are the NFL's worst half-cooked ideas, some of which teams may already want back.
Seahawks Give Up Michael Bennett for a 5th-Round Pick, Back-End WR
The Seattle Seahawks underwent drastic defensive changes this offseason. Once one of the best Cover 3 units in the sport's history, Seattle saw its aging defensive line and secondary decline in 2017. The injuries to defensive end Cliff Avril (neck) and cornerback Richard Sherman (torn Achilles) led to their releases, while safety Kam Chancellor's status, post-neck injury, is up in the air.
Seattle also traded Michael Bennett, who has made the last three Pro Bowls. It sent the defensive end and a seventh-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for receiver Marcus Johnson and a fifth-round pick. Since Bennett signed with the Seahawks in 2013, no 4-3 defensive end has made more tackles at or behind the line than the Texas A&M alum (114.5).
Despite the fact that Bennett is 32, a fifth-round pick and a back-end receiver weren't enough for him. By comparison, Kansas City traded 34-year-old quarterback Alex Smith to Washington for a starting cornerback (Kendall Fuller) and a third-round pick. According to ESPN fantasy projections, Johnson is slated to be the Seahawks' fifth receiver and record nine receptions in 2018. Seattle used the fifth-round pick to move up for Texas punter Michael Dickson.
The Seahawks have $12.8 million in cap space, a much higher number than Bennett's $5.7 million hit. If Seattle wanted to, it could have worked around its cap situation to keep the defensive end. Instead, it moved the best penetrating 4-3 defensive end in a half-decade for what amounted to a fifth wide receiver and a punter.
Opposite of established defensive end Frank Clark, the Seahawks will have Dion Jordan, a 28-year-old with seven career sacks; Barkevious Mingo, a 27-year-old with nine career sacks; and Rasheem Green, a rookie third-round pick.
Miami Gets Nothing Back for Ndamukong Suh
In his first five years, all with the Detroit Lions, Ndamukong Suh earned north of $64 million. When his initial contract ran out after 2014, he left Detroit for Miami and signed a massive six-year, $114 million pact, making him one of the league's highest-paid players.
However, the Dolphins couldn't carry the money. It only took Miami one season to restructure Suh's contract.
His cap hits slowly rose from $6.1 million in 2015 all the way up to $26.1 million for 2018. Thus, he became a cap casualty this offseason as Miami released him without compensation.
This is a poor result for a few reasons. First, Suh is one of the best defensive tackles in the sport's history. While with Miami, the Nebraska graduate posted more tackles at or behind the line in the run game (59) than anyone from 2015 to 2017. He was also Pro Football Focus' fifth-highest-graded interior lineman in 2017.
Second, Miami used a June 1 designation on Suh, meaning it must carry his salary on its cap through June 1 but will assume his prorated bonuses in 2019. Even without Suh, the Dolphins are stuck with his $26.1 million hit until next month, which has limited their free-agent activity. It also means Suh won't be completely off their books until the 2020 season.
After three years, the Dolphins couldn't work around a Suh contract they not only agreed to but also later restructured. After letting the five-time Pro Bowler walk for nothing, they're spending the 2018 offseason sitting on his salary. They will still have to wrangle up north of $13 million in cap space in 2019 to cover the remainder of his bonus money, making this one of the season's biggest head-scratchers.
Giants Make Nate Solder the Highest-Paid OT
After three years of the Ereck Flowers experiment, the New York Giants pulled the plug on his future as a left tackle. We should applaud them for that. Still, the four-year, $62 million contract they gave former New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder was surprising.
Solder, who has been a quality player, didn't make a Pro Bowl in his seven years in New England. Despite that, he's slated to make $15.5 million per year, which makes him the highest-paid player out of the NFL's 160 starting offensive linemen.
He'll make $35 million in the first two years of his deal. Here's what the other four offensive tackles with an average salary of more than $12 million have made or will make in the first two years of their new pacts:
- Trent Williams: $30.9 million
- Russell Okung: $25.9 million
- Tyron Smith $22.1 million
- Terron Armstead: $21.0 million
The only offensive tackle close to Solder's pay bracket is Williams, who has made the Pro Bowl for six straight seasons. The former Patriot has proved he can hold his own, but eventually contracts like his, Olivier Vernon's and Eli Manning's, with an Odell Beckham Jr. extension on the horizon, will take a toll in New York.
Jacksonville Takes $9.6 Million Cap Hit on Donte Moncrief
Receiver Donte Moncrief, a 2014 third-round pick, signed a one-year, $9.6 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason after spending his rookie deal with the Indianapolis Colts. In 2015, Moncrief broke out with a 773-yard season. In the two years since, he's recorded just 698 receiving yards, good for 129th in the NFL.
Moncrief's 2018 cap hit ranks 17th among receivers, ahead of Golden Tate, Robert Woods, Marvin Jones, Antonio Brown, Sammy Watkins and Adam Thielen. His hit is also just $50,000 short of Keenan Allen's. When you compare Moncrief's recent production to the receivers he ranks among financially, there's a disconnect in value.
The Jaguars drafted Dede Westbrook in the fourth round in 2017, re-signed Marqise Lee on a $34 million deal this offseason and selected D.J. Chark in the second round of April's draft. There's a world in which Moncrief is the team's fourth receiver by the end of the season despite making No. 1 money.
Jacksonville's 2019 cap situation is significant, too. The Jaguars and Eagles are the two teams slated to be more than $5 million over the cap next season. Sitting at about $38.9 million over, Jacksonville might have been better off going into the season with Lee, Chark and Westbrook at receiver and rolling over the money it spent on Moncrief for 2019 cap relief.
Trey Burton Goes from Backup to $32 Million Man
The Chicago Bears' pass-catching unit will be unrecognizable this season. After putting a new emphasis on offensive innovation with the hires of head coach Matt Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich, the Bears added receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller along with tight end Trey Burton. Burton's new four-year, $32 million contract has raised eyebrows, though.
In his first four years, Burton recorded 629 receiving yards and six touchdowns, numbers 170 players matched or beat. In 2017, he recorded 248 receiving yards and five touchdowns, numbers 49 players matched or beat.
For last year's Eagles, Burton only played 26.5 percent of the team's offensive snaps, which was the third-most among Philadelphia tight ends. He only played more than 30 percent of Philly's offensive snaps in three of the Eagles' games last year.
No matter how you do the math, it's clear Burton will have to play twice or three times as much as he has. And he'll get more guaranteed money ($18 million) than any other player at the position. That's risky.
New Orleans Trades Up for Marcus Davenport
Before the most recent draft, Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit created a value chart that measures how teams have valued picks in recent trades. With that as context, the New Orleans Saints' trade up for UTSA pass-rusher Marcus Davenport makes no sense.
New Orleans dealt the Nos. 27 and 147 picks in the 2018 draft and its 2019 first-round selection to the Green Bay Packers for the 14th overall selection. According to OddsShark, sportsbooks have projected the Saints for 8.5 wins, so assuming that their 2019 first-round pick falls around 19th overall is fair.
The 19th, 28th and 147th picks have a combined worth between the third and fourth overall picks based on Hill's chart. The Packers, who only had to give up the 14th overall pick, gained what in Hill's chart is roughly equal to the 34th overall selection in excess value from the deal.
Aside from Davenport himself, the decision-making process that led to the pass-rusher's selection was fairly unprecedented. Teams don't usually treat their future first-round picks like current second-rounders. The Packers, in the first year under new general manager Brian Gutekunst, must have seen the long-term value of the Saints' first-round picks.
The Jets Trade 3 2nd-Round Picks to Move Up 3 Slots
In March, more than a month before the 2018 NFL draft, the New York Jets traded three second-round picks and the sixth selection to the Indianapolis Colts for the third overall pick. According to Pro Football Focus' Eric Eager's model, the Colts should win that trade about two-thirds of the time.
The assumption was the Jets were moving up for a quarterback, which was the case, but the draft didn't shake out as we imagined in March. No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield was not the favorite to go there until the day the Cleveland Browns drafted him, and many assumed the Giants were in the market for a quarterback at No. 2.
Instead, the Giants drafted Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, leaving the likes of Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen—three quarterbacks who were potential first overall picks—all on the board. The Jets selected Darnold at No. 3, but both Allen (No. 7) and Rosen (No. 10) were taken after the sixth overall pick, the selection the Jets originally owned.
One has to wonder if New York, after the quarterbacks dropped, would've taken the trade back. If the Jets waited to pull the trigger until April, would they even have made the deal, or would they have sat back at No. 6?
Oakland Signs Jon Gruden to a 10-Year Contract
Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis shocked the world by offering Jon Gruden, a former Raiders head coach and Monday Night Football color commentator, a 10-year, $100 million contract to return to the sidelines. Only New England Patriots head coach-general manager Bill Belichick, who has been to every AFC Championship Game over the last seven years, matches Gruden's $10 million per season.
No NFL coach can touch Gruden's unprecedented contract length, though. Only six coaches—Belichick, Marvin Lewis, Mike McCarthy, Mike Tomlin, Sean Payton and John Harbaugh—have held the same job for a decade or longer.
Gruden is slated to be the head coach for the Raiders in 2027, when he will draft out of a pool of players who are currently in the sixth or seventh grade. The success of coaching hires seems to be a coin flip, with equal failure rates in most coaching trees. The relocating Raiders took a massive chance with Gruden. We'll check back in after the 2027 season to see if he was one of the lucky six-in-32 coaches who can last a decade-plus at the same gig.
Salary-cap info provided by Spotrac unless otherwise noted.