1 Free Agent Every NFL Team Should Avoid This Offseason
We're on the doorstep of the 2018 NFL postseason, but for the 20 teams that didn't get in, it's time to look ahead to the 2019 offseason.
The obvious goal is closing the talent gap via free agency and the draft. But with the former, massive contracts that don't work out can derail a franchise. Just look at how regrettable last offseason's signings of Trumaine Johnson and Sam Bradford were.
We're here to examine one deal each team should avoid in 2019. We'll be looking at players who should be off the radar because of factors like lack of potential, poor team fit or cap constraints.
Arizona Cardinals: WR Golden Tate
The Arizona Cardinals need to surround Josh Rosen with receiving talent, especially if veteran Larry Fitzgerald hangs up his cleats. However, the free-agent market isn't deep at wideout.
Golden Tate is one of the few proven veterans, but the Cardinals shouldn't run to add him. While he thrived during his time with Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions, he struggled to adapt to the Philadelphia Eagles after being traded.
In eight games with Philadelphia, he caught 30 passes for just 278 yards and a touchdown. Spending big on a receiver who will be 31 next season wouldn't be a smart play for a rebuilding franchise. A younger player like Adam Humphries, or even going the draft route, would make more sense.
Atlanta Falcons: DT Sheldon Richardson
Poor defense was the Atlanta Falcons' downfall in 2018, and while injuries played a role, an inability to stop the run didn't help matters. Opposing teams averaged 4.9 yards per carry against them.
That's why adding Sheldon Richardson to the defensive tackle rotation could be tempting. He could help clog the middle, allowing the speed of Atlanta's defense to win on the edges. He could also help bring interior pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
However, Richardson isn't going to come cheaply. He played on a one-year, $8 million deal in 2018, and the Falcons already have a free-agent tackle to re-sign in Grady Jarrett. They should take the money they would spend on Richardson and use it to lock down their own 25-year-old rising star.
Baltimore Ravens: WR Larry Fitzgerald
If Larry Fitzgerald doesn't retire, he'll be a free agent this offseason. A potential pairing with the Baltimore Ravens is intriguing, as Fitzgerald would get to finish with a contender and the Ravens would get an experienced pass-catcher for young quarterback Lamar Jackson.
The pairing wouldn't be unprecedented either, as the Ravens have taken chances on aging receivers like Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith Sr. in the past. However, Baltimore should resist the urge this time around.
Fitzgerald is one of the best to ever play the game, but Baltimore needs to focus on receivers who can grow and develop alongside Jackson for the long term. Someone like 26-year-old Tyrell Williams would be better-suited for this role.
Buffalo Bills: TE Tyler Eifert
Charles Clay is no longer the reliable pass-catcher he once was, and the Buffalo Bills need to find themselves one at tight end to aid quarterback Josh Allen. Cincinnati Bengals standout Tyler Eifert will be a tempting target because he's an elite tight end when healthy.
"When" is the operative word here, because the problem with Eifert is that he has struggled to stay healthy throughout his pro career. He's played eight or fewer games in four of his six NFL seasons, and he landed on injured reserve with a broken ankle in 2018.
Buffalo needs to surround Allen with talent he can count on. An oft-injured tight end who will be 29 in September is not it. The Bills would do better to weigh their options in the draft.
Carolina Panthers: DE Ezekiel Ansah
The Carolina Panthers may look for pass-rushing help in free agency. They shouldn't, however, look to Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.
Ansah, who played on the franchise tag this past season, is likely to command a fair amount on the open market. That's one issue for the Panthers, who are projected to have just over $13 million in cap space.
The other issue with Ansah is that he's been inconsistent over the course of his career. He finished 2018 on injured reserve but has only missed 16 games in six seasons. However, he's also only reached double-digit sacks twice.
The Panthers cannot afford to pay for Ansah's ceiling (14.5 sacks in 2015), especially if they never see it.
Chicago Bears: K Dan Bailey
Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey has had his share of struggles this season. He missed seven field goals and three extra points in the regular season, and he took to practicing at Soldier Field to better condition himself for game days. While the Bears have stuck by him for the postseason, that doesn't mean he has their long-term faith.
"We'll expect him to make the kicks when he's supposed to," special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said, per Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times.
If things go south, Chicago could be looking for a new kicker in the offseason. It should steer clear of former division rival Dan Bailey.
Bailey was once the second-most accurate kicker in league history, but that time has passed. He has missed seven field goals and an extra point for the Minnesota Vikings in 14 games.
Cincinnati Bengals: OT Ereck Flowers
The Cincinnati Bengals have needed to upgrade their offensive line for some time now. They attempted to do so last offseason by adding Cordy Glenn at left tackle, which worked to a point, but right tackle Bobby Hart and the rest of the line remained a liability.
Given the well-known frugality of Bengals owner Mike Brown, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Cincinnati go after former first-round pick Ereck Flowers.
This would be a thrifty move that the Bengals could try selling to the fanbase as a reclamation project. However, they would be wiser to not do so. Flowers, the 2015 ninth overall pick, was a major disappointment with the New York Giants, was released during the regular season and was then a subpar player for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
After collapsing and missing the playoffs in 2018 and firing head coach Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati should try avoiding disappointment for a while.
Cleveland Browns: DT Ndamukong Suh
The Cleveland Browns are beginning to put together a competitive football team. They have a franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield and the foundation for a ferocious defense. With guys like Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah, Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert on board, the defensive front seven is loaded.
What the Browns could use is an elite defensive tackle. This is where Ndamukong Suh comes in. He's been one of the most dominant interior defenders in recent memory, and he's the type of big-name free agent that would excite the fanbase.
However, Suh also turns 32 this month and has a history of on-field issues. He will also command a large payday. Cleveland is a young and impressionable team that needs locker room leaders who will be in their prime for the foreseeable future.
Dallas Cowboys: WR Tavon Austin
The Dallas Cowboys took a chance on wide receiver Tavon Austin this past offseason, giving up a sixth-round pick in exchange for him. The experiment with the gadget player hasn't worked out, though. Injuries limited him to just seven games, and Austin had a minimal impact even when healthy.
In those seven games, Austin produced 195 combined rushing and receiving yards and two touchdowns.
The reality is that Dallas needs to build a stable receiving corps around Dak Prescott—and that likely starts with giving Amari Cooper a contract extension. There is no reason for the Cowboys to spend money on a gimmicky role player when that cap space can go to securing Cooper and adding legitimate full-time receivers to the roster.
Denver Broncos: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
The Denver Broncos took a chance on quarterback Case Keenum last offseason, inking him to a two-year, $36 million deal that includes $7 million guaranteed for 2019. Denver can afford to cut Keenum, but it feels more likely that it will keep him and bring in competition in the offseason.
That competition shouldn't include Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bearded Wonder can be a valuable spot starter in stretches, but he's a stopgap quarterback at best. This is what the Broncos already have in Keenum, though Fitzpatrick is a slightly more exciting version.
Adding the 36-year-old Fitzpatrick instead of a younger quarterback such as Tyrod Taylor (29), Teddy Bridgewater (26) or a 2019 draft pick would only continue to delay the search for a franchise signal-caller.
Detroit Lions: DE Ezekiel Ansah
We've already discussed Ansah's inconsistency during his NFL tenure. The Lions are familiar with it since...well...he's spent his entire pro career in Detroit.
The Lions tried to get Ansah to prove he was worthy of a long-term deal by franchise-tagging him in 2018. The results were underwhelming even when Ansah was healthy, and there's virtually no way the Lions can consider giving him the tag again.
While a low-ball offer and a chance at redemption could be possible, it would probably be best for both parties to move on. There are quality pass-rushers in this year's draft class, and there are more attractive options, such as Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark, heading to market.
Green Bay Packers: DE Muhammad Wilkerson
The Green Bay Packers took a chance on veteran defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson last offseason, likely believing he was a missing piece of a potential Super Bowl team. Green Bay inked him to a one-year, $5 million deal but got little in return.
Wilkerson's season was cut short by a severe ankle injury after only three games, five combined tackles and zero sacks.
There's no reason for the Packers to take another chance on Wilkerson next offseason. He'll turn 30 in October and will be coming off a significant recovery from injury. The Packers are not a Super Bowl team and need to focus on adding younger pieces for what should be a mini-rebuild.
Houston Texans: OT Cedric Ogbuehi
A popular strategy during free agency is often to scoop up former high draft picks who haven't worked out with other teams. The Browns did it with 2014 first-rounder Greg Robinson in June and may have gotten themselves a starting left tackle. The Houston Texans desperately need to upgrade their offensive line and may want to employ the strategy this offseason.
Pro Football Focus ranked the Texans line 10th-worst for the regular season, and it allowed Deshaun Watson to be sacked an alarming 62 times (the most of any quarterback since 2006).
However, the Texans shouldn't take a flier on 2015 first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi. The Texas A&M product has been a complete bust with the Bengals, but he's going to get opportunities and a sizable free-agent check as a former 21st overall selection. Houston would be better off grabbing a tackle in the draft.
Indianapolis Colts: RB Le'Veon Bell
Pro Bowl running backs in their prime don't hit the open market often, but that's where Le'Veon Bell will find himself in 2019 after skipping this past season altogether because of a contract dispute. He's openly flirted with the idea of joining Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, and while the pairing would be tempting, the Colts should stay away.
Bell isn't going to come cheaply. He turned down more than $14 million in 2018 in order to maintain his health for that fat second contract. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Bell wants more than $17 million per year, and Colts general manager Chris Ballard should just grin and shake his head.
Indianapolis has a backfield duo in Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines that is more than serviceable. While neither may be as special as Bell at least was—we don't know how he'll perform after a year off—the pair have helped get the Colts into the postseason, and there is plenty of room for growth. Mack rushed for more than 1,000 yards in just 12 games.
If Indianapolis is going to spend $17 million per year on a player, it should go after an edge-rusher like Demarcus Lawrence or a complementary receiver opposite T.Y. Hilton like Adam Humphries.
Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Mark Ingram
OK, we're entering speculation territory a bit. Right now, the Jacksonville Jaguars have 2017 first-round pick Leonard Fournette at running back. However, he may not be on the roster by the time free agency opens March 13. The Jaguars plan to void Fournette's contract guarantees after his lackluster season that involved a one-game suspension for fighting.
This feels like a precursor to Fournette's release. There's no way Jacksonville believes this course of action is going to lead to a content and better-performing player.
Bruising runner Mark Ingram II seems like a natural fit for Jacksonville's offense—he's essentially been what Fournette was supposed to be over the last couple of seasons. However, after having success in New Orleans alongside Alvin Kamara, Ingram won't come cheap.
The Jaguars, who are expected to be over the cap in 2019, can't even toy with the idea of adding him. If Jacksonville is going to replace Fournette in the offseason, it'll likely be in the draft.
Kansas City Chiefs: RB Le'Veon Bell
Remember what we were saying about Bell and his potential contract demands? This is the reason why the Kansas City Chiefs shouldn't be tempted by his on-field ability.
Yes, the Chiefs parted with 2017 rushing leader Kareem Hunt. Yes, Bell's dual-threat ability makes him a natural fit for head coach Andy Reid's offensive system. Sure, watching Bell and Patrick Mahomes play together would be a ton of fun. However, there's no reason for the Chiefs to shell out big money for their running back.
After watching both Spencer Ware and Damien Williams thrive in the Kansas City offense after Hunt's release, it feels like the Chiefs could make virtually any back a star. It makes more sense to stick with a young player like Williams, 26, or to turn to the draft for the next Hunt.
Los Angeles Chargers: OT Ereck Flowers
We've already mentioned the struggles of 2015 first-round pick and offensive tackle Ereck Flowers. Some team is going to take a chance on him to see if it can help him reach his potential. That team should not be the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Chargers have some uncertainty at right tackle, and Pro Football Focus ranked the L.A. line as the third-worst for the regular season. Flowers shouldn't be an option, though.
The deal is this. Quarterback Philip Rivers is 37 years old. The Chargers' Super Bowl window is open, but it isn't going to stay that way. Los Angeles doesn't have the time to waste on an offensive lineman who is still a project heading into his fifth pro season.
Los Angeles Rams: DE Dante Fowler Jr.
The Los Angeles Rams traded to acquire defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. from the Jaguars at the Oct. 30 deadline. The hope was that the 2015 third overall pick would be able to help Los Angeles' pass rush off the edge.
Unfortunately, Fowler hasn't had much of an impact. In eight games with L.A., he produced a mere 21 combined tackles and two sacks. He'll have the opportunity to redeem himself in the postseason, but his lack of motor seems to have followed him from Jacksonville.
As a 24-year-old former first-rounder at a premier position, Fowler is going to get paid despite being a bust thus far. The Rams, who are expected to have just over $38 million in cap space, should instead spend their money on a more consistent pass-rusher like Frank Clark.
Miami Dolphins: DT Sheldon Richardson
The Miami Dolphins created a hole on the interior of their defensive front when they cut Ndamukong Suh in March. Filling that hole should be an offseason priority.
One tempting option is former division rival Sheldon Richardson. While he isn't quite what Suh was in his prime, Richardson is a top-tier defensive tackle, and he's familiar with the AFC East. However, Richardson is also going to come at a price. He played on an $8 million deal this past season.
The Dolphins are expected to have just over $13 million in cap space at the start of free agency. While adding Richardson looks great on paper, it's a move Miami cannot afford to make without first trimming some of its own fat.
Minnesota Vikings: OT Jared Veldheer
Quarterback Kirk Cousins gets a lot of blame for the Minnesota Vikings' underwhelming 2018 season, but the offensive line in front of him has to bear some of it. Pro Football Focus ranked it as the fourth-worst line in the regular season.
The Vikings desperately need to add a starting-quality offensive tackle to the mix, and that's what Jared Veldheer is. However, as a starting-caliber offensive tackle, Veldheer is going to require a sizable contract in free agency. His 2018 cap hit was just under $7 million.
Unfortunately, the Vikings are projected to have less than $7 million in cap space in 2019. They'll likely find some ways to make room between now and the start of free agency, but Veldheer has to be off their radar.
New England Patriots: WR Chris Hogan
The New England Patriots had an uncharacteristic lack of reliable downfield receiving options in 2018. If we take away Josh Gordon, who is on indefinite suspension, it was pretty much Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and everyone else. James White, the second-leading receiver on the team, is a running back.
Chris Hogan was part of that "everyone else," and while he did have some moments as a deep threat, his third year in New England has left a lot to be desired. He has never reached 700 yards receiving or topped five touchdowns in a season. He's also 30 years old and unlikely to go anywhere but down from here. The Patriots should cross him off their free-agency list altogether.
They should instead focus on young, up-and-coming receivers like Adam Humphries, who turns 26 this month, and Tyrell Williams (27 in February).
New Orleans Saints: WR Dez Bryant
The New Orleans Saints need a legitimate No. 2 receiver opposite Michael Thomas. They tried to fill that role with Dez Bryant during the season, but that experiment was cut short by a torn Achilles.
The Saints may be tempted to give Bryant another opportunity, but there's no reason to. They gave him a chance because it was midseason, and there weren't a lot of other options out there. That isn't going to be the case in the offseason.
Not only can the Saints turn to the draft for a pass-catcher, but they can also take a crack at a young free agent like Adam Humphries, who played for the NFC South rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018. It's been a full year since Bryant played NFL football, and coming off a significant injury, he isn't worth the attention in free agency.
New York Giants: QB Tyrod Taylor
We have to return to speculation land here because we don't know what the future holds for New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. If he retires or the Giants move on, New York will be drafting a quarterback and seeking a stopgap signal-caller to mentor him.
The mentor shouldn't be Tyrod Taylor. While Taylor was a fine mentor for Baker Mayfield last offseason, he never hid his desire to be a full-time starter.
"Of course, I love to compete, want to be out there playing," Taylor said, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.
If Manning is out, the Giants should target a quarterback who is well-conditioned to the backup role, like Josh McCown—assuming he too doesn't retire.
New York Jets: LB Terrell Suggs
The New York Jets produced a respectable 39 sacks last season, but they could still use a premier pass-rusher. Longtime Ravens veteran Terrell Suggs could finally be reaching the open market. He'll be one of the more intriguing options for contending teams that are looking for a short-term solution.
Here's the problem with pairing Suggs with the Jets. New York is not a contender and is unlikely to become one for at least another year. That may be all the time Suggs, 36, has left in the NFL.
Sure, the Jets could offer Suggs a nice payday. He could provide New York with a few sacks. However, this is about what the potential marriage would yield. The Jets need to build a young core around quarterback Sam Darnold and should look to the draft for pass-rushing help.
Oakland Raiders: RB Doug Martin
Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden stuck with a pair of older running backs in 2018. Marshawn Lynch, 32, ended the season on injured reserve. Doug Martin, who turns 30 this month, proved to be a serviceable starter, rushing for 723 yards and 4.2 yards per carry.
The problem is that serviceable shouldn't be acceptable. Gruden tore down the team in 2018, and now it's time for the real rebuilding to begin. The Raiders need to find themselves a dynamic back who can carry the running game for the foreseeable future.
The old Raiders might have re-signed Martin because he was average. There will be plenty of incoming options in the draft, and that's where Oakland needs to turn.
Philadelphia Eagles: WR DeSean Jackson
We'll return to the realm of speculation one more time because wideout DeSean Jackson has made it known he'd prefer to leave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He isn't yet scheduled to be a free agent, but the Bucs could release him without any dead money to pay.
According to John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia, Jackson would really like to return to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019.
Philadelphia needs to resist the urge to bring back Jackson if he does become available. Jackson is a 32-year-old receiver more likely to decline than thrive, he has no connection with quarterback Carson Wentz, and he would be difficult for the Eagles to afford.
Philadelphia is projected to be more than $13 million over the cap. It needs to be getting rid of aging veterans, not adding them in free agency.
Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Darqueze Dennard
The Pittsburgh Steelers missed the postseason in part because of a pass defense that, while often good (just 231.1 yards per game allowed, 10th in the NFL), had a tendency to break down at the worst possible times.
Strengthening the secondary could and should be a goal in free agency, and Darqueze Dennard may seem like an obvious target. The 2014 first-round pick emerged as a starter for the AFC North rival Bengals this past season and knows the division well.
However, Dennard hasn't lived up to his draft status either. He hasn't emerged as a top-tier starter, yet he's going to command a sizable contract because of position and age (27). The Steelers, who are projected to have just over $14 million in cap space, cannot afford to spend big on a merely average player even if he has obvious upside.
San Francisco 49ers: RB Le'Veon Bell
A year ago, the thought of pairing Le'Veon Bell with Jimmy Garoppolo in head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense would have seemed delightful. However, Bell hasn't played in a full year, and the rise of James Conner in Pittsburgh lends credence to the idea that Bell was simply a product of the system.
The San Francisco 49ers should not pay to see if this is the case. They're building a young core of players like Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle. They also have a more than serviceable back in Matt Breida, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season. Receiving back Jerick McKinnon should also be returning from his torn ACL in 2019
Bell can be, or at least was, a tremendous player, but if San Francisco is going to address the running back position at all, it should be in the draft.
Seattle Seahawks: TE Tyler Eifert
Earlier, we talked about why Tyler Eifert's injury history makes him a less than ideal free-agent target. This is precisely why the Seattle Seahawks shouldn't take a chance on him.
Seattle has been left wanting at the tight end position since parting with Jimmy Graham. Nick Vannett led tight ends with just 269 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, Eifert can be a Graham-type talent when he's at 100 percent. However, Seattle's playoff window is back open, and the Seahawks should be looking for reliability over upside.
If the Seahawks are going to look to free agency for their next tight end, they should consider a physical—and healthy—one like C.J. Uzomah.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Jason Verrett
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a disappointing 5-11 campaign that ended with the firing of head coach Dirk Koetter. One of the biggest issues throughout the year was a pass defense that allowed an average of 259.4 yards per game, 26th in the NFL.
Adding a premier defensive back should be a priority in the offseason, and Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett will be one of the biggest names on the market. He was a 2014 first-round pick and a 2015 Pro Bowler.
However, Verrett has also missed most of the last three seasons with injuries (torn ACL, torn Achilles), and he has appeared in just five games since 2015. Tampa may be able to take a chance on him at a big discount. With just over $10 million in projected cap space, however, Tampa cannot afford to do even that.
Tennessee Titans: WR Devin Funchess
The Tennessee Titans did some good things in 2018 despite failing to make the postseason. One thing they didn't do is forge a quality receiving corps around quarterback Marcus Mariota. Adding receiving talent during the offseason will be an obvious goal. Adding 2015 second-round pick Devin Funchess should not.
Funchess has been an inconsistent route-runner throughout his pro career, and he struggles to gain separation. At 6'4", 225 pounds, he can be a decent big-body possession receiver, but he is not the kind of dynamic player who will bring out the best in Mariota.
If the Titans want a possession guy, they'd be better off going after a tight end like Vance McDonald or looking to the draft.
Washington Redskins: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
The broken leg Alex Smith suffered in November means the Washington Redskins may not have their starting quarterback early in 2019, if at all.
"Alex is a big question mark," former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann—who knows a little something about leg breaks—recently said, per Les Carpenter of the Washington Post (via the Frederick New-Post).
Washington will have to decide if Colt McCoy, who suffered his own broken leg, can hold down the job or if there is a better alternative. If the Redskins aren't sold on McCoy and/or Smith's recovery, they may turn to free agency to fill the void.
Washington should avoid Fitzpatrick—not because he's a bad stopgap quarterback but because the Redskins cannot get tricked into thinking he's a full-time starter like the Jets, Bills and Buccaneers. It may be time for Washington to try its hand in the draft.
*All contract and cap information via Spotrac