NFL Free Agents Who Won't Get the Payday They're Looking For

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 8, 2019

NFL Free Agents Who Won't Get the Payday They're Looking For

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Beginning with the "legal tampering" period on March 11, NFL free agents will soon receive contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Quarterback Nick Foles will likely get $20 million annually from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Edge-rusher Trey Flowers and offensive tackle Trent Brown will receive massive paydays as the top free-agent options at their respective positions.

    But for some other big names, the dream isn't going to match the reality. Whether due to age, injury history or a glut of talent at their position, certain players won't receive offers in line with what they expect.

    Whatever the reason, the following free agents won't get the payday they're looking for.

         

RB Le'Veon Bell

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    When he's on the field, Le'Veon Bell is one of the NFL's most dangerous running backs. In each of his last two seasons, he has topped 1,800 total yards, caught at least 75 passes and scored nine or more touchdowns.

    Per Joel Corry of CBS Sports, the 27-year-old believes that production merits a massive payday.

    "Bell's exact financial demands during last year's negotiations were never disclosed. He reportedly wanted the same $17 million per year disgruntled wide receiver Antonio Brown, who is on the trading block, got from the Steelers in a 2017 contract extension. Previously, Bell alluded to needing $15 million per year in a rap song. After the Steelers disclosed their plans with Bell, CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora reported that the three-time All-Pro running back is seeking $50 million in the first two years of his contract."

    Even if Bell hadn't sat out the 2018 season while engaged in a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he wasn't likely to land the deal he seeks.

    Now? There's no chance.

    It isn't only a matter of his year away. Some team was bound to talk itself into believing that time off behooved him, as it reduced the wear and tear on his tires.

    But in the interim, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley signed an extension that reset the market. That extension is now looking disastrous amid reports that Gurley has arthritis in his balky left knee.

    It's a sobering reminder of why NFL teams stopped giving running backs lucrative deals.

QB Teddy Bridgewater

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    The top target on the quarterback market already appears to have found a new home.

    According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, the Jacksonville Jaguars "are expected to sign free-agent quarterback Nick Foles to a multiyear contract when the new league year opens next week."

    Among the options left after Foles, the best is likely Teddy Bridgewater.

    The 2014 first-round pick led the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs in his second season, but he suffered a significant knee injury in 2016 that sidelined him for all but one game over the ensuing two years. This past season, he served as a backup to Drew Brees on the New Orleans Saints.

    Bridgewater's most extensive playing time since his knee injury came in Week 17 this past season. However, his audition didn't go all that well, as he completed 14 of 22 passes for 118 yards with a touchdown and interception in a loss to the Carolina Panthers.

    Had Bridgewater shined against the Panthers, perhaps his market would be more robust. But since veterans such as Blake Bortles, Ryan Tannehill and Case Keenum could soon join him on the free-agent market, his chances of landing a starting job this offseason seem bleak.

    His chances of getting a long-term deal are even worse.

WR Randall Cobb

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    Peter B Joneleit/Associated Press

    In 2014, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb exploded for 91 receptions, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. That earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl and a four-year, $40 million extension.

    Cobb just played out the final year of that extension. He won't be getting another like it in free agency.

    Cobb has largely been in a steady decline from the moment he put pen to paper. After a decent 2015 season (79 catches for 829 yards and six touchdowns), he missed three games in 2016 and finished with only 60 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns. 

    Cobb rebounded slightly in 2017, but the bottom fell out in 2018. He missed seven games with hamstring, chest and head injuries and finished with only 38 receptions for 383 yards and two touchdowns.

    In a relatively weak free-agent class at receiver, Cobb is one of the few with a 1,000-yard season under his belt. And the demand for help at receiver isn't lower in 2019 just because the supply is—plenty of teams need help in that regard.

    But given Cobb's long downward spiral, it's difficult to imagine an NFL team being desperate enough to give him a big-money long-term contract. He's a poster boy for a short-term prove-it deal.

WR Michael Crabtree

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Father Time appears to have come for Michael Crabtree.

    In 2016, Crabtree was a 1,000-yard receiver for the Oakland Raiders. Over his three seasons in the Bay Area, he hauled in 25 touchdown catches.

    Last March, Crabtree inked a three-year, $21 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens. But after he finished with only 54 catches for 607 yards and three touchdowns, the Ravens cut bait on the 31-year-old after only one season.

    Considering the depleted state of Baltimore's receiving corps, the decision to release Crabtree speaks volumes about where the 10-year-veteran is at this point in his career.

    That isn't to say Crabtree is finished. But his days of being paid like an elite receiver are long gone.

    From here out, he's likely looking at modest short-term deals.

TE Jared Cook

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    D. Ross Cameron/Associated Press

    The Oakland Raiders would like to bring tight end Jared Cook back, but only at the right price.

    "We'd love to have Jared back, but he's trying to figure out what the market's going to be, what does he want to do, and what can we do once we find out what that market is," new general manager Mike Mayock said, according to Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area.

    The 31-year-old is coming off a career year in which he ranked fifth among all tight ends in receptions (68), fourth in touchdowns (six) and fourth in receiving yards (896). As a result, some team may be convinced to break the bank for him. In fact, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reports that Cook could command at least $8 million annually given that career year and a lack of proven options at the position in free agency.

    But the Raiders' reluctance to overpay Cook should tell those teams something. 

    Cook is a 10-year veteran who has topped 50 receptions four times and 60 catches only once. There's a reason he may be about to join his fifth team.

DE Ezekiel Ansah

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah played under the franchise tag this past season, but he avoided that fate this time around. However, he's unlikely to get the sort of gonzo megadeal that Demarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark and Jadeveon Clowney might get from their respective teams.

    Back in 2015, Ansah exploded for a career-high 14.5 sacks. In 2017, he led the Lions with 12 in only 14 games. 

    Alas, consistency and durability have been issues for Ansah in recent years. 

    In 2016, he missed three games and set a career low with two sacks. In 2018, he missed nine games and had only seven solo tackles and four sacks.

    In Ansah's 12-sack 2017 campaign, nine of those 12 sacks came in three games. In the other 11, he had only three.

    The No. 5 overall pick from the 2013 draft is indisputably talented. But since he displays that talent sporadically and can't seem to stay on the field, it's hard to justify giving him a megadeal as he approaches his 30th birthday.

OLB Justin Houston

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Justin Houston is technically still under contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. But according to ESPN.com's Adam Teicher, the Chiefs will either trade or release him in the coming days.

    Seeing as Houston is heading into the fifth year of his six-year, $101 million contract, the Chiefs' odds of trading him are roughly equivalent to my chances of winning Powerball and Mega Millions in the same week.

    If (when) Houston becomes a free agent, his market will be far different than it was when the Chiefs broke the bank for him in 2015.

    At the time, that megadeal made sense. Houston was fresh off a season in which he nearly broke the NFL's single-season sack record, finishing the 2014 campaign with 22.

    That was Houston's third straight season with double-digit sacks. From 2012 to 2014, he mustered 43 sacks, trailing only Houston Texans all-world defensive end J.J. Watt over that span.

    Since that big payday, Houston hasn't had double-digit sacks in any of the four ensuing seasons. He's also missed 21 games during that time—including four in 2018—after missing only five in his first four seasons.

    If Houston's recent production was anything like it was back in his heyday, the Chiefs might have been able to find a trade partner for him. Instead, the 30-year-old is likely headed into free agency.

S Earl Thomas

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Over the first six seasons of his career, Earl Thomas was the NFL's best safety. During that span, the No. 14 overall pick in the 2010 draft made it to five Pro Bowls and was named a first-team All-Pro three times.

    Heading into free agency, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll thinks Thomas will be one of the most coveted players at his position.

    "Everybody looking at him knows that he's got a tremendous high end," Carroll told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine. "He's a great worker and he's a well-conditioned guy, and I think he's going to be really at the top of his game again this season."

    Thomas is a game-changing talent when healthy, but he's missed 19 games over the past three seasons. In Week 4 of the 2018 campaign, he broke a bone in his left leg and missed the remainder of the season.

    That injury history is a legitimate concern for teams interesting in signing Thomas. He'll also turn 30 at the end of May, and the crop of available free agents at safety is getting surprisingly deep.

    If Thomas' ongoing flirtations with the Dallas Cowboys don't bear fruitCalvin Watkins of The Athletic dubbed him "too pricy for the Cowboys' taste"he may not find the market he expects.

S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    In 2014, the Green Bay Packers selected Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st overall pick. In his third NFL season, Clinton-Dix repaid that faith by making the Pro Bowl and being named a second-team All Pro.

    Now, Clinton-Dix may soon join his third team in the past year.

    In October, the Packers traded Clinton-Dix to the Washington Redskins for a 2019 fourth-round pick. While he tallied 93 total tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles during his time with Green Bay and Washington last season, the devaluation of the safety position could prove costly to him.

    The New York Giants balked at giving Landon Collins an $11.2 million franchise tag, which seemed like a reasonable price for the three-time Pro Bowler. Instead, he's now part of the deepest available crop of free-agent safeties in years. 

    That competition could drive down Clinton-Dix's asking price, forcing him to make a difficult decision. He either may need to take a shorter-term deal or accept an average annual salary well below $10 million.

S Eric Weddle

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    It's been a rough month for veterans in Baltimore.

    Just days after the Ravens released Michael Crabtree, they did the same with 34-year-old safety Eric Weddle.

    The move wasn't strictly performance-related. While Weddle failed to snag an interception in 2018 for only the second time in his 12-year career, he piled up 220 total tackles and 10 picks during his three years with the Ravens. Each of those seasons ended with a trip to the Pro Bowl.

    But with Weddle having just turned 34 in January, the proverbial edge of the cliff could come at any time.

    This isn't to say Weddle has no place in the NFL anymore. Multiple teams figure to reach out to him.

    However, he's likely looking at relatively modest short-term deals.

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