1 Offseason Move Every NFL Team Could Regret
We will go team-by-team, taking you through some of most questionable moves franchises have made this offseason. In two or three years, we may be able to pinpoint a drop-off in record or a coach's tenure based on these risky decisions.
Some players got overpaid this offseason. Others should still be in their old uniforms. Some teams clearly "lost" a trade. Others did not prioritize a championship window.
Every franchise started the offseason in a different place, but contextualizing where teams stood before the new league year and where they are now allows us to second-guess some of their decisions.
Arizona Cardinals: Losing Defenders to James Bettcher
The Arizona Cardinals are undergoing a full-blown rebuild after bringing in their third coaching staff in three years. In the cap-casualty market, no team was more aggressive than the Cardinals, but they failed to re-sign some talented veterans.
Pass-rusher Markus Golden recorded 12.5 sacks in 2016 before missing most of the 2017 season because of injury. In 2018, he only registered 2.5 sacks in 11 games, but he still has the potential to notch double-digit sacks. Posting 12.5 sacks in an NFL season does not happen by accident.
Golden did not re-sign with the Cardinals in free agency. He moved to the New York Giants, where former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher is the play-caller. Golden left for just a one-year, $3.75 million contract.
Olsen Pierre, an under tackle, joined Golden in the Arizona-to-New York trip. Pierre first saw playing time in the NFL in 2017 after years of developing on the practice squad. As a part-time starter, he had 5.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. For an interior defensive lineman, those are great numbers in a rotational role.
The Cardinals were searching in the bargain bin for free agents before the league year even began but were unable to identify and pay players on their own roster with bounce-back upside on short, cheap deals. This could cost them.
Atlanta Falcons: Not Extending Grady Jarrett Sooner
Last offseason, the only free agent the Atlanta Falcons signed worth more than a $2 million contract was guard Brandon Fusco, who missed half of the 2018 season because of injury. This year, Atlanta has signed just two free agents, guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown, to contracts worth more than $2 million.
Over the same period, the team has lost cornerback Robert Alford, running back Tevin Coleman, slot corner Brian Poole, defensive tackle Dontari Poe, receiver Taylor Gabriel and defensive end Adrian Clayborn to the open market on contracts collectively worth $98 million. The veteran movement in Atlanta over the last two offseasons has been composed of treading water on the offensive line and losing talent in all other units.
Long-term, the Falcons' youth movement should pay off with multiyear deals that lock down their talent. But their current cap space of $7.3 million, even after a Matt Ryan restructure, hurts their ability to participate in meaningful free agency. One of the biggest hurdles on their cap is defensive tackle Grady Jarrett's franchise-tag number of $15.2 million.
To put that number into perspective, Sheldon Richardson and Malik Jackson, the two highest-paid defensive tackles from this free-agency period, account for less than a $10 million cap hit in Year 1 of their contracts. The Falcons could (and should) sign Jarrett to a multiyear contract, but waiting until the summer, when the major free agents are off the market, will not help them create cap space to win football games this year. Had they been able to work out a long-term deal before free agency, they could have generated north of $5 million in cap space while ensuring one of their best players stays in a Falcons uniform for years to come.
Baltimore Ravens: The Nick Boyle Contract
Last year, the Baltimore Ravens spent a first-round pick on tight end Hayden Hurst and a third-round pick on tight end Mark Andrews. It seemed clear the young tandem would soon become the top players on the Ravens depth chart.
Baltimore had different plans. Nick Boyle (career receiving yards: 613) was slated to be an unrestricted free agent this spring until the Ravens handed him a three-year, $18 million contract with $10 million in full guarantees. The deal likely will play out as a two-year, $12.5 million contract with a one-year team option in 2021 for $5.5 million.
To put $10 million in full guarantees to a tight end into perspective, Boyle now has the 14th-most guarantees at the position and ranks the highest among "blocking tight ends." Four-time Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce only had 5 percent more in full guarantees when he signed his first veteran contract in 2016.
Some of the most egregious spending at the NFL level comes at the tight end level. Not only did Baltimore commit to three tight ends, but it also set the market for the blocking tight end position.
Buffalo Bills: The Tyler Kroft Contract
Like the signing of Nick Boyle for Baltimore, the Buffalo Bills committed a lot of money to free-agent tight end Tyler Kroft, who has a low amount of production relative to the contract he signed. Over his four-year career, Kroft has only posted 661 receiving yards despite starting 35 games for the Cincinnati Bengals. Among tight ends, that ranks 54th in the NFL in that time span.
How much is a tight end who averages 13 yards per game worth to an NFL team? According to the Buffalo Bills, $18.75 million over three years with $6.3 million fully guaranteed. In practice, he is on a one-year, $6.56 million contract with team options of $5.8 million and $6.05 million in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
The Bills can get out of Kroft's deal quicker than the Ravens can get out of Boyle's deal, but Kroft will still bring home the 13th-most cash in 2019 among tight ends. Buffalo made plenty of sound moves this offseason, but this one did not make much sense.
Carolina Panthers: The Torrey Smith Option
Over the last three years, Torrey Smith has averaged 22.7 yards per game as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers. After Smith posted 26.9 yards per game in 2017, the Eagles felt he was not worth the $5 million owed to him in 2018 and shipped him to Carolina. In 2018, he averaged just 17.3 yards per game and started only six of 11 games he was active for, the first time he saw significant playing time off the bench as a professional.
Instead of allowing him to test the market and come back on a cheaper deal, the Panthers picked up Smith's option worth $5 million in 2019. Mind you, Carolina drafted Curtis Samuel in the second round in 2017 and DJ Moore in the first round in 2018. It also allowed Devin Funchess, who averaged 46.3 yards per game over the last two years, to sign a one-year, $10 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts this offseason.
This one seems pretty clear. The 49ers did not think Smith was worth $5 million per year after 2016. The Eagles did not think he was worth $5 million per year after 2017. The Panthers did not think he was a full-time starting receiver in 2018. And still, Carolina opted to bring him back on a $5 million option to potentially be a starter in 2019.
Chicago Bears: Not Landing a Pass-Rusher
Khalil Mack is a great edge defender, but as the Oakland Raiders will tell you, one man cannot control the results of a defense. The Chicago Bears lost safety Adrian Amos and slot corner Bryce Callahan this offseason. They signed safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and slot corner Buster Skrine, but for the defense-led team to keep pace with its 2018 numbers, it needed to add talent up front.
With defensive coordinator Vic Fangio gone and the secondary rotating bodies, more stress will be put on 2016 first-round pass-rusher Leonard Floyd, who has recorded just 8.5 sacks the last two seasons. According to Pro Football Reference, 85 players have posted 8.5 sacks over that period.
While the secondary was unlikely to stay together because money was already spent elsewhere, the defense should have added a third pass-rusher to push Floyd for playing time in 2019. Chicago's outside linebackers are Mack, Floyd, Isaiah Irving (career sacks: 1) and Kylie Fitts (career sacks: 0).
If the Bears cannot add another pass-rusher in the draft, they may regret not going after the edge defender market more aggressively in free agency. Their first pick in the draft comes at No. 87, so their defense may have to live and die on the talents of Mack and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks this year.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bobby Hart Contract
Heading into this offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals seemed likely to use their first-round pick on an offensive tackle, considering the depth of the position at the top of the draft and the Bengals' need for a quality starter. Unfortunately for Cincinnati fans, the team made one of the biggest head-scratchers of the offseason by re-signing bookend Bobby Hart to a $21 million deal.
When ESPN's Adam Schefter tweets the terms of your contract with an ellipsis, you know it is not a run-of-the-mill free-agent contract. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller called it the worst contract this offseason. Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson noted Hart was one of four bookends last year to give up double-digit sacks and also had 11 penalties.
The $7.4 million Hart is slated to make this year will pay him the seventh-most of a right tackle, more than the likes of Bryan Bulaga, Mitchell Schwartz, Daryl Williams and Morgan Moses. In a truly baffling decision, the Bengals decided to give one of last year's worst starters some of the top money at his position.
Cleveland Browns: Spending Money Too Quickly
General manager John Dorsey is building a monster of a roster in Cleveland, but there should be some hesitation about his throwing all of this money around. With moves for receiver Odell Beckham Jr., pass-rusher Olivier Vernon and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who have three of the four highest cap hits on the Browns in 2019, the team has locked up a lot of future cap space.
Cap space can be manipulated with releases and restructures, but the Browns are slated to have the 29th- and 28th-most cap space in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Keep in mind that by 2021, pass-rusher Myles Garrett will likely be playing on an expensive fifth-year option, quarterback Baker Mayfield will be able to ask for an extension and Vernon will be an unrestricted free agent, meaning the Browns could have to spend even more money than is currently on the books to keep this roster together for more than a two-year window. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport also reported Beckham is asking for more money than he signed for on his Giants deals.
What hurt Dorsey by the end of his Kansas City tenure was not his eye for talent but the amount of money he paid veterans. The Chiefs released safety Eric Berry and pass-rusher Justin Houston this offseason, getting out of contracts that overpaid Dorsey's veteran players.
Dallas Cowboys: Not Extending Demarcus Lawrence Sooner
The only outside free agent the Dallas Cowboys have signed this offseason is defensive tackle Christian Covington, who commanded just a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Despite being fairly inactive in free agency, Dallas has only $24.6 million in cap space, good for 15th in the league.
Avoiding long-term salaries makes sense as the Cowboys have plenty of free agents of their own coming up. Right tackle La'el Collins, receiver Amari Cooper, cornerback Byron Jones, linebacker Jaylon Smith and quarterback Dak Prescott are free agents in 2020.
One way they are hurting themselves, though, is by not extending pass-rusher Demarcus Lawrence, who is into his second year as a franchise-tag player. The two-year cost (2018-19) of Lawrence is $37.7 million, well above the average for even massive pass-rushing deals. The top free-agent pass-rusher in this year's class, Trey Flowers, will only account for $23.2 million on Detroit's salary cap over the first two years despite earning $40 million in cash over that time.
Signing bonuses in the NFL are spread over the entirety of a player's contract (up to five years). To put $37.7 million in cap space into perspective, there is not another NFL defender in the league projected to cost more cap than Lawrence from 2018 to 2019. The next-highest player on the list is Von Miller of the Broncos; after a restructure, he is costing Denver $35.25 million in years three and four of his new contract. Miller had combined cap hits of $31.4 million in his first two years.
The sooner the Cowboys can extend Lawrence to a multiyear deal, the faster they will be able to save immediate cap space that they then can roll over into 2020 when they will need it to re-sign free agents. With the way that salaries escalate in multiyear contracts, the Cowboys are accounting for him on the cap like he is in year three or four of a multiyear contract rather than the first or second year, which are significantly cheaper.
Denver Broncos: Trading for Joe Flacco
Here it is, Denver fans. The good news is you filled your quarterback position before you could bid on the $50 million guaranteed it took to sign Nick Foles. The bad news is you settled for Joe Flacco.
Last year, free-agent signing Case Keenum had an adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A) of 5.39, which was well-below average for a veteran quarterback but still more than Flacco has posted (ANY/A: 5.29) over three years and his last 1,600 dropbacks. In Flacco's 11 years in Baltimore, the quarterback only posted three seasons with an ANY/A above 6.12.
To put an ANY/A of 6.12 into perspective, Andy Dalton's career number is 6.17. Yikes. Currently, there is only one veteran (five or more years) quarterback in the NFL who is slated to start in Week 1 with a worse career ANY/A than Flacco (5.66) including Keenum (5.80): Miami's Ryan Fitzpatrick (5.56.) Unfortunately for the Broncos, ANY/A is the passing stat most correlated with winning football games.
Is Flacco worth the $18.5 million owed to him this year? Probably not.
Is Flacco a quarterback you should settle for as a starter? Probably not.
If this version of John Elway's tall quarterback vision fails, he has no one to blame but himself.
Detroit Lions: The Jesse James Contract
As a starter over the last three years, tight end Jesse James averaged 23.6 yards per game for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Eric Ebron, the Detroit Lions' first-round pick in 2014, has averaged 45.2 yards per game in that time span.
This offseason, James signed a four-year, $22.6 million with the Lions that includes a fifth-year option and $10.5 million guaranteed. Considering James' average salary of $5.65 million, Ebron's average salary must be $10.8 million per year to match his 92 percent superiority over James' receiving production, right?
Wrong. Ebron is on a two-year contract with an average salary of $6.5 million per year, just 15 percent more than James on a shorter deal, and it only included $6.5 million guaranteed. Unless James breaks out in a way that he never showed in Pittsburgh, this was probably an overpay by the Lions.
Green Bay Packers: The Za'Darius Smith Contract
The Green Bay Packers were smart to shed the expensive salaries of Nick Perry and Clay Matthews, but they made a fairly risky signing with one of their replacements. The team signed Baltimore Ravens pass-rusher Za'Darius Smith to a four-year, $66 million contract that will pay him out $34.5 million in cash over the first two years with a dead cap of $10 million but cap savings of $10.75 million in year three of his deal.
Career earnings of $34.5 million would make him top-15 among linebackers in the sport and top-10 among pass-rushing linebackers. The problem? Smith had never started more than four games in a season before 2018 and only started eight of 16 games last year.
On film, Smith's best pass-rushing reps came against guards, not offensive tackles, where Perry and Matthews played a majority of the time. According to Next Gen Stats, Smith played 77 percent of third downs inside the tackles last season, meaning the Packers still probably need another edge-rusher if they plan to play Smith in his most efficient role. As well, under tackle Mike Daniels or nose tackle Kenny Clark will be off the field in pass-rushing situations, as playing Smith inside will likely happen in personnel packages with one interior lineman.
Spending $34.5 million on a part-time starter without fully addressing the edge-rusher position while indicating one of your best defenders will not be on the field on third downs may not have been the most efficient way to spend money.
Houston Texans: Not Attacking the Market
Here are the Houston Texans' biggest free-agent contracts since the Brock-Osweiler debacle in 2016:
- Aaron Colvin: $34 million
- Zach Fulton: $28 million
- Tashaun Gipson: $22.6 million
- Senio Kelemete: $12 million
Outside of those four players, the Texans have not handed out a contract worth more than $10 million to a free agent over the last three years. Two of those free agents were offensive linemen, who were part of a team that gave up sacks on 10.9 percent of passing plays last season, the worst mark in the NFL.
Unlike other teams with rookie contract quarterbacks that are throwing cash around, Houston has mostly avoided the big-money free-agent market. Considering the Texans now have the third-most cap space in the league, that's a surprise.
While it might have been wise to take a break from free agency after swinging and missing on Osweiler, it does not make much sense that the Texans sat back this offseason with Seantrel Henderson, Julie'n Davenport, Martinas Rankin, Roderick Johnson and Rick Leonard as their offensive tackles.
Indianapolis Colts: Not Being More Aggressive
At some point, Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard is going to need to spend money. If we think about potential title runs as windows that can open and shut due to contracts, it should be noted that offensive linemen Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith are all still on rookie deals. However, this is the final season before Kelly hits his fifth-year option and starts bringing home more money.
Three years from now, this offensive line could look completely different, which is not good for the Colts, who led the NFL with a 2.7 percent sack percentage in 2018. Currently, Indianapolis leads the NFL in cap space by nearly $30 million. It is slated to have $88.9 million in cap space in 2020, without including rollover money.
They have virtually no long-term veteran contracts on their books that extend through this rookie contract offensive line window, making them a great candidate for "buy now" mode without having much to risk. Instead of being active, though, the two moves they made in free agency were bringing back cornerback Pierre Desir on a three-year, $22.5 million contract and signing Carolina Panthers receiver Devin Funchess to a one-year, $10 million deal.
Teams like the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints generally hover next to the cap and add veterans to extend a title window. There are ways to manipulate cap space that allow you to add veteran depth to your roster, but Ballard does not seem to feel urgency in making the 2019 Colts the apex of the team-building process.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Nick Foles Contract
If NFL Network's Mike Garafolo is right, the Jacksonville Jaguars were bidding against themselves in the Nick Foles sweepstakes. Garafolo claimed there were "no significant" suitors for Foles other than the Jaguars, who could have offered him "$15 million, $18 million" per year but chose to give him more to boost his prestige in the locker room.
Foles received $22 million per year from the Jaguars, meaning they potentially overspent by $28 million. He will also bring home $50.1 million guaranteed, giving him top-10 guarantees among NFL players despite the fact that he has not started more than five games in a season over the last three years.
This deal would easier to swallow if he had the stats of someone like Jimmy Garoppolo, a quarterback who played well off the bench, but Foles' career is built on a few postseason games while ignoring most of his resume in his last stint with the Philadelphia Eagles. Over the last two years, Garoppolo has posted an 8.08 Adjusted Yards per Attempt (AY/A) while Foles' AY/A hangs at 6.49.
For reference, Garoppolo's numbers are similar to Philadelphia starter Carson Wentz (8.11) over that time, while Foles is basically neck-and-neck with Blake Bortles (6.48) during this stretch. Slated backups like Nick Mullens, Ryan Tannehill and Tyrod Taylor have done better than Foles statistically in an offense that has made a star out of Wentz.
The ring the Jacksonville front office just bought comes with a heavy tax. The myth built up by that Super Bowl stretch may have convinced the Jaguars that Foles was a sure-fire NFL starter, but none of the facts back it up.
Kansas City Chiefs: Losing Both Edge-Rushers
Justin Houston was owed a lot of money in 2019, but that does not make him a bad football player. Over the last two seasons, only 14 players have posted 18.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss combined, and Houston was one of them. It is worth noting that Houston also frequently dropped into coverage in Bob Sutton's 3-4 scheme.
Houston may have been expensive, which made him a cap casualty, but that does not mean he will be replaceable.
2014 first-round pick Dee Ford also had a breakout year with 13 sacks on his fifth-year option. The Chiefs franchise-tagged him before shipping him off to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2020 second-round pick.
That is a lot of turnover at the pass-rushing positions for a team that is also changing defensive coordinators. The top pass-rushing end candidates in Kansas City are Tanoh Kpassagnon (career sacks: two), Breeland Speaks (career sacks: 1.5) and free-agent signing Alex Okafor (career sacks: 22.)
Kansas City, with MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes under a rookie contract, could be in for defensive regression this year, which is not usually the case for teams with cheap quarterbacks under contract. The defensive transition will likely take multiple seasons, as 2020 is when they will be able to use the Ford pick and when Houston's dead cap will be cleared.
Los Angeles Chargers: Letting Jason Verrett Walk
Few NFL players have the buy-low potential of Jason Verrett. The 2014 first-round pick was a Pro Bowl cornerback in 2015, but he's only played in 11 of a possible 64 games in his other four seasons combined.
Current Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward was in a similar situation in free agency in 2016. After a standout season as a rookie, Hayward only started 13 of 48 games in the next three years in Green Bay and was allowed to test the open market. He signed a fairly team-friendly three-year, $15.3 million deal with the Chargers and went to back-to-back Pro Bowls.
You would guess Los Angeles would see the potential of Hayward's second contract in the often-injured Verrett, but the Chargers allowed the Pro Bowl talent to walk out on a cheap deal. The sixth-year cornerback signed a one-year, $3.6 million contract with the corner-needy San Francisco 49ers; L.A. paid him more than double that last year on a fifth-year option.
The risk-reward debate is tricky for players who are coming off a stretch of injuries, but the 49ers nailed their signing of cornerback Richard Sherman like the Chargers did Hayward. Only one of them was willing to get back to the plate for a second swing, though.
Los Angeles Rams: The Dante Fowler Jr. Contract
Here are the top cap hits for 3-4 edge defenders in the 2019 season:
- Von Miller: $25.1 million
- Melvin Ingram: $19.6 million
- Jadeveon Clowney: $15.4 million
- Dee Ford: $14.6 million
- Ryan Kerrigan: $14.0 million
- Robert Quinn: $12.9 million
- Dante Fowler Jr.: $12.0 million
- Khalil Mack: $11.9 million
This group of defenders has averaged 0.61 sacks per game and 0.79 tackles for loss per game over the last three seasons. Fowler, with the lowest mark in both categories, has averaged just 0.34 sacks per game and 0.38 tackles for loss per game since 2016. That's only about half the production on a per-game basis of a 3-4 outside linebacker at the rate Fowler was re-signed for on a one-year deal.
On top of that, the other seven edge defenders on the list started 307 of the 312 games they have been active for over the last three years (98.4 percent), while Fowler has only started seven of his 47 games (14.9 percent) in the NFL. Six of those games came in his half-season with the Rams last year, but his production (0.25 sacks and 0.50 tackles for loss per game) did not take great strides in Los Angeles.
The Rams did not have a great edge defender situation all year, but Fowler's production did not warrant $12.0 million on even a "prove it" deal when you consider how much other 3-4 outside linebackers are being paid. No one is mistaking Fowler for Mack anytime soon, so it does not make sense to assume a cap hit like they are similar players.
Miami Dolphins: Not Landing Teddy Bridgewater
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could have been the start of the Miami Dolphins' rebuild, but they were unable to get the deal done.
One day before Bridgewater re-signed with the New Orleans Saints as Drew Brees' backup and their presumed quarterback of the future, the Dolphins announced they had finished their recruiting pitch to the South Florida native. Bridgewater then took to Twitter to say, "13 years later, I'm trying to see if history will repeat itself in my favor at some point," a reference to when Brees signed with the Saints on the same date 13 years prior rather than the Dolphins.
That day, Bridgewater was announced as re-signing with New Orleans on a one-year contract worth up to $12.25 million if he reached his incentives.
Miami traded longtime starter Ryan Tannehill, restructuring his deal to eat $5 million in money, to the Tennessee Titans for a 2020 fourth-round pick. The Dolphins quarterback room now is composed of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jake Rudock and Luke Falk; the latter two have combined to throw for five passes for four yards, zero touchdowns and one interception in the NFL regular season. The Dolphins are clearing house, but we should hope for their sake that the front office has the job security to see through the rebuild.
Sashi Brown never got to see the drafting of Baker Mayfield in Cleveland. Hue Jackson barely got to coach Mayfield before he was fired as head coach. Last year, Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks was fired after one season on the job. Chip Kelly faced the same fate after one year in San Francisco.
Punting the present for the future is always the right move, as long as job security is not a factor. If Miami is down to Fitzpatrick, Rudock and Falk in 2019, it better hope everyone is in good standing with ownership.
Minnesota Vikings: Not Re-Signing Sheldon Richardson
Over the last three years, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson has been somewhat of a mercenary. In stints with the New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings, Richardson has posted seven sacks, 22 tackles for loss and 32 quarterback hits in 45 starts.
According to Pro Football Reference, the only full-time interior defensive linemen to match those numbers are Leonard Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Akiem Hicks, DeForest Buckner, Geno Atkins, Kawann Short, Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox and Jurrell Casey—full-blown stars on the defensive line. Instead of re-signing with the Vikings, Richardson moved on to his fourth team in four years and signed a three-year, $37 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.
His contract, which has $15 million in full guarantees, will likely play out as a one-year, $13 million option with $2 million guaranteed in 2020 but option years of $10 million in 2020 and $12 million in 2021. As it is structured, the Browns only have to account $9.7 million on their cap for Richardson in 2019.
After the signing of defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, the Vikings could not afford that number on their cap this year, but how many players does Minnesota return who are more valuable than Richardson would have been? Would cutting tackle Riley Reiff been worth the extra $5.1 million in cap space to keep Richardson? Would trading cornerback Trae Waynes be worth draft compensation and an extra $9.1 million in cap space?
There were ways to get Richardson back in Vikings purple, but it does not seem like they made him a priority.
New England Patriots: Letting Cordarrelle Patterson Walk
Bill Belichick gets almost everything right, but one misstep this offseason could be allowing return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson to sign with the Chicago Bears on a two-year deal. Patterson has the most kick return touchdowns of any active player in the sport and is tied for third all-time.
Among active players, he also leads the NFL with an average of 29.98 yards per kick return over his career. There is no argument: Patterson is the best kick returner in the league.
Usually, Belichick keeps those under-the-radar contributors on his roster. It is why he traded for Patterson from Jon Gruden's Raiders last offseason. It is why seven-time Pro Bowl special teamer Matthew Slater has hung on to a roster spot for over a decade as a "receiver" with one career reception but 114 tackles.
If any move made you question Belichick this offseason, this is the one.
New Orleans Saints: Restructuring Drew Brees (Again)
The New Orleans Saints restructured quarterback Drew Brees' contract to drop his cap hit in 2019 from over $30 million to just $22.7 million. However, years of pushing money back on his deals will result in $21.3 million in dead cap in 2020, even though Brees isn't under contract beyond this year. It is a unique situation the Saints have put themselves in, essentially creating a hard restart in 2020 with the assumption from the outside that 2019 is Brees' final season.
The problem with pushing that much dead cap into 2020 is the Saints have few draft assets. After numerous trades, like the ones to acquire pass-rusher Marcus Davenport and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the team only has one pick in the first 167 selections in the upcoming draft.
Instead of building something sustainable that could be led into the playoffs under a non-Brees quarterback in 2020, it seems New Orleans will have to undergo a wide-scale rebuild next offseason. Years of pushing back Brees' cap hits for the sake of keeping open a title window in the short term have finally come at a cost that will force this move. This will be the make-or-break year for a Super Bowl championship with this version of the team.
New York Giants: The Odell Beckham Jr. Trade
According to Pro Football Focus (via FiveThirtyEight), the combined wins above replacement (WAR) is 1.85 for the collective value of the first- and third-round picks and remaining contract left on Jabrill Peppers' deal. That's what the New York Giants received from the Cleveland Browns for trading wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., outside of the Olivier Vernon-Kevin Zeitler portion of the deal. Unfortunately, the WAR that Beckham provided in 2018 alone was 1.95. If Beckham performs like he did last year, the Browns will likely have won the trade within a year.
If Beckham continues to play at the level he did in 2018, the Browns will have roughly netted six extra wins with the trade over the assets given up for him over a four-year time span. He may not have been the quietest player in the locker room, but was moving Beckham for that haul worth losing six more games over four years?
The Giants did not get enough back to make this deal worth it. While they likely won the Vernon-for-Zeitler part of the swap, it seems general manager Dave Gettleman came out on the wrong side of the Beckham portion.
New York Jets: The Le'Veon Bell Contract
Le'Veon Bell just signed for more fully guaranteed money than any other veteran running back in the league, which is good news for him but could be a problem for the New York Jets.
Michael Lopez, the NFL's director of data and analytics, has posted several graphics on Twitter lately that show how little difference there is in expected yards per carry between running backs over time. Among former star running backs like LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore (in their primes), the only backs worth more than 300 yards over their careers were Tiki Barber, Fred Jackson and Clinton Portis, who were all worth fewer than 1,000 yards in added value over their careers.
The truth is there is little correlation between perceived running back talent and rushing efficiency in today's NFL. So much depends on offensive line play, and it has become increasingly harder to keep a line together in the salary-cap era. A running back may actually be the sixth-most important piece in accumulating a high number of yards per attempt.
As passing efficiency continues to rise thanks to rule changes, was it the best move for the Jets to throw the most guaranteed money in the NFL at a position that will be the sixth-most important in the run game alone?
Oakland Raiders: The Trent Brown Contract
Last offseason, Trent Brown had the value of just the difference between the 95th and 143rd selections in the draft. After a year with Dante Scarnecchia, statistically the most valuable offensive line coach in pro football, the Oakland Raiders gave Brown a deal that amounts to a two-year, $36.75 million contract with team options of $14 million and $15.25 million in 2021 and 2022.
Unfortunately, Brown will now be paired with Tom Cable, whose offensive lines have collectively given up more sacks below the NFL average over his tenure than any other active NFL offensive line coach. The Patriots bought low on a player and gave him great coaching, and now he is slated to get paid with another organization that has a significantly worse track record at coaching the same position. It feels like we have heard this story before.
Brown's $36.25 million in full guarantees rank first among NFL offensive linemen, just one year after Nate Solder, New England's previous starting left tackle, signed for $34.8 million fully guaranteed, the third-most among all NFL offensive linemen. Like Brown, Solder never has made a Pro Bowl. After promising all that money to Solder, the New York Giants had a 7.5 percent sack percentage in 2018, a drop-off from their 5.3 percent number in 2017. The NFL average is 6.8 percent.
The combination of likely overpaying a tackle and having said tackle go from Scarnecchia's coaching to Cable's coaching is a recipe for negative value over Brown's contract.
Philadelphia Eagles: Not Tagging Nick Foles
It is understandable that tagging Nick Foles at $25 million could have made finding a trade partner more difficult, but if the Jacksonville Jaguars were going to give him $50.1 million guaranteed, it should not have been an obstacle. When the Jaguars made the former Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback a top-10 player in guarantees in the NFL, it is within reason to assume the first thought the Eagles front office had was, "Damn, we should have called their bluff."
It was a decent-sized risk to tag Foles and ask for an immediate third-round pick versus allowing him to walk with no risk for a 2020 compensatory third-round pick, but in an offseason where Philadelphia has done almost everything else right, this has to be its biggest regret. We now know Jacksonville paid Foles that amount of money to set the tone of his status rather than to keep up with other bidders, as NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported. Would a mid-round pick have kept the Jaguars from acquiring their new quarterback?
If they could do it all over again, the Eagles would probably take the option of a 2019 third-round pick over the 2020 third-round pick by forcing Jacksonville into a trade, but Philadelphia and Howie Roseman should not be losing sleep over this decision.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Antonio Brown Trade
This offseason, former New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was traded to the Cleveland Browns for a first-round pick, a third-round pick and 2017 first-round safety Jabrill Peppers, who still has two years left on his contract. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport has already reported Beckham will look for a new contract with "added money without adding new years."
Over the next three seasons, Beckham is set to make $47 million.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers only received third- and fifth-round picks for Antonio Brown in a trade with the Oakland Raiders. It makes you wonder why the Steelers didn't play hardball, as they did with Le'Veon Bell last summer, and dare Brown, who was under contract for several more seasons, to not play on his deal.
Since 2014, when Beckham was drafted, Brown has averaged 100.6 yards per game (second in the league), while Beckham has averaged 92.8 yards per game (third in the league). Theoretically, they should be worth around the same in a trade when the only difference between the two is $3 million a year over three years, at least until Beckham signs a new contract. Instead of getting equal compensation to the Beckham trade, though, the Steelers received third- and fifth-round picks rather than a first-round pick and a potential starting safety for two years.
If we subscribe to the value of draft picks relative to money set by the Brock Osweiler trade, $16 million is worth roughly a third-round pick, so $3 million should not have been close to the difference between a first-round pick and a third-round pick. The Steelers were in a rush to end the Brown era in Pittsburgh, but they probably hurt themselves asset-wise.
San Francisco 49ers: The Tevin Coleman Contract
The San Francisco 49ers have done a great job structuring their contracts in recent years, creating early outs on contracts for players like Jimmy Garoppolo, Richard Sherman, Jerick McKinnon, Kwon Alexander, Dee Ford and Tevin Coleman. The objection to the Coleman signing is not because he was drastically overpaid or locked up a ton of money, but because Kyle Shanahan probably didn't need another running back.
Shanahan and Coleman have a history together from when Shanahan was the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator, but the offensive mind has generated the same production of whichever back he has called a handoff to in San Francisco. Matt Breida, who is still under contract by the team, has averaged 4.96 yards per carry on 258 over the last two years, but Carlos Hyde, Alfred Morris and Jeff Wilson, the other backs to start for the Shanahan 49ers, range between 3.86 yards per carry to 4.03 yards per carry under Shanahan.
Only three running backs (Aaron Jones, Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley) have averaged more yards per attempt with 200 or more carries over the last two years than Breida. On top of that, Breida was supposed to be McKinnon's backup last season before a torn ACL ended McKinnon's year. With a $5.75 million cap hit and a $6 million dead cap number in 2019, is it really worth it for the 49ers to push McKinnon's future with the team to the side for Coleman, on a two-year, $8.5 million contract, when the safety net of Breida is on the roster?
Is shopping McKinnon, who has a decent amount of dead money left, or Breida, with a cap number of just $646,668 in 2019, worth taking on Coleman at a $3.6 million cap hit? How does Raheem Mostert, who just signed a three-year extension with the team, fit in? What about Jeff Wilson, who had 230 yards in Week 13 and Week 14 last season?
The 49ers had one of the most crowded running back rooms in the league already in terms of depth, and Coleman's salary does not mean he will absolutely start in Week 1 over McKinnon or Brieda. In terms of team-building, Coleman's money probably could have been spent elsewhere on a roster that went 4-12 last season.
Seattle Seahawks: Waiting on a Russell Wilson Extension
Do you know who the Nick Foles contract ended up impacting? The Seattle Seahawks. Recently, the Seahawks have approached a low-spending mantra reflected in a number of moves: trading pass-rusher Michael Bennett, the non-extension of safety Earl Thomas, the release of cornerback Richard Sherman and the lack of a long-term deal for pass-rusher Frank Clark.
The biggest hurdle this form of team-building will face moving forward, though, is quarterback Russell Wilson, who is slated to be an unrestricted free agent in 2020. In 2015, Wilson was only fully guaranteed $31.7 million on a four-year extension. A lot has changed in the quarterback market since then, even if Wilson did not receive top-of-the-market money at the time.
When Foles signed for $45.1 million fully guaranteed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, it reset the market for borderline starters, which should cause the full guarantees of top-end quarterbacks to rise quickly. If Foles was worth top-10 fully guaranteed money relative to active contracts, every established starting quarterback in the league should be asking for something close to Kirk Cousins money ($84 million fully guaranteed) in the next few seasons.
Last year, only the Kansas City Chiefs had a higher Adjusted Yards per Attempt than the Seahawks' passing game. At the same time, no team threw fewer passes.
What will the run-heavy Seahawks do when their low-commitment plan of team-building is forced to meet head-to-head with a quarterback who's asking for the fair-market price north of $80 million guaranteed? Waiting until after Foles received his massive contract could have hurt their position at the negotiating table, making them regret not signing Wilson to a new contract before Jacksonville made its move.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Donovan Smith Contract
According to Pro Football Focus' Twitter account, Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith has ranked between the 27th- and 31st-best left tackle in the NFL in each of the last three seasons. His growth as a former second-round pick has not come fast enough.
Despite that fact, the Buccaneers handed Smith a three-year, $41.25 million deal this offseason. The first two years, which are fully guaranteed, will net him $27 million after deferred payments. Smith's average salary over these three years will rank fifth among left tackles and sixth among offensive linemen, based on active contracts.
In terms of full guarantees, Smith will make the ninth-most in the NFL among offensive linemen and seventh-most among left tackles. No matter how you spin it, Tampa Bay essentially gave top-10 left tackle money to a bottom-10 left tackle in the league. His youth (25 years old) and pedigree (34th overall pick) probably helped sell the Buccaneers on him, but this was not a safe move.
Tennessee Titans: The Cameron Wake Contract
One of the bigger surprises this offseason was the Tennessee Titans' three-year, $23 million contract for 37-year-old Cameron Wake. According to Pro Football Reference, only six players in NFL history have ever recorded double-digit sacks combined between the ages of 37 to 39.
For Wake to live up to his contract, or even the $8 million in cash he commands in 2019 before the potential of $2.7 million in dead cap in a 2020 release, he would have to be a massive outlier among aging pass-rushers. In the last decade, we have only seen Julius Peppers and James Harrison record double-digit sacks from 37 to 39, and they only started 21 of 68 games at those ages.
That brings up another point: Wake is a rotational player at this point. Over the last three years, he has recorded 28 sacks, putting him in a three-way tie for 13th place in the NFL. Meanwhile, his 23 tackles for loss are in a seven-way tie for 61st place. Most edge defenders who have sack numbers like Wake show up more in the stat sheet as penetrating defenders, but Wake is largely a pass-rushing specialist rather than an overall star defender.
Washington Redskins: The Landon Collins Contract
The Washington Redskins gave Landon Collins a contract worth $84 million over six years and $26 million fully guaranteed. Functionally, it will likely be a three-year, $42 million contract with team options of $12 million, $13 million and $14 million in 2022, 2023 and 2024, respectively.
At the safety position, the only players to receive more in guarantees on their active contracts are Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu, who are more middle-of-the-field coverage defenders than Collins, who is a split safety who can drop down into the box. Collins is the highest-paid safety who will be asked to cover the same zones and matchups that linebackers typically account for.
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, due for his first veteran contract soon, took to Twitter to say box safeties are getting "corner money now" after Collins' signing. Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel said some teams believed the deal to be "nuts" and later noted people he talked to said of the Redskins, "What are they thinking?"
Washington did not have much money to spend this offseason with the future of Alex Smith's dead cap looming. Choosing to set the market on a "box safety" was an interesting way to use its assets.