NFL Free Agents 2019: Predicting This Year's Biggest Duds
There's a reason good teams typically remain on the sidelines during the wild early stages of the NFL free-agent signing period.
Every year, squads are burned in the middle of March when they grossly overpay veterans who aren't likely to live up to their bloated contracts. But everyone is in win-now mode in this win-now league, and the salary cap continues to skyrocket. As a result, you can bet there'll be as many duds as there are success stories among the big free-agent paydays for years to come.
It doesn't take long to recognize the duds. Just look at the 2016 free-agency period. That offseason, the biggest moneymakers were Brock Osweiler, Olivier Vernon, Josh Norman, Malik Jackson, Janoris Jenkins, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kelechi Osemele.
Just three years later, five of those seven are no longer on the teams that signed them. And four of the 10 highest-paid free agents from the 2017 offseason have also already been released or traded.
Who'll be this year's duds? Taking age, career trajectory, recent numbers, injuries, precedents, contract value and new situations into account, here are eight of our best guesses.
Contract numbers courtesy of Spotrac.
Jacksonville Jaguars QB Nick Foles
The Jacksonville Jaguars signed Nick Foles to be their next starting quarterback, and these days, a team can't spend less than around $20 million per year on a veteran passer.
It's not as though the 30-year-old Foles is robbing the Jags by 2019 standards, but it's easy to envision the team getting nowhere with his four-year, $88 million contract.
Yes, Foles has a Pro Bowl selection, is the Super Bowl LII MVP, has the third-highest-rated season in NFL history and, mostly recently, has a 2018 playoff run on his resume. But he's never experienced a full, sustained season of success, and he's failed to stand out with teams not named the Philadelphia Eagles.
He performed terribly during his one campaign with the then-St. Louis Rams in 2015 and was nothing but a backup with the 2016 Kansas City Chiefs. Even in Philly, Foles has been mediocre more often than a star. Why else would the team have given up on him in March 2015, when it traded him to the Rams?
He was a turnover machine in 2012 (6-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio) and 2014 (13-10 ratio), and despite late-season team success, his numbers weren't particularly good during his second stint with the Eagles.
He struggled a lot in the 2018 playoffs too (467 passing yards, three touchdowns, four interceptions), but that didn't stop the quarterback-starved Jaguars from taking a flier on him. That's understandable given their circumstances and the release of Blake Bortles, but there's a good chance Foles will again lack consistency and fail to rediscover that 2017-18 Philly magic.
New York Jets RB Le'Veon Bell
The New York Jets had more money to spend this offseason than almost any team, but they'd still prefer to make sound investments.
Running back Le'Veon Bell is not a sound investment.
In the most pass-oriented era in league history, there isn't a running back who is worth the $13.1 million per season the Jets have promised Bell. That's especially true for a back with as much mileage as the 27-year-old former Pittsburgh Steeler.
Sure, the three-time Pro Bowler took off 2018, but that won't stop the aging process for a physical player at the game's most fragile position. Running backs typically have the shortest shelf lives, and this is a guy who already has four 250-plus-touch seasons under his belt.
Throw in that Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reported last month that Bell gained 35 pounds during his hiatus from the NFL, and it's fair to wonder if the man peaked during a memorable late-season tear in 2016. Many of his rate-based numbers declined the following season (in some cases significantly), and we haven't seen him on a football field since.
It's also hard to trust a guy who has played in just 33 of a possible 64 regular-season games since the start of 2015.
Oakland Raiders OT Trent Brown
Is Trent Brown a great left tackle? Is he a good left tackle? Is he even a left tackle at all?
These are all legitimate questions. As Brown himself told SiriusXM NFL Radio last week (h/t Pro Football Talk's Charean Williams), it's "to be determined" whether he'll play on the left side or the right side for the Oakland Raiders.
Despite that, the Raiders made Brown the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history with a four-year, $66 million deal.
That's also despite the fact that Brown was never very good during his first three seasons. And the San Francisco 49ers gave up on him at the conclusion of that third campaign. And he lacked consistency even after lucking into the Patriots' starting left tackle job. And he probably benefited greatly in New England from the fact that Tom Brady's delivery is the only thing in this universe that is faster than the speed of light.
That's a hell of a gamble.
While the Raiders had the cap space, this was yet another baffling move from an organization that seems to aim to bewilder. After all, Oakland still had three-time Pro Bowler Donald Penn under contract at a reasonable rate, and it spent a first-round pick on offensive tackle Kolton Miller just last year.
And sure, the 6'8", 380-pound Brown is tantalizing because he's about the size of a newly built Manhattan apartment. But that and the Patriots/Super Bowl magic dust shouldn't be enough. Without Brady and legendary Pats offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Brown might quickly become the pumpkin he was when he last played in the Bay Area.
Cincinnati Bengals OT Bobby Hart
Our final offensive dud didn't land a payday in the same range as Foles, Bell or Brown, but we're equal opportunity dud predictors here at Bleacher Report. And so it's worth pointing out that one of the NFL's weirdest teams did something very weird when the Cincinnati Bengals re-signed scrub-level offensive tackle Bobby Hart to a three-year, $16.2 million contract on the first day of the legal tampering period.
That money might not be bank-breaking by modern NFL standards, but it's still pretty steep by Bengals standards. Why did the cheapest team in football decide to throw that kind of cash at an offensive tackle who has literally never experienced sustained success in four NFL seasons?
Nobody was talking about Hart as free agency got underway. Nobody was even thinking about him. Many likely forgot he was in the league, many never realized he was there in the first place.
In terms of Pro Football Focus grading, Hart has never ranked better than 70th among no more than 86 qualified players in the league at his position.
Hart is not a starting-caliber player, and there's a good chance even the Bengals will realize that soon. Unfortunately, it'll be too late for them to get their money back. Poor Andy Dalton is stuck with Hart for the time being, and the Bengals don't believe in paying guys to go away.
Maybe this offseason he'll suddenly learn to block edge-rushers without blatantly holding them, but there's a better chance he embarrasses himself again while collecting some ballin' paychecks in 2019.
Philadelphia Eagles DT Malik Jackson
On the open market, where you're almost always going to pay a premium, teams ought to stay away from players who appear to be running out of gas. The Jets made the mistake of ignoring that guideline with Bell, while the Eagles did the same thing by signing Malik Jackson to a three-year, $30 million deal.
Jackson, 29, is a few years younger than the departed Michael Bennett, but the seven-year veteran saw his snaps and rate-based numbers decline considerably in his final season with the Jaguars.
Now a team that is low on salary-cap space ($22.7 million) owes Jackson $17 million guaranteed, and even if Philly releases or trades Jackson before the final year of that deal, it'll be on the hook for more than $7 million.
The way the Eagles operate up front on defense, Jackson will likely only be part of a deep rotation including superstar Fletcher Cox, Treyvon Hester, Bruce Hector and maybe even a 2019 draft pick. Don't be surprised if he's outplayed by Cox as well as Hester, who took a big step forward as a sophomore in 2018.
New York Jets LB C.J. Mosley
Yeah, we aren't done with the free-spending, desperate Jets. Not only did general manager Mike Maccagnan overspend on Bell, but he also gave linebacker C.J. Mosley the type of contract that will be almost impossible to live up to.
While the 26-year-old four-time Pro Bowler should continue to perform as a top-notch non-rushing linebacker for much, if not all, of his five-year, $85 million contract with Gang Green, that $17 million average annual salary—by a mile the highest for an inside linebacker—and that wacky $51 million guarantee will make it difficult for Mosley to avoid coming off as a dud.
Fans will have to realize that Mosley, while steady, is only good for a pick or two, a sack or two and a forced fumble or two on a yearly basis. He doesn't make a lot of splash plays, and even in his non-splashy role, he's yet to prove he's on the level of Luke Kuechly or Bobby Wagner.
"Good, not great coverage and strong run defense at off-ball linebacker can be added to the roster for far less than the price tag likely pinned to Mosley in free agency," Pro Football Focus' Austin Gayle wrote prior to free agency.
And he's right. At this price, folks will likely expect a lot more than what Mosley brings to the table as a stout run defender.
San Francisco 49ers LB Kwon Alexander
The Jets weren't the only team to overpay an inside linebacker with limitations. The San Francisco 49ers did the same with the less accomplished Kwon Alexander, who is now making more annually than both Kuechly and Wagner after signing a four-year, $54 million deal.
Alexander is a solid player, but like Mosley, he lacks splash. He has better pass-rushing skills than Mosley but is less skilled overall. He is sometimes a liability as a sloppy tackler in run defense, and his coverage skills aren't a strength either.
"The bad has outweighed the good for Alexander up to this point," PFF's Ben Linsey wrote last week. And it's hard to disagree, especially considering that the 24-year-old is recovering from a torn ACL and has missed 18 games in four seasons because of either injury or suspension.
He's not the type of player who can take over on defense and become a savior, but the 49ers are paying him that way.
Washington Redskins S Landon Collins
The down-and-out Washington Redskins entered this offseason in desperate need of a makeover. That's why it was odd for a team riddled with holes to make its biggest splash on a box safety.
Washington could have pursued a trade for a game-changing wide receiver like Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown. It could have paid up for a playmaking edge defender like Trey Flowers or Za'Darius Smith. It could have even been in on Super Bowl LII MVP quarterback Nick Foles.
Instead, the Redskins made a man who struggles badly in coverage the fifth-highest-paid defensive back.
Don't get us wrong—Landon Collins is a hell of a run defender and a strong pass-rusher with a great resume and a bright future at the age of 25. But $84 million over six years? You know that's a contract that'll have all of us making fun of Washington yet again come 2021 or 2022, if not earlier.
Collins gives the Redskins some much-needed skill and stability at safety. But that's hardly a premium position, and the team had bigger needs. So when opponents routinely exploit Collins in coverage, a lot of Redskins fans will realize that, despite some standout moments from the three-time Pro Bowler, this signing was a dud.