The Biggest Losers of 2019 NFL Free Agency
Last year's Los Angeles Rams changed the perception surrounding offseason acquisitions of veterans. General manager Les Snead signed and traded for proven commodities who helped propel his team into the Super Bowl picture.
Front offices don't have to wheel and deal on the trade market like the Rams. They can instead conduct shrewd negotiations to acquire impact players and build strong contenders. It's a costly tweak to Los Angeles' method, but the end result remains the same—the addition of experienced players ready to compete on the biggest stage.
In recent years, conventional wisdom pegged the draft as the time to build a playoff squad. But that process can take years. Now, teams with an immediate goal in mind can win in free agency.
But this method isn't foolproof. Pulling it off is difficult.
Some clubs won in March through the addition of coveted free agents. Others endured major losses due to competition on the open market. In several cases, general managers courted players but couldn't close deals at the negotiating table.
The term "loser" may be harsh, but these five teams had especially disappointing starts to free agency.
The Baltimore Ravens lost the heart and soul of their defense, as well as last year's leading pass-rushers. C.J. Mosley (New York Jets), Terrell Suggs (Arizona Cardinals) and Za'Darius Smith (Green Bay Packers) signed elsewhere during free agency, leaving holes at middle linebacker and on the edge.
The Ravens defense built a reputation for physical, hard-nosed play over the last several years. Suggs provided the bark and bite in the pass rush, and Mosley served as the quarterback of the defense.
When the latter went down with a bone bruise in his knee during a Week 2 contest against the Cincinnati Bengals, Kenny Young replaced him. If the 2018 fourth-rounder is permanently bumped into the starting spot, that's a significant step forward in his development.
Baltimore also needs Tim Williams to take a major leap in his third season opposite Matt Judon, who's logged 19 sacks over the last three years. Without pocket pressure, the Ravens defense will likely allow more yards and points—areas in which they ranked first and second, respectively, during the 2018 season.
In the secondary, general manager Eric DeCosta replaced safety Eric Weddle, who signed to play for the Los Angeles Rams, with Earl Thomas. The former Seattle Seahawk has missed 19 contests since the start of the 2016 season, and his predecessor played in every game during that period.
Weddle's production declined last year, but Thomas enters his age-30 term with durability concerns while cashing in on the fourth-highest amount of guaranteed money among safeties, per Spotrac.
The Baltimore defense lost its identity during free agency and may not look as fierce in the upcoming season.
Kansas City Chiefs
Likely in the process of a schematic transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the Kansas City Chiefs parted with two of their top three edge-rushers. Initially, they franchise-tagged Dee Ford, then traded him to the San Francisco 49ers. They also released Justin Houston.
Houston could've moved to defensive end under Spagnuolo, but the Chiefs chose to recoup cap resources, per the Kansas City Star's Brooke Pryor: "Though Houston would've fit in Spagnuolo's defense as an end, the Chiefs chose to save a significant amount of cap space by releasing the veteran linebacker. He was coming off a solid season, but his contract was too expensive to keep around."
Perhaps the team should've kept either him or Ford to enjoy continued access to a proven pocket-pusher. With both departed, interior defensive lineman Chris Jones will be counted upon to pressure the quarterback. Kansas City did sign defensive end Alex Okafor, but he won't provide enough to supplement the pass production allowed to walk out of the door.
In 2018, cornerback Steven Nelson put together his best season with the Chiefs, logging 15 pass breakups and four interceptions. Then he signed a three-year, $25.5 million deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Spagnuolo will now work with Bashaud Breeland, who will attempt to bounce back after a shortened down year with the Green Bay Packers.
Kansas City's defense ranked 31st in yards allowed and 24th in scoring during the 2018 term. Now, the unit has big question marks on the ends and a hopeful replacement in pass coverage on the perimeter.
Meanwhile, Mitch Morse moved to the Buffalo Bills and became the highest-paid center in the league. The transaction leaves inexperienced veteran Austin Reiter to man the pivot. He's started five games in three years.
For a team coming off an appearance in the AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs have some concerning uncertainties scattered across the roster.
With a shifting coaching staff, the Miami Dolphins didn't need to win free agency. But they're clearly headed toward a rebuilding year.
The front office traded quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a sixth-round pick in the upcoming draft to the Tennessee Titans for a 2019 seventh-rounder and a 2020 fourth-round pick. It also hosted signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater, though he chose to re-sign with the New Orleans Saints.
Bridgewater's decision to stay put led the Dolphins to acquire Ryan Fitzpatrick as a bridge-the-gap quarterback while they continue the search for their franchise centerpiece. But that type of acquisition is slightly problematic during the retooling stage. Fitzpatrick is good enough to win more than a handful of games, even if his play often wanes late in the season.
The Dolphins may maintain a level of mediocrity that doesn't earn a postseason berth but keeps them a few spots above a top-10 pick. After Bridgewater's decision, the team is in limbo for 2019. General manager Chris Grier will probably need to pull off a trade for a long-term answer at quarterback—whether a rookie prospect or a veteran.
If that problem weren't already detrimental enough, the Dolphins lost starting right tackle Ja'Wuan James to the Denver Broncos. Miami now has a Band-Aid under center with another void to fill on the offensive line.
The Minnesota Vikings ground attack was a clear weakness in 2018. It ranked 27th in attempts and 30th in yards, which illustrates a lack of confidence and production. The team's free-agency subtractions will only exacerbate the existing problem.
A torn ACL in 2017 and a nagging hamstring ailment last year have limited Dalvin Cook to just 15 appearances during his first two professional seasons. The 23-year-old running back's durability issues increased the need to have a serviceable No. 2 tailback on the roster.
Latavius Murray has both served in a complementary role and filled in for Cook since the beginning of the 2017 campaign. He averaged four yards per carry and scored 14 touchdowns on the ground during his Vikings tenure. But this offseason, the 29-year-old inked a four-year, $14.4 million deal with the New Orleans Saints.
Although it's easier to replace running backs than other positions, Minnesota must hit on a prospect in the draft to back up Cook.
In the trenches, the Vikings lost guards Tom Compton (New York Jets) and Nick Easton (Saints). The former started 14 games on the left side last season; the latter missed the 2018 campaign because of a herniated disc in his neck. Minnesota signed Josh Kline as a replacement Wednesday, but the Tennessee Titans asked him to take a pay cut (and released him upon his refusal) for a reason.
Last year, Kline struggled in both pass protection and the run game, per Music City Miracles' Mike Herndon: "Kline, in particular, is a problem right now. No offensive lineman is going to be perfect, but he's getting beat badly in both the run and pass game several times per game."
The Vikings had to settle for a veteran coming off a down year to open holes for their running backs. Incumbent options Danny Isidora and Aviante Collins have three combined starts on their NFL resumes.
We'll see a one-dimensional offensive attack and quarterback Kirk Cousins under siege if Minnesota doesn't acquire more talent to fill holes in the trenches.
Based on Collins' salary, he should be a do-it-all safety who can handle duties closer to the line of scrimmage and assume a variety of coverage assignments. His production says otherwise.
He's logged a pair of interceptions and 10 pass breakups over the last two terms. The four-year veteran has only put forth one strong campaign in coverage—five picks and 13 passes defensed in 2016.
Collins may be a solid player, but it's debatable whether his skill set warrants this type of contract.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Washington wanted to re-sign safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but he agreed to a bargain-bin deal worth $3.5 million for one year with the Chicago Bears. The defense also lost outside linebacker Preston Smith to the Green Bay Packers.
On the other side of the ball, new quarterback Case Keenum (acquired via trade) won't be able to target reliable slot wideout Jamison Crowder, who led the team in receiving yards (789) during the 2017 campaign. Crowder signed with the New York Jets for three years and $28.5 million.
Even though the front office made a splashy signing, the Redskins haven't gained any ground on the Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. The defense may not improve much, and Keenum doesn't have the offensive weapons to help him match his lone breakout year with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017.