Recently Signed NFL Free Agents Primed to Decline

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVMarch 24, 2019

Recently Signed NFL Free Agents Primed to Decline

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    The NFL's 2019 free-agent class has been handsomely rewarded in the early going. 

    Many of the deals will pay off, as a number of teams addressed their biggest needs with immediate upgrades.

    However, several of the recently signed free agents are primed to decline.

    Whether because of age, injury concerns or poor situational fit, the following players won't provide a positive return on their new contracts. 


Nick Foles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars rushed to give quarterback Nick Foles a four-year, $88 million contract with $50 million guaranteed at the start of free agency. While Foles thrived in Carson Wentz's place during his recent stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Jaguars may wind up having buyer's remorse.

    Foles is only as good as his supporting cast. This past season, Philadelphia had top-notch receiving threats such as Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor and Golden Tate in addition to one of the NFL's better pass-blocking offensive lines.

    The same can't be said about the Jaguars in 2019.

    Foles' raw numbers will increase in Jacksonville as he plays more, but his minuscule interception rate is bound to rise. When he's pressured, he won't have as many quality release valves.

    Foles can get reckless when he feels as though he has to compensate for struggling playmakers or leaky blockers. That doesn't bode well for his upcoming tenure with the Jaguars.

Kareem Jackson, CB, Denver Broncos

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    After spending his entire nine-year career with the Houston Texans, Kareem Jackson was able to parlay one of his best seasons into a big payday.

    The Denver Broncos handed the soon-to-be 31-year-old a three-year, $33 million deal with $23 million guaranteed. That's a steep price for someone who was viewed as a mediocre slot corner only one year ago. 

    Jackson's biggest strength is his ability to fill in as a safety, slot corner and occasionally a zone boundary corner. He has mastered timing and spacing in coverage, but he has limited man skills, as his speed and route-recognition ability has dipped in recent years.

    Broncos head coach Vic Fangio figures to use Jackson well considering his track record, but Denver paid top dollar for him after a contract year.

    Jackson's physical limitations means he'll need safety help over the top or be exposed as a zone-specific player. That makes it easier for offenses to predict and create mismatches.

    Houston often moved Jackson around the field throughout games. In Denver, he'll decline without that benefit.

Mark Barron, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to add misfits to the back seven of their defense, a makeshift unit that boasts only two standout talents in T.J. Watt and Mike Hilton. The rest of their secondary and linebackers have limitations that have haunted the team over various parts of its closing championship window.

    Los Angeles Rams castoff Mark Barron, who signed a two-year, $12 million deal with Pittsburgh, is an upgrade on Jonathan Bostic, but that isn't saying much.

    Barron's tackles total dipped in 2018 for the second straight season, as an Achilles injury hampered him for much of the year. The former safety is an undersized option who can help try to replace the athleticism that Ryan Shazier brought to the Steelers defense, but he lacks the same playmaking instincts as Shazier.

    The Rams had the money and need at linebacker to justify keeping Barron around, but his play slipped enough to convince them to move on. The 29-year-old was the league's 76th-ranked linebacker last season, according to Pro Football Focus, which suggests he's becoming a liability.  

    In L.A., Barron was playing behind a tremendously talented defensive line that made his job easier. There's no reason to expect his play to suddenly improve in Pittsburgh. 

Clay Matthews, LB, Los Angeles Rams

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    On paper, the Los Angeles Rams had every reason to sign former Green Bay Packers pass-rusher Clay Matthews. They needed one more edge defender and capable linebacker, and Matthews is a local product who reportedly took less money to sign with them, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.

    However, the Rams shouldn't be expecting too much from the soon-to-be 33-year-old.

    Matthews' pass-rush prowess has dipped in recent years as he's aged. The loss of his first step has made him more of a power rusher and crafty veteran than an explosive threat.

    Matthews has averaged roughly 37 tackles and five sacks over the past three seasons. With the Rams, he projects as a clean-up man who can capitalize on Aaron Donald and Dante Fowler getting quarterbacks to drift into him.

    Not only should the Rams have low expectations for Matthews, but they also need to accept he may be done as a meaningful contributor. Even if his two-year, $16.75 million deal was a discount, it might be a waste considering how inconsistent he was last year.

Golden Tate, WR, New York Giants

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    The New York Giants continue to make peculiar decisions as they try to toe the line between competing and rebuilding.

    Trading Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon to the Cleveland Browns for Jabrill Peppers, Kevin Zeitler, the No. 17 overall pick and a third-round pick was defensible, but the Giants still have numerous defensive holes and a glaring issue at quarterback.

    Thus, their decision to sign Golden Tate to a four-year, $37.5 million contract was a head-scratcher even though they needed another receiver in the wake of Beckham's departure. 

    Tate, who turns 31 in the beginning of August, is coming off a bad stretch with the Philadelphia Eagles after a midseason trade. Instead of sliding seamlessly into Philly's creative and dangerous passing game, he largely relied on dump-off passes to be effective.

    In other words, Tate isn't anywhere near the playmaker that Beckham is.

    Tate averaged at least 11 yards per catch every season from 2012 through 2014, but he has hit that mark only once since 2015. With Giants quarterback Eli Manning running on fumes, Tate's production isn't likely to bounce back in 2019, either.

Buster Skrine, CB, Chicago Bears

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    Successful teams stay under the cap and reload their roster by allowing some incumbent players to leave as free agents. While Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace has done well in this regard recently, he'll regret his decision to let Bryce Callahan walk and replace him with Buster Skrine.

    Skrine is a significant downgrade, but the Bears gave him a three-year, $16.6 million contract with $8.5 million guaranteed.

    Skrine, who turns 30 in late April, is an undersized slot specialist who relies on quickness and schemed blitzes to find success. Active in the run game, he's accumulated 387 career solo tackles. His aggressiveness can be a good thing when playing downhill.

    But he's also a penalty magnet, having averaged nearly eight per season, according to Pro Football Reference. His reliance on grabbing in his prime years is a sign of poor technique and panic, and his feet will slow sooner than later.

    That means more penalties and blown coverage opportunities for the opposing offense.  


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