Boom or Bust Predictions for NFL Offseason's Riskiest Moves
One of the best parts about the offseason is finding out which teams are willing to take risks to improve their roster. Sometimes, those moves work out and can change the direction of a franchise. Other times, they set teams back multiple years.
Last offseason, the Arizona Cardinals busted by sinking $48 million into contracts for Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon. The two completed a grand total of 65 passes for the team and neither is on its roster for 2019. Conversely, the Indianapolis Colts boomed by picking up Eric Ebron on a two-year, $13 million deal. The rejuvenated tight end proceeded to score a team-high 14 touchdowns from scrimmage, two more than he had scored in four seasons with the Detroit Lions.
Today, we are going to predict the outcome of a handful of moves, by naming them either a "boom" or a "bust." Without further ado, let's dive in!
Bust: Jets Signing RB Le’Veon Bell
Arguably the biggest free agent signing that occurred this offseason was the New York Jets acquiring running back Le’Veon Bell. After sitting out all of the 2018 season due to a contract dispute, Bell left the Pittsburgh Steelers for a four-year deal in New York with $35 million in guarantees, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
However, there are a few significant reasons that this contract will not pay off. First, we’ve already seen a drop in efficiency from Bell in the past few seasons. In 2014, Bell averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 290 rushes. Then, that number shot up to 4.9 in both 2015 and 2016. But in 2017, albeit on career-high rush attempts and targets, Bell averaged the second-lowest yards per carry (4.0) and yards per reception (7.7) of his career.
In Pittsburgh, Bell played in one of the league's most explosive offenses with arguably the NFL's best offensive line. Now, he will be joining a team with a sub-par offensive line and a young quarterback. Considering that he is already 27 years old and his best football may be behind him, that could spell trouble for Bell and the Jets. It's also worth noting that Bell hasn't been the most durable player in his career, missing games due to multiple knee and knee injuries in the past.
Look for Bell to get a lot of touches, both on the ground and through the air, for New York. But don’t expect him to be as efficient as he was in Pittsburgh. If his efficiency continues to drop, this could prove to be a major bust for the Jets in free agency.
Boom: Browns Trading for WR Odell Beckham Jr.
The Cleveland Browns, under general manager John Dorsey, aren’t afraid to take risks. Just this offseason, they traded away one of the best guards in the league in Kevin Zeitler for pass-rush help in Olivier Vernon and signed Sheldon Richardson to a reasonably big deal to shore up their interior defensive line.
However, their biggest move of the offseason, by far, was acquiring wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from the New York Giants. The Browns traded away the No. 17 pick, the No. 95 selection and starting safety Jabrill Peppers in exchange for Beckham’s services. While Cleveland certainly gave up several important assets, none even come close to the talent of Beckham Jr.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield was spectacular last season, throwing 27 touchdowns in 13 starts. But now that he has a true No. 1 receiver at his disposal, he will have all the weapons needed for an MVP-caliber season. Don’t be surprised if Beckham puts up career numbers with Cleveland this season.
Bust: Jaguars Signing QB Nick Foles
One city that desperately needed an upgrade at quarterback this offseason was Jacksonville. After busting on Blake Bortles (third pick in the 2014 draft), the Jacksonville Jaguars opted to sign their next franchise passer in free agency. Jacksonville signed Nick Foles, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, to a four-year deal worth $88 million, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
While Foles will likely be an upgrade over Bortles, he is going to have a hard time justifying that contract. Throughout his seven seasons in the NFL, he has proven to be an adequate starter with a career passer rating of 88.5. Most of his success was due to an excellent supporting cast in Philadelphia, where he had several elite players around him (like pass-catchers Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery) and one of the most innovative coaching staffs in the league.
Considering his contract, Foles is going to be asked to elevate the players around him and carry the Jaguars week in and week out. That is going to be a tough task.
Look for him to have some moments in Jacksonville, but for the team to continue searching for a long-term answer—a process that may have already started with the sixth-round selection of Washington State standout Gardner Minshew in the 2019 draft.
Boom: Raiders Signing RT Trent Brown
One thing we've learned about new Oakland Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden is that they aren’t afraid to make roster splashes. Oakland traded for All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown, signed veterans Tyrell Williams and Lamarcus Joyner and shocked us all by selecting Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell with the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
However, one signing that isn’t getting enough attention is the team bringing in offensive lineman Trent Brown from the New England Patriots. The Raiders signed Brown to a four-year deal worth up to $66 million, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. That deal made him the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history. While it's unlikely that he will live up to that contract, he is going to be worth the investment.
In 2018, Oakland's offensive line might have been one of the worst in the NFL. The Raiders allowed 52 sacks, tied for fifth-most in the NFL. The unit struggled with injuries, but rookie tackles Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker were downright awful. The addition of Brown allows the team to have a more-than-stable right tackle as they continue to work in Miller on the left side. Brown also has the experience of playing left tackle, giving Oakland some flexibility.
In the short term, this might feel like an overpay for the Raiders. However, protecting your franchise quarterback is an absolute must. Look for Brown to instantly shore up one of the tackle spots for the Raiders, buying time for Derek Carr and paving lanes for 2019's only first-round running back, Josh Jacobs.
Bust: Steelers Signing LB Mark Barron
The worst moves in free agency are when teams overpay average players to fill a need. One prime candidate for the biggest overpay relative to their play is Mark Barron, formerly of the Los Angeles Rams.
After the Ryan Shazier injury in 2017, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had a massive hole at linebacker. The team tried to address it last season with the addition of Jon Bostic. That move didn’t pan out as he was released just one year later. This offseason, the Steelers tried to address their linebacker need in free agency once again, signing veteran Mark Barron to a two-year deal worth $12 million, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
While Barron is a highly athletic player who can run from sideline to sideline, his play has dropped dramatically over the last few seasons. He has quickly become a liability in coverage and his ability to stop the run has decreased as well. Pittsburgh traded up for Michigan linebacker Devin Bush during this year's draft and he is likely to open the season as the Day 1 starter. That means Pittsburgh's big free agent acquisition could start the year off on the bench.
Considering that the Steelers paid Barron starter money this offseason, a reserve role would mean trouble for this signing.
Boom: Colts Signing WR Devin Funchess
Heading into the offseason, the Indianapolis Colts had the most cap space in the entire NFL. Already one of the best teams in the AFC, many believed the team would make some big splashes to win now.
Instead, general manager Chris Ballard decided not to overspend on the free agent market. One of the few players the team chose to gamble on was receiver Devin Funchess. Early in the free-agent process, the Colts signed Funchess to a one-year deal worth up to $13 million. Considering that Funchess has never had a 1,000-yard season and only has two games with 100-plus receiving yards, that signing seems suspect.
However, the Colts have had success in recent years with underachieving players, such as Eric Ebron and Margus Hunt. Both players have become key contributors for Indianapolis and figure to be important pieces of the roster moving forward. With T.Y. Hilton on the outside and Andrew Luck at quarterback, it wouldn't be a shock if Funchess had the best year of his career after a change in scenery.
As a 6'4", 24-year-old red-zone threat, Funchess’ best football may still be ahead of him.
Bust: Bills Signing WR Cole Beasley
For years, Cole Beasley has been one of the most reliable slot receivers in the league. Playing with Tony Romo and Dak Prescott, Beasley was highly efficient in the short to intermediate portions of the field, especially on third down. While he's never been a No. 1 or even No. 2 receiver in the NFL, he was an essential part of the Dallas Cowboys offense.
The Buffalo Bills signed Beasley to a new four-year deal this offseason worth up to $29 million with $17 million guaranteed, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. However, now he is going to be asked to play like a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver and that may be beyond his capabilities. The team signed John Brown to a similar deal this offseason and Zay Jones remains on the roster, but considering the contract Beasley signed, they are going to ask him to do more than he did in Dallas.
At just 5'8", Beasley is only a slot receiver. He doesn't have the size or the speed to test defenses on the outside. And at 30 years old, it's likely that his game is only going to decline. Beasley is a somewhat clunky fit with second-year quarterback Josh Allen, who does his best work down the field and with his legs.
Don’t be surprised if Beasley falls down the depth chart in Buffalo as the season goes on.
Boom: 49ers Trading for DE Dee Ford
The San Francisco 49ers have a ton of talent on their team. However, their defense was in desperate need of an overhaul. They allowed the fifth-most points in 2018 and recorded just 37 total sacks.
Heading into the draft, the team knew they were likely going to draft Ohio State’s Nick Bosa with the No. 2 overall selection. However, the 49ers needed to add some more firepower to their front seven.
With that in mind, the 49ers opted to trade for former Kansas City Chiefs edge-rusher Dee Ford. In a career year, Ford recorded 13 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 16 starts for the Chiefs. He’s been highly productive as of late, recording 64 quarterback hits, 35 tackles for a loss and 29 sacks in his last 51 games.
Pairing the 28-year-old Ford with Bosa on the edge will give the 49ers one of the most talented pass-rushing duos in the entire league. Look for Ford to make an immediate impact for San Francisco in his first year with the team.