Every NFL Team's Riskiest Move This Offseason

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2019

Every NFL Team's Riskiest Move This Offseason

0 of 32

    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    It doesn't always pay to take risks in football. In today's NFL, however, playing it safe is often the quickest route to failure.

    Think back to Week 11 of last season, when the Green Bay Packers trailed the Seattle Seahawks 27-24. Green Bay had a 4th-and-2 from its own 33 with just over four minutes to play. Instead of keeping the ball in Aaron Rodgers' hands, Mike McCarthy dialed up a punt. Seattle chewed up the clock, the Packers lost, and McCarthy was eventually fired.

    A similar philosophy can be applied to the NFL offseason. Risks don't always pay off, but the "safe" route is often worse. Last season, for example, the Kansas City Chiefs traded away Alex Smith and installed Patrick Mahomes as their new starting quarterback. The Jacksonville Jaguars, meanwhile, gave Blake Bortles a contract extension.

    You can form your own opinions on how those moves played out.

    With the bulk of the 2019 offseason in the rearview mirror, every team has taken a risk of some degree. These are moves that could backfire and lead the team in a bad situation but could also pay huge dividends both this season and beyond.

    What's the riskiest move your favorite team made this offseason? Let's dig in.


Arizona Cardinals: Drafting Kyler Murray No. 1

1 of 32

    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals used the first pick in this year's draft on Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. This was a risky move for a couple of reasons.

    The most obvious is that Murray is an undersized (5'10") and unconventional quarterback. This doesn't mean he won't be successful, but it does mean that Arizona will have to approach the quarterback position differently than it would with a more traditional passer.

    The second piece of the risk equation is the fact that after drafting Murray, the Cardinals traded away 2018 first-rounder Josh Rosen. Though Rosen was rocky as a rookie, he came into this offseason with a year of rapport with his teammates, and it's always risky giving up on a talented player so soon. 

    "Everybody is not on the same page like I was with my guys in college right now," Murray told Fox Sports Arizona. "I've only been here for a couple of months, so it's going to take time."

    Rookie quarterbacks are never a sure thing, but the Cardinals are gambling big on Murray.

Atlanta Falcons: Letting Tevin Coleman Walk

2 of 32

    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Falcons decided to let running back Tevin Coleman leave in free agency. This means a significant piece of the offense is gone—Coleman amassed 800 yards rushing and 276 yards receiving last season.

    While the return of a healthy Devonta Freeman should minimize the impact of Coleman's departure, it won't erase it. Even when Freeman was healthy in 2017, Coleman racked up 628 rushing yards and 288 receiving yards in a complementary role.

    Atlanta is betting that second-year back Ito Smith can pick up where Coleman left off, but this is a risky approach. While Smith did catch 27 balls as a rookie, he also averaged a mere 3.5 yards per carry.

    Coleman signed a modest two-year, $8.5 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers in free agency. Therefore, the Falcons risked quite a bit to save what isn't a massive amount of money on a new deal.

Baltimore Ravens: Drafting Marquise Brown in Round 1

3 of 32

    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    There's risk attached to all prospects, especially those selected in the first round—as teams can't afford to miss on such an important draft pick. But some prospects are riskier than others. Former Oklahoma receiver Marquise Brown carries a significant risk for a couple of reasons.

    For one, while Brown does possess elite speed and movement skills, he's also extremely undersized. At just 5'9" and 166 pounds, Brown is one of the smallest and slightest receivers in the league.

    The other issue with Brown is that he's coming off Lisfranc surgery. For a wideout who thrives almost entirely on speed and elusiveness, that's a risky proposition. The Baltimore Ravens were comfortable enough with both issues to take Brown 25th overall in April's draft.

    Could the move pan out? Certainly. Brown might be Baltimore's No. 1 receiver for the next decade. He could just as easily not be the same player he was before surgery or face durability concerns over the course of his pro career.

Buffalo Bills: Signing Tyler Kroft to Be TE1

4 of 32

    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills need to find a reliable receiving tight end to help aid in the development of quarterback Josh Allen. They settled on former Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Kroft, who played in just five games last season before suffering a season-ending foot injury.

    Signing Kroft to a three-year, $18.8 million deal after an injury-shortened season was risky enough. Adding to the risk level was the fact that Kroft has never been a top-end pass-catcher. His best season came in 2017 when he started 16 games and amassed 404 yards.

    Unfortunately for Buffalo, Kroft is already out with another injury—a broken foot—and is expected to miss the bulk of the offseason. This means that the Bills will likely head into the regular season with rookie third-round pick Dawson Knox as their top receiving option at tight end.

Carolina Panthers: Passing on a Veteran Backup

5 of 32

    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    This may not be a make-or-break season for the Carolina Panthers and head coach Ron Rivera. However, it will be an important one, as Adam Rank of NFL.com recently pointed out.

    "The Panthers' head coach is under pressure to show second-year owner David Tepper that he's still the right man to steer the ship," he wrote.

    It's a bit curious, then, that the Panthers chose to draft quarterback Will Grier instead of signing a veteran signal-caller to back up Cam Newton. Instead of having a player like Tyrod Taylor or Teddy Bridgewater in the wings, the Panthers will be relying on either Grier or Taylor Heinicke if Newton is unable to play.

    This is risky for the Panthers because Newton is coming off shoulder surgery, and there's no guarantee that he'll be at 100 percent at any point this season—just ask Indianapolis Colts fans about how shoulder-surgery recovery can go.

Chicago Bears: Trading Jordan Howard, Drafting David Montgomery

6 of 32

    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears obviously believed that running back Jordan Howard was no longer a fit for their offense. They wouldn't have traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a conditional sixth-round draft pick otherwise.

    Chicago did draft former Iowa State running back David Montgomery in the third round, and he may well be a better fit as a complement to Tarik Cohen in the Bears offense. However, replacing Howard with Montgomery was still a risky move.

    The Bears knew what they had in Howard. They had a back who rushed for 935 yards last season and 3,370 yards in his first three seasons. Howard also caught 72 passes in three years, so he did bring some versatility to the backfield.

    What Chicago has in Montgomery is completely unknown—at least as it relates to the pro game.

Cincinnati Bengals: Hiring Zac Taylor as Head Coach

7 of 32

    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    After witnessing Sean McVay turn around the Los Angeles Rams offense over the past couple of seasons, the search for "the next McVay" has become a common offseason theme. The Cincinnati Bengals may have taken this idea a little too literally when they hired McVay's quarterbacks coach, Zac Taylor, to be their new head coach.

    OK, so the hire wasn't all about Taylor being a McVay assistant. He has ties to southern Ohio, having previously served as offensive coordinator for the University of Cincinnati. Familiarity with the region and a bright offensive mind may be enough to make Taylor a terrific coach for the Bengals.

    However, this was still a risky hire. Taylor is about as unproven as it gets, having just one season as a full-time NFL coordinator under his belt (and a few games as Miami's interim coordinator in 2015). Hiring him was a bold move—and in many ways, better than hiring a retread head coach as teams frequently do—but it was a risky decision that could go either tremendously or terribly in a hurry.

Cleveland Browns: Hiring Freddie Kitchens as Head Coach

8 of 32

    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    If Taylor was about as unproven as head-coaching candidates get, new Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens may have served as the measuring stick. He spent roughly half a season as an offensive coordinator before being given the job in northern Ohio.

    What Kitchens has going for him is familiarity with the franchise. He formed an obvious bond with the roster—and specifically with quarterback Baker Mayfield—after taking over as play-caller in the wake of Hue Jackson's firing.

    What Kitchens doesn't have is experience managing an entire roster—and the Browns now have one full of big personalities. In addition to Mayfield, Kitchens will be managing the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Sheldon Richardson and Duke Johnson Jr. If he cannot keep the ship on course, it could quickly turn south.

    In many ways, the hiring of Kitchens was even bolder, and riskier, than Cincinnati's hiring of Taylor. In less than one calendar year, Kitchens has been promoted twice, going from running backs coach to being the man in charge of perhaps the NFL's hottest franchise.

Dallas Cowboys: Putting off Dak Prescott's New Deal

9 of 32

    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys are working on a new deal for quarterback Dak Prescott. Giving him a new contract isn't the risky part—he's proved himself a more-than-capable starter. The risky part of the whole negotiation process is that Dallas didn't get something done earlier in the offseason.

    "I'd have done it before," former Cowboys great Michael Irvin told 105.3 The Fan, per Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. "Because every day they wait, it's costing them money."

    The price tag for Prescott has likely risen over the course of the offseason. The Mississippi State product watched as the Eagles gave Carson Wentz a new four-year, $128 million deal, and the Cowboys will likely have to top that figure. That's just how the cycle of quarterback paydays works.

    Can the Cowboys still lock up Prescott without making him the highest-paid player in the game? Probably, but they'll have to come close.

Denver Broncos: Trading for QB Joe Flacco

10 of 32

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    When the Denver Broncos traded for 2012 Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, they took a significant gamble. Denver bet on Flacco's ability to be the same quarterback he was when the Ravens were perennial playoff contenders, and not the Mediocre Joe we've seen over the last few seasons.

    Can the bet pay off? Sure. Flacco is probably an upgrade over Case Keenum, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and the other guys John Elway has attempted to put under center. However, the fact remains that he is a 34-year-old quarterback with limited mobility who has been average at best the last few seasons.

    Flacco hasn't posted a quarterback rating over 90 since the 2014 season. Coincidentally, that was the last year in which he led Baltimore to the playoffs.

    At least the Broncos mitigated the risk somewhat by drafting former Missouri quarterback Drew Lock in the second round. If Flacco fails, Denver will just have to start the Lock era a bit earlier than it would probably like.

Detroit Lions: Signing Trey Flowers to a $90 Million Deal

11 of 32

    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Last season, the Detroit Lions didn't field the kind of championship-caliber defense that Matt Patricia is known for—so the franchise inked one of the head coach's former players.

    Detroit signed defensive end Trey Flowers to a five-year, $90 million deal in free agency.

    On one hand, the move appears solid. Flowers was one of the best and most versatile ends in the game last season, and he'll enter a familiar scheme under Patricia. On the other hand, there's no guarantee that his success over the last couple of years wasn't largely a product of the talent around him.

    There is a history of Patriots players failing to find success with new teams. Just look at linebacker Jamie Collins, who was merely average after being traded to Cleveland.

    Perhaps Flowers will give Patricia one of the pieces he needs to field a Patriots-style defense. Perhaps he won't be the same player outside of New England. Either way, the Lions took a big financial risk to find out.

Green Bay Packers: Hiring Matt LaFleur as Head Coach

12 of 32

    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    You know that aforementioned trend of teams looking for the next McVay? Well, the Packers got in on the action this offseason by hiring former Rams and Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur as their new head coach.

    Now, LaFleur does have more coordinator experience than Taylor or Kitchens. However, Green Bay is still taking a risk by hoping that he can get more out of an Aaron Rodgers-led offense than Mike McCarthy did during his tenure.

    On one hand, it's hard to think the relationship between LaFleur and Rodgers will be worse than the one between Rodgers and McCarthy in the end. McCarthy's schemes were woefully un-inventive.

    On the other hand, however, these are the last few years of Rodgers' prime, and if LaFleur proves not to be head-coaching material, then they could feel like wasted years. As is the case with Taylor and Kitchens, the hiring of LaFleur may be a smarter move than hiring a retread off the recently fired pile. However, it was still a risky decision.

Houston Texans: Betting on Two Rookie Linemen and a Player on the Downswing

13 of 32

    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    The Houston Texans offensive line allowed 62 sacks last season. Sixty-two! That's unacceptable for any team, let alone one with a quarterback like Deshaun Watson who was coming off an ACL injury.

    Fortunately, Houston did take steps to improve its line. The problem is that it didn't go the "safe" route and target a veteran fresh off a successful and consistent campaign—like Kevin Zeitler or Trent Brown, for example.

    Instead, the Texans signed Matt Kalil—who missed the entire 2018 season due to injury—and drafted a pair of linemen early.

    Houston took Alabama State's Tytus Howard in Round 1 and Northern Illinois' Max Scharping in Round 2. Both rookies may become starters sooner than later, and Kalil may regain the Pro Bowl form he had back in 2012, too. If these moves don't pan out quickly, though, Watson could be in for another long and bruise-filled season.

Indianapolis Colts: Signing Devin Funchess to $10 Million Deal

14 of 32

    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts decided to upgrade their receiving corps in free agency. Instead of trading for a proven veteran like DeSean Jackson or Odell Beckham Jr., however, they decided to take a chance on Panthers castoff Devin Funchess.

    The risk here isn't so much that Funchess is a bad player. It's that the Colts gave him a $10 million deal for one year.

    This is a lot of money to spend on a player who never emerged as a top receiving threat in Carolina and didn't do enough to convince the Panthers to try retaining him. Funchess' best season came in 2017, when he had 840 yards and eight touchdowns.

    A change of scenery may be exactly what Funchess needed, and he may well be the complementary receiver that Indianapolis needs. There are a lot of unknowns with Funchess, though, and the Colts are risking a lot of cash just to get answers.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Signing QB Nick Foles

15 of 32

    John Raoux/Associated Press

    As previously mentioned, the Jaguars gave Blake Bortles a contract extension last offseason...and, yep, he's already gone. Jacksonville replaced him this offseason by signing former Eagles backup Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million deal.

    Is Foles an upgrade? Well, possibly. He played well for Philadelphia the last two seasons, even leading the Eagles to a championship and winning MVP honors in the process. However, his resume away from Philadelphia isn't so shiny.

    Foles started 11 games for the St. Louis Rams in 2015 and posted Bortles-like numbers. He passed for 2,052 yards that season while throwing seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions and posting a passer rating of 69.0.

    Jacksonville is betting that it can get the Eagles version of Foles. It definitely doesn't feel like a bad bet, especially given the incumbent alternative, but it's risky nonetheless. 

Kansas City Chiefs: Installing Damien Williams as Starting Back

16 of 32

    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs parted with running back Kareem Hunt midway through last season. In his stead, Damien Williams was more than serviceable—he finished the regular season with 23 receptions and a 5.1 yards-per-carry average.

    Yet, the decision to name Williams the starting running back early in the offseason was risky—though that's exactly what offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy did.

    This isn't because Williams cannot be a starter for the Chiefs. He may well flourish in the role. It's just that other options are on the roster, like Darrel Williams, Carlos Hyde and rookie Darwin Thompson. A good, healthy offseason competition may have uncovered a better option.

    Rosters are always fluid, of course, and a better back may still emerge. However, Kansas City may have already prematurely made its pick.

Los Angeles Chargers: Putting off Melvin Gordon's New Contract

17 of 32

    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    It's been a fairly solid offseason for the Los Angeles Chargers, but one decision could have unintended consequences. The Chargers decided not to give running back Melvin Gordon a contract extension early in the offseason, and that could cause a distraction heading into training camp, the preseason and the regular season.

    For Gordon, at least, the prospect of a new deal is a constant presence.

    "I would love to have it done so I don't have to worry about that," he said, per Jeff Miller of the Los Angeles Times. "I could just come in and work and do what I need to do. I don't want any problems or anything like that."

    Los Angeles has capable backups in Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. But if the offense is going to be at full strength in 2019, the Chargers don't need a distracted Gordon leading the backfield. Perhaps it won't be an issue, but the Chargers are taking a bit of a risk be delaying a new deal nonetheless.

Los Angeles Rams: Re-Signing Dante Fowler Jr.

18 of 32

    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Rams traded for edge-rusher Dante Fowler Jr. midway through the 2018 season. They got a player who was serviceable but certainly wasn't dominant.

    Fowler finished the season with just four sacks and ranked 53rd overall among edge-rushers, per Pro Football Focus.

    The Rams liked what they saw enough to give Fowler a new one-year, $12 million deal, and that was a risky decision. Not only has Fowler proved very little during his NFL career (16 sacks in three seasons), but his new salary likely cost the Rams a shot at bringing back another key contributor.

    The loss of veteran guard Rodger Saffold looms large here, as he signed a four-year deal with the Tennessee Titans worth $11 million per season in free agency.

Miami Dolphins: Staging a QB Competition Between Rosen and Fitzpatrick

19 of 32

    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    The Miami Dolphins traded away a second-round pick during the draft to acquire former first-round selection Josh Rosen. There was some level of risk involved in the move—there's a reason the Cardinals didn't want to retain him, after all. However, the bigger risk for Miami was declaring an open competition between Rosen and journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.

    By staging an open competition, the Dolphins run the risk of Fitzpatrick winning it. That does them no good at all if they truly want to gauge Rosen's potential as an NFL starter. Things will be even worse if Fitzpatrick plays well enough to hold down the job for the majority of the season.

    The end result could be that the Dolphins win six or seven games, don't get a good look at Rosen and find themselves out of the mix for one of the top QB prospects in the 2020 draft. Miami would essentially be in the same position with Rosen next offseason, only with a wasted season to show for its efforts.

Minnesota Vikings: Letting Latavius Murray Leave

20 of 32

    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings have former second-round pick Dalvin Cook on their roster, and they're expecting him to finally emerge as a franchise back this season. The problem is that Cook has struggled to stay healthy over the past two years. He missed five games last season and has missed a total of 17 in two seasons.

    This is why letting backup running back Latavius Murray walk in free agency was a risky move. Murray was a significant piece of the Minnesota offense last season, amassing 578 yards rushing and catching 22 passes. Without him, even more responsibility will be thrust upon Cook.

    Should Cook suffer another injury, Minnesota would be forced to rely on rookie third-round pick Alexander Mattison. It's entirely possible the Boise State product would be up to the challenge, but he is an unproven rookie; there's no way to know for sure.

    Letting Murray go was largely a calculated risk, but it was still a significant one.

New England Patriots: Throwing Darts at the Tight End Position

21 of 32

    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    In case you haven't been paying attention, the New England Patriots lost star tight end Rob Gronkowski to retirement early this offseason. His departure leaves a gaping hole in the offense, one that New England has only taken small steps to fill.

    The Patriots did try to sign Jared Cook, but they failed. They weren't able to land a prospect like Noah Fant or T.J. Hockenson in the draft, either. They didn't even sign a second-tier free agent like Tyler Kroft or Jesse James to bolster their existing group.

    Instead, New England has assembled a motley crew of tight ends to try replacing Gronk. They'll lean on guys like Matt LaCosse, Stephen Anderson and veteran Ben Watson, who will open the season on a four-game suspension for a PED violation.

    Can the Patriots survive without a premier tight end in their offense? Probably. No team is better at changing its offensive identity and still succeeding. However, heading into the season with a misfit tight end group is risky.

New Orleans Saints: Standing Pat at Receiver

22 of 32

    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    The riskiest move of the offseason for the New Orleans Saints is a move they didn't make. They didn't bring in a complementary wide receiver to help bolster the depth behind standout Michael Thomas.

    This was a risky decision because while the passing attack was certainly functional last season, opposing teams were regularly able to double-team Thomas without fear of being burned by a different receiver. Tre'Quan Smith was the second-leading wideout in 2018, and he amassed just 427 yards.

    New Orleans could have shaken up the depth chart by adding a free agent like John Brown or Donte Moncrief, but it didn't.

    The Saints did sign Pro Bowl tight end Jared Cook, who should be an upgrade over Benjamin Watson. They could also see some major growth from Smith in his second pro season. However, they still took a risk by sticking with the likes of Smith, Ted Ginn, Keith Kirkwood and Austin Carr at wide receiver.

New York Giants: Drafting Daniel Jones Sixth Overall

23 of 32

    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    As was the case with the Cardinals and their selection of Kyler Murray, the New York Giants' decision to draft Duke quarterback Daniel Jones at No. 6 was a risky move.

    Not only are the Giants betting Jones will be the future of their franchise, but they gambled on him early in Round 1. They passed on elite defensive prospects like Josh Allen, Ed Oliver and Devin Bush in order to take him sixth overall.

    That's risky for a team that finished 24th in total defense a year ago (371.4 yards allowed per game) and parted with both Landon Collins and Olivier Vernon in the offseason.

    Whether you believe taking Jones at No. 6 instead of trying to grab him at No. 17 was the right move, it's the move in which New York believed. Kudos to the Giants for getting their man, but betting so much on the small-school prospect is a risk.

New York Jets: Signing Le'Veon Bell to Obscene Contract

24 of 32

    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    The New York Jets' signing of running back Le'Veon Bell might just be the biggest gamble taken by any team this offseason. It cost the Jets $52.5 million over four years to make it, and there's no telling how things will play out.

    Bell was one of the NFL's most dominant and versatile backs when we last saw him play. But let's be honest. That was two years ago. Bell has spent a full year away from the football field, and that isn't an easy hurdle to clear.

    If Bell is the same player he was before his Pittsburgh Steelers sabbatical—and if he wasn't largely a product of their offense—then the Jets merely paid big for a great player. If he isn't, then New York greatly overpaid for a big name.

    What makes this an especially risky move is the fact that Bell has $25 million in dead money on his contract—money the Jets will have to pay no matter how he performs moving forward.

Oakland Raiders: Drafting Clelin Ferrell Fourth Overall

25 of 32

    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Oakland Raiders were, for lack of a better term, pathetic when it came to pressuring the quarterback last season. As a team, they produced a mere 13 sacks, fewer than several individual players had in 2018.

    To remedy the situation, Oakland used the fourth overall pick on Clemson edge-rusher Clelin Ferrell. This was a surprising selection, as well as a risky one.

    On one hand, the Raiders got the guy they wanted. On the other, they passed on elite prospects like Devin White, Ed Oliver and Josh Allen to do so. If Ferrell develops into an elite edge-rusher, great. If he doesn't, and one of those other players becomes a perennial All-Pro, then the evaluation prowess of both head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock will be called into question.

    Give Oakland credit for marching to its own beat, but recognize picking Ferrell at four was a gamble.

Philadelphia Eagles: Not Investing in a Veteran Backup

26 of 32

    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Given Carson Wentz's injury history—he finished each of the last two seasons on the sidelines—the Philadelphia Eagles would have been wise to keep a seasoned veteran second on the depth chart. Keeping Foles around wasn't financially feasible, but the Eagles could have looked to free-agent options such as Tyrod Taylor or Ryan Fitzpatrick.

    They didn't and instead chose to roll with Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson and Cody Kessler. Kessler has at least started 12 NFL games, but calling him seasoned would be a major stretch.

    The Eagles then doubled down on their gamble by giving Wentz a new four-year, $128 million contract extension.

    Ideally, Wentz will stay healthy over the course of his contract, and the backup role will be a complete afterthought. However, this is still a sizeable risk for a franchise firmly in the middle of a championship window.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Trading Antonio Brown

27 of 32

    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    It's easy to say the Pittsburgh Steelers had to trade wide receiver Antonio Brown. He clearly had conflict with the team—and particularly with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger—and the Steelers may indeed be better off without him.

    "The chemistry is on point," Steelers wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster recently said, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. "Everyone is on the same page. Everyone is communicating. There's really no—how do you say?— drama in our locker room."

    Still, dealing Brown was a risky move. He's one of the top receivers in the game, and there's no guarantee Smith-Schuster will be as productive as he was last year (1,426 yards) in the No. 1 receiver role and without Brown opposite him. There's no guarantee the Steelers offense as a whole will be as effective, either.

    Yes, dealing Brown may improve the team chemistry and ultimately help Pittsburgh return to playoff form. It was a gamble, though, and one that netted the Steelers only third- and fifth-round picks.

San Francisco 49ers: Giving Kwon Alexander Big FA Deal

28 of 32

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Kwon Alexander is one of the NFL's most productive linebackers when he's healthy. Over the last four seasons, he's amassed 380 tackles, seven sacks, 22 passes defended and six interceptions.

    This is why the San Francisco 49ers were quick to give him a four-year, $54 million deal in free agency.

    The risk with Alexander is his health. He missed four games in 2017 and 10 games last season with a torn ACL. There's no guarantee he will be back to 100 percent this season, or that he'll be the same player he was before that devastating injury.

    If Alexander does fully recover, then the 49ers got themselves a top-tier linebacker—though certainly not at a bargain. If he doesn't, then they are essentially giving him a very expensive tryout.

Seattle Seahawks: Trading Frank Clark

29 of 32

    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Teams do not typically trade away emerging pass-rushers who are just entering their prime. That's what the Seattle Seahawks did with defensive end Frank Clark, however, and it was a risky decision that could go either way.

    On one hand, the Seahawks netted a first-round pick by dealing Clark to the Kansas City Chiefs. They also got out of having to pay him a hefty new contract—the Chiefs gave him a five-year, $104 million deal—or playing him on the franchise tag in 2019.

    On the other hand, Seattle said goodbye to a 26-year-old sack-artist who totaled 22 quarterback takedowns over the past two seasons—13 in 2018 alone.

    Seattle did draft L.J. Collier and sign Ezekiel Ansah to help replace Clark. However, there's no guarantee that either player—or both, for that matter—will match his production moving forward.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Hiring Bruce Arians as Head Coach

30 of 32

    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lured Bruce Arians out of retirement in an effort to finally get the most out of quarterback Jameis Winston. Arians is an offensive mastermind, and he could well get the former Florida State standout to finally reach his potential.

    However, there is an inherent risk in hiring Arians.

    He announced his retirement from football just a little more than a year ago, citing family as a big reason why he wanted to walk away. His feelings have obviously changed a bit over the last year, but there's no guarantee his desire to get away from football won't soon return, especially if Tampa's season goes south early.

    Arians has now "retired" twice in the past 10 years—though his retirement from Pittsburgh was a bit of a forced issue—and the Buccaneers do run the risk of having him retire a third time before his vision for the team ever truly takes hold.

Tennessee Titans: Signing Adam Humphries to Big FA Deal

31 of 32

    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans are hoping quarterback Marcus Mariota can finally have a breakthrough season as a passer. This is why they drafted A.J. Brown and signed free-agent wideout Adam Humphries to a four-year, $36 million deal.

    On the surface, the Humphries signing looks like a smart move. The Clemson product is just 26 years old and has topped 600 receiving yards each of the past three seasons. However, there is quite a bit of risk involved in giving him $9 million per year.

    That's a lot of money for a good-not-great slot receiver. It's also a lot to give to a player who could well be a product of the offense in which he played. Yes, Humphries racked up 816 yards last season, but he also did so while playing alongside Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard. As a team, the Buccaneers averaged 320.3 passing yards per game, which was the most in the NFL.

    Will Humphries have the same success playing in a run-based offense alongside Corey Davis and Brown? That's the hope, but it's also a risk because if Mariota remains inconsistent in 2019, the Titans could well be rebuilding their offense from scratch next offseason.

Washington Redskins: Signing Landon Collins to $84 Million Deal

32 of 32

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Strong safety Landon Collins is a big-time player. He's a three-time Pro Bowler and a major force against the run. Is he truly elite, though? That's debatable. Pro Football Focus ranked him 39th among safeties for the 2018 season—a good ranking, but not a great one.

    Regardless, the Washington Redskins are paying Collins like an elite player. They gave him a six-year, $84 million deal in free agency, and therein lies the risk.

    It could be difficult for Collins to live up to his massive contract, especially considering the role he's played in the past. He's adequate in coverage, but his best work has usually come in run support. Though he does have eight career interceptions, he has just two picks and 10 passes defended over the past two seasons.

    Collins is not the kind of back-end ball-hawking safety teams typically shell out substantial cash to obtain. He can potentially make the Washington secondary much better, but he could also end up being little more than an overpaid additional linebacker.


    All contract information via Spotrac.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.