NFL Players Who Will Be Huge Risks in 2020 Free Agency
As far as offseasons go, the NFL has one of the best.
There's enough time between the Super Bowl and the new league year to dispel any sort of football fatigue and to reignite that hunger for the NFL. There is plenty of buildup to free agency and the draft, and that creates a sense of anticipation and hope for even the most downtrodden franchises.
Much of that hope comes from free agency, as a team, by opening its proverbial wallet, can land a perennial Pro Bowler or future Hall of Famer.
Of course, not every big-name free-agent acquisition pans out. Some players are alluring enough to draw massive contracts but then disappoint because of factors such as inconsistent play, injuries or just their salaries.
Le'Veon Bell played 15 games for the New York Jets last season, but his numbers (789 rushing yards, 461 receiving yards, four touchdowns) did not live up to his four-year, $52.5 million contract.
Which notable pending free agents will be big risks in 2020? Let's take a look.
RB Melvin Gordon III
While he might not command the sort of contract Le'Veon Bell got from the Jets last offseason, Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon III is likely to get paid. He's a two-time Pro Bowler who offers plenty as a receiving back.
Here's the problem: Gordon will likely want to be paid like an elite running back, but he is not that. Good? Sure. A fine pass-catcher? Absolutely. As a runner, however, Gordon is decidedly average.
He has topped the 1,000-yard mark only once in his career and has averaged fewer than four yards per carry in all but one season.
Gordon's best asset is his dual-threat ability, and teams have to wonder how much of that is a product of the Chargers' system. Los Angeles is probably the best home for Gordon in 2020, but even the Chargers have to be wary of signing Gordon. They already have a fine receiving back in Austin Ekeler.
While Gordon is a capable starter, there is a risk a team will massively overpay him.
QB Ryan Tannehill
On the surface, Ryan Tannehill's 2019 campaign should make him one of the most coveted quarterbacks on the open market. He finished the regular season with an incredible 117.5 passer rating, he went 9-4 as a starter (including the playoffs), and he helped lead the Tennessee Titans to the AFC title game.
However, as impressive as Tannehill's season was, it's worth noting it's the only impressive year of his career.
In six seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Tannehill was merely above average at his very best. He has a so-so career passer rating of 89.8 and had just one winning season in Miami.
This isn't to say the Tannehill of 2019 won't be who Tannehill is moving forward. However, banking on less than a season of high-level production would be risky at any position—and especially so at the game's most important.
EDGE Shaquil Barrett
Like Ryan Tannehill, Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass-rusher Shaquil Barrett carries the risk of being a one-year wonder. He recorded an NFL-leading 19.5 sacks in 2019 after amassing just 14 sacks over the previous four years.
Barrett should be considered less of a risk, though, because he was largely a backup before he got his chance.
"I had an opportunity to start in Tampa, and it let me spread my wings a little bit," Barrett said, per Mike Klis of 9News.
Still, Barrett is likely to get a deal that pays him like an elite pass-rusher, and there's no guarantee he'll be that over the long haul. He started nine of his 16 games with the Denver Broncos in 2017 and finished with four sacks.
Any team that signs Barrett with the expectation of yearly double-digit sack production will be gambling.
WR Robby Anderson
NFL teams love speed at the wide receiver position, and for good reason. Being able to stretch the field helps to open up offenses while also providing coveted big-play potential. Because of this, some team is going to pay Jets speedster Robby Anderson.
Anderson, who ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, has given the Jets home run ability. However, he has been neither consistent nor dominant during his four years with Gang Green. He has never topped the 1,000-yard mark and is coming off a pedestrian 779-yard campaign.
This makes Anderson a risk because he's looking to be paid like more than a complementary pass-catcher.
According to ESPN's Rich Cimini, "Anderson is expected to seek a contract that will pay him at least $14 million a year." That would be far too much for a wideout who does one thing well and nothing at an elite level.
LT Jason Peters
As far as names go, Philadelphia Eagles left tackle Jason Peters is one of the biggest on the market. He's a nine-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro and Super Bowl champion, and he's still capable of playing at an above-average level.
"I still can get it done," Peters said last month, per Daniel Gallen of PennLive.com. "If I couldn't get it done, I would just walk away."
The unknown is how long Peters can still get it done. He is 38 years old, has missed 12 games in the past three seasons and was hampered by injury for much of 2018—though he didn't miss a game.
Age and that recent injury history will make Peters a risk in free agency, though teams could mitigate the risk by viewing Peters as a short-term option.
RT Germain Ifedi
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Jason Peters is Seattle Seahawks right tackle Germain Ifedi. While Ifedi doesn't play on the all-important left side, he's a four-year starter and just 25 years old. That combination of experience and youth will get him a sizeable check on the open market.
Last year, the Broncos gave Ja'Wuan James—another mediocre tackle—a four-year, $51 million deal.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ifedi was responsible for 13 penalties and six sacks in 2019.
If Ifedi's subpar play was an anomaly, he might not be such a risk. It isn't, however, as he played poorly enough early in his career that Seattle declined to exercise his fifth-year option in May—usually a clear sign a player hasn't met expectations. Yet a team will gamble on him.
"We're going to see a deal he's going to do where he gets $12 million a year, and people are going to be shocked," NFL analyst Geoff Schwartz said, per Joe Fann of NBC Sports Northwest. "It's the way free agency works."
QB Philip Rivers
"He's declining, but that's obvious given his age," one NFL front-office member said, per ESPN's Jenna Laine.
Unlike other aging quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Drew Brees, however, Rivers was not a high-level starter in 2019. Brady and Brees got their teams to the postseason. Rivers delivered a 5-11 record while posting a 23-to-23 touchdown-to-turnover ratio.
Rivers also appeared to lose some accuracy on his deep ball—that was apparent to those who watched him throw six straight incompletions and an interception on the final drive against the Oakland Raiders in Week 10.
While Rivers could be a viable short-term starter for a contender, there's no telling how he'll perform while adapting to a new team. The risk for Rivers to tumble off a cliff is there.
WR A.J. Green
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is a seven-time Pro Bowler and was once one of the NFL's top deep-threat receivers. The problem is that teams hoping to sign vintage A.J. Green will be taking a massive risk.
Green isn't as reliable or as dangerous as he was early in his career. He has had just one 1,000-yard season over the past four, has missed 29 games during that span and was out for all of 2019 with an ankle injury.
As was the case with Le'Veon Bell, that year away from the game could have a huge impact on Green's efficiency.
Still, teams will remember vintage Green likely rush to offer him a big contract. According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, the Bengals could have landed a first-round pick for Green before the trade deadline.
Can Green be the same player he once was? It's possible, but betting on it would be risky.
CB James Bradberry
Carolina Panthers cornerback James Bradberry is another player whose potential price tag makes him a risk. Bradberry, a 2016 second-round pick, wants to be paid like an elite cornerback.
"I feel like I'm a top corner in this league, and I want to be compensated as such," Bradberry said, per Max Henson of the team's official website.
The problem is that while Bradberry is very good, he is not elite. He's never been a Pro Bowl or All-Pro, and his numbers are underwhelming. According to Pro Football Focus, Bradberry allowed a completion rate of 59.8 percent in 2019—not ideal.
While it's worth noting Bradberry spent a lot of time matching up against Julio Jones and Michael Thomas, it's also worth noting he could be a product of Ron Rivera's defense.
Josh Norman parlayed four strong years under Rivera into a massive deal with the Washington Redskins in 2016. He was benched in 2019 and released Feb. 14.
There's no guarantee Bradberry's second act will mirror Norman's, but there's no guarantee it won't.