The NFL's 2020 All-Overpaid Free-Agency Team

Marcus Mosher@@Marcus_MosherFeatured Columnist IMarch 23, 2020

The NFL's 2020 All-Overpaid Free-Agency Team

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    It happens every offseason: A handful of free agents are overpaid, as NFL teams can't stop themselves from splurging on average talent. 

    Which names fell into that category during the early portion of 2020's free-agent frenzy?

    Some were paid like players at the top of their respective positions but have never shown that quality of play. Others are listed because decreases in output or significant injury histories hurt their performances.

    Let's fill out an offense and defense with this year's worst deals from a team perspective.

Quarterback Philip Rivers, Colts

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    After Andrew Luck retired last August, the Indianapolis Colts were forced to go with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. He started 15 games but threw just 18 touchdowns and was subpar. He finished with a passer rating of 88 in his second full season as a starter.

    General manager Chris Ballard decided he needed to upgrade the position and signed Philip Rivers to a one-year, $25 million deal. While that isn't a ton for a big-name veteran quarterback, there's a great chance the former Charger isn't an improvement over Brissett. 

    Rivers' play dropped off in a big way in 2019 as he threw 20 interceptions and just 23 touchdowns. His adjusted yards per attempt dropped from 8.7 in 2018 to 7.1 in 2019. It's also obvious that his arm talent has declined, and his lack of mobility has become a major issue. 

    While the Colts are hoping a change of scenery and an improved offensive line will help extend Rivers' career, there is a chance the team could go back to Brissett if the newcomer falters. Given how fast 38-year-old quarterbacks can decline, don't be surprised if this is one of the more egregious overpays in free agency. 

Running Back Jordan Howard, Dolphins

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Paying any veteran running back has been risky over the last several seasons. We've seen teams such as the Rams (Todd Gurley II), Falcons (Devonta Freeman) and Cardinals (David Johnson) all move on from their franchise running backs just a few years after signing them to record-setting contracts.

    NFL teams appear to be getting smarter about how to value the position, but every season, a few free-agent signings won't make much sense. 

    The Dolphins' two-year, $9.75 million deal with Jordan Howard falls under that heading. While the money isn't egregious, it does feel like the wrong move for a team that's in the early stages of a rebuild. 

    Howard had a nice season with the Eagles in 2019, averaging 4.4 yards per carry on 119 rushes. But given his struggles as a receiver, he isn't a complete back and needs to be a part of a committee to have success. The 25-year-old ranks among the top 15 running backs in average annual value, and that seems expensive for how limited he is.

    Don't be surprised if the Dolphins draft a running back in April who challenges Howard for snaps by midseason.

Wide Receiver Randall Cobb, Texans

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    It's tough to understand what the Houston Texans are doing. They traded three-time All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins for injury-prone running back David Johnson and picks, and replaced him with a soon-to-be 30-year old Randall Cobb

    Cobb had a nice 2019 with the Dallas Cowboys, catching 55 passes for 828 yards and three touchdowns. However, he is strictly a slot receiver and needs players opposite him to open up the middle of the field. He also struggled with drops last season, as he let 9.6 percent of his targets slip, according to Pro Football Reference

    Cobb is best suited to be a high-end No. 3 receiver, but the Texans paid him as if he is low-end No. 1 or high-end No. 2. Cobb got a deal worth up to $27 million over three years and $18 million guaranteed. For a receiver who hasn't cracked 900 yards since 2014, that's excessive. 

    Expect Cobb to be a reliable target for Deshaun Watson in the middle of the field, but don't expect him to replace Hopkins. In a year or two, this deal could look terrible, as slot receivers typically don't age well, especially not ones who already have over 600 career touches on offense and special teams.

    Hopefully, Will Fuller V and Kenny Stills can stay healthy on the outside, which could allow Cobb to put up big numbers in the slot. Otherwise, the Texans will regret this. 

Tight End Jimmy Graham, Bears

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    One of free-agency's most shocking signings came when the Chicago Bears gave veteran tight end Jimmy Graham $16 million over the next two seasons, with $9 million in guarantees. While the Bears needed to upgrade their tight end situation, Graham is clearly in decline. 

    Over the last three seasons, he has averaged under 11 yards per reception and has failed to surpass 650 receiving yards in any of those years. The last time he passed 1,000 receiving yards was in 2013 with the New Orleans Saints, and he has had several major injuries since that magical season. 

    Graham will turn 34 in November and can't rely on elite athleticism to beat defensive backs anymore. He is still a well-below-average blocker, which limits him to passing down.

    Considering the Bears paid him like he is still one of the NFL's top tight ends, this looks like a bad deal.

Offensive Tackle George Fant, Jets

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    One of the most difficult parts of free agency is deciding how to weigh past and future production.

    But in the offensive tackle market, it's all about potential. 

    A player who benefited greatly from perceived upside is former Seahawks swing tackle George Fant. In four seasons with Seattle, he started just 24 games, but the Jets paid him like he is a top-25 tackle, giving him a three-year, $27.3 million deal ($13.7 million guaranteed). 

    The 27-year-old is athletic and has the tools to be a high-end starter, but the consistency has never been there. According to Pro Football Focus, Fant ranked as just the 53rd-best offensive tackle last year. The Jets have to be hoping that with more experience, his play will improve. 

    Fant has a chance to be an upgrade at left tackle this season, but his price tag suggests the Jets may regret this deal.

Interior Offensive Line Ereck Flowers, Dolphins

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    For most of his five-year career, Ereck Flowers was a punchline. After being the No. 9 pick in the 2015 NFL draft, Flowers busted in New York, as he was one of the league's worst tackles from 2015 to 2018.

    However, the 25-year-old signed with the Redskins in 2019 and switched to guard. That move saved his career, as he became competent under offensive line coach Bill Callahan. 

    Flowers cashed in on his one productive season last week, as the Miami Dolphins gave him a three-year, $30 million deal. The pact also has $19.95 million in guarantees, giving him the sixth-most assured money among left guards in the NFL, per Over the Cap.

    While it's true Flowers became a functional lineman last year, paying him like a top-six guard is laughable. It's even more concerning when you consider Callahan—who is widely regarded as one of the NFL's best offensive line coaches—won't be with him in 2020.

Edge-Rusher Vic Beasley, Titans

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Vic Beasley has had one of the strangest starts to his career of any pass-rusher in recent memory. In 2016, he recorded 15.5 sacks and was voted a first-team All-Pro linebacker. But in 2017 and 2018, he recorded just 10 sacks and only 13 quarterback hits. At the 2019 trade deadline, ESPN's Jordan Schultz reported the Falcons tried to trade Beasley, as his production didn't match his salary. 

    However, the Titans took a chance on the 27-year-old edge-rusher, giving him a one-year, $9.5 million deal, which has a chance to increase to $12 million, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

    While the money isn't overwhelming, it's more per year than some other comparable edge-rushers on the market got, such as Emmanuel Ogbah (two years, $15 million) and Carl Nassib (three years, $25 million). While neither has the sack totals Beasley does, both are better overall players. 

    Beasley finished as Pro Football Focus' 85th-ranked edge-rusher in 2019, as he was one of the league's worst run defenders. Since the Titans already have Harold Landry III, the Beasley signing is a curious one. Can he rush the passer at an elite enough level to justify his contract?

    At that price, it seems unlikely.

Interior Defensive Line Vernon Butler, Bills

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    The interior defensive line market was busy early in free agency, as several players received big deals, such as Javon Hargrave (three years, $39 million), D.J. Reader (four years, $53 million) and Jordan Phillips (three years, $30 million). But one of the more surprising agreements came when the Buffalo Bills signed Vernon Butler to a two-year, $15 million deal.

    While the money isn't excessive, it does seem rich for a player who has been a major disappointment. Butler, 25, did have a career year in 2019 in terms of sacks (six), but he has never been the run defender he was billed as predraft. He's started just nine games in his four-year career and has never played a full 16-game schedule.

    It's also concerning that his best season came during a contract year with the Panthers. 

    Butler will join head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane, both of whom have ties to Carolina. However, the move is curious, as the Bills already have incredible interior defensive line depth. It will be fascinating to see if McDermott can resurrect Butler's career and get him to play up to his salary level.

Linebacker Blake Martinez, Giants

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    The linebacker market was out of control last week, as several average to below-average players got $10 million per season. The most egregious overpay came when the Giants signed Blake Martinez to a three-year, $30.75 million deal

    Martinez started every game for the Packers over the last three seasons, totaling 284 tackles and 25 for a loss. However, the 26-year-old has never been strong in coverage, and his ability to be a consistent run defender has dropped off despite the gaudy tackle totals.

    In big games, he struggled as opposing offenses haunted him. A perfect example of this was in the NFC Championship Game against the 49ers, as San Francisco continued to run right at him. The 49ers finished with 285 yards on the ground, in part because of Martinez's trouble anticipating where the running backs would make their cuts in Kyle Shanahan's wide zone scheme. 

    Martinez is being paid like a top-30 linebacker, and it would be a shock if he lived up to his contract. He's a low-end starter with below-average athleticism, and that could get the Giants in trouble this season and beyond.

Cornerback Trae Waynes, Bengals

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Trae Waynes has the pedigree the Cincinnati Bengals often chase in free agency, but his play has never lived up to his 2015 first-round status despite 53 starts in five years with the Vikings.

    The Bengals gave Waynes a three-year, $42 million deal even though he allowed opponents to complete 74 percent of their passes last season, according to Pro Football Reference. The 27-year-old is among the NFL's top 10 cornerbacks in average money per year, despite ranking as the 47th-best cornerback in 2019, per Pro Football Focus

    The Bengals are hoping a change of scenery and playing with William Jackson III will help Waynes. But he looks as though he's one of the NFL's most overpaid cornerbacks.

Safety Eric Murray, Texans

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Even though Eric Murray has started just 15 games in four seasons, the Texans signed the 26-year-old safety to a three-year deal worth $20.25 million. It was another strange move by Bill O'Brien, who continues to show he is overwhelmed as the team's general manager. 

    While Murray can play several positions, it would be a stretch to say he executes any of them at a high level. According to Pro Football Focus, Murray has never had a season with a coverage grade of over 70. He's mostly just been a special teamer, but his new salary suggests the Texans believe he can be an every-week starter.

    Murray is best suited to be a third safety on a good defense but likely will be pushed into the starting lineup on a weak Texans secondary. Even though the money's not outrageous at $6.75 million per year, Murray is one of the most overpaid safeties in free agency so far.

    If the Texans want to contend in the AFC this season, they will need Murray and others to make a leap.


    Cap info via Spotrac unless otherwise noted.