NFL Free Agents 2020: Predicting This Year's Biggest Duds
NFL teams are still spending big on the open market. In the first week of free agency alone, eight players signed contracts worth $50 million or more with new teams.
But, as always, not all deals are created equal.
Some signings just end up in dud territory. The fit doesn't work, the player is on his last legs, or other factors ultimately result in a player getting benched or making an early exit from the signing team. Think: quarterback Nick Foles and his $88 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars last year.
This isn't necessarily an all-overpaid team—the contracts vary in value, but the consistent theme is the buying team might end up experiencing some regret. The investment versus projected production just won't be a balanced scale, making the following players the likeliest duds of the 2020 market.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Chicago Bears
Sort of like Nick Foles last year, this one is easy to see coming.
Jimmy Graham was once one of the NFL's most feared tight ends. Now he's a 33-year-old veteran cashing in on a two-year pact with the Chicago Bears worth $16 million.
Somewhat ironically, the Chicago front office seems to hope the stable presence of Graham can help either Foles—acquired via trade—or Mitchell Trubisky, provided the latter responds well to the arrival of serious quarterback competition.
But Graham's age isn't the only problem. He just spent two seasons with the Green Bay Packers, catching just 93 of 149 targets for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns. He's had seven individual seasons where he's tallied at least five scores.
Throwing $8 million per year at a player who turns 34 in November and has slowed down considerably is risky, to say the least.
Randall Cobb, WR, Houston Texans
This one was always going to look bad in the context of the Houston Texans shipping away DeAndre Hopkins for pennies on the dollar.
As of Friday, the Texans gave Randall Cobb the most money of any free-agent wideout not named Amari Cooper, more than even Robby Anderson. Houston committed three years and $27 million, an average of $9 million per year.
Cobb, who turns 30 in August, hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2015 and has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark just once since being drafted in 2011. Benefiting from a loaded Dallas Cowboys attack last season, Cobb managed just 55 catches on 83 targets for 828 yards and three scores. While he averaged 15.1 yards per catch and tallied 41 first downs, he also dropped eight passes (9.6 percent) and played just 64 percent of the offensive snaps.
While Cobb gets the benefit of playing with Deshaun Watson, this isn't Dallas. He'll likely be asked to expand into an every-down role and heavily produce, which just hasn't been his thing, and it'll show in comparison to the price tag.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars
Tyler Eifert finally shook the injury-prone label in 2019, playing in all 16 games for the first time in his seven-year career.
That seems to be the main justification for his two-year deal worth $15.5 million with the Jacksonville Jaguars. It makes a bit of sense at face value, as the veteran tight end had only played in 14 total games over the prior three seasons.
But context is a must. Eifert looked good on the attendance sheet but only put up 436 yards and three scores on 43 catches. Speaking of catches, an important detail is the fact he only played 45 percent of the Bengals' offensive snaps.
Call the snaps the real attendance sheet for Eifert, which says a lot given how badly the two-win Cincinnati Bengals needed help offensively. And the Jaguars need him just the same as they try to rebuild around Gardner Minshew, which is asking too much of a veteran with a poor injury history whose own team didn't use him on even half of its snaps.
George Fant, OT, New York Jets
This one is like the inverse Le'Veon Bell.
The New York Jets went with a big name in Bell and ended up disappointed with his production last year, which is understandable given his 3.2 yards per carry. Now, the front office has gone big on a relatively unknown name, expecting a big leap from his typical production.
Fant, 27, started just seven games last year for the Seattle Seahawks as the first offensive tackle off the bench. Over the course of just 43 percent of the team's offensive snaps, he registered a grade of 62.2 at Pro Football Focus with two sacks allowed.
Keep in mind the Jets are gambling on Fant suddenly leaping into a full-time role to increase the longevity of quarterback Sam Darnold's career at a cost of three years and $27.3 million, around the same amount of money given to proven commodities like Andrew Whitworth and Bryan Bulaga.
Blake Martinez, LB, New York Giants
The New York Giants wanted to retool their defense this offseason and went with one of the biggest names at linebacker in Blake Martinez.
But a big name doesn't mean surefire success in the same way simple production doesn't equal must-have linebacker play.
So goes the story with Martinez, who turned some heads over his last three seasons with the Green Bay Packers by making a minimum of 144 total tackles in each. That played a role in the Giants throwing three years and $30.75 million at him, numbers just below someone like Cory Littleton.
But coverage is a big sticking point here. Martinez has started in all 16 games each season since 2017, but PFF gave him a grade of 58.7 last year. He allowed 62 completions on 74 targets (83.8 percent) with two touchdowns, making it seven scores surrendered in coverage over the last two seasons. And despite 155 tackles, he still missed 10.4 percent.
Martinez should end up being productive for the Giants, but the weaknesses will likely spur some regret in the Big Apple.
James Bradberry, CB, New York Giants
The James Bradberry-New York Giants fit made some sense because he was one of the bigger names available at corner and Giants general manager Dave Gettleman brought him into the league back in 2016 with the Carolina Panthers.
But the Giants committed three years and $43.5 million to the cause at an average annual value of $14.5 million, which checks in just $2 million per year shy of the Byron Jones deal.
While Bradberry had consistently tough assignments in the NFC South against the likes of Julio Jones and Michael Thomas, his PFF grade of 61.0 in 2019 isn't encouraging, nor is the fact he still hasn't posted a better coverage grade than his 70.2 from his rookie season.
Last season, Bradberry only allowed 58 completions on 97 targets, but over the past two years, he's allowed seven total touchdowns through the air. He needs some help in the secondary to excel and is instead being paid like a top-10 corner who will turn around an entire secondary, which could lead to some instant disappointment.