Ranking the 9 Worst Decisions of the 2020 NFL Offseason

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMay 3, 2020

Ranking the 9 Worst Decisions of the 2020 NFL Offseason

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    The 2020 NFL offseason has been filled with a lot of good moves.

    It seems like teams are becoming smarter on the whole. The Cincinnati Bengals didn't overthink the No. 1 pick, and the rest of the top 10 played out in predictable fashion. The Las Vegas Raiders may have made some interesting draft picks, but they still had a great offseason based on their reconstruction of the linebacking corps in free agency.

    Not all decisions can be winners, though. Whether because of questionable trade compensation, a head-scratching draft pick or gaudy free-agent dollars, we're bound to look back on some moves and shake our collective heads.

    With long-term damage the first consideration—and the possibility for short-term confusion factored in—here's a rundown of the nine worst decisions of the 2020 offseason.

9. Bears Pay a Premium for Jimmy Graham

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    The Chicago Bears kick off the list with a signing that likely won't hurt the team in the long haul but is still confusing. The Bears missed out on the top tight end in free agency, Austin Hooper, who signed with the Browns for four years, $42 million.

    So they signed Jimmy Graham, who'll be 34 in November, for two years at $16 million. It's a lot less money than Hooper got, but one has to wonder if they know Graham is coming off a season in Green Bay in which he caught 38 of his 60 targets for 447 yards and three touchdowns. Now he has the seventh-highest annual salary among tight ends, per Spotrac.

    Not only did they give him a lucrative contract, but they also threw in a no-trade clause for good measure, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.

    Further confounding this deal is the fact that the Bears used their first pick on Cole Kmet (second round, No. 43). Rookie tight ends find it notoriously difficult to produce as rookies, but it's still another large investment the organization is making in a position that rarely sees this much commitment.

    It's not a franchise-breaker since it's only a two-year deal, but it's a head-scratcher nonetheless.

8. Jets Sign George Fant to 3-Year Deal

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    The New York Jets had a strong offseason. General manager Joe Douglas is putting his stamp on the team, and the Jets didn't hand out any Le'Veon Bell-type contracts in free agency. They still managed to barely make this list with the pact they handed to George Fant, though.

    Protecting Sam Darnold is important. They have to find out if he can become the franchise quarterback, but giving Fant $30 million over three years wasn't the right way to do it.

    That's roughly the same contract Bryan Bulaga got from the Los Angeles Chargers. While Bulaga is a proven veteran at tackle, Fant is anything but. In 2016, he played 63 percent of the Seahawks' offensive snaps as their starting left tackle. It didn't go well. He missed all of 2017 with an ACL tear and has been used sparingly at tight end and as the swing tackle since. He was PFF's 53rd-highest-rated tackle in 2019.

    Few tackles moved the needle on the market. Jack Conklin was likely the best free agent, and he signed with the Cleveland Browns for three years and $42 million. That may have been too rich for the Jets, but it would've been better than overpaying for Fant, who has proved little in four NFL seasons.

7. Titans Sign Ryan Tannehill to Lucrative Long-Term Contract

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    The Tennessee Titans' run to the AFC Championship Game was a double-edged sword for the 2020 offseason.

    Coming within one win of the Super Bowl is always nice, but it backed the team into a corner with both Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry. With the new CBA approved, the Titans had just one tag to use. Applying it to Tannehill would have been nice. The 31-year-old looked like a different quarterback than the one who threw 12 or more interceptions in every full season he played with Miami.

    Instead, Tennessee used its franchise tag on Henry. Given the amount of carries he's had both in the NFL and at Alabama, along with the going rate for running backs not named Christian McCaffrey, that was probably a wise choice. It also forced the Titans to make a decision on Tannehill's future sooner than they would have probably liked.

    His play in Miami earned him a one-year, $7 million payday when the Titans acquired him last season.

    But they made a large wager that Tannehill's 2019 run wasn't a fluke. He inked a four-year, $118 million deal that makes him the ninth-highest paid quarterback in the league (by average annual value).

    Not only will they have to hope he can continue his solid play, they also have to hope he'll stay healthy. He missed all of 2017 with an ACL tear and missed at least three games in 2016 and 2018 because of the original ACL tear and a shoulder injury, respectively.

    The Titans gave up 56 sacks last season (third-most in the league) and lost Conklin in free agency.

    Given his history of performance and injuries behind a subpar offensive line, this could blow up in their faces.

    If Tannehill continues to play well, this deal will be a bargain. The importance of competent quarterback play gives signings like the Tannehill and Cousins deals just enough upside they don't rank highly on the list, but their cost and bust potential make them dangerous enough to still be on it.

6. Vikings Sign Kirk Cousins to Massive Extension

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    By average annual salary, Kirk Cousins is the fifth-highest-paid player in the NFL. Let that sink in.

    That's the effect the two-year, $66 million extension he signed in March had. The Minnesota Vikings freed up $10 million this offseason by reworking his three-year guaranteed deal, but now they're tied to him for three seasons instead of one.

    His cap hit will be $21 million in 2020, $31 million in 2021 and $45 million in 2022. His massive 2022 salary becomes guaranteed at the beginning of the 2021 season—meaning the Vikings are pretty much locked in to this deal, barring a catastrophic 2020. Cousins will be 34 years old in 2022.

    The Vikings are in win-now mode and all-in on Cousins with this contract. He had a career year last season, setting a personal best in passer rating at 107.4 and posting 26 touchdowns and six interceptions.

    Still, he's being paid like one of the NFL's five best quarterbacks, yet he doesn't carry the offensive burden Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees or any other elite quarterback does.

    The Vikings were fourth in the league in run rate last season, per Sharp Football Stats. With Gary Kubiak taking over for Kevin Stefanski as offensive coordinator, that isn't likely to change. The coach will ride his zone running game with Dalvin Cook as much as he can and allow Cousins to make important throws off play action, which he does well.

    Minnesota parted ways with three cornerbacks and receiver Stefon Diggs and likely won't reconnect with defensive end Everson Griffen, who remains a free agent.

    The Vikings have $12.3 million in cap space with Cook and safety Anthony Harris highlighting their potential free agents next season. The mass exodus at corner is an example of the situation the Vikings are in with the Cousins extension. Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Xavier Rhodes weren't great, but finding replacements with little cash to spend is a tall task.

    Not even the restructuring of the deal could carve out enough space for Minnesota to meaningfully address the secondary in free agency. Now it's left hoping it hit on all three of its cornerback draft picks (Jeff Gladney, Cameron Dantzler and Harrison Hand) as immediate impact players. Cousins' influence on the payroll is only going to get bigger as his contract progresses.

    Financially speaking, a rebuild might be the best course. The Vikings paid Cousins like this wasn't the case.

5. Panthers Trade Trai Turner for Russell Okung

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    In most trades, you can infer what each team is doing. A rebuilding franchise might be dumping a talented veteran to get cap flexibility and a lottery-ticket draft pick. An unhappy superstar might be on the way out because he was going to be a bigger problem than he was worth.

    It's hard to find the Panthers' rationale in sending away Trai Turner for Russell Okung.

    Turner is the more talented lineman. He's been a Pro Bowler in the last five seasons. Okung is a two-time Pro Bowler, with his last appearance coming in 2017.

    One could argue positional-value difference between guard and tackle, but that's not enough to cover the gulf between Turner and Okung. Especially considering Okung is 32 and coming off a pulmonary embolism and a groin injury last year. Turner will only be 27 this season.

    The only logical answer is Turner's contract takes him into 2021, while Okung's is done after this season. But if you're trading Turner for salary reasons, an aging tackle doesn't seem like good compensation. Surely a team would have been willing to part with a draft pick to acquire a high-level offensive lineman.

    The Panthers are rebuilding. Trading pricey veterans is to be expected. But the point of a rebuild is to acquire good, young players or draft assets. Dealing one away for a guy of lesser talent who costs nearly the same and won't be a part of this team's window is bad enough to make our top five.

    Signing a questionable quarterback to a long-term, big-money deal at least comes with the upside of him potentially being the right guy for the job, even if it's a small chance. A no-win trade like this was for the Panthers simply has no upside.

4. Texans Trade for Brandin Cooks to Salvage Receiving Corps

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    With one of the league's worst cap situations, the Los Angeles Rams desperately needed to unload Brandin Cooks. He would have represented their sixth-largest cap hit ($8 million) despite ranking fourth on the team in receptions and yards in 2019 and suffering two concussions on the year.

    While Cooks has been traded multiple times for first-round picks in his career, surely no one would part with a good pick again for him.

    Cue Bill O'Brien's music.

    The Texans swooped in with an offer the Rams couldn't refuse. Houston dealt a second-round pick (No. 57 overall, used to take wide receiver Van Jefferson out of Florida) for Cooks and a 2022 fourth-round selection.

    The trade left Houston with just five picks in the 2020 draft. So while they traded DeAndre Hopkins (more on that later) in a deal that clearly had an eye toward the future, they sacrificed cap flexibility and draft capital for Cooks.

    In addition to a three-year, $27 million contract to lure Randall Cobb out of Dallas that could have also made this list, the Texans made one puzzling move after another. 

    There is an out in Cooks' contract after this season. The team can cut him and there will be no dead money involved. After that, he carries cap hits of $12 million, $13 million and $14 million the following three seasons. If the Texans cut Cooks after this season to save money, the move will look even worse.

    Deshaun Watson's contract expires after 2021. Failing to retain him would kick off a lengthy rebuild that could take years, and O'Brien's not making his best pitch to the franchise quarterback.

3. Packers Trade Up for Jordan Love

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    Most of the bad decisions this offseason took place during free agency or even before it and were player-for-pick trades or massive contracts. Only one team made this list via draft-day moves.

    The Green Bay Packers' trade up to No. 26 from 30 for Jordan Love was that confounding.

    This isn't about Love's talent. The Utah State quarterback has skills worthy of the 26th pick. Flip on LSU vs. Utah State to get an idea of what he was working with in his final season compared to what Joe Burrow had at his disposal. There's potential in Love.

    The pick itself was a massive risk, but so was giving up a fourth-rounder to do so. Love does little for Aaron Rodgers and Co. immediately. How the star quarterback will respond is crucial—even though second-year head coach Matt LaFleur has said Rodgers is still the man in Green Bay.

    "Yeah, I don't want to get into specifics, but I will say this: Aaron is a pro, and he's the leader of our football team, and I anticipate that for a really long time," LaFleur said, per Rob Demovsky of ESPN. "I have so much respect for him not only as a player but the person, and some of the stuff that nobody sees. So I can't tell you how much I like working with him."

    That may be true, but it doesn't mean the feeling is mutual for Rodgers. The star quarterback hasn't said much publicly but did have a conversation with Brett Favre. The Packers famously drafted Rodgers in 2005 with Favre on the roster, and the Green Bay legend said he didn't feel the bridge was completely burned between Rodgers and the organization but noted: "That's going to be hard to overcome. At some point, I think it will rear its ugly head," per Demovsky.

    The move was exacerbated by the draft picks that came after it. Rather than give Rodgers some immediate weapons, they drafted a ground-and-pound type back in A.J. Dillon and an H-back in Josiah Deguara.

    The Packers may have overachieved last year when they went 13-3 and went to the NFC Championship Game, but their most direct path to success is still by building around Rodgers, not replacing him.

2. Bears Trade for Nick Foles

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    The Chicago Bears had to find someone to at least compete with Mitchell Trubisky—if not take the job outright. That much can't be debated. How the Bears went about accomplishing that task can—and certainly will—be questioned.

    The Bears took a big swing by sending a fourth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who were all too happy to send Nick Foles and his massive contract to Chicago. To the Bears' credit, Foles' deal was restructured to make it much more palatable. His 2020 cap hit went from $15.6 million to $5.3 million. However, $21 million of the new three-year, $24 million deal is guaranteed.

    That's a lot of money to pay a guy who could be a backup and has thrived in that role most of his career. 

    It isn't the money that makes this a bad deal, though. It's the opportunity cost. This pact only looked worse as the offseason played out. Jameis Winston agreed to a one-year, $1.1 million contract that makes him an affordable backup. Cam Newton is on the market. 

    Foles went 0-4 as a starter in 2019. He broke his clavicle in Week 1 before coming back to start three late-season games and lost his job to sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew.

    At best, Foles doesn't impress, Trubisky tanks and the team realizes it needs to restart its search for a franchise quarterback. At worst, Foles flashes the brilliance he occasionally shows and keeps the Bears in quarterback purgatory.

1. Texans Trade DeAndre Hopkins

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    This one has been covered ad nauseam, but it's for good reason. There's no way to argue the Texans won this deal.

    Just to review, here's what it looked like:

    • Cardinals receive: DeAndre Hopkins, 2020 fourth-round selection (DL Rashard Lawrence)
    • Texans receive: David Johnson, 2020 second-round selection (DL Ross Blacklock) and a 2021 fourth-round selection

    Blacklock could turn into a nice disruptive interior presence. However, he'll have a hard time living up to the value Hopkins brought as one of the NFL's elite wide receivers.

    It isn't popular, but there's an argument to be made for chemistry. Sarah Barshop of ESPN reported there was friction between Hopkins and O'Brien because of the star receiver's practice habits. If that is true, that hurts the team's culture. However, trading one of the franchise's elite talents for anything lower than a first-rounder also hurts team culture.

    Here's a list of players who have recently netted at least one first-round pick in a trade:

    • WR Stefon Diggs
    • WR Brandin Cooks
    • LB Khalil Mack
    • DB Jalen Ramsey
    • DB Minkah Fitzpatrick
    • WR Odell Beckham Jr. 

    For those counting at home, that's three receivers who brought back at least one first-rounder. The Texans settled for a second and the right to take on the rest of David Johnson's contract the next two years. 

    Just a stupefying decision all the way around.


    Cap info via Spotrac unless otherwise noted.