Ranking the NFL's 7 Most Risky 2020 Offseason AcquisitionsJune 7, 2020
Ranking the NFL's 7 Most Risky 2020 Offseason Acquisitions
With a roll of the dice, you can win big or crap out. An unfavorable outcome could set NFL teams back for a season or more.
General managers take the biggest chances on players coming off injuries or those with "potential." In those situations, talent and upside balance the risk and reward.
Front offices will pay a premium for a veteran who has yet to reach his ceiling but fits into the club's system. This year, incoming players with medical flags bore more uncertainty because of the restriction on predraft visits.
We'll highlight and rank seven of the riskiest roster acquisitions between free agency and the draft, with one trade included. The order is based on the team's investment in a player compared to production. The list also takes injury history into consideration.
7. DT Javon Kinlaw, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers acquired the No. 14 pick from the Indianapolis Colts for Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and then used that selection to take Javon Kinlaw.
Kinlaw should move into Buckner's old spot within a defensive front that features former first-rounders Dee Ford (2014), Arik Armstead (2015), Solomon Thomas (2017) and Nick Bosa (2019).
Fortunately for the 49ers, they can mix and match five guys for various down-and-distance scenarios.
Kinlaw has some medical flags, as he underwent hip surgery at the end of the 2018 term. The South Carolina product had to stop his performances during Senior Bowl week because of knee tendinitis, which also kept him out of the NFL Scouting Combine, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
According to Bryan Broaddus of 105.3 The Fan, teams had "significant concerns" about Kinlaw's durability.
Kinlaw could go through his career with common bumps and bruises without a major problem, though the wear and tear on his body may pose an early issue. That's risky for a first-round pick who's set to replace a proven playmaker.
6. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina Panthers
Despite heading into his seventh season, Teddy Bridgewater still has room for significant development. He's played just 44 games (34 starts) because of a dislocated knee and torn ACL that forced him out of the lead position in Minnesota.
After the 2015 campaign, Bridgewater has opened six contests with the first unit, all with the New Orleans Saints. Although he steadied their offense while Drew Brees recovered from thumb surgery, the Carolina Panthers quarterback will have a five-year gap between his stints as a full-time starter.
Bridgewater's familiarity with offensive coordinator Joe Brady may serve him well. In 2018, they worked together in New Orleans. However, we don't know what to expect from him without the Saints' top-three pass-protecting offensive line, per Football Outsiders, or a dominant wide receiver like Michael Thomas.
Yet the Panthers signed Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million deal. He's 15th among quarterbacks in guaranteed money with $33 million. That's not a potential franchise-wrecking risk, though Carolina would likely hold on to its new signal-caller for better or worse because of a $20 million dead-cap charge for 2021.
If the Panthers have a top-five pick next offseason, they'll likely draft a quarterback, which would leave Bridgewater in a high-paid stopgap or backup role.
Carolina's decision at quarterback carries more substantial short- and long-term implications than the San Francisco 49ers' risky acquisition for their defensive line.
5. CB Byron Jones, Miami Dolphins
Byron Jones signed the richest deal among free agents on the open market, inking a five-year, $82.5 million contract. He's set to cash in the most guaranteed money ($54.4 million) among cornerbacks.
Jones can play free safety and cornerback. In 2018, he earned a Pro Bowl nod at the latter position with the Dallas Cowboys, though he hasn't provided the game-changing impact you'd expect for the highest-paid defensive back in the league.
Through five seasons, Jones has logged 43 pass breakups and just two interceptions. Last year, he allowed a 53.1 percent completion rate and gave up three touchdowns. Thus far, he has put together a solid resume, but based on overall production, the Miami Dolphins overpaid.
Jones will need to do more than allow slightly above a 50 percent completion rate with a single-digit total in pass breakups to justify his massive deal. He's a higher risk than Bridgewater because of the Dolphins' top-dollar investment in a player who's been closer to average than exceptional.
4. RB Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons
In a somewhat shocking admission, Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter posed a troubling question that pertains to Todd Gurley's knee issue during a conference call with reporters (starting at 0:55).
"The main question, that no one seems to know, is what is his health status?" Koetter said.
The Falcons only signed Gurley to a one-year, $5.5 million deal, but he's set to lead the backfield following Devonta Freeman's release. The two-time All-Pro displayed his leg strength and balance in a couple of workouts videos, though no one knows how his knee will respond to full contact.
The Falcons likely felt comfortable with this signing because of the short-term commitment. On the other hand, the offense may hit some rough patches if the coaching staff has to curtail Gurley's workload. Keep in mind, he logged career lows in carries (223) and rushing yards (857) last season.
With a limited role, Brian Hill had a decent stretch from Week 7 through the end of the 2019 campaign, logging 78 carries for 323 yards and two touchdowns. Atlanta selected Ito Smith in the fourth round of the 2018 draft. Both could spell Gurley on the ground. Yet the team's uncertainty on its lead tailback's health status elevates this risk to No. 4.
3. OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Detroit Lions
Halapoulivaati Vaitai's five-year, $45 million contract crossed the transaction wire as a surprise because he's started in just 20 contests through four seasons.
In 2017, Vaitai manned the left tackle spot for Jason Peters, who went down with a knee injury. He allowed seven sacks, per STATS (via the Washington Post). As a reserve over the last two campaigns, the 6'6", 320-pound tackle gave up six sacks.
Despite Vaitai's inexperience as a full-time starter and his lapses in pass protection, he ranks 20th in guaranteed cash ($20 million) among offensive tackles.
The Detroit Lions didn't re-sign veteran guard Graham Glasgow, which opens a competition alongside Vaitai on the right side among Oday Aboushi, Joshua Garnett and rookie third-rounder Jonah Jackson at the position.
With an inexperienced right tackle and an unsettled guard position on the same side, quarterback Matthew Stafford may go under constant siege behind the line of scrimmage.
The Lions' costly investment in Vaitai outweighs Todd Gurley's $5.5 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons.
2. RB David Johnson, Houston Texans
The Houston Texans' risk has multiple layers, which puts David Johnson in the No. 2 spot.
The Texans traded wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for Johnson, a second-rounder and 2021 fourth-rounder.
According to ESPN's Dianna Russini, Hopkins wanted a new deal in the $18-20 million range. That likely factored into the Texans' decision to trade the three-time All-Pro. Still, the front office acquired Johnson, who has underperformed through the first two terms of his three-year, $39 million extension.
Since 2018, Johnson has recorded 2,101 yards and 16 touchdowns from scrimmage while averaging 3.65 yards per carry, which pales in comparison to his All-Pro 2016 campaign in which he registered a league-leading 2,118 yards and 20 scores from scrimmage.
Furthermore, Johnson comes with some durability concerns. He missed all but one outing in 2017 because of a wrist injury and battled back and ankle issues that cost him three games during the previous term.
Houston should have its apprehensions about Johnson's ability to play through a full season. Even if he does, he seems far removed from his breakout 2016 form.
1. QB Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins selected Tua Tagovailoa—a draft choice who carries significant short- and long-term implications—fifth overall.
Tagovailoa had an impressive three-term tenure at Alabama, throwing for 7,442 yards, 87 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with a 69.3 percent completion rate. As a freshman, he took over for Jalen Hurts in the 2017 College Football Championship Game and beat Georgia.
What do the Dolphins have to worry about?
In 2019, Tagovailoa needed an operation for a high ankle sprain and went down halfway through the 2019 term because of a hip injury, which also required surgery. Before the draft, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross talked about his concern with the Alabama product (h/t ESPN's Cameron Wolfe).
"I've been down there to see him," Ross said. "He's a great player. I just worry about his health...The coaches (and GM) make the decision on the draft choices. We'll have to look at what his health is and everything else and see what the alternatives are."
Tagovailoa passed the Dolphins' predraft medical checks, per Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, but a player's durability issues don't just fade away once he goes to the NFL.
Because of Tagovailoa's injury history, the Dolphins will hold their breath every time he takes a big hit. His ability to move around in the pocket can keep the offense alive, but that could also work against him if a defender has a clear shot at a moving target.
Until Tagovailoa plays through a season or two without a major health issue, the coaching staff may err on the side of caution when he's on the injury report. With that approach, the team would walk on eggshells in hopes that its quarterback of the future can stay relatively healthy.