1 Offseason Move Every NFL Team Could Regret

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2021

1 Offseason Move Every NFL Team Could Regret

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    The risk-reward nature of the NFL offseason means regrets often follow.

    Whether it's franchise-tag tag decisions, choosing to let players walk, making trades or dealing with the juggernaut of free agency, NFL teams regret moves that backfire and derail plans.

    These regrets vary in nature. Some provide short-term remorse, like when the Miami Dolphins cut linebacker Kyle Van Noy a year after signing him to a four-year pact worth $51 million. Others are long-term regrets—the Chicago Bears are still paying for the Nick Foles trade.

    Here's a look at one move each team made this offseason that it could regret.

Arizona Cardinals: WR A.J. Green

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals hit the win-now button around Kyler Murray with the signing of J.J. Watt.

    Arizona then added another name who would have been stunning in 2015 or so: wideout A.J. Green.

    Problem is, Green heads into his age-33 season a year removed from catching 47 of 104 targets for 523 yards and two scores. Outside of the major decline in production, 2020 was the first time Green appeared in 16 games since 2017.

    While Arizona only gave Green a one-year deal worth $6 million, it lost key free agents like Kenyan Drake and Haason Reddick (and maybe Larry Fitzgerald).

Atlanta Falcons: Losing S Keanu Neal

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Falcons haven't done much noteworthy in free agency or otherwise while scrambling to meet cap requirements amid a transition period for the coaching staff.

    In the process, they lost safety Keanu Neal on the open market.

    The 25-year-old was a first-round pick by the Falcons in 2016 and was flirting with elite status before injury-marred campaigns in 2018 and 2019. He played in 15 games last season, registering a 68.2 Pro Football Focus grade with 45 catches allowed on 58 targets.

    He signed a one-year prove-it deal with Dallas worth $4 million. It's a shame the Falcons couldn't make that sort of deal work for a potentially elite player in his prime.

Baltimore Ravens: G Kevin Zeitler

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    Larry Maurer/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens filled a void on the offensive line in front of Lamar Jackson with Kevin Zeitler, a pre-free-agency cut by the New York Giants.

    Upgrading the line sounds good, but Zeitler could regress. He's 31 years old and earned a 65.9 PFF grade in 2020, down from 76.4 the year prior.

    Baltimore hit Zeitler with a three-year deal worth $22.5 million while key elements of the pass rush like Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue walked.

    The Ravens are good at reloading the defense, but they could regret this investment in the line over the short and long terms.

Buffalo Bills: Losing WR John Brown

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    John Munson/Associated Press

    The win-now mode for the Buffalo Bills around franchise passer Josh Allen took a hit in continuity at the wide receiver spot.

    They let wideout John Brown slip away, a risky move after he had 1,518 yards and nine touchdowns on a 14.5 per-catch average in 24 games over two seasons in Buffalo.

    The Bills replaced Brown with Emmanuel Sanders, who heads into his age-35 season playing for his fourth team in three years. He put up 726 yards and five scores over 14 games in the pass-happy New Orleans offense last year, but one could describe the move as a downgrade.

    Meanwhile, the effective Brown got a one-year deal worth $3.8 million in Las Vegas.

Carolina Panthers: OT Cameron Erving

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Intent on improving an offensive line that coughed up 36 sacks last year, the Carolina Panthers added tackle Cameron Erving.

    Adding a veteran 2015 first-round pick sounds like a good way to upgrade the trenches, but Erving graded at 58.0 at PFF last year in 279 snaps. He was even worse in 2019 over 589 snaps, allowing five sacks, committing seven penalties and grading at 44.8.

    Maybe Erving isn't a darling of the grading system, and he didn't cost much (two years, $10 million). But he's a risk while the Panthers try to make things work around Teddy Bridgewater after his ho-hum showing last year—or around a top rookie who's trying to develop on the fly.

Chicago Bears: QB Andy Dalton

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    If not for this perplexing move at quarterback, the choice for the Bears would easily be tagging Allen Robinson II.

    Instead, it's throwing $10 million at free-agent passer Andy Dalton and telling him he will be the starter in 2021.

    The situation is unfair to Dalton, who has had a strong career with playoff appearances and looked competent in Dallas last year despite suffering injuries and missing time because of COVID-19.

    But the backdrop is a Bears front office that has failed spectacularly at the position, first by drafting Mitchell Trubisky and then acquiring Nick Foles. With hot seats plentiful, Dalton wasn't the big answer most expected.

    Maybe it works out, but Dalton will need to be propped up by his surrounding pieces, which could backfire and play a part in spurring a long-term rebuild.

Cincinnati Bengals: Losing Carl Lawson

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    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    The rebuilding Cincinnati Bengals played a dangerous game in free agency, letting star edge-rusher Carl Lawson slip away and replacing him with Trey Hendrickson.

    Lawson, a budding superstar going on 26, had 5.5 sacks last year and ranked among the league leaders in ESPN's sacks-created metric. That would explain why the New York Jets gave him a three-year deal worth $45 million with $30 million in guarantees.

    Cincinnati opted for the player with less in guarantees as Hendrickson got four years and $60 million with $16 million guaranteed. He had 13.5 sacks last year but had never had more than 4.5 in a season prior to that, making him a risky contract-year breakout.

    The Bengals are 6-25-1 over the last two seasons, and swapping one of the roster's best players for an uncertain play could lead to instant regret.

Cleveland Browns: Losing Larry Ogunjobi

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns lost a piece of the defensive line in free agency when Larry Ogunjobi went across the AFC North to help the reloading Bengals.

    Ogunjobi might not be easy to replace either. The interior disruptor turns 27 this offseason and has posted 14.5 sacks over four seasons in the league with 12 pressures last year. The cost to keep him—one year and $6.2 million—wasn't steep.

    To Cleveland's credit, the offseason hasn't featured many notable problems, and adding safety John Johnson is a huge upgrade.

    But Ogunjobi is unique in that the Browns lose a guy they developed who could hurt them twice a year in the division.

Dallas Cowboys: The Tough Call in the Secondary

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    Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys needed a reset on defense this offseason after last year's disaster.

    They made an interesting choice by prioritizing cornerback Jourdan Lewis over Chidobe Awuzie.

    Awuzie signed for three years and $21.8 million from Cincinnati, while Lewis got three years and $13.5 million from Dallas. Last year, Lewis allowed 52 catches on 77 targets for a 48.1 PFF grade, while Awuzie coughed up 25 on 38 targets to land at 51.9.

    We'll see if there was a correct choice, but Awuzie was a higher draft pick from the same 2017 draft who seemed to flash more upside on the boundary.

Denver Broncos: Releasing Jurrell Casey

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos made a move that looked like an A-plus by trading for defensive lineman Jurrell Casey last year in exchange for a seventh-round pick.

    Casey played three games before suffering a season-ending biceps tear, and the Broncos cut him last month and saved $11.8 million in cap space.

    Sounds reasonable, but Casey won't be easily replaced. As recently as 2019, he was one of the most underrated interior disruptors in the league, registering five sacks to the tune of a 74.6 PFF grade. In 2018, he earned an 85.4 grade with seven sacks.

    There's an outside chance Casey could return, but releasing him could be a sour point of the offseason.

Detroit Lions: Re-Signing Romeo Okwara

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    Leon Halip/Associated Press

    Plenty of eyebrows rose when the Detroit Lions re-signed edge-rusher Romeo Okwara.

    Okwara seemed certain to hit the open market after posting 10 sacks over 16 games last year. The season prior, he had one sack in 14 games, yet he had 7.5 sacks over 15 games in 2018.

    Okwara has been all over the place, and it seemed like the Lions would let another team take the monetary risk. Instead, Detroit paid up on a three-year deal worth $37 million, losing free agents like Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay.

    Maybe Okwara, soon to be 26, is putting it all together. But it seems just as likely the Lions could regret the big re-signing—and soon.

Green Bay Packers: Re-Signing Aaron Jones

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    Elsewhere in the NFC North, it looked like the Green Bay Packers had a huge name headed to free agency too.

    After they failed to place the franchise tag on running back Aaron Jones, it seemed he'd be the highest-paid back on the open market. That would have made sense after he racked up 3,364 yards and 37 scores on a 5.2 average over four seasons, along with 131 receptions.

    Instead, Green Bay inked Jones to a four-year deal worth $48 million. Creativity means the 2021 cap hit is small ($4.5 million), but the usual risks apply with running backs.

    Jones has missed 10 games over four years and has been a workhorse, so the win-now move could backfire. It looks especially questionable after the team used a second-round pick on AJ Dillon in 2020.

Houston Texans: Cutting Nick Martin

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    A mess after the last few years under Bill O'Brien and the odd hiring process to remake the organization, the Houston Texans hit free agency with a ton of needs to fill.

    Losing players with upside as the team enters rebuild mode doesn't seem ideal, yet that's what the Texans did by releasing center Nick Martin, who then signed with the Las Vegas Raiders.

    A 2016 second-round pick, Martin checked in at a 56.1 PFF grade with one sack allowed over 980 snaps last year. Going on 28 years old, it would seem he could perform well if the line around him was steady.

    Rather than give the idea some breathing room, the Texans will apparently start over while Martin presumably starts in Las Vegas with his new team.

Indianapolis Colts: Not Re-Signing T.Y. Hilton

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts nearly hit the second week of free agency without re-signing key names.

    One of those was wideout T.Y. Hilton, a 2012 third-round pick who turned out to be a star. He has 9,360 yards and 50 scores on a 15.4 per-catch average over 133 appearances.

    Last year, Hilton grabbed 56 catches for 762 yards and five scores in 15 games, averaging 13.6 yards per catch. It would seem the Colts need that production as they try to revive Carson Wentz's career, and cap space hasn't been an issue in Indianapolis in years.

    Maybe both parties want to see how the market continues to develop, but needing to replace Hilton wouldn't be ideal.

Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Shaquill Griffin

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    Armed with a large amount of cap space, the Jacksonville Jaguars used a big chunk of change on cornerback Shaquill Griffin.

    Griffin's three-year deal worth $40 million made him one of the highest-paid players on the market, though it might be a questionable investment.

    Going into his age-26 season, Griffin posted a ho-hum 64.1 PFF grade last year, picking off three passes while allowing 45 catches on 73 targets.

    It's unknown whether Griffin can perform at a high level outside Seattle's ecosystem. With the No. 1 overall pick earmarked for a quarterback, it might have made more sense to see big dollars allocated to the offense.

Kansas City Chiefs: G Joe Thuney

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The Super Bowl showed how important an offensive line is in today's NFL.

    Patrick Mahomes spent the big game running for his life, and the Kansas City Chiefs lost. The team's first big reaction was to sign the market's best guard, Joe Thuney, to a five-year deal worth $80 million.

    We won't criticize the Chiefs too much for the move, and they have done little else (outside of cutting Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher).

    But devoting much money to a guard is risky. Thuney is good, if not great, but he's 28 years old and graded at a 74.2 last year. That doesn't scream $80 million value, especially when tackles are more important. In time, the Chiefs could regret the finances of the deal.

Las Vegas Raiders: RB Kenyan Drake

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Josh Jacobs had another strong season for the Las Vegas Raiders last year, rushing for 1,065 yards and 12 scores on a 3.9 average, adding 33 catches.

    As such, running back seemed like one of the last things the Raiders would address in free agency.

    Wrong. They signed former Arizona starter Kenyan Drake to a two-year deal worth $11 million after he rushed for 955 yards and 10 scores on a 4.0 average last season.

    It's a perplexing move, especially when the team took a bomb to the offensive line in the hopes of finding better run blocking, which would have helped Jacobs. Las Vegas might regret throwing money at a devalued position instead of elsewhere on the roster.

Los Angeles Chargers: C Corey Linsley

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Mission "protect Justin Herbert" was in full force for the Los Angeles Chargers in free agency.

    Those Chargers added center Corey Linsley, tackle Matt Feiler, guards Dan Feeney and Cole Toner, and tackle Oday Aboushi in the first week after the market opened.

    The best name could also be the one that spurs the most regret.

    That's Linsley, the first-team All-Pro from last year who had an 89.9 PFF grade with one sack allowed in Green Bay. What's scary is he'll turn 30 this summer and missed three games last year, his first absences since 2016. If he hits a downswing, that five-year deal worth $62.5 million could be a problem.

Los Angeles Rams: Losing S John Johnson

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Rams didn't have much cap space to work with and currently sit last.

    But it's a shame the front office couldn't find a way to make things work with safety John Johnson, one of the NFL's better players at his position.

    Last year, Johnson put up an 85.6 PFF grade with one interception and 105 total tackles. That's upside worth keeping after the Rams drafted him in the third round in 2017 and developed him well, and he's hitting his prime at age 25.

    Johnson instead went to Cleveland for three years and $33.8 million, leaving the Rams with another need to fill despite limited cap space.

Miami Dolphins: WR Will Fuller V

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins set out to improve the surrounding pieces for Tua Tagovailoa and appeared to do that by swiping wideout Will Fuller V off the free-agent market.

    Fuller seems to have it all. Going on 27 years old, he scored eight times last year, averages 14.9 yards per catch for his career and has elite speed that can space an offense.

    But the Dolphins had to hit Fuller with a one-year prove-it deal because of the downside—he's not consistently available. Fuller has played in 14, 10, seven, 11 and 11 games since 2016. He'll finish a six-game suspension in Week 1.

    While the Dolphins don't have serious coin at risk, if Fuller is unavailable, it could have a bigger negative impact by slowing down Tagovailoa's development.

Minnesota Vikings: CB Patrick Peterson

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    After regressing from 10 wins to seven last year, the Minnesota Vikings aimed to upgrade the defense in free agency by inking former Arizona star Patrick Peterson.

    "Former" is an important word, though. Peterson, a top-five pick in 2011, blossomed into a superstar but has regressed. He turns 31 years old in July, and last year he allowed 50 catches on 75 targets with three interceptions, earning a 55.2 PFF grade.

    Minnesota likely hopes a better system fit helps Peterson rebound. But it's an $8 million gamble for a team with little financial wiggle room that lost names like Kyle Rudolph, Riley Reiff and Anthony Harris.

    Should the move backfire, it accelerates a potential blow-it-up rebuild.

New England Patriots: Edge Matthew Judon

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots were surprisingly one of the more active teams in free agency.

    New England brought back Cam Newton and then made smart signings around him with names like Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

    One move that could backfire, though, is on the opposite side of the ball with edge defender Matthew Judon. Baltimore's former franchise-tag player predictably earned a big-money deal to the tune of four years and $54.5 million.

    But there was great risk with Judon no matter where he landed. He had six sacks last year, his lowest mark since his rookie season in 2016, and the lack of consistent pressure creation led to a 59.4 PFF grade. Judon might excel, but he could also struggle outside Baltimore's system and strong front seven.

New Orleans Saints: QB Jameis Winston

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    For the New Orleans Saints, the post-Drew Brees plan always seemed to be Jameis Winston.

    That comes with positives and negatives. The 2015 No. 1 pick is 27 years old. During his last starting season, he tossed 33 touchdowns—but 30 interceptions. On paper, he could boom surrounded by weapons like Michael Thomas.

    That would explain the fresh one-year contract for Winston, who will compete with Taysom Hill for the starting job.

    But Hill holds an $8.4 million cap hit, never mind $16 million in dead money. An apparent quarterback controversy could also cause more harm than good no matter what the surrounding pieces look like.

New York Giants: WR Kenny Golladay

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    After an extended saga, the New York Giants won the bidding war for wideout Kenny Golladay.

    That could be a good thing for Daniel Jones' development. Golladay is 27 and had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with 16 total scores in 2018 and 2019. He averages 16.8 yards per catch.

    But the recipient of a four-year deal worth $72 million only played in five games last year, and the Giants wanted an in-person visit to check out the injuries and discuss how his tenure finished with Detroit.

    While Golladay could help Jones' development, a poor offensive line that lost Kevin Zeitler and Jones' turnover issues (17 lost fumbles, 22 interceptions since 2019 over 27 games) could dampen things, especially if Golladay misses time too.

New York Jets: WR Corey Davis

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    It's a similar story elsewhere in the Big Apple.

    The New York Jets rolled the dice on free-agent wideout Corey Davis to the tune of three years and $37.5 million.

    The 26-year-old was the fifth overall pick in 2017 but never met those expectations. He hit career highs with 984 yards and five touchdowns last season.

    Davis was surpassed by A.J. Brown in Tennessee, so the Titans didn't keep him, and the Jets are banking on him to spread his wings. But in a worse offense, he might regress, which could both stifle Sam Darnold (or a different young quarterback) and create a messy financial situation.

Philadelphia Eagles: Trading Carson Wentz

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    Jose F. Moreno/Associated Press

    This sounds weird, right?

    The Philadelphia Eagles appeared to do the smart thing by dealing Carson Wentz to Indianapolis, squashing a quarterback controversy and ending a sour relationship while resetting the coaching staff.

    But the Eagles will have some proverbial egg on the face if the 28-year-old has a resurgence after reuniting with Colts head coach Frank Reich.

    Meanwhile, the Eagles will be back east holding a $33.8 million dead-cap charge that has prevented noteworthy moves in free agency while going all-in on 2020 second-round pick Jalen Hurts, who has attempted 148 pro passes.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Losing Mike Hilton

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    Kirk Irwin/Associated Press

    Given the shaky cap situation while going all-in on the return of Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers were bound to suffer noteworthy losses.

    One of those was edge-rusher Bud Dupree, though that files under the "acceptable" column.

    Losing cornerback Mike Hilton...not so much.

    Hilton, 27, is one of the better slot corners in the league and last year picked off three passes over 12 games with three sacks and seven passes defensed, earning a 68.9 PFF grade. To make matters worse, he inked a four-year deal in Cincinnati, meaning the Steelers will have to deal with him twice a year for the foreseeable future.

San Francisco 49ers: C Alex Mack

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    Seeking help in the offensive trenches, Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers turned to free-agent center Alex Mack.

    Shanahan and Mack went to a Super Bowl together in Atlanta, which makes for a fun reunion story.

    But the move cost the 49ers $14.9 million over three years. That's a costly move for a center who turns 36 next season and who regressed from a 72.1 PFF grade in 2019 to 65.9 last year in fewer snaps.

    Mack is likely a stopgap for one year, but given the shaky status of Jimmy Garoppolo, it could do more harm than good.

Seattle Seahawks: Losing Shaquill Griffin

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    It's odd the Seattle Seahawks kept running back Chris Carson in free agency, but not top cornerback Shaquill Griffin.

    Griffin was a risky signing for Jacksonville at three years and $40 million, but it would've made sense for the Seahawks to keep their known commodity while going all-in on Russell Wilson.

    It's also an indictment of the Seahawks that they needed to pay up to keep Carson as 2018 first-rounder Rashaad Penny sits in bust territory.

    For a franchise renowned for the "Legion of Boom," needing to replace a player like Griffin but holding $5 million in cap space is a precarious predicament.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tagging Chris Godwin

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    Tori Richman/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did some strong work in keeping the title-winning band together.

    They locked in Shaquil Barret on a four-year deal worth $68 million, re-signed Rob Gronkowski and extended Tom Brady.

    Star wideout Chris Godwin also received the franchise tag.

    If there's a hole to poke in the strategy, it's that last bit. Godwin is 25 years old and a bona fide superstar who has scored 23 times over the last three seasons. The team needed to nail down a long-term extension or maybe find a replacement in a deep class of free-agent wideouts.

    But that's nitpicking for the champions, who have reloaded and look ready to contend for a repeat.

Tennessee Titans: Edge Bud Dupree

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Tired of gambling on guys like Jadeveon Clowney, the Tennessee Titans committed five years and $82.5 million to former Steelers star Bud Dupree.

    But the 28-year-old isn't a guarantee to fix things on the edge.

    He tore his ACL in December and continues to work his way back. He had eight sacks last year on the franchise tag after putting it all together as a contract-year breakout the season prior, but he only earned a 60.2 PFF grade.

    Questions have chased Dupree's high sack totals for years because he played on fronts with T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. The Titans seem to hope their front seven can help squeak out similar production from Dupree, but if it doesn't, the deal will look like a massive overpay.

Washington Football Team: CB William Jackson III

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    Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

    As seems to be an offseason custom, the Washington Football Team made a big splash in free agency.

    This year, it splurged on former Cincinnati cornerback William Jackson III to the tune of three years and $40.5 million. Washington needed a top corner, so Jackson makes some sense.

    But he has been up-and-down over his career, posting a 71.4 PFF grade last year but a 53.6 grade the year prior. He'll turn 29 during the season, and Washington must be banking on him to play better within a stronger unit.

    There's potential for that, but also the potential for Jackson to go the Landon Collins route. Washington gave the safety six years and $84 million during 2019 free agency, but he has posted so-so results.