NFL Free Agents 2021: Predicting This Year's Biggest Duds

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2021

NFL Free Agents 2021: Predicting This Year's Biggest Duds

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Free-agency flops are a part of life in the NFL

    The high-pressure environment of the market, big dollars thrown around and annual demand for improvement lead to players just not meeting expectations—from teams or fans alike. 

    This year could be especially risky given some of the signings so far (such as a certain development in the Windy City). Without the usual meet-and-greet approach to signings like we'd see in a normal year, the risk seems amplified for teams. 

    Based on schematic fit and a measure of expectations, these are likely to be the biggest duds from the market so far. 

Corey Davis, WR, New York Jets

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Coming over from Tennessee after being the fifth pick in the 2017 draft, Corey Davis seems expected to be the No. 1 wideout that helps spur Sam Darnold's development for the New York Jets. 

    But it's never that simple. 

    The Jets threw the second-most guaranteed money of any wideout this year at Davis despite the deep market. This after Davis—again, a top-five pick—has yet to breach the 1,000-yard mark in a season or score more than five times. He also was surpassed by sophomore A.J. Brown in Tennessee last year. 

    To his credit, Davis could just be rounding into a steady developmental upswing, and he has averaged 13.8 yards per catch over four seasons. But he's headed to a Jets team where he'll be expected to perform in a big way despite a poor quarterback situation; Darnold has completed just 59.8 percent of his passes over three seasons.

    Add in the New York media, and this one could get ugly in a hurry. 

Nelson Agholor, WR, New England Patriots

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots turned some heads by going big with wideout Nelson Agholor in free agency. 

    Agholor, a first-round pick in 2015, never seemed to match expectations in Philadelphia over his first five seasons. But he broke out last year with eight touchdowns and career-highs of 896 yards and 18.7 yards per catch for the Las Vegas Raiders. However, even that came with an asterisk, as he had a 6.1 drop percentage.

    Despite that output possibly being an anomaly, the Patriots gave Agholor the fourth-most guaranteed money of any wideout. Now he'll need to produce big in a Cam Newton-led passing attack that only generated 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions last year. 

    Considering the market boasted names like Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Agholor seemed like an odd signing that could backfire sooner than later. 

Cameron Erving, OT, Carolina Panthers

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers didn't wait long to address an offensive line that coughed up 36 sacks last year, inking Cameron Erving to a two-year deal worth $10 million. 

    While the expectation may be line-wide improvement, especially because Erving is a recognizable name, that might be a problem. 

    Erving, a first-round pick in 2015, struggled mightily last year in Dallas over 279 snaps, posting a 58.0 grade at Pro Football Focus. That doesn't get better if looking back further: He played 589 snaps in 2019, allowing five sacks with seven penalties for a 44.8 grade. 

    If it's Teddy Bridgewater under center again in Carolina, Erving could struggle on longer-developing plays and cause some issues. The Panthers hope he's 100 percent healthy and rebounds this season, but he's absolutely one of the most volatile signings of the offseason. 

A.J. Green, WR, Arizona Cardinals

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    Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

    The idea of A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt teaming up to contend would have been amazing—in, say, 2015. 

    Green is quite the gamble for a win-now Arizona Cardinals team built around third-year quarterback Kyler Murray. Green will be 33 in July, and last year while playing on the franchise tag in Cincinnati, he caught just 47 of his 104 targets for 523 yards and two scores. 

    Cincinnati's supporting cast isn't Arizona's by any means, but the combo of Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd as the flanking wideouts wasn't terrible, either, and teams weren't putting their best defenders on Green. One could argue the type of usage was a problem, but Green was also playing with a talented younger quarterback in Joe Burrow. 

    Green has missed 29 games since 2016, so the injury risk is there, alongside the fading performance factor, when highlighting him as a likely dud this offseason.

Shaquill Griffin, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    Boasting one of the NFL's biggest rebuilds and droves of cap space, the Jacksonville Jaguars paid handsomely for one of the market's top corners in Shaquill Griffin. 

    Jacksonville coughed up three years and $40 million for Griffin, including the most guaranteed money of any corner on the market ($29 million). Even without looking at contract numbers, signing the arguable top corner who happens to come from the place that birthed the so-called Legion of Boom creates big expectations. 

    Whether Griffin can meet those is hard to say. He only graded at a 64.1 at PFF last year for good reason; he allowed a 62.1 completion percentage with six touchdowns on 87 targets last year. In fact, he's allowed 15 touchdowns over his last three seasons. 

    There's still elite potential with Griffin, but the production hasn't always been there. He's joining an arguably worse defense though, with the possible inability to meet live up to the hype leading to disappointment. 

Kenyan Drake, RB, Las Vegas Raiders

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders had plenty of needs this offseason, especially after blowing up the offensive line. Instead, one of the team's biggest signings on the market was running back Kenyan Drake. 

    Normally, that wouldn't be so bad. Drake was a star for Arizona over eight games in 2019 before putting up 955 yards and 10 scores on a 4.0 per-carry average in 2020. 

    But Las Vegas already has a first-round draft investment in Josh Jacobs, who had 1,065 yards and 12 scores on a 3.9 average last season. He also had 273 carries and 33 catches for another 238 yards.

    Even if Las Vegas strictly likes Drake as a pass-catching piece of the offense, he's never had more than 53 receptions in a season, and the workhorse role should still go to Jacobs. A lack of chances and production for one of the perceived better backs in the league would lead to a dud classification. 

Jameis Winston, QB, New Orleans Saints

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Jameis Winston seems tabbed as the successor to Drew Brees on a win-now New Orleans Saints team, and such a status comes with huge expectations. 

    Except it might not be so simple. The Saints actually turned to Taysom Hill before Winston last season. The front office also gave Hill a bigger contract, including an $8 million cap hit in 2021 that makes him one of the team's top-eight cap hits. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport made it sound like Winston is only slightly ahead of Hill on the depth chart as of mid-March. 

    Not that Winston shouldn't be the starter. He's still just 27 and a former No. 1 pick. But if the poor decision-making that led to 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in 2019 comes up again, it could hurt the Saints more than help—Brees hadn't even thrown double-digit interceptions since 2016. 

    That's a double whammy for Winston. If his limitations come up again while he starts, it's a dud result, and if he can't beat out a guy with 134 career attempts at the age of 30, it's just as bad, if not worse. 

Andy Dalton, QB, Chicago Bears

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    There is hardly any way this works out well, right? 

    Chicago Bears fans (somewhat rightfully) expected the team to gun for a top name like Deshaun Watson or even Russell Wilson this offseason with general manager Ryan Pace fighting for his job after poor gambles on Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles

    Instead, the team says it's Andy Dalton time

    Dalton, a longtime franchise passer in Cincinnati, could always game-manage his way into playoff contention like he did with the Bengals. He's a career 62.2 percent passer with playoff experience and looked solid in Dallas last year despite the odd offseason before his first stint with a new team, never mind the combinations of COVID-19 and injuries. 

    But considering Chicago has had just one winning season dating back to 2013, anything less than squeaking above .500 will be a bust, both for Dalton and the Bears brass that couldn't make something bigger happen.