Ranking the 5 Worst Moves of the 2021 NFL Offseason
The NFL offseason is a wellspring of optimism for all 32 fanbases.
Until a team makes a big misstep.
With free agency mostly in the books and the draft scheduled to begin April 29 in Cleveland, the vibes have already turned negative for some teams, either because of one specific move or a string of decisions that signal a trend in the wrong direction.
These can be dramatic overpays or questionable trades and usually involve premium positions, highlighted by the most important one of all: quarterback. In a worst-case scenario, the hope of the draft can't even overwhelm a tough outlook.
Here's a look at the worst moves of the 2021 offseason so far.
Bengals sign DE Trey Hendrickson
The Cincinnati Bengals coughed up four years and $60 million for Trey Hendrickson, a one-hit wonder in New Orleans who had 13.5 sacks in 2020, up from his previous career high of 4.5. He played 53 percent of the defensive snaps, which was also a career high. The 26-year-old could be just reaching his potential, but signing him was a risky move considering it came at the cost of losing an established pass-rusher like Carl Lawson.
Patriots spend big cash
Activity for the sake of activity isn't always a good thing. The Patriots re-signed Cam Newton and seemingly made some good moves for tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. But their decision to pay Nelson Agholor $22 million over two years when there were better options available in a deep wideout market was confusing. So was gambling on defensive end Matt Judon (four years, $54.5 million) after his down campaign while letting guard Joe Thuney slip away.
Giants sign Kenny Golladay
Kenny Golladay had one of the stranger extended visits to free agency in recent history before signing with the New York Giants. Those Giants coughed up $72 million over four years for a guy who only played in five games in 2020. It was an odd move, especially with the deep free-agent class at the position.
Jaguars sign Shaquill Griffin
Jacksonville expectedly made a big splash, giving cornerback Shaquill Griffin three years and $40 million. While he was one of free agency's best corners, Griffin had a paltry grade of 64.1 at Pro Football Focus last year and has allowed 10 touchdowns over the last two seasons. It's an understandable overpay given the premium nature of the position, but it's one that could backfire.
5. Titans Sign Bud Dupree
The Tennessee Titans attempted to finally fix their pass-rushing problem on the edge with Bud Dupree, giving him the second-biggest total dollar amount at $82.5 million over five years.
Even Pittsburgh, despite its previously stated intentions, didn't commit long-term to its first-round defender from the 2015 draft, giving him the franchise tag as a linebacker after he recorded 11.5 sacks in 2019. Prior to that campaign, Dupree hadn't recorded more than six sacks in a season.
Also, while Dupree had eight sacks last year, he tore his ACL late in the season. Even worse, his production might be fool's gold stemming from the fact that he played with Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt. He also had just a 60.2 PFF grade last year.
Dupree is joining a defense that recorded the third-fewest sacks (19) last season, and Harold Landry III led the way with just 5.5. If Dupree can't perform like he did in Pittsburgh with less around him, the Titans could be in trouble.
4. Packers Pay Up for Aaron Jones
The Green Bay Packers perhaps just committed the cardinal sin in the NFL right now: paying big for a running back.
It seemed like a foregone conclusion the Packers would lose Aaron Jones on the open market, especially once the team used a second-round draft pick on AJ Dillon last year, putting a big resource into a devalued position that was already a strength.
Instead, the Packers gave Jones a four-year extension worth $48 million. This isn't to say the 26-year-old star is a bad player. He has 37 touchdowns in 54 career games and has averaged 5.2 yards per carry.
But the Packers lost starting center Corey Linsley, who wasn't a priority in free agency, in the process. With the salary cap dropping to $182.5 million for 2021, placing Green Bay $9.4 million in the red, the team had to do a lot of maneuvering to create space. The Packers now sit with just $3.4 million in cap space.
While Jones isn't making as much as Ezekiel Elliott does annually ($15 million), Green Bay could come to regret the decision if the offensive line takes a step back and Jones slows down or doesn't see as many touches.
The Packers do have an out after the 2022 season. If they want to bail on Jones before then, they have a dead-cap charge of $9.8 million. Which is to say, the Packers are stuck for at least two years should things go south.
3. Panthers Trade for Sam Darnold
With Teddy Bridgewater already on the roster and in a position to possibly move up and draft a high-end quarterback early in the first round of the 2021 draft, the Carolina Panthers traded for Sam Darnold of the New York Jets.
"Risky" might be the best word that comes to mind.
The Panthers didn't give up a ton of assets in the move, trading a sixth-rounder this year and a second and fourth-rounder in 2022, but as Darnold goes into his age-24 season, he's completed just 59.8 percent of his passes with 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. It's fair to note the Jets have been one of the league's most tumultuous rebuilders, however.
But it would have been a better use of cap space to re-sign a weapon like Curtis Samuel and not make questionable offensive line investments in Pat Elflein and Cameron Erving.
Now the Panthers could find themselves hunting at the quarterback position again quickly, and instead of giving up assets to bring in Darnold, they could have traded up from No. 8 and gotten more cheap contract years out of a player in this year's deep draft class at quarterback.
2. Colts Trade for Carson Wentz
The normally conservative Indianapolis Colts made a big move by bringing in Carson Wentz, though it wasn't too unexpected given the past connection between the quarterback and head coach Frank Reich.
But in the process of making the deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Colts coughed up a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 second-rounder that becomes a first if Wentz plays 75 percent of the snaps. And the Colts didn't trade for him to sit.
Gambling on Wentz, absorbing what is now a team-high $20.4 million cap hit that jumps to $27 million in 2022, is a big risk. While he's had a few strong seasons, Wentz regressed in 2020, completing 57.4 percent of his passes for 2,620 yards with 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions over 12 games last season. Jalen Hurts replaced him as the starter in Week 14.
We'd be remiss not to mention the Eagles were hit by the injury bug last year. But the Colts haven't moved the needle much in free agency this offseason, mostly retaining their own while losing elite left tackle Anthony Castonzo to retirement.
The saving grace here could be the out built into Wentz's contract after this season. But drafting 21st, the team could have tried to move up to get a prospect. If the gamble on the Wentz-Reich connection backfires, then the Colts could be without a premium pick next year.
1. Bears Settle for Andy Dalton
Without a stunningly terrible move such as the Houston Texans' trade of DeAndre Hopkins last offseason, we're left with the Chicago Bears' signing of Andy Dalton.
Instead, the Bears brought in Dalton, a career 62.2 percent passer with a paltry 7.1 yards-per-attempt average and 74-66-2 record. Foles, for example, is a career 62.3 percent passer with a 6.8 yards-per-attempt average, while Trubisky is at 64.0 percent and 6.7 yards per attempt.
Dalton is a fine game manager but heavily relies on those around him. He's not much of an upgrade—if any—on Foles and is far, far removed from the level of Wilson. He is also joining a squad that is a downgrade compared to Dallas' roster, and he only managed to go 4-5 as a starter with the Cowboys.
Wide receiver Anthony Miller is still developing and is apparently a trade candidate, and Allen Robinson hasn't been too happy with the team despite eventually accepting the franchise tag. The offensive line coughed up 36 sacks last year, and the defense lost corner Kyle Fuller.
The team's commitment to Dalton is a one-year pact worth $10 million, which isn't a ton. But ultimately, the fanbase's reaction to something as simple as a "QB1" tweet from the team says it all. There are few scenarios capable of unfolding that would remove this from worst-move status.