Ranking the 9 Worst Decisions of the 2021 NFL Offseason

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2021

Ranking the 9 Worst Decisions of the 2021 NFL Offseason

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    With little besides training camps standing in the way of the 2021 NFL season, now is a good time to step back and play the projections game. 

    Now that the draft is over, we can include it in projecting the worst moves of the offseason to this point.

    At about this time last year, the worst moves weren't too difficult to figure out. The Chicago Bears had traded for Nick Foles. The Houston Texans had dealt DeAndre Hopkins. Green Bay drafted Jordan Love. 

    This year the list is highlighted by odd trades, questionable team directions and moves that put franchises in cap danger or saw them sacrifice too many assets for the expected return. We'll rank the nine worst moves primarily by the projected long-term damage.  

9. Jaguars Invest in Shaquill Griffin

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars appeared to make a smart move by going after one of free agency's big-name cornerbacks, giving Shaquill Griffin $40 million over three years. 

    Despite playing a premium position, though, Griffin comes with risk, and tasking him with being the veteran leading the charge is a tough sell after the seeing the Seattle secondary struggle in 2020. 

    Last year, he had a 64.1 grade at Pro Football Focus and has allowed 10 touchdowns in coverage over the last two seasons.

    Maybe Griffin will be the spark the Jaguars need alongside C.J. Henderson, but he has been inconsistent in coverage. While he rebounded in 2019 for a Pro Bowl campaign, he allowed a 104.8 passer rating the season prior and has been targeted at least 77 times in each of the last three years. That volume shouldn't change in Jacksonville.

    It's easy to wonder if the Jags could have saved cash and still found a quality upgrade in free agency such as Mike Hilton or Xavier Rhodes. Regardless, Griffin's contract structure means the team can't wiggle out of the deal until at least after 2022.       

8. Titans Pay Up for Bud Dupree

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans appeared to overpay to fix a defense that recorded the third-fewest sacks last year at just 19. 

    Former Pittsburgh Steelers franchise player Bud Dupree, who notched a five-year deal worth $82.5 million, received the second-most cash given to any player this offseason. 

    While Dupree had 19.5 sacks over his last two campaigns, he had no more than six in each of his previous four seasons. His recent success has felt a bit like fool's gold, which might explain the 60.2 Pro Football Focus grade last year. 

    To make matters worse, he suffered a torn ACL late last season. As soon as he's ready, the Titans will expect Dupree to match his production from the last two years without help from players like Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt.   

    If Dupree isn't able to impress, the Titans will be stuck with his contract for at least through the 2022 season. 

7. Giants Gamble on Kenny Golladay

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    The New York Giants didn't just gamble on Kenny Golladay. They gave him $72 million over four years, the second-highest salary among free agents in terms of annual value and more than players like outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett and center Corey Linsley. 

    The desire to get third-year quarterback Daniel Jones better weapons is admirable, but Golladay only suited up for five games last year because of injuries and had one of the stranger trips to free agency amid a weak market for his position.

    Granted, he's 27 and had an 11-touchdown season in 2019, but a lot will have to go right for him to put up a number like that in New York considering he'll be catching passes from Jones instead of Matthew Stafford

    Context is important too. This was a ridiculously deep year in free agency for wideouts, and the Giants took receiver Kadarius Toney in the first round of the draft last Thursday. New York could have spent less for more of a sure thing and used the remaining capital elsewhere.    

6. Rams Extend Leonard Floyd

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Not wanting to lose what they considered a core piece, the Los Angeles Rams coughed up $64 million over four years on an extension for Leonard Floyd, which in total dollars would have given him the sixth-largest contract in this year's class. 

    And while Floyd did record 10.5 sacks last season, that was an anomaly considering he had just 4.5 or fewer in three of his prior four seasons with Chicago. 

    The team's cap situation makes this deal really look murky, though. The Rams had a negative cap balance for a good chunk of the offseason and only have $8.2 million free now. Floyd's cap hit jumps to $20 million next year, and the team is projected to be more than $16 million over the salary cap. 

    And Floyd's numbers last year are probably the result of playing on the same front seven as Aaron Donald. Even Dante Fowler Jr. had 11.5 sacks with the Rams in 2019 before going on to be a dud in Atlanta after the team swapped him out for Floyd.

    It's hard to say why the Rams didn't just swap Floyd out for a less expensive player who projects well on the same front as Donald, but it'll cost the team over the long term.   

5. Bengals Pay Up for Trey Hendrickson

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals once again surprised by being one of the biggest spenders in free agency this year, highlighted by the four-year, $60 million deal they gave to former New Orleans Saints pass-rusher Trey Hendrickson. 

    His average annual salary of $15 million ranks sixth among free-agent contracts this offseason, and it comes with a red flag: Hendrickson was a one-hit-wonder. 

    He had 13.5 sacks last year, but one could argue it was a product of playing around guys like Cameron Jordan on a career-high 53 percent of defensive snaps. Prior to last season, the most sacks he had recorded in a season was 4.5.

    To be fair, the Bengals built an out into Hendrickson's deal after 2021. But the team could have just as easily retained Carl Lawson for a similar price considering he had already excelled in their scheme. That, or they could have saved cash while bringing in a more reliable veteran and putting more money into needier spots such as the offensive line.

    That's especially true considering the Bengals will expect Hendrickson to take more snaps than ever while doing it with less around him.        

4. Lions Pass on QB

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions looked like another team that would surely use an early pick on a quarterback. 

    Yes, they had traded for Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff, ending the Matthew Stafford era while picking up a pair of future first-round picks. But it's unlikely they believe that Goff is a legitimate long-term solution despite speculation otherwise. 

    The fact that an offensive mind like Sean McVay was willing to throw in the towel on the No. 1 pick from 2016 is noteworthy. Goff is merely a 63.4 percent passer for his career with 107 touchdowns and 55 interceptions. He has a 42-27 record. 

    But Detroit passed on taking Ohio State's Justin Fields or Alabama's Mac Jones at No. 7 overall, instead opting for Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell. And while Sewell could end up being very good for a long time, it doesn't matter much if the quarterback is effective (and with the way the draft fell, maybe Detroit could have traded back and gotten a quarterback and a tackle with a newly acquired pick). 

    Goff could make the Lions just good enough to never be in this range for a quarterback again. The team has some assets to move around in future drafts, but the Dan Campbell era appears to have started with a stumble out of the gates by delaying the seemingly inevitable.       

3. Panthers Trade Down, Miss on OT

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers had already taken an odd approach to building their offensive line before the draft, adding middling possible starters in Pat Elflein and Cameron Erving. 

    After opting for cornerback Jaycee Horn at eighth overall in the first round, the Panthers at least looked like they were in a spot to get get one of the draft's best offensive line prospects at No. 39 in the second round after PFF ranked its line just 18th in 2020. 

    Instead, the Panthers traded down—twice. They ultimately moved down 20 picks to No. 59, taking LSU wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr.

    While the Panthers sat and waited, prospects like Liam Eichenberg, Walker Little, Jackson Carman, Samuel Cosmi and Dillon Radunz came off the board. 

    The team did take Brady Christensen in the third round, but it felt like a bad misstep at a time when the Panthers are desperately trying to make something new work at the quarterback position.        

2. Washington in the 1st Round

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Two major points about Washington in the first round of this year's draft stick out. 

    One, the decision to ignore the quarterback position, primarily by not moving up from No. 19, especially with Alabama's Mac Jones and Ohio State's Justin Fields falling out of the top 10. 

    Such a move would have been costly, but now the team is left with 38-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will be suiting up for his ninth different team. Last year, he managed just 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions over nine games for the Miami Dolphins.

    And while Taylor Heinicke showed promise in the playoffs last year, it's not a great sign the team felt the need to sign Fitzpatrick to compete for the starting job. 

    Also perplexing was using that 19th pick on Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis, a prospect with limited playing experience who projects as an inside linebacker, which can be something of a niche role these days. Washington took Davis while prospects such as offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw and wideout Rashod Bateman were still on the board. 

    Overall, Washington wasn't aggressive at the most important position and used a premium pick on a potentially not-so-premium spot, making for an odd draft.    

1. Panthers Trade for Sam Darnold

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Sam Darnold probably wasn't the quarterback Panthers fans had in mind for the game's most important position this offseason, but the team underwhelmed in striking a trade for the former New York Jet.

    The compensation Carolina sent to New York was minimal and arguably irrelevant (a sixth-round pick, plus second and fourth-rounders in 2022) given that Darnold has never lived up to his status as the third overall pick in 2018.

    He is a career 59.8 percent passer with 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions to his name. The Panthers are banking on offering him improved surroundings, but as previously noted, the front office has taken an odd approach to building the offensive line and swapped out a weapon like Curtis Samuel for a rookie. 

    After going all-in on Darnold, Carolina passed on Ohio State's Justin Fields and even Alabama's Mac Jones at eighth overall too. 

    In the end, this sort of feels like a lateral move after demoting Teddy Bridgewater and then trading him to the Denver Broncos. And Darnold is cheap for just one year before his fifth-year option costs $18.9 million. If the Panthers have a slight uptick in performance, they won't easily be in a position to draft a premium quarterback again.