Ranking the 11 Most Boneheaded Moves of the 2021 NFL Offseason
The NFL offseason is a time for hope. As teams add fresh faces in free agency, via trades and in the draft, it's easy to believe every team can be a playoff contender.
The Washington Football Team went from three wins in 2019 to a division title in 2020, providing an example of why such hope is warranted.
Unfortunately, not every team gets better, and not every move is a great one. Whether it's doling out a bad contract, failing to address a need or letting a quality player leave, some moves don't make sense.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and some of the decisions examined here may not look bad in retrospect. With the draft over and training camp still months away, however, these are the 11 most boneheaded moves of the 2021 NFL offseason.
11. Washington Doesn't Draft a Quarterback
While Washington deserves a lot of credit for its turnaround in 2020, its decision not to draft a quarterback this offseason wasn't the smartest move.
The Football Team signed 38-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick to be its 2021 starter. That's fine given the playoff-ready state of the roster. However, he won't provide a long-term answer for the franchise at the game's most important position.
Even if Fitzpatrick plays for a few more seasons, he's only under contract for one year. There's also no guarantee he will be a high-end starter for Washington this season. He played well for the Miami Dolphins over the past two years but was inconsistent earlier in his career.
Before joining Washington, Fitzpatrick started games for seven different teams but only started 16 or more games for three. He earned multiyear starting gigs with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets but never lasted more than four years with a single franchise. He topped the NFL with 23 interceptions in 2011 and produced a passer rating below 70.0 in 2016.
Washington didn't trade up in the first round to land one of the top signal-callers, and it didn't draft a quarterback at all. If Fitzpatrick doesn't work out, it will only have Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen to turn to. They have 18 regular-season starts between them.
10. Giants Spend Big on Golladay
The New York Giants will give Daniel Jones at least one more season to prove he can be a franchise signal-caller. Given their investment of the sixth overall pick in 2019, that's fair, and it made sense to get him a true No. 1 receiver this offseason.
However, New York's decision to hand Kenny Golladay a whopping $72 million over four years is a curious one.
Golladay has two 1,000-yard campaigns on his resume and led the NFL with 11 touchdown receptions in 2019. He also played with an upper-echelon quarterback in Matthew Stafford and is coming off an injury-plagued 2020 campaign.
Will Golladay be the same receiver coming off injury and playing with Jones? Perhaps not. He's the league's sixth-highest-paid receiver in terms of annual salary regardless.
What makes this move look even worse for the Giants is their cap situation. New York has $3.8 million in cap space before locking up its 2021 draft class.
The Giants had the 11th overall pick in the draft and could have targeted a receiver with No. 1 potential. Instead, they spent big on Golladay and ended up with a gadget player in Kadarius Toney in Round 1.
9. Panthers Go with Sam Darnold over a Rookie QB
The Carolina Panthers' decision to trade for Sam Darnold and then not draft a quarterback could haunt them. The Panthers had the No. 8 pick and could have used it on either Alabama's Mac Jones or Ohio State's Justin Fields.
With Darnold on the roster, though, they passed on a quarterback to grab South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn.
Darnold may work out in Carolina, and Horn may go on to be a Hall of Fame defender. However, Darnold proved nothing in his three seasons with the Jets, logging a passer rating of 78.6.
The other issue is he only has two years remaining on his rookie deal, even after Carolina exercised his fifth-year option. Even if he reinvents himself with the Panthers, Carolina will be forced to hand out a second contract three years sooner than it would have to with a 2021 rookie quarterback.
While obtaining Darnold didn't cost a first-round pick, the Panthers gave up valuable second- and fourth-round picks in 2022.
"The value of 2022 draft picks is sky high," NFL Media's Ian Rapoport tweeted during the draft. "'Like gold,' as one executive described."
8. Raiders Reach for Alex Leatherwood
Arguably the biggest reach in the draft came in the first round when the Las Vegas Raiders scooped up Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood.
While the Raiders needed to address their offensive line after moving on from tackle Trent Brown, guard Gabe Jackson and Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson, Leatherwood was not widely regarded as a mid-first-round prospect.
More highly regarded options were available when Las Vegas made the pick.
"We thought Leatherwood was a good second-round option if the Raiders decided to wait on addressing their glaring right tackle need," The Athletic's Vic Tafur wrote. "But they went ahead and grabbled Leatherwood with Christian Darrisaw and Tevin Jenkins still on the board."
This move ranks low on the list because the Raiders did address a need. However, this was not a great draft value.
The Raiders could have taken Darrisaw, who went six picks later, and likely still could have grabbed a right tackle in Round 2 had they addressed a different need—perhaps the pass rush, as Jaelan Phillips went one pick later. Jenkins was drafted four spots before the Raiders selected in Round 2.
7. Jaguars Overpay for Shaquill Griffin
Few will criticize the Jacksonville Jaguars' selection of quarterback Trevor Lawrence at No. 1 overall. Lawrence appears to be as much of a "can't-miss" prospect as an NFL team can find.
However, a move Jacksonville made on the other side of the ball—and in free agency—deserves to be questioned.
The Jaguars signed cornerback Shaquill Griffin to a three-year, $40 million contract this offseason. While Jacksonville ranked 27th in passing yards allowed last season and Griffin is an experienced starter, this represents a massive overpay.
Griffin was a Pro Bowl selection in 2019, but he has also allowed an opposing passer rating above 93.0 in each of the past three seasons. He is not a top-tier cover corner, though the Jaguars are paying him like one.
Griffin is the 12th-highest-paid cornerback in the NFL in annual salary. For a player who has allowed 10 touchdown passes over the last two years, that feels a tad absurd.
Bad teams often have to overpay to obtain free agents. While this move was understandable, that doesn't make it smart.
6. Titans Spend Big for Bud Dupree
While bad teams often overpay for free agents, the Tennessee Titans weren't a bad team in 2020, making the postseason for the second consecutive year. Yet they still spent too much on pass-rusher Bud Dupree in free agency.
Dupree, who suffered a torn ACL late in 2020, landed a five-year, $82.5 million deal from the Titans. This ties Dupree with Chandler Jones as the league's 10th-highest-paid pass-rusher in terms of total value.
The big issue is that in addition to Dupree's injury—which occurred in Week 11—he is not a top-10 edge-defender.
Dupree produced 19.5 sacks over the past two years, which is good but not great. He also benefited from playing opposite T.J. Watt, as evidenced by his statistics. Before the 2019 season, Dupree never logged more than six sacks in a season. He had just 8.5 sacks in two seasons before Watt arrived.
There's no guarantee Dupree will be healthy to start the 2021 season or that he'll be at 100 percent at any point during it. It's also unknown if he can rack up double-digit sacks outside Pittsburgh's scheme and away from Watt.
This was one of the biggest gambles of 2021 free agency and a move that a playoff team like Tennessee didn't need to make.
5. Rams Re-Sign Leonard Floyd, Let Key Defenders Walk
This is a two-part entry, and it needs to be because the two parts are linked. The Los Angeles Rams' first mistake was re-signing Leonard Floyd to a four-year, $64 million deal after only one season with the franchise.
Floyd had 10.5 sacks in 2020, but he's not the first pass-rusher to benefit from playing alongside Aaron Donald and in L.A.'s defensive scheme. Dante Fowler Jr. was also a double-digit-sack producer in Los Angeles before returning to obscurity with the Atlanta Falcons last season.
While fans will like that Floyd only carries a cap hit of $5.5 million in 2021, that number jumps to $20 million next year.
The second half of the equation is that Floyd's contract—signed before the start of free agency—made it virtually impossible to keep other key defenders like cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson III.
Hill was responsible for three interceptions and two touchdowns last season, while Johnson allowed an opposing passer rating of just 71.9.
Floyd's current cap hit isn't a major issue, but it will be next offseason. The Rams are projected to be $16.3 million over the cap and have to pay for their 2021 and 2022 draft classes. An expected jump in the salary cap will help, but the Rams likely could have gotten similar production out of a cheaper option.
4. Steelers Ignore Quarterback in the Draft
The Pittsburgh Steelers don't know if the 2021 season will be the last for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"None of us know," general manager Kevin Colbert told Mike Florio on PFT PM.
The decision not to draft a quarterback at any point seems unwise on two fronts: There is no viable succession plan in place for Pittsburgh, and there isn't a quality insurance option on the roster. Mason Rudolph proved he isn't the answer two years ago, and Dwayne Haskins did nothing in less than two seasons in Washington to suggest that he is.
If this is Roethlisberger's last season, the Steelers will be forced to start from scratch in 2022. Drafting a quarterback high and grooming him for a year would have made for an easier transition.
Instead, the Steelers went all-in on the coming season by drafting running back Najee Harris in the first round. While it's fine to feel it can make one last title run with Big Ben, Pittsburgh has left itself vulnerable this season too.
Roethlisberger is a 39-year-old quarterback who missed most of the 2019 season and struggled down the stretch in 2020. He lost starting center Maurkice Pouncey and starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva this offseason.
Should Roethlisberger suffer another injury or again struggle, Pittsburgh could be looking at a lost season with no clear plan for the future at quarterback.
3. Bengals Ignore Offensive Tackle Early in the Draft
The Cincinnati Bengals appear to have found their franchise quarterback in Joe Burrow. However, they allowed him to be battered as a rookie. Burrow was sacked 32 times in 10 games before being lost for the season with torn knee ligaments.
Instead of making the offensive line a priority at the top of the draft, Cincinnati grabbed former LSU wideout Ja'Marr Chase. Reuniting Burrow with his favorite college target may work out, but the Bengals passed on a franchise left tackle in Oregon's Penei Sewell.
Then in Round 2, the Bengals traded down instead of grabbing a quality tackle prospect like Teven Jenkins or Liam Eichenberg. Cincinnati settled on Clemson tackle Jackson Carman, who is a better run-blocker than pass protector and perhaps a guard at the pro level.
"He is inconsistent using his hands in an attempt to deliver a knockout shot, oftentimes being late and landing off target high or wide with raised pads and a compromised base," Brandon Thorn of the B/R Scouting Department wrote. "He would be helped playing in a more confined space inside."
Both B/R and NFL Media's Lance Zierlein pegged Carman as a third-round prospect. He was a reach in the middle of Round 2, one the Bengals had to make after passing on a tackle in Round 1 and moving down the next day.
The health of Burrow should be Cincinnati's biggest concern heading into 2021. Not making his protection the top priority was a boneheaded decision.
2. Broncos Decide Not to Draft a Quarterback
Like the Panthers, the Denver Broncos had an opportunity to draft a quarterback of the future in Round 1. They passed on both Mac Jones and Justin Fields, opting instead to take cornerback Patrick Surtain II at No. 9 overall.
While Surtain is a fantastic cornerback prospect, he won't fix Denver's longstanding quarterback problem. The Broncos haven't had a reliable starter since Peyton Manning retired.
Drew Lock will be back, but the 2019 second-round pick has struggled in 18 career starts. He flashed promise as a rookie—throwing seven touchdowns and three interceptions—but regressed in year two. Lock made 13 starts last season, tied for the league lead with 15 interceptions and produced a passer rating of 75.4.
Denver brought in Teddy Bridgewater to compete with Lock, but he probably isn't the answer either. Carolina was unimpressed with Bridgewater and traded him one year into a three-year deal.
The Broncos might get a serviceable starter out of the Lock-Bridgewater competition, but serviceable won't cut it in a division with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr.
Denver passed on quarterback prospects like Kellen Mond, Davis Mills and Kyle Trask in the second round too, so if Bridgewater and/or Lock don't work out, it'll be back to the drawing board at quarterback in 2022.
1. Packers Pass on a Chance to Move Aaron Rodgers
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is not happy with the Green Bay Packers. According to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, the San Francisco 49ers made an offer for Rodgers this offseason, and Green Bay rebuffed them—to Rodgers' dismay.
"He wanted the Packers to take the 49ers' offer," Florio tweeted.
Depending on the timing of San Francisco's offer, that offer may have included multiple first-round picks and this year's third overall selection. Even if it was before San Francisco's move to No. 3, it undoubtedly would have been a massive trade offer.
That package likely would have allowed Green Bay to tab a quarterback of the future—possibly one ready to start right away. The Packers have 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love, but he does not seem ready for the starting gig on a title contender.
"He's got a long way to go," Packers GM Brian Gutekunst said, per The Athletic's Matt Schneidman.
And Green Bay may not be able to win Rodgers back.
"Many people around the league believe Aaron Rodgers is indeed 'dug in,'" ESPN's Jeremy Fowler said on SportsCenter (h/t Bleacher Report's Tyler Conway).
While it's understandable that a franchise doesn't want to trade away the reigning MVP, the Packers have been preparing for Rodgers' departure. Otherwise, they wouldn't have traded up to draft Love last year.
The longer Rodgers remains disgruntled with the organization, the more trade leverage the Packers lose. Their decision not to jump on San Francisco's offer may prove to be an even bigger mistake than miffing Rodgers with the Love selection in the first place.