There are certain maxims to live by: never sniff a carpet at Goodwill, always carry a gallon of water a day when you’re in the desert, if you can’t shoot you better run the court, rebound, and play defense; and most of all, don’t overpay for mediocre talent. In free agency teams don’t get to pay a player what he’s worth, that imaginary equilibrium where performance equals production, instead they pay what it takes to bring a player to his newest city. This is why Nate Solder has a cap hit of $17 million this year. It’s why Kirk Cousins is still owed $60 million only to average 4.56 yards an attempt against New England. It’s why Tyrann Mathieu will make $14 million a year.
Although teams have gotten smarter and are no longer giving Chris Ivory five-years $32 million, there are still lemons to pick from this offseason’s orchard. Every season, no matter what, when teams have $90 million to spend, someone will spend it in an absurd manner. This year was no different than previous years. Now that teams are hanging out and waiting for the NFL Draft to end so they can fill in the holes, free agency is kind of sort of dead. Here are the five worst deals until that last gasp.
1.) Tyrann Mathieu S Kansas City Chiefs 3-years $42 million ($26.8 million guaranteed)
Mathieu is an illusionist. Somehow he’s turned Scrappy Doo yapping, bicep flexing after first downs, constant hollering, and pre-game screaming, and camouflaged it into leadership. He’s a mirage. He’s tricked everyone into thinking he’s better than he really is.
Last season Mathieu wasn’t great at anything. He was fine at a couple of things. He could kind of play man coverage as long as he wasn’t playing against the Colts or having to cover Zach Ertz. He made tackles, even if the tackles were made three yards after contact was initiated. Occasionally he would affect plays when sitting in shallow zones. He wasn’t some glorious play maker and supreme leader. His four sacks were open unhindered rushes. His two interceptions bounced off the hands of a running back. He would do things like return a fumble out of the endzone only to be tackled before the 20 yard line because he wished he could do the cool things Justin Reid did.
This playmaking illusion has turned into a $14 million a year contract in Kansas City. He’ll be better next season than he was last season. He should be able to play more robber coverage, come up closer to the line of scrimmage and clean things up, and play less man coverage. The problem for the Chiefs is Mathieu didn’t make anyone better last year. When you pay a player this much he has to exist outside his own lines. The skills he brings need to overcompensate for other areas of the defense. Signing Mathieu doesn’t make Kansas City’s cornerback group less valuable, it doesn’t mask their atrocious inside linebacker play, it won’t help their pass rush. Mathieu is just a shadow standing behind it all.
The Chiefs have need at defensive tackle, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, cornerback, everywhere on their defense. They finished 32nd in run defense DVOA for the second year in a row. The Patriots plastered this same defense and beat them in overtime in the AFC title game by running it down their esophagus. They decided to lose two of their best defensive players, 3-4 edge rushers Dee Ford and Justin Houston. They’ll move to a 4-3 as a result. But really, all they did to improve their defensive talent is pay Mathieu, and sign the mediocre Alex Okafor to a perfectly acceptable contract. That wasn’t enough.
The defense will still be horrendous. And as early as this season they’ll be thinking, we owe him that much? Yes. Yes, you did. Mathieu will have a dead cap hit of $21 million in 2020. If you thought Patrick Mahomes was an absurdist reality bender last season, he’ll have to be even more so this season.
2.) Trent Brown LT Oakland Raiders 4-years $66 million ($36.25 million guaranteed)
Even if you can’t afford a heated swimming pool when you are playing for New England, you sure as hell will once you leave. Brown, like so many others before him, coaches included, turned a Super Bowl winning season with the Patriots into a contract that will ensure he, and his entire family tree will never have to do anything at all, free to spend eternity putting on floppy hats and taking Instgram pictures in J-Tree.
Brown is a very good tackle. He’s super wide and nearly impossible to get around. He crunches defenders on double teams, and can make individual blocks all on his own. In Oakland, on a power run team that won’t force him to climb up to the second level incessantly, he fits perfectly.
This isn’t the problem. The issue is that Brown has just finished blocking for Tom Brady. The greatest quarterback of all time who gets the ball out quicker than any quarterback in the league. He diagnoses the play pre-snap, and knows where to go with the ball before it begins. New England is also great at scheming and creating open throws to toss diesel into this fire.
Pass blocking for Brown in New England was three steps and merely standing in the way. He didn’t have to worry about getting beat outside. Edge rushers and rips wouldn’t take the defender to the quarterback quick enough to create chaos. Disruptive rushes would need to come through or inside of a 359 pound man. That ain’t gonna work.
In Oakland he can’t just get in the way. All those edge rushes are going to be more than pressures, they’re going to be hits, they’re going to be quarterback sacks. He’s now blocking for Derek Carr. The fourth year quarterback has previously shown that behind a dominant offensive line that can give him FIVE M-I-S-S-I-P-P-I seconds of protection, he can use his arm talent and run an offense. Carr is a backyard quarterback. He misses open receivers, struggles when pressure arises, and he holds onto the ball for too long, but when there’s no pressure, and he can hold onto the ball, he can make some pretty throws happen.
Blocking for Brady is entirely different than blocking for Carr. The Raiders need a left tackle that can dominate and control pass rushers in the time it takes for a glacier to scrape on through. Brown wasn’t this, and didn’t need to do this in New England. Oakland is paying for a top five left tackle, and instead they’ll have like the eleventh best.
3.) Cole Beasley WR Buffalo Bills 4-years $29 million ($14.4 million guaranteed)
I get it. I really do. The Bills think they need a wide receiver who can run drags and slants and zip across the center of a defense. And they think they have this in Beasley. A rapid short route runner who can create open check down throws for second year quaterback Josh Allen.
Beasley has gotten the most out of his talent to carve a nice little career. There’s no potential or upside though. The Bills are paying for past performance, and it’s a past performance of one great season. In 2016 Beasley was 5th in receiving DVOA and had 833 yards, caught 75 of his 98 targets, and put up a catch rate of 76.5%. His catch rate dropped to 57.1% and had 314 receiving yards the year after. And last season he finished 31st in DVOA. On top of all of that, Beasley will be 30 years old, the age when you expect for receivers to start to decline, especially one who beats man coverage with quickness and shuffling feet.
I also can’t think of a worse player for Allen to throw to. Allen struggles with short throwing accuracy. He can heave the ball over a drag route and into the Atlantic ocean. He can skitter passes across lake Ontario and into Canada. A teensy player, running short routes, with a limited catch radius, works against everything Allen does well, run really fast, throw the ball really far, and make plays no one has seen before.
If the Bills just had to give a slot receiver like Beasley a try, why not sign someone to a one-year contract. Get yourself something used at the consignment shop. Chris Conley, who has the athletic profile to do similar things, or Randall Cobb, who used to be great at running these routes were both signed for one-year contracts. Or Buffalo could have paid $2 million more a year to sign Adam Humphries, a younger player, who’s already better, and should improve. The Bills paid for past production that one, isn’t that great, and two, that they’ll never see.
4.) Cameron Wake EDGE Tennessee Titans 3-years $23 million ($10.75 million guaranteed)
The Titans were crappy at playing man coverage last season. Their best cornerback was Adoree Jackson, as long as he wasn’t covering Tyreek Hill, despite paying Malcolm Butler, and Logan Ryan as much as they did. A big reason for this was the pass rush in front of them. The Titans finished 26th in pressure rate at 27.6%, and 22nd in adjusted sack rate at 6.7%. Minuscule rates for a blitz heavy 3-4 Dean Pees defense. Tennessee’s outside linebacker failed them. Brian Orakpo and Derek Morgan combined for 31.5 pressures, 11 quarterback hits, and 2 sacks.
Morgan is still an unrestricted free agent. Orakpo retired to bake and frost cupcakes. The Titans have second year pass rusher Harold Landry, who has potential oozing out of him like blood from the ears of a golf ball crushed skull. Tennessee desperately needed an edge rusher to pair with him. They signed the 37 year old Cameron Wake.
The deal isn’t terrible. Tennessee can get out of the contract after one season and only feel shame, mental, not financial pain, and Wake was productive once again last season. This alien had 37 pressures, 17 quarterback hits, and 6 sacks last year.
Here’s the ordeal. The Titans have to have a better pass rush this season. And the majority of that rush depends on a 37 year old player, who has his knee scraped once a season, and is a bend the edge speed rusher. That speed doesn’t last forever. The engine gets clogged. I don’t think you can count on any 37 year old player to play 50 defensive snaps a game.
I could kind of get behind it if the Titans were signing Wake to be a bullpen arm that only rushes the passer, and plays 25 snaps on 2nd and 7 and 3rd and 9. I can’t get behind depending on an ancient veteran like this, who is filling an integral need on this defense.
5.) Nick Foles QB Jacksonville Jaguars 4-years $88 million ($50.125 million guaranteed)
The Jaguars should have won the 2017 AFC Championship. They didn’t. They went hyper conservative, refused to try and convert on third down, sat on the ball, and ensured Blake Bortles wouldn’t beat them. They lost because of it. By being so concerned with Bortles blowing the game, they blew it on their own anyways.
That 2017 offense made sense. It was a lot of crossing routes to quick YAC-YAC-YAC receivers out of spread shotgun sets. Easy open tosses against linebackers and fourth cornerbacks. When it wasn’t there, Bortles and his wild mane could gallop for it. This, plus a crushing power run game, and the occasional deep pass completion, were more than enough offense to win with an all-time great defense.
At the conclusion of last season, the Jaguars decided to extend Bortles instead of pay him the $22 million or so it takes to keep a quarterback on his fifth year option. The Jags had a quarterback who could exist in a perfect ecosystem. Last season invasive species came piling in. Marqise Lee didn’t play a snap. Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, and Jaydon Mickens weren’t good enough to fill in. Bortles lost all ability to throw downfield, and Donte Moncrief and D.J Chark didn’t help. The entire offensive line was injured, as was Leonard Fournette. Bortles had to carry the offense on his own, the defense regressed from all-time great to sixth in defensive DVOA, and the Jags went from 10-6 to 5-11.
Jacksonville had enough of it. They released Bortles, and decided they wanted to have a quarterback who could win games on his own. So they went off and paid a quarterback who has occasionally done this $50.125 million guaranteed. The Jags have placed Foles in their litter box for at least the next three seasons. I mean look at this thing. It’s absurd.
Foles will earn $22.125 million next season, $26.875 million in 2021, and will have a dead cap hit of $12.5 million in 2021. Unless they can work out some sort of [NAME REDACTED] type of trade, they’ll be stuck on him for the next three years.
Additionally, no one was paying for quarterbacks in this market. Ryan Tannehill, Joe Flacco, and Case Keenum were exchanged for late round picks. Teddy Bridgewater decided to stay in New Orleans. The Giants seem content with Eli Manning until the ice caps melt and turn those bridges into moats. Miami is tanking and signed Ryan Fitzpatrick as he continues his tour around the AFC East. The Jaguars were staring in the mirror and reading The Art Of The Deal to themselves while listening to it on audiobook.
The Jaguars have a quarterback for three years, they are paying top ten money to after this season, who has had seven good games the last two seasons. He struggled in last year’s postseason run against the Bears and Saints, but was absolutely on fire in 2017 against Minnesota and New England after following up a floater against Atlanta in the Divisional Round.
With Foles at quarterback things tend to get stagnant. He’s not as accurate as you need him to be. He’s not the composer of a productive offense that consistently churns our first downs. His best game is based mostly on the deep ball when he’s posting 9.0 yards an attempt. The pocket presence and strength is nice. Yet, he does make some super stupid throws, as seen in last season’s playoffs.
The Jaguars no longer have to worry about watching their offense devolve into sad boy wandering, aimless incompletions, and too many Bud Light fundamentals. When Foles is on he can win games on his own. When he’s off he’ll throw 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and complete 60% of his passes. These games happen more often than the spectacular, and these types of performances usually don’t win football games with a roster headlined by a $20 million quarterback.
Foles is moving to a less talented offense, behind a worse offensive line, and will be backing up a defense that had to purge three starters: Tashaun Gipson, Malik Jackson, and Jeremy Parnell to create enough room to sign him. The Jags outplayed themselves, to fill a need they created, and hurt the rest of their roster to make it happen.