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2020 NFL Free Agency: The Five Worst Free Agent Signings

The worst of the worst of this offseason.

Miami Dolphins v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Yesterday this very serious football website published a very serious football article on the five best free agent signings from the 2020 NFL offseason. Today is the opposite. Think of yesterday as the joyous and life-sustaining high noon sun. Today as the moon, up there in the purple sky, that dirty corrosive liar whose existence is dubious, relishing its time distorting the night with all its cold white light and dimming the stars while the sun is under the horizon, fighting off great chthonic leviathans.

Break out the gold spray paint. It’s time to take a look at the empty big money signings NFL teams foolishly made this offseason.

1. Joe Schobert, Jacksonville Jaguars (5 years, $53.75 million with $21.5 million guaranteed)

Football is a confusing, complicated, and silly game. Rarely are there instances where two players battle it out in a vacuum. Nearly every play is affected by the other 20 players on the field. Until player tracking data can be entered in a supercomputer and the computer spits out expected points added, or yards added, or player grades, no matter what numbers are available, data will produce a limited picture. The pictures provide a framework, a baseline, and they have to be tossed in the mixer with the video to decipher what the hell is going on.

The Jaguars claim to be one of the most analytic heavy teams in the league, and this assumption mainly comes from whatever (the owner’s son) Tony Khan says and does. Jacksonville claims to be on the forefront of new NFL ideals. They want to win on the margins, but for every Doug Marrone fourth down attempt, there’s a plethora of hilarious decisions. Every bad decision a franchise can make, the Jaguars have made. From drafting a running back fourth overall, to overpaying a backup quarterback, to allowing a cranky old man to make everyone hate playing football in Florida, the Jaguars have done it.

For every intelligent decision, like signing Calais Campbell, there’s an inverse to it, like trying to make Myles Jack play middle linebacker. The latest example of that yin and yang? Dumping Nick Foles for a fourth round pick (smart) while signing Schobert to a contract worth $10.75 million a season (very dumb).

Last season the Jaguars dropped from 7th in run defense DVOA (-14.3%) and 14th in yards allowed per attempt allowed (4.3) to 31st (9.7%) and 31st (5.1). The main reason for this was their linebacker play. After Telvin Smith unexpectedly took the season off and ended up in handcuffs (playing for Tom Coughlin can’t be that bad), the Jaguars tried to slide Jack into Smith’s role and then utilized a wide variety of undrafted free agents or young, unprepared linebackers to play around him. Donald Payne, Quincy Williams, Leon Jacobs, Austin Calitro, and Najee Goode all started next to Jack. The results were disastrous. A sure sign of a poor run defense is when your safeties lead the team in tackles.

Jack couldn’t play MIKE in their base defense or SAM in Jacksonville’s nickel defense. He was constantly lost in run fits, overextending himself inside and lacking the strength to deal with offensive linemen. Whoever played opposite of him was just as lost. The Jaguars finished 29th and 31st in second level and open field adjusted line yards. Their defensive line could only do so much.

Whenever I think of the Jaguars’ run defense in 2019, I think of this play. Darren Fells is the flex wing tight end, signaling zone read. In an attempt to stop Houston’s tight end zone read, the Jags scrape exchange the weak side of the defense. Campbell (#93) slants to the ‘B’ gap and Goode (#52) replaces him to fit the edge. The idea is for Campbell to force Deshaun Watson to keep the ball and run right into Goode in the process. Instead, Goode gets flummoxed by the ghost motion, gets yanked wide, and then takes a flat angle back to the running back, sucking him up into his own cut defender. Jack can’t deal with Roderick Johnson at the second level. The cutback lane is the infinite and dry Mojave River for Carlos Hyde to run through.

Jacksonville needed to sign a linebacker to move Jack back to his old role. Despite being up against the cap, the Jaguars ended up making Schobert one of the league’s highest paid linebackers. Schobert is known for his ability to do a little bit of everything. He makes plays in the passing game, but it really isn’t that hard to play Cleveland’s hook zone, and Jacksonville already had someone with this skill set in Jack. The Jags needed someone who can control the run game on early downs. Schobert has missed 64 tackles the last three seasons and was once again one of the worst tacklers in the league last season.

The Jaguars had one of the worst run defenses in the league last season. They spent their free agency budget on one player this offseason, Joe Schobert, to correct their second level problems. In spite of this, the Jaguars should once again have one of the league’s worst run defenses in 2020.

2. Ereck Flowers, Miami Dolphins (3 years, $30 million with $19.5 million guaranteed)

Flowers was much better last season as a guard in Washington than he was a tackle in New York. Good for him. You want to see every player have success. Flowers, a former first round pick and constantly mocked online for his pass sets, is some chicken soup for the offensive lineman’s soul.

The Dolphins desperately needed to improve the interior of their offensive line. They had one of the worst interior run blocking lines in the league. Their running backs averaged 2.96 yards a carry. They finished last in stuffed rate, second level adjusted line yards, and open field adjusted line yards. Kalen Ballage led the team in carries with 74. He turned this into 135 yards, which is 1.8 yards a carry.

The Dolphins made Flowers one of the highest paid guards in the game just for being serviceable. Now, there’s something to be said for serviceable play. But serviceable can be found for half this contract. Serviceable doesn’t need to cost $10 million a season. I’m sure Flowers will be just fine in Miami, but they could have found a similar player for half the amount they spent.

It just goes to show that when a player has first round pedigree, he can keep his career running successfully because of prior draft status alone.

3. Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Detroit Lions (5 years, $45 million with $20 million guaranteed)

The Eagles have been spoiled rotten with metallic teeth and a tablet always in their face at the tackle position the last few years. Vaitai has been good enough to start for most NFL teams and was entrenched as Philadelphia’s swing tackle during his rookie contract years. The Eagles had him backing up Lane Johnson and Jason Peters over the years, and then they drafted Andre Dillard as their Peters replacement. Vaitai excelled in his role. He was the Eagles’ starting left tackle during their Super Bowl run.

But since that run, Vaitai had been mediocre when he picked up spot starts. Mediocre play from a swing tackle is extraordinary. Some teams can’t even get that out of their starting tackles.

Vaitai has proven over the years he should be a starter in this league, and whenever he received the chance, he provided competent play at the position. The Lions were the team to give him this opportunity, but by doing so, they nearly made him one of the five highest paid right tackles in the game.

It’s always nice when things are clean and square. This is the best part of the Vaitai signing. The Lions signed Vaitai to replace Rick Wagner, who was regarded as one of the best tackles in the league at the time of his signing. Wagner made it three years into his five year contract before he was released to go play right tackle in Green Bay and replace Bryan Bulaga. The Lions gave out a nearly identical contract for mediocrity. I’m sure this deal will be short lived as well.

4. George Fant, New York Jets (3 years, $30 million with $13.7 million guaranteed)

The Jets are never going to learn one of the resounding and astounding truths in the NFL: Don’t pay former Seattle Seahawks offensive linemen. Nearly every time a former Seahawk goes from run crunching and momentarily pass blocking for Russell Wilson to playing somewhere new, they fail to make the same dents in the run game and end up with their hands on their hips in dismay after every sack allowed.

The Jets have done this before and it didn’t work. They paid James Carpenter $19 million for four years. They paid Breno Giacomini $18 million for four years. Neither one was any good, though Giacomini lasted three seasons before getting snipped to clear cap space and went on to torment your Houston Texans for a season. The Falcons piled on the Jets’ error and signed Carpenter to start at left guard for them. He didn’t last an entire season after suffering a concussion.

Fant played admirably at left tackle when Duane Brown was dinged up last season, but he’s still a former swing tackle who started less than half of Seattle’s games over the last three seasons. The Jets currently have him penciled in at right tackle on an offensive line that will be completely new this season. There are already rumors they have been in discussions with Jason Peters, which would put Fant on the bench, as Peters would start at left tackle and rookie first round selection Mekhi Becton starts at right.

New York’s offensive line was a mesh bikini in 2019. They finished 31st in adjusted line yards, 30th in adjusted sack rate, last in pressure rate—even though Sam Darnold only had a 7% sack rate and was a little bit below average—and 31st in adjusted line yards. I admire the Jets for throwing all of their resources at this project, but throwing this much at Fant is too rich for a power run blocking swing tackle.

5. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2 years, $50 million with all $50 million guaranteed)

This is personal pathos. Look, I’m sure Brady is going to be perfectly fine in Tampa Bay. The offensive line is capable enough. He won’t throw 30 interceptions. Bruce Arians has spent a significant part of his life winning football games with an older quarterback. The defense is young, blitz heavy, and should improve after a weird run defense dominating season last year. But that doesn’t mean I don’t hate everything about Brady turning Florida into Tompa Bay.

Last season the Bucs were vertical and beautiful. Mike Evans. Chris Godwin. These two, combined with Breshad Perriman, worked the field vertically and caught eyes squinted, go-up-and-get-it heaves. Jameis Winston averaged 10.7 intended air yards per throw, second only to Matthew Stafford. Winston averaged +1.4 yards past the first down marker, second again only to Stafford. He threw for 5,109 yards and averaged 8.2 yards an attempt. He did all this while staying strong in the pocket, dancing in the rubble, and keeping his eyes down field.

Yes, Jameis threw 30 interceptions. Hahahaha. So funny! You’re hilarious! But in a league dominated by quick passing and stale ball control offenses, the vertical absurdity in Tampa Bay made the Bucs one of the most fun football teams to watch in 2019.

The Bucs are going to be better with Brady. I understand that. But they aren’t going to be as enjoyable of an aesthetic experience. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. Winston throwing 33 touchdowns, 30 interceptions, and taking 47 sacks (over 626 dropbacks) is a hell of a lot better than watching pocket climbs and short field passing attempts. It’s going to be riveting watching Brady hit checkdowns on his way to an early playoff exit instead of playing the angel’s harp and pushing the ball down the sideline.

Plus, there isn’t a locale more grotesque than Tampa for Brady to end his career at. There isn’t a greater definition of meretricious than this. It’s grosser than Brett Favre in Minnesota, because at least there was some vitriol to that. It’s not anything like Peyton Manning in Denver after a mutual parting of ways. It’s tasteless. It’s gelid and fetid.

Entropy has gone too far. Brady playing red cheeked, soggy haired, swampy Florida football while dressed like a gothic vape shop merchant makes me certain they should restart and redraft the league to bring some semblance of order to the chaos in an attempt to wrangle this thing in a bit. Los Angeles. Indianapolis. Anywhere would have been better than quick passing in Tampa after Brady’s divorce from Bill Belichick. The limitless extremes of chaos have stretched the universe too far. With Brady in Tampa, all we can do now is hope the universe shrinks back to its stable beginnings.

Honorable mention awful free agent signings:

  • Randall Cobb, Houston Texans (3 years, $27 million)
  • Eric Murray, Houston Texans (3 years, $20.5 million)
  • Jamie Collins, Detroit Lions (3 years, $30 million)
  • Blake Martinez, New York Giants (3 years, $30 million)
  • Chase Daniel, Detroit Lions (3 years, $13.1 million)