Ranking the NFL’s Worst Early Free-Agency Moves

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Winning at NFL free agency isn’t always a good thing. 

    As the Washington Redskins displayed for years with gambles such as Albert Haynesworth and Antwaan Randle El, transactions making “winners” lists after they occur don’t always pan out in the team’s favor. Many times, a signing can send a franchise in the opposite direction. 

    NFL fans saw this in a few instances just one year ago. When the Arizona Cardinals threw down cash on Sam Bradford, it hurt the team’s ability to win and prevented further development of Josh Rosen. Washington landed Paul Richardson and Green Bay paid up for Jimmy Graham, yet neither made an impact in their debut seasons. 

    Thanks to unnecessarily big contracts, poor performances, iffy projections or simply nonsensical moves that might prevent a team from otherwise helping itself, these are the worst early free-agency moves. 

          

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Look, Frank Gore is awesome. No two doubts about it. And the Buffalo Bills aren’t breaking the bank by giving him a one-year deal worth $2 million, as reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter

    But why? 

    Gore will be 36 years old when the 2019 season kicks off. Age hasn’t affected Gore much of course, seeing as he averaged 4.6 yards per carry last season. But with 156 carries—his lowest since his rookie year—and just one touchdown (receiving), Gore didn’t add much to the Miami offense. 

    At face value, this just doesn’t seem necessary in Buffalo. The backfield already has a bruiser in the form of soon-to-be 31-year-old Chris Ivory. And it has a feature back in 31-year-old LeSean McCoy. 

    The real issue is that Gore’s signing might prohibit the Bills from giving carries to a rookie rusher. The team is stuck in a middling rebuild around Josh Allen, so grabbing a first-year player to grow alongside him would have made plenty of sense. 

    Gore is a mild complaint compared to some of these other signings, but it goes against what the Bills should be doing right now. 

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    With north of $100 million to build around Andrew Luck and make a Super Bowl push, the Indianapolis Colts splurged on…Devin Funchess?

    This isn’t the Tennessee Titans smartly adding Adam Humphries (four years, $36 million), a wideout whose performance and contributions have increased over his career. This is the Colts tossing around a maximum of $13 million, according to Pro Football Talk, on a one-year deal for a player who has only topped 44 catches in a season once in his four years in the league. 

    Funchess hasn’t matched expectations since he entered the league as a second-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft. His 2017 campaign showed promise, but he tallied 840 yards and eight touchdowns while catching just 63 of his 111 targets. He regressed in 2018, catching 44 passes for 549 yards and four scores. 

    The Colts had plenty of money to spend, and one could argue this is just how the front office likes to do business: throw a one-year, prove-it deal at a younger player and see if he can turn it into a long-term deal.

    But the Colts were better off packaging this lump sum elsewhere and using the draft to get high-upside weapons through the door. 

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    Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

    It took the Oakland Raiders all of nine minutes after the opening of the legal tampering window to pop up with one of the worst moves of free agency’s entirety. 

    In a vacuum, signing Trent Brown to a deal and letting him play left tackle isn’t a terrible idea. 

    But consider that the Raiders drafted offensive tackle Kolton Miller at No. 15 in last year’s draft and doubled down on the position with Brandon Parker at No. 65. Add in a four-year deal worth $66 million to Brown, according to Schefter, and that’s a ton of assets thrown at two positions in a short period of time. 

    And with Brown, there is a risk. He’s 25, but the former seventh-round pick made spotty appearances throughout his three years in San Francisco before a single breakout season in New England. Based on two top-65 picks flopping and Oakland’s willingness to make this gamble, the Raiders are now betting the coaching staff can keep Brown on the upswing and not hinder his progress. 

    That’s a tall ask. The Raiders have plenty of cap space but also boast three first-round picks, so a huge investment like this on a one-year star (after struggling to groom their own) could backfire immensely. 

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Mired in the league’s most dramatic rebuild, the Arizona Cardinals were bound to make a few questionable moves in the hopes of speeding things along. 

    Jordan Hicks falls into this category. 

    The 26-year-old linebacker and 2015 third-round pick will reel in $36 million over four years after signing with the Cardinals, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. That’s a lot of cash for a player who has only played in 43 of 64 games to start his career and who the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t seem particularly worried about losing.

    When Hicks is on the field, he’s one of the best cover linebackers in the game. But the “on the field” part is a problem, and it’s a lot of money to throw at the hope that this trend can revert. Unlike some of the other signings on the list, at least, Hicks’ upside means the deal could be worth it in the long run. 

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Raiders time again. 

    It isn’t a secret that bad teams sometimes have to overpay in an effort to lure big names to town. But paying Lamarcus Joyner $42 million over four years, according to Schefter, is as head-scratching as it gets. 

    Although he’s a versatile player, the 2014 second-round pick was mostly a non-factor while playing under the franchise tag for the Rams last year. That’s a red flag for a defensive back who had the luxury of playing behind a defensive line boasting Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and others. 

    The Raiders didn’t need to make this move, not while clutching three first-round picks and looking at a free-agent class that had Landon Collins, Earl Thomas, Adrian Amos, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Weddle and others. 

    Asking the 5’8″ Joyner to help cover big AFC West targets like Travis Kelce and Mike Williams while paying him so much money is the sort of move that could set the Raiders back.

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    A team bringing back its own wouldn’t normally slot into this kind of list, yet here are the Cincinnati Bengals, who gave Bobby Hart a three-year deal worth up to $21 million, according to Schefter

    There is a reason this is one of the most widely panned moves of free agency so far. Even if the contract is mostly incentive-laden, the Bengals just re-signed an offensive tackle who allowed 10 sacks last year and had 11 penalties, according to Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus

    The bigger context matters, too. Hart is only 24 years old, but the former seventh-round pick fizzled out with the New York Giants before signing with the Bengals last offseason. That was on a meager one-year deal in which he struggled mightily as the starter at right tackle, so the Bengals…rewarded him with a big-money extension over three years? 

    Cincinnati seemed to bid against itself on this one, which is a sour sight considering the team entered free agency with a top-11 pick and top-10 cap space while proven veterans on the market like Ty Nsekhe are going for two years at a reported $14.5 million. 

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Nobody would dispute the fact that Le’Veon Bell will help the New York Jets bring along Sam Darnold, but value has to be part of the conversation when talking about free agents. 

    The Jets dished out a four-year contract for Bell reportedly worth up to $61 million, according to Schefter, with $35 million guaranteed. As Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio pointed out, it seemed the Jets were bidding against themselves the entire time. They ended up giving him a deadline to commit. 

    Abundance of cap space aside, throwing this much money at a 27-year-old running back who just spent an entire year out of football has the potential to backfire. It doesn’t help that the free-agent pool also boasted versatile weapons like Tevin Coleman, who is only 25 years old and would have cost less. 

    No matter what happens with Bell, the Jets have tied an immense amount of guaranteed money to a questionable position with a player other teams weren’t pursuing in the first place. 

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers aren’t afraid to throw around some big, risky numbers, either. 

    They did so early, reportedly throwing former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander a four-year, $54 million deal, according to Rapoport, which also includes $27 million in guarantees, per Schefter.

    From a talent standpoint, Alexander is worth the money. He’s only 24 years old and a solid option at inside linebacker. But he was arguably not even the best linebacker on the market and is coming off a torn ACL. 

    Alexander’s availability is a big part of the problem here. He only played in six games last year and has missed four games apiece in two of his other four seasons in the league. 

    It would appear the 49ers had to dramatically overcompensate for the Reuben Foster situation after they cut him. Alexander isn’t a perfect fix, nor is he a surefire one. 

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The aforementioned Redskins looked like one of the most cash-strapped teams in the NFL entering free agency. 

    Naturally, they became one of the market’s biggest spenders right away. 

    According to MMQB’s Albert Breer, Landon Collins will make $32 million over his first two seasons with the Redskins on a deal that pays $84 million over six years. 

    Sure, Collins is only 25 years old and has 100-plus total tackles in three of four seasons, the exception coming last year when he missed four games. But tackles are his most prominent stat, and that might be a problem.

    Collins is more of an in-the-box thumper, if not a hybrid linebacker in certain packages. The Redskins are doling out $84 million to a possible box safety at a time when the league is moving toward more range and coverage ability. 

    This isn’t saying Collins can’t do it all or he won’t be successful. But the Redskins are paying out this massive contract despite moving on from D.J. Swearinger last year and spending assets on a Ha Ha Clinton-Dix trade, all the while suffering from the Alex Smith cap hit and having no long-term solution at quarterback, the most important position of all. 

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Quarterback thirst and an ever-inflating market can create devastating traps for teams. 

    And the Jacksonville Jaguars may have just fallen into a big one with Nick Foles

    Foles, who escaped his weird player-team option with the Philadelphia Eagles, gets four years and a potential max value of $102 million from the Jaguars, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL NetworkSchefter reported there is a whopping $50.125 million in guaranteed money there. 

    It’s an incredible amount of money for a quarterback who hasn’t shown he can consistently win outside of the postseason. That’s a weird thing to type, but besides his postseason heroics, Foles is hardly a 60 percent passer on his career and, while bouncing around with three different teams, has appeared in more than 10 games just twice dating back to 2012. 

    The Jaguars are hoping offensive coordinator John DeFilippo can get the most out of Foles again while a good defense and running game at least gets him to the playoffs. But this is more likely to result in a bust, with Foles (deservedly) cashing in on a pair of strong postseason performances while setting the Jaguars back at quarterback even longer. 

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