For the past decade or so, Roger Goodell and the rest of the NFL brass have made the sport a year-round spectacle. Between the preseason, regular season, playoffs, Super Bowl, draft and free agency, hardly a week goes by when their isn’t pertinent NFL news for the fans to consume. Free agency is one of the most notable of these, as it provides the potential for a boost of talent to a team who is willing to pay. Between the dozens of big free agent signings, there are inevitably both hits and misses.
This year’s free agent period was no exception. Some high-profile names found new locations for themselves, with teams shelling out near-record numbers of cash (in some cases) to acquire them. Some teams drastically overpaid for the talent level they received, and some added vital pieces to their roster for the 2016 season. With the offseason acquisition period mainly over, and training camp over a month away, it’s time to evaluate. Which teams made out like bandits, and which ones overpaid for inevitable disappointments?
Only players actually joining a new team were included on this list. Players who re-signed with their original team or were tagged are not included. Ranked below are eight smart free agent acquisitions from the 2016 offseason, and seven that are destined for failure.
15. Travis Benjamin, Chargers – SMART
Benjamin will be headed to San Diego on a four-year deal this year, giving Philip Rivers another reliable pass catcher, and hoping to expand upon a borderline breakout season last year, where he was just 34 receiving yards shy of 1,000. Benajmin had spent the past four seasons with the Browns, but was under-utilized in three of them, until he saw his targets drastically nearly triple in number last year. As a result, his receiving yards did as well, and now he has a great chance to take the next step into becoming an elite NFL receiver with the Chargers. Philip Rivers throwing him the ball is certainly preferable to the carousel of mediocrity at the QB position in Cleveland. On top of that, the Chargers have a pass-heavy offense. So while he’ll have to split targets with Keenan Allen and Stevie Johnson, Benjamin will be able to continue his growth into the ranks of the top-tier receivers in the league.
14. Eric Weddle, Ravens – FAIL
There was a lot of talk during the free agency period about Weddle being one of the go-to secondary players that could elevate a defense. While that may have been true in his prime, the 4-year deal that the Ravens gave Weddle just doesn’t make much sense for a 31-year-old S whose best years are likely behind him. Last season was Weddle’s first where he didn’t record a single INT, when at his best, he picked off seven passes in 2011. Without an elite corner in Baltimore’s secondary to pick up some of the slack, expect the aging Weddle to struggle next season, and get progressively worse in the next few years. Yes, he’s a smart, physical player who has seen great success, but it will be hard to maintain the same productivity as he approaches his mid-30’s. Now playing in a division with the high-powered Steelers and Bengals offenses also won’t make it any easier for Weddle.
13. Marvin Jones, Lions – SMART
One of the most underrated signings of the offseason, Jones is a perfect fit for the Lions passing offense. He’ll help fill the void left in the receiving corps by the recently retired, future Hall Of Famer Calvin Johnson. Jones is fast enough to stretch the defense out, and combined with the skill set of fellow receiver Golden Tate, there should be plenty of space for Theo Riddick to work underneath routes out of the backfield. On top of that, Jones has proved he’s a TD threat, grabbing 10 of them in 2013 season while with the Bengals. Last year, he had a career high 816 yards receiving, when having to compete for targets with the likes of A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert. All signs indicate that Jones will excel in the Lions offense, giving Matt Stafford another reliable option week in, and week out.
12. Malik Jackson, Jaguars – FAIL
The Jags made a lot of big-time acquisitions this offseason, and while Jackson has certainly proved himself to be a good DT, there are some red flags with this signing. First off, a six-year, 90$ million deal is a hefty price tag for a player that makes his biggest impact as a run-stuffer. Jackson has the ability to get to the QB, but in a limited capacity. His career high for sacks was a total of six, back in 2013 with the Broncos. Then there’s the fact that last season was the only one of his four-year career, where Jackson started all 16 games. He played in all 16 the two seasons prior, but only actually started five games or less in each. Finally, he had a better supporting cast in Denver, which last season proved itself to be one of the best defenses of all-time. The Jags certainly have some pieces in place now, but Jackson predicts to struggle a bit as a feature element, rather than a compliment to a superstar like Von Miller.
11. Olivier Vernon, Giants – SMART
The Giants went on a huge spending spree during free agency, and they think they hit gold with edge rusher Olivier Vernon from the Dolphins. This predicts to be a good signing. The Giants have built up a pretty effective defensive line for themselves, with Jonathan Hankins, veteran Jason Pierre-Paul, and fellow free agent DT, Damon “Snacks” Harrison. Vernon should have no problems fitting in with that personnel group. Skeptics would say that in Miami he had the benefit of playing next to Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh on the interior, but he has a similar situation here. Vernon has had 26.5 sacks the past three seasons, and as he heads into the prime of his career, those numbers will likely increase in New York. The Giants gave him a massive contract–5-years, $85 million–but if the addition of Vernon makes their defensive line good enough to carry their otherwise questionable defense as a whole, it will be worth it.
10. Mohamed Sanu, Falcons – FAIL
The WR market was extremely thin this offseason, and it shows when a player like Sanu gets a 5-year, 32$ million deal to essentially replace the aging Roddy White in Atlanta. Sanu isn’t bad, but that’s a hefty price tag for a guy who’s never hit 800 yards receiving in a season, despite being healthy for the last three. Admittedly, the Bengals have a loaded offense, with weapons like A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones, but Sanu didn’t catch a single TD pass last season. He’ll be facing a somewhat similar situation in Atlanta, playing alongside elite receiver Julio Jones, and supplemental weapons like Devontae Freeman. Matt Ryan may get the slight edge over Dalton as QB, but there’s no real reason, regarding the personnel of each team, why Sanu would produce more with the Falcons than the Bengals. Time will tell, but this one looks like an obvious overpay.
9. Danny Trevathan, Bears – SMART
One of the most underrated signings of the offseason, Trevathan will provide Bears coach John Fox with a pure open-field tackler who has a high football IQ. Trevathan was an often overlooked piece in the Broncos Super Bowl-winning defense last year, and he only expects to get better as he enter his prime years at the age of 26. He’ll join Pernell McPhee on what is a quietly, but effectively, developing Chicago linebacking corps. Trevathan also has a nose for the ball in the air; as he’s picked off five passes in his last two completely healthy seasons in 2015 and 2013. In those two seasons he’s racked up nearly 240 total tackles, and predicts to bring a much-needed mean streak back into Chicago’s defense. At 4-years, $28 million, this acquisition will be well worth it.
8. Janoris Jenkins, Giants – FAIL
For as much as the Giants scored on the Olivier Vernon signing, they whiffed mightily on this one. While it is true that departing CB Prince Amukamura left a void in their secondary, signing a player like Jenkins for $62 million over five years is a clear overpay. Jenkins may be able to pick off passes (an impressive 10 in four seasons), but he has a risk taking, route-jumping mentality that requires quality S play to supplement the possibility for giving up big plays. With an inexperienced and developing corps at S, the Giants don’t have this and Jenkins will likely get beat from his reckless play, more often than he creates turnovers. New York is paying him “shut down” money, and given he had such a strong supporting cast with the Rams, it remains to be seen if Jenkins can live up to that description. As of now, a bust is probably more likely.
7. Rodney McLeod, Eagles – SMART
On the other hand, the Eagles were able to land a piece of the Rams’ secondary that will pay immediate dividends. McLeod joins incumbent Pro Bowl S Malcolm Jenkins, in what could possible make up the best duo at the position in the NFL. McLeod is a high-motor player who can lay a big hit, and have a nose for the ball in the air. His ability to be effective in run support, or pass coverage, will allow new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to move him all over the field. He racked up three INTs and over 150 tackles the past two seasons, and enters Philadelphia as he starts the prime of his career. With the offense currently in a questionable state, the Eagles are loading up on heavy hitters for the defensive side of the ball to stay in contention, and McLeod predicts to be a big piece to the puzzle. Look for him and Jenkins to supplement an otherwise questionable Philly secondary.
6. Matt Forte, Jets – FAIL
At the age of 30, Forte looks to be on the downturn of his career. He essentially looks to replace Chris Ivory for the Jets, but with an average of 4.1 YPC last season, and 3.9 the year before that, it’s unlikely that he gets the lion’s share of the carries this season. He was always a dual threat, having established himself as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, and to some degree he still is. He probably has enough in the tank to still be of use, but only within a limited two year window or so. The only consolation for the Jets was the cheap price tag; a 3-year, $12 million deal. Still, they’re likely to force feed Forte the ball, just on his namesake alone, which generally doesn’t work out (see: Demarco Murray last season). All in all, there’s a slight chance that Forte regains productive form, but more likely he will underachieve, with Chris Ivory’s void still present in the backfield.
5. Lamar Miller, Texans – SMART
Miller replaces the recently released, injury prone Arian Foster in the Texans backfield, and is primed for a breakout season. After four years in Miami, it will assist him to go to an organization with a devoted fanbase that isn’t always in a state of flux with their coaching staff, contract negotiations, and all the distractions that come with it. Admittedly, that may be placing to much emphasis on the intangibles of the situation, but for Miller, who has 16 TDs to his name in the past two seasons, it will be of prime importance. He’s a physical RB who can provide the muscle on a Texans offense that already has a quality array of receivers, and take some pressure off of Brock Osweiler as he transitions into a full-time starter. It’s a good fit for him, and a place where he can make a push to becoming an elite RB in the NFL.
4. Josh Norman, Redskins – FAIL
The Redskins made the final power-play of free agency when they inked Norman to a five-year, $75 million deal. It’s a massive contract, and a risky one all the same. The 28-year-old CB has only really had two good seasons in the NFL, and last year was far and away his best. He totaled four INTs during the last campaign, but prior to that he had never racked up more than two. While the Redskins do have a solid corps of LBs, they aren’t at the level of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis (then again, no pair of LBs are), which made the entire defense better in Carolina last season. Norman will also have to face elite receivers within the division Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr. a combined four times per season while playing in the NFC East. He’ll be expected to cover them at that price tag, and that’s a tall order with a limited secondary playing alongside him. This may not be a total bust, but it’s unlikely Norman lives up to his contract.
3. Bruce Irvin, Raiders – SMART
It was overlooked by some, but Irvin is a huge addition to the Raiders’ defense. With burgeoning superstar LB Khalil Mack having a breakout, 15 sack season last year, Irvin will supplement Oakland’s LB corps with a “do it all” philosophy. He’s a good tackler in the open field, can pick off the occasional pass (three career INTs), and can assist Mack in rushing the passer (22 career sacks) if need be. The only possible red flag is the fact that he’s never been completely healthy for a 16 game season, but with that aside, there’s little that could go wrong here. He’ll be a key addition to the Raiders’ defense, which is also adding CB Sean Smith in hopes of keeping the game alive for their talented offense. Additions like Irvin could prove that to be the case, and the football world could be looking a Raiders team that is ready to contend sooner rather than later.
2. Tashaun Gipson, Jaguars – SMART
As mentioned, the Jags spent big this offseason, and their best pickup was Gipson. They rewarded him with a five-year $35 million deal to bolster the back end of the secondary, and that is a likely scenario. Gipson was understandably overlooked while playing on the Browns, but in four seasons he racked up 240 tackles and 14 INTs. While he had little talent in Cleveland alongside him other than Joe Haden, Gipson is now joining a Jaguars secondary that also signed dependable CB Prince Amukamura from the Giants, and selected blue chip CB/S prospect Jalen Ramsey from Florida State in the draft. In short, there’s going to be dependable talent around Gipson, and there’s no reason he won’t be able to flourish in this secondary unit. It won’t be long before he’s widely considered an elite S in the league.
1. Brock Osweiler, Texans – FAIL
If any proof was ever needed that the QB is the most important position on an NFL field, look no further than Osweiler, a QB who has never started more than eight games in any of his four seasons, signing a four-year, $72 million deal with the Texans. That’s consistent starter-esque money, and it remains to be seen if Osweiler can be one. Granted, he was playing behind a Hall of Fame player in Peyton Manning while in Denver. The Texans’ plan is pretty clear; they’ve bolstered up on skill players like RB Lamar Miller and added WRs Will Fuller and Braxton Miller in the draft to a corps that already includes elite talent DeAndre Hopkins, Jaelen Strong and Cecil Shorts. Basically, they’re giving Osweiler an array of weapons to cover up any possible limitations he may exhibit. That’s smart, but giving big-time money to what may end up being a marginal talent, isn’t. The Texans will be in contention because of the aforementioned, as well as a strong, J.J. Watt-led defense, but giving Osweiler the reigns at QB may not solve their problem at the position.
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