This was one of the most exciting NFL offseasons in recent memory, thanks in large part to what shaped up to be one excellent free agent class - loaded with mega talent all over. 2018 free agency was highlighted by proven No. 1 starting quarterbacks, including Kirk Cousins (who signed a three-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings), Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, among others. We also saw the running back and cornerback markets heat up, though some of these players absolutely got overpaid.
With the season less than two months away from kicking off, we can now only project just how these free agent signings will pan out. The majority of superstars who sign big contracts with new teams wind up declining in production, and they don't tend to fulfill the entire contract. That's just how business is in today's NFL. Teams take chances by throwing out money on players, then they'll release him if he doesn't produce enough.
Now, some teams played free agency smart and found just a few pieces to fix their weaknesses. For example, the Chicago Bears made the smart choice to throw money at wide receiver Allen Robinson, who now gives QB Mitch Trubisky a star to work with. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick wisely let some of his players chase big money elsewhere, knowing he can replace them with a bunch of practice squad players.
But some teams spent way too much money on a player that won't bring much of anything to the table. Here are 10 free agent signings that will flop, and the 10 players who should replace them.
20 Won't Succeed: Avery Williamson - New York Jets
Desperate to find a new leader on their miserable defense, the New York Jets gave Avery Williamson a lucrative three-year deal worth $22.5 million. Now, he generated a solid 85.5 grade from Pro Football Focus in 2017, but Williamson's talents may not mesh so well in New York's defensive schemes.
The Jets love to play man-to-man coverage and rely a lot on cornerbacks, hence why they shelled out big money to Trumaine Johnson and opted to re-sign Morris Claiborne.
Williamson was playing in a completely different system under the legendary Dick LeBeau with the Tennessee Titans.
Williamson was a very good player in Tennessee, but the Jets overpaid a guy who will struggle to fit into their defensive system. There's another linebacker on the market they should be looking at instead.
19 Replacement: NaVorro Bowman
Many people seem to forget about NaVorro Bowman - who was once among the NFL's elite linebackers. He tore his ACL in the 2013 NFC Championship game and missed the entire 2014 season, and has often been forgotten in the discussion of great NFL linebackers. Let's remember he was a 2015 Pro Bowler and racked up 80 solo tackles in 2017 - split with the 49ers and Oakland Raiders.
Bowman has good speed and has always excelled in coverage. He's an ideal fit for New York's defense and would complement the cornerbacks nicely. Head coach Todd Bowles could use Bowman not only for his play on the field, but for the leadership skills too. The Jets should prepare to move on from Williamson if he doesn't succeed, and they should consider giving Bowman a one-year deal.
18 Won't Succeed: Eric Ebron - Indianapolis Colts
The Detroit Lions drafted tight end Eric Ebron with the 10th pick in 2014, believing he could take some of the workload off the legendary Calvin Johnson. But Ebron was never able to get on the same page with Matthew Stafford. He totalled just 2,070 yards on 186 catches and only 11 touchdowns in his four years with the Lions.
Detroit released him after the 2017 season, and the Indianapolis Colts signed Ebron to a two-year, $15 million deal. The problem is, Andrew Luck has only started to begin throwing a football, and it could take a long time to generate some, if any, chemistry with Ebron. The Colts could have played it safe, and they should have signed a familiar friend to come back to Indianapolis.
17 Replacement: Coby Fleener
The Colts drafted Fleener with the 34th pick in 2012, hoping he and fellow tight end Dwayne Allen could provide Andrew Luck two lethal weapons. Though neither of them turned into Pro Bowlers, Fleener and Allen became good second/third options for Luck - especially in the red zone.
In 2014, Fleener caught 51 passes for 774 yards and eight touchdowns, but saw his production decline in 2015 with Luck injured for half the year.
Fleener then signed a five-year, $36 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. Problem was, Fleener didn't form any chemistry with Drew Brees, and he was released after two years. Fleener and Luck were on the same page and meshed together nicely in their four years together. If Ebron disappoints, the Colts should look at bringing back Fleener.
16 Won't Succeed: Jordy Nelson - Oakland Raiders
Jordy Nelson was Aaron Rodgers' favorite wide receiver over the last five years, but a down 2017 season meant it was time for the Green Bay Packers to release him. Nelson didn't need long to find work, as the Oakland Raiders signed him to a two-year contract worth $15 million.
But the Raiders seemed to have forgotten this is a 33-year-old who's slowed down, isn't the superb route-runner anymore and is well past his playing prime. It's like the Raiders just thought of Nelson's household name more than the player he is at this stage of his career. For those who think Nelson will shine with Derek Carr, think again. There are younger and more productive wideouts that Oakland should have looked at.
15 Replace: Jeremy Maclin
Jeremy Maclin may not be the reliable 1,000-yard receiver anymore, but he certainly would have been a better addition for the Raiders than Nelson. He's three years younger, still displays tremendous speed and would fit in better for Derek Carr - who needs more than Amari Cooper as a pass-catcher.
Maclin was a major flop in his final year with the Kansas City Chiefs, and he couldn't do anything with Joe Flacco in Baltimore. But Maclin would excel under Jon Gruden.
If Nelson looks slow and worn out during training camp and pre-season, the Raiders should quickly move to sign Maclin - before he eventually finds another job.
14 Won't Succeed: Morgan Burnett - Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers secondary was badly exposed when Ryan Shazier went down with a scary spinal injury. Safety was a weakness - and though they wound up selecting two in this year's draft - the team had also signed Green Bay Packers veteran Morgan to a three-year deal worth $14.35 million.
The problem is, Burnett isn't the player Pittsburgh thinks they're getting. PFF only gave him a 77.2 grade for the season, which ranks as "average" on their scale. The Steelers need a veteran standout in their secondary, sure. But there's one guy on the market who promises to bring more to the table than Burnett.
13 Replacement: Kenny Vaccaro
Drafted 15th overall by the New Orleans Saints in 2013, Kenny Vaccaro quickly became one of the NFL's top cover safeties. He had one interception and eight passes defended in his rookie year, but then changes on the team's defense and injuries led to some down years in New Orleans.
The Saints opted not to re-sign Vaccaro for 2018, and he remains one of the top free agents on the market. He's still young, fast and could excel as a cover safety in the right system. Vaccaro would surely be a better fit for the Steelers than Burnett, and head coach Mike Tomlin should try to recruit him before somebody signs the former Saints standout.
12 Won't Succeed: Trey Burton - Chicago Bears
Trey Burton became a hero in Philadelphia thanks to his touchdown pass to Nick Foles in Super Bowl 52. Dubbed the 'Philly Special', Burton's place in NFL lore is cemented, even though he probably won't ever be a true superstar.
Burton only has 63 career receptions for 629 yards and seven touchdowns, but the Chicago Bears gave him a massive four-year, $32 million contract.
They have Allen Robinson, Jordan Howard and Kevin White as options for Mitchell Trubisky. So why in the world would they throw so much money at Burton? There's no way Burton comes close to earning that contract.
11 Replacement: Antonio Gates
Antonio Gates is easily a top-five all-time tight end. The eight-time Pro Bowler has 927 career receptions for 11,508 yards and 114 touchdowns - which is most among all tight ends in history. Gates has slowed down in production (he's 38 now), and the Los Angeles Chargers have seemingly bid farewell to him. This is where the Bears should recruit the future Hall of Famer and offer Gates a contract.
He can still make plays in the red zone, and Gates is an excellent locker room leader. He'd be a fine help for Trubisky, who's under pressure to develop and mature much more in 2018. Gates can probably be had for a one-year deal, so what is Chicago waiting for?
10 Won't Succeed: A.J. McCarron - Buffalo Bills
After spending four years as Andy Dalton's backup for the Cincinnati Bengals, AJ McCarron finally found his chance to start. The three-time national champion at Alabama signed a two-year deal worth $10 million with the Buffalo Bills, and he'll get the first dibs at becoming the No. 1 quarterback. But it's tough to see how McCarron will shine on this Buffalo team. For one, they rely heavily on a ground game that's led by perennial 1,000-yard rusher, LeSean McCoy. McCarron also won't have a lot of wide receiving help to work with him, alongside Kelvin Benjamin.
We haven't seen enough of McCarron to have an idea of how he'll perform in Buffalo. But my money is on him struggling to learn the playbook. Buffalo fans will demand he be replaced. And fortunately, they will have somebody to take over.
9 Replacement: Josh Allen
Even if McCarron were to round into a true starter, don't think the Bills view him as their long-term starter. This team traded up so they could select Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen with the seventh pick. Many thought Allen would go in the top-three of this year's draft, but he surprisingly moved out of the top five.
Allen has all the resources to be an elite quarterback - or at least five times better than any Bills signal-caller since Jim Kelly retired two decades ago.
The Bills will waste no time rolling with Allen as their quarterback. He's got a higher ceiling and is more NFL-ready than most QB prospects in recent years. Bank on him taking over at some point in 2018.
8 Won't Succeed: Prince Amukamara - Chicago Bears
Drafted with the 19th pick by the New York Giants in 2011, Prince Amukamara grew into a solid cornerback and helped the team win Super Bowl XLVI in his rookie year.
However, Amukamara has seen his production decline in recent years - and the Chicago Bears had no problem giving him a three-year, $27 million extension this offseason.
That's a lot of money for a guy who generated a mere 81.2 grade from Pro Football Focus last offseason. Amukamara is not a bad corner, but the Bears simply could have used that money on a better player. One specific cornerback comes to mind.
7 Replacement: Bashaud Breeland
Following a breakout season with the Washington Redskins in 2017, cornerback Bashaud Breeland sought to get paid. The Carolina Panthers stepped up and rewarded him with a three-year contract worth $24 million. However, a foot infection caused Breeland to fail the physical, and he became a free agent.
Breeland remains unsigned, and he'll likely have to accept a one-year deal with the opportunity to reset his market for next year. The Bears should think about bringing Breeland aboard, and have him climb atop the cornerback depth chart over Amukamara. And if he does that, Amukamara can easily be moved away in a trade for another team that needs help at corner.
6 Won't Succeed: Jerick McKinnon - San Francisco 49ers
With quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo becoming a very rich $137.5 million man, the San Francisco 49ers sought to provide him with some playmakers. This included former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon, who landed a four-year deal worth $30 million.
For a guy who's only good for 500-600 rushing yards a season, that's a lot of money, and the 49ers could have found better value for a cheaper price.
There's a reason Minnesota drafted Dalvin Cook while opting to let McKinnon leave in free agency this year. McKinnon is a fine player, but the 49ers are paying him Pro Bowler money, when McKinnon hasn't shown any signs of being a true No. 1 back.
5 Replacement: DeMarco Murray
The three-time Pro Bowler was cut loose by the Tennessee Titans after losing his starting job to former Alabama running back, Derrick Henry. But don't think that Murray is done in the NFL yet. He did manage 659 yards and six touchdowns last season, which aren't bad numbers for a guy who only got 184 carries.
Murray can still run well between the tackles and takes good care of the football (just six fumbles over his last three years). The 49ers should be looking at acquiring a veteran in Murray, who can push McKinnon in training camp. And if the latter doesn't come along as hoped, they can insert Murray into the lead running back spot.
4 Won't Succeed: Terrelle Pryor
After struggling as a quarterback for the Oakland Raiders, Terrelle Pryor made the gutsy choice to move to wide receiver. It paid dividends, as he racked up 77 catches for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns in 2016 with the Cleveland Browns. That landed Pryor a one-year deal worth $4.5 million with the Washington Redskins.
But Pryor struggled with Washington and was limited to just nine games, picking up 240 yards and one touchdown on 20 receptions. Pryor signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets this offseason, but will he really shine there? The Jets are in rebuilding mode, and Pryor could probably fit better in a more pass-happy offense like Philadelphia, New Orleans or Pittsburgh.
3 Replacement: Dez Bryant
The New York Jets used their cap space to bolster both the defense and the offense. Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater are on the QB depth chart with Sam Darnold, while Terrelle Pryor and Isaiah Crowell were added to try and fix this long-time struggling offense.
Well, I like Dez Bryant as a potential option for the Jets here. He's got the big size and frame to remain a quality receiving option, especially for somebody like Bridgewater (trying to work back from injury), or Darnold (who needs the playmakers if he's going to develop).
Bryant remains unsigned all this time after being released from the Dallas Cowboys.
It's time for the Jets to go big or go home. And by going big, that means signing Dez Bryant now.
2 Won't Succeed: Sam Bradford
With Carson Palmer retired, the Arizona Cardinals had to find a quarterback. After losing out on the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, they decided to roll with oft-injured but talented quarterback, Sam Bradford.
Bradford signed a two-year deal with Arizona worth $20 million. For a player that has only played 17 total games in the last two seasons, that is way too much money. Even if Bradford stays healthy, he's not playing in the perfect offensive system here in Arizona that helped him in Minnesota. Look for Bradford to be kept on a short leash, and he will struggle in the desert. That's where the Cardinals make their change.
1 Replace: Josh Rosen
The Arizona Cardinals selected UCLA prospect Josh Rosen with the 10th pick in this year's draft, and it will be worthwhile. Rosen is one of the best quarterback prospects to come along in recent memory, and he has everything in him to be a superstar.
He has a strong football IQ, takes care of the ball and has superb velocity on his passes. Rosen is somebody who could step in right away and start, but Arizona will likely roll with Bradford to start. Look for the Cardinals - at some point of the season - to put Rosen in and have him replace Bradford. The former is only a temporary solution, while Rosen is the long-term answer. This will be his team at some point in 2018.
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