While the NFL Draft may be the offseason transaction period where the bread and butter of every successful franchise is built, the free agency period can add just as many quality players to a team, if maneuvered correctly. Unfortunately, history tells us that in the NFL, many teams overpay and overestimate the quality of their free agent targets. It's been happening for years, and the concept of a free agent bust is not a rare or curious one. To no surprise, there were numerous teams that got burnt with poor production from their free agent acquisitions from 2016.
There is no singular answer as to why these players didn't work out. Sometimes a player doesn't fare as well in a new system, and other times their role is diminished due to an oversaturation of personnel at the position they player. No matter the case, there were plenty of players in the NFL this year who were supposed to have big years with their new teams. Instead, they fell flat, and never lived up to the handsome contracts they received. Free agent busts are just another reason the NFL is such a cutthroat league, and ensures that no acquisition, for any team, is guaranteed to be successful.
Ranked below are the top 15 free agent flops from the 2016 NFL season.
15 Travis Benjamin
He was signed to serve as a second option for Philip Rivers, next to Keenan Allen for the 2016 season. Instead, Allen went down early in the year with an injury, and Benjamin wasn't able to pick up the slack. The Chargers' receiving corps was very much cobbled together as the year went on, and they were never able to find an identity. After a career-high year in Cleveland during the 2015 season, it remains to be seen if Benjamin will be able to live up to such success ever again. If not, the Chargers wasted a decent sum of money on him, when they could have upgraded other aspects of their team. There's still time to turn it around, but Benjamin will have to come out swinging next season, and it's up in the air where he will reside on the depth chart.
14 Matt Forte
Like so many aspects of the 2016 season for the Jets, Forte wasn't able to construct an elite season, and the plans they had for him went haywire. It wasn't a total failure of a season, especially for a veteran player like he is, but combined with all the other issues surrounding the team currently, there's likely little future for Forte with the team, and it's unsure if he'll return for 2017. This one is more a matter of circumstance, but given that it seems the Jets brought him in because they expected to "win now", he'll probably be looking for a new team to finish out his career. While it wasn't totally his fault, this season turned out to be a failure for Forte, and as it turns out, his best days could be behind him at this point. The Jets are a mess, and his career prospects aren't the best right now.
13 Rueben Randle
Randle was signed by the Eagles to bolster their mediocre receiving corps, but he never ended up actually making the team. It came as a bit of a surprise, because while there were confirmed detriments to his game, he had shown to be productive as a red-zone threat for several years with the Giants. Instead, the team decided that the work ethic just wasn't there, and Randle was dropped during the preseason. It was a move that shocked everyone, as he had been second to only Odell Beckham on the Giants' receiving corps the year prior, but he just wasn't up to snuff. To add insult to injury for Randle, no team decided to sign him after being released, and it remains to be seen what kind of future, if any, he'll have in the NFL going forward. Certainly one of the strangest signings of the 2016 season.
12 Mohamed Sanu
Despite only middling numbers while with the Bengals, the Falcons decided to give Sanu a shot as their number two receiving option behind the elite Julio Jones. The results turned out to be a bit complicated. While Sanu didn't have a terrible season, he also didn't really fulfill the role that was expected of him when he signed in the offseason. Other options at wide receiver, such as Taylor Gabriel became more prominent, and Sanu was used instead as a change-of-pace possession receiver for most of the season. Not a complete failure of course, but it's not looking unlikely that Sanu will reach the end of the four-year deal he signed with the team. The money the Falcons gave him says they should have gotten more out of this deal, and they'll be looking for that increased production during the 2017 season.
11 Ladarius Green
Now this one was a complete bust, and it's difficult to understand the thought process that allowed the Steelers to give a tight end as historically mediocre as Green, high-end money for the position. He's never been a great receiving threat, and he missed a good chunk of the season with an injury to begin with. Even when he played this year, he was rendered mostly ineffective, and other options at tight end, such as Jesse James, proved to be more consistent. It's unlikely that Pittsburgh outright gives up on Green, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him in a reduced role for 2017, as they're paying him too much to release him. Whether or not he's able to improve is up in the air, but his 2016 season didn't give a positive indication of that. A major disappointment for the Steelers in their quest to replace Heath Miller.
10 Tashaun Gipson
Gipson was one of the hottest names for the safety position during the offseason, and the Jaguars ended up taking the bait, signing him to a massive contract, that ensured him in a starting role for the next few years. Unfortunately for them, Gipson posted career-lows in just about every statistical category this season. He was woefully ineffective as the team's starting safety, despite playing in all 16 games. The Jaguars have some nice pieces on their defense, despite a poor overall record, and whether or not Gipson is a part of the long-term future is anyone's guess, especially with a new coaching staff coming in for 2017. He certainly didn't do anything to help his standing this year, and he may be viewed as a trade piece for a team willing to pick up his contract. Definitely a situation to watch going forward.
9 Coby Fleener
A former second-round draft selection of the Colts, Fleener showed enough promise in Indy for the Saints to ink him to a contract in the offseason. His statistical prowess has been up and down over the years, and he showed much of that inconsistency in New Orleans this season. His numbers weren't wholly awful, but he was inconsistent enough to be a concern going forward, especially because he was given above-average money. He likely did enough to earn a bid back next year as the starting tight end, but the team should be watching him closely, and be looking for in-house replacements if the erratic play continues. Especially with a Hall Of Fame quarterback like Drew Brees throwing him the ball, Fleener needs to step up, and prove that he can be a larger asset to a team that needs it.
8 Josh Norman
When the Redskins inked Norman to a deal in the offseason, they assumed that he would be the catalyst their defense needed, to be a threat for a deep playoff run. Instead, Norman dropped back down to Earth from his 2015 season with the Panthers, and played good, but not great cornerback for Washington, while the team missed out on the playoffs. But considering his massive contract, he left a lot to be desired, and now the team is stuck with his services for the foreseeable future. Again, not that he played poorly, but the kind of money they have tied up into Norman could be used to address other, more pressing positions on their roster. Still, given the context, the Norman signing was a bust for them, it's unlikely that Norman will ever repeat the elite performance he had in 2015.
7 Mario Williams
Brought in to further bolster the Dolphins defensive line, Williams was a detriment to an otherwise quality unit this season. It's clear that he's lost some steam from his days of being an elite player, and probably doesn't have much left in the tank for his carer in general. The saving grace for Miami was the fact that they got him on the relative cheap for two-years, so if and when he leaves, the team won't be out much money at all. Still, it would have been better for them if he could have served effectively in even a rotational role on the line, but it just wasn't in the cards. Thankfully for the Dolphins, they have plenty of talent at the defensive line, so Williams' services won't be missed when he moves on or retires. Disappointing, and definitely a flop, but his contract wasn't large enough to screw over the franchise.
6 Arian Foster
The Dolphins also picked up Foster in the offseason, for him to be a contributor in their backfield. Instead, the former-elite running back for the Texans retired just four games into the season. In hindsight, it was probably the best move for Foster, who's been riddled with injuries for the past several seasons, and frankly was a shell of the player that he once was. Similar to the Williams signing, while Foster didn't cost Miami a ton of money, it still turned out to be a failure all things considered, though it was destined to happen for any team that signed him at his age. The Dolphins should consider themselves lucky that two of their high-profile (in name) signings, didn't cost them an arm and a leg, and that they'll be able to move on from them with relative ease.
5 Chris Ivory
Another poor signing for the Jaguars that nobody saw coming, Ivory was inked to a huge contract in the offseason, and never found his footing during the season. He had several very productive years with the Jets prior to this year, and at times he looked like one of the more explosive running backs in the league. In Jacksonville however, he found himself trying to share time with T.J. Yeldon, and the pair were never able to really produce in that system. Ivory looked a step slower, and was rendered less effective catching passes out of the backfield, something he had excelled at in recent years. Now, while it looks like both players will be back next year, it remains to be seen how the playing time will be divvied up. If Ivory performs this way again, it will have been a bust of a signing for the Jags, at a time when they really can't afford any more.
4 Marvin Jones
If Jones had produced for the entire season the way he did for the first quarter of it, he definitely wouldn't be on this list. As it turned out, as the season progressed, he fell slightly out of favor with quarterback Matt Stafford, in exchange for more targets to Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin. Jones was one of the most high-profile receiver signings of the offseason, and he just didn't live up the hype. The production would have been fine for a mid-level player, but Jones was expected to be the kind of game-breaking presence the Lions needed on their offense. It just didn't turn out that way, but they'll have to make it work in the future, considering his contract. Thankfully, there's enough weapons on the offense to mitigate his struggles in the meantime.
3 Ryan Fitzpatrick
After an offseason of arduous (and ridiculous) contract disputes with the Jets, Fitzpatrick finally deemed them worthy of his presence at the quarterback position. He showed them the worth of those contract disputes, by playing like a second-year backup who couldn't move the ball. Truly, he was terrible for the entirety of the season, serving as a precedent to future teams who are considering signing a career-journeyman quarterback for big money, on the strength of one outlier of a season. In the aftermath, everything fell apart for the Jets, and they are now yet again searching for a solution at the quarterback position. Who knows what happens with Fitzpatrick, whether he takes another backup position, or calls it a day. Does it really matter?
2 Malik Jackson
And yet another questionable signing for the Jaguars, adding to their iffy returns on the 2016 offseason. Jackson was a member of the elite Broncos defense that won the Super Bowl in 2015, and was one of the most feared defensive tackles in the league while there. He signed a massive contract with the Jags, and the results were...OK. However, middling results aren't good enough for one of the highest paid players in the league, and Jackson will have to prove that he can be elite, without stellar talent around him at all times. This one is still up in the air, but things could be looking better for the Jags on this one, as Jackson still has plenty to prove to live up to his contract. If he falters even more next season, it could be one of the biggest defensive tackle busts in the history of free agency.
1 Brock Osweiler
Nothing compares to the utter failure that Osweiler was for the Texans this season. Based on the strength (?) of one season as a part-time player in Denver, he was given the keys to the franchise, as Houston signed him to a massive contract, which compared to the best starting quarterbacks in the league. And he stunk. Osweiler was patently horrible this year, and couldn't get on page with a talented group of offensive personnel. No matter what head coach Bill O' Brien tried, nothing worked. As a result, Osweiler found himself benched late in the year, and was only reluctantly given the starting job back due to a lack of better options. The saga isn't complete yet however, and Osweiler has a lot to prove from here on out. If he ends up being a bust, it's a catastrophic failure for the Texans, and alters all of their future plans. Right now, Osweiler hasn't been worth the money, and that's a big deal, considering the fortune they gave him.
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