While it's nearly time to begin previewing the 2016 season, there is still time to reflect on the offseason and the moves that have been made thus far. The NFL offseason is a golden chance to strengthen and repair a roster, but only if teams make the most of the opportunity and don’t squander the chance.
Make the wrong move, and a franchise can face years full of setbacks, instead of heading down the right track. Let’s take a look at some of the worst moves made this offseason.
1. Texans handing Brock Osweiler $72 million based on seven games
No move this offseason has the potential to torpedo a franchise quite like this one. The Texans have been faced with quarterback troubles for awhile, and so you can understand their anxiety about needing to find their franchise signal-caller. Given where they were picking in the draft, they had little to no chance of getting one of the top two available rookies, so they went all-in on free agency, instead. The problem, though, is that there wasn't a sure-thing in free agency, or even close to it. The Texans ended up handing Brock Osweiler a $72 million contract based on just seven games of starting action in the NFL.
That would be risky if those were seven all-pro caliber games, but they were seven games of average play that saw him benched for a geriatric Peyton Manning—who, at times, seemed more likely to throw the ball to opposing players than his own last season—because Denver felt he gave them the better chance to win big games. Obviously Manning has a certain level of built-up benefit of the doubt, but even in a competition to simply steer the ship, Osweiler was second-best on his own team last season. Now Houston needs him to do significantly more than that.
In his 2015 starts, he recorded a passer rating of 95.9 when kept clean, completing 66.5 percent of his passes at 7.3 yards per attempt; when the heat was applied, those numbers fell to a passer rating of 66.9, a completion percentage of 52.2, and 6.9 yards per attempt. It is impossible to definitively declare that Osweiler will fail from the evidence we have of his play, but it is equally impossible to be sure of his success going forward—which a $72 million contract pretty much necessitates. Bill O’Brien and the Houston Texans are gambling huge on Osweiler, which would be easier to accept had they not been so adamant a year ago that their quarterback group was far better than people believed.
2. Buccaneers drafting a kicker in the second round
Every year, the draft throws up some truly left-field selections, and Tampa Bay selecting kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round was certainly one of them. I actually have a certain degree of sympathy with the notion that an elite, can’t-miss kicker is worth significantly more than most people think when it comes to the draft, and wouldn’t necessarily have an issue with Aguayo going that high in abstract terms, but I’m just not at all sure he is that guy.
For a kicker to go that high, a team has to be sure he is an NFL-level kind of special, and Aguayo wasn’t even special at the collegiate level. He finished his college career as the most-accurate kicker of all time, converting 96.73 percent of his attempts (narrowly topping Alex Henery’s 96.67 percent record), but much of that can come down to the attempts he was making. He was just 20-of-29 from 40+ yards, and at no point did he grade well as a kick-off man, ranking no higher than 29th in the nation in average kick distance over the past two seasons.
The history of these coveted kickers is also not in his favor. Mike Nugent was the last kicker to be selected in the second round of the draft, and he has been an average NFL kicker, with many of the same traits that Aguayo is having talked up. Henery—whose accuracy record Aguayo narrowly eclipsed—began his NFL career well before developing the kicking equivalent of the “yips” and getting cut from two teams. He is now out of the league.
Kickers may be worth the 59th overall pick in the draft, but the one that is needs to be a sure thing, and there is nothing in Aguayo’s grading over the past two seasons to suggest he is. His career accuracy percentage is nice, but the NFL needs you to be money on those 40+ yard kicks, too.
3. Falcons signing WR Mohamed Sanu to a five-year, $32.5 million contract
The Falcons have needed a good alternative target to Julio Jones for awhile, and they seem to expect Mohamed Sanu to be that guy on the basis of the contract they handed him in free agency. However, it’s a little difficult to understand why. Over his career in Cincinnati, at least two of his five best plays are passes he threw, which is not an ideal thing to boast about your wide receiver.
The Bengals were in an identical situation over the past few years of needing to find that second receiver to take pressure off A.J. Green, and gave ample opportunity to Sanu to prove he could be that guy. He responded with three straight seasons of negative grades and 22 dropped passes over that span, with just seven touchdowns from 232 targets.
4. Jets drafting QB Christian Hackenberg in the second round
PFF’s take on Christian Hackenberg is no secret. From three seasons of play-by-play grading, we would not have drafted him at all, so for the Jets to take him in the second round was always going to incur PFF criticism. The bottom line with Hackenberg is that every single positive trait he has is entirely projection and potential, and in order to get to it you need to look past so much bad football that it’s very unlikely to ever matter.
When we went back and graded his freshman season of 2013, we found that it was far worse than the mythology that has surrounded it suggests, and he has been one of the most inaccurate quarterbacks in the nation over the past three seasons. That alone may be prohibitive to his NFL success, where accuracy is more important than ever in today’s offenses of precision-passing and high-percentage plays.
5. Giants making Janoris Jenkins one of the best-paid CBs (five years, $62.5 million, $29 million guaranteed)
Janoris Jenkins is not a bad cornerback, and 2015 was his best season to date, but the Giants made him one of the best-paid corners in the game, and he just isn’t anywhere near that standard. Jenkins is a gambler who can make a lot of big plays, but he has also surrendered 22 career touchdowns and over 700 receiving yards every season of his career. In two of his four seasons, he has been beaten for a passer rating of more than 110.0, and has never held opposing receivers to a completion percentage of under 61.7 percent, a mark 54 cornerbacks bettered this year alone.
Even if you work on the basis that the 2015 version of Jenkins is the player you will be getting going forward, that player had the 32nd-highest coverage grade among corners this past season, and was second-best on his own team, trailing Trumaine Johnson. He’s probably an upgrade for that New York secondary, but he came at an astronomical cost that he likely won’t come close to justifying.
6. Seahawks drafting Germain Ifedi in the first round
The Seattle Seahawks have been plagued with poor offensive line play for several seasons now. It was their Achilles heel in 2015, and it will likely be their biggest problem again in 2016. In the past, they have been relatively cavalier in their approach to dedicating resources to fixing it, happy to trade away players or allow them to walk rather than paying them to stay around, and trying to develop starters from lowly-drafted lumps of athletic clay.
This year, they drafted a player with their top pick to try and stop the rot, but in Germain Ifedi they selected a guy with an extensive history of average (at best) play. Ifedi actually had a negative overall grade this past season in college, where halfway good tackles are supposed to dominate. Just among this draft class, he had the 59th-best grade among tackles, and has surrendered nine sacks over the past two years. To put that into some context, Baylor’s Spencer Drango allowed two, and just six total pressures in 2015. N.C. State's Joe Thuney allowed seven total pressures this past season. Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair was seen as suspect enough outside that the NFL projects him inside to guard, but he only allowed two sacks in 2015 and 14 total pressures.
Ifedi allowed 26 total pressures and was flagged 12 times in 2015 alone, and while he may have the measurables—and be one of the best-looking lumps of clay for an offensive line coach to work with—he has a very long way to go to be a viable tackle at the NFL level.
7. Browns rolling into 2016 with RG III as the presumptive starter at QB
There is a lot to like about Cleveland’s offseason, particularly in the draft, but they seem intent on running with Robert Griffin III as their starter in 2016, if not long-term. There is no doubt RG III is talented—his 2012 season showed that in no uncertain terms —but that season also revealed that he needs significant help from the offensive system to be viable, a fact he has been reportedly very reluctant to accept and embrace.
Even leaving that aside, the state of his game by the time his tenure in Washington ended was in such disarray from a fundamentals standpoint that it is difficult to see how he can repair all of that damage in the space of one modern NFL offseason, even with a noted QB guru in the shape of Hue Jackson helping him along. RG III makes an interesting reclamation project for the Browns, and could provide long-term benefits, but not if you take him straight out of the garage onto the open highway before the rebuild is complete.
8. Falcons drafting Keanu Neal in the first round
The NFL struggles to evaluate safeties at times. There are so many plays—particularly in college—where they are just ornamental pieces of the defense and occupy space that is never affected on the play. It can become difficult to evaluate their play soundly, and that leads to people fixating on a few highlight-reel plays they make over a season, focusing in on the “can do” aspects of their play, rather than the “how often.”
Keanu Neal has multiple bone-crushing hits on his Florida tape, and his highlight reel would get anybody excited, but those plays are not indicative of his overall production, and over two seasons of PFF grading, he has never been better than average across an entire year. This past season alone, he may have made several big-impact hits, but they came at the cost of missing 16 tackles, and 43 other safeties made more defensive stops than the new Falcon.
9. Eagles handing Chase Daniel a $21 million contract to be a No. 3 QB
The quarterback market is a wildly overinflated place, but even in that context, the money the Eagles handed Chase Daniel is vaguely absurd. Daniel now has the 24th-highest contract among quarterbacks in terms of average per-season money, and the 26th-highest total contract value at the position. He has a contract worth more than several starters, and he is a No. 3 quarterback on this Eagles' roster. Even if you assume the deal was handed to him with a view that he will be No. 2 in a year’s time when Sam Bradford departs and Carson Wentz is starting, that means Daniel will receive $7 million this season just as a placeholder, and then be the best-paid backup in football for the next year or two of the deal.
It isn’t for nearly as much money, but this contract is the Ndamukong Suh version of backup quarterback contracts—one that doesn’t set the market, but instead jumps it completely and becomes a stark outlier.
10. Vikings assembling the best O-line of 2012…in 2016
It’s tempting to look back at the peak of a player’s performance and believe you can get that back out of them again, but going back too far rarely works out for teams (just look at the Colts’ free-agent strategy from a year ago). The Vikings appear to be attempting something similar this season, but only on the offensive line, where they have assembled a group of starters that may be the best O-line in football—if we were heading into the 2012 season.
2012 was the best year in the careers of both Alex Boone (No. 3 overall guard that year) and Andre Smith (No. 1 RT), as well as the one season that Matt Kalil has looked like a capable NFL starter. It was also the best season that C John Sullivan has produced, though he, at least, has other comparable seasons on either side of that one.
Phil Loadholt and Brandon Fusco—the other two players likely to challenge for a starting spot—had their best seasons in 2013, and the only player on this line who had an even halfway decent season in 2015 was Joe Berger, a longtime sixth-man and the person likely to find himself shuffled back to the bench.
The cumulative talent of this group is huge, but you need to go back to 2013 to find good seasons from any of the projected starters, and even further to find it from the majority of them. Maybe the Vikings can find that level of play from them again, but it's more likely that they will discover the folly of chasing past glories.