News & Analysis

7 free agency moves that make no sense

By Sam Monson
Mar 10, 2017

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NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 11: Matt Kalil #75 of the Minnesota Vikings on the sidelines during a game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Vikings defeated the Titans 25-16. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

The first wave of an intense free agency period has passed, and in the cool light of day, it’s time to reflect on some moves that were made.

Every season, the madness gets to some teams a little more than others, and some moves look like senseless decisions from the outset. Here are seven moves so far than make no sense:

1. OT Matt Kalil signed to start for the Panthers.

Matt Kalil’s best season came as a rookie, back in 2012. That year he ranked 14th in the NFL among left tackles, surrendering two sacks, 23 total QB pressures and six penalties. It was a decent campaign for a rookie, but since then, he has been varying shades of bad, surrendering 23 sacks, 160 total QB pressures and 28 penalties over the past four seasons, one of which lasted just 121 snaps before injury shut him down. That’s an average of almost six sacks per season, 40 total QB pressures and seven penalties over four years—and one of those seasons was just two games long. Kalil has battled through several injuries, and at this point, should be little more than a reclamation project from the bench. Somehow, though, he ended up with a $55 million contract over five years with $25 million guaranteed to start at left tackle for the Carolina Panthers. For what it’s worth, based on the past three seasons of play, PFF’s metrics say Kalil should be earning the veteran minimum, but instead, he is now paid like one of the better left tackles in the game.

2. Texans paying Cleveland to take Brock Osweiler away.

The Houston Texans made NFL history with effectively the first salary-dump trade the league has ever seen. Their free agency splash a year ago—signing QB Brock Osweiler—was so bad that they have effectively paid the Cleveland Browns a second-round pick in 2018 just to take him away and get his horrendous contract off their books. Because you can’t trade cash in the NFL, the teams have played around with low-level picks as well, with a fourth-round selection from the Browns heading to Houston and a sixth-round selection from the Texans coming back. The upshot of this is that the Browns effectively bought an extra second-round pick next season for $16 million. What could make this even worse for the Texans is that the Browns could pay half of Osweiler’s exorbitant contract as a roster bonus now, effectively halving the cost for any prospective new team, and immediately flip their new acquisition for a profit, like he was a used car they just cleaned up and changed the oil in. If they end up actually profiting on this deal because the Texans balked at the prospect of putting another $9 million or so into Osweiler’s deal, that reflects extremely poorly on Houston, who may already have the single-worst free agency deal in NFL history to live with.

3. Malcolm Smith’s deal with the 49ers.

You won’t ever be able to take away the fact that Malcolm Smith is a Super Bowl MVP, but that is by far the high-point of his NFL career, which has been heading in the wrong direction ever since. The year after his triumph saw his first bad season in Seattle, which saw them cast him off; he has since muddled through two poor years in Oakland, missing a monstrous 36 tackles across both seasons. In coverage in 2016, Smith allowed six touchdowns, one shy of the worst mark in the league among linebackers, and yet the 49ers signed him to a five-year, $24.5 million contract with $13 million in guarantees, giving him a substantial pay raise as a reward for bad play.

4. Robert Woods’s deal with the Rams.

The Rams are hot on the heels of handing Tavon Austin a monster contract for several years of underwhelming play, and they have added to that by doing exactly the same thing to former Buffalo Bills receiver Robert Woods. When the best thing several commentators can say about a new receiver is he was the best blocking receiver available, you know there are issues. Woods has never eclipsed 700 receiving yards in a season or scored more than five touchdowns. He has certainly flashed ability, but flashes of ability should not equate to a five-year, $39 million deal with $15 million in guarantees, especially given the relative strength of the receiver market at the time.

5. Browns signing Kenny Britt while allowing Terrelle Pryor to hit the market.

Speaking of the receiver marketplace, Kenny Britt had a good season in 2016, and in abstract terms, doesn’t deserve criticism in this deal, but the issue is that the Browns—who had over $100 million in cap space heading into free agency—chose to prioritize Britt over their own in-house free-agent receiver, Terrelle Pryor. Britt ended the season with a PFF grade of 76.5, while Pryor was eight spots higher in the rankings at 78.6. Both players suffered through disastrous QB play and deserve more recognition than their grade might indicate, but the key aspect is that this was the first year that Pryor has ever played wide receiver, having transitioned from QB last offseason, and has all-world athleticism. Britt doesn’t, and has been plying his trade as an NFL receiver for eight seasons now. Why would you allow Pryor to hit the open market and choose to lock in on Kenny Britt?

6. Ravens re-signing Brandon Williams for more money than Giants DT Damon Harrison.

Brandon Williams is an excellent player, but he is coming off the worst year of his career, and the Baltimore Ravens have an in-house replacement ready and waiting in Michael Pierce. Williams offers pretty much nothing as a pass-rusher and is in the same mold as Damon Harrison a season ago—a monster run stuffer—but just proved he is not as reliable as Harrison. You can pay a player like that big money even in today’s NFL, but he has to be an unstoppable force against the run and a guaranteed impact in that area. Williams just had a season that was above-average, but far from great, while Harrison again continued his dominance. Even in the world of inflated contracts, the Ravens look to have made a move with questionable value.

7. 49ers signing Kyle Juszczyk to a record deal for a FB in an era of no FBs.

Only one fullback played more than 350 snaps last year in a league where teams play over 1,000 over a season on offense. That one fullback was Kyle Juszczyk, but 92 different wide receivers played more than his 465 snaps a year ago. The 49ers just made Juszczyk the highest-paid fullback in NFL history, signing him to a four-year, $21 million deal with $10.5 million guaranteed. I think Juszczyk is actually the best and most-versatile fullback in the game, and the 49ers talked up that versatility, but Kyle Shanahan’s offense only deployed a fullback 323 times last year, 371 times the year before, and 324 times the season before that in Cleveland. They are paying more than $5 million per year for a player that will likely see less than a third of San Francisco’s offensive snaps.

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