NFL free agency is among us. Based on the moves that have happened since it started, and even beforehand, the 2018 season is going to look a lot different.
But not all the moves have been good ones. Some teams overspent for a player. In many cases, they could have waited to draft a player who was not only going to be younger, but more cost-efficient, too.
While there’s been a variety of bad moves through the first two days and change of the new league year, we’re picking out a handful that stood out to us.
The Cardinals threw Sam Bradford $20 million.
We knew the Arizona Cardinals were going to be in the market for a veteran quarterback. They were considered a finalist to land Kirk Cousins, who quickly signed with the Vikings once free agency started.
That left them to look at other options. Apparently they liked Sam Bradford so much, they were willing to give him up to $20 million (!) over one season. While he had the best season of his career in 2016, he’s coming off of a knee injury, and played in just two games during the 2017 season.
There were other quarterbacks they could have gotten at a more reasonable price. Whatever the Cardinals felt they were getting in Bradford, it’s probably not worth $20 million when you consider his injury history — even just for one season. They would have been better off taking a shot on Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, or AJ McCarron with a more reasonable salary. They’re going to draft a quarterback to groom anyway, so why toss out more money on Bradford?
Arizona dumped Tyrann Mathieu to save cap space for Bradford.
One bad move deserves another! The Cardinals had an eye on restructuring Mathieu’s 2016 extension before they signed Bradford and whatever’s left of his knees. Earlier this month, they’d asked Mathieu to take a pay cut. That was a non-starter for the Honey Badger, understandably. Now, the Cardinals have one less talented player in a year where they need all the help they can get.
This could have been prevented with better decision making about their QB. Even when he’s healthy, which isn’t often, Bradford’s never played like a $20 million per year quarterback. So, like we mentioned above, Arizona could’ve opted to sign a more affordable bridge guy and spent that money elsewhere.
The Giants signed 31-year-old running back Jonathan Stewart.
New York has been one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL the last couple years. In 2017, Orleans Darkwa was the team’s leading rusher with 751 yards and five touchdowns. Darkwa is now a free agent and the team collectively finished No. 26 in rushing yards and No. 22 in yards per attempt. So there was a need at the position.
Apparently, the Giants believe part of the solution is to add a 31-year-old running back who averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in 2017.
Turning 30 is usually the kiss of death for running backs, so there isn’t much reason to believe Stewart’s about to turn back the clock.
Just draft a couple running backs. Saquon Barkley could be one solution. But even if the Giants don’t land the top running back in the draft class, they could probably find a player capable of replacing Stewart’s production in the later rounds. And they wouldn’t have to give that player $6.9 million to do it.
$22 million guaranteed dollars for Trey Burton and his 63 career receptions
The Bears’ decision to throw money at Burton isn’t completely without merit. Burton had to grow into his role as an NFL tight end after playing pretty much every skill position at Florida, and 2017 saw him set a career high with five touchdown receptions. His stock had never been higher after throwing the trick play touchdown pass that helped push the Eagles to a Super Bowl championship.
But the Bears aren’t paying him to be a feel-good story and occasional starter — his four year, $32 million deal makes him the sixth highest-paid tight end in the league. Burton doesn’t have the size to be a consistent blocker, and while his athleticism creates mismatches, he had just 23 receptions for the Eagles last fall.
There are three arguments in Burton’s favor: he fits a position of need with Zach Miller a free agent and with an injury putting future in question, he worked well with a rookie Carson Wentz (a career-high 37 receptions) in a depleted Philadelphia receiving corps in 2016, and he’ll likely play more wideout in Chicago. That should help Mitchell Trubisky’s development ... but for $32 million total, he may never match his expense.
Cheaper, veteran free agent talent could have helped. The franchise drafted Adam Shaheen 45th overall last spring — another project tight end who needs time to prove he’s capable of being a TE1 for an NFL offense. A veteran mentor like Ed Dickson or Luke Willson would have been an option who could provide blocking and a steady target at a fraction of the cost.
The Dolphins signed Albert Wilson for three years, and $24 million.
The Dolphins tagged Jarvis Landry, then traded him to the Browns. That left them in the market for a receiver, so they brought in former Chiefs WR Albert Wilson as Landry’s replacement. The problem is this: Landry has averaged over 1,000 yards per season and scored nine touchdowns last year. Wilson has averaged under 400 yards per year and has scored seven total touchdowns in his career. Yes, Wilson is cheaper than Landry, but unless he takes a huge, unexpected step forward as a receiver, he’s a downgrade.
The Dolphins should have looked to the draft for a cost-effective replacement. Miami has other needs. They need to replace Jay Ajayi after trading him away to the Eagles last season and bring in a tight end after releasing Julius Thomas. But losing Landry is a big blow, and prioritizing a receiver in the draft would have been a better move than overpaying for Wilson.