When considering potential big losers in NFL free agency, these deals stand out
Was there another Osweiler-type of deal made in free agency? No, but still some head-scratchers
For as many free agency deals that will quickly look shortsighted, ill-conceived and too risky for their own good, there is a bright side for embattled NFL general managers: There probably isn’t a Brock Osweiler signing in the bunch.
Probably not. Almost certainly not.
The odds of a team making a signing so misguided that they would be peddling that brutal contract, along with a second-round pick, for the right to dump that player to create enough cap space to eventually sign his replacement seem low.
That’s something of an outlier, though after the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans consummated such a trade recently one wonders if copycats may abound in the future. Regardless, the bidding war between the Denver Broncos and Texans over Osweiler seemed quite bizarre and over-the-top a year ago as it was going down, and it seems even more ridiculous in hindsight after the lengths Houston was willing to go to just to get the floundering quarterback out of its building.
So while there are certainly some deals that caught my attention as having significant pitfall potential, few seem as out there as the Texans guaranteeing $38 million over two years to a quarterback with a half dozen middling NFL starts to his resume. After conferring with a few contract guys for NFL teams, it wasn’t difficult to come up with a shortlist of possibly scary contracts from this year’s flurry of free-agent activity.
Make a few quick calls to guys you trust and the same handful of names kept coming up -- a certain quarterback and few marginal left tackles in particular.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, the Chicago Bears ’ forays into the open market this month have left plenty of their peers baffled, headlined by the signing of quarterback Mike Glennon . The Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings caused a stir with some of their decision making as well.
For the purposes of this exercise, the executives I spoke to figured it made sense to leave the 49ers, Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars out of it, since two of those teams just started new regimes, all three of them are still rebuilding and those franchises essentially had to throw silly money at players just to get them to consider going there in this market.
So this examination is more focused on signings for teams with a measure of expectations -- or front offices under pressure to be good now -- similar to the circumstances that led the Texans to chase The Brock Lobster a year ago.
These were the three signings that stood out:
1. Chicago Bears
Signing: QB Mike Glennon
Deal: Maximum of three years/$45 million with $18.5 million guaranteed
The stakes are always higher with quarterbacks, especially when under-fire general manager Ryan Pace is going big on an unproven veteran despite holding the third-overall selection in a draft in which four quarterbacks at least will go in the first round.
Glennon steps in to replace Jay Cutler , who leaves under duress, and after two sputtering years, Pace and coach John Fox need to show major signs of life this season.
Is Glennon the guy to lift them up and restore hope? That’s highly debatable.
Other teams still can’t figure out who the Bears were bidding against. League sources said the New York Jets may have gone to $10 million per year on a short-term deal, and the Browns had lukewarm interest at best but have always been far more motivated to trade for a youngsters like Jimmy Garoppolo .
Regardless, the Bears somehow guaranteed Glennon will make $18.5 million in the first calendar year of his deal (Osweiler and Sam Bradford territory, yikes) and would pay him $31 million in the first two years. Glennon has 18 starters -- 13 in 2013, his rookie year -- and could be a serviceable starter. But the price point here drives up expectations, many would say unnecessarily so.
Glennon’s career touchdown-to-interception totals look good (30/15), but he’s also never faced these kinds of expectations before and he’s hardly stepping into the kind of great situation (good skills players, decent line, superb defense) that Osweiler failed to capitalize on a year ago.
“I don’t like that contract, but it’s not the only one,” said one NFL cap guy. “When you asked me three (contracts) that stood out right away I thought of Glennon, (corner Prince) Amukamura and (receiver Markus) Wheaton. ... It wasn’t until I looked back through the details that I remembered all three of them were signed by Chicago.”
Another NFL contract negotiator said: “Who were the Bears bidding against for Glennon? Ryan is basically putting his career in that kid’s hands. Is Mike Glennon really worth that? Is he that much better than (former Bears starter Brian) Hoyer? Hoyer got a base of $6 million and Glennon gets $18.5 million? I’m not sure he’s better than Hoyer but is he three times better?”
2. Carolina Panthers
Signing: LT Matt Kalil
Deal: Maximum of five years/$55.5 million with $25 million guaranteed
Kalil was viewed as a draft bust by many in the NFL and the key part of a perpetually struggling Vikings offensive line. He’s been far less than durable lately and some wonder if he’ll be shifted to the right side over time, yet he got a far bigger signing bonus and much bigger guarantee that Cincinnati Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth . While Whitworth is much older for a team trying to get back to the Super Bowl like Carolina, they need immediate production.
Reuniting Kalil with his brother Ryan, the Panthers center, might bring out more in him, and Cam Newton badly needed an upgrade over Michael Oher . But how much of an upgrade is this, and at what price?
Kalil hit the market coming off an injury, playing just two games last year. He gave up 14 sacks in 2014. The Vikings badly needed to upgrade their offensive line and were quick to move off of him -- that should tell you something. Yet Kalil got $12 million to sign(!) and $25 million guaranteed over the first two years of the deal.
The Panthers are protected after that, but another year of Newton getting pummeled might be enough to force big changes in the meantime. There is $750,000 each season tied up in per-game roster bonuses -- to help mitigate some of the injury risk -- but that’s piddling compared to the guarantee.
“We don’t get this one,” said one salary cap guy. “The player doesn’t do much for us, and the money seems really high. Whitworth gets $5 million to sign and is basically $23 million for two (years), and he’s proven. Could he decline? Sure. But he’s done it. The fact this isn’t a good draft for tackles really shows in these contracts for Kalil, (Kelvin) Beachum and (Riley) Reiff).”
Which brings us to our final contract …
3. Minnesota Vikings
Signing: LT Riley Reiff
Deal: Maximum of five years/$58.75 million with $26.3 million guaranteed
Like the Panthers, the Vikings need to get better ASAP. Their offensive line was so bad last year that the decision to sign and quickly play broken-down Jake Long at left tackle after Kalil’s injury basically led offensive coordinator Norv Turner to resign at midseason. The depth of this offensive line problem can’t be overstated, and after a nice playoff run in 2015, this team fell apart on 2016 in the first year of a new stadium that’s hosting a Super Bowl this year.
But it’s questionable how much of an upgrade this is, as Reiff (like Kalil) is a former first-round pick who didn’t pan out, and one who got bumped to the right side in Detroit -- a team that also spent this offseason trying to improve a poor offensive line.
The money here is kind of nuts. Reiff’s guarantees are top-of-the-market in this free agent class and he got $11 million to sign and will get a minimum of $26.5 million over two years. Over the first three years -- should he still be there -- he continued to bring home a healthy average of $12 million per year.
“He’s a guy who can play tackle, but I’m not sure he’s more than that,” the cap guy said. “They’re paying him like he’s going to be a Pro Bowl left tackle, but he was playing right tackle in Detroit. I’d rather do what the Detroit Lions did, and if you are going to go big on offensive line, at least get guys who have played at a Pro Bowl level, like (guard T.J.) Lang and (right tackle) Ricky Wagner . I get that. I’d rather get a top guy at guard or right tackle than do a deal like this for a guy like Reiff or Kalil and hope they can play left tackle at a high level.”
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