Free Agency: Five Worst Signings

Mike Renner points out five recent signings where the value might not match up to the deal.

| 2 years ago

Free Agency: Five Worst Signings

thomas-5-worstIt happens every year, a team with a desperate position of need throws a bunch of money at a player to fill the hole. Then after a season or two the player is cut as soon as the cap hit allows it because he never solved the problem. They can come as a surprise (Michael Johnson’s 2014 contract) or be glaringly obvious (Michael Oher’s 2014 contract). This article deals with the contracts we believe to be the latter. Sometimes it’s because the money is excessive, other times it’s because the player isn’t starting quality, but either way these five deals just don’t sit right after reviewing the value each player provides to their new team.

Buster Skrine, CB, New York Jets

This one didn’t make sense at the time, but made even less sense after the Jets signed Antonio Cromartie for an even more lucrative deal just days later. Performance aside, they paid Skrine the 15th-most guaranteed money (four-year, $25m, $13m guaranteed) of any cornerback in the league to come in and be the Jets’ nickel corner. That’s bad business from the outset. When you look at Skrine’s past production it gets even worse.

The fifth-year cornerback was the weak link in the Browns’ secondary ever since he was thrust into the nickelback role in 2012. Skrine was promoted to starter in 2013 and turned in overall grades of 12.1 and -6.3 in the two subsequent seasons. He’s simply been a below average player over the course of his career, and even though he has played slot corner, he’s never stood out. His lowest passer rating against from the slot over the past three seasons is 95.5 and that came last year.

There are two other pretty glaring concerns with the deal, the first being Skrine’s limited stature at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds. Undersized corners around the league tend to have a suppressed market due to many teams being unwilling to sign them. The other issue is Skrine’s egregious penalty problem from a year ago. He committed 17 penalties, the most at the position in the PFF era. There are so many red flags in this deal that it is easily the worst one we’ve seen yet this offseason.

J.T. Thomas, LB, New York Giants

When you think of Day 1 free agent signings, Thomas isn’t the type of player that comes to mind. A one-year starter, Thomas’ -14.8 overall grade in 729 snaps last season is replacement level play while his contract (three-year, $10m, $4.5m guaranteed) is starter-level money. Normally, players that grade out like that sign late in the free agency cycle just to fill out a roster, yet Thomas is now the 15th-highest paid 4-3 outside linebacker and has a higher per-year average than DeAndre Levy’s current contract.

This isn’t a case of one down year after some productive years as a backup either. Thomas had played in a total of 202 snaps prior to 2014 and cumulated an overall grade of -6.4. His history in the league is also a tad bit concerning. The Bears’ coaches didn’t think he was better than what they had at the position in 2013 and was cut in training camp right before the Bears went on to have one of the worst run defenses of all time. Thomas was then picked up by the Jaguars and couldn’t break into a weak starting linebacker unit until Week 16. The Giants might see potential here, but his on-field play doesn’t suggest it.

Curtis Lofton, LB, Oakland Raiders

Even if Lofton rebounds from a dreadful 2014, there is little chance he’ll be worth a Top-10 cap hit ($6.6m) at the position next season. You can see why the Raiders gave Lofton the contract. They have tons of cap space and needed a replacement for our lowest-graded inside linebacker last season, Miles Burris, but that’s no excuse to throw money away and that is exactly what this move looks like.

It’s been four years since Lofton’s last positively-graded season and he’s since developed a habit of missing tackles — he hasn’t finished higher than 28th among starting inside linebackers in Tackling Efficiency since joining the Saints in 2012. Lofton’s tackling woes came to a head last season when he missed more tackles than any inside linebacker (22) and had the fourth-lowest grade at the position. While he’s still only 28 years old and a change of scenery could help, it’s not clear how the value will be there in this contract.

Dwayne Harris, WR, New York Giants

Harris got quite a deal for a receiver with 418 receiving yards to his name. The money (five-year, $17.5m, $7.1m guaranteed) is more per year and guaranteed than the deal Cole Beasley (who started over Harris) just signed. The former Cowboy has seen just 595 offensive snaps in his entire career, with 342 routes run, and a single-season high for yards of 222 back in 2012.

The odd thing about this deal is that it seems to be solely for Harris’ return abilities as the Giants already go three deep at receiver with the return of Victor Cruz. The former Cowboy definitely provide some value on special teams as a return man, but it’s not like his return skills have ever been classified as ‘elite’. Harris has only once in his four-year career graded inside the Top 5 as either a punt or kick returner (2013, kick returner). A head-scratcher of a contract.

Byron Maxwell, CB, Philadelphia Eagles

Maxwell is the first player on the list that is more a product of his contract than his expected performance. It seems unlikely that a cornerback with +10.1 overall grade in 1710 career snaps over four seasons will suddenly turn into a liability at the position, but it seems equally unlikely that the same player suddenly turn into a Top-5 player that the contract (six-year, $63m, $25m guaranteed) suggests. The latter seems especially true when in his only full season as a starter he graded out at -0.2.

There seems to be two arguments emerging to explain how Maxwell will perform coming from an ultra-talented secondary and linebacker corps in Seattle. The first is that his mistakes in coverage get covered up by other defenders’ range and the ability to slide coverage away from Richard Sherman. The counterpoint to this is that since teams targeted Sherman so infrequently (once every 8.5 coverage snaps), Maxwell saw a disproportionate amount of targets (one every 5.7 coverage snaps) than he should have and was bound to give up yards. I tend to lean towards the former as it really shouldn’t matter the amount of times one is targeted if the coverage is strong (see Darelle Revis’ 111 targets in 2009). For that reason, this contract seems far too risky a move for the cornerback-needy Eagles.


Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_Mike



| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Riffle,Rod&Fly

    I still think Harris has some undiscovered potential and is underrated as a receiver. Romo plays favorites. The Giants did seem to overpay though. I wonder if someone else was interested. The price and long term commitment is eye raising.

    • jason witten

      Harris is not underrated as a receiver. Every time he was targeted he couldnt make plays or he dropped the ball. He is a good returner though.

      • Riffle,Rod&Fly

        Romo doesn’t control the roster but he does have a say in who the ball goes to. It seems to take him more time to build chemistry with receivers than a lot of other QBs and he is not necessarily one to spread the ball around. You should know that, Mr. Witten unlike the belligerent (too many Lonestar tallboys?) commenter who responded before you.

        Harris is young. I thought he looked good coming out of college and wondered why he wasn’t given more time to develop in Dallas. I also thought he was an underrated Free Agent this year before the Giants picked him up. Miami seemed like a logical team for him to end up with after they cleaned house and created cap space.

        A team with two Lombardi’s in the last 10 years seems to think he is better than we do. I question the long term deal but the book isn’t finished on him. We may see more than a return man develop, even in that loaded WR group.

        • jason witten

          Romo does not take long to build chemistry moreso than other quarterbacks. Harris and Tony had chemistry had chemistry in 2012 but after that Harris was useless as a receiver other than blocking. Cole Beasley took his spot and ran with it.

    • Steve Long

      you’re a moron riffle if you think romo is the person in control of the roster

  • Jaguars28

    I think Maxwell will do well in Philly.

    I don’t get the Giants of J.T. Thomas, though.

    • RainCityRedemption

      The expectations for him are going to be huge, and he just isn’t that guy. He is a solid corner for sure, however he will be going up against dez Bryant, OBJ, and desean jackson twice a year. If you expect big things out of him like his price tag suggests, you are in for a disappointment.

      • Ramiroquaaii

        The high price shows how Kelly was desperate in reset the CB position. Has been a nightmare for years in philly.
        Obviously is a overpay, but without him it would be very worse.
        Overpay, but undertandable.

        • bobrulz

          I could forgive 1 overpay, but the Eagles will be horrendously overpaying 3 players this year.

          • Ramiroquaaii

            I thought abou that too. But they choose to do a “mini-rebuild”. And that is the cost to replace it at a time.
            Don’t know if was smart, but i trust in Kelly, and in his offense especially.

          • Dane Voeltz

            His O is what causes the D problems I find though. Quick plays cause the D to have to take the field quicker and longer typically in a game than most teams. I’d be worn out too if I played one and a half times the snaps of other teams.

          • Ramiroquaaii

            This system and the media make us think so. But in 2013, the defense had a sequence of 7 games under 21 points conceded, and the O was more explosive than 14′.
            Last season, he learn more when to speed up the game and when to cadence.

          • bobrulz

            I trust Kelly’s offensive system, but the jury is still out on whether he is a good GM. Josh McDaniels is theoretically a good coach, too (not as good as Chip Kelly mind you) and look what happened when he got control of personnel decisions.

    • Darnell

      Maxwell is a very good player. Philly wasn’t gonna get him for any less though and they really wanted him. They had to pay that Super Bowl / LOB tax.

  • Jack Casey

    Where in that comment did he say Romo was making personnel decisions?

  • Vincent Vega

    Come on Buster continue to work as hard as you did in the past and silence your pundits one more time or even better again and again and again. I think the JETS made a great decision as they decided to sign him…he has versatile skills he can play CB on the outside as well as he can play in the slot or even check in as a free safety if required…GO GANG GREEN!!!

  • sikologik

    As a Redskins fan, I love seeing that 3 of the 5 worst FA signings listed went to the Giants and Eagles.

    I’ll couple that with the Redskins having 1 of the 5 best FA signings in that article, and use that as evidence to say I think at least according to the good folks over at PFF, the Redskins seem to be having a fine time of it this year in Free Agency… both on their own, and when compared to their division!

  • Funenj

    Mike Renner- care to update your opinion regarding the Buster Skrine signing?

  • Douglass Pinkard

    Re: Buster Skrine–WRONG!!!

  • Douglass Pinkard

    Re: Buster Skrine–WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!