Free Agency: Five Worst Signings
It 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.
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