5 free agents about to get overpaid

Which 2017 free agents are about to receive big pad-days, despite the questions marks they bring to the table?

| 3 months ago
Morris Claiborne

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

5 free agents about to get overpaid

NFL free agency can be a fantastic opportunity for teams to add proven talent to their roster before the draft rolls around. Teams that invest wisely in free agents can massively boost the talent of their rosters, but a mistake can prove even more costly than a swing and a miss come draft time.

Free agency isn’t just about talent evaluation; it’s also a bidding war against 31 other potential landing spots, and that marketplace drives up the costs.

Every year there are players who hit the open market and end up getting dramatically overpaid, costing teams in the long run and never justifying the dollar figure that gets attached to them. Here are a group of players likely to fit that billing in 2017.

1. Stephon Gilmore, CB, Buffalo Bills

This is not a very strong cornerback group at the top end. You can find capable starters, but if your team needs a true No. 1 cornerback, the cupboard is significantly barer. The only player that realistically fits that billing is Stephon Gilmore, but he is coming off a season that would make you seriously question whether he can be that guy. Gilmore allowed 60.3 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught this past season for 15.6 yards per catch, and while he has often been seen as a shutdown corner for the Bills, he has allowed 16 touchdowns over his career, and 12 over the past three seasons. The lack of other true No. 1 options will likely still see Gilmore’s value pushed up because of the ceiling he has shown at times.

2. Dontari Poe, NT, Kansas City Chiefs

Much like Gilmore, Dontari Poe will likely get some significant money based off the ceiling he has shown in the NFL, despite the fact that he has rarely played at a level close to that ceiling. In 2013, Poe was a run-stopping force; he played over 1,000 snaps as a nose tackle, notched 40 defensive stops and even brought something as a pass-rusher. Since then, however, he has never really looked like the same player. His movement skills at 346 pounds, coupled with the huge durability he has had in playing over 4,500 snaps in his five seasons in the league, will get somebody interested, because there simply aren’t many human beings on the planet that can tick those boxes. Poe, though, has struggled to live up to the potential he showed back in 2013.

3. John Cyprien, S, Jacksonville Jaguars

Cyprien showed his potential in the 2016 season, finally reconciling the NFL player with the first-round draft status his college career earned him. The trouble is, though, that the NFL isn’t struggling to find that type of player. Closer to the line of scrimmage, Cyprien was excellent this past season, trailing only Giants S Landon Collins in defensive stops, with 38. Cyprien’s coverage has been a problem in the NFL, though, and he will struggle if asked to play deeper off the line. Some team will likely fall in love with his impact plays at the line of scrimmage, and Cyprien’s 98.8 run-defense grade is the highest we have seen from a safety over the past decade. This brand of play is easier to find than a coverage specialist, however, and likely isn’t worth the cost.

4. Morris Claiborne, CB, Dallas Cowboys

Morris Claiborne is the ultimate long-odds gamble for some team this offseason. He was the sixth-overall pick in the 2012 draft, and this past season, finally showed that ability on an NFL field. The problem for a team thinking about bringing him in is that he got hurt after just seven games in 2016 and was shut down for the remainder of the regular season. Even more worrisome is that, in the four seasons before, he was not just some way shy of that level, but was actively poor. Claiborne improved his career average in passer rating surrendered by over 40.0 points in 2016 (from 105.7 in 2012–2015 to just 63.0 this past season). His completion percentage when targeted also fell by 10.0 points from his previous best, and he was beaten for an average of 3 whole yards less than the previous best season of his career. 2016 Morris Claiborne was a legit stud, but for only seven games, and the guy he had been before that was bad.

5. Trumaine Johnson, CB, Los Angeles Rams

The league has a love affair at the moment with big, tall, long cornerbacks—the type of athletes that can at least attempt to go one-on-one with players like Julio Jones athletically and live to tell the tale. Trumaine Johnson, at 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, has that prototypical size and length, but remains an inconsistent player on the field. At his best, he looks like a player worthy of those measurables, but that guy doesn’t appear on tape every week of the season, and in 2016, he allowed four touchdowns while picking off just one pass and breaking up another six. He has only allowed fewer than 60 percent of the passes thrown his way to be caught once in a season, and his career mark in that statistic is 61.2 percent, which would have ranked 61st in the NFL this season.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • Ron /ram

    The geeks are at it again, FO!!!

  • Sufferfortribe

    Didn’t I read somewhere that Johnson never met a tackle he didn’t miss?

  • crosseyedlemon

    I know that this is a favorite theme with Sam and some others on staff but the alternative to taking financial risks is sitting on your hands and doing nothing during FA while your opponents upgrade. At the end of yet another losing season, fans don’t want to hear about how much money was saved by not bidding for talent.

    • McGeorge

      But your opponents have hurt themselves by over paying. You are better off saving the FA money and striking a deal with your younger players.

      • crosseyedlemon

        Your point is valid if you can assume those younger players will be able to avoid injuries and develop in a positive direction. They often can’t, which is why teams are forced at looking for upgrades in the FA market.
        You can get hurt taking risks…but not taking any almost certainly guarantees you will never achieve success.

        • McGeorge

          You don’t sign young players on a whim, you sign those who are doing well.
          The Patriots frequently try signing young players after 3 years (maybe even after 2?). Better to strike a reasonable deal there than over paying in free agency.

          • crosseyedlemon

            So what happens if after signing these young players they get injured or their performance regresses? Do the Patriots just say “We aren’t going to look at upgrades for those guys in free agency because that would cost extra money”.
            There will always be players that don’t earn what they’re paid but a GM that is just going to stand pat until someone offers him a free lunch will have a very short stay in the league.

          • McGeorge

            What happens on signing any player and they get injured or their performance regresses.

            I don;t know what your point is. Spending big in free agency is a losing strategy.

          • crosseyedlemon

            Well last season the Giants invested in free agency more than anyone and the result was they transformed a defense that was a joke into one of the better ones in the league. Your not always going to have that kind of luck, but had they taken no risks, their defense would still be a laughing stock.

          • Frank Yi

            It all depends on a team’s salary cap situation. The Giants were oozing with cash, as they had to spend to hit the spending floor, so they could afford to take some shots at the big prizes. Yes, they hit on their selections, congrats to them. Snacks was consistently a solid run-defender, so that wasn’t quite the gamble that Jenkins and Vernon were.

            Jacksonville actually guaranteed more money than the Giants, and their defense wasn’t in the same ballpark. The players listed made this list due to their red flags, most of which comprise of guys flashing one solid season. There are also plenty of guys who will command solid paydays who are deserving of them.

            The other thing to remember is how FA spending affects a team’s ability to gain compensatory picks. This one is not popular among fans, because there is a lag between when the player leaves and when the pick is awarded; this must be approached with a long-term outlook, which is why some teams consistently let players leave for big contracts elsewhere.

            Case in point for the Ravens (paraphrasing from MMQB)
            2004: DT Dwan Edwards was selected in round 2, 51st overall. Left for Buffalo in 2010. The contract awarded Baltimore with a 5th-round compensatory pick in 2011.
            2011: With that compensatory pick, Baltimore selected OLB Pernell McPhee. Signed with Chicago in 2015. Baltimore was awarded with a 4th in 2016.
            2016: With the compensatory pick from McPhee, Baltimore selected DT Willie Henry. He was placed on IR and never played a down.

            So, for the 51st pick in 2004, Baltimore got 9 seasons and 116 games of rotational play from Edwards and McPhee, and a potential replacement for Ngata at DT, all for controlled salary. Are these players glamorous? No, but Baltimore is generally one of the more successful franchises in the NFL. I’d argue they should have kept McPhee and let Dumerville go, but every team is bound to have a miss somewhere. But a few misses doesn’t mean a good long-term plan was a bad idea that teams should disregard

          • McGeorge

            The Giants also didn’t lose their entire secondary to injury like they did a few times over the last several years. And JPP was back and healthy.

            It’s ok to sign a key piece, but in general spending a lot in free agency is a long term losing proposition. This was a 1-2 year fix for the Giants, but they won’t be going anywhere.

    • Justin Potts

      FA should be used to sign mid-level players for depth or to fill holes. Then improve the team in the draft by BPA or best scheme fit. Usually the “winners” of FA are the losers of the regular season.

  • Joe Skerritt

    remember last year when they said trumaine johnson was better than janoris jenkins?