7 free agency moves that make no sense

Which free agency moves have us scratching our heads? Sam Monson runs downs the list.

| 2 months ago
Matt Kalil

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

7 free agency moves that make no sense


The first wave of an intense free agency period has passed, and in the cool light of day, it’s time to reflect on some moves that were made.

Every season, the madness gets to some teams a little more than others, and some moves look like senseless decisions from the outset. Here are seven moves so far than make no sense:

1. OT Matt Kalil signed to start for the Panthers.

Matt Kalil’s best season came as a rookie, back in 2012. That year he ranked 14th in the NFL among left tackles, surrendering two sacks, 23 total QB pressures and six penalties. It was a decent campaign for a rookie, but since then, he has been varying shades of bad, surrendering 23 sacks, 160 total QB pressures and 28 penalties over the past four seasons, one of which lasted just 121 snaps before injury shut him down. That’s an average of almost six sacks per season, 40 total QB pressures and seven penalties over four years—and one of those seasons was just two games long. Kalil has battled through several injuries, and at this point, should be little more than a reclamation project from the bench. Somehow, though, he ended up with a $55 million contract over five years with $25 million guaranteed to start at left tackle for the Carolina Panthers. For what it’s worth, based on the past three seasons of play, PFF’s metrics say Kalil should be earning the veteran minimum, but instead, he is now paid like one of the better left tackles in the game.

2. Texans paying Cleveland to take Brock Osweiler away.

The Houston Texans made NFL history with effectively the first salary-dump trade the league has ever seen. Their free agency splash a year ago—signing QB Brock Osweiler—was so bad that they have effectively paid the Cleveland Browns a second-round pick in 2018 just to take him away and get his horrendous contract off their books. Because you can’t trade cash in the NFL, the teams have played around with low-level picks as well, with a fourth-round selection from the Browns heading to Houston and a sixth-round selection from the Texans coming back. The upshot of this is that the Browns effectively bought an extra second-round pick next season for $16 million. What could make this even worse for the Texans is that the Browns could pay half of Osweiler’s exorbitant contract as a roster bonus now, effectively halving the cost for any prospective new team, and immediately flip their new acquisition for a profit, like he was a used car they just cleaned up and changed the oil in. If they end up actually profiting on this deal because the Texans balked at the prospect of putting another $9 million or so into Osweiler’s deal, that reflects extremely poorly on Houston, who may already have the single-worst free agency deal in NFL history to live with.

3. Malcolm Smith’s deal with the 49ers.

You won’t ever be able to take away the fact that Malcolm Smith is a Super Bowl MVP, but that is by far the high-point of his NFL career, which has been heading in the wrong direction ever since. The year after his triumph saw his first bad season in Seattle, which saw them cast him off; he has since muddled through two poor years in Oakland, missing a monstrous 36 tackles across both seasons. In coverage in 2016, Smith allowed six touchdowns, one shy of the worst mark in the league among linebackers, and yet the 49ers signed him to a five-year, $24.5 million contract with $13 million in guarantees, giving him a substantial pay raise as a reward for bad play.

4. Robert Woods’s deal with the Rams.

The Rams are hot on the heels of handing Tavon Austin a monster contract for several years of underwhelming play, and they have added to that by doing exactly the same thing to former Buffalo Bills receiver Robert Woods. When the best thing several commentators can say about a new receiver is he was the best blocking receiver available, you know there are issues. Woods has never eclipsed 700 receiving yards in a season or scored more than five touchdowns. He has certainly flashed ability, but flashes of ability should not equate to a five-year, $39 million deal with $15 million in guarantees, especially given the relative strength of the receiver market at the time.

5. Browns signing Kenny Britt while allowing Terrelle Pryor to hit the market.

Speaking of the receiver marketplace, Kenny Britt had a good season in 2016, and in abstract terms, doesn’t deserve criticism in this deal, but the issue is that the Browns—who had over $100 million in cap space heading into free agency—chose to prioritize Britt over their own in-house free-agent receiver, Terrelle Pryor. Britt ended the season with a PFF grade of 76.5, while Pryor was eight spots higher in the rankings at 78.6. Both players suffered through disastrous QB play and deserve more recognition than their grade might indicate, but the key aspect is that this was the first year that Pryor has ever played wide receiver, having transitioned from QB last offseason, and has all-world athleticism. Britt doesn’t, and has been plying his trade as an NFL receiver for eight seasons now. Why would you allow Pryor to hit the open market and choose to lock in on Kenny Britt?

6. Ravens re-signing Brandon Williams for more money than Giants DT Damon Harrison.

Brandon Williams is an excellent player, but he is coming off the worst year of his career, and the Baltimore Ravens have an in-house replacement ready and waiting in Michael Pierce. Williams offers pretty much nothing as a pass-rusher and is in the same mold as Damon Harrison a season ago—a monster run stuffer—but just proved he is not as reliable as Harrison. You can pay a player like that big money even in today’s NFL, but he has to be an unstoppable force against the run and a guaranteed impact in that area. Williams just had a season that was above-average, but far from great, while Harrison again continued his dominance. Even in the world of inflated contracts, the Ravens look to have made a move with questionable value.

7. 49ers signing Kyle Juszczyk to a record deal for a FB in an era of no FBs.

Only one fullback played more than 350 snaps last year in a league where teams play over 1,000 over a season on offense. That one fullback was Kyle Juszczyk, but 92 different wide receivers played more than his 465 snaps a year ago. The 49ers just made Juszczyk the highest-paid fullback in NFL history, signing him to a four-year, $21 million deal with $10.5 million guaranteed. I think Juszczyk is actually the best and most-versatile fullback in the game, and the 49ers talked up that versatility, but Kyle Shanahan’s offense only deployed a fullback 323 times last year, 371 times the year before, and 324 times the season before that in Cleveland. They are paying more than $5 million per year for a player that will likely see less than a third of San Francisco’s offensive snaps.

| Senior Analyst

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

  • AMAC

    Disagree on Juszczyk. Thought that was a great signing. He’s going to be used in an expanded role w/ the 49ers. More like an H-Back, Delanie Walker type weapon. He’s going to see the field alot and take advantage of mismatches!

    • crosseyedlemon

      The Niners had the worst time of possession in the league last season and that probably won’t improve much unless their defense can really improve. Juszczyk will likely have a low snap count as the offense will be passing and trying to play catch up frequently.

      • Jcool

        Last two seasons: 78 catches for 587 yards and 4 TDs.

  • Phong Ta

    -Position scarcity both on their own roster and in Free Agency caused the Panthers to overpay for Kalil, as has happened with multiple O-Linemen this offseason, so it’s not like they’re alone in that department

    -The Texans wanted to get Osweiler’s contract off the books, I don’t blame them for moving on from their mistake as soon as possible

    -Niners and Rams clearly overpaid, there is no defending those contracts

    -Pryor clearly wants more money than he’s worth after just a single season of production, and the Browns have money to spare, may as well ensure you have a big bodied wideout for whoever your QB is in 2017

    -There’s something to be said about team continuity but I agree the Ravens way overpaid to keep Williams around when they have a lot of other needs

    -The Niners overpaid for Juszczyk but they had to if they wanted to land him. Any talent for that offense is needed, even if it isn’t necessarily a great a move

    • crosseyedlemon

      Love that last sentence in your post. It’s basically the GM thinking “Well, I have to at least make it look like I’m earning my pay cheque and trying to improve the team….even though it’s a pipe dream”.

    • Justin Potts

      Panthers would have been better served pursuing Whitworh than Kalil. Whitworth is the better player even at 35, he has essentially 3m dead money if cut after the year due to decline. With Kalil they have a 55million dollar reclamation project.

  • cka2nd

    As a Vikings fan, I could kiss the feet of the Panthers’ GM. ThankYouThankYouThankYou…

    • crosseyedlemon

      Looks like the Panthers plan is to load up on one year rentals. Not sure they can climb back to the division title doing that but at least they won’t go broke trying.

      • Tim Edell

        Hello sir!! Paying 25 million guaranteed for a player who had 1 good season at LT shows how bad teams need LT.

    • http://www.kissmysouthernass.com VoiceOfReason

      Vikings fan too, I completely agree with you.
      (roughly) $55 million for Kalil ??….Lol, thank you thank you thank you

  • William Burnett

    Now Cam is still gonna get concussed and another losing record year

  • Jamie Fitch

    What are you talking about Sam Monson? You act like Houston made a stupid move here. Who cares what the Browns do with Osweiler. If they flip him and get another pick for him, good for them. I don’t see how it reflects negatively on Houston. This was a brilliant move by Houston, freeing up cap and paving the way for Tony Romo. In both instances signing Osweiler or Romo, Houston has to take a chance. They are a quarterback away from being a top 5 team in the NFL. There’s always risk involved. They took a chance with Osweiler and it didn’t work out. And they found a way to get out of the deal. I think Houston was brilliant. And all the praise for the Browns being the genius’s is ridiculous. They paid $16ml for a 2nd round pick. Wow! that’s a lot of dough for a team that’s known for botching the draft. For the last three years I’ve seen you ANALyst and the main stream (New York) media paint Houston in a negative light with every move they make, even when they make good moves. It’s become obvious that “Fake News” has spread to the sports media as well. You spin doctors are being exposed at an alarming rate.

    • Erik Fountaine

      I think his point is that not only did Houston make a huge mistaking in signing him to a huge contract but they had to rid of him by giving up a 2nd round pick. That is money, time, and now draft compensation wasted on one bad QB.

      • crosseyedlemon

        Good point Erik and it still leaves the Texans with no QB for the future as Romo, even if signed, probably will be lost for the season following the first good hit he takes.

        • Taylor

          I’m sure this had to do with a physical confrontation between qb and coach as well, writers should put all the facts together before writing bullshit

          • crosseyedlemon

            Why don’t you enlighten everyone by pointing out what facts have been omitted or distorted?

  • bobrulz

    The short-term gain may be worth it for Houston if they can land Tony Romo and give them a legit QB for the next couple of years (assuming health of course).

    If not, then yeah, it’s a more questionable move.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Next couple of years? You have to respect Tony for all the physical abuse he’s endured during his career, but at this point the local hardware store doesn’t have enough screws, nuts, bolts and duct tape to keep him together for more than a game or two. You could probably get odds of 300-1 in Vegas of him starting every game in 2017.

      • bobrulz

        You may be right. It’s definitely a risk, but if I’m Houston, it’s a risk worth taking. Even the potential of 1 or 2 good, healthy seasons from Romo makes the Texans a Super Bowl contender.

  • JT

    So the Panthers let crappy Mike Remmers go to the Vikings who is even worse…and Kalil gets to go and gets to play with his brother with other real lineman next to him outside of the other tackle position. Wasn’t Oher listed as a bad signing too when we first got him?

  • crosseyedlemon

    Good article Sam and you probably just scratched the surface. It saddens me to see that the Bears think Glennon is the answer. That was money wasted. Also strange that the Rams believe they are close enough to a championship to invest in Whitworth. Guess they have no confidence that they can draft the OL help they’ll need.

    • Justin Potts

      I doubt anyone associated with the rams thinks they’re close to a championship. I think the Whitworth signing was more to salvage there first round pick from the year before rather than let him get shell shocked like David Carr.

  • VMI1998

    Maybe you have inside information. From what I’ve heard Pryor was offered a deal similar to what Britt received but was asking for significantly more. The Browns felt that the negotiations weren’t bridging the gap and that Pryor (or his agents) had decided to test free agency. At that point Cleveland decided to go after a WR in FA to ensure that, if they were to lose Pryor, they would have a player with similar (if not more consistent last year) production would be lining up in 2017. In the end Pryor signed with Washington for less than what the Browns offered.

    • Jeff Shope

      Pryor is one of the good stories in NFL. He worked his tail off to learn WR much pof it in seattle after being a QB. Michael Robinson did a similar position change from QB to fullback. Neither an easy move

  • Andre Taylor

    I dont think the Rams signing the left tackle was a bad signing, they drafted a quarterback #1 overall last year. Giving him some very good bkindside protection for the next few years is an absolute must. We have seen to many times a franchise draft a quarterback high in the draft, fail to protect him. He becomes shell shocked, and his career goes down the drain. By signing the LT, it moves Robertson over to guard or right tackle and improves the line at multiple positions. It gives Goff a little more stability and their running back more room to run. Now if anything signing Robert Woods to that contract is the biggest mistake, they already have a undersized WR in Austin. They just lost Kenny Britt to Cleveland, so why go sign another undersized wr? While i don’t agree with the years, or the money. No team in the NFL should be given any flack for trying to improve their offensive line, the quarterback position is the most important in the NFL. Teams have no chance at any success without a franchise quarterback, so if a team is lucky enough to have one. They damn sure better go all out to protect him.

    • Justin Potts

      I agree I think the Whitworth signing is one of if not the best signings of FA. Kalil gets 5/55/25? Okung at 4/53/25? Whitworth at 3/33/15 is an awesome value contract. They protect Goff’s blindside for a couple of years and if Whit drops off a cliff there’s little owed money.

      • Andre Taylor

        I totally agree, the Rams gave up all kinds of draft picks to draft Goff # 1 overall. Why not protect him, they can draft his replacement this year in the low rounds. Some linemen need to be developed, thats one of the problems in today’s NFL is these teams dont take the time to develop the talent. Prime example, is look at Marcus Cannon was drafted by the Patriots in the 5th round out of TCU a few years. Took the time, worked with him, and he had his best season last year helping them win the Super Bowl. One of the worst things that teams are doing to these kids now, is trying to either rush them. Or giving up on them, the bottom line is if you think you have a franchise quarterback. You should do all that you can so he doesn’t end up like David Carr, and more like Derek Carr.

        • GordonGekko

          DUMB NI GGER

  • S Smith

    > effectively halving the cost for any prospective new team

    Why would any other team pay more than the minimum? It’s not like Osweiler is in high demand. $15 million for a second round pick? That’s too much. Especially if the Texans make the playoffs again. They made it with Osweiler at the helm, what are the chances that they make it again with someone else? That second rounder will be close to a third rounder. And if no one takes him because they know the Browns want to cut him, the Browns will have paid $16 million for almost a third rounder. Money they could have used to keep Pryor who is a known quantity vs a gamble in the draft.