Every year, teams overspend for players in free agency who watch their prices get driven up by the ballooning salary cap. It’s something that’s happened for years, and it’s not likely to change.
It leads to mistakes like DeMarco Murray and Albert Haynesworth, who both flopped with their respective teams after signing huge contracts in free agency.
This year, we’ve seen teams prioritize offensive linemen and wide receivers, some of which have been overpaid. They rank among the worst signings of free agency thus far.
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OT Russell Okung, Chargers
The Chargers' offensive line was abysmal last season. They attempted to address it in free agency by bringing in Okung, but all they really did was add an inconsistent, oft-injured veteran for $53 million over four years. A whopping $25 million of that was guaranteed, which is a huge number for a guy who missed 13 games from 2013 to 2015.
He was more reliable in 2016, but there’s a reason the Broncos didn’t pick up his option: he wasn’t worth that sort of money. Hopefully he can continue to stay healthy and play at a solid level, but the Chargers and their fans should have their doubts. Okung was a high-risk, high-reward signing.
USA TODAY SportsRon Chenoy
WR Kenny Britt, Browns
The Browns tried to retain Terrelle Pryor with a long-term extension. He didn’t want it. He preferred the one-year deal from Washington and never looked back. Britt was a good player for the Rams last season in a career year for him, but was he really worth $32.5 million for four years? That’s debatable for a player who has just one season with more than 800 yards receiving.
The Browns would have been better off giving Pryor the one-year deal he wanted, making him prove he’s worth a long-term extension. Pryor’s ceiling is far higher than Britt’s, especially for a team in need of playmakers.
WR Robert Woods, Rams
The Rams lost Kenny Britt, their most consistent receiver, in free agency. Tavon Austin is inconsistent and a one-trick pony, so what did the Rams do? Sign Robert Woods, a career role player for the Bills, $39 million over five years with $15 million guaranteed.
That will prove to be a colossal mistake, seeing as he’s not a true No. 1 receiver, which is exactly what the Rams need. They would have been far better off retaining Britt or going after a guy like Alshon Jeffery, who signed a one-year, $14 million deal with the Eagles.
Woods just doesn’t fit as the alpha Los Angeles desperately needs, despite being paid like one.
FB Kyle Juszczyk, 49ers
Fullbacks have essentially been phased out of the NFL with many teams going three-wide or putting two tight ends on the field. The 49ers didn’t feel that way. They paid Juszczyk $21 million for four years with $9.75 million guaranteed. Don’t get me wrong, the former Ravens fullback is a great player, but his fit in Baltimore’s offense was ideal.
They used him frequently as a receiver out of the backfield – probably more often than they should have – which is why his numbers were eye-popping for a fullback. The 49ers need playmakers on the outside and offensive line help. Not a fullback who can catch passes out of the backfield for $5 million per year – by far the highest total of any fullback. For comparison’s sake, Patrick DiMarco signed with the Bills for $2.1 million per year.
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OL Luke Joeckel, Seahawks
Joeckel was a bust in Jacksonville. There’s simply no way around that. He failed at tackle, and he was even worse at guard. The Seahawks, desperate for help at both spots, decided it would behoove them to sign Jockel to a one-year, $8 million deal with $7 million guaranteed.
It’s not going to destroy their cap space, but he’s not going to have a positive impact offensively unless he undergoes a serious transformation as a player next season. He struggled in both pass protection and blocking in the running game, which are obviously concerns as a starter. He’ll need to prove he’s worth even $8 million per year.
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LB Malcolm Smith, 49ers
Smith’s greatest accomplishment to date is winning Super Bowl MVP, which is obviously a tremendous feat. However, beyond that, he’s just a decent linebacker. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith missed 36 tackles the past two seasons in Oakland, which is a huge number for a linebacker.
Ever since he won Super Bowl MVP honors, he’s been on a downward spiral. His bank account, however, has not. He received $26.5 million for five years from the 49ers, which is a fairly large payday for a borderline starter.
The 49ers had money to spend, and they used it. unfortunately, Smith isn’t a player they should have thrown that much money at.
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OT Matt Kalil, Panthers
The Panthers were desperate to replace Michael Oher at left tackle. That was obvious. What wasn’t clear was that the Panthers would settle for a mediocre player and pay him $55.5 million. To make matters worse, $24 million of that is guaranteed.
Granted, it’s a backloaded deal with cap hits of just $3.4 million and $6.9 million in the first two years, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that they’re paying a mid-tier starter like a Pro Bowler. They’ll be writing him good-sized checks for at least three years based on his contract structure.