San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers needed to upgrade their linebacker corps, as last year’s unit combined for an overall grade of just 58.7 and recorded the third-most missed tackles, with 46. In response, they overpaid for a linebacker who has missed a whopping 78 tackles throughout his career.
Kwon Alexander, who signed a deal with San Francisco that averages $13.5 million per year, has recorded overall grades of 38.8, 68.4, 65.5 and 59.1 over the course of his career and actually cost the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on average, a win each season, per PFF’s wins above replacement metric. While he has fared well in coverage (ranking 16th of 54 linebackers in coverage grade since 2016), his past production does not warrant a deal of this size.
In addition, San Francisco also rewarded edge rusher Dee Ford for his breakout season with a five-year, $87.5 million deal after trading a 2020 second-round pick to the Chiefs. While Ford’s 84 total pressures led the league last season, they were also 30 more than he recorded in any other season. By signing Ford to such a big-money deal, they’re betting on him repeating his best season, not the inconsistent play that marred the rest of his pro career.
The Raiders made two big moves right out of the gate, trading third- and fifth-round draft picks to the Pittsburgh Steelers for superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown and then handing Trent Brown the richest contract for an offensive lineman in NFL history at four years, $66 million.
The benefits of dealing a pair of mid-round picks for Brown are obvious. No receiver who has seen at least 250 targets since 2010 has graded higher than Brown, who earned a 94.6 (on a scale of 0-100). However, the deal comes with risk. As a part of the trade for Brown, the Raiders agreed to restructure his contract to make him the highest-paid receiver in the NFL at a maximum of $54.1 million over the next three years. That’s big money for a guy coming off his worst-graded season to date and is 31 years old.
As for Trent Brown, there is no question the Raiders overpaid. They needed to upgrade at offensive tackle after 2018 first-round pick Kolton Miller allowed 65 quarterback pressures last season, including a league-high 16 sacks. Brown, coming off a great postseason for the New England Patriots, was in the right place at the right time. But he ranked just 37th in the NFL last season among tackles in pass-blocking grade, giving up 33 pressures and getting beaten on several more plays during which he was bailed out by Tom Brady’s quick release. Even though he’s likely an upgrade over Miller, his production doesn’t warrant the cost.
The Raiders also invested $10 million-plus apiece annually for safety Lamarcus Joyner and wide receiver Tyrell Williams.
Nearly a year after essentially outbidding themselves for quarterback Blake Bortles, whom the team released this offseason after he ranked 32nd of 39 qualifying passers with a 64.1 grade, the Jaguars appear to have done the same thing with Nick Foles.
The former Super Bowl MVP has been one of the NFL’s feel-good stories the past two seasons, but his overall performance over the course of his career does not merit the four-year, $88 million deal he signed with Jacksonville. The contract can reach up to $102 million with incentives. For the 11th-richest quarterback contract in the league, Jacksonville is acquiring a quarterback who was only worth around half a win above replacement more than Bortles last season and finished 19th in the league with a 76.6 grade.
New York Jets
The Jets came into free agency with more than $100 million in cap space, and they seemed content to use as much of it as possible to strengthen a team that finished in last in the AFC East for the third straight year. Unfortunately, they didn’t get much bang for their buck.
They signed former Baltimore Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley to a five-year, $85 million contract that surpasses the value that a player of Mosley’s kind can provide: He is an above-average run defender who hasn’t thrived in coverage for most of his career. In today’s NFL, a linebacker’s ability to cover the middle of the field is paramount, and Mosley’s five-year coverage grade of 73.8 ranks 24th among qualifying linebackers during that span.
In addition to overpaying for an inside linebacker, the Jets came away the victors in the Le’Veon Bell sweepstakes, which was always going to end with a team paying more than the value the position provides. The Jets gave out a four-year, $52.5 million contract to a player who was worth about 1.11 wins above replacement in 2017, which tied for 69th among all players in the league.
New York Giants
There is arguably no franchise in the NFL that has paid more for less over recent seasons, and the 2019 free agency period did absolutely nothing to fill Giants fans with hope for the future. In addition to keeping Eli Manning at the helm of the offense for one more year, General Manager Dave Gettleman took “an offer he couldn’t refuse” and traded away the league’s ninth-most valuable non-quarterback in Odell Beckham Jr. and star pass-rusher Olivier Vernon in exchange for Jabrill Peppers, guard Kevin Zeitler, a first-round pick and a third-round pick.
In exchange for trading away his most talented players, Gettleman gets $34 million in dead money against the cap, which is $10 million more than the next closest team. The additions of Zeitler and Golden Tate will help secure positions of need this season, but Tate hardly came cheap, at four years and $37.5 million. Shaky decision-making and what can only be viewed as poor cap management will cost the Giants over the next couple of seasons.
More NFL coverage: