NFL players are worth any money they can get, especially in this pandemic year with a reduced salary cap. Consider this list, then, a prediction of the players who are most likely to sign a contract in the next month that eventually looks onerous. Today’s big free-agent signings often turn into tomorrow’s cap cuts when their deals no longer make sense.
It’s unfortunate that Ngakoue didn’t take an aggressive — if short-term — extension offer when he was in Jacksonville. His 2020 season, where he failed to make a big impact on two pass rusher-friendly defenses in Minnesota and Baltimore, helped to outline some of his shortcomings.
Ngakoue could still add juice to a team that needs pure edge speed, without worrying much about the running game or maintaining gap responsibility. But it’s fair to note that his pressure total has decreased every season since 2017, when he was playing on a historically good Jaguars defensive line. The Ravens only trusted him for 20 snaps per game by the playoffs this past season.
Pat Pete will be an interesting Hall of Fame discussion some day. He could make it a lot more interesting with a second act à la Richard Sherman in his early 30s. The game film of the last two years, with Peterson often struggling in matchups he used to dominate, indicates he will need to find the right scheme to maximize his skills.
Reddick broke out in 2020, but that’s one reason he’s on this list. His three previous years in the desert were disappointing, with the Cardinals not picking up his fifth-year option entering 2020 as a result.
It’s possible that the team finally unlocked his potential by using him correctly, even if his struggles against the run continued. It’s also possible that some other team will lean too hard on a pre-draft evaluation that made Reddick the No. 13 overall pick and not enough on the Cardinals’ eagerness to move on from him in favor of J.J. Watt.
Echoing sentiments about Reddick just above, I’m wary of guys who didn’t get their fifth-year option picked up. The Titans saw Davis for three seasons and thought he wasn’t worth the risk of a non-guaranteed (for skill) contract at this point one year ago. Davis nearly hit 1,000 yards in 14 games last season to make that decision look curious, but he did it with the best possible surroundings. A solid No. 2 or No. 3 receiver, Davis still has too many games like his 0-fer in the playoffs where he doesn’t make an impact.
Any starting tackle is going to get attention in a barren market, and Villanueva has hit 1,000 snaps in four of the last five seasons for a winning organization (missing the mark by four snaps in 2019). The Steelers usually know when to move on, and they need line help, so Villanueva’s availability is a red flag on its own.
The inclusion of both players here is far less about the high quality of both players and more about the market. Thuney and Linsley have proven they are above-average starting offensive linemen and I have them in my top 20!
Still, players like them often get superstar money in free agency when interior offensive line play depends so much on teamwork and coaching. Players like Matt Paradis, Andrew Norwell, Weston Richburg and Logan Mankins are examples of interior linemen free agents who could only effect so much change on their new teams. To put it another way: Finding a scheme and the right offensive line coach is a much cheaper way to improve line play.
A.B. produced enough in Tampa to keep his career going. But his explosiveness was also diminished enough to make the risk of signing him not worth the potential reward at anything more than the discount rate he played for with the Bucs.
Top-five quarterbacks who don’t pan out usually get one second contract that is inflated, even if only at backup levels, because of their draft pedigree. After that, they settle into year-to-year, low-cost deals or fall out of the league. That’s my guess for how Trubisky’s career will play out.
This is probably the offseason where teams stop paying big money to Watkins, but he’s still somehow only 27 years old, so you never know. Despite making over $60 million in career earnings, Watkins has failed to hit 700 yards since 2015, his second year in the league.
If you catch O-Gun on the right week, he looks like a future All-Pro. He makes this list partly because there isn’t much defensive tackle talent available in free agency and one team is bound to pay for the promise the Browns failed to maximize over the last two seasons despite excellent teammates around him.
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