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2020 NFL offseason: Ranking the 5 worst free-agency signings thus far

The coronavirus halted the NBA and NHL seasons. It put an end to MLB spring training. But the NFL offseason has continued on. We are in uncharted territory as a country, but the NFL has managed to provide the most exciting free-agency period in its history.

Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all-time, defected to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after 20 years with the New England Patriots.

Philip Rivers, a likely Hall of Famer and the QB formerly of the Chargers for 16 seasons, joined the Indianapolis Colts on a one-year contract.

The quarterback carousel also featured Teddy Bridgewater signing a lucrative, three-year deal with the Carolina Panthers, ending Cam Newton’s nine-year run as the franchise’s signal caller.

Aside from quarterbacks switching teams, what else has defined the 2020 offseason? Head-scratching free-agency moves.

In this post, we look exclusively at the worst free-agent signings (meaning the Houston Texansgift-wrapping All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in a trade to the Arizona Cardinals will not be covered) through the early portion of the offseason.

5. Austin Hooper: 4-year, $44 million contract with Browns

The Cleveland Browns made Austin Hooper the NFL’s highest-paid tight end. A roster flushed with talent at the skill position—courtesy of former general manager John Dorsey—adding another playmaker shouldn’t have been at the top of the Browns’ priority list.

Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranked the Browns’ offensive line 23rd in the NFL for 2019. Baker Mayfield was constantly under pressure and ultimately developed the dreaded ‘happy feet’ in the pocket. He needs all the reinforcements he can get at offensive line.

The Browns did sign right tackle Jack Cronlin to a three-year, $42 million deal. The former first-team All-Pro (2015) will certainly aid the weakest part of Cleveland’s roster. But the Browns still don’t have a viable left tackle to protect Mayfield’s blindside. This puts the onus on management to draft a left tackle early in the draft and insert him immediately into a starter’s role—a heavy burden for a rookie.

Faulting the Hooper signing has nothing to do with Hooper’s abilities as a pass catcher. The 25-year-old is coming off a career season, in which he corralled 75 receptions for 787 yards and six touchdowns with the Falcons. The criticism is more of a reflection of the Browns spending at a position that didn’t need restocking, while ignoring holes on the rest of their roster.

Nick Chubb, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. give Mayfield plenty of talent to work with at the skill positions. Tight end David Njoku struggled through an injury-plagued season last year, but the former first-rounder could have been used in tandem with a less expensive free agent. But the Browns treated Hooper as a must-add player.

The offensive line remains a major question mark and Hooper does nothing to change that. Hooper is not regarded as a strong blocker. Making a guy that lacks blocking expertise the highest-paid player at his position in the NFL is quite risky.

4. Trae Waynes: 3-year, $42 million deal with Bengals

Cincinnati owns the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and is fully expected to select former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. The Bengals won just two games last year, but their front office is spending money as if they are on the verge of a huge bounce-back season. Not only did they place the franchise tag on star receiver A.J. Green, they also inked free-agent cornerback Trae Waynes to a massive deal.

Waynes, a member of the Vikings for the first five seasons of his career, did not perform well in 2019. Opposing quarterbacks targeted Waynes 96 times and completed 74 percent of their attempts with five TDs and a 107.9 passer rating.

Despite being a borderline starter, Cincinnati made Waynes the sixth-highest paid corner in football. The Bengals are putting a lot of trust in a player who has not yet sniffed a Pro Bowl.

3. Halapoulivaati Vaitai: 5-year, $50 million deal with Lions

The Detroit Lions, to the surprise of many, handed right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai a hefty contract. Vaitai struck it rich, despite making only four starts in the past two seasons.

Vaitai is a versatile player, capable of lining up at any position at o-line, excluding center. He played 380 snaps at right tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019. Vaitai also played left tackle, left guard, and right guard. In 477 total snaps across four positions, Vaitai committed four holding penalties, a high amount given his playing time.

To Vaitai’s credit, he has proven dependable as a run blocker. He holds his own in pass protection, as well.

The soon-to-be 27-year-old will be tasked with providing elite protection at right tackle for franchise QB Matthew Stafford. Vaitai could be moved around because of his versatility, but it’s unlikely with the Lions paying him top-notch dollars. This new contract should lead to more stable role for the former fifth-round pick.

Not only does Vaitai have only 20 starts under his belt as a pro, he played just 41 percent of the Eagles’ snaps last year.  The Lions were clearly blown away with what they saw of Vaitai in his limited 2019 role. Perhaps they went back and saw the admirable job he did filling in for the injured Jason Peters during the Eagles’ 2017 title run.

No matter how you spin it, the Lions are paying Vaitai to be a Pro Bowl player. That’s asking a lot, especially given his lack of experience in a full-time role in the NFL.

2. Randall Cobb: 3-year, $27 million contract with Texans

We briefly touched on the Texans trading away DeAndre Hopkins in a deal that failed to garner significant assets in return. The Cardinals snagged Hopkins and a fourth-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, and all it cost them was oft-injured running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick and a fourth-round pick in 2021.

Needing a receiver to replace the departed Hopkins, the Texans gave Randall Cobb a three-year deal worth $27 million. Cobb was once one of the premier slot receivers in football back in his heyday with the Green Bay Packers. But those days are long gone.

Sure, Cobb had a solid season with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019, cracking the 800-yard receiving mark for the first time in four years. Nevertheless, giving him an average annual salary of $9 million is foolish.

Cobb, set to enter his age-30 season in 2020, has never been a No. 1 receiver. And yet, he could be thrust into that role if Will Fuller goes down with another injury this season. Fuller is one of the most injury-prone players in football. He has missed 22 out of a possible 64 games since the Texans nabbed him in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

Expectations for Cobb will be unfairly high because he signed with the Texans on the same day they got rid of Hopkins.

It’s hard to envision this contract working out for the Texans. It’s been a rough NFL offseason for Houston.

1. Jimmy Graham: 2-year, $16 million deal with Bears

Tight end Jimmy Graham keeps managing to sign lucrative contracts.

After failing to make an impact with the Packers’ offense, Graham joined the Chicago Bears on a two-year, $16 million pact. Graham will turn 34 during the upcoming season and is a shell of his former self. He hasn’t made the Pro Bowl since 2017 and accumulated five TDs in two seasons in Green Bay.

Often invisible in Green Bay’s offense last year, Graham posted four games with under 10 yards receiving. He mustered 30 yards total in two contests against the Bears last season, so the head-to-head matchups couldn’t have been what landed him this questionable contract.

The five-time Pro Bowler was never seen as a good blocking tight end even in his prime, and that hasn’t changed for the better in Graham’s later playing days.

It’s silly for any team to fork over that kind of money to Graham at this point of his career. It’s even more ludicrous coming from the Bears, who are already paying tight end Trey Burton $6.5 million ($8.5 million cap hit) next year. Bears GM Ryan Pace evidently loves rostering tight ends.

The newly-acquired Nick Foles will battle Mitchell Trubisky for the starting quarterback job next season. Regardless of who wins the gig, Graham can no longer be counted in the passing attack. He is no longer a deep threat by any means. This signing is truly hard to process.