The offseason landscape is still taking shape, the draft is just around the corner and players like Adrian Peterson and Tony Romo are still looking for new homes. However, the first wave of major transactions are in the books. Some teams have found gems and some have wasted loads of cash on players that will underperform. We won’t truly know the impact of any of these moves until we are one, two, or three years out from now. Perhaps Cleveland’s newly retooled offensive line and Isaiah Crowell will plow their way to multiple Superbowl victories. Unlikely, but possible. So for now, I will give you what I see as the best and worst transactions of this NFL offseason as well as the biggest surprise.
Best Signing: Desean Jackson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3 years $33.5 million $20 million guaranteed
(you’re going to see the guaranteed numbers a lot. It’s the most important information)
Okay, stick with me here. I’m not saying that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to jump from a 9-7 team to Super Bowl victors simply by adding Desean Jackson. However, I do believe that Jackson will add explosiveness to a Tampa Bay team that needs it in the worst way. Mike Evans is a beast, that much is clear. Last year, his 1,321 yards receiving and 12 touchdown receptions were fourth and second most in the league. Evans is love, Evans is life, and Evans is not the problem.
The problem for the Buccaneers is that Evans is the only legitimate target on their roster. The team’s second leading wide receiver last season was Adam Humphries with 622 yards. Only eight teams had lower yardage outputs from their WR2. Jackson, if healthy, should change that trend. He has only had one season with under 622 yards receiving and that was in 2015 when he only played in ten games due to injury. While he won’t fix the running game that ranked 24th in the league last season, he will bring to town a skillset that for four consecutive seasons has landed him in the top 10 of the league in terms of yards per reception. Last season his 17.9 yard average was top in the league.
Evans was targeted a league-high 175 times last season. While the peppering of Evans does reiterate the fact that the Bucs are lacking second, third, and fourth options at receiver, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Among the next five leaders in terms of targets after Evans – Odell Beckham Jr. (169), Julian Edelman (158), T.Y. Hilton (156), Antonio Brown (155), and Jordy Nelson (152) – are three playmakers that helped lead their teams to the Conference Championship Round. Jackson’s ability to produce without significantly eating into Evans target monopoly, which apparently is a recipe for success, is just another reason why Jackson looks to be a perfect addition. It took Jackson just 100 targets last year to rack up 56 receptions for 1,005 yards. To compare, Humphries needed 82 targets to get to 55 receptions and 622 yards. If Evans targets dipped just 18, the difference between Jackson’s and Humphries’ targets last season, he would still have been fifth in the league in targets. Looks like a recipe for success, hopefully Jameis Winston brings the crab legs.
Worst Signing (With a Caveat): Mike Glennon to the Chicago Bears 3 years $45 million $18.5 million guaranteed
Mike Glennon is the easy selection here. However, like I said we won’t really know until at least one year from now whether the Bears are geniuses, proving all of us wrong as they ride Glennon to the promised land, or if GM Ryan Pace thinks he’s in a music video for Fat Joe’s 2006 single, Make It Rain.
I want to make it clear that I don’t think Glennon is a terrible quarterback but his sample size is just too small to garner $15 million a year. He only has 11 pass attempts in the past two seasons combined. It’s likely he’ll have some major rust to shake off. For the Bear’s sake let’s hope he shakes it off in training camp and the preseason.
I’m going to contradict myself in a major way here. I don’t think the Bears made that big of a mistake in signing Glennon. I only consider him the worst signing because of the amount of money he was given despite a limited sample size as a starting quarterback. Even then, his $15 million salary puts him at just 23rd among the highest paid quarterbacks in the league. So, maybe I’m an idiot, but more likely I’m extremely indecisive.
The Bears recently signed Mark Sanchez to a one-year $2 million dollar deal, with one million guaranteed, presumably to serve as the primary backup to Glennon. With a quarterback depth chart already consisting of Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez, David Fales, and Connor Shaw, it would seem that quarterback is out of play for the Bears at the number three pick in next month’s draft. I may be in the minority but I think the Bears would be wise to select a quarterback even as early as the third pick if they are impressed by any of the prospects.
The expression “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is definitely at the center of my quarterback overload theory. At first glance, money might seem like an issue if they took a quarterback that high. However, the top five highest paid quarterbacks are: Andrew Luck ($24.6 million), Carson Palmer ($24.3 million), Drew Brees ($24.2 million), Kirk Cousins ($23.9 million), and Joe Flacco ($22.1 million). Glennon’s $15 million is a far cry from $24 or $23 million. In fact, the $9 million or $8 million difference is enough to pay for a top NFL draft pick. Since the new collective bargaining agreement was put into place, drafted players receive contracts that have predetermined salaries and lengths that are based on their draft position. Last year Carson Wentz, the number two overall pick in the draft, made $4.8 million and the most he’ll make during the length of his contract, excluding the possible fifth-year option, is $8.5 million. Whoever the Bears take at the number-three pick will have a similar contract to Wentz. I’m no math wizard but 15+4.8=19.8 and $19.8 million would roughly be the combined salaries of Glennon and the theoretically chosen quarterback at the number-three pick for next season. Twenty million is a lot to invest in such uncertainty, but Glennon’s contract has $14 million of the guaranteed $18.5 million front loaded into the first year of the deal. Therefore, if Glennon struggles or is outplayed by the theoretical rookie, or hell even David Fales, the Bears could cut ties with Glennon and only lose a modest $4.5 million towards next year’s salary cap.
There are four possible ways things could shake out for the Bears if they take a quarterback at the third pick. If the theoretical rookie shines, that’d be great for Chicago. They’d have a young and promising starting quarterback on a rookie contract and be able to dump Glennon for a minimal amount. If Glennon struggles and needs to be replaced, the Bears would have a highly touted prospect waiting in the wings ready to at least try and take over the franchise. If Glennon shines, that’d also be great for Chicago. Most of all, they’d have a legitimate starting quarterback, but they’d also have a premium insurance policy in the rookie who could be dealt in the future for a relatively high draft pick. Of course, both Glennon and the rookie could be complete disasters. Still, until you find a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL, you need to tirelessly try to find one. I simply believe that drafting a quarterback at the number three pick would change the perspective of the Glennon signing and put the Bears further along in their search than if they were to stick with their current situation.
The Biggest Surprise: The Cleveland Browns
You may be surprised to see the Cleveland Browns here since I took a sarcastic jab at them earlier. Naturally, they’re my biggest surprise. Double surprise! But seriously, the Cleveland Browns have been uncharacteristically competent this offseason.
Offensive and defensive lines win games, period. In all my years of being a part of and watching football, that old cliche has been proven time and again. Last year, the Browns gave up 66 sacks. That’s almost double the league average of 34.9. There isn’t a single quarterback that could’ve succeeded behind that offensive line. So far, upfront they’ve added guard Kevin Zeitler who was the eighth highest rated guard in the league last year by Pro Football Focus and J.C. Tretter who was considered by some to be the best center on the market. With Joe Thomas and Joel Bitoni still in town, Cleveland will enter 2017 with what looks to be a very solid offensive line, which to me is the first and most important step for the franchise.
They did end up having to overpay for Zeitler, who got a five year $60 million deal with $31.5 million guaranteed, making him the highest paid guard in the league. However, they had to and they had the money to do it since they entered the offseason with over $100 million in cap space. Even now, they still have the most cap space in the league with approximately $63.6 million.
What’s more crazy is the fact that the $63.6 million in cap space is the total remaining after taking on the $16 million Brock Osweiler contract. If you didn’t already know, the Houston Texans traded Brock Osweiler and a 2018 2nd round pick in a NBA-esque salary dump to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a 2017 fourth round selection. Rumors have been circulating that the Browns would trade or release Osweiler this offseason. Even if they can’t trade him, they’ve already won by swapping a fourth for a second round pick and a player that they can cut after this season with no salary cap repercussions. Between 2006 and 2013, 52 second round draft choices have made pro bowls compared to just 27 fourth rounders. Championships are won through the draft. By the way, the Browns have accumulated 11 picks in this year’s draft and they’ll be instrumental as they continue their rebuild.