Barnwell ranks the worst NFL offseasons: Why the Texans and Pats are at the bottom

With the NFL universe on pause, now seems like a good time to continue our big-picture look into how each organization did during the player-acquisition period of the offseason. Over the next four days, I’m going to run through all 32 teams and rank the work they did from worst to first.

To measure how each team performed, I’m comparing their roster, cap situation and future draft capital at the beginning of the offseason to what they have in mid-May. The most important thing a team can do is add talent, so those that made significant inroads in improving their roster will rank highly, while those that saw key pieces leave without replacements won’t. I also considered how each attacked their specific needs, how well they read the market and handled the financial side of their deals, and what they did to create future draft picks.

For each team, I’ll include what went right, what went wrong, what they might have done differently with a bit of hindsight and what they need to do next in the months to come. Finally, and this is important: These aren’t power rankings of how these teams will perform in 2020. Some of the worst teams in the league from last season will finish at or near the top of these rankings because they were able to draft immediate-impact players at key positions, while some of the best teams shed talent or weren’t able to add much in the draft because they had already dealt away picks.

I’ll start Monday with the bottom eight teams, hit eight more on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then finish up with the top eight on Thursday. You can probably guess where these rankings begin:

Jump to a team:
CHI | DET | GB | HOU
LAR | NE | SEA | TEN

What went right: Hmm. We’re starting this series with the toughest question, huh? I suppose the two-year, $3 million deal the Texans gave former Eagles and Chargers defensive back Jaylen Watkins could be decent value if they slot him in the correct role. They also upgraded their special-teams coverage units by importing players such as Eric Murray and Michael Thomas. Second-round pick Ross Blacklock, Houston’s first selection in the 2020 draft, could turn into a useful interior disrupter and third pass-rusher for a team that had the league’s fourth-worst adjusted sack rate.

What went wrong: The Texans traded away arguably their second-best player for pennies on the dollar because he wanted a new contract and then overpaid for just about every one of their offseason additions. Even if they hadn’t traded wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a swap of fourth-rounders for a second-round pick and running back David Johnson‘s bloated contract, this would be a disaster.

Coach Bill O’Brien misread the market and handed out significant deals to cornerback Bradley Roby (three years, $36 million), wide receiver Randall Cobb (three years, $27 million), kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn (four years, $17.7 million) and Murray (three years, $18 million) and even threw in a one-year, $4 million pact for backup quarterback AJ McCarron. O’Brien finished up by giving agentless left tackle Laremy Tunsil a three-year, $66 million extension, a market-shifting deal everyone saw coming from the moment the Texans traded away multiple first-round picks to acquire Tunsil without negotiating an extension as part of the pact.

What they could have done differently: How much time do you have? Let’s start by using the window afforded them during the trading process last year to insist on getting Tunsil signed to an extension as part of that trade. The team reportedly attempted to sign Carlos Hyde to an extension before free agency; Hyde isn’t much more than a league-average running back, but if signing him meant that O’Brien wouldn’t have assumed the Johnson contract, it would have been a hidden victory for this team.

The Texans shouldn’t have traded away Hopkins, contract demands or not. The Falcons were able to satiate Julio Jones when he was three years away from the end of his deal by moving money around before handing him a deal with two years to go. And if you don’t want to follow that model, what was Hopkins going to do in a league in which the new collective bargaining makes it virtually impossible for players to hold out?

Read more: Barnwell graded more than 100 signings and trades this offseason

If O’Brien thought his relationship with Hopkins was unsalvageable and he needed to trade his star wide receiver away, that’s one thing. He simply had to get more out of that deal than an underwater running back contract and a second-round pick. Even if Hopkins wanted a new deal, the Stefon Diggs trade saw the Vikings send a less productive player with a reputation of creating drama inside his building to the Bills for a much greater haul, most notably a first-round pick. Beating the Vikings to the punch for that Bills deal would have been more defensible.

What’s left to do: Trade Kenny Stills. The Texans don’t really have a need for Stills as their fourth wide receiver behind Cobb, Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller, and the former Dolphins wideout has $7 million in unguaranteed money due on the final year of his deal. There’s an obvious fit here with the Packers, who didn’t get all of their shopping done this offseason.


What went right: Offensive tackle Germain Ifedi didn’t live up to expectations as a first-round pick for Seattle, but the Bears were able to sign the oft-penalized lineman to a one-year deal for just over $1 million, which is good value for a solid run-blocker. They will try Ifedi at guard as a replacement for the retired Kyle Long. General manager Ryan Pace also took the first steps out of the Mitchell Trubisky business, declining the quarterback’s fifth-year option while bringing in Nick Foles to compete for a starting job. While Robert Quinn‘s five-year, $70 million deal is expensive, it’s for a player for whom ESPN’s pass rush win rate analysis suggests was the most effective pass-rusher in the league over the past two seasons. I also liked the flier Chicago took on former Steelers first-round corner Artie Burns.

What went wrong: Despite the fact that Foles’ contract was a disaster for the Jaguars, the Bears sent a fourth-round pick to acquire him and didn’t force the Jags to eat any of the money, instead restructuring $21 million in guarantees to come due over the next three seasons. Foles could work out as the team’s starter, but this is the equivalent of signing an expensive three-year gym membership as a college senior. There couldn’t have been much of a market for Foles, and Andy Dalton, who was cut by the Bengals after the draft, came without the pick or significant cash attached.

The Jimmy Graham deal was likely the worst contract of free agency, as a Bears team that had already committed significant assets to tight ends Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton under Pace gave Graham a two-year, $16 million deal with $9 million guaranteed and a truly inexplicable no-trade clause. Graham can’t block, and he was anonymous during his time with the Packers. Chicago needed three voidable years to re-sign linebacker Danny Trevathan on a three-year, $21.8 million deal, which is like taking out a loan so you can help pay for that gym membership. There are still questions about what this team has at wide receiver and in the secondary, where it will likely need second-rounder Jaylon Johnson to start as a rookie.

What they could have done differently: Waited out the quarterback market. Foles wasn’t going to have many suitors, and the Jaguars had little leverage in moving his massive contract. Judging from the deals that Dalton and Jameis Winston signed — and the offers Joe Flacco and Cam Newton have yet to get — there was more supply in the quarterback market than demand this offseason. Wiping away the Graham deal goes without saying; if the Bears wanted to go after a versatile tight end, they were better off handing a similar deal to Eric Ebron, who signed with Pittsburgh for less money.

What’s left to do: Add a veteran cornerback. The bottom tier of the cornerback market still has plenty of options available. Guys such as Eli Apple, Trumaine Johnson and Dre Kirkpatrick were generally problems in 2019, but the Bears should be able to sign one of them for little more than the veterans minimum. I would prefer Apple, who is still only 24 and was competent for the Saints in 2018.


What went right: The Patriots finally invested at tight end, using third-round picks on Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. Franchising and retaining guard Joe Thuney gives them their best chance of building around the running game as they shift their offensive identity. Perhaps most important, they kept their dominant secondary together by re-signing Devin McCourty to a two-year deal, losing only Duron Harmon to the Lions.

Behind the 32-year-old McCourty at safety, coach Bill Belichick made obviously Belichickian additions by signing Adrian Phillips and using a second-round pick on the versatile and athletic Kyle Dugger. New England also banked three projected compensatory picks for the players it lost in free agency, including a third-rounder for quarterback Tom Brady and fourth-rounders for linebackers Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy.

What went wrong: The Patriots had Brady at quarterback, and now they have Jarrett Stidham. Even a diminished Brady would still project to be a playoff-caliber quarterback with the sort of defense this team had in 2019; the same thing isn’t clear with Stidham, who appears to be the Week 1 starter. Losing Brady is one thing, but the Pats neglecting to make a meaningful move for someone like Andy Dalton seems shortsighted and stubborn.

Franchising Thuney means New England has a league-high $28.6 million of its cap committed to guards in 2020, nearly $7 million more than any other team. The Thuney tag cost the Patriots valuable cap space and eliminated their leverage in dealing with Rob Gronkowski when he wanted to return, forcing them to trade their legendary tight end to the Bucs for a midround pick. The Pats also lost three members of their starting front seven with Collins, Van Noy and defensive tackle Danny Shelton leaving town. While I have faith Belichick will replace those guys in the long term, the defense should take a step backward in 2020.

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Bill Belichick is confident Jarrett Stidham will be able to lead the Patriots’ offense.

What they could have done differently: When Brady was clamoring for more money during the summer of 2019, the Patriots gave him a “two-year deal,” which was really an $8 million raise and a ticket to free agency after the season. Given that Brady ended up netting only a two-year, $50 million deal on the open market, this team could have made him a credible multiyear offer to stick around for the remainder of his career.

Would Brady have taken that kind of offer if the Pats had made it at this time last year? It’s impossible to say. Given what both sides had to gain, though, it’s not hard to imagine a common ground where the Patriots could have given him a new deal with two years of guarantees and a voidable year or two attached to help create short-term cap space. (The Pats used that space on Antonio Brown, which is another thing that didn’t go well.)

Belichick is obviously not stupid; the Patriots chose not to make that sort of offer for a reason. Stidham’s performance over the next couple of years will make it clear whether the legendary coach was right to move on from the most fruitful relationship in NFL history.

What’s left to do: Clear out cap room and wait. New England should be targeting veterans who come available now that we’re on the other side of the post-June 1 window. (I know that sounds weird, but in the NFL, the middle of May comes after June 1.) Belichick can clear out about $5 million by cutting backup running back Rex Burkhead and offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor or gin up another $3 million or so by releasing safety Terrence Brooks and tight end Matt LaCosse. The Pats should be in the market for a veteran tight end, but more important, it’s money they could put toward someone like Cam Newton or Joe Flacco, if they’re healthy enough to compete with Stidham and Brian Hoyer.


What went right: The Lions went all-in on rebuilding their oft-frustrating secondary, trading cornerback Darius Slay and replacing him by signing Desmond Trufant and drafting Jeff Okudah at No. 3 overall. On paper, the trio of Okudah, Trufant and Justin Coleman would rank as one of the best cornerback combinations in the league. Trading for safety Duron Harmon completed the defensive back makeover. They will miss Slay, but even with him on the field last season, they allowed a passer rating of 97.4, which would have been the eighth-worst mark in the league.

What went wrong: Coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn elected to rebuild most of their defense by acquiring the players Bill Belichick didn’t want to keep, a move that typically turns out poorly for other teams. Jamie Collins‘ three-year, $30 million deal seemed particularly onerous for a linebacker who was a mess outside of New England during his run with Cleveland. The Lions will now start four former Pats on defense in Collins, Harmon, Trey Flowers and Danny Shelton. They look perilously thin along the defensive line, and while Belichick has been able to mold middling players into contributors across his front seven, Patricia’s players have generally been better elsewhere than they were playing for him in Detroit.

The Lions also weren’t able to parlay the No. 3 draft pick into a bidding war between the Chargers and Dolphins, forcing them to stay put. Okudah should be an impact cornerback, and I don’t have any issue with them drafting him, but this team could have sorely used an extra first-round pick. Detroit used its second-round pick on running back D’Andre Swift, and while he is a talented player, this isn’t a roster that can afford to use two second-round picks on running backs across three years. You could argue Kerryon Johnson is a sunk cost, but the Lions could have addressed running back with one of a number of veterans at minimal cost.

Instead, Detroit hit free agency yet again, and its deals were questionable. Trufant hasn’t lived up to expectations over the past three seasons. The five-year, $45 million deal it handed Halapoulivaati Vaitai pays the former Eagles swing tackle like he is an upper-echelon starter. It sure looks reminiscent of the big deal that Detroit handed former starting right tackle Rick Wagner, which didn’t work out.

What they could have done differently: Resisted the urge to go after as many former Patriots as possible. The Collins deal is a mess, and under Belichick, the Patriots have exhibited the ability to develop players such as Shelton and Harmon into useful contributors. Patricia and Quinn are trying to buy them instead. If the Lions couldn’t trade down in the first round, they should have used their second-rounder on a position that’s tougher to fill than halfback.

What’s left to do: Add defensive line help. Detroit signed Nick Williams to a two-year deal after he impressed with the Bears in his first significant stretch of pro action as a 29-year-old, but it needs another pass-rusher to mix in on a rotational basis. I’d love to see the Lions sign Jadeveon Clowney, but more realistically, this would be a landing spot for somebody like Jabaal Sheard on the edge or Marcell Dareus on the interior. Hey, one of those guys used to play for the Patriots!


What went right: The Rams acknowledged sunk costs and made the difficult decision to essentially erase their 2018 offseason by releasing running back Todd Gurley and trading away receiver Brandin Cooks. They rebuilt their defensive line around Aaron Donald by signing Leonard Floyd and A’Shawn Robinson, and when Michael Brockers failed his physical with the Ravens, they brought him back at a reasonable price. L.A. is expected to add third- and fourth-round compensatory picks in the 2021 draft for losing linebackers Dante Fowler Jr. and Cory Littleton in free agency.

What went wrong: As I wrote about in my winners and losers column, the Rams didn’t address their needs. They used their two second-round picks on replacements for Gurley and Cooks; shouldn’t Sean McVay be able to coach up a running back and third receiver without having to use the team’s top picks? Their offensive line is still seriously troubling, and while they re-signed veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the 38-year-old committed 14 penalties last season, up from 12 over his prior two seasons combined. The Rams have two other line starters coming off season-ending knee injuries, and they added only Jamil Demby and seventh-round pick Tremayne Anchrum.

They didn’t replace Littleton, and while defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has a track record of molding inside linebackers out of unlikely places, Phillips is gone too. The Rams were ninth in defensive DVOA last season, and they will go from Phillips’ decades of experience to 37-year-old Brandon Staley, who has spent only three years in the NFL. They also lost longtime special-teams coordinator John Fassel, who will be replaced by former Central Michigan coach John Bonamego.

Perhaps more disconcertingly, it seems L.A. is either struggling with cash flow or going to present itself as such for the time being. It still hasn’t paid Gurley or Clay Matthews owed bonus money, which led to Matthews filing a grievance with the league. Last week, the Rams reportedly applied for a $500 million loan from the league to help finance cost overruns on their new stadium while simultaneously asking for a 30-year repayment term, which is double the typical length. These two issues likely aren’t directly related — the bonuses for Gurley and Matthews are a drop in the bucket relative to the stadium costs — but it’s fair to wonder whether the organization is in position to meet the lofty contract demands of star corner Jalen Ramsey.

What they could have done differently: As was the case with the Texans and Tunsil, the Rams should have negotiated an extension with Ramsey when they made their trade with the Jaguars. It would have been more difficult, given that they made the deal in the middle of the season, but even agreeing on the broader framework of an extension would have gone a long way. Given how Marcus Peters has played since leaving the Rams, it’s fair to argue that this team should have just held onto him and its two first-round picks, but that’s another conversation altogether.

The Rams didn’t have a first-round pick in April, and they won’t have one in next year’s draft, either. With that in mind, they badly needed to use one of their second-round picks this year on helping their offensive line. The organization was spoiled by what happened in 2017 and 2018, when the line stayed remarkably healthy and free-agent imports such as Whitworth and John Sullivan played at a high level. The line was a mess last season, and Jared Goff just isn’t good enough to overcome heavy pressure. He posted a league-worst passer rating of 34.5 under pressure. Even if second-round pick Cam Akers turns into a superstar, the Rams should have waited to target a running back.

What’s left to do: Sign Ramsey (or wide receiver Cooper Kupp). Both Kupp and Ramsey are in the final year of their respective deals, and the Rams don’t want to head to the 2021 offseason with the two stars vying for one franchise tag. They also will have to work on deals for tight end Gerald Everett and defensive backs John Johnson III and Troy Hill next year, and while some of their pending free agents will be allowed to leave, they probably want to lock up at least one of their big two before the season begins. Ramsey will look to reset the cornerback market and will be asking something in the range of $20 million per season.


What went right: In a market in which teams were aggressively paying for potential at offensive tackle, the Packers got a reasonable price in replacing Bryan Bulaga with Rick Wagner on a two-year, $11 million pact. While it wasn’t the first-round wide receiver Packers fans were craving, Devin Funchess could deliver good value on a one-year, $2.5 million deal as a second or third wideout. And while it’s not ideal for their chances of winning in 2020, if Green Bay did add its quarterback of the future when it drafted Jordan Love with the 26th pick, it would obviously push this offseason way higher than it ranks now.

What went wrong: In an offseason in which the draft was full of wide receiver talent and veteran wideout prices were depressed, the Packers really couldn’t come away with more than Funchess? Taking Love was one thing, but using a second-round pick on bruising running back AJ Dillon seemed more egregious. It also seemed to hint that Aaron Jones‘ future after the season lies outside of Green Bay, which is unlikely to make many Packers fans happy.

The decision to move on from Bulaga also was curious, given that he signed a relatively friendly deal with the Chargers. It’s possible the Packers weren’t given an option to match, but if they could have signed Bulaga for three years and $30 million, they should have brought back their stalwart right tackle.

They didn’t do much to address their defense. While they improved from 29th to 15th in DVOA after a spending spree in free agency last year, they are unlikely to be as healthy on the defensive side of the ball in 2020 after their starters missed a total of four games all season. They replaced linebacker Blake Martinez with Christian Kirksey, which should be a positive if Kirksey stays healthy, but I was surprised Green Bay didn’t try to do more to add depth on defense.

What they could have done differently: Realistically, even if the Packers wanted Love in Round 1, they should have gone out of their way to get one of the remaining wideouts in the second round. I’m not often an advocate for trading up, and it’s possible that opposing teams were quoting astronomical prices to the Packers after seeing how their fan base reacted to the Love pick, but they should have moved up in the second round to get someone like Laviska Shenault Jr. or Denzel Mims. Dillon basically has to turn into Derrick Henry for that pick to work, and both the track record and NFL career span of backs like Henry aren’t great.

What’s left to do: Acquire a veteran wideout. I mentioned Kenny Stills earlier, and a trade for the Texans wideout makes total sense.


What went right: The Seahawks added significant offensive line depth, re-signing Mike Iupati and signing the likes of B.J. Finney, Brandon Shell, Cedric Ogbuehi and Chance Warmack, before drafting Damien Lewis in the third round. With a thin depth chart at wide receiver behind starters Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, they were able to get a steal by adding Phillip Dorsett on a one-year deal for the veterans minimum. They also added some modestly priced depth at defensive end by signing Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin, and they made what looked to be an excellent trade in acquiring cornerback Quinton Dunbar from Washington for a fifth-round pick.

What went wrong: Dunbar’s near-term future appears to be uncertain after a warrant was issued for his arrest on armed robbery charges. The Seahawks will be able to get by without him, but they still haven’t acquired a primary pass-rusher after letting Jadeveon Clowney leave this offseason. The former first overall pick is still a free agent, but Seattle was 30th in adjusted sack rate with him and could be even worse without him. The two-year, $23 million deal the team gave defensive tackle Jarran Reed had a player-friendly structure, and it kept the franchise aligned with a player who was suspended for six games after being accused of domestic assault last year.

While it’s obviously too early to make significant judgments about draft picks, Seattle’s first-round selection of off-ball linebacker Jordyn Brooks was widely seen as a stretch for both the player and the positional value. The Seahawks have proved broader consensus wrong in the past — Metcalf and quarterback Russell Wilson come to mind — but Brooks will have to be great to overcome the needs this team had on either side of the line of scrimmage. Most of the offensive linemen Seattle added simply weren’t very good in other places, with Finney as an exception. The one-year, $7 million deal the Seahawks gave Greg Olsen was also a lot for a 35-year-old tight end with one healthy season over his past three years.

What they could have done differently: I would suggest that they should have traded down from No. 27, but I’m not sure there was much of a market for the pick. The Packers moved up to 26 to draft Love, but after that, no team moved up in the draft until the Colts did so at No. 41. Taking a player at a more significant position would make sense to me, such as offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson or defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos.

The depth approach Seattle took to its line was interesting, but adding a second guaranteed starter behind Finney would have been helpful. Shell appears likely to start at right tackle, but on a two-year, $9 million price tag, I would have liked to see the Seahawks try to finally find a pass-protecting tackle for Wilson by going after Bryan Bulaga.

What’s left to do: Bring back Clowney. A one-year reunion makes sense for both sides, given that the Seahawks are likely to be a playoff contender and Clowney wants to restore his free-agent stock on a winner. Seattle has about $15 million in cap space, which is a little more than what he might hope to land on a one-year pact at this point. General manager John Schneider could clear out $5.4 million by releasing backup pass-catchers Jacob Hollister and David Moore.


What went right: The ideal situation for the Titans would have been retaining quarterback Ryan Tannehill and franchising running back Derrick Henry, which is what ended up happening. Tennessee hasn’t yet come to terms on an extension with Henry, which I’m considering a plus given how poorly contracts have aged for running backs. It also lost right tackle Jack Conklin, but it replaced the former All-Pro by re-upping Dennis Kelly and using its first-round pick on Isaiah Wilson.

What went wrong: Losing Conklin and cornerback Logan Ryan cost the team two valuable starters, and I’m not sure the Kelly/Wilson combination or free-agent corner Johnathan Joseph are going to be as valuable in their absence. The Vic Beasley Jr. signing locked the Titans in on a one-year deal for a pass-rusher who has been successful for 1½ of his five pro seasons and didn’t offer any ability to keep him if he exceeds expectations.

Most notably, to get the Tannehill deal done, the Titans practically guaranteed their breakout quarterback three years and $91 million, which is a huge investment for a player whom the Dolphins paid $5 million to sell for a fourth-round pick at this time last year. He was one of the league’s best quarterbacks last season, but he has a lengthy injury history. The Titans also want to build around running the football, which makes a $31 million quarterback an expensive accessory.

What they could have done differently: I’m not sure the Titans had much of a choice, but even limiting the Tannehill deal to two guaranteed seasons would have been a much better deal. With hindsight, it’s fair to suggest they might have been better off letting him hit the market and going after somebody like Nick Foles or Andy Dalton at a much cheaper price. Likewise, for a team that has expressed interest in Jadeveon Clowney, the Titans would have been better off just signing Clowney to a one-year deal as opposed to Beasley. Some of that is hindsight, but the Beasley and Tannehill deals raised questions before we even saw how the rest of those respective markets worked out.

What’s left to do: Let Henry play out his franchise tag. When he was asked about a possible extension in January, Henry said the six-year, $90 million extension that Ezekiel Elliott signed with the Cowboys was “the floor.” Elliott’s deal paid him $37.6 million over its first three years.

Henry’s franchise tag is worth $10.2 million in 2020. If the Titans franchised him two more times, in 2021 and 2022, they would end up paying him $40.1 million, which is right about what Elliott’s deal included after accounting for cap inflation. They also would retain the leverage of going year to year with the ability to opt out if Henry gets hurt or doesn’t live up to expectations. The NFL’s running back economics are absolutely warped, and it’s unfair to Henry after his production over the past year and a half, but the Titans will likely regret it if they give him a Zeke-sized deal.

Come back Tuesday for Nos. 24-17 on the list.

Published at Mon, 18 May 2020 12:20:18 +0000

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