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Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press
Free agency is often the most exciting part of the NFL offseason. While the draft has more of a long-term impact, free agency involves proven players and the potential for a buying team to drastically improve quickly.
There’s something fun about your favorite team stealing a player from a rival and improving its own roster at the same time.
Of course, teams that buy big also run the risk of hurting themselves with terrible deals—even though the ever-increasing salary cap means it’s harder for a deal to cripple a team. From Andre Rison and Albert Haynesworth to Brock Osweiler and Sam Bradford, since the current iteration of free agency began in 1993, bad deals have been part of the equation.
Which deals could prove to be the worst in 2019? Here, you’ll find predictions based on factors like potential contract terms, player health and age, team fit and the latest free-agency buzz.
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Don Wright/Associated Press
It’s no secret that Le’Veon Bell wants financial security. It’s the reason he wouldn’t play under the franchise tag for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018. Because of his ability to carry an offense—Bell amassed 1,946 rushing and receiving yards with 11 touchdowns in 2017—he’s going to get a fat, long-term deal.
The New York Jets, who are projected to have just under $100 million in cap space, make the most sense. They need to support second-year quarterback Sam Darnold, and a combination runner-receiver can do exactly that.
The problem is Bell has spent a year away from football and may have been a product of Pittsburgh’s offense—let’s not ignore the fact that James Conner racked up 1,470 combined rushing and receiving yards with 13 TDs in just 13 games. Don’t expect Bell to live up to the terms of his deal.
Contract Projection: Jets sign Bell to a four-year, $58 million deal
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Winslow Townson/Associated Press
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson played on a one-year, $8 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings last season. That’s not a bad deal, as he produced 49 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Considering Richardson is still just 28, he’ll likely get a more lucrative contract on the open market.
There are plenty of teams that could use him, including teams flush with cap space like the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts. Of the three, the Raiders feel the most likely to overbid.
Richardson can both stop the run and rush the passer, and Oakland struggled to do both in 2018. The Raiders also need to quickly improve after last year’s disastrous transition year.
This could backfire because Richardson seems to wear out his welcome fairly quickly.
He was traded from the Jets after famously ripping teammate Brandon Marshall publicly, he spent just one year with the Seattle Seahawks after the deal and wasn’t given the franchise tag by the Vikings. The Raiders could end up releasing Richardson one or two years into a multiyear contract.
Contract Prediction: Raiders give Richardson a four-year, $32 million deal
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Gregory Payan/Associated Press
Ndamukong Suh is still a good defensive tackle. He amassed 59 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2018 while playing on a one-year, $14 million deal. That’s a decent return on investment, but the Los Angeles Rams might have expected more, especially since he was lined up next to Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.
Still, they’d like to have him back.
“He’s definitely somebody that we’re very interested in,” head coach Sean McVay said, per the team’s official website.
The Rams, however, are going to have competition. The Tennessee Titans make sense, as defensive line coach Terrell Williams held the same position for three years when Suh was with the Miami Dolphins. Tennessee was also a team that Suh considered before signing with the Rams last offseason.
Tennessee is projected to have more than $44 million in cap space, but whether he lives up to it at 32 years old is another matter.
Contract Prediction: Titans sign Suh to a three-year, $35 million deal
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Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
Safety Earl Thomas is one of the hottest names headed to free agency, but he also carries risk. According to Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Star-Telegram, Thomas wants to be the league’s highest-paid safety, and that could be a recipe for disaster.
Thomas, after all, will turn 30 before the start of the 2019 season and has finished two of his last three seasons on injured reserve with a broken leg.
This doesn’t mean he can’t help a team in the short term, but his time as an elite safety probably won’t reflect the length or price tag of his next deal.
Considering the San Francisco 49ers are loaded with cap space—a projected $66.8 million—have a need at safety and can offer a reunion with cornerback Richard Sherman, they make the most sense. Just don’t expect the pairing to look as good two or three years down the road.
Contract Prediction: 49ers sign Thomas to a four-year, $50 million deal
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David Banks/Associated Press
Golden Tate is a well-respected receiver. There’s a reason why the Philadelphia Eagles traded away a third-round pick to rent him for half a season in 2018. However, there’s a good chance he’s also overpaid on the open market.
According to Terez A. Paylor of Yahoo Sports, free-agent slot receivers like Tate and Adam Humphries could ask for as much as $14 million per year.
That might not be a bad deal for Humphries, who is just 25 years old. For the 30-year-old Tate, on the other hand, it’s a different story, as he struggled to adapt to Philadelphia’s offense.
While Tate has shown an interest in joining the New England Patriots, the rival Jets have much more cap space, need targets for Darnold and would love to stick it to New England. They could end up regretting the decision.
Contract Prediction: Jets sign Tate to a three-year, $36 million deal
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D. Ross Cameron/Associated Press
Someone is going to overpay Jared Cook this offseason, as he amassed 896 yards and six touchdowns in a lackluster Raiders offense last season and has topped 600 yards in five different seasons.
The problem is this year’s tight end market is terrible, and Cook will turn 32 before the draft. NFL Media’s Tom Pelissero reported Cook could get up to $9 million per year, which could backfire if it’s longer than a one- or two-year deal.
The Raiders would like to have Cook back, but teams like the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills also need tight end help and have the cap space to bid heavily on Cook. Buffalo—which recently dumped tight end Charles Clay and needs a target for young quarterback Josh Allen—is projected to have the fourth-most cap space and is capable of overpaying.
Contract Projection: Bills sign Cook to a three-year, $26 million deal
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
The Cleveland Browns recently released linebacker Jamie Collins, which puts another notable name on the free-agent market.
However, signing Collins is a risky proposition. He’ll turn 30 during the 2019 season, he has had issues staying healthy over the past few seasons, and he struggled enough with discipline that the Patriots dealt him less than four years after drafting him.
Collins is still a good player, though, as evidenced by his 104 tackles and 4.0 sacks in 2018. Some team is going to overpay.
That team probably won’t be New England. Instead, a team like the Detroit Lions—which employs former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as its head coach and has a need at linebacker—feels more likely.
The Lions are also projected to have more than $33 million in cap space.
Contract Projection: Lions sign Collins to a four-year, $44 million deal
All contract and cap information via Spotrac.