The NFL draft is over and off-season housekeeping — read, cuts and free agent signings — is starting to solidify rosters.
There are plenty of new and old faces in new places, some which have fans in previously down markets going to bed with visions of the Lombardi Trophy dancing in their heads.
One them is San Francsico. After the Niners acquired super-sub QB Jimmy Garoppolo from New England at mid-season and went on that magical late season run, the faithful were ready to anoint him the new Steve Young.
This off-season, management also plucked a few prize free agents from the available herd, including RB Jerick McKinnon from Minnesota, C Weston Richburg from the Giants and CB Richard Sherman from Seattle.
Not so fast, though. The team hasn’t made the playoffs in four years and there is still much work to be done and Garoppolo, as good as he may be, has just seven career starts.
He might not be the only one who might fail to live up to expectations. Here are 22 (two teams with a pair) players acquired through trades or free agency who may fall short of what fans and team management envision for them.
20. CB Richard Sherman – San Francisco 49ers
While were are on the subject of the Niners, might as well burst the bubble of expectation for rehabbing corner Richard Sherman. He missed seven games with a torn Achilles tendon and is slated to take part in pre-season activity. However, he goes from a fairly stingy defensive system run by Seattle’s DC Ken Norton Jr. to newly minted Robert Saleh in San Francisco. We don’t seen Sherman being a total flop in the Bay area, but, he is coming off injury and uncertainty about how the rehabilitation is going. The team has him rated no. 1 at left corner and he’ll compete for that job with fifth-year man Jimmie Ward. Sherman was a Pro Bowler in the four seasons before his injury shortened 2017 campaign, so unless he is hobbling around will be the starter. The kicker is that San Fran ponied up $21.1 million over three years to bring him in. That’s a lot of clams for a guy who may start the season on the PUP list.
19. LB Barkevious Mingo – Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks defence of a year ago has undergone a bit of a transformation. Gone are CB Richard Sherman (49ers) and DE Michael Bennett (Eagles) while incoming are CB Dontae Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, DT Tom Johnson and LB Barkevious Mingo. The latter bears mentioning for the simple fact that Seattle represents his fourth team, in just six seasons. There has to be a reason that Cleveland (a perennially awful team), New England and Indianapolis deemed him expendable. Heck, the Browns were so enamored of his contribution that all they got back in return from New England was a fifth round draft pick. He appeared in 46 games over three seasons in Cleveland, registering 108 tackles, seven of his nine career sacks, an interception and 12 pass deflections. He hardly played in New England and started just six of 16 games with the Colts, with 32 tackles and two sacks. Seattle gave him a two-year, $6.8 million contract, $3.2 million guaranteed. Judging by his recent history, he may not make it to the second season.
18. RB Dion Lewis – Tennessee Titans
What we find curious about Tennessee’s signing of New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis is that he is being paid front line money to back up Derrick Henry, essentially. Lewis, signed to a four-year, $20 million deal, is listed second banana to Henry, who isn’t making a fifth of Lewis’ yearly average. In any case, Lewis is going from one average rushing to team to one which is even more average. Last year, Lewis had 180 of New England’s 448 attempts, for 896 of their 1,889 total. With six TDs, it was easily his best year ever, since the sum total of his rush yardage the previous four seasons was 688, with four touchdowns. Tennessee, on the other hand, were just behind the Pats in attempts (443) and yards (1,833), which was 14th overall. Henry had 176 touches last year and 744 yards, along with five TDs. So, assuming that Henry — who is three years younger — gets the bulk of the reps, Lewis won’t likely exceed his career best totals of 2017, in any year of his new deal.
17. DE Muhammad Wilkerson – Green Bay Packers
If the Green Bay Packers get lucky, they might get more of the 2015 version of Muhammad Wilkerson and not the diminished one of 2017. The Packers were 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons last year and much of blame for that could be put on mediocre defence. Thus, throwing $5 million at Wilkerson seems to be one of those “let’s throw something at the wall to see if it sticks” kind of moves. For instance, after recording 64 tackles, 12 sacks and seven pass deflections in 2015, his numbers fell steadily to just 46 tackles, four pass deflections and 3.5 sacks last year. Adding to his less-than-stellar production was the fact he was scratched from a game last year for showing up late to a team meeting, which apparently wasn’t the first time he had ignored team rules. If the Packers are going to shake off a bad year in an improving NFC North, they need all hands on deck. We’re just not sure Wilkerson has the game, or the attitude, to make a difference in a football mad market.
16. DE Jason Pierre-Paul – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
All that anyone needs to know what the New York Giants thought of two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and his work there could be summed up in what they accepted for trade from Tampa Bay. A third round pick, that’s it, and a swap of fourth rounders in the 2017 draft. Now, it was a salary dump, too, given that Pierre-Paul inked a massive four-year, $62 million deal last February. He did start all 16 games last year after missing 12 game over the previous two campaigns, which is the good part. The bad part is he goes from a below league average defence to one even lower in the pecking order in 2017. Tampa Bay was last in sacks with 22 and the 22 passing TDs they allowed were middle of the pack. They were 23rd in rushing yards against (1,880) and the 17 TDs they surrendered on the ground was 30th. So, Pierre-Paul, who had 8.5 of the Giants 27 sacks last year will have huge expectations put on him to augment a tepid pass rush and run defence. We’ll see.
15. QB A.J. McCarron – Buffalo Bills
There is a very good chance — better than average — that seldom used former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron will be the Bills starting pivot in 2018. Talk about a real shot in the dark.The Bills, a surprise playoff entrant, dealt 2017 starter Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland, necessitating a move to bring in another arm — especially since all they have in the stable is Nathan Peterman and first round draft pick Josh Allen. So, until Allen can prove he can run a pro offence, McCarron is the guy in the Queen City. The Bills are paying a guy who has 920 career passing yards and three starts a fairly hefty sum, too, at $10 million over two years. Since starting three of seven games and passing for 854 yards and six TDs in 2015, the former Alabama star has flung just 14 regular season passes, completing seven for 66 yards and zero touchdowns. That 9-7 mark from 2017 may be a distant memory come midway through the 2018 season.
14. QB Trevor Siemian – Minnesota Vikings
We don’t think the Vikes are going to strike gold in the QB sweepstakes like they did with Case Keenum again. Keenum is gone to Denver and so is Teddy Bridgewater (Jets), so the signing of no. 1 man Kirk Cousins and then trading for a reliable no. 2 in Siemian — considering the team’s bad luck with injured pivots — was imperative. Yes, Siemian comes to the Vikes on the last year of a very friendly deal he signed in Denver. Yet, should something bad befall Cousins (injuries to Vikings QBs happen with frightening regularity), we don’t think Siemian can maintain any momentum Cousins generates. After a good 2016 season with the Broncos that saw him throw for 3,401 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 14 games, Siemian regressed in 2017. In 10 games, he passed for 2,285 yards, 12 TDs and 14 INTs as Denver missed he playoffs — and he had good wideouts in the Mile High City.
13. QB Teddy Bridgewater – New York Jets
Speaking of oft-injured Minnesota pivots, Teddy Bridgewater signed a cautious one-year, $6 million contract (which could balloon to $15 million with incentives) to back-up Josh McCown in 2018. Depending on how training camp and the pre-season goes, though, Bridgewater could be the starter and in charge of helping groom first round draft pick Sam Darnold of USC. Since his Pro Bowl season in 2015 (one of two fairly complete seasons in his career), Bridgewater has thrown exactly two regular season passes, while suffering a torn ACL that kept him out of the NFL for most of two seasons. What we see happening, if he stays healthy, are just a lot of procedural problems with his game. His timing, even with a full camp and pre-season slate, will be off and his footwork might be just a tad wonky compared to 2015. He probably won’t meet the already low expectations placed upon him.
12. SS Da’Norris Searcy – Carolina Panthers
Rumor has it that former Panthers safety Tre Boston entertained the thought of going back to Carolina. But, the team decided it wanted to go in another direction and signed the cheaper option in Tennessee’s Da’Norris Searcy. Even still, they will pay Searcy $5.7 million over two seasons. We don’t think he’s worth that much, given his tepid output in 2017 with the Titans. In 16 games (six starts), he recorded 23 tackles, had an interception and two pass deflections. Searcy, 29, really hasn’t had a good year since his last one with Buffalo in 2014, when he had 65 tackles, three interceptions, five pass deflections and a half sack. Carolina was bottom half in passing yards allowed (18th at 3,665 yards allowed) and were tied for 24th in interceptions with 10. Searcy is penciled in as the no. 1 strong safety, so far. The Panthers should have paid a better safety a more to shore up the backfield.
11. RB Jonathan Stewart – New York Giants
Saquon Barkley is coming to the Big Apple after a big time career at Penn State. Which means the Giants threw some fairly significant cash to a 31-year-old tutor in former Carolina Panthers rusher Stewart. Barkley was a great combo back with the Nittany Lions and the sad sack Giants will probably give him every opportunity to shine in the backfield. Stewart, on the other hand, has seen both his rush yards and so-so receiving yards go down each year since his Pro Bowl worthy 2015 campaign. That year he ran for a 989 yards (second most ever) in 13 games, with six touchdowns, while catching 16 passes for 99 yards and another TD. In 2017, in 15 games, he ran for just 680 yards and caught eight passes for 52 more, while registering seven total TDs. He’s not a bad option, but for $6.9 million over two years, he is too expensive — even more so since he is third on the depth chart behind Barkley and Wayne Gallman.
10. WR Danny Amendola – Miami Dolphins
The problem for Danny Amendola in 2018 is the fact he’ll have to play his old team, the New England Patriots, twice. And, he won’t be getting pinpoint passes from Tom Brady anymore, either. Rather, they will be flung by Ryan Tannehill, who missed all of 2017 with an injury and may have a few timing issues early on. As for the veteran Amendola, who will be paid $12 million over two seasons, he’s been a bit of Jekyll and Hyde the last five seasons. Never a bona fide starter with the Pats, his receiving numbers, starting in 2013, were: 633, 200, 648, 243, 659. He’s never hauled in more than four touchdowns in a season and his highest yardage was 689 with St. Louis in 2010. If we were betting men, then, Amendola is due for another sub-par 200 yards receiving in 2018, which really doesn’t justify his $6 million price tag.
9. WR Sammy Watkins – Kansas City Chiefs
It’s a little perplexing that the Kansas City Chiefs threw $48 million over three years at Sammy Watkins for essentially second string production. Watkins is coming from an offence run by the very talented Jared Goff and only caught 39 passes for 593 yards and eight touchdowns. It’s anybody’s guess, then, how many looks he’ll get from untested Patrick Mahomes, who takes over for the departed Alex Smith. Watkins has only ever recorded over 1,000 receiving yards once and that was with Buffalo in 2015. What should concern the Chiefs, then, is why that first the Bills, and then the Rams gave up on Watkins so easily. Being on three teams in five seasons typically signifies that the player in question is bad in the locker room or mails in his performances from time to time. There is no way, we think, that he meets any of the expectations that $16 million a year carries.
8. WR Michael Crabtree – Baltimore Ravens
Michael Crabtree is a good, at times great, wide receiver. However, he’s going to Baltimore to snare passes from Joe Flacco, who has averaged just over 3,500 yards per season, with only 3,141 in 2017. Crabtree put up solid, but not that spectacular, numbers with the Raiders, who were way more pass happy than conservative Baltimore. Over the last three seasons in Oakland, Crabtree hauled in 232 passes on 392 attempts for 2,543 yards and 25 touchdowns. Thus, going across the continent to a man the flank in Baltimore may not be what the doctor ordered to jumpstart Crabtree’s career. The 30-year-old’s production tailed off in 2017 to 618 yards receiving in 14 games. That didn’t stop the team from signing him to a three-year, $21 million contract, which we think he’ll have trouble fulfilling. The Ravens are success starved and might go hungry again.
7. RB LeGarrette Blount – Detroit Lions
The Lions had the worst running attack in the NFL in 2017, so, it was a no-brainer that they would comb the free agent list for a decent runner to augment that sector of their attack. Well, they likely overpaid for Philadelphia’s LeGarrette Blount, who joins his fifth team since 2010 and is coming off a very average 2017 campaign. The three-time Super Bowl champ rumbled for 766 yards a year after setting a personal best with 1,162 yards with New England and a league leading and also personal high 18 touchdowns. Blount only counted two TDs in 2017 with the Eagles, as well as one more through the air. Detroit, which compiled a lowly 1,221 yards on the ground a year ago, tossed a one-year, $4.5 million contract at the veteran. Our prediction? That 2018 second rounder Kerryon Johnson is the offensive backfield starter around mid-season.
6. DE Michael Bennett – Philadelphia Eagles
The defending champion Eagles took a bit of a gamble in the off-season, trading for Seahawks three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Bennett. Not that he isn’t a good player, but he does come with significant baggage and will be 33 years old by mid-season. The baggage is a recent arrest for allegedly injuring an elderly worker at Super Bowl LI in February 2017. That is just one thing, but we’ll focus on the football for the rest of this piece. Bennett joins an already good defensive line anchored by Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, so there shouldn’t be any pressure to put up big numbers (he had 40 tackles and 8.5 sacks in 16 games last year). What we see going forward is that Bennett, who has toiled in the trenches for 125 regular season and 10 playoff games, might likely succumb to injuries or in-season fatigue. Or worse, he is convicted of assault for that incident at Super Bowl LI and suspended by the league.
5. WR Jordy Nelson – Oakland Raiders
We are going to go out on a limb and say that the receivers trading places in Oakland, Jordy Nelson for the departed Michael Crabtree, both won’t meet lofty expectations this year and beyond with their new clubs. Nelson was an elite level wideout in Green Bay, but only when he had Aaron Rodgers chucking the pigskin at him. Once he established himself as a starter in 2011, Nelson had four seasons of well over 1,000 yards receiving and an impressive 57 TDs in five seasons, leading the NFL with 14 in 2016. Last year, though, the Manhattan, KS native caught just 53 passes for 482 yards and six TDs in 15 games. His production no doubt minimized because Rodgers played just seven games before being injured. Raiders QB Derek Carr is no Aaron Rodgers, but not chopped liver. We’re just not sure he can bring out the best in Nelson at this advanced stage of the wide receiver’s career.
4. QB Case Keenum – Denver Broncos
One magical season does not a career make. We loved the fact that unheralded Case Keenum came in last year for Sam Bradford and took the Vikings all the way to the NFC championship. It was a feel good story a success starved franchise like Minnesota needed. When the QB challenged Denver Broncos came calling with a bag of cash, how could Keenum resist? He signed for two years and a jaw-dropping $36 million. What it boils down to is the Broncs are paying a huge sum for a guy who had one good year and has played in all of 41 games. Looked at another way, his best work has been in relief. In 2015, he came in for Nick Foles in St. Louis, going 3-2 over the last five games of the season, with 828 yards passing and four TDs against one interception. However, between that relief effort and last year’s he was the Ram’s starter ahead of Jared Goff in 2016. His production that season in 10 games wasn’t near as stellar, as he threw for nine touchdowns, but also 11 interceptions. We think he might succumb to the pressure again in the Mile High City.
3. QB Tyrod Taylor and WR Jarvis Landry – Cleveland Browns
The sad, sad Browns have found many ways to ruin the careers of many a quarterback and we think DeShone Kizer was lucky getting swapped to Green Bay. Providing that no. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield doesn’t come in and blow Cleveland brass away in training camp, former Buffalo Bills pivot Taylor will be the 2018 starter. He was consistent, if not very average, as a starter in Buffalo, throwing for 51 touchdowns in 44 games, with just 18 interceptions. He took the Bills to the playoffs last year, too. But, Cleveland is where quarterbacks go to wither on the vine and that won’t change with Taylor. As for Landry, it is not at all likely that he will exceed 1,000 yards receiving or nine touchdowns like he had in 2017 with Miami. He led all receivers with 112 receptions in South Beach last year, too. It’s a pity that Miami gave up on the three-time Pro Bowl wideout, all for the low price of a fourth round pick this year and a seventh rounder next year. Neither player will fluorish in Cleveland.
2. CB Aqib Talib and DT Ndamukong Suh – Los Angeles Rams
Rams fans, please welcome the 2018 version of the “Nasty Boys”, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh. If anything, the rejuvenated Rams may lead the league in egregious fouls in 2018, given Talib’s and Suh’s collective history. The Rams injected what they hope is some real defensive ability to go with all that on-field hostility, but we feel they may be sorely disappointed by year’s end. They traded for 32-year-old, five-time Pro Bowl corner Talib, even though his stats have been in decline over the past four seasons. His pass deflections went from 18 in 2014 to 13, then 12 and finally just seven last year. And his combined tackles in four seasons went from 67 to 45, to 43 and 31 in 2017. Suh, another nasty piece of work, was signed to a one-year $14 million contract even though he too has experienced a marked decline in defensive output. In 2014, he had 8.5 sacks and 54 tackles and just three seasons later in 2017 Suh recorded 48 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He’s also getting past his best before date at age 31.
1. QB Alex Smith – Washington Redskins
Even though he’s 34, Alex Smith actually got better each year after his first season with Kansas City in 2013, when he went to the Pro Bowl. He had his best campaign in 2017, throwing for a career high 4,042 yards with 26 touchdowns (also a career best) and just five interceptions. His 1.0 percent interception rate led all NFL QBs in that department and it was the second such time he’d done it. He did have the luxury, though of being able to target premier pass-catchers in TE Travis Kelce, WR Tyreek Hill (both who had over 1,000 yards), as well as RB Kareem Hunt and WR Albert Wilson. Not one receiver or tight end in Washington, however, has ever had a 1,000 yard campaign, even with a guy like Kirk Cousins behind center. So Smith is up against it in D.C. and we don’t think it will go as well as fans and team executives expect.