On Sunday I posed the question on Twitter as to what was the worst big money QB move of the offseason. I got a lot of responses and questions so I thought I would flesh that out as a post and give my opinions for what I thought were questionable contract decisions this past offseason with quarterbacks. Three to me stand out as bad and the last two are more food for thought as to approaching team building and the difficult decisions teams make. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments on these or any other deals.
Texans Sign Brock Osweiler
Cost: $37 million in guarantees
Every year in free agency at least one team does a contract that makes you stop in your tracks and say “what” thinking you misheard the numbers. That was Osweiler who somehow turned seven starts into a $72 million contract, over half of which was guaranteed. Osweiler’s stint in Denver was relatively unremarkable. While he did win 5 games, his team failed to score more than 20 points in 6 of his 8 games in which he saw significant time, despite the presence of a high valued group of receivers. He was eventually benched for the playoffs in favor of Peyton Manning whose game had declined to the point where he did not look like an NFL QB. Osweiler was a player who at best deserved a one year opportunity, like a Kirk Cousins, to prove his worth. The Broncos did not even want to roll the dice on a franchise tag, and took a passive approach to keeping him, instead giving a chance to Trevor Siemian and Mark Sanchez.
Houston went all in and not surprisingly he is one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. He is the only quarterback who has someone been completely unable to utilize DeAndre Hopkins, who put up big numbers with anyone with a pulse in the past. Things got so bad that the owner at one point said hes like a rookie. The NFL owners fought over paying huge salaries to rookies, but its hard to understand why if they are just going to blow the money on players like this. This kind of contract is a killer because the $19 million cap hit in 2017 makes it hard to go elsewhere. There are logical veterans like Tony Romo that could make sense but you would then be taking on $34 million in cap charges for one position which is not realistic. All they accomplished was making a sideways move from the Ryan Mallet types except they felt better about it in March because they paid $34 million more than they would have for their other veteran options. While there is still time left for Brock to recover it is difficult to see that kind of turnaround based on his body of work.
Vikings Trade for Sam Bradford
Cost: $7 million in 2016 cap space; $4 million 2017 guarantee; Likely Mid 1st round pick
The Vikings were in tough shape when Teddy Bridgewater went down with a serious injury. Given their age at some positions on offense and the fact that most of their defensive players were likely in their prime I guess Minnesota saw this as an all or nothing scenario and made a dramatic move. Unfortunately for Minnesota their star running back was injured (which probably should not have been completely unexpected) and their offensive line started dropping like flies (which should not have been expected) and they were left with Bradford. At best Bradford is going to have the upside of an Alex Smith, capable of managing a game where the defense dominates and the offense needs a professional QB to occasionally move the chains. The Vikings needed someone who could do more once Peterson went down.
I don’t think you can blame the Vikings for making the trade but the price was a panic price. The Eagles were more or less in no man’s land with Bradford who they penciled in as a starter but had a different option on their team to pursue in Carson Wentz. They owed Bradford $11M in guarantees and had a limited trade window. Parting with a 1st round pick for a player like Bradford was never logical. The Eagles didn’t even trade a 1st round pick for Bradford in 2015 when they acquired him from the Rams. Smith, who is the most logical comparison, was traded for a 2nd and a conditional 2nd the following year if the team won 8 games. He was also under contract for less money they Bradford. This is where this move really becomes one of the worst moves of the year. They had no poker face at all and its doubtful that they will have any poker face if they try to trade him and his $17 million salary by next March. There is still some potential for the playoffs this year and he may be their QB next year as well so its hard to call this the worst move, but it may be that by next year if they cant get a 2nd round pick back for him or he doesn’t start for them next season.
Jets Re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick
Cost: $7 million in 2016 cap space; $5 million 2017 dead money; Contract maneuvering of others
Fitzpatrick had a magical 2015 season in which he almost led the Jets to the playoffs and had the best season of any Jets QB in over a decade. But Fitzpatrick had been given up on multiple times by teams. In the prior seasons he was given up on by the Bills, Titans, and Texans. The type of players he competed with for starting jobs were Trent Edwards, Jake Locker, and Case Keenum, who are not exactly the Mt. Rushmore of quarterbacks. The Jets were able to acquire Fitzpatrick in a low level trade and his chance to start only came so soon because a teammate punched out Geno Smith. There were red flags everywhere when it came to Fitzpatrick.
Keeping Fitzpatrick was something the Jets probably had to do given what he did in 2015, but the price paid was a panic move by a team that had no faith in Smith or Bryce Petty to QB the team. Players like Fitzpatrick generally sign for about $5 million a season with a maximum amount of around $7 million. The Jets had all the leverage as Fitzpatrick found no takers in free agency. He clearly didn’t want to retire but it looked like the league would retire him if he didn’t budge off his contract. His only alternative landing spot would have been injury to a starter in camp. It was the Jets or bust. At the end of the day the Jets gave in. With a tight salary cap situation the Jets had to push $5 million in charges to 2017, a year in which he was no longer under contract to the team. They also have had to restructure a number of contracts to be cap compliant which was only made worse by not playing hardball with Fitz. There is no potential of upside left here and the only thing that starting Fitzpatrick has done now is bring more scrutiny of the decision making ability of a struggling head coach.
Eagles Re-sign Sam Bradford
Cost: $5.5 in 2016 and 2017 cap space
As far as bad moves go this one was far less egregious than the prior three moves, though they were somewhat bailed out by the Vikings on this one. There were both positives and negatives to this contract. The positives were that the Eagles controlled the way the cap worked on this deal and got a discount on the franchise tag. The negative was that it seemed like a high price for a player like Bradford who had never done much in his career except get drafted highly back in 2009. A big reason why the Eagles were taken to task on this contract was the eventual trade for Carson Wentz, but at the time nobody could have projected that the Eagles were going to have the ammunition to trade up to get Wentz.
The Eagles made the best of a bad situation when they found a trade partner in the Vikings. This basically resulted in a cash for draft trade in which the Eagles more or less paid $11 million to get the rights to Wentz rather than just part with a pick. While that wasn’t the way it was originally supposed to go down that is the end result. I think that is a steep price to pay for a player, especially since the unproven drafted QB salary was a major reason why the NFL wanted a rookie wage scale. In reality the signing of Chase Daniel was probably a worse move than this one, but this was a far bigger move and I wonder how different things would have been had the Vikings not lost their quarterback in August.
Bills Extend Tyrod Taylor
Cost: $7.5M in 2016, $27.5M in salary in 2017
I wanted to include this one because it illustrates some of the issues that occur with the QB position. Taylor started all of 14 games in his five year career and was still under contract to the Bills in 2016 when they made the decision to extend him. Taylor is raw talent who at times looks brilliant and at others looks like he will have difficulty running a consistent NFL offense. With the kind of money that we are talking about its generally best to take a less risky approach or to try to leverage a team friendly contract. Im not sure that the Bills learned much more about Taylor this year through 11 games. He is at the bottom of the league in passing yards per game and struggles in certain situations. He is also electric at other times and can be impossible to defend. Probably the closest comparison is Colin Kaepernick whose contract ended up way overvalued but may end up as a bargain somewhere next year when he signs a new contract that better takes into account his limitations.
The Bills decision on Taylor has to come in March when they will need to pick up a $15.5 million option. The front end of the contract pays Taylor closer to the $20M QB club rather than the $18M club that his APY would indicate which complicates the decision. The deal left little middle ground- if he was bad they avoided a holdout, lost a few million and moved on and if he was great they are happy with the deal- which reflected a contract in line with the question mark players. They probably would had gotten a better contract had they just waited this out.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.