Free Agency Roundtable - Head-Scratching Moves

The Footballguys staff looks at the early free-agent moves that left them confused and disappointed.

Which team’s plan of attack in free agency left you the most confused?

Scott Bischoff: The Houston Texans get this “honor” for a second straight offseason. David Johnson was the centerpiece of last year’s ill-fated DeAndre Hopkins trade, which makes the signing of running backs Mark Ingram II and Phillip Lindsay all the more confusing.

Dan Hindery: Nothing Houston did makes sense and their roster decisions have lacked any clear direction for at least a couple of years now. They are paying a lot of money at the running back position for a mediocre group.

Jeff Haseley: The Texans are trying to repair a dam with scotch tape. No one even mentioned the Deshaun Watson saga that seems to get uglier every day on their list of offseason woes.

Jason Wood: I could do a 10-hour podcast on trying to decipher what the Texans are up to. Putting aside the Watson fiasco, which has taken a dire and unexpected turn as Jeff alluded to, it's inexplicable what they're doing. As of today, they've signed or traded for 27 players. TWENTY-SEVEN. And yet very few of them project as better than league average options at their positions.

Phil Alexander: Yup, it’s the Texans and everyone else is playing for the consolation prize.

Chad Parsons: Sure, the Texans are a mess but I’m still struggling to understand the Packers re-signing Aaron Jones. They drafted A.J. Dillon -- a prototypical workhorse running back -- in Round 2 last season. Instead of letting the 26-year-old Jones walk in free agency to reap the benefits of the remaining three years on Dillon's rookie contract, they splash the pot by giving Jones big money (even if the guarantees work out to more of a one or two-year deal)? Green Bay could have just brought back Jamaal Williams to pair with Dillon for a fraction of Jones' cost.

Jordan McNamara: The Packers didn’t just sign Jones after spending a second-round pick on Dillon, Chad. They also made sure to overpay. Green Bay declined to franchise tag Jones at $11.1 million in 2021 and then signed up for a $14.5 million commitment instead. As you said, the four-year, $48 million contract is more of a year-to-year deal than was first reported so why not just tag him for $3.4 million less?

Pat Fitzmaurice: Yeah, Green Bay is taking a curious approach -- a reckless approach, really -- to the running back position. The new NFL ethos at running back is an emphasis on thrift -- pay them less, draft them later. Packers GM Brian Gutekunst must have missed the memo. When Gutekunst spent a second-round pick on A.J. Dillon in 2020, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Jones would be allowed to walk after playing out his contract. In Dillon’s audition for a leading role in Week 16, he trampled the Titans for 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns, further fueling the notion that the starting gig would be his in 2021.

This isn't a knock on Jones. He's proven to be one of the better backs in the league. But to sign him to a multi-year deal and pay him roughly the same annual salary that the Chargers are now paying ex-Packer, Corey Linsley (arguably the best center in the league), is puzzling. Chad is right. The cash-strapped Packers probably would have been better off re-signing Williams at a quarter of Jones' price tag and going with a Dillon-Williams backfield. Gutekunst's RB spending spree doesn't make a lot of sense.

Sigmund Bloom: Bill Belichick rushing out to give Nelson Agholor $11 million per year is pretty egregious. One prominent cap analyst compared it to "Ditka giving up a draft so he could just go golfing early". What Agholor can provide stretching the field is needed and he's a starting quality player, but after seeing the wide receiver signings for the rest of free agency, he would have been available for much cheaper if Belichick hadn't jumped the gun. This rivals him giving a second-round pick for Mohamed Sanu (who wasn't even on the team in 2020) in 2019.

The Raiders trading Rodney Hudson, who is still one of the best centers in the league, for a third-round pick, and then signing 2019 UDFA Andre James - who was still under contract and set up to be an RFA next year - to a three-year, $12.5 million extension certainly stands out as one of the gutsiest moves in free agency, although it seems to lack a lot of thinking behind it. James will have to hit as at least an average NFL starting center to justify his deal. The Cardinals had a gift fall into their lap.

I get that the Falcons needed cap room, but the Matt Ryan restructure pushes his 2022 cap number over $40 million whether or not he's with the team next year and telegraphs that they won't take a quarterback at pick four in the draft. It looks like Ryan will be the quarterback for at least the next two seasons, which slows down the rebuilding process since the team has gotten as far as they are going to with Ryan under center.

Was there a particular signing that bums you out from a fantasy perspective?

Scott Bischoff: I’ll stick with Houston's backfield. For fantasy purposes, all three backs could be productive on a weekly basis, but it’s going to be difficult to project which one will command enough touches to warrant starting. The Texans’ backfield (and offense in general) looks like one to avoid.

Dan Hindery: In addition to their underwhelming stable of running backs, Houston has Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, and not much else at wide receiver. Listen to Scott and stay away from this offense.

Jason Wood: The trio of David Johnson, Lindsay, and Ingram on the same roster makes it hard to buy into any having fantasy relevance absent injuries.

Jeff Haseley: I’ll be the contrarian and give Houston credit for the Lindsay signing. I see him beating out Ingram and making an impact as an RB3 or flex starter.

Jason Wood: JuJu Smith-Schuster re-signing in Pittsburgh is another one that has me bummed. We’re going to see a three-headed wide receiver monster again, whereas had Smith-Schuster signed with a team that clearly planned on using him as an every-down player, it would've re-ignited his fantasy prospects and made it easier to project strong seasons from both Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Now we have a situation where all three are vying for touches in an offense that likely skews more toward the ground game with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

Jordan McNamara: Agree, Jason. Smith-Schuster reportedly turning down multiple years and more money from Kansas City to return to Pittsburgh is a true head-scratcher.

Andy Hicks: What about Kenyan Drake to the Raiders? If Las Vegas offered the most guaranteed money, I understand the move. But it drags down the value of both Josh Jacobs and Drake. This move is much better for the Raiders than fantasy managers.

Troy King: I’m with Andy. The Drake signing was the biggest head-scratcher for me. Previously, all of the other running backs behind Jacobs fit the role of a third-down specialist. Drake brings enough as a pass-catcher to take away target opportunities from Jacobs but will siphon rushing work as well. It adds more evidence that Jacobs most likely won’t clear the 50-catch threshold many of us hoped to see.

If his ADP dips too far though, Jacobs makes for an interesting buy-low candidate in redraft and dynasty leagues. There could be enough opportunity in the Raiders’ backfield for both Jacobs and Drake to finish as top-24 options.

Dave Kluge: The Bears placing the franchise tag on Allen Robinson doesn’t change his fantasy value much, but it certainly was a strange move by Chicago. We’ve seen Le'Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon III, and Derrick Henry publicize their distaste for the tag in recent years. While it’s easy to understand why the Bears would want to retain a wide receiver as great as Robinson, he made it clear he would rather play elsewhere.

Forcing him to come back on a one-year deal doesn’t feel like it will end well. We’ve seen players milk injuries when they aren’t happy with their contracts (see Kenny Golladay in 2020) and that is something I plan on keeping in the back of my mind when drafting teams in 2021.

Although I prefer Robinson over Terry McLaurin, Mike Evans, and Golladay based on pure talent, I would rather draft each ahead of Robinson until we hear some positive news regarding his feelings about the team.

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