Last year's free agent frenzy offers both hope and caution for NFL teams


NFL teams are set to dole out billions in free agent contracts in the coming weeks as teams around the league hope that bold moves in March will pay off with wins on the field once the season starts.

But in a league with a sharp aging curve and specific systems that don’t suit all players those dollars spent don’t guarantee success.

According to the Spotrac website, NFL teams handed out more than $3.3 billion in contracts last offseason with nearly half of that money fully guaranteed at signing.

The biggest spenders were far from the biggest winners in the season as signing expensive free agents is typically not the best way to turn around a team.

The six biggest spenders last offseason all missed the postseason led by Denver committing more than $250 million in contracts only to miss the playoffs for the eighth straight season after going 8-9 in coach Sean Payton’s first season.

Other big spenders such as New Orleans, Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas and Carolina also were back home when the playoffs started, while a team such as the Los Angeles Rams got into the postseason after spending only $10.2 million in free agency.

Green Bay, Baltimore and Dallas were among the other teams that spent less than $50 million in free agency last offseason and got into the playoffs.

Here’s a look at some of the best signings from a year ago, as well as some big misses:

QB Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers viewed last season as a chance to re-set the roster after going all-in during Tom Brady’s three-year run. Tampa Bay took on more than $80 million in dead money and went cheap at QB, signing Mayfield to a one-year, $4 million deal. Mayfield delivered with a career-high 28 TD passes to lead the Bucs to a division title and a playoff win. He earned about $2.85 million in incentives but was still a bargain.

DE Jadeveon Clowney, Baltimore: The Ravens became the latest team to give Clowney a one-year prove-it deal when they signed the 2014 No. 1 overall pick in August. Clowney earned just over $4 million for his one season with incentives after matching his career high with 9 1/2 sacks for the NFL’s stingiest defense.

LB Drue Tranquill, Kansas City: The Chiefs added depth at linebacker when they made a low-profile move of signing Tranquill to a one-year, $3 million deal. He was a key part of a defense that helped carry Kansas City to a Super Bowl title with 4 1/2 sacks and 78 tackles in the regular season and 21 more tackles during the playoff run.

TE Dalton Schultz, Houston: The Texans were looking for a veteran pass catcher to help rookie QB C.J. Stroud and found one in Schultz. Houston signed him to a one-year, $6.25 million deal and got 59 catches for 635 yards and five TDs in the regular season and another TD in the playoffs from Schultz.

G Isaac Seumalo, Pittsburgh: The Steelers went into last offseason looking to bolster the offensive line and did a good job with the addition of Seumalo, who signed a three-year, $24 million deal. Seumalo allowed no sacks in the season and was the 10th-rated guard in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Las Vegas: The Raiders needed a replacement after moving on from Derek Carr and hoped that Garoppolo would be a good fit with his former OC Josh McDaniels as head coach in Las Vegas. But Garoppolo missed much of the offseason recovering from foot surgery after signing a three-year, $72.75 million contract. He struggled once he got on the field, throwing nine INTs in six starts before being benched. His suspension for performance-enhancing drugs will get the Raiders out of $11.25 million in guarantees this season

QB Derek Carr, New Orleans: The Saints’ deal for Carr didn’t work out a whole let better for New Orleans. Carr signed a $150 million, four-year deal with the hopes of leading the Saints to the playoffs in the NFL’s weakest division. New Orleans couldn’t take advantage as Carr got off to a shaky start to the season and narrowly missed the playoffs.

RT Mike McGlinchey, Denver: The Broncos gave the second-biggest deal in free agency when they signed him to a five-year, $87.5 million deal. But the same issues that led to San Francisco moving on from its 2018 first-round pick were still evident in Denver. McGlinchey struggled at times in pass protection with his 49 pressures allowed ranking sixth most among all tackles last season, according to PFF.

WR Allen Lazard, New York Jets: The Jets brought in one of Aaron Rodgers’ receivers from Green Bay in hopes that the familiarity would lead to success in New York. But Rodgers lasted only one series and Lazard never lived up to the four-year, $44 million deal he signed. Lazard had just 23 catches for 311 yards and one TD with just four catches in the final nine games of the season.

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, New England: The Patriots let Jakobi Meyers leave for Las Vegas in free agency and signed Smith-Schuster to a slightly cheaper deal instead. While Meyers had his third straight season with at least 800 yards, Smith-Schuster had just 29 catches for 260 yards and one TD after signing a three-year, $27 million deal.

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