Questionable Offseason Moves

Updated: August 22nd 2017

Every season NFL teams make questionable moves in the offseason which makes one wonder what the team is thinking. Poor personnel decisions, salary cap management, and lack of coherent team direction cause major headaches both during the season and for the future.  I take a look at a few of these situations and examine the implications for both NFL teams and your RSO leagues.

Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars: A hope and a prayer at quarterback

I felt confident each of these teams would address the quarterback position bringing in quality veteran competition. Instead, Houston traded up in the draft for Clemson’s DeShaun Watson to compete with incumbent Tom Savage and Jacksonville stuck with Blake Bortles only resigning perpetual backup Chad Henne.

The Texans have wasted a J.J. Watt led defense which has finished eighth or better in Football Outsider’s DVOA metric for defensive efficiency each of the last three seasons. Despite the strong defense and playing in a poor division, Houston finished just 9-7 in the last three seasons primarily due to incompetent quarterback play.  Now the Texans are left with the uninspiring choice of relying on either Tom Savage or rookie DeShaun Watson.  Savage did not throw a single touchdown pass and managed only 6.3 yards per attempt (close to Blake Bortles and Carson Wentz who were among the bottom of the league) in three appearances.  The Texans managed just 21, 12, and 17 points scored in those contests.  The other option is starting first round pick Watson.  The odds of rookie quarterbacks performing well are not good.  For every Dak Prescott, there is a Jared Goff, Ryan Leaf, and E.J. Manuel who produce very little.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, maintained the status-quo by keeping Blake Bortles as the starting quarterback. Jacksonville possesses an ascending young defense built from multiple high draft picks and expensive free agent additions.  Quarterback play doomed this team to awful finishes over the last few seasons where the Jaguars won only 11 games over the last three years.  You can read about Bortles’ struggles with more detail. Simply put, Bortles has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL over his three year career.  Jacksonville then compounded the problem by inexplicably picking up Bortles’ fifth-year option at $19 million for 2018.  There is no upside to picking up the option and lots of downside.  The odds of Bortles suddenly making a significant jump in the fourth season are extremely low.  There is practically zero chance Bortles would make anything close to $19 million on the open market in 2018.  The contract also becomes fully guaranteed if he suffers a catastrophic injury which prevents him from playing in 2018.  The Jaguars probably look for a new quarterback in 2018.

RSO Consequences: Look for more of the same in Houston.  This has been among the most run-heavy offenses in the league since head coach Bill O’Brien arrived and that is unlikely to change.  Lamar Miller and rookie D’Onta Foreman should see plenty of volume.  DeAndre Hopkins and the rest of the Houston receiving core will likely be limited by poor quarterback play and low volume once again.  Neither Savage nor Watson will be fantasy relevant.

Jacksonville, on the other hand, looks to completely change the script.  They invested heavily in fourth overall pick running back Leonard Fournette and will want the running game to carry the offense.  Expect a sharp decline in Blake Bortles pass attempts this season from the over 600 for each of the last two years.  Things have gone terribly wrong for the Jaguars if Bortles throws the ball much more than 500 times.  This reduction in volume, while good for Jacksonville, likely means less production from Allen Robinson and the rest of the Jaguars’ receivers.  Bortles should provide QB2 production when playing but could easily be benched later in the season due to performance and/or the fifth-year guarantee to prevent injury.

Kansas City Chiefs: Contender or Rebuilder?

Another team making a big move on draft day, Kansas City gave up 2017 first and third round picks in addition to a 2018 first to take quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs decided to gamble on a possible future quarterback upgrade where they could have added premium playmaking talents.  Kansas City then released Jeremy Maclin, the only proven wide receiver on the roster.  No other wide receiver on the roster broke the 600 yard mark for the Chiefs.  These are moves typically made from a team rebuilding for the future, not from a team which has won 23 games over the last two seasons.  I would not say the Chiefs are sabotaging Alex Smith’s likely last season as a starter in Kansas City, but it is clear Kansas City is not providing Smith with all the tools possible to succeed and the Chiefs are questionable to make the playoffs given how the offseason has gone.

On a side note, waiting until June to release Maclin was a classless move on the part of the Chiefs. Kansas City certainly has salary cap issues but they have known about these cap issues before the free agency period began and nothing new has happened to change their mind about the move.  There is no good reason for the Chiefs to release Maclin, who has been nothing but a model citizen and teammate, this late in the offseason after teams have spent most of their cap space in free agency.  This is an issue I foresee many agents addressing in top players’ contracts next season forcing teams to make an earlier decision on player cuts.

RSO Consequences: Tight end Travis Kelce maintains his role as the dominant receiver in this offense.  The wide receiver position is a free for all.  Rookie sensation Tyreek Hill’s dynamic freshman campaign was largely supported by some, likely unsustainable, huge runs resulting in an absurd 11.2 yards per carry and a bunch of manufactured touches near the line of scrimmage in the passing game.  Will this usage continue or will another receiver step up for Kansas City?  Historically Alex Smith supported, at most, one fantasy relevant wide receiver and the upside is not extremely high considering the limited volume in the Kansas City passing attack.  Maclin should be a quality second wide receiver for the team that lands him but his fantasy value will largely be determined by where he lands.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Doug Martin Contract

By most accounts, Tampa Bay improved considerably this offseason offensively highlighted by free agent acquisition DeSean Jackson at wide receiver and first round draft pick O.J. Howard at tight end. One player who will not contribute at the start is running back Doug Martin who will miss the first three games as part of a four game suspension for performance enhancing drugs.  Martin’s production has been extremely spotty in his five year career, accumulating less than 500 rushing yards in three out of five seasons with injuries playing a key role.  He is in the second year of a five year contract which pays him a little under $6 million this season (7th highest cap hit of any running back) and around $7 million for the remaining three seasons.

The running back market has changed since Martin signed his contract. Not a single back, including high profile names Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch, and Adrian Peterson, signed for more than $4 million during free agency.  Clearly, Martin’s contract is out of line in today’s market for a 28 year old back with his overall lack of production and injury/suspension issues. The Buccaneers were given an out, however, as Martin’s suspension voids the 2017 salary guarantees in his contract.  This is a golden opportunity for Tampa Bay to, at a minimum, renegotiate Martin’s contract to a level more commensurate with the market.  An outright release is also not out of the question given the current options on the team and options likely available in trade or free agency.   It is a mystery why Tampa Bay has not addressed the situation yet.

RSO Consequences: The running game was ugly in 2016 with Tampa Bay averaging over four yards per carry against only a single opponent (San Francisco’s awful run defense).  The situation could be a mess in 2017 and is one of the most unpredictable in the league.  Rodgers, Sims, and rookie McNichols could all see significant looks without Martin in an offense that could score plenty if Jameis Winston takes another step forward.  Martin’s outcomes range from being cut to taking over the lead role in an offense with many scoring chances.  I generally steer clear of heavy investment in large, uncertain running back committees and this group is not an exception unless you can get pieces on the cheap.


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

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