Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Agent’s Take: Russell Wilson and other offseason acquisitions who have not lived up to expectations

New veteran acquisitions, either by trade or signed as free agents, paying dividends were highlighted last week. The opposite end of the spectrum gets the focus this time around. 

Several veteran newcomers who aren’t living up to expectations have been identified. Contribution, availability, salary and draft capital to acquire were taken into account when making the selections. 

Russell Wilson, Broncos

The Broncos acquired Wilson and a 2022 fourth-round pick from the Seahawks for 2022 and 2023 first-round picks, 2022 and 2023 second-round picks, a 2022 fifth-round pick and multiple veteran players (tight end Noah Fant, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and quarterback Drew Lock) to solve quarterback woes dating to Peyton Manning retiring after the 2015 season. Wilson got a new deal during the preseason although he had two years remaining on his contract. He was given a five-year, $245 million extension with $165 million in guarantees where $124 million was fully guaranteed at signing. The deal makes Wilson the NFL‘s second-highest-paid player at $49 million per year.

It hasn’t been a smooth transition for Wilson. He’s off to the worst start in his 11-year NFL career and the Broncos are 2-3. Wilson’s only completing 59.4% of his passes (101 of 170 attempts), which ranks 28th in the NFL. His 82.8 passer rating is 22nd in the NFL. The Broncos are having trouble scoring points. Their 15 points per game are next to last in the league as Wilson has only thrown four touchdown passes. 

Wilson underwent a procedure on his throwing shoulder last Friday during Denver’s mini-bye after a 12-9 OT loss to the Colts on Thursday night. He received platelet rich plasma injections in his right shoulder. The injury isn’t expected to keep him out of Week 6’s contest against the Chargers on Monday night.

Matt Ryan, Colts

There has been a revolving door at quarterback ever since Andrew Luck abruptly retired during the 2019 preseason. A 38-year-old Philip Rivers in 2020 has been the best of the bunch. The Colts went the older-quarterback route again in trading a 2022 third-round pick to the Falcons for 37-year-old Ryan.

Lightening isn’t striking twice for the Colts with an older quarterback. The 2016 NFL MVP is tied for the league lead with seven interceptions. His 79.5 passer rating is 25th in the NFL.

Ryan is fumbling the football at a record rate. He has 11 fumbles. Fortunately for the Colts, only three have been lost. Ryan is on pace for 37 fumbles, which would shatter the current mark of 23 held by quarterbacks Kerry Collins and Daunte Culpepper. Head coach Frank Reich’s comfort level with Ryan remains high despite the turnover problems.

The Colts were anticipating Ryan being the quarterback in 2023 when acquiring him. Ryan’s contract was reworked so $12 million of his 2023 base salary, which was $21,705,882, is guaranteed. In addition, $2.5 million of the base salary was added to the existing $7.5 million third day of the 2023 league roster bonus due next March 17 where the $10 million was guaranteed for injury. The remaining $7,205,882 of 2023 base salary, which is guaranteed for injury, also becomes fully guaranteed next March 17. Twelve million of Ryan’s 2022 base salary was converted to signing bonus to create $6 million of 2022 salary cap space.

Should the Colts decide to go in another direction at quarterback next year, there will be $18 million of dead money — a salary cap charge for a player no longer on the roster — and $17,205,882 of cap room would be saved by releasing Ryan. There’s an offset with the $12 million salary guarantee so the dead money would reduce by him signing elsewhere.

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Baker Mayfield, Panthers

Mayfield won a preseason quarterback competition with Sam Darnold, 2018’s third overall pick, for the starting job after being acquired from the Browns for a conditional 2024 fifth-round pick shortly before the start of training camp. It’s a fourth-round pick with Mayfield taking at least 70% of Carolina’s offensive snaps this season. 

Cleveland had to eat $10.5 million in a pre-trade salary conversion and Mayfield had to give up some guaranteed money to facilitate the move. Mayfield reduced his remaining salary by $3.5 million from $8.358 million to $4.858 million with the ability to make the money back through not so easily achievable incentives. Between the two teams, Mayfield is assured of making $15.358 million this year.

The trade was an opportunity for Mayfield to demonstrate that a disappointing 2021 was attributed to playing most of the season with a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder and solidify himself as a starting quarterback with someone in 2023. Mayfield has gone from bad to worse this season. His subpar play was a catalyst in the Panthers firing head coach Matt Rhule on Monday after a 1-4 start. The 2018 first overall pick’s 54.9 completion percentage and 71.9 passer rating are last in the NFL. 

Mayfield is reportedly going to be out two to six weeks because of a left ankle injury he suffered in Week 5’s loss to the 49ers. The high ankle sprain jeopardizes the ability for the draft pick obtained to elevate. Even without the injury, Mayfield was probably going to get benched at some point without improved play.

Carson Wentz, Commanders

The Commanders essentially gave the Colts 2022 and 2023 third-round picks in March for Wentz. The 2023 selection becomes a second-round pick with Wentz taking at least 70% of Washington’s offensive snaps this season. The expectation was for Wentz to be the best quarterback Washington has had since Kirk Cousins left in 2018 free agency after playing the previous two seasons under franchise tags.

The honeymoon is over for Wentz in Washington. Head coach Ron Rivera threw Wentz, who is on his third team in three seasons, under the bus by pointing the finger at him for Washington’s 1-4 start. The comments were subsequently walked back as Rivera later apologized for creating a stir. 

Wentz has been plagued by the inconsistency that prompted Colts owner Jim Irsay to move on from him after one season despite dealing a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 first-round pick to the Eagles. His 10 touchdown passes are tied for fifth in the NFL but his six interceptions are the third most in the league. Wentz’s 210 pass attempts are the NFL’s second most while his 62.9 completion percentage ranks 20th and his 6.6 yards per attempt is 25th.

Rivera said he doesn’t have any regrets about trading for Wentz. If that changes, Wentz won’t see the final two years of his contract worth just over $53.4 million and will be on his way to a fourth team in as many years during the offseason.

Chandler Jones, Raiders

The Raiders signed Jones to a three-year, $51 million contract containing $32 million fully guaranteed to pair with Maxx Crosby. The idea was to have one of the NFL’s most formidable pass-rusher duos on the edge. Jones isn’t holding up his end of the bargain. He doesn’t have any sacks this season and only has 12 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, quarterback hits and quarterback hurries), according to Pro Football Focus.

Allen Robinson, Rams

A disappointing contract year in which Robinson had his worst season as a pro (other than 2017 when he tore his left ACL in the Jaguars‘ season opener) didn’t dissuade the Rams from signing him to a three-year, $46.5 million contract (worth up to $48 million through incentives) with $30.75 million fully guaranteed. The third year in 2024 can be voided by Robinson reaching 2,201 combined receiving yards in 2022 and 2023. Wide receiver Robert Woods, who tore the ACL in his left knee during a practice last November, was traded to the Titans in a salary dump to accommodate Robinson’s signing.

Robinson has practically been invisible this season. He only has 12 catches for 107 yards with a touchdown in five games. Surprisingly, 2021 seventh-round pick Ben Skowronek has been the Rams’ second most effective wide receiver. Skowronek has 18 catches for 181 yards. It’s hard to determine at this point whether Robinson’s skills being in serious decline or head coach Sean McVay not incorporating him into the offense is the bigger issue for the lack of production.

J.C. Jackson, Chargers

Jackson is part of the franchise’s massive talent upgrade, while Justin Herbert is still cheap for a starting quarterback, after barely missing the playoffs last season. Jackson was signed to a five-year, $82.5 million contract with $40 million in guarantees to shore up the secondary. His ankle surgery during the latter part of the preseason that’s caused him to miss two games came as a surprise.

Jackson, who recently put his ankle at 90%, has yet to resemble the player who earned Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors last season. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 75% of passes (15 of 20 attempts), averaging 16.3 yards per catch when targeting Jackson for a 149.0 passer rating, according to PFF. Jackson has given up two touchdowns in three games after allowing just three over 17 games in 2021.

Mitchell Trubisky, Steelers

Trubisky got first crack at replacing Ben Roethlisberger, who retired after 18 years in Pittsburgh. He signed a two-year, $14.285 million contract worth up to $26.785 million through incentives. It didn’t take long for Trubisky to lose his tenuous grip on the starting quarterback job. He was replaced by Kenny Pickett, who was taken 20th overall in this year’s NFL Draft, during the middle of a Week 4 loss to the Jets

Pittsburgh’s offense was struggling with Trubisky under center. In the three full games Trubisky played, he was averaging a league-worst 5.5 yards per pass attempt. He also ranked 26th in the NFL with a 60.2 completion percentage and had a 77.7 passer rating, which was 29th. Trubisky is probably looking at a backup deal during the offseason in the same $2.5 million-per-year neighborhood that he got from the Bills as an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

Bengals O-linemen: Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, La’el Collins

The AFC champion Bengals made offensive line the top priority in the free agency because 2020 first overall pick Joe Burrow was sacked 70 times last season, including the playoffs. The interior was addressed with Alex Cappa and Ted Karras. Cappa signed a four-year contract averaging $8.75 million per year. Karras received a three-year, $18 million deal. Right tackle La’el Collins signed a three-year, $21 million contract (worth a maximum of $30 million through salary escalators and incentives) after the Cowboys released him. He anointed himself Burrow’s bodyguard upon signing and proclaimed nobody would be touching the quarterback. That certainly hasn’t been the case this season. Burrow has been sacked 19 times through five games. The Bengals are on pace to surrender 72 sacks over the regular season after giving up 55 in 2021.

Laken Tomlinson, Jets

Tomlinson was the cornerstone of the Jets’ free agent class. He signed a three-year, $40 million contract (worth up to $41.2 million through incentives) with $26.6 million in guarantees, of which $24 million was fully guaranteed at signing. It was supposed to be a smooth transition for Tomlinson because he is in the same offensive scheme he was under in San Francisco for the last five years. Tomlinson has allowed 15 quarterback pressures in five games this season. He only had five at the same point last year and 24 for the 17-game season.

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