For some fans, NFL free agency is like a week of Christmas. Unfortunately for some, though, they realize after it’s all said and done that it could have been filled with a lot more joy, glee, and smiles. The fan bases of these five NFL teams suffered from this during free agency, as their teams just didn’t take the necessary steps to address their most pressing needs, in a time that’s designated for them to do so.
1. Houston Texans
Houston had a lackluster free agency for a boatload of reasons, but we’ll keep the list relatively small. Armed with excess of $70 million in salary cap space whilst looking a good free agency crop of offensive linemen right in the eyes, Houston failed to address their most pressing need by a landslide in their decision to not sign a single one of them. Quarterback Deshaun Watson was sacked 62 times in 2018, yet still managed to throw for 4,165 yards and 26 touchdowns to just nine interceptions and lead Houston to an 11-5 record behind what was the worst — and somehow still is — offensive line in all of football.
What makes the head scratching decisions on offense worse, is the head scratching decisions on defense. Houston made the questionable decision to let star safety Tyrann Mathieu walk in free agency after being too shy to offer him a contract that would net him more than $10 million per season. Houston’s offer to Mathieu did not eclipse $9.5 million, which resulted in him testing the market and signing a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs that will pay him $14 million annually. As if losing Mathieu wasn’t bad enough, Houston remained timid to invest big money into their secondary, signing aging safety Tashaun Gipson to a three-year deal worth $22 million — exactly $20 million less than the three-year deal Mathieu signed with the Chiefs. While it’s possible to argue that Houston is smart for staying on the cheaper side of things, there was not a reason for them to. Houston made a U-Turn in free agency in 2019.
2. New York Giants
Someone in the New York media needs to step up and ask Giants’ GM Dave Gettleman: “What in the world are you doing?!” Gettleman was not armed with all the cap space in the world to make a free agency splash this year, but he also must have missed the memo that not having boatloads of cash to spend in free agency does not mean dig an even deeper hole by creating more than $30 million in dead money as a result of trading away two of his team’s highest paid players in a matter of a few days. Gettleman’s decision to trade both Olivier Vernon and Odell Beckham, Jr. in the same off-season has financially handicapped the Giants in several future seasons.
Seemingly realizing that they will be strapped for cash for the next few off-seasons, the Giants’ brass did not appear all that interested in improving the roster, when there are areas that certainly need it. New York replaced 25-year-old star safety Landon Collins with 35-year-old Antoine Bethea, and signed edge rusher Markus Golden to replace Olivier Vernon. To make a long story short, Dave Gettleman’s eye for talent may have gone blind and his ability to manage the salary cap may have ran out.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
Can someone tell the Bengals that everyone is allowed to participate in free agency please? For years now, Cincinnati seems to go into some type of hibernation in March, avoiding free agent acquisitions and maintaining its stale, unsuccessful continuity at all costs. Cincinnati’s love for continuity saw a bit of a twist this year, however, with the hiring of Zac Taylor to replace Marvin Lewis as head coach after sixteen seasons. Despite bringing in Taylor, another young, first-time head coach, the Bengals have made little to no changes to their roster, which, for the most part, is quite confusing.
Normally, when a new coach or general manager comes in, they like to revamp the roster in order to make it align with their vision of what a winning football team looks like, but up to this point in time, Taylor has not done that in Cincinnati. It surely could be related to something like Taylor not having control over the roster due to him being a head coach for the first time in his life, but the Bengals need to realize that Mike Brown making all the decisions for the franchise hasn’t amounted to much success for nearly two decades. Brown should get off the power trip and allow his new head coach to acquire players that are great fits for his scheme and culture, but for some reason that did not happen and it costed the Bengals the first off-season of the Zac Taylor era.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like Cincinnati, Tampa Bay also brought in a new head coach, although their’s
is much more experienced than Zac Taylor. With Bruce Arians joining forces with Buccaneers’ GM Jason Licht, Tampa Bay got to work immediately on filling out Arians’ coaching staff, which saw a lot of familiar faces from his time as head coach in Arizona come to town, such as Todd Bowles and Byron Leftwich. The reconstruction of the coaching staff got fans excited, as that’s usually a precursor to a considerably active free agency period. For the Bucs, however, it was all but the beginning of an active free agency.
Tampa Bay did make some notable moves, but they hurt them more than they did help them. The only move that helped the Buccaneers in a sense was signing franchise-tagged offensive tackle Donovan Smith to a three-year contract extension worth $41 million. Demar Dotson, a several-year starter for Tampa at right tackle was also re-signed, but re-signing their two offensive tackles should not have been as big a priority as it was. In the process of re-signing their tackles, Tampa Bay watched a young, star linebacker in Kwon Alexander walk out the door after agreeing to a four-year, $54 million deal with San Francisco. Beyond that, it seemed as if the Bucs made minimal effort to keep productive slot receiver Adam Humphries, as he quickly departed to Tennessee on a four-year deal worth $36 million from the Titans. Subsequent to that, Tampa Bay also lost one of its complimentary play makers at wide receiver, by trading DeSean Jackson — who led the NFL in average yards per reception — to the Eagles. The Bruce Arians era in Tampa is off to a shaky start, as it looks like he’s created more needs than he’s addressed, but you’d like to be able to trust a coach whose been around for what seems like a lifetime.
5. Indianapolis Colts
This one is sure to confuse a lot of people. Indianapolis’ first year under head coach Frank Reich was undeniably a great and very refreshing one for its fans, especially after having franchise quarterback Andrew Luck healthy and back under center. Even though the positives certainly outweighed the negatives for the Colts, every team has its needs. Indianapolis came into the off-season sitting in a seat that not a lot of teams that have playoff caliber talent and coaching get to sit in — having the most salary cap space in the NFL with approximately $123 million.
Despite having an unfathomable amount of spending money at his disposal, Colts’ GM Chris Ballard decided against pursuing some of the top players on the market, settling for veteran players on cheaper deals and retaining his own talent. Ballard did not fail to address his team’s needs for the most part, although he had all the tools necessary to not have those same needs pop up again in the near future. Ballard addressed the need for a No. 2 receiver opposite T.Y. Hilton by signing Devin Funchess to a one-year contract worth up to $13 million. While Funchess has shown promise and upside playing with Cam Newton in Carolina, he leaves a lot to be desired in his game, making him a puzzling addition for the Colts. Furthermore, Indy chose to keep cornerback Pierre Desir in town after an impressive 2018 season, signing him to a lucrative three-year extension worth $25.5 million. Desir played great in 2018, but the question remains if whether or not he can stay consistent and build off his great play. Outside of Desir, the Colts’ secondary and pass rush needs work, but for some reason, Ballard opted to neglect that this off-season. While he’s done a fantastic job as Colts’ G.M. and saving his salary cap is wise, it feels like Chris Ballard had too much money at his finger tips to not spread more of it around a little bit.