It’s hard to find value in NFL free agency. It’s much easier to find contractual fiascos.
A quick peek at our Top 101 Free Agents list from a year ago reveals three major misfires in our top seven alone: Le’Veon Bell, Nick Foles and C.J. Mosley. Those three didn’t play up to their contracts for various reasons — injuries primarily for Mosley — but bad luck doesn’t make the guaranteed money handed out any less painful.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some 2020 free agents who could be overpriced in the coming weeks:
Robby Anderson, wide receiver: Anderson is a classic boom-or-bust pickup. His deep speed jumps off the screen and is a difficult trait to find, especially in this free-agent class. He’s posted at least 10 catches of 20-plus yards in each of his four pro seasons despite playing on bad offenses. That’s why he probably will make north of the four-year, $44 million contract Tyrell Williams got from the Raiders a year ago. Williams didn’t have nearly as many red flags, though.
Anderson had multiple legal issues during his rookie contract and didn’t always see eye to eye with his head coaches. For all his talent, he’s topped 800 receiving yards only once and never been a 1,000-yard receiver. Offseason stories about Anderson becoming a more “complete” wideout usually didn’t translate to Sundays. With a deep WR draft class coming into the league, teams could be better off going young at the position rather than paying Anderson big money.
Austin Hooper, tight end: Hooper is a consistent producer with strong hands. But is he a difference maker? Market dynamics suggest that Hooper will be paid like a superstar this offseason even though the team that knows him best is comfortable replacing him. It is increasingly rare to see a quality young tight end hit free agency and Hooper is essentially the only prime option this offseason, with the Chargers poised to keep Hunter Henry in Los Angeles. This could make Hooper among the highest-paid players at his position despite not being a top-five talent.
Hooper has averaged fewer than 10 yards per catch combined over the last two years on an offense where he’s not seeing any double teams. He’s a plus starter, but lacks the dynamic blocking or big-play threat that would make him a top-tier talent.
Jamie Collins, linebacker: Collins already failed to make an impact the last time he left New England. After a quietly disappointing end to his return to Foxborough on a one-year deal last season, teams have to worry about how consistent Collins will be, play to play and week to week.
Ryan Tannehill, quarterback: Tannehill at a discount in Tennessee was a revelation. Tannehill out of Tennessee at a premium cost would be a major risk.
The Titans should retain Tannehill; this placement is about his projected value elsewhere. He’s coming off the most impressive stretch for a Titans quarterback since Steve McNair, with all love and affection to 2008 Kerry Collins. But another team jumping into the bidding doesn’t make sense. The year to get Tannehill was 2019 at a deep discount — and Titans general manager Jon Robinson did just that. Put Tannehill in the wrong situation and his next contract could look like the Nick Foles-Jaguars deal a year from now.
Vic Beasley, defensive end: The Falcons are desperate for pass-rushing help and they are letting Beasley walk. The Falcons were desperate for Beasley to live up to the billing as a top-10 draft pick, paying him $12.8 million last season for erratic production. Even when Beasley was at his best in 2016, his league-high sack total of 15.5 was misleading, given the dearth of total pressures. He’s such a liability on running downs that he often had to be taken off the field. Despite all that, he’ll probably get a good contract in free agency.
There’s a strange phenomenon with disappointing former top-10 picks entering their second contract. General managers frequently seem to value the original draft report rather the years of NFL film that appear to disprove the initial assessment was wrong. Speaking of which …
Leonard Williams, defensive lineman: Williams is a better player than Beasley. He disrupts the pocket and is a more effective, versatile player than he’s given credit for being. He’s just nowhere near the player many expected him to be when he went sixth overall in the 2015 draft.
Williams is exactly the type of player who gets overpaid in free agency. He’s an above-average starter with a prime draft pedigree that some team could squint and wish into superstar material. Williams has the added benefit this year of leverage over the Giants, who gave up a third-round pick for him in an odd October trade. New York won’t want to lose him for nothing, so a big long-term contract or the franchise tag could be coming for a player who didn’t exactly change the Giants‘ defense when he arrived.
Jimmy Smith, cornerback: His injury history is the reason he’s on this list. Seeing how incredibly respected Smith is in Baltimore, it’s not a good sign for his future that the team that loves him for all he did — including locking down their second Super Bowl title — is willing to let him go.
Jarran Reed, defensive tackle: Beware the free-agent signing with one standout season out of four, especially when that season preceded a suspension. The Seahawks need defensive linemen, so it will be telling if they don’t make a big effort to re-sign Reed.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.