Buyer beware: 10 NFL free agents who could be vastly overpriced
NFL free agency officially begins next week, and several players could spark some sticker shock with their eventual contract terms.
Just as the rest of the country has this year, the NFL is about to get a lesson on inflation.
With free agency set to officially begin Wednesday (and the tampering window opening Monday), many teams are preparing to make their pushes to land marquee talent. But coaches and general managers might need to steel themselves for some sticker shock.
After the COVID-19 pandemic prompted last year's salary cap to plunge more than $15 million to $182.5 million, the spending limit ballooned back up to $208.2 million for this offseason. That leaves many teams with plenty of opportunity to make a splash.
Yet the pool of talent seems relatively thin, especially after franchise tags were doled out and several other standouts reached big-money extensions. And with this portion of the offseason calendar tending to spark overaggressive spending on at least a handful of players whose ability doesn't measure up to their contract figures, this year figures to be no different.
Here are 10 NFL players who could be in position to be vastly overpaid in free agency:
QB Mitchell Trubisky
Is this really happening? One year after being relegated to backup status in Buffalo following his disappointing run in Chicago reaching its end, the former No. 2 pick is surrounded by buzz of his potential ascension back to a starting role. Beyond the rave reviews he's drawn from Bills coaches while sitting behind Josh Allen, it's unclear exactly what got Trubisky back to this point. A weak draft crop of quarterbacks? Collective amnesia? Given his erratic decision-making and accuracy, Trubisky has proven only tenable as a starter when everything around him is clicking. That's a setup unlikely to be offered by any team looking for a quick-fix behind center this offseason. Even for bridge starters, quarterback contracts can get unwieldy, so expect Trubisky to get a hefty sum.
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RB Cordarrelle Patterson
The dynamic all-purpose threat's breakout from puzzling gadget player to consistent game-breaker was one of 2021's more entertaining developments. Patterson's timing was impeccable, too, as he now stands to get a substantial pay bump from the $3 million he received last season. But if the soon-to-be 31-year-old leaves Atlanta, will he able to find another coaching staff who can use him as creatively as Arthur Smith did? Other teams have tried to find a regular role for him and failed. Patterson has stumped for a return to the Falcons, but if he understandably sides with a richer offer, he will face an uphill battle to replicate his career year.
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Franchise tags for Davante Adams and Chris Godwin and a $20 million-per-year extension for Mike Williams dried up the free-agent wide receiver market, boosting Valdes-Scantling and several other pass catchers who otherwise would have been viewed as secondary or tertiary options. It's easy to see why teams would be drawn to a 6-4, 206-pound target who has averaged 17.5 yards per reception in his career, including posting an NFL-best 20.9 in 2020. Still, Valdes-Scantling is no panacea for any offense trying to invigorate its deep passing attack. He has been a distinct beneficiary of playing alongside Adams and, prior to last year, has been plagued by drops and inconsistency . A reunion in Green Bay would be the best on-field outcome for both Valdes-Scantling and the Packers, but it seems likely that the highest bidder will be a different team less capable of taking advantage of his skill set.
TE Evan Engram
The 6-3, 240-pound former first-rounder still demonstrates the kind of athleticism that will earn him additional chances, especially for those convinced his skill set was doomed in the Giants' languishing offense. But with Engram now having five seasons under his belt, still struggling with drops and coming off career worsts in yards per game (27.2) and yards per catch (8.9), his appeal is more and more based in fantasy than reality. Still, it's a good bet that some team will believe it can fix him. A lackluster draft class at tight end would seem to boost his bottom line, but Engram is essentially a big slot now. There are better, more efficient options elsewhere.
OT Eric Fisher
With demand always outpacing supply for pass protectors, offensive tackles regularly get overpaid in free agency, especially given that few reliable ones typically hit the open market. Former Saints stalwart Terron Armstead is rightfully this year's top prize at the position, but Fisher could be among the second-tier options. That still might net the 31-year-old a payout that wouldn't align with his 2021 performance, in which he gave up seven sacks in 15 games for the Colts, according to Pro Football Focus, while struggling to recapture the form he showed before tearing his Achilles last January. Anything more than a low-cost, one-year deal seems excessive, but Fisher should have enough suitors to get more.
G Brandon Scherff
A five-time Pro Bowl selection for Washington, Scherff has demonstrated a consistently high level of play that has positioned him as the top interior lineman on the market after two years on the franchise tag. Still, handing out a long-term contract north of $18 million per year (what Scherff earned last season) for any guard is a dicey proposition, especially when that player is 30 and has missed 22 games over the last four seasons, as Scherff has. Several past top-line deals at the position – Andrew Norwell, Kevin Zeitler, Kelechi Osemele – should give teams pause. And for as well as Joe Thuney performed in his first year of a market-setting contract (five years, $80 million) for the Chiefs, spending wildly at this position seems reckless given the more cost-effective alternatives.
G Laken Tomlinson
San Francisco served the former first-rounder well, as the 49ers helped him turn around his career after a disappointing start with the Lions. Now, fresh off a Pro Bowl berth, Tomlinson is set for a handsome reward. Tomlinson's consistency should help put whatever team signs him at ease. But if he doesn't re-sign with the 49ers or land in another zone-heavy system, he might have trouble replicating the highs that helped him earn his forthcoming contract.
C Bradley Bozeman
A switch from left guard to center last season proved to be the right move for Bozeman, who was a steady starter in his new role for the Ravens. Only 27, he is versatile and reliable – traits NFL teams covet from their interior linemen. Yet Bozeman, who might be too pricey for the Ravens to retain, could have a bumpy transition with a new team given his athletic limitations. And unless you have a quarterback on a rookie contract, this is not a great position at which to be at the top of the market.
CB Carlton Davis
The Buccaneers' decision to give the franchise tag to Godwin left Davis to hit the open market, and he could be one of several starters flocking Tampa for greener pastures - at least contractually. The 6-1, 206-pounder just turned 25 and has a knack for finding the ball, as evidenced by his NFL-best 48 passes defensed in the last three years. Still, any team expecting a lockdown corner on the level of fellow free agent J.C. Jackson might be disappointed. Davis has been more comfortable in zone coverage than man during his run with the Buccaneers. He has the physical tools to grow in that area, which he will need to do to become one of the NFL's top cornerbacks. Regardless, Davis is about to be paid as though he is already at that level.
KR/PR Jakeem Grant
Adding an electric, big-play threat seems like a sound move in free agency for most teams. But it's best when that investment is made on offense, not in the return game. Grant was named a second-team All-Pro returner for the second consecutive season last year after a campaign in which he returned a punt 97 yards for the Bears against the Packers. But the 5-7, 171-pounder doesn't offer much else outside of special teams, as he tallied just 165 yards from scrimmage and two receiving touchdowns in 2021. His contributions are too few, easily limited and prone to regression for teams to justify any significant spend.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.