The NFL teams that are losing in free agencyDate: March 25, 2020
By: Jorie Mickens
Not everyone can be a winner in the NFL. With 32 teams competing for the ever-elusive Vince Lombardi Trophy, it is inevitable that some teams will be unable to rise to the occasion. With all the transactions that happened thus far, here is an early look at some of the losers of this year’s free agency period.
Notable Departures: DeAndre Hopkins (WR), D.J. Reader (DE)
One move that stunned the NFL world may have solidified the Houston Texans as the biggest losers from this year’s free agency period. The Texans traded four-time Pro Bowl and three-time All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for running back David Johnson, a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick in 2021.
Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Since entering the league in 2013, Hopkins ranks third among wide receivers in receptions, third in yards, second in touchdowns and eighth in yards per game. As for Johnson, he has been atrocious since his breakout season in 2016 when he rushed for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns. In his last three seasons combined, Johnson has only rushed for 69 more yards than he did in 2016 and seven less touchdowns.
Johnson has dealt with injuries the past couple of seasons, but that only makes you question the move even more. Why would the Texans, a team who is always shorthanded at the receiver position, trade away arguably the best wide receiver in the league, in his prime, for a running back who hasn’t produced in three years and who will cost the team nearly the same amount of money as Hopkins?
The ripple effect of this move and something that has gone overlooked is that quarterback Deshaun Watson’s contract will expire after the 2020 season. With no receivers to throw to, and Houston’s offensive line consistently ranking near the bottom of the league throughout Watson’s career, it is plausible that Watson could be wearing a new uniform in 2021.
Defensively, losing their second-best defensive end in D.J. Reader is going to hurt their defensive line. Reader finished last season with career-highs in sacks, tackles, tackles for loss and QB hits. The former fifth-round pick had missed just three games in his four-year career in Houston, he was an iron man on a roster that dealt with many injuries last season.
Fellow defensive end J.J. Watt missed eight games last season and turned 31 this offseason, one must question how many more productive seasons they’ll get from the future Hall of Famer. Houston’s first selection in this year’s draft doesn’t come until the 57th overall pick, with so many needs but so little time, the Texans’ misery could just be getting started.
Los Angeles Rams
Notable Departures: Clay Matthews (LB), Cory Littleton (LB), Dante Fowler Jr. (LB), Eric Weddle (S), Michael Brockers (DT), Nickell Robey-Coleman (CB) Todd Gurley III (RB)
The Rams went all-in last season when they traded a 2020 first-round pick, a 2021 first- round pick and a 2021 fourth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars to acquire two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey, then they missed the playoffs.
This offseason, the Rams have lost their two leading tacklers from last season in Cory Littleton and Eric Weddle, Dante Fowler, who was second on the team in sacks, Michael Brockers who was fourth on the team in tackles and fifth in QB hits and Todd Gurley, who in 2018, signed the richest running back contract in league history.
Say what you want about Gurley, but he has yet to have a season where he did not eclipse 1,000 yards from scrimmage, and just last year, he rushed for 857 yards and 12 touchdowns in 15 games. Now Gurley is headed to Georgia, where he played college ball, to play for the Atlanta Falcons.
There were rumblings that the Rams were looking to trade wide receiver Brandin Cooks, but those rumors have not been in the news as of late. The Rams gave the Patriots a first-round pick for Cooks in 2018, after the season Cooks had in 2019, there is no way the Rams can recoup that value for him.
The Rams could be stuck in purgatory for the next few years, with Jared Goff and Aaron Donald both signing record-setting deals in back-to-back seasons, it could be difficult to draw in other free agents to help this team.
Notable Departures: Bryon Jones (CB), Jason Witten (TE), Jeff Heath (S), Maliek Collins (DT), Randall Cobb (WR), Robert Quinn (DE), Travis Frederick (C)
The Cowboys tagged arguably the best free agent quarterback on the market in Dak Prescott, and retained arguably the best overall free agent on this year’s market in Amari Cooper, but outside of that, the Cowboys dropped the ball this offseason.
Losing Bryon Jones is a huge blow to the Cowboys’ secondary. In 2018, Jones was ranked seventh out of 113 qualified cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus, earning an overall grade of 83.1. Last season wasn’t the greatest for Jones, but as mentioned in my previous article examining the winners of this year’s free agency, playing alongside Xavien Howard and in Brian Flores’ system should do wonders for the fifth-year corner out of Connecticut.
Jeff Heath was a reliable safety in the seven seasons he spent in Dallas, he’s great against run defense and good in zone coverage and it will be difficult finding a replacement for him this late in the offseason. Maliek Collins had 14.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and 40 QB hits for the Cowboys in his four-year career there and Robert Quinn led the team in sacks last year with 11.5, tackles for loss with 13 and QB hits with 22.
Perhaps the biggest blow to this roster though was when center Travis Frederick announced his retirement at age 29. Frederick was one of the best centers in the league, but in 2018, the five-time Pro Bowler was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rapid onset muscle weakness that forced him to miss the entire season. Frederick returned in 2019 and was selected to the Pro Bowl, but his unforeseen retirement only adds to the grocery list of items the Cowboys need to do to compete for the playoffs in 2020.
Jorie Mickens can be reached at email@example.com.