For every big NFL offseason signing, savvy draft selection or forward-thinking trade, there is a curious failure by another team to address an area of need. Hindsight is 20-20, and multiple teams and players whiffed over the past few months. Where did it all go wrong, and why will some franchises have regret once the 2020 season kicks off?
We asked our panel of NFL experts for the biggest missed opportunity of the offseason. What trade, signing, draft pick, etc., should have happened … but didn’t?
Tom Brady is gone, and his replacement is 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham, with a backup plan of 34-year-old Brian Hoyer. On paper, that’s one of the worst QB rooms we’ve seen in quite a while — the two combined to attempt 69 passes last season. And, if this wasn’t the Bill Belichick-led Patriots, the franchise would be taking a lot more heat for the apparent plan.
Put simply, Day 3 quarterbacks are extreme long shots for NFL success. A first-round (21), second-round (four) or third-round (two) QB is likely to handle the bulk of the dropbacks for 27 of 32 teams this season. That said, Belichick is, well, the GOAT. It’s hard to believe he’d be content with a long shot under center unless Stidham had convinced him that he was the real deal behind the scenes last season. Color me extremely intrigued to see how this plays out, but it’s undoubtedly an extremely risky gamble. — Mike Clay, NFL fantasy writer
Somebody should have signed Newton by now. I recognize that this is an opportunity missed not only by more than a few teams but also by Newton due to the restrictions imposed on teams’ abilities to give players physicals during the coronavirus pandemic. And it might turn out to be more of an opportunity delayed than an opportunity missed. But I can’t get over the fact that literally every team in the league has had a chance to at least look into adding Newton to its roster, and none of them has.
There’s a better-than-average chance that he’ll play brilliantly at some point this season and more than a handful of teams will look at their QB situations and wonder what might have been. — Dan Graziano, national NFL writer
Jeremy Fowler explains that the market for Cam Newton has “cooled considerably in the last month or so,” but he also says Newton is in no rush to sign.
The Detroit Lions failed to sign a pass-rusher
In 2019, the Lions allowed a league-worst 284.4 passing yards per game while producing just 29 sacks. That’s a problem for a team that played man coverage on 65.9% of opponent dropbacks (second most in the NFL).
Maybe adding outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. was unlikely to happen in free agency given the multiyear deal he signed with the Falcons. However, could Detroit have landed Vic Beasley Jr. or Leonard Floyd, each a former top-10 pick? Both signed one-year deals. And what about Jadeveon Clowney? The veteran is still available.
Yes, I understand it’s a two-way street here with pass rush and coverage. You need both to win. And the Lions did add two cornerbacks with man-coverage traits — Jeff Okudah and Desmond Trufant — after trading Darius Slay. But without a consistent pass rush, especially considering the defensive scheme in Detroit, I still have concerns about the Lions’ ability to create pressure up front. — Matt Bowen, NFL analyst
Clowney’s entire free agency is a missed opportunity. Here’s a player with some elite traits who has left money on the table by entering the summer without a deal.
Sure, Clowney’s health complicates matters. He can’t undergo a team-imposed physical to show he has healed from core muscle surgery. But at least three teams (Titans, Seahawks and Browns) have offered him short-term contracts that he refuses to take.
Free agents who wait this long rarely get paid big dollars, because teams either have already spent heavily in March or are busy trying to sign their own stars. Maybe the problem is that Clowney wasn’t as good as some thought and the market spoke to it. He never has had a double-digit-sack season. But the talent is obvious, and this should have been handled by now. — Jeremy Fowler, national NFL writer
Coming into this offseason, edge was Seattle’s most glaring area of need. Not a single Seahawk finished with more than four sacks last season. The team leader was situational rusher Rasheem Green, and Clowney, the biggest disrupter, became a free agent.
Clowney and former Viking Everson Griffen are still available, but at the moment, it appears that Seattle is betting on a massive leap from 2019 first-round draft pick L.J. Collier, who barely played last season, and the contributions of rookie edge rusher Darrell Taylor. The Seahawks’ defense was better last season than people gave it credit for, but Seattle needs a veteran to get after quarterbacks. — Mina Kimes, NFL writer
It’s no secret that coach Matt LaFleur believes strongly in the run game. And a balanced offense will help any quarterback. But the Packers appear set to enter another season with Davante Adams as their only dynamic pass-catcher.
The Packers bid farewell to Geronimo Allison — who ranked third last season among Green Bay wide receivers with 34 receptions — signed oft-injured free agent Devin Funchess and then did not select a single receiver from the heralded 2020 draft class. Barring massive leaps from the likes of Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be asked to shoulder too much of the burden to achieve a really productive passing game. — Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer
Let me be clear: This extends well before the current offseason and actually falls into the lap of former decision-maker Bruce Allen, whose stubborn refusal to trade Williams before or during last season resulted in the seven-time Pro Bowler sitting out the entire year.
The new regime, led by Ron Rivera and Kyle Smith, did what it could to salvage the situation. Washington traded Williams to the 49ers for a third-round pick in 2021 and fifth-rounder in 2020, a discount relative to what could have been achieved just months before. Again, this is out of the control of Rivera and Smith, and the deal that was not consummated was a failure dating to last season, but the missed opportunity set in when the Williams trade was finally agreed to during this year’s draft. — Field Yates, NFL analyst
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