The 2021 edition of NFL free agency isn't far off. On March 17, the feeding frenzy will officially begin, though negotiations can commence two days prior.
Every offseason, players sign contracts that don't match their production or potential; that's the nature of free agency as teams try to outbid one another for the services of veterans. Last year, for example, Austin Hooper got what was a market-setting deal simply because he was a Pro Bowler getting his turn at the negotiation table.
Hooper is now the third-highest-paid tight end among those with long-term contracts, behind only Kansas City's Travis Kelce and San Francisco's George Kittle. He produced just 435 receiving yards and four touchdowns for the Cleveland Browns in 2020.
Pass-rusher Dante Fowler Jr. landed a three-year, $45 million deal following the only double-digit-sack season of his career. He returned to his typical form in 2020, logging just three sacks for the Atlanta Falcons.
Like Hooper, Fowler and several others last offseason, many pending free agents will be overpaid in 2020. We'll never criticize someone for signing on the dotted line, of course, but the following eight players are likely to be among them.
This isn't to suggest that any of these players are bad. Whether because of injury risks, inconsistent production, age or positional overvaluing, however, they're all likely to earn more than they should.
Players are listed in alphabetical order.
RB Kenyan Drake
Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake is one of several players on this list who received the franchise tag or transition tag in 2020. This is no coincidence. If a team values a player enough to franchise-tag him, he must be one of the best at his position, right?
Well, not exactly, though it's true in some cases. The Dallas Cowboys, for example, tagged Dak Prescott last offseason because they didn't want to lose one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. In Drake's case, however, the transition tag may have been a way to give him another opportunity without committing to him long-term.
Drake was impressive during his eight games with the Cardinals in 2019, rushing for 643 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. However, he wasn't a proven full-time starter, and after a year on the tag, he still isn't. Drake split time with Chase Edmonds and finished with 955 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns but with a modest 4.0 yards-per-carry average.
While the 27-year-old may be a serviceable starter, he probably isn't worth $8.3 million-plus per season, which is his projected market value. However, a running back-needy team rich with cap space—along with the Cardinals—may drive Drake's salary into that price range. That's too much for a back with zero 1,000-yard seasons on his resume.
Potential Suitors: New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals
Edge Bud Dupree
Pass-rusher Bud Dupree received the franchise tag from the Pittsburgh Steelers last offseason, and he may parlay that into a massive free-agent deal this offseason. Guys who can get to the quarterback are regularly overvalued in free agency, which is how Fowler ended up with his lucrative three-year deal in 2020.
However, Dupree has some major red flags that suggest he will be overcompensated. One of them is the fact that he was merely average before his contract year of 2019. In his four previous seasons, Dupree had never produced more than 6.0 sacks. Then, in a contract year—and while playing opposite T.J. Watt—he ripped off 11.5 sacks.
Dupree had another eight sacks in 11 games last season before suffering a torn ACL. This is the second knock against his value. There's no telling when or if Dupree will be at 100 percent in 2021, though he is optimistic about an early return.
"Man, I'm feeling great right now," Dupree told NFL Network's Good Morning Football (h/t Frank Carnevale of TribLive.com. "I'm ahead of schedule in rehab."
The reality is that some cap-rich team with pass-rushing needs is likely to pay Dupree like a No. 1 pass-rusher. He has a projected market value of $18.2 million annually, but he may be more of a complementary piece and make a minimal impact in 2021.
Potential Suitors: New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals