Skip to main content

Coby Fleener, Andre Johnson among struggling pickups

We'd forgive Saints fans for feeling cursed early this season. Seven defenders expected to start for New Orleans were out for Monday night's game, and four of those players aren't coming back anytime soon.

The real organizational curse over the last few years, however, starts in the front office. The team is spending over $40 million -- more than a quarter of its cap space -- in "dead money" for players no longer on the roster. (Some of the ghosts of contracts past include Junior Galette, Brandon Browner, Keenan Lewis and C.J. Spiller.) That's more dead money than the 10 teams with the least amount of dead money combined, according to

There is reason to believe the team's latest crop of free agents could one day be added to the pile of prematurely terminated deals. The Saints talked all offseason about linebacker James Laurinaitis improving the team's communication, but he's allowing just as many big plays as he did last season in St. Louis. Tight end Coby Fleener's mistakes cost New Orleans in two close games. Even after a big fantasy performance on Monday night, Fleener is ranked No. 42 among 59 tight end qualifiers on Pro Football Focus.

The decision-making process in New Orleans is muddy under general manager Mickey Loomis, especially after his increase in responsibilities with the NBA's Pelicans. Coach Sean Payton certainly plays a large role and will keep getting chances to go after free agents he wants. He's signed through 2020, unless owner Tom Benson someday chooses to add a chunk of Payton's pay to the dead-money ledger.

*Earlier this week, we looked at the best new additions to NFL teams this season. Now let's take a look at some of this offseason's pickups who are struggling to make an impact early. *

Vikings offensive linemen Alex Boone and Andre Smith

Coach Mike Zimmer called out his offensive line's lack of toughness after last season, and the team signed Boone at guard and Smith at tackle in response to the issue. It hasn't helped.

Boone, the team's fifth-highest-paid player according to, is part of the team's last-ranked running game -- and now Boone is dealing with a hip injury. No other squad has produced more negative runs. Smith has given up two sacks and is ranked No. 76 out of 78 Pro Football Focus qualifiers through three weeks. The struggles up front only serve to make new quarterback Sam Bradford's start feel more miraculous and less sustainable.

Titans wide receivers Rishard Matthews and Andre Johnson

Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota saw the single coverage he wanted last Sunday and let it rip. Desperate for Oakland's press coverage to back off, Mariota threw the ball 50 yards downfield in hopes of seeing Johnson make a play. But Raiders cornerback David Amerson blanketed the 35-year-old, as he'd been doing the whole day. The throw never had a chance.

This was another failed pass to a new acquisition in a month full of them for Mariota. While the Titans' investments at running back look wise, Johnson and pricier free-agent pickup Matthews have combined to gain an incredibly inefficient 137 yards on 30 targets. Another favorite of coach Mike Mularkey, wide receiver Harry Douglas, has gained 41 yards on nine targets.

Mariota's early-season struggles rank among the most depressing storylines of this young campaign, and the Titans front office is complicit in the crime. After trading receiver Dorial Green-Beckham away to Philadelphia, the Titans have no vertical element in their offense. The roster offers few solutions.

A stagnant young offense is tolerable if there is a clear direction. A stagnant offense with veterans that won't be on the team next season feels aimless.

Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith

One season after finishing 26th in points allowed, the Bucs are dead last after three weeks. It's not all the fault of Smith's defense, as Tampa's eight turnovers have led to 37 points. Smith has struggled to get a remodeled secondary up to speed, especially at safety.

Koetter, promoted from offensive coordinator in January, has made some curious game-management decisions as the man in charge. In Week 2, he left quarterback Jameis Winston vulnerable to big hits late in a blowout loss. In Week 3, his hatchet job of the team's timeout situation robbed Winston of at least two to three more plays in crunch time of a defeat to the Rams.

"We're just missing something, I feel like -- and as my title suggests, it's my job to speak up," Koetter said this week. "I feel like sometimes we find too many ways to lose a game instead of creating ways to win a game."

Raiders defensive backs Reggie Nelson and Sean Smith

Facing the Titansin Week 3 temporarily cured what ailed a Raiders defense that set records for ineptitude in the first two weeks. Smith, the team's high-priced free-agent pickup, was benched in Week 1 because of his struggles covering quick-twitch Saints receivers. His performance against the Falconsthe next week wasn't much better.

Nelson, signed after a great six-year run in Cincinnati, was part of many big plays getting past him against the Saints and Falcons. Both players bounced back with interceptionsagainst Mariota, but we still worry about this group's versatility. The Raiders' secondary is set up to physically handle bigger opponents but looks as if it will struggle with shiftier groups.

Raider Nation will feel a lot better about GM Reggie McKenzie's offseason spending spree if the secondary can contain an improving Ravens passing attack in Week 4. As McKenzie knows well, first impressions only mean so much when it comes to player personnel. You want acquisitions that meet expectations after 17 weeks, not just three.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content