Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

2020 NFL Free Agency: Who's on Notice After Early Signings?

Gary Davenport

For many players, free agency is a great time of year. There are massive contracts to be had. Fat signing bonuses. Big guarantees. Smiles all around.

But for other players, free agency can be a time of great uncertainty. Sure, fans may love a team's new arrivals, but what's an upgrade for them is potential competition for the guys already on the roster. That newcomer could knock a player out of the starting lineup.

Or that newcomer could knock a player off the roster altogether.

That's the case for the players listed here. What's been a week of big paydays for some NFL players has been a wake-up call for others.

Some players have been put on notice that their margin for error has just evaporated.

     

Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

There wasn't a player in all of the National Football League who experienced a louder wake-up call this week than Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears' acquisition of veteran quarterback Nick Foles in a trade Wednesday sent a clear and unmistakable message to the fourth-year pro.

If Trubisky wants to be Chicago's starter in 2020, he's going to have to earn the job—and even if he does beat out Foles, the leash he's on isn't going to be especially long.

In the opinion of Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier, it's that last option (a carousel at quarterback this year for the Bears) that is most likely.

And that's not a good thing.

"Trubisky vs. Foles is the worst kind of quarterback competition: fast-fading former prospect against overpriced journeyman. The Bears are throwing time, money and resources at two players, hoping one of them turns his career around. The most likely result will be a season of flip-flopping, Foles fumbles, Trubisky blunders and another missed opportunity to make a Super Bowl run while the defense still has a few championship-caliber pieces."

As Jeff Arnold wrote for Forbes, as recently as February's scouting combine, Bears GM Ryan Pace voiced his belief in Trubisky as the team's quarterback of the future.

"We believe in Mitch," Pace said. "Mitch knows he needs to be better. We need to be better around him. That's our goal."

Bringing in another quarterback who is owed $21 million in guaranteed money tells a much different story.

And actions, as they say, speak louder than words.

Derek Carr, QB, Las Vegas Raiders

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

For much of the offseason, there's been speculation the Raiders could be looking to open their tenure in Las Vegas with a new quarterback. Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock didn't do much to quell that speculation—they would praise Derek Carr in one breath and leave the door open to replacing him in the next.

"He played good," Gruden said, via Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle. "I'm not going to get into all the next-year scenarios. I'm just going to say that 7-9 is a step forward. We took a step forward. Statistically, I think we took a step forward. We've got to get a lot of guys healthy and we've got a lot of things to look at and evaluate before we start making any assumptions."

"Derek Carr played at a high level. I'm very happy with Derek Carr," Mayock said, via Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area. "What I've told everybody I've been in touch with since the day I took this job, we're going to evaluate every position, every year. And if we can get better, we will."

Can you feel the love?

Per Paul Gutierrez of ESPN, the Raiders brought in former No. 2 overall pick and Tennessee Titans starter Marcus Mariota this week to back up Carr. Mariota lost his job in Nashville last year to Ryan Tannehill, but we're still talking about a player who has started 71 NFL games and has a career passer rating just south of 90.

Mariota will ostensibly open the season as Carr's backup, but if Carr or the Raiders falter early, it won't take long for calls for a switch to be made.

Billy Price, OL, Cincinnati Bengals

Don Wright/Associated Press

Since being drafted with the 21st overall pick in 2018, things haven't gone at all according to plan for Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Billy Price. Before Price even got drafted, he suffered a partial tear of his pectoral muscle at the combine. Then he missed a chunk of his rookie season with a foot injury. Price stayed healthy in Year 2, but he struggled on the field, ceded the starting job at center to Trey Hopkins and wound up a part-time player.

Per Geoff Hobson of the team's website, Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan didn't exactly offer a glowing endorsement of Price back in February.

"Billy had moments that were good, bad," Callahan said. "Billy is competing at the guard spots. We have guards we feel good about. Billy is part of the mix in the competition. What that means for him between now and Opening Day, I can't tell you specifically. He has to come in and compete. We expect him to get better, too, because he has to."

In the lead-up to the opening of free agency, Price was the subject of more than a few trade rumors.

"Price battled a foot injury in training camp last year and ended up losing his starting job to Trey Hopkins," Jay Morrison of The Athletic wrote. "Then he struggled at guard and subsequently lost that job as well. A lot of teams had a first-round grade on Price out of Ohio State, and if one of them needs a center, he still can be a quality option. And the Bengals are open to dealing him."

Cincinnati adding veteran guard Xavier Su'a-Filo on a three -year pact will only add fuel to the idea that Price's status in Cincinnati is on shaky ground.

Chris Hubbard, OT, Cleveland Browns

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Billy Price isn't the only offensive lineman in the state of Ohio who was put on notice in the early days of free agency. As a matter of fact, Chris Hubbard of the Cleveland Browns was more than put on notice.

He may well just be out of luck.

In the eyes of many pundits, Jack Conklin of the Tennessee Titans was considered the crown jewel of this year's free-agent tackle crop. Somewhat surprisingly, it was the Browns who swooped in and signed Conklin (per Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk) to a three-year, $42 million contract with $30 million in guarantees.

Cleveland ain't paying Conklin $14 million a season to be a backup.

Now, the Browns still have a hole at left tackle after 2019 starter Greg Robinson was arrested on drug charges. But the odds of Cleveland moving a player who tallied nine penalties and allowed six sacks last year to the most important position on the offensive line is, um, not good.

Instead, many mock drafts—including those that took place after the Conklin signing—predict the Browns will address the left tackle position with a rookie like Iowa's Tristan Wirfs with the 10th overall pick.

That would leave Hubbard as a man without a starting spot. And with a cap hit of nearly $7.3 million—almost $5 million of which will be wiped off the books if the team moves on from the 28-year-old in the days and weeks to come.

Sidney Jones, CB, Philadelphia Eagles

John Amis/Associated Press

There was a time when Sidney Jones looked like a surefire NFL star in the making. Coming out of the University of Washington back in 2017, scouts gushed about the 6'0", 186-pounder.

"I think he picked up all of (Marcus) Peters' good traits as a player without the personality defects," one NFC scout told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com at the time. "He marries that great FBI (football intelligence) with an explosive close-out and that will win in the pros just like it wins in college."

However, during workouts leading up to the 2017 draft, Jones tore his Achilles tendon, causing him to fall into the second round of the draft. The Eagles took a flier on Jones, but as Dave Zangaro wrote for NBC Sports Philadelphia, to date, that gamble hasn't paid off.

"Jones made some clutch plays late in the 2019 regular season but he clearly hasn’t lived up to his extremely high potential" Zangaro said. "The Eagles took a gamble when they drafted him coming off an Achilles tear and so far that hasn't paid off. The Eagles would have loved if Jones could have taken over a starting gig but he's struggled to stay healthy and when he's been on the field he hasn't been the great corner we saw at Washington."

The Eagles made a huge splash at cornerback Thursday by flipping two draft picks to Detroit for cornerback Darius Slay and making him the highest-paid corner in the league in terms of average annual salary.

With Slay in town, Jones will enter a contract year needing to beat out Jalen Mills to earn a spot in the starting lineup. If he can't, he could easily be looking for a second NFL team in 2021.

Trent Murphy, DE, Buffalo Bills

Michael Wyke/Associated Press

When last we saw Buffalo Bills defensive end Trent Murphy, he was piling up a pair of sacks in a Wild Card Round loss to the Houston Texans.

That may well be the final time we see Murphy in a Bills uniform. As Matt Parrino wrote for New York Upstate, Wednesday's signing of defensive end Quinton Jefferson was the third defensive lineman the Bills have added in 2020—and it could set Murphy up to be the proverbial odd man out.

"Jefferson is one of three new defensive linemen the Bills have added this week," he wrote. "Former Carolina Panthers edge rusher Mario Addison and defensive tackle Vernon Butler were also added, making Murphy's future very much in question. The Bills have edge rusher Darryl Johnson on the roster, who they really liked on a limited basis as a rookie. Mike Love will be back in camp after suffering a season-ending pectoral injury last year before the season. The thing about Murphy is that he's entering the last year of his contract and he'll count almost $10 million against the Bills' cap. If Buffalo releases him it will save about $8 million, giving Bills general manager Brandon Beane even more resources to add players at other positions."

Murphy's a good edge-setter, but he doesn't offer a ton in the pass rush—since logging nine sacks in 2016, he has just nine sacks total in three seasons since.

And with Jefferson able to play a very similar role, the clock could be ticking on Murphy's tenure with the team.

Wes Martin, OG, Washington Redskins

Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

When Ereck Flowers left the Washington Redskins in free agency, it opened the door for second-year pro Wes Martin to assume a starting role. Martin made five starts at right guard last year in place of an injured Brandon Scherff, acquitting himself fairly well for a Day 3 pick thrown into the fire as a rookie.

However, if Martin wants to be the team's new left guard, he's going to have to earn it now.

As Mark Bullock wrote for The Athletic, the Redskins agreed to terms on a three-year, $13.5 million contract with veteran guard Wes Schweitzer, who has made 36 career starts over four seasons in Atlanta.

Schweitzer offers a lot more experience than Martin, but Bullock cautioned that doesn't necessarily make him the front-runner for the job.

"Schweitzer offers athletic upside but needs plenty of technical improvements before he's considered a lock to start," he said. "However, the Redskins signed Ereck Flowers last year in a similar scenario and, thanks to good coaching, managed to get serviceable production out of him. Schweitzer should provide some solid competition for Wes Martin in the battle for the left guard spot. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Martin wins that job, but depth on the offensive line is critical and something the Redskins have lacked in recent years."

It's also worth noting that there was a shakeup in the Washington coaching staff—with the arrival of head coach Ron Rivera when OL guru Bill Callahan left town.

That sets the stage for a good old-fashioned camp battle between two similarly ranked players.

And if that doesn't put you on notice, nothing will.

Takkarist McKinley, DE, Atlanta Falcons

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

Unlike some of the other players in this article, edge-rusher Takkarist McKinley isn't really in danger of losing his job in 2020. Barring something unforeseen, McKinley will open his fourth NFL season as a starter for the Falcons at defensive end opposite the newly acquired Dante Fowler.

However, there are a couple of reasons for McKinley to be concerned that this could be his last season in Atlanta.

The first is McKinley's performance itself. Since being drafted 26th overall back in 2017, McKinley's done little to live up to that first-round pedigree. As a matter of fact, McKinley's most recent season was his worst—despite starting 13 games for the Falcons in 2019, McKinley managed just 29 total tackles and a career-low 3.5 sacks.

That's just not going to get it done.

The second reason for real concern on McKinley's part is the actions the Falcons have taken over the past few months. Atlanta made no effort whatsoever to bring back Vic Beasley Jr. in 2020, who was drafted in the first round two years before McKinley. Like McKinley, Beasley is widely viewed as a disappointment—but he at least led the NFL in sacks in 2016.

Despite not having a ton of cap space, the Falcons were aggressive in adding pass-rush help. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, the Falcons gave Fowler a contract worth $48 million over three years.

Add in that the Falcons still haven't decided whether to pick up McKinley's fifth-year option (and aren't expected to do so in the opinion of some), and you have the makings of a player standing on very thin ice.

Haason Reddick, LB, Arizona Cardinals

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Since drafting linebacker Haason Reddick with the 13th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Arizona Cardinals have tried just about everything with the young linebacker. The Redbirds have played him inside. Kicked him outside.

Now, it appears the Cardinals may have finally just given up.

Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Cardinals have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with linebacker De'Vondre Campbell that could be worth up to $8.5 million. A fourth-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, Campbell came into his own last year—he led the Falcons with 129 tackles and chipped in two sacks, two interceptions and three forced fumbles.

Campbell tweeted out his thanks to the Falcons for allowing him to showcase his versatility.

"I've literally played every single position on defense over my four-year career," Campbell tweeted. "I even played a whole game [at] SS last year I can play any position in any scheme not many people can say that. I got so much love and respect for the coaching staff at the Falcons showing my versatility."

It's that versatility that means trouble for Reddick. Campbell played mostly at WILL linebacker in Atlanta, but he's more than capable of manning the inside spot opposite Jordan Hicks in Arizona's 3-4 front while taking a spot in the nickel. And Arizona isn't paying Campbell $8 million-plus to watch from the bench.

That leaves Reddick's role with the Cardinals heading into the fourth (and likely final) year of his rookie deal very uncertain.

And his future in the Valley of the Sun in doubt.

   
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