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The Biggest Mistakes of 2020 NFL Free Agency That Teams Can Correct in the Draft

Kristopher Knox

The first wave of NFL free agency has come and gone. While several notable deals were agreed upon, not every team was a winner.

Mistakes were made.

Some teams released players they shouldn't have, dealt for players they shouldn't have or paid prices of the head-turning variety. While it will take time to know how successful—or unsuccessful—these moves were, they do appear to be missteps.

The good news is that teams can make up for said mistakes in the draft—at least to some degree. How? Let's take a look.

          

Browns Let Joe Schobert Walk

David Dermer/Associated Press

The Cleveland Browns are trying to build a young, competitive team capable of bucking the franchise's losing ways. Someone should tell general manager Andrew Berry that letting a 26-year-old Pro Bowl linebacker walk did not serve that goal.

That's what the Browns did, though, by allowing Joe Schobert to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars. They didn't even try to retain him, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com: "Berry met with ... Schobert's agent, Joe Panos, in Indianapolis, and the two sides parted with the belief that Schobert will not be back with the Browns because they're not prepared to pay him the double-digit millions he stands to make on the open market."

The signing of B.J. Goodson will help mitigate the loss of Schobert, but with Schobert and Christian Kirksey both gone, Cleveland will have to further bolster its linebacker corps in the draft. The Browns don't have to do so in Round 1—that pick will likely be used on an offensive tackle—but grabbing a guy such as Ohio State's Malik Harrison in Round 2 would be ideal.

Titans Allow Jack Conklin to Get Away

Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

Cleveland let Joe Schobert get away. It also added right tackle Jack Conklin, which was a huge win for the Browns and a major loss for the Tennessee Titans.

Conklin was an All-Pro as a rookie in 2016. However, he suffered a torn ACL during the 2017 postseason, and his play didn't fully rebound until 2019. In the time between, Tennessee did not exercise Conklin's fifth-year option.

That was its first mistake, though to be fair, there was no way to know he would return to being a top-tier player. However, the Titans should have made a more concerted effort to keep one of the biggest pieces of their rushing attack in place.

In retrospect, signing Derrick Henry to a long-term deal and using the franchise tag on Conklin may have been the better move.

This year's offensive line class is deep, though, and the Titans can replace Conklin by targeting a right tackle prospect such as Georgia's Isaiah Wilson on Day 2 of the draft.

Lions Trade Darius Slay

Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

Teams don't often trade a three-time Pro Bowl cornerback still in his prime. However, that's precisely what the Detroit Lions did, sending Darius Slay to the Philadelphia Eagles for third- and fifth-round selections. Philadelphia quickly signed Slay to a three-year extension.

"I think the value of the trade is very strong, and I think the contract is excellent. To me, that's all you can ask for. That's a really good move," former Eagles president Joe Banner told Jon Marks and Ike Reese of SportsRadio 94WIP.

It was indeed a tremendous deal for the Eagles and a mistake by the Lions—signing Desmond Trufant did not make up for it.

However, Detroit is in prime position to replace Slay with a younger and cheaper option. Armed with the third overall selection, the Lions should be able to scoop up Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, one of the most polish cornerback prospects in recent memory.

While Slay is a tremendous cornerback, Trufant and Okudah can be an even better duo.

Patriots Let Tom Brady Sign with Buccaneers

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

The New England Patriots let quarterback Tom Brady walk in free agency, or was it Brady who wanted to get away from New England? It may be some time before we know the answer to that question, but it does appear the Patriots never made the six-time champion an offer.

"In the end, a tangible effort by the Patriots to keep Tom Brady in New England never happened," Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston tweeted. "No negotiation. Just the intimation that it was on Brady to say what he wanted. For Brady, that stance spoke volumes."

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were happy to give Brady a deal he wanted.

Letting Brady go with second-year man Jarrett Stidham as the fallback plan was a mistake. Sure, Bill Belichick may be high on Stidham—and he may be able to win with him—but if he fails, third-stringer Cody Kessler will not be the answer.

However, New England can give itself a shot at long-term success by drafting another quarterback early. When the 23rd pick rolls around, LSU's Joe Burrow and Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa will be long gone. However, a guy such as Utah State's Jordan Love may be available.

A rookie quarterback is no sure thing, but the Patriots now need to gamble on their future at the position.

Chargers Dump Philip Rivers, Miss Out on Tom Brady

Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

Letting longtime starter Philip Rivers walk in free agency wasn't in and of itself a major mistake by the Los Angeles Chargers. However, doing so without a dedicated plan B was. Sure, the Chargers may have faith in Tyrod Taylor and Easton Stick, but neither is likely to push them past the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West.

Los Angeles was interested in Brady, and it offered him a deal worth $30 million or more, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The Chargers missed out. While chasing Brady, they also missed out on Teddy Bridgewater, who signed with the Carolina Panthers.

Betting so heavily on Brady left Los Angeles without many options. It's now "debating" whether to pursue Cam Newton, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, but it seems the quarterback job is Taylor's to lose.

That can change on draft night, however, if Los Angeles is sold on one of the top prospects. Armed with the sixth overall pick, L.A. probably won't have a shot at Joe Burrow, but it should be able to secure its next choice by trading up and jumping the Miami Dolphins at No. 5.

Texans Trade DeAndre Hopkins

James Kenney/Associated Press

Perhaps the biggest mistake of free agency thus far—and certainly the most avoidable—was the Houston Texans' trade of star receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals. Hopkins, a three-time All-Pro, is one of the very best receivers in the game.

Houston received a second-round pick, a 2021 fourth-rounder and running back David Johnson for Hopkins and a fourth-round selection. That is not fair compensation for an elite No. 1 receiver.

Dealing Hopkins will hurt the Texans passing attack and the growth of quarterback Deshaun Watson.

"If I'm Deshaun Watson, I'd go into Bill O'Brien's office, and I'd ask to be traded," ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said on First Take.

Replacing Hopkins in the draft will be difficult, as the Texans do not have a first-round selection. However, the receiver class is deep, and Houston will have options.

Replacing Hopkins outright may be impossible, but the Texans have a chance to field a quality receiving corps. They have Will Fuller V and signed Randall Cobb in free agency. If Houston uses one or both of its Day 2 picks on pass-catchers—such as Laviska Shenault Jr., Brandon Aiyuk or Chase Claypool—it will at least lessen the impact of the loss of Hopkins.

   
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