One of the benefits of paying for free agents in the NFL is that the contracts are not guaranteed. If you overspend for a player who flops, you can just cut bait with him and not incur the tremendous financial wrath you would in other sports.
However—and we are hearing this regarding New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez right now—if you include too much guaranteed money and are close to the salary cap, you could be stuck with a player you would normally dump in a heartbeat.
This year's free-agent class, which is not incredibly deep, features exactly the kinds of players who are going to command more money than they are worth because they are the best available players at their positions.
Here are the stars who are going to get far too much money relative to their level of production and/or age.
Quarterback Joe Flacco
Looking at it now, it's quite hilarious that Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, whose job it is to spin his client's performance, told the Baltimore Sun that the Ravens quarterback was one of the top five in the NFL based on wins and losses.
Flacco has actually been trending downward since his breakout season in 2009, when he threw for 3,613 yards, completed 63.1 percent of his passes and had a respectable 21-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
In the three years since, his completion percentage has been 62.6, 57.6 and 59.7. His yardage has remained the same, between 3,600 and 3,800, but his yards per attempt of 7.19 in 2012 was just 14th in the NFL.
Still, he is just 27 years old, and teams—be it the Ravens or someone else—always believe they have the magic formula to get someone like Flacco to play with more consistency.
In a weak free-agent class for quarterbacks, Flacco represents the best option. He just isn't going to be worth the kind of money he thinks. Contrary to what his agent says, Flacco is more like a middle-of-the-road quarterback on a good team than someone you can build an entire offense around.
Running Back Steven Jackson
Despite comments made by Jackson last week, retirement is apparently not something the Rams running back is considering right now.
Forget about those Steven Jackson retirement rumors. The Rams RB tells reporters after loss to Seatte: "I definitely plan on coming back.— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) December 31, 2012
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That said, understanding that teams value the running back position differently, paying a player who turns 30 in July and has more than 2,300 NFL carries under his belt to be a No. 1 starter is a proposition that likely won't have a happy ending.
Jackson is an incredible talent and one of the most imposing physical specimens at the running back position. He is just getting to an age at which, traditionally, players at his position tend to decline.
For instance, LaDainian Tomlinson had 2,657 carries before he turned 30. He was only able to last three more seasons, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and never breaking the 1,000-yard barrier.
It is a young man's position, and Jackson is reaching the point where the physical decline is going to hit sooner rather than later.
Linebacker Anthony Spencer
One thing you always have to beware of when handing out a contract to a free agent is his performance in the walk year relative to what he has done previously.
Spencer is a great case study this offseason. He has always been more of a solid player than a Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker. That changed in 2012, as he posted career highs in tackles (95 combined) and sacks (11).
At just 28 years old, Spencer has plenty of time left to play at a high level. The problem is that Spencer has never had a season like that before. His previous career high in sacks was six in 2009 and 2011. He had never registered more than 66 combined tackles in a season before 2012.
He is not as likely to blow up in your face as Flacco or Jackson, but he is not likely to provide as much bang for your buck if a team does invest a big contract in him. He is a good role player in the right system, not a star you can build an entire linebacking corps around.