2013 NFL Free Agency: Ranking the Most Overpaid Free Agents So Far
NFL general managers walk a fine line in free agency between aggressively going after the talent they want and using some restraint to not overpay in signing them. Was that line crossed when Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger were all signed on the first day of free agency?
When the NFL officially opened up free agency on March 12, Wallace was the early favorite to earn the top free-agent salary.
So who are the free agents that have signed so far in 2013 that will have a hard time living up to the expectations due to teams spending more money than players are worth?
One year ago, defensive end Mario Williams became the second defensive free agent in NFL history to receive a $100 million contract. It's safe to say that he hasn't lived up to what the Buffalo Bills paid for him yet. Williams followed in the footsteps of Albert Haynesworth, so hopefully his results are better.
Of course, some fans will argue whatever amount a team agrees to pay defines what the player is worth. There is a ring of truth to that. If you review how many NFL veterans have been released in the 2013 offseason, you begin to realize that a number of prior free-agent contracts were out of whack or doomed to fail.
Some free agents are interested in playing for a contender, some want to stay closer to home, while others only care about teams willing to "show me the money." They want to secure the biggest paycheck they can find, regardless of location or organization in question. Then there are those that are comfortable exactly where they are now, and give a home-team discount.
In this presentation, we will select 15 contracts signed after free agency began on March 12 where the team had to overpay to acquire the player. The contract may be designed to be salary-cap friendly in 2013, but that doesn't mean it is necessarily a good deal for the team in the long run.
All contract information used in the presentation was sourced from Spotrac.com. All player ranking data and grades from 2012 are courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
15. New York Jets, RB, Mike Goodson
The New York Jets signed ex-Oakland Raiders RB Mike Goodson to a three-year, $6.9 million contract, of which $1.925 million is guaranteed.
It is well documented that the Jets have been suffering from poor salary-cap management. The team was so upside down on the 2013 salary cap that it was forced to release a number of starting veterans this offseason.
One 2012 starter the team had to let walk away in free agency was running back Shonn Greene. The Jets instead will use a committee approach with Bilal Powell, Joe McKnight, Goodson and a potential draft pick.
Goodson has been in the NFL for four years. He spent the first three years with Carolina, who gave him the starting nod for three games back in 2010. That year, he established career highs in rushing (452 yards) and receiving (310 yards). In 2012, Goodson was with the Oakland Raiders, but never started a single game and saw limited touches.
Going in his favor, Goodson has a career average of 4.5 yards per rush. However, due to limited production and failure to crack the starting lineup for any kind of extended stretch, why would the Jets part with valuable salary-cap space and guaranteed money on a sleeper with some upside?
The Jets could have easily found an undrafted rookie free agent or invested a Day 3 draft pick on a college back that could provide what Goodson does, and saved valuable salary-cap space to boot.
14. Minnesota Vikings, WR, Jerome Simpson
The Minnesota Vikings decided to bring back Jerome Simpson for 2013, signing him to a one-year deal for $2.1 million, of which $500,000 is guaranteed.
Minnesota must have been slightly desperate at wide receiver after trading Percy Harvin away to the Seattle Seahawks. How else do you explain giving Jerome Simpson a salary over $2 million when he produced so little for you the first time around?
In 2012, Simpson appeared in 12 games and started 10 of them. For the entire year, Simpson managed to catch just 26 passes, which amounts to a tick over two receptions per game. He only gained 274 receiving yards for the year, with no touchdowns.
In addition, Simpson was only able to snag half of the 52 targets that were thrown his way.
To recap, we have no touchdowns, a guy that is a 50-50 proposition to catch the ball, and you reward him with a $2 million deal?
Good luck understanding that.
13. Tennessee Titans, RB, Shonn Greene
The Tennessee Titans signed ex-New York Jets running back Shonn Greene to a three-year deal for $10 million, of which $4.5 million is guaranteed.
Chris Johnson is the driving force of the Titans' offense and also considered their franchise player. But based on the deal that brings Greene to Nashville, head coach Mike Munchak revealed that Greene will now be taking over as the short-yardage back.
Johnson has proved over the years that he can run inside or outside. He has demonstrated that he is tough and durable enough to take the pounding. But the Titans have decided that they will instead give the ball to Greene for short-yardage scenarios.
Out of the 59 running backs that qualified based on snap-count requirements, Pro Football Focus ranked Greene as the No. 46 running back in 2012. Greene set a new career best in 2012 with 276 carries. Only two of those went for 20-plus yards. He is your typical power runner, as opposed to a home-run threat. Greene averaged 3.9 yards per rushing attempt last year.
The Greene deal is reminiscent of the 2012 offseason when the Chicago Bears signed Michael Bush to complement Matt Forte. The Bears paid Bush an average of $3.5 million per year in that deal. Operating as the short-yardage specialist, Bush wound up picking up only 28 first downs out of 114 rushes in 2012. He averaged 3.6 yards per carry.
As the NFL continues to explore more ways to advance the passing game, the value of running backs continues to diminish. The Washington Redskins proved that, waiting until the sixth round last year to find starting running back Alfred Morris. His average annual salary is $555,750.
The Bears would have been better off if they had used that $3.5 million to address their offensive-line woes. Chicago overpaid for Bush, just like the Titans have overpaid for Greene.
12. Kansas City Chiefs, CB, Sean Smith
The Kansas City Chiefs signed ex-Miami Dolphins DB Sean Smith to a three-year deal for $16.5 million, of which $7.465 million is guaranteed. Smith's average salary will be $5.5 million per year.
The Chiefs signed Smith to become part of an expensive secondary, which also includes Eric Berry ($10 million per year), Brandon Flowers ($8.225 million per year) and Dunta Robinson ($4.6 million per year). Who winds up starting at corner, who becomes the slot corner and whether any of the corners move to safety are all questions that will be answered later this offseason.
However it shakes out, the Chiefs have a talented secondary that is ready to challenge the Denver Broncos' wide receivers. The Broncos recently had their own upgrade with the addition of Wes Welker.
But what about Smith? Is he worth the $16.5 million?
According to his play in 2012, Pro Football Focus ranked Smith as the No. 74 corner in the NFL. Quarterbacks had an 85.1 passer rating when throwing into his coverage, which is about average.
Smith was able to defend 12 passes last year, had 59 tackles, two interceptions and three forced fumbles. He had no tackles for a loss and wound up with an overall negative score from PFF due to negative grades in stopping the run and taking penalties.
He does have nice size for a corner at 6'3" tall, but it appears that the Chiefs had to overpay to land him.
11. Philadelphia Eagles, OLB, Connor Barwin
The Philadelphia Eagles signed ex-Houston Texans OLB Connor Barwin to a six-year deal for $36 million, of which $8 million is guaranteed.
Barwin was an active member of the Houston Texans' defense, which was ranked in the Top Five each of the last two years.
In 2011, Barwin had 11.5 sacks, one tackle for loss, 47 tackles and defended seven passes. He had no interceptions and forced one fumble on the year. That year, Pro Football Focus ranked him at No. 19 out of a possible 28 outside linebackers playing in a 3-4 scheme.
In 2012, Barwin's sack total dropped to three, he had 44 tackles, seven for loss, and defended five passes. He had no interceptions and no forced fumbles. Last year, Pro Football Focus ranked Barwin No. 32 out of 34 possible 3-4 outside linebackers. He was the second-worst OLB at defending the run in the league.
So, coming off a dubious 2012 season, the Eagles decide to reward him with a $36 million deal?
"Dream Team 2.0." Can't you just see the headlines now?
10. Indianapolis Colts, OLB, Erik Walden
The Indianapolis Colts signed ex-Green Bay Packers LB Erik Walden to a four-year deal worth $16 million, of which $4 million is guaranteed.
The Colts had some cap space to be a player in free agency this year. The team wanted to address some of its holes on defense through free agency.
Playing in the 3-4 defense, Walden can transition easily enough to Indianapolis, as it plays the same scheme. The big question going forward is how well Walden will perform for the Colts, since he didn't have a great 2012.
Last year, Pro Football Focus graded Walden dead last in the NFL out of all 3-4 outside linebackers. He had the worst overall grade, as well as the worst grade at stopping the run. On the year, Walden made 46 tackles, had three sacks, two interceptions, four pass deflections and two tackles for loss.
His most infamous moment from 2012 was when Colin Kaepernick executed the read-option play to perfection and breezed right by a clueless Walden en route to the end zone.
Why the Colts felt obligated to pay Walden $16 million is still a mystery.
9. Philadelphia Eagles, CB, Cary Williams
The Philadelphia Eagles signed ex-Baltimore Ravens corner Cary Williams to a three-year deal for $17 million, of which $5.75 million is guaranteed.
The Eagles' secondary has been a mess ever since the team decided to sign Nnamdi Asomugha. Apparently, the Eagles didn't learn from earlier lessons, as they have dipped back into free agency to land four new starters for 2013. They include Williams and Bradley Fletcher at corner, and Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung at safety.
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports had reported that the Ravens offered Williams a three-year deal for $15 million during 2012, but Williams said no because he thought he could make more in free agency.
Williams was right, but not necessarily because he was worth it. In the 2012 season, the good news was that Williams came up with 17 pass deflections and four interceptions. The bad news is that he got that many opportunities to make a play on the ball because he kept getting burned so often.
On the year, Williams gave up six touchdown passes and allowed receivers to gain 938 yards against him in coverage. Quarterbacks had a 98.4 passer rating when throwing at Williams.
Eagles fans, you have officially been warned.
8. St. Louis Rams, LT, Jake Long
The St. Louis Rams signed ex-Miami Dolphins LT Jake Long to a four-year deal for $34 million, of which $16 million is guaranteed.
With this new deal, Long becomes the fourth-highest-paid player on the team. According to Spotrac.com, Long's average annual salary is $8.5 million, which places him behind only Sam Bradford, Chris Long and Cortland Finnegan on the Rams' payroll.
If Long is able to perform up to the standards of what an $8.5 million left tackle should, then all is well. However, the reality of how Long has performed over the previous two seasons makes it a long shot that this will be a great deal for St. Louis.
Long has been dealing with some injuries over the last two years. He wound up missing six games between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, which has to be a cause for concern. He passed his medical exam with the Rams' doctors, but it doesn't appear that he was willing to give any kind of medical-concern discounts.
From 2010-12, Long's overall grades at Pro Football Focus have been taking a dive. His rank among tackles in the NFL has been dropping, from No. 2 overall to No. 21 and then to No. 46 last year. His overall grade has dropped from 34.7 to 12.1, and then he posted a negative grade (minus-0.4) in 2012. His pass-protection grade has dropped from 23.3 to 9.0 and then 3.0 last year. His run-blocking has also been steadily in decline, from 11.5 to 2.2 and all the way down to minus-1.9.
Long has given up an average of five sacks in each of the last three years. He allowed 13 quarterback hits over the past two seasons, as per Pro Football Focus.
The combination of Long and Rodger Saffold will be an upgrade over the protection Sam Bradford had last year. But signing Long for an average salary of $8.5 million a year?
The Rams wound up overpaying in this bidding war.
7. St. Louis Rams, TE, Jared Cook
The St. Louis Rams signed ex-Tennessee Titans tight end Jared Cook to a five-year deal for $35.1 million, of which $19 million is guaranteed. Cook will average $7.02 million per year from this deal.
For the last few years, NFL analysts have been waiting for Jared Cook to take a major step up and unleash his vast potential. The Titans never were quite able to make that happen, and when it was time for Cook to become a free agent, the Rams stepped in with a contract that is paying him like he has been producing as well as Tony Gonzalez.
The disconnect with the above analogy is that while Gonzalez signed for $7 million a year with Atlanta, he actually is producing the way a top-flight tight end should. Cook is paid like one, but his numbers tell a much different story.
In 2012, Cook caught 44 passes for 523 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 11.9 yards per reception and had eight catches that went for 20-plus yards. That demonstrates his ability to get down the field and be a viable target in the seams for Sam Bradford.
But if you look at his production from 2011, Cook's output actually went down. He had 236 fewer receiving yards, and his average dropped from 15.5 yards per catch to 11.9.
As for his rank in 2012, Pro Football Focus graded him as the No. 34 tight end in the league. He was basically average at everything, not possessing one strong or weak skill. There is room for Cook to improve and grow, but you pay him the big money after he has demonstrated improvement, not before.
Cook is considered to be one of the more athletically gifted tight ends in the NFL, but those abilities have yet to translate to consistent production. That, however, didn't stop St. Louis from making Cook the third-highest paid tight end in the NFL.
The average annual value of $7.02 million for Cook's contract puts him just behind Jason Witten and Vernon Davis, and ahead of Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates. If that wasn't enough, the Rams gave Cook $19 million guaranteed, the third-highest guarantee for a tight end.
All of that for a player who has started 12 games in his career and had 523 receiving yards last season.
6. Tennessee Titans, LG, Andy Levitre
The Tennessee Titans signed ex-Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre to a six-year deal for $46.8 million. None of the money is guaranteed, but Levitre did earn a $10.5 million signing bonus. By earning an average of $7.8 million a year, Levitre's annual salary is now the second-highest of any Tennessee player, trailing only Chris Johnson.
It's hard to believe that any NFL team would make a guard the second-highest-paid player on the team, but that is the reality after reviewing the contracts on Spotrac.com.
Typically, most NFL teams build around their quarterback, left tackle, defensive end, wide receiver and cornerback, but apparently that is not the case for the Titans.
Levitre hasn't made a Pro Bowl team or had an All-Pro nod so far in his career. He has graded out as a top-10 guard in the NFL for each of the last two years, according to Pro Football Focus. He hasn't missed any starts and can play guard or tackle. But to pay him $7.8 million a year?
Levitre took advantage of being the highest-rated guard in free agency, and the Titans had to overpay to get him to agree to play for them. Since none of the money is guaranteed, it will be interesting to see how many of the six years Levitre will last with the Titans.
As for his skills, Levitre excels at pass-blocking and is average at run-blocking, per PFF.
That should fit in just fine with Jake Locker and Chris Johnson. Not!
5. Chicago Bears, LT, Jermon Bushrod
Chicago Bears signed ex-New Orleans Saints LT Jermon Bushrod to a five-year deal for $35.965 million, of which $16.715 million is guaranteed. Bushrod will average $7.193 million per year in Chicago.
The Chicago Bears' offensive line has been struggling for years to keep Jay Cutler upright and protected. The Bears thought they were doing Cutler a favor by venturing out in free agency and signing a Pro Bowl left tackle to fortify the line.
The Bears opted to make Bushrod a sweet offer, which will allow the team to move J'Marcus Webb over to right tackle. It all sounds good so far, right?
Upon closer inspection, the Bears could be experiencing some buyer's remorse later in 2013. Pro Football Focus studied Bushrod's tape from 2012 and found that he gave up four sacks, eight quarterback hits and 46 quarterback hurries. Bushrod was considered average or above average in every other area, with the exception of pass-blocking, where he had a negative grade. PFF ranked him the No. 44 tackle in 2012.
At least Cutler has plenty of experience throwing on the run. The Bears might have wanted to save some of that money they gave Bushrod and let Brian Urlacher come back for his final ride.
4. New England Patriots, WR, Danny Amendola
The New England Patriots signed ex-St. Louis Rams WR Danny Amendola to a five-year contract for $28.5 million, of which $10 million is guaranteed.
At first blush, this may seem like a reasonable contract. But closer inspection shows that the Patriots are paying a lot of money for a player that carries a very high element of risk. Of the last 32 possible games he could have played for the St. Louis Rams, Amendola only played in 12 of them.
Is he really that special of a receiver? In four seasons in the NFL, his highest yards-per-catch average was 10.6 in 2012. That average, by the way, was No. 95 in the NFL last year.
Another reason why the Amendola contract is being scrutinized so closely is due to the contract and value of the player he is replacing, Wes Welker. The former Patriots slot man signed a two-year deal with the Denver Broncos for $12 million, of which $6 million was guaranteed.
Their average annual compensation is roughly the same, but their past production isn't even close. Here are a few examples to illustrate the point.
Receptions that resulted in first downs: Amendola has 96 in his career; Welker has 149 in the last two years.
Amendola has 196 career receptions. Welker had 240 receptions in the last two years alone.
Amendola has seven career touchdowns. Welker scored nine times just during the 2011 season.
This list could continue to run at length, but you get the idea. New England paid dearly for what it believes Amendola might be able to deliver (and that is only if he stays healthy). Denver made a much better, value-oriented deal for a player with an outstanding track record and real production.
Whether Amendola pans out is anybody's guess, but the call here is that the Patriots overpaid to acquire him.
3. Miami Dolphins, LB, Dannell Ellerbe
The Miami Dolphins signed ex-Baltimore Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe to a five-year deal for $34.75 million, of which $14 million is guaranteed. Ellerbe will earn an average of $6.95 million per year in Miami, which makes him the third-highest-paid Dolphins player, trailing only Mike Wallace and Randy Starks,
Ellerbe has been mentored by Ray Lewis, but had a hard time getting snaps. In 2012, he finally received seven starts in the regular season and then played a key role in the Ravens' run to the Super Bowl.
In his career, Ellerbe has made 14 starts. He had one interception and one fumble recovery in his rookie year (2009), but hasn't had any since. He did have two forced fumbles in 2012, the only two of his career. In his 14 starts, Ellerbe has come up with 5.5 sacks.
In 2012, Pro Football Focus awarded Ellerbe with positive grades in run support and rushing the passer, but he had a negative grade in coverage skills. Does that mean the Dolphins will rotate him off the field for passing downs?
PFF also ranked him as the No. 14 inside linebacker this past season. With so few starts under his belt, Ellerbe really hasn't developed as a playmaker, so it is difficult to understand why Miami felt the need to pay him so much.
2. Cleveland Browns, OLB, Paul Kruger
The Cleveland Browns signed ex-Baltimore Ravens OLB Paul Kruger to a five-year contract for $40.485 million, of which $19.95 million is guaranteed. Kruger will earn an average salary of $8.097 million per year in Cleveland, which makes him the third-highest-paid player for the Browns.
For a situational pass-rusher, Paul Kruger certainly cashed in on his 2012 success. Kruger led the Ravens with nine sacks during the regular season and played well during the playoffs. That was enough evidence for the Browns to pony up $8 million a year.
According to ProFootballReference.com, Kruger only has six regular-season starts in his NFL career. During his four years in Baltimore, Kruger amassed two interceptions, one forced fumble, three fumble recoveries and 15.5 total sacks. How does all of that equate to $40 million?
When you look at Kruger's grades at Pro Football Focus, he was the No. 6 OLB in 3-4 schemes in 2012. He had positive grades except for run support, where he earned a negative grade. That is just one more reason it is curious why Cleveland decided to spend so much on him.
Sure, this deal weakens the Baltimore Ravens' defense, but the Ravens never believed they could afford him. Whether Kruger finishes out this contract in Cleveland will be an interesting development to watch.
1. Miami Dolphins, WR, Mike Wallace
The Miami Dolphins signed ex-Pittsburgh Steelers WR Mike Wallace to a five-year deal for $60 million, of which $27 million is guaranteed. Wallace will earn an average annual salary of $12 million, which makes him the highest-paid player in Miami.
Wallace had a rocky situation in Pittsburgh in 2012. He received the franchise tag the year before, but never was able to reach a long-term deal with Pittsburgh. The Steelers opted to pay Antonio Brown instead, so the writing was on the wall for Wallace to leave the team.
Wallace is one of the premier speed receivers in the NFL, as he is well-known for being able to take the top off of a defense. The Dolphins are sincerely hoping that he can do more than just that for the amount of money they are paying him.
In 2012, Wallace caught 64 passes for 836 yards, eight touchdown receptions and an average gain of 13.1 yards per catch.
The disturbing part about Wallace is that his average is drastically dropping over the past three years. It was 21 yards per catch in 2010, then it fell to 16.6 in 2011 and then again to just 13.1 last year. Pro Football Focus gave Wallace negative grades across the board in 2012 and rated him the No. 91 wide receiver in 2012.
If Wallace had better hands, you could overlook the reduction in yards gained, but Steelers fans know that his hands aren't the softest. Wallace led the Steelers in targets last year, but was just No. 3 on the team in receptions. He also was No. 3 for Pittsburgh in the important YAC category (yards after catch).
For a player receiving this much money, and being your highest-paid player, you don't really want to see evidence that his game is starting to decline in certain aspects. The Dolphins have to hope Wallace will find new life in sunny South Florida and earn his money.
Good luck with that.
Thanks for checking out the presentation. Follow me on Twitter—@DanVanWie