Free agency can absolutely destroy the salary-cap situation for NFL teams that make an effort to build that way prior to the draft in April. We have seen this countless times in the past.
As much as mainstream media wants to focus on the total amount of the contracts, it really is the guaranteed money that matters the most. Most players who sign $100 million deals don't actually see all of that money. In addition, the structure of a contract plays a major role in how well a team did in free agency.
A recent example is the six-year, $36 million contract Connor Barwin signed with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this month. With just $8 million guaranteed, it is easy to come to the conclusion that this was nothing more than a two-year deal.
As a result, you will not see those types of contracts in this article.
Rather, I will look at deals that have handcuffed teams in free agency and seem to have backfired a great deal. Certain players just haven't lived up to expectations, while others have played well but not well enough to live up to the ridiculous contracts they signed.
Let's take a look at the 10 worst contracts in the NFL today.
*All contract information provided by Spotrac.
Contract: five years, $66.15 million (signed in 2012)
Why Matt Schaub has the seventh-highest average salary of any quarterback in the NFL is beyond me. While the struggling veteran did sign his new deal immediately prior to a down 2012 campaign, Houston really didn't need to dole this money out to someone who cannot be defined as a franchise guy.
At the age of 31, Schaub has won a total of one playoff game and seems stuck among the mid-tier quarterbacks in the league. He doesn't do any one thing exceptionally and will not lift the play of the offense on his own. Rather, Schaub needs talent around him to succeed.
In reality, that isn't indicative of a quarterback worthy of top-10 money.
This past season saw Schaub throw for more than 4,000 yards (not a rare feat in the NFL) for the third time in his career. He did, however, barely tally a quarterback rating of over 90 and throw just 22 touchdowns.
The bad news here for Houston is that Schaub is still due $18 million guaranteed, which means that it most likely cannot get out from under the contract until after the 2014 season.
Contract: five years, $58.25 million (extended in 2012)
Yes, I was in shock and utter disbelief. If the Jets were content to just throw money away, I could have taken a cool million off their hands.
After one of the worst seasons for a starting quarterback in the NFL in 2012, Sanchez has now thrown one more interception than touchdown in his less than stellar career. He finished this past season with a laughable 66.9 quarterback rating, while throwing 18 interceptions and losing eight fumbles (via eDraft). In total, Sanchez accounted for twice as many turnovers as touchdowns.
In Bleacher Report's NFL 1000, Matt Miller ranked Sanchez 63rd among 65 quarterbacks that he scouted, only ahead of John Skelton and Ryan Lindley of the Arizona Cardinals.
Sanchez will count $55 million against the cap over the next four seasons, but the Jets have a solid out following 2013. His contract included $20.5 million guaranteed, all of which will be exhausted following this upcoming season. This means New York can rid itself of this substandard quarterback sooner rather than later.
Expect it to happen.
Contract: six years, $78 million (signed in 2010)
Unfortunately for the St. Louis Rams, they selected Sam Bradford No. 1 overall just a couple of years before the new collective bargaining agreement implemented the rookie wage scale. As it is, Bradford represents the last of an era of rookie quarterbacks joining the ranks of the highest-paid players before ever taking a snap in the NFL.
While injuries and a lack of offensive talent have hampered Bradford over the past two seasons, he just hasn't taken that step toward joining the top 15 or 20 quarterbacks in the league. To be fair, Bradford's career record reflects the lack of talent around him, but his numbers leave a lot to be desired.
The Oklahoma product had the best season of his career in 2012, but it wasn't anything to write home about. He threw for more than 3,700 yards with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. If he progresses even further in 2013, Bradford should turn into a pretty darn good quarterback.
Of course, getting the necessary talent around him will be vital. This is where the draft comes into play.
Bradford's current worth is nowhere near the $13 million he averages per season, which ranks him eighth among quarterbacks in the NFL.
Contract: six years, $60.013 million (signed in 2008)
Darren McFadden is one of the most electrifying running backs in the NFL when he is on the field. The problem with McFadden is that he has missed 13 games over the past two seasons and has 769 rush attempts in five NFL seasons.
In fact, McFadden has suited up in only 71 percent of the Oakland Raiders' games since being selected fourth overall back in 2008.
In terms of annual salary, McFadden is the second-highest-paid running back in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson and right ahead of Chris Johnson. While CJ2K hasn't really lived up to his contract in Tennessee, at least he has tallied more than 1,400 total yards in each of his first five seasons. McFadden, picked 20 spots ahead of Johnson, has only accomplished that feat once in his career.
It's sad because he has a ton of talent. As mentioned, when McFadden is on the field, he produces like one of the better running backs in the league.
Contract: five years, $43 million (signed in 2011)
What seemed like a good idea two years ago now looks utterly foolish. What seemed like a great idea last night may look even more foolish today.
No, I don't mean your reasoning behind taking multiple Jägerbombs at the bar.
This is all about the ridiculous contract Carolina signed DeAngelo Williams to back in 2011. He received a lofty $8.6 million annually, including $21 million guaranteed, a figure that surpasses the likes of LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster.
Since signing this deal, Williams has rushed 328 times in 32 games, an average of just 10 carries per game, this despite the fact that he averaged a robust 4.8 yards per attempt during that span.
In short, the Panthers just refuse to give him the ball. After all, they have rushing options with both Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart on the team.
If you need some comic relief in the doldrums of March, Williams averaged $50,000 every time he rushed the ball over the past two seasons.
Nothing better than rotting away in the prime of your career.
Contract: six years, $67 million (signed in 2013)
It could be the noodle Christian Ponder believes passes for a throwing arm, but Percy Harvin failed to put up consistent numbers with the Minnesota Vikings after being selected in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft.
While Harvin has averaged more than five receptions per game in his NFL career, he has yet to tally 1,000 yards or more than six receiving touchdowns in any one season.
When Seattle yielded three picks, including a first-rounder in the 2013 NFL draft, for Harvin, a lot of us were taken aback. After all, that is nearly franchise tag compensation for a receiver who has failed to hit the most obvious plateau separating the best from the marginal ones.
After he agreed to a contract that includes an annual salary of more than $11 million, most of us outside of the Pacific Northwest were in complete and utter shock. That annual salary ranks Harvin ahead of both Vincent Jackson and Andre Johnson, who have combined to put up 10 1,000-yard seasons.
While I don't expect Harvin to regress with a better quarterback throwing him the ball, I am not entirely sure he will be consistent enough to rank among the top 10 wide receivers in the NFL—production that Seattle obviously expects.
The good news here is that Seattle protected itself from the enigmatic wide receiver and the character issues that have come to define him. He only received $14.5 million guaranteed, which means the Seahawks can cut ties with him following 2014 should he fail to pan out.
Contract: six years, $96 million (signed in 2012)
Would you rather have a third-round compensatory selection or Mario Williams at $16 million per season and as much as $50 million guaranteed?
The simple fact that you had to think about this question leads me to believe the $96 million deal he signed with Buffalo last offseason is completely out of whack with his production.
Williams finished with the 16th-most sacks in the NFL this past season after an injury-riddled 2011 campaign that saw him tally just five sacks.
Many questioned Buffalo giving Williams what accounts to franchise quarterback money last March. After all, he hadn't been to the Pro Bowl since a breakout 2009 campaign and had suffered a somewhat serious injury.
Those questions are even more widespread after Williams failed to help Buffalo's defense take the next step toward elite status in 2012. While he did tally 10.5 sacks, the Bills were 26th in scoring defense and ranked among the worst units against the run (via Pro-Football-Reference.com).
If you pay someone this type of money, you expect him to change the entire dynamic of the defense. Williams failed to do this in 2012.
This is a deal ripe for a restructure. If not, Buffalo will be in trouble with the salary cap moving forward.
Contract: six years, $62.5 million (signed in 2009)
Terrell Suggs recorded just two sacks in eight games this past season, but there was a reason for that. The former Pro Bowl linebacker tore his Achilles last April and didn't play until Week 7 against the Houston Texans.
While it was somewhat surprising that Suggs returned in such quick fashion, the rust from not participating in training camp and through the first month and a half of the season strained his performance.
At 30 years old, Suggs is no longer a spring chicken and has a lot of miles on those tires. He needs to return to 2011 form in order to justify the $62.5 million contract that Baltimore gave him back in 2009. After all, he is set to earn $25 million over the next two seasons.
That said, the addition of Elvis Dumervil as a "replacement" for Paul Kruger could help Suggs moving forward. With a solid '13 campaign, all will be forgiven.
Contract: five years, $50 million (signed in 2012)
The St. Louis Rams might have been better off had they waited for this offseason to address issues at cornerback. As you already know, the market seems to be rather depressed when it comes to that position right now.
Sean Smith received a three-year, $18 million contract as one of the top defensive backs on the free-agent market. Meanwhile, Aqib Talib netted just $4.86 million to return to the New England Patriots on a one-year deal.
This makes the five-year, $50 million deal ($27 million guaranteed) St. Louis gave to then-28-year-old Cortland Finnegan a bit ridiculous.
While Finnegan knows how to lay the wood and intimidate opposing wide receivers, he just isn't the best cover guy in the world. Even if Finnegan performs like one of the top five cornerbacks in the NFL over the next two seasons, he wasn't worth the $27 million guaranteed.
Of course, teams can't fully know how the free-agent market will play out the following season. Finnegan was one of the top corners on the market in 2012 and represented a major upgrade over what St. Louis had the previous season.
Contract: five years, $41.25 million (signed in 2013)
I have covered this contract a couple of times since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Dashon Goldson during the early part of free agency.
As my regular readers fully understand, I am not a big fan of what Tampa Bay did here. It gave an average cover free safety $18 million guaranteed to team up with another safety (Mark Barron) who struggles in coverage.
Didn't Tampa Bay see just how bad the 49ers' safety play was toward the end of the 2012 season and into the playoffs? I could care less that both Donte Whitner and Goldson "earned" trips to Hawaii; they were downright horrible in coverage.
Adding more fuel to the fire is the fact that Tampa Bay's cornerback situation is absolutely atrocious right now. It doesn't have a single top-tier cover guy on the roster right now. Don't expect its safety play to mask those issues either.
I am just not a fan of this deal at all.
Vincent Frank is a NFL featured columnist here at Bleacher Report. He was hired prior to the 2011 season and couldn't be happier working with a great group of individuals here. In addition, Vincent is the head sports editor over at eDraft and co-host of eDraft Sports Radio, which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. ET.
Go ahead and give him a follow on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL.