When an organization drafts a player or signs them in free agency, there is always some sort of gamble that comes into play. Time and time again we have seen some of the most promising stars at the collegiate level fizzle out in the NFL. The same can be said about free agents who change teams when their contracts expire.
Signing players and giving them boatloads of guaranteed money is always risky business. More often than not, high-dollar free-agent signees are labeled as overrated because they fail to live up to expectations.
Yet, there are rare instances when a truly dominant player ends up being worth that multiyear mega deal or when a team strikes gold on a high-round draft pick. With that being said, let’s analyze five of the best and five of the worst contracts in the NFL today.
Salary figures via spotrac.com.
Contract: five years, $25 million ($7 million guaranteed)
Philadelphia Eagles left guard Evan Mathis finished as Pro Football Focus’ sixth-best player in the NFL last year. It’s hard to believe, but they had him ahead of guys like Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis.
By no means is PFF the ultimate be-all end-all, but their credibility around league circles is incredibly high.
At 31 years of age, Mathis is entering the prime years of his career. Since joining Philadelphia in 2011, the eight-year veteran has only allowed one quarterback sack, 10 quarterback hits and 24 quarterback hurries in 31 starts. Furthermore, the Eagles’ offense averaged 5.3 yards per carry when rushing the ball off his backside in 2012.
Mathis has four years left on his current contract, and it’s a team-friendly deal to say the least. He’s scheduled to make $2 million in 2013, $5 million in 2014, $5.5 million in 2015 and $6 million in 2016.
Contract: five years, $58.25 million ($20.5 million guaranteed)
Prior to the 2012 season, the New York Jets signed the infamous butt-fumbler to one of the most undeserving contracts in league history. At the time, it was hard to believe one of the most turnover-prone players in the game milked former general manager Mike Tannenbaum for $20.5 million in guaranteed funds.
However, when one takes the time to look back on the deal, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise considering Tannenbaum was fired at the end of the 2012 season. Tannenbaum must have really enjoyed watching Mark Sanchez complete passes to the opposition.
Over the course of his four-year career, the first-round pick out of USC threw 69 interceptions in 62 games. That averages out to be 1.1 interceptions per start.
When you combine interceptions and fumbles lost, Sanchez has managed to turn the ball over 89 times since his career started in 2009. It’s a good thing the Jets can cut him loose after the 2013 season without any repercussions. His salary isn’t guaranteed in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The eighth highest-paid quarterback in the NFL has one hell of an agent. Well done, Brian Murphy.
Contract: four years, $5.22 million ($3.8 million guaranteed)
When the San Francisco 49ers drafted quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, few people believed he would take the league by storm in his second season. Draft analysts were high on his athletic ability and his strong arm coming out of Nevada. Yet, accuracy issues and ball protection problems held him back from being a first-round pick.
It’s safe to say his two biggest weaknesses are long gone. In 2012, Kaepernick only coughed up the rock twice on 63 rushing attempts. Moreover, he completed 62.4 percent of his passes. That’s 4.2 percentage points higher than his four-year average at the collegiate level.
Aside from his incredible statistical accomplishments, he led the 49ers to their first Super Bowl appearance since the 1994 season. With one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, Kaepernick will help San Francisco win at least one Super Bowl under his guidance.
The 6’4”, 230-pound signal-caller has two years left on his rookie contract. Expect his annual salary to jump up in a big way when the 49ers sign him to an extension. He’s scheduled to make $740,844 in 2013 and $973,766 in 2014.
Contract: five years, $57.5 million ($35 million guaranteed)
Just prior to the 2011 season, Tamba Hali signed a contract that made him one of the richest players in the NFL. The contract was warranted because Hali had established himself as one of the most dominant pass-rushers in the league. In 2010, he set career highs in quarterback sacks, quarterback hits and quarterback hurries.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Hali hasn’t been able to re-establish his unstoppable form since he signed his extension. He had a very good year in 2011 when he registered 12 quarterback sacks, but his production took a dip in 2012 when he notched 46 quarterback pressures. Kansas City’s defense as a whole had a down year, I get that, but you still expect more out of a guy who’s making $11.5 million on an annual basis.
General manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid can part ways with Hali at the end of the season if he doesn’t turn things around. After the 2013 season, the Chiefs are off the hook financially in terms of guaranteed money.
The three-time Pro Bowl selection carries a cap number of $11.5 million in 2014 and $12 million in 2015.
It’s hard to believe he’s the wealthiest linebacker in the NFL right now.
Contract: four years, $2,222,424 ($182,424 guaranteed)
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman easily has the biggest mouth in the NFL, yet he doesn’t have the biggest contract. In fact, he has one of the smallest contracts for a player of his caliber.
In terms of pass coverage, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) had Sherman as its highest-graded corner in 2012. His coverage grade was a plus-26.4. The next closest player was Green Bay Packers cornerback Casey Hayward. He played well enough to accumulate a plus-19.3 coverage grade.
When opposing quarterbacks threw at Sherman, their quarterback rating was a dismal 41.1, they only completed 47.1 percent of their passes and they were intercepted eight times. Matthew Stafford and Ryan Fitzpatrick were the two lone players who were lucky enough to each get a touchdown pass by him.
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, Seattle will have the opportunity to sign Sherman to an extension at the end of the 2013 season. Until then, he will make $600,606.
Like Kaepernick, expect Sherman to hit the jackpot when his long-term deal is signed, sealed and delivered.
Contract: five years, $43 million ($21 million guaranteed)
This contract isn’t quite as bad as quarterback Mark Sanchez’s deal, but it’s a head-scratcher nonetheless.
Sure, the Carolina Panthers were a run-heavy team that relied on Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams to carry the club, but those days are long gone. Quarterback Cam Newton has quickly become the focal point of the Panthers’ offense.
Since signing his contract extension back in 2011, Williams has put up less-than-impressive numbers. Over the course of the last two seasons, he has rushed for 1,573 yards on 328 attempts, while scoring 12 touchdowns in the process.
Carolina did the right thing when they restructured his contract this past offseason, but they are still on the hook for a lot of money in the coming years. He carries a cap number of $5 million this season, $6 million in 2014, $6.33 million in 2015, and $2.133 million in 2016 and 2017.
Cutting the 30-year-old running back would cause major cap implications. For the time being, general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera are stuck with the underachieving running back for at least a few more years.
Contract: four years, $11,237,498 ($11,237,498 guaranteed)
Houston Texans owner Bob McNair has to be pleased that the best defensive player in the NFL is on average making $2,809,375 annually. Even though defensive end J.J. Watt was drafted in the first round, he won’t be able to truly strike it rich until the end of the 2013 season.
Without question, he has outplayed his rookie contract up until this point. In two years' time, Watt has tallied 26 quarterback sacks, 37 quarterback hits and 64 quarterback hurries. Additionally, he has batted down 20 passes at the line of scrimmage, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Nonetheless, his play against the run rivals his ability as a pass-rusher. Sam Monson of PFF tweeted out a mind-blowing statistic on July 10. Against the run last year, Watt’s average tackle was for a gain of 0.16 yards. It’s astonishing to think an opposing running back failed to pick up a half a yard when taking Watt on head-to-head.
In terms of guaranteed money, the Cleveland Browns' Ahtyba Rubin is the highest-paid 3-4 defensive end. That will all change when the Texans decide to lock up Watt long term. He could easily fetch $30 million in guaranteed money.
Contract: five years, $45 million ($24 million guaranteed)
One bad contract extension wasn’t enough for former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum. He had to make it an even two-for-two when he inked wide receiver Santonio Holmes to a five-year, $45 million deal. Tannenbaum awarded Holmes the deal after he saw the first-round pick haul in six touchdown passes on 52 receptions in 2010.
Surely a 746-yard receiving season warrants $24 million in guaranteed money, right? Sarcasm aside, Holmes has missed 12 games since he signed the lucrative long-term extension in 2011. The language in his deal will make him a Jet for at least another season.
He carries a cap number of $9 million in 2013. If New York cuts him at the end of this season, they will only owe him $3.75 million. General manager John Idzik Jr. would be wise to show him the door because it would free up a combined $16.25 million in cap space for the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Holmes will be 30 years old when the 2014 season begins.
Contract: four years, $2,223,100 ($123,00 guaranteed)
Two members of the Washington Redskins single-handedly carried the team last year. Quarterback Robert Griffin III guided one of the league’s most prominent passing attacks, while running back Alfred Morris commanded the most efficient run game in the NFL by averaging 100.8 yards per game.
In true Mike Shanahan fashion, he turned a relatively unknown running back out of Florida Atlantic into a superstar in one season’s time. And the good news is it’s only costing the organization pennies to employ the NFL’s second leading rusher.
The 2012 sixth-round pick is signed through 2015 and has an annual salary average of $555,775. It’s too early to tell whether or not Morris is in line for a contract extension in the coming years. Even if he is a product of Shanahan’s offensive system, he needs to continue to prove his worth.
This, in turn, will help him become more than just a one-year wonder.
Contract: four years, $24 million ($11 million guaranteed)
Yes, he hasn’t even played a down yet for the Indianapolis Colts, but this move is a disaster waiting to happen. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Landry was the 65th-best safety in the NFL last season.
He was a flag-happy menace who had a hard time stopping the run. In addition to his run-stopping woes, Landry proved to be a poor tackler time and time again. By season’s end, he had amassed 13 missed tackles. That was the 12th-highest rate amongst all safeties who played at least 25 percent of their team’s defensive snaps in 2012.
General manager Ryan Grigson will realize midway through the season that he made a mistake. But by that point, it will already be too late. Landry is promised guaranteed money until the end of the 2016 season. On average, he will make $6 million a year from 2013-2016.
That’s an awful lot of money for a player who is seen as a liability when he’s on the field.