2014 NFL Free Agents: Players Guaranteed to Be Overpaid

Ryan GauleCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2014

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson (93) celebrates with defensive end Carlos Dunlap after sacking Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the first half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Keating)
Michael Keating/Associated Press

A large number of talented players will hit the free-agency market this offseason in the NFL.  In past years, we have seen slightly above-average players receive lucrative contracts.  For example, Mark Sanchez’s contract extension in 2012 was worth nearly as much as Tom Brady’s.  

During the first week of free agency, we watched as the Chicago Bears gave quarterback Jay Cutler a seven-year deal worth $126.7 million.  Alex Marvez of Fox Sports originally reported the agreement.  

We shouldn’t expect anything different throughout the 2014 free-agency period, as teams who are desperate to fill a position are often willing to overpay for decent players.  

Here is a look at four players who are most likely to be overpaid this offseason.  

 

Donte Whitner, S, San Francisco 49ers

Tom Gannam/Associated Press

An eight-year veteran, Whitner will turn 29 before the start of next season.  Over the last four seasons, he has missed only one game, starting in every game he has played since then.  

While the durability is there, the value is probably not as great as the money he will receive from potential suitors, especially if the San Francisco 49ers wish to retain him.

The 2013 season was a typical contract year for Whitner, who played well all year.  However, he is getting older, and although he played great football in 2013, the numbers were still down from the season prior.  

If he bases his contract on other players’ performances and contract histories, he should be looking in the range of Michael Griffin’s contract with the Tennessee Titans.  Here is a look at the two players’ statistics:

Donte Whitner vs. Michael Griffin: 2011-2013 Statistics
PlayerGamesTotal TacklesInterceptionsAverage Salary
Whitner471695$3,388,333
Griffin461807$7,000,000
NFL.com

Griffin is making almost twice as much as Whitner is per year, yet he is not twice the player Whitner is.  Basing one's own worth on someone else's contract is usually how a player gets more than he is actually worth, which is why Whitner is likely to be overpaid.  

 

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 05:   Maurice Jones-Drew #32 of the Jacksonville Jaguars rushes for yardage during the game against the Houston Texans at EverBank Field on December 5, 2013 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

The veteran running back posted the lowest numbers of his eight-year career in 2013, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry.  However, it is his production in years past that will help him receive a large contract.  

When he is healthy, Jones-Drew is a very valuable player.  However, he played in only six games in 2012 before returning to the field healthy in 2013.  

From 2009 through 2011, Jones-Drew rushed for over 1,300 yards in all three seasons, finding the end zone 28 times over that stretch.  

Jones-Drew can still be a very effective running back if he is put on a team with a good line.  Playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, he did not have much protection.  So, he can still pitch his abilities to a team that is likely to pay him a lot of money.  

However, Jones-Drew will likely be overpaid by that team, as I cite his injury-plagued 2012 and below-average performance in 2013.  Additionally, he will be entering his age-29 season in 2014, which is considered old for a running back in the NFL.  

While Jones-Drew will still be effective wherever he goes, he will receive more money than he is actually worth at his age.  

 

Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 05:  Wide receiver Eddie Royal #11 of the San Diego Chargers runs with the ball as defensive end Michael Johnson #93 of the Cincinnati Bengals defends during a Wild Card Playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium on January 5, 2014 in Cin
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Bengals have locked up defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap with large contracts.  That means Michael Johnson will likely be signing elsewhere in the offseason.  

In 2012, Johnson recorded an incredible 11.5 sacks, followed by a drop-off season in 2013 where he recorded only 3.5.  Still, Johnson has the ability to power through any offensive line, which makes him valuable to a lot of teams.  

Although he is an all-around defender, he will be overpaid in 2014, and here is why: the growing need for a player with his caliber.  

With the increasing young talent at the quarterback position, we are seeing more and more quarterbacks scrambling for first-down yardage.  That is why teams will be looking for more pass-rushers to get through the line and to the quarterback more quickly in 2014.  

According to Doug Kyed of NESN, the Patriots could be potential suitors for Johnson.  If the Patriots wish to sign him, they will likely have to win a bidding war for him, as he is one of the most talented players at his position.  It is almost a given that some team will overpay to reel Johnson into its organization in 2014.  

Still, buyers must beware of his past history of inconsistency.  

 

Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Detroit Lions

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 15:  Tight end Brandon Pettigrew #87 of the Detroit Lions catches a pass against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on September 15, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

 The 6'5" tight end had his breakout season in 2010 when he totaled 71 receptions for 722 yards. The next season, his statistics were even better, but in 2012, he began to drop off.  

Brandon Pettigrew Statistical Drop-off
YearGamesReceptionsYardsTouchdownsFumbles
2009113034621
201016717224-
201116837775-
2012145956734
2013144141621
NFL.com

Over the last two seasons, Pettigrew has as many fumbles as touchdown catches (five). Compare that to the one fumble he had over his first three seasons, which actually came in 2009 (his rookie year).  

Pettigrew's career has been full of potential, and we saw him shine in both 2010 and 2011. Because of this, there will be teams out there who are willing to pay the big bucks and take the risk on him.  

Due to the potential payout, it is probably a risk worth taking for teams that have the money to spend and need a tight end. However, for a player who has been known to drop passes and fumble the football over the past two seasons, Pettigrew is bound to be overpaid for his services in 2014.

 

Conclusion

Due in large part to other contracts at the same position and the need for a player at that position, teams are willing to overpay for certain players.  While all four of the aforementioned players either are or have the potential to be extremely talented in the NFL, they all will be overpaid in 2014.

 

*Statistics Courtesy of NFL.com