Identifying the worst contracts on the New England Patriots is no easy task. Thanks largely to Bill Belichick’s shrewd eye for talent and schematic fit, along with his ruthless, business-like approach to personnel decisions, players who aren’t worth their salaries don’t last long in New England. There’s always another wave of rookie talent ready to step in and play on the cheap.
The distinction between the most expensive contracts and the worst contracts is an important one. Tom Brady is the highest paid player on the team, with $33 million in guarantees and a $14.8 million 2014 salary cap hit. I doubt anybody would argue his contract isn’t worth every penny.
In fact, as the NFL’s fifth-highest-paid quarterback—behind the Manning brothers, Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees—one could argue that Brady has the best contract on the team, despite earning the most money.
The same can’t be said for some of the other so-called core players on the Patriots, but for the most part Belichick and Co. do an exceptional job avoiding contractual catastrophes.
With that in mind, here are the five Patriots currently signed to the worst contracts. Not all of these are necessarily bad deals; they’re just the worst ones New England has to offer.
All salary figures courtesy of Spotrac.com
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File this one under the “duh” category. Instead of catching passes in 2013, the former tight end caught a murder charge and has been rotting in the clink ever since. The Patriots, of course, waived him prior to the season but they’re still on the hook for part of the seven-year, $39.6 million contract he signed in August of 2012.
The Patriots voided Aaron Hernandez’s contract after releasing him but it’s unclear how much of his $15.95 million guaranteed salary the team will be responsible for. The two parties figure to engage in a legal battle as Hernandez obviously wants his money, and the Patriots obviously don’t want to pay somebody to sit in prison, especially if that somebody may or may not have been involved in three murders.
If Hernandez is convicted, the Patriots will have more leverage not to pay him; but if exonerated, Hernandez could very well recoup his signing bonus at the very least.
Even if the Patriots aren’t forced to fork over the dough to Hernandez himself, he still carries a hefty salary cap figure. New England didn’t pay his salary in 2013, but by virtue of releasing him while still under contract, they incurred dead money against the cap.
Despite not playing a snap, Hernandez still cost the Patriots $2.5 million this season, and carries a monumental $7.5 million figure in 2014.
My, how things change.
Once the crown jewel of New England’s offensive treasure chest, the trailblazing tight end tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez now represents two of the worst financial investments of the Bill Belichick era.
When healthy, Gronk is the best tight end in football. Heck, when healthy he might be the best player in football. But he’s never—and I mean never—healthy. Anyone who’s taken the plunge on him in fantasy football understands how frustrating he is. The allure of a game-changing superstar, however, always entices owners to assume some risk, just as it did the Patriots.
When they signed Gronkowski to an eight-year contract worth $55.125 million in June of 2012, they mitigated that risk somewhat by guaranteeing just $13.2 million of it.
Gronk only counted for $2.75 million against the cap in 2013, and the number stays relatively low next season as well, with a $5.4 million cap hit. The problem is that coming off yet another season-ending injury, Gronkowski simply isn’t on the field enough to return good value on the Patriots' investment.
Consider as well that starting in 2015, he carries an average cap hit of $9.25 million over a five-year span and it’s easy to see why Gronk’s contract ranks among the worst in New England. Of course, if—yes, that’s a 6’6”, 265-pound "if"—he manages to stay healthy over the next several seasons he could actually end up being underpaid, but that just doesn’t seem likely at this point.
It’s not all doom and gloom as far as the Gronk is concerned, though. As NFL.com's Jason LaCanfora details, the Patriots left themselves an escape route, of sorts.
His deal contains a club option for $10 million that the team can pick up at any time during the 2015 league year. If the Patriots decline to pick up the option, the remainder of Gronk’s contract would void and he would become a free agent prior to the 2016 season, meaning New England would be off the hook for the final four years of his deal.
If that were to happen, the Patriots would actually end up paying Gronkwoski an average of $7 million over the next two seasons before turning him loose on the free-agent market, a move that would transform his contract from a potential albatross into a very team-friendly four-year, $19.5 million deal that expires following the 2015 season.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, Danny Amendola’s five-year, $28.5 million contract contains no such escape clause.
Signed as the heir apparent to Wes Welker, Amendola fell woefully short of expectations in 2013. He brought almost nothing to the table, unless we’re talking about the trainers’ table, where he spent a significant portion of the season. In fact, just about the only expectation that he did meet in his first year with New England was the expectation that he would miss time due to injuries.
There’s still time for him to make good on Bill Belichick’s investment, and he still has four more years to solidify his role in the Patriots offense, but he simply wasn’t worth the money in 2013.
He only started six games, played in six others, and had fewer catches, yards and touchdowns than in his final season with the St. Louis Rams. Outside of three 100-yard explosions against the Bills, Steelers and Dolphins, he averaged 30.6 yards in nine games. That’s not going to cut it for somebody who counted for more than $3.5 million against the salary cap.
His cap figure only gets higher from here, beginning at $4.7 million in 2014 and escalating by a million dollars each year through the 2017 season.
If he can ever stay healthy and/or productive, he’ll be a relative bargain at that price; but if he can’t avoid the same injuries and inconsistency he’s battled his entire career, the Patriots will be forced to cut bait, absorb the remainder of his $10 million guaranteed money and move on.
The problem with Kyle Arrington’s contract isn’t the player himself as much as his role with the team.
Arrington signed a four-year, $16 million extension prior to this season, which isn’t bad on its own merits. The issue is simply that Arrington will have a hard time making a significant enough impact to warrant being paid like a starter.
He’s a solid player, and in a vacuum those numbers are right in line with his value, but on the Patriots he’ll never be more than a luxury as a nickel corner. Incumbent starter Aqib Talib is slated for free agency, but given the glaring contrast between the team’s defensive performance with and without their Pro Bowl cornerback, signing him has to be New England’s top priority.
This puts Arrington behind him and ostensibly Alfonzo Dennard as well. Rookie Logan Ryan showed promise too, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him push Arrington even further down the depth chart.
A starting corner at $4 million per year is a bargain; a reserve who gets paid more than some of the players starting ahead of him is a salary cap casualty waiting to happen.
By NFL standards, Adrian Wilson is making peanuts. His annual cap hit of $1.83 million over the next two seasons doesn’t scream “bad contract” like you might expect, but any time a team pays a player not to play, it’s a bad deal.
Already 34 years old, the Patriots inked Wilson to a three-year deal in March of 2013. He never played a regular season snap in year one, as he was placed on injured reserve prior to the season.
Because the move happened in conjunction with the Patriots trimming their roster to 53 players and because Wilson appeared healthy throughout the preseason, there was some speculation as to whether Wilson was indeed injured, or the Patriots simply extended him the veteran courtesy of paying his salary while on I.R., rather than outright releasing him.
I doubt that very much. Bill Belichick once cut a player the night before the Super Bowl. Of all the principles he holds dear as a general manager, courtesy would seem to rank very low on the list.
Still, the fact that he was on the roster bubble to begin with doesn’t bode well for an aging safety. If he doesn’t make the cut next season, the Patriots will have shelled out a million dollars without him ever having played a snap.