10 Worst Contracts in the National Football League
Contracts in the National Football League are a strange business. What can appear as a $100 million extension can in all actuality be a one- or two-year deal that allows the organization an easy opt-out.
Just look at Colin Kaepernick’s most recent deal. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback signed what looked like a six-year, $126 million contract with $61 million guaranteed. Per Overthecap.com, though, the contract really allows the Niners to move on from Kaepernick as soon as next offseason; releasing him then would actually save the team $8 million from his projected $17 million cap hit for 2015.
Obviously, it’s highly unlikely that the team releases him in the near future, but what this does is show a scary breakdown of how little long-term security is actually awarded to NFL players. Kaepernick’s contract would rate as one of the more team-friendly deals out there, as the 49ers can basically move on anytime soon, should they so choose.
The following players do not have similar deals to Kaepernick. These football players are locked on for several more seasons—most of them at an average annual value that exceeds an expected rate for their performance. Some of them are still productive players, but due to the NFL’s limitations on the salary cap, they’re earning a cap hit that limits what else the organization can do.
10. Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams are in an interesting dilemma with Sam Bradford. He has come nowhere close to being the savior of the franchise that the organization thought he could be back in 2010. He has been plagued by injuries, a poor supporting cast and mediocre play, and he’s cost the team more than $40 million since being drafted.
In this year’s draft, the Rams passed on Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater, opting instead to bring back Bradford for one more season. His 2014 cap hit of $17.6 million is one of the highest marks in the league, regardless of position.
For him to justify that deal, he has to at least take the Rams to the playoffs. The team improved the offensive line, there’s a potentially dangerous two-headed running game in Zac Stacy and Tre Mason, and the receiving corps added a year of valuable experience in 2013.
The Rams can move on from Bradford after this season and take just a $3.5 million penalty; still, that means they’re going to pay $20 million for a 2014 campaign that likely won’t be worth it. That one year alone is enough to put him on the list of worst current contracts in the NFL.
9. Mike Wallace, WR, Miami Dolphins
It’s puzzling as to what the Miami Dolphins were thinking last offseason when they signed free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace to a megadeal. He is a proven playmaker with two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt; still, he was coming off a mediocre 64-catch season in Pittsburgh, and the Dolphins paid him like he’s the next A.J. Green.
Wallace is set to make an absurd $17 million in 2014. This is after a season in which he rated 23rd at his positional group in catches (73) and 27th in yards (930), per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
He is set to make another $12.1 million in ’15, and if the Dolphins release him before the season, they have to pay $9 million in dead money. That would mean a total of $26 million for the 2014 campaign, which all but assures Wallace will return for a minimum of two more years. That’s just too much money to pay for a receiver who hasn’t amassed 1,000 yards since 2011.
8. Gosder Cherilus, OT, Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson learned his trade from one of the finest in the business, Howie Roseman of the Philadelphia Eagles.
That’s why the Gosder Cherilus contract is so inexplicable. It’s just too much money for a mediocre right tackle on a team that will soon have to break the bank to pay its quarterback. Last offseason Cherilus signed for five years, $35 million with $15.5 million in guaranteed money.
He was a mediocre lineman for the Detroit Lions before breaking out in his contract year. With the 2013 Colts, he was rated by Pro Football Focus as the 25th best offensive tackle in the league out of 76 qualifying tackles. Just three offensive tackles allowed more quarterback hits than Cherilus (13).
Left tackle Anthony Castonzo hasn’t been flawless since being drafted in the first round back in 2011, but he’s going to need a contract extension after this season. That means the Colts will be paying top dollar to both of their offensive tackles.
Cherilus is due to make $3.9 million in ’14, $6.9 million in ’15 and $9.9 million in ’16. He can’t conceivably be released until after ’15, which means Indianapolis is locked on for at least $15 million over the next two seasons.
7. Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
The definition of insanity can be stated as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So does that make Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones insane for re-signing Tony Romo to a $100 million deal?
Romo has been a productive player for the Cowboys, perhaps more so than people have realized. He’s started 47 of the last 48 games. He has a 64.6 career completion percentage and is coming off 3,828 yards, 31 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. He even led four game-winning drives in the fourth quarter.
The problem is that he and the Cowboys aren’t winning games. The team has gone 8-8 for three consecutive seasons. His failures with the game on the line have been well-documented, and he’s now a 34-year-old quarterback coming off back surgery.
Romo’s ridiculous contract doesn’t allow much room for error, though. He’s set to make $11.7 million in 2014, $27.7 million in 2015, $17.6 million in 2016 and $21.5 million in 2017. Due to guaranteed money, he can’t really be released until after the ’16 campaign, which means Dallas is locked in to at least $67 million (includes $10 million in dead money) over the next three seasons.
He will have to stay healthy to make that contract worth it. There’s also the fact that Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith will soon be commanding top dollar, as will inside linebacker Sean Lee. The 2015 cap hit will really hurt Dallas, as $27 million is an unbelievable amount to pay a 35-year-old quarterback.
6. Philip Wheeler, OLB, Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins will have a tough time recovering from former general manager Jeff Ireland’s free-agent spending splurge. Mike Wallace’s contract was excessive, but at least he’s still a productive player.
Outside linebacker Philip Wheeler is a highly paid yet unproductive player. Last year Pro Football Focus rated him as the worst 4-3 outside linebacker in the game with a minus-20.8 rating. He was beaten badly in pass coverage, allowing three touchdowns to no interceptions. He was third-worst at his position with 18 missed tackles. The only thing he did effectively was generate pressure, as he picked up 23 quarterback hurries.
Wheeler is set to make $6.4 million this season in Year 2 of a five-year, $26 million contract. He will make $4.4 million in 2015 but can’t really be released until two offseasons from now due to dead money. That means the Dolphins are locked into paying at least $16 million over three years for Wheeler.
5. Will Beatty, OT, New York Giants
Will Beatty has had an up-and-down career since the New York Giants picked him in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft. But that didn’t stop them from overpaying drastically for his services, to the tune of a five-year, $38.75 million contract with $19 million in guaranteed cash.
He was all but abused on the football field a year ago, allowing a league-worst 13 sacks. Pro Football Focus rated him as the sixth-worst pass-blocking offensive tackle in the league, and he can be blamed for much of Eli Manning’s recent struggles.
Opposite Beatty, rookie right tackle Justin Pugh showed growing pains early on and actually allowed more hurries (43) for the season than Beatty (39). Still, Pugh played much better down the stretch, allowing just 15 hurries in the final 10 contests after surrendering 28 in the first six.
PFF rated Pugh as an above-average right tackle, and it’s not unreasonable to expect him to take over for Beatty as the left tackle in 2014. That would make Beatty a $7.4 million right tackle in ’14 and an $8 million right tackle the following year.
When the Giants finally are able to part ways with him after ’15, they’re still going to take a $5 million hit in dead money. That means he will cost the Giants more than $20 million over the next two seasons. That would be a lot of money to pay Joe Thomas, let alone a mediocre player who is probably best suited on the right side of the line.
4. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
What Joe Flacco did in the 2012 postseason will never be forgotten. He threw 11 touchdowns to no interceptions, leading the Baltimore Ravens on an improbable march to a Super Bowl championship.
The problem is that aside from those four games, he has been a mediocre quarterback his whole career. He’s never missed a game and certainly has been consistent. But since 2011 he ranks 11th in passing yards, 14th in touchdown passes, 19th in yards per attempt and 20th in passer rating. That’s out of 21 qualifying quarterbacks.
The Ravens had no choice but to pay him after his ’12 season, and they did to the tune of a six-year, $120.6 million contract that extends through the 2018 campaign. The breakdown of his contract is absurd; he’s due to make $14.8 million in ’14 and $14.5 million in ’15 and then a whopping $28.5 million and $31.2 million the next two seasons. His contract is the third-highest average annual value of any quarterback in the league.
There’s no conceivable way Baltimore can pay those base salaries, meaning Flacco will have to agree to restructure his deal. But then again, the Ravens can’t release him until after the 2017 season without taking an enormous dead-money penalty. At the minimum, they are tied to $80 million for four seasons of Flacco, and he’s just not worth that money.
3. Sam Baker, OT, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons made Sam Baker a first-round pick back in 2008, adding the left tackle in the same draft in which they acquired franchise quarterback Matt Ryan.
Since then, Baker has played at a disappointing level; Pro Football Focus rated him 53rd, 53rd, 70th, 60th and 27th in his first five seasons before his initial deal expired. He was even benched late in 2011 when Julius Peppers embarrassed him relentlessly.
That’s why it was so perplexing that the Falcons re-signed Baker after a solid output in his contract year; he inked a six-year deal worth $41 million (and a $10 million signing bonus) that could potentially keep him in Atlanta through the 2018 season.
He missed most of ’13 with a season-ending knee injury, and the team drafted what looks to be his replacement in Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews. The rookie will begin the season as the right tackle simply because Baker is a seven-year veteran with experience in protecting Ryan’s blind side.
But Matthews will likely take over for Baker as the left tackle, which means he will become one of the highest-paid right tackles in the league. He is set to make $6.05 million in ’14, $7.3 million in ’15 and $8.05 million in ’16. He’s locked on for the next two years.
Even if the Falcons release him in the 2016 training camp, they would still have to pay $6.4 million in dead money. That essentially means Baker is going to make about $20 million over the next two years, and he’s a way below-average left tackle.
There’s just no way he can justify that contract unless he plays at an elite level on the right side. That doesn’t seem likely, given the inconsistencies he’s displayed over his career.
2. Brandon Carr, CB, Dallas Cowboys
Right now, the Dallas Cowboys should have one of the NFL’s most formidable cornerback tandems. They drafted LSU standout playmaker Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick in 2012 and added free-agent cornerback Brandon Carr the same year.
Carr’s five-year, $50 million deal was eye-opening in terms of the sheer dollar amount, and it put him just a step behind Nnamdi Asomugha (five years, $60 million the previous offseason). Carr had been a pretty solid cover corner in Kansas City in ’11, intercepting four passes and holding opposing quarterbacks to a 61.7 passer rating, per Pro Football Focus.
He was mediocre his first season in Dallas, although he did make just $3.2 million against the cap. He followed that up in 2013 with another mediocre season, ranking 74th out of 110 qualifying cornerbacks in coverage skills.
The Cowboys are all but locked into two more seasons of Carr, and that’s a lot of money against the salary cap. The 2015 team will have to pay Dez Bryant his new extension, plus there’s $27 million for Tony Romo, $8.5 million for Jason Witten and more than $10 million for both of the offensive tackles.
To be fair, Doug Free will probably be released by then, but still, that’s a lot of money for a team to pay for just a handful of players. What makes it worse for Dallas is that Carr hasn’t been much more than an average cover corner at best.
1. DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart, RBs, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers’ philosophy with their first-round running backs has been confusing, to say the least. The organization drafted DeAngelo Williams in 2006 and then Jonathan Stewart in 2008, setting the foundation for what should be one of the toughest one-two punches in the league.
There’s also 2011 first overall pick Cam Newton in the mix, who has shown a remarkable knack for scoring on goal-line touchdowns, thus limiting the need for Williams and Stewart. Then there's fullback Mike Tolbert, a power runner who is set to make $3.3 million this coming season.
If Williams and Stewart were among the best running backs duos in the league, it would justify their contracts. Williams is set to make $6 million in 2014 and $6.3 million in 2015, and he’s all but locked in for the next two seasons. Meanwhile, Stewart is due to earn $4.6 million in ’14, $8.3 million in ’15 and a ridiculous $9.5 million in ’16, which will be his ninth NFL season.
The problem is that they’re not one of the best duos in the league, and combined they count as the worst contract situation in the NFL.
In 2012 Williams and Stewart combined for 1,073 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Last year they put up 1,023 yards and three touchdowns. Hopefully, the Panthers feel that production is worth a minimum of $10-12 million per season, because they won’t be escaping either one of these contracts anytime soon.
Contract numbers are per OverTheCap.com.