The NFL's All-Overpaid Free-Agency Team

Justis Mosqueda@justisfootballFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2018

The NFL's All-Overpaid Free-Agency Team

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    With NFL teams having doled out a number of big-money contracts during the first week of free agency, it's time to make some educated guesses as to which deals will look worse in hindsight.

    Overpays come in all shapes and sizes. Some go to above-average players who receive top-tier money. Others received starter-quality money despite never having performed at that level to date.

    Either way, such players may gobble up too much cap space relative to their talent, negatively impacting their teams for the next few seasons.

    Let's go position-by-position to see which members of the 2018 free-agent class received far more money than expected.

Quarterback: Sam Bradford, Arizona Cardinals

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    In 2016, Sam Bradford had a career-best season with the Minnesota Vikings, throwing for 3,877 yards and 20 touchdowns compared to only five interceptions. He got off to a scorching start in 2017, but a knee injury limited him to only two regular-season appearances. 

    Between his lengthy injury history and the number of other available quarterback options—from Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and AJ McCarron on the free-agent market to Tyrod Taylor and Nick Foles as possible trade targetsBradford was an afterthought coming into the offseason.

    The shuffling quarterback carousel ensured he didn't stay that way for long, though.

    As the Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns, New York Jets and Denver Broncos addressed their quarterback vacancies, the Arizona Cardinals still found themselves in need of a replacement for the retired Carson Palmer. That led them to hand Bradford a one-year deal worth up to $20 million, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, with a second-year option worth another $20 million.

    Arizona's decision to sign Bradford as a one-year stopgap isn't an awful idea, particularly in a rebuilding year. But giving him a top-20 cap hit among all quarterbacks looks immediately regrettable, particularly after the Cardinals cut Tyronn Mathieu for cap-related reasons.

Running Back: Carlos Hyde, Cleveland Browns

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    San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has a proven track record of quality offenses in Washington, Cleveland, Atlanta and San Francisco. If he thought running back Carlos Hyde was a replacement-level player, who are we to question him?

    The Cleveland Browns felt otherwise, as they signed him to a three-year deal worth more than $15 million, according to Rapoport. He joins Devonta Freeman, LeSean McCoy, Jerick McKinnon, Lamar Miller and Giovani Bernard as the only veteran running backs  with multiyear contracts worth more than $5 million annually.

    Hyde, who has never made the Pro Bowl, will turn 28 years old in September and is coming off of a season during which he recorded only 3.9 yards per carry. He also isn't likely to contribute much on passing downs in Cleveland, as Duke Johnson recorded the third-most receiving yards for a running back in 2017.

    So, the Browns paid Hyde like a top-six veteran back to be a two-down grinder when he couldn't average four yards per carry under one of the NFL's most innovative play-callers. Ruh roh.

Wide Receiver: Marqise Lee, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    In 2017, Marqise Lee finished with 702 receiving yards, the 47th-most in the league. Despite that, the Jacksonville Jaguars re-signed him to a four-year, $34 million deal.

    It will functionally work out as a two-year, $18 million contract, with team options at $7 million in 2020 and $9 million in 2021. Still, Lee has the 23rd-highest average salary, the 22nd-highest signing bonus and the 20th most-valuable contract among wide receivers.

    Across his four-year rookie deal, Lee ranked 69th in the league in receiving yards. His 2,166 receiving yards over that time were just 96 more than what former Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron had on his rookie contact. Ebron also scored three more receiving touchdowns than Lee did over the past four seasons.

    On a related note, Ebron is currently looking for a job after the Lions released him this offseason.

Tight End: Trey Burton, Chicago Bears

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    In his four years with the Philadelphia Eagles, tight end Trey Burton recorded 629 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Since entering the league in 2014, Burton's receiving yardage total ranks 57th among tight ends and 241st overall.

    His career high in receiving yards, 324, was tied for tied for 144th in 2016. Among only Eagles targets, Burton's 629 receiving yards rank ninth from 2014 to 2017.

    Despite Burton's underwhelming statistical output in Philly, the Chicago Bears came to terms with him on a four-year, $32 million deal during the legal tampering period. A whopping $18 million of that contract is guaranteed, while an additional $4 million becomes guaranteed on the third day of the 2019 league year.

    With less than 700 career receiving yards to his name, Burton has the sixth-highest average salary, the ninth-largest contract value and the most guaranteed money at the time of signing among all tight ends.

    Given his lack of experience as a starter, Burton is likely to struggle living up to expectations based on the size of his contract. While he may never be an All-Pro, his agent sure is.

Offensive Line: Nate Solder, New York Giants

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    The New York Giants have needed bookend help for years. They swung and missed on former first-round pick Ereck Flowers, so their new front office finally addressed the problem.

    For the foreseeable future, Nate Solder will be protecting Eli Manning's blindside. Bringing him in came at a hefty cost, though.

    The former New England Patriots left tackle reached a four-year, $62 million agreement with the Giants on the first day of the new league year. His $15.5 million average salary is $1.9 million more than any other offensive lineman in the league, while his $34.8 million guaranteed at the time of signing is $4.8 million more than anyone else at his position.

    If Solder collects the $48 million owed to him over the next three years, he'll have earned just a hair under $84 million across his NFL career. Future Hall of Famers Jason Peters and Trent Williams are the only offensive linemen in NFL history who have topped that mark to date.

    Considering Solder has never made a Pro Bowl, he couldn't have asked for much more.

Defensive Line: Star Lotulelei, Buffalo Bills

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    Phelan Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers drafted two defensive tackles in 2013: first-round pick Star Lotulelei and second-round pick Kawann Short. The latter took over as the Panthers' top interior player, in part because he ranks fifth among 3-techniques in sacks since he entered the league with 29.5.

    Lotulelei, meanwhile, has recorded just 11.5.

    In Bleacher Report's NFL1000 rankings, Lotulelei ranked as the NFL's 54th-best defensive tackle last season. While that qualifies him as a starting-caliber defensive tacklewhich the Buffalo Bills badly needed after trading Marcell Dareus to the Jacksonville Jaguars in October—the five-year, $50 million contract he signed with Buffalo was steep for his talent level.

    Among defensive tackles, Lotulelei's contract ranks 15th in average salary, 11th in total value and fifth in signing bonus. While the Bills needed to add interior talent on their defensive line, they might have paid twice as much as they should have for Lotulelei.

Linebacker: Kareem Martin, New York Giants

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    RICK SCUTERI/Associated Press

    Kareem Martin, the 84th overall pick in 2014, recorded just 4.5 sacks with Arizona during his rookie contract. The hybrid 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker never notched more than 1.5 sacks in any of his first four seasons.

    From 2014 through 2017, he was tied for 277th in sacks leaguewide. Among Cardinals alone, he was tied for 11th in sacks over his rookie deal.

    That didn't stop the Giants from signing Martin to a three-year, $15 million contract.

    While this free-agency class lacked in pass-rushing potential, Martin seemed to be closer to fighting for a roster spot than a starting role. James Bettcher, Martin's former defensive coordinator in Arizona and current defensive coordinator in New York, must believe in his development.

    For a veteran 3-4 outside linebacker, Martin's average salary of $5 million would rank 14th in the league. Every other player who makes that type of money at his position is either a full-time starter or has starter talent.

    Locked into the third edge-defender role behind Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, Martin may end up being neither.

Defensive Back: Trumaine Johnson, New York Jets

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    File Trumaine Johnson with Solder and Lotulelei in the "good players who are making too much" category.

    After the Los Angeles Rams used their franchise tag on Johnson twice, he signed a five-year, $72.5 million contract with the New York Jets this offseason.

    In 2015, the Rams had to decide between keeping Johnson or fellow cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who was also a free agent. They wound up tagging Johnson, while Jenkins immediately made the Pro Bowl in 2016 with the Giants. Meanwhile, Johnson still has yet to make a Pro Bowl.

    Johnson, whose $20 million signing bonus leads all players at his position, finished as the 15th-best outside cornerback in B/R's NFL1000 end-of-season rankings. Aside from quarterback, it's unwise for a team to sign any player ranked 15th at his position to a $72.5 million contract.

    By the time Johnson's dead-cap number is less than even 40 percent of his cap hit, he will have made $58 million through four years.

    All contract information via Spotrac unless otherwise noted.