Not Earning Their Keep: The Most Overpaid Player on Every NFL Roster
The National Football League employs a lot of players who are, frankly, overpaid for their level of production.
It's not really the players' fault, though.
The labor tension in the NFL is far stronger than in any other pro league. The violent nature of the game causes short careers and a lot of player turnover. This creates a cutthroat work atmosphere in the locker room and puts a lot of pressure on athletes to outperform each other because they never know when a career-ending injury awaits on the other side of a play.
Because of this, teams, which are in the business of making money, by the way, are reluctant to make huge financial commitments to players who could get hurt at any minute. Big contracts are hard to come by as a result, and the achievement of even one eight-figure contract over a career is impressive for any player.
Sometimes, players who get big paydays don't ultimately play up to them on the field. These players, fairly or unfairly, get the dreaded "overpaid" label, though much less often than their baseball and basketball counterparts.
Using salary figures from last season, here is the most overpaid player from every NFL team.
Buffalo Bills: Chris Kelsay, LB/DE
The eighth-year player out of Nebraska earned $4.2 million in base salary and accumulated 46 solo tackles and four sacks on the field in 2010. Those are pretty pedestrian numbers for the team's second highest-paid player.
It's not as if some of his production escaped the stat sheet, either; the Bills ranked in the bottom five of the NFL in points allowed and bottom 10 in yards allowed.
Don't expect Kelsay to secure a contract remotely near his last one as a free agent in 2011.
Miami Dolphins: Jake Long, OT
Long is the poster boy for the NFL's argument against the current system of uncapped rookie contracts. Long, an offensive tackle out of Michigan, "earned" a $57.75 million dollar contract for five years before he even played a down for the Dolphins. That contract made him the highest paid offensive lineman, not rookie lineman, in NFL history.
Long and linemate Vernon Carey were the finalists for this prestigious honor in light of their 11th-worst sacks allowed total in 2010. The Dolphins managed just 17.1 points per game, which was the third lowest in the NFL.
Granted, the Dolphins had all kinds of problems on offense, but the blind side protection from Long was not up to par with his $11.5 million paycheck.
New England Patriots: Gerard Warren, DT
The 11-year vet out of Florida averaged $167,142 per tackle last year on his $4.68 million salary.
In his first year since coming from from the Raiders, Warren had his lowest tackle total in four seasons and his 3.5 sacks were only the sixth-highest season total in his career.
Warren's inability to get a strong pass rush hurt the Pats in 2010 as they allowed the third most passing yards per game.
Nose tackle Vince Wilfork's $7 million didn't contribute much to the New England pass defense, either.
New York Jets: Calvin Pace, LB
The 30-year-old outside linebacker's 52 tackles were his lowest total since 2006, as were his 5.5 sacks.
Ironically, his $3.75 million salary was the richest of all the Jet linebackers on a defense that was in the top five in all yards allowed statistics, as well as points allowed.
Pace is actually due a slight raise to $3.85 million in 2011.
Baltimore Ravens: Marc Bulger, QB
Above is the only photo available in the Getty Images library of Marc Bulger as a Raven. It was taken on August 28 during the preseason, which was the last time anyone saw Bulger on the field.
His $3.8 million salary to back up Joe Flacco at quarterback makes him the most overpaid player on the Ravens.
The 33-year-old hasn't played a full season since 2006 and likely will remain a backup for the rest of his career.
Cincinnati Bengals: Chad Ochocinco, WR
The enigmatic receiver had a lot of competition for this award from a few teammates. Carson Palmer's $10.5 million and Johnathan Joseph's $8.75 million were both strong candidates, based on their poor performances in 2010.
Ocho, however, displayed consistent underachievement en route to his second-worst season since 2002. The 831 yards and four touchdown catches were the worst since his rookie year, with his injury-riddled 2008 excluded.
With a little improvement next year, he can shed this title and pass it along to Palmer, who is probably the rightful owner of it with his 20 interceptions last year.
Cleveland Browns: Shaun Rogers, DT
This one was easy. Rogers, the 11-year veteran out of Texas, lost his job to Ahtyba Rubin, who made $470,000 to Rogers' $6.9 million.
Rogers was then moved out of his natural nose tackle spot to the end, which was aimed at maximizing his talents. The move resulted in Rogers totaling just 17 tackles and two sacks before being released at season's end.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Trai Essex, OG
Essex's $710,000 to back up along the O-line is a testament to the fact that there's really no one on this team that is overpaid.
Pittsburgh's veterans along the offensive line, at skill positions and on defense consistently earn their money, which is evidenced by their success on the field.
The distribution of money on this team is fantastic: No one makes more than Ben Roethlisberger's $8.05 million, and 16 players make at least $1 million.
So, Trai Essex, don't fret too much about being the most overpaid (and 17th-highest paid) player on your team. It doesn't mean much.
Houston Texans: Derrick Ward, RB
Getting 315 yards and four touchdowns isn't exactly what you want from a running back who earned $4.67 million last season.
Ward, the seven-year veteran and former 1,000-yard rusher, is a reliable backup, though Houston would love to get more from someone who earns the third-highest salary on the roster.
At 30 years old, he still has something left in the tank, but not enough to justify that salary.
Indianapolis Colts: Kelvin Hayden, CB
Kelvin Hayden is good. I repeat, Kelvin Hayden is good.
The six-year vet out of Illinois accrued his second-best tackle total in a season and took both of his picks back for touchdowns. He is one of the Colts' most steady and reliable players on a highly ranked pass defense.
The problem is that he makes $8.6 million a year, surpassed only by Peyton Manning and Dwight Freeney. He played only 11 games last season, which makes it undesirable to pay him for three-quarters of a season.
Just because a player contributes and has a noticeable impact on the game does not preclude him from being considered overpaid.
Kelvin is a good example on a team similar to the Steelers, with few players who don't earn their salary.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Smiley, OG
Last May, the Dolphins traded Smiley to Jacksonville because of injury troubles. His five-year, $25 million contract might have had something to do with the trade as well.
Smiley, who was a starting guard for years with the Dolphins and 49ers, came in to back up for the Jaguars at left guard.
His $3.2 million base salary is tough to stomach for a reserve offensive lineman, which can usually be found for under $1 million. Starting right guard Uche Nwaneri earned just $550,000 last season, giving perspective to Smiley's salary drain.
Tennessee Titans: Kerry Collins and Vince Young, QB
The symmetry on this one is fitting and brings us to our first shared award.
Collins and Young, who have interchanged as starter and backup for the last few years, both underwhelm their $7.5 million salaries.
Collins will be the starter for Tennessee at age 38 next season, while owner Bud Adams has said that Young will not be on the team when the games start.
For now, both of them are on the team, and neither of them earns the money they get paid.
Here's a list of quarterbacks who got paid less last year than Collins and Young:
Matt Ryan, Kyle Orton, Michael Vick and Matt Schaub.
Denver Broncos: Daniel Graham, TE
Never considered a primary pass catcher at tight end, Daniel Graham earns this honor for his lack of offensive production.
Last year's 18 catches and 148 yards are down from 2009's 28 and 289. The fact that he is not an end zone threat makes defending the high-octane Broncos much easier as well.
Graham made more in 2010 ($3.8 million) than offensive contributors Kyle Orton, Eddie Royal, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney and Knowshon Moreno.
Kansas City Chiefs: Thomas Jones, RB
For some reason, the 12-year veteran received more carries with the Chiefs than rising star Jamaal Charles did. Jones outcarried Charles 245 to 230 and outearned him $3 million to $470,000.
Charles outgained Jones 1,467 to 896.
Charles signed a new contract that will pay him roughly twice what Jones was paid last season, which is deserved. What isn't deserved is a soon-to-be 33-year-old backup earning $3 million.
Oakland Raiders: Shane Lechler, P
Any team that has to pay its punter $4 million just to stay competitive is probably overpaying several other players, too.
A salary that high is also a testament to the punter's ability to do his job well.
There's something to be said for having a punter who can help you win the field position battle, but there's one little problem with paying one so much: Punters don't score points.
Besides, good offense won't put pressure on your punter to unleash booming punts inside the 10-yard line, and good defense will stop opposing offenses more often than not. This has not been the case for the Raiders up until 2010, and they relied way too heavily on Lechler.
Think of this as an indictment against the Raiders and Al Davis, not Lechler.
San Diego Chargers: Darren Sproles, RB/KR
Sproles isn't paid to rush the ball, but for his dangerous return game. Still, his numbers do not justify being the second-highest paid player on the most talented roster in the NFL.
Just to debunk any notion of rushing talent, let me state that Sproles has never rushed for more than 343 yards and three touchdowns in a season. He does have 1,400 receiving yards, 146 catches and 11 touchdowns, but he doesn't play enough on offense for those numbers to have any impact.
In the return game, he had four career touchdowns on 372 returns. By way of simple math, we find that Sproles returns a kick or punt for a touchdown once every 93 times. Everyone considers him a top-five dangerous returner, but do the numbers really bear that out?
Dallas Cowboys: Marion Barber, RB
Barber's career arc is disturbing for someone that is supposed to be a feature back with 300 carries a season.
His carries declined for three straight years and dropped off by 101 last season. In 13 games, Barber ran for just 374 yards and four touchdowns while falling to third string behind Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.
Three years ago, Barber's $3.86 million would have been a steal, but now it's just another bad contract.
New York Giants: Eli Manning, QB
The younger Manning's $15.27 million is largely the result of the Giants' historic Super Bowl win over the Patriots in the 2007 season.
Since then, Manning has gone for 21, 27 and 31 touchdown passes, which do not match the elite contract he's paid. Furthermore, his interceptions have increased in each of the three seasons, culminating in last season's staggering 25.
Eli is a strong quarterback who has reached the NFL mountaintop and developed into one of the best leaders in the league.
Comparatively, however, you can find quarterbacks who will give you the same production for half the price.
Philadelphia Eagles: None
I foraged through considerable data for about 15 minutes before judging that no one on the Eagles is overpaid. There are two reasons for this: a good front office that evaluates talent smartly and pays shrewdly, and players who work hard and play up to their contracts.
I tried to find an overpaid player, but couldn't justify naming one.
Left tackle Jason Peters earns $11.5 million, but he's gone to four Pro Bowls in five years and is widely considered the best player in the NFL at his position.
Michael Vick will earn $16 million after pulling in $5.2 last season. At one number, he's worth every penny; at the other, he's essentially free.
Asante Samuel earns nearly $9 million at corner, but he picked off seven passes last year and defended 14 more.
Everywhere you turn, the Eagles have standout players actually making standout performances.
If anything, guys like Brent Celek and Kevin Kolb at $550,000 are sorely underpaid.
Washington Redskins: Albert Haynesworth, DT
I will subtract the lavish $21 million signing bonus he got in 2010, which drove his salary to $24.6 million. At the $3.6 million in base salary, Haynesworth was still overpaid last season.
The 10-year player is widely considered among the most impactful defensive players in the NFL from the tackle spot. He anchored one of the best defenses in the NFL for years in Tennessee, but has caused trouble at every stop with his attitude.
Tennessee couldn't rid themselves of him soon enough, and he showed why when he arrived in Washington with a seven-year, $100 million contract. Early in his first season with the Redskins, Haynesworth publicly questioned the team's defensive scheme and said that he could not keep playing if it remained.
He must have forgotten the huge contract he just signed to shut his mouth and wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Maybe he thought the team wrote game-planning decisions into his contract.
Haynesworth played only eight games last season and was suspended for the last four games of the season, for which coach Mike Shanahan cited a continued refusal to cooperate in a series of team events.
When all was said and done in 2010, the most dominant defensive player in the game, according to some, tallied a career low 13 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Chicago Bears: Julius Peppers, QB
Peppers was the best DE in the NFL for the eight years he spent in Carolina, but things changed when he came to Chicago.
After signing with the Bears for six years and $91.5 million, Peppers sorely disappointed with just eight sacks, leading to the assumption that he benefited from the Carolina system for his whole career to that point.
Peppers is still an elite defensive end in the league, but he is certainly not worth the $20 million he earned in 2010.
Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford, QB
This handle is subject to change, and probably will soon.
For now, the third-year franchise player out of Georgia does not earn his $12 million a year, even when healthy.
Stafford missed the first 13 games of 2010 while recovering from a serious shoulder injury and was impressive in limited time. He threw less than 100 times, but had a 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio and a 91.3 rating.
In 2009, his full rookie season, he completed only 53 percent of his passes and uncorked 20 picks.
There's little doubt that Stafford is going to be a very good starting quarterback for years, but he isn't nearly there yet.
He's already getting paid like one.
Green Bay Packers: Nick Barnett, LB
When healthy, the ninth-year linebacker is one of the most reliable impact players on the Packers.
However, in two of the last three years, he has been unable to stay healthy. He missed seven games in 2008 and had season-ending wrist surgery after four games in 2010. In between, he tallied 105 tackles and four sacks in 2009.
Barnett's $4 million salary is favorable when he's on the field, but wasted when he's absent.
Minnesota Vikings: Kevin Williams, DT
The 30-year-old six-time Pro Bowler experienced a marked decline in sacks in 2010, making just one.
He was used a little differently in 2010 by being dropped into pass coverage more, which is the reason for his career-high 10 passes defended.
Overall, his impact declined in 2010, and at $4.25 million, his one sack is not satisfactory. Plus, he lost his partner in the trenches, Pat Williams (no relation) to free agency after the season, which will have an impact on his effectiveness.
Atlanta Falcons: Michael Jenkins, WR
The Falcons starting wideout has been serviceable throughout his career, but the team would love to get more for the $3.5 million they pay him.
Jenkins was hurt in an offseason scrimmage before last season and only played in 11 games. His 41 receptions and 505 yards are approximates of his career averages, but that doesn't mean they're strong; it can be argued that Jenkins is a career underperformer as a No. 2 receiver, having never caught more than 53 passes in a season.
Eight years in, it's hard to imagine him improving much more on those numbers.
Carolina Panthers: Steve Smith, WR
Smith is the heart and soul of the team and one of its few good players.
However, his production over the last two years does not satisfy his team-high $5.75 million salary. Maybe his inept quarterbacks are to blame, but 46 receptions and two touchdowns? He should be able to manage better than that, even with Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen throwing to him.
Smith might be working hard to get through this very rough patch both personally and as a part of the Panthers, or he might be in the twilight of his football life.
Whatever the case, he's still getting paid like an elite wide receiver, which his statistics belie.
New Orleans Saints: Reggie Bush, RB
Choosing Bush for this honor was one of the easier picks of the slideshow for two reasons.
Firstly, his inability to stay on the field. Over the last four seasons, he's missed four, six, two and eight games. Impact players need to be on the field and touching the ball to make an impact.
Secondly, he just stinks when he's on the field. He simply has not lived up to the expectations that his talent paved for him coming out of USC in 2006. Only once has Bush eclipsed 1,000 yards of offense. He's never scored more than 10 touchdowns in a season, and that's only because of his return touchdowns.
He has worked to curb his fumbling issues, but still remains immature in his rushing game. He began as a player limited to big-play impact, and is heading for a career that will have him remembered as an explosive, big-play-only player.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Niko Koutouvides, LB
The $2.5 million that Koutouvides earns is puzzling. While $2.5 million isn't a huge financial commitment, it looms larger when it's given to a player who simply doesn't get in the game. Koutouvides hasn't underperformed; he hasn't performed at all.
As a backup to middle linebacker Barrett Ruud last season, Koutouvides made just 12 tackles with no sacks or any other counting stats.
He may well be a good linebacker, but that won't be possible determine until he gets some playing time, which he hasn't over his entire eight-year career.
Arizona Cardinals: Derek Anderson, QB
One of the more colossally tragic acquisitions of the 2010 season, the former Pro Bowl quarterback performed woefully with the fifth-highest salary on the Cardinals.
Brought in to ease the pain of losing future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, Anderson followed in the path of his previous two seasons, which were arguably worse than 2010's seven-TD, 10 INT and 65.9 rating campaign.
The Cardinals are the culprit here; they should have never paid Anderson on the reputation of his Pro Bowl 2007 season, because he's thrown 19 TD and 28 INT since then.
His performance is truly one of the reasons why the Cardinals fell from 10-6 to 5-11 in just one season.
San Francisco 49ers: Michael Crabtree, WR
The two-year receiver has a lot of potential to fulfill and could finish as one of the best receivers of his generation.
For now, his painfully high $5.6 million salary is not earned.
After holding out for the first several weeks of his rookie year because of contract demands, Crab put up decent numbers, with 48 catches and 625 yards in just 11 games. His sophomore season afforded him a promotion to starter, but he didn't improve much on his truncated 2009 numbers.
His career trajectory is rising and his progression is clear, but eight career TD catches isn't enough to justify that salary.
Seattle Seahawks: Leroy Hill, LB
The 28-year-old's $6 million salary is confusing, given his injury history and level of production.
Hill played in just 11 games in 2010 and made only 46 tackles and one sack for a defense ranked in the bottom third of every yardage and scoring category.
Fellow backer Lofa Tatupu didn't have the greatest year either, but his presence in the middle makes more of an impact than Hill does, especially with the influx of new talent at the position in Aaron Curry.
St. Louis Rams: Josh Brown, K
Even a career high in field goals made, field goals attempted and points scored isn't worthy of giving a kicker $5 million.
Yet, the Rams, the picture of competitive ineptitude for the last several years in the NFL, voluntarily did it. The Rams were improved this season, but it wasn't because of a solid kicking game; rookie QB Sam Bradford set the world on fire as he brought his team to 7-9, its best finish in four seasons.
Brown is among the best in the kicking game right now, but that doesn't mean he deserves that kind of coin.