6 NFL Players on New Contracts Who Won’t Live Up to Expectations in 2022

Alex KayContributor IJune 10, 2022

6 NFL Players on New Contracts Who Won’t Live Up to Expectations in 2022

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    BEREA, OH - JUNE 01: David Njoku #85 of the Cleveland Browns looks on during the Cleveland Browns offseason workout at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on June 1, 2022 in Berea, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
    Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

    A myriad of contracts and extensions have been signed during this NFL offseason, but not all these deals will end up being worthwhile for the teams that have been dishing them out.

    Many free agents who were picked up by a new club or notable talents who re-upped with their current employers will struggle to live up to the lofty expectations that come with big paydays.

    With that in mind, let’s look at some players (in alphabetical order) who won’t put together on-field performances to match the checks they are cashing in 2022.

Christian Kirk, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - MAY 23: Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) during Jacksonville Jaguars OTA Offseason Workouts on May 23, 2022 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fl. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Jacksonville Jaguars may have some buyer's remorse when they look back at the contract they doled out to Christian Kirk.

    The franchise signed the wideout to a four-year,$72 million deal at the start of free agency, a move that raised eyebrows around the league. Kirk is now being paid like one of the game's most productive receivers despite being a relatively inconsistent performer over his first four years.

    Although Kirk had his best campaign in 2021—catching 77 balls for 982 yards and five scores as part of a deep Arizona Cardinals receiver’s room—he’s now making more money than many Pro Bowl-caliber wideouts.

    Kirk's $18 million annual average base salary is tied for the 14th-highest at his position, giving him more earning power than stars like Mike Evans and Adam Thielen. It's also more than what fellow 2022 free agents Allen Robinson II and JuJu Smith-Schuster pulled in from their new employers.

    While the Jags' lack of on-field success and locational allure may not do them any favors when courting free agents, the team paid more than a premium to lock down Kirk.

    Kirk has yet to even prove he's capable of carrying an offense after tallying up a total of 2,902 receiving yards and never once breaching the 1,000-yard mark in his career.

    He must show he can battle against top cornerbacks on a weekly basis, a challenge he didn't regularly face while playing alongside top-end wideouts like DeAndre Hopkins and Larry Fitzgerald during his time with the Cardinals.

    It's a tall task for a player who may end up being best utilized in a smaller role on a contending squad.

Jake Matthews, OT, Atlanta Falcons

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 28: Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Jake Matthews (70) during the game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Jacksonville Jaguars on November 28, 2021 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fl. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Jake Matthews signed a three-year extension worth over $18 million per season to stay with the Atlanta Falcons this offseason. It's a hefty amount for a left tackle who has been showing signs of decline over the past few years.

    While Matthews has been durable as they come—his only missed game in eight seasons came during his rookie year—he's no longer the rock-solid left tackle who likely peaked with a Pro Bowl appearance in 2018.

    This decline is reflected in his PFF grade, which has dipped noticeably in each of the last two campaigns. The Texas A&M product posted a commendable 79.7 PFF score in 2019 before dipping to 75.5 in 2020 and 71.3 in 2021, his worst mark since a 59.7 rookie outing.

    While those aren't terrible metrics by any means—PFF considers a 71.3 on the low-end of a solid starter—Matthews gave up three sacks and was flagged for six penalties last year. He isn't likely to see those figures improve while protecting a new starting QB for the first time in his career.

    After protecting Matt Ryan's blindside for his entire career, Matthews will now be tasked with keeping either veteran Marcus Mariota or rookie Desmond Ridder upright as the team attempts to forge a new offensive identity.

    Matthews has unquestionably earned his paycheck, but it's unlikely he'll provide a great return on Atlanta's investment before he hits free agency as a 34-year-old following the 2026 campaign.

Marcus Maye, S, New Orleans Saints

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    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 04: Marcus Maye #20 of the New York Jets leaves the field after an injury during the second half at Lucas Oil Stadium against the Indianapolis Colts on November 04, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
    Justin Casterline/Getty Images

    The New Orleans Saints made a dubious decision to give Marcus Maye a three-year, $22.5 million contract in free agency.

    It's a rather lofty price to pay for a 29-year-old safety who just suffered his second major injury during his first five seasons. Maye landed on the injured reserve with a torn Achilles in Week 9, ending his 2021 campaign after he participated in just six games.

    The former New York Jets defensive back also missed a majority of the 2018 season with a variety of ailments, including a serious shoulder injury that shut him down for the half of that campaign.

    Not only is Maye coming off that Achilles injury, but he also cost money that New Orleans could have allocated towards keeping its own star safety in Marcus Williams.

    Williams ended up signing a five-year, $70 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens. While he's making more annually than Maye, Williams has been a more talented and consistent player during his five years in the league.

    Maye only earned a paltry 55.9 PFF grade for his work across 362 defensive snaps last season. Williams recorded a much more respectable 80.1 PFF grade while playing a career-high 1036 snaps and missing just one game.

    The cap savings created by the decision to sign Maye over retaining Williams did not get used in the manner the Saints were hoping for either.

    The Saints reportedly attempted to lure Deshaun Watson to the Big Easy and made financial decisions with the goal of fitting his contract under the cap before the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback spurned the club in favor of the Cleveland Browns.

    While New Orleans was able to salvage their secondary by signing Tyrann Mathieu, the organization will regret letting a homegrown star go in exchange for a cheaper, injury-prone replacement.

David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns

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    CLEVELAND, OHIO - JANUARY 09: David Njoku #85 of the Cleveland Browns takes a selfie with fans as he leaves the field after Cleveland defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 21-16 at FirstEnergy Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    After a disappointing regression in 2021, the Cleveland Browns have been busy this offseason making some major changes. One misstep seems to be the four-year, $54.8 million extension they handed to David Njoku.

    The signing means the tight end is now averaging more annual base salary than all but four other players at the position. It's a rather steep price for Cleveland to pay for a player whose best season came back in 2018 and only amounted to 56 receptions for 639 yards and four touchdowns.

    Njoku couldn't build on that promising sophomore season, playing in just four games during an injury-plagued 2019 campaign. He missed another three contests the following year while catching just 19 passes for 213 yards and a pair of scores, his worst statistical showing as a pro.

    The 25-year-old is coming off one of his better seasons—he snared 36 catches for 475 yards and four scores—while splitting time with former Pro Bowler Austin Hooper, seeing the field for 64 percent of Cleveland's offensive snaps.

    Hooper may be out of the picture after signing with the Tennessee Titans, but Harrison Bryant could eat into some of Njoku's work after scoring six touchdowns in his first two seasons.

    Njoku will get his shot at taking on a bigger role and putting up TE1 numbers, but it's unlikely he'll blossom into one of the league's top weapons like his salary indicates.

Denzel Ward, CB, Cleveland Browns

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    BEREA, OH - JUNE 01: Denzel Ward #21 of the Cleveland Browns runs a drill during the Cleveland Browns offseason workout at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on June 1, 2022 in Berea, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
    Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

    By doling out a record-setting five-year, $100.5 million extension to Denzel Ward this offseason, the Cleveland Browns are now paying top dollar for a cornerback who hasn't been a top performer at the position.

    That deal, which includes an unprecedented $71.25 million in guarantees, made Ward the highest-paid corner in league history and keeps him locked down through the 2027 season.

    The 24-year-old now makes more money than Jalen Ramsey, the three-time All-Pro who inked a $100 million extension of his own in 2020. Despite commanding that lofty figure, Ward has only made Pro Bowls in two of his first four seasons and has missed time due to injury in each of those campaigns.

    Ward's PFF grades aren't exactly jumping off the page either. He posted his highest mark as a rookie in 2018, scoring a 78.9 PFF grade after being drafted by the Browns at No. 4 overall.

    Since then, Ward notched a backup-level 69.9 in 2019 and only slightly improved to starter-caliber 72.8 and 76.9 marks in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

    The Ohio State product gave up a career-worst 60.3 completion percentage last season and allowed four touchdowns for the second consecutive year.

    While there is still a chance that Ward develops into an All-Pro talent, the Browns have made a risky bet on his upside rather than what he's provided on the field.

Mike Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

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    INGLEWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 12: Los Angeles Chargers Wide Receiver Mike Williams (81) runs after a catch during the NFL game between the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Chargers on December 12, 2021, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Chargers patiently waited for Mike Williams' production to match his immense talent. After five seasons with the club, the seventh overall pick in 2017 finally broke out and had his best year yet in 2021.

    Williams reeled in 76 of his 129 targets for 1,146 yards—all career-high marks—while scoring nine times. It's just the second time he has posted more than five touchdowns or racked up more than 756 yards in a season.

    That career-best showing came at a perfect time. Williams played on a fifth-year option last season and hit the open market at the start of the offseason. The Bolts retained his services with a three-year, $60 million extension that keeps him in L.A. through 2024.

    It will be a challenge for Williams to be consistent while playing on his new deal. Even last year, the 27-year-old failed to reliably put up big yardage totals or find the end zone after eclipsing 82 yards four times and scoring six touchdowns during the first five matchups of the season.

    Williams had just three games with 62-plus receiving yards and one touchdown grab in his final 11 contests. He did finish strong with 12 catches on 21 targets for 182 yards and two touchdowns across L.A.'s last two regular-season games.

    It's likely to only get more difficult for Williams to provide reliable production over the next three years as teammate Keenan Allen fades into the twilight of his career.

    Allen is still amongst the NFL's best receivers and made his fifth straight Pro Bowl in 2021, but he is now on the wrong side of 30 and could see a decline soon, putting even more pressure on Williams to perform on his new extension.