Ranking the 9 Most Overpaid NFL Players Entering 2022

Ian Wharton@@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVJuly 6, 2022

Ranking the 9 Most Overpaid NFL Players Entering 2022

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    NFL contracts are much different than the fully guaranteed deals of both the NBA and MLB. Pacts that don't work out can be terminated before their end date, while players outperforming their contract can negotiate for more guaranteed money.

    A sudden breakout or decline can redefine an entire team's outlook.

    We're looking at the negative end of that equation, as we've compared the return on investment for every notable veteran contract and found the nine biggest discrepancies between salary and that return.

    Our considerations include the total value of the deal, the contract structure and how their deal compares to those of their peers.

9. Christian Kirk, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Remaining contract: 4 years, $72 million, $37 million guaranteed

    Eyebrows raised the moment the Jacksonville Jaguars signed receiver Christian Kirk to a four-year, $18 million per-year deal in free agency this offseason.

    Kirk is a fine player who will help the Jaguars' woeful offense, but it'll be nearly impossible for him to live up to his salary based on his past performance. He's the only receiver in the top 20 salaries at the position who has not reached 1,000 yards in one season.

    Kirk's ability to get open and convert first downs should help second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence find more success. It's simply hard to get over the salary he'll earn, which is guaranteed for two seasons.

    Given the state of the franchise over the last several years, it seems as if the Jaguars didn't care about Kirk's value and opted to pay the sticker price for the best free-agent receiver.

    Only 13 other receivers have a higher per-year average than Kirk, who is clearly not a top-20 receiver. Jacksonville can escape his deal as soon as 2024, so at least it structured his contract more wisely than some of the other bloated deals on this list.

8. C.J. Mosley, LB, New York Jets

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    Remaining contract: 3 years, $54.5 million, $16 million guaranteed

    Off-ball linebackers rarely see huge paydays. Only four inside linebackers have contracts that carry an average value north of $14 million, per Spotrac.

    Unfortunately for the Jets, C.J. Mosley is one of them. The 30-year-old will cost the team $17.5 million this season amid a rebuild.

    Mosley's time with the Jets has been largely unfruitful. He only played in two games in 2019 because of a groin injury and then opted out of the 2020 campaign. The latter decision delayed his contract for a year.

    This past season, Mosley was a reliable tackler. He amassed 168 combined tackles, but a linebacker in this price range has to be a difference-maker in pass coverage. Mosley was anything but.

    Teams routinely found him as the weak link, targeting him 68 times for 58 completions, 525 yards and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 113.5. If that continues, the Jets will have a relatively easy decision to part with Mosley's $18.5 million cap hit next year by incurring just a $3 million dead-cap charge in 2023 and $1.5 million dead-cap hit in 2024.

7. Kenny Golladay, WR, New York Giants

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    Remaining contract: 4 years, $67.4 million, $22 million guaranteed

    It took almost one full week into free agency for Kenny Golladay to sign somewhere as the then-27-year-old was looking to cash in following an injury-shortened season. The New York Giants hoped for the best with Golladay, but things quickly went south. Their new regime surely wishes it didn't inherit his gigantic contract.

    He was a prolific vertical threat in two of his four seasons with the Detroit Lions, but injuries cost him 17 games over that span. He lost 11 contests in 2020 to a hip-flexor injury.

    His debut season with New York was disastrous, as he finished with 37 receptions for 521 yards and zero touchdowns. Before this offseason, Golladay had the sixth-highest average annual salary per year at his position.

    After a flurry of new deals, he still sits 14th with an $18 million average.

    His $13 million base salary was likely impossible to move via trade after such a lackluster year. The receiver market exploded at the top, with new deals for Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams and several others. The second tier largely flat-lined after Kirk signed for almost the same deal Golladay received.

    There's still time for Golladay to prove valuable. If head coach Brian Daboll can get more production and consistency out of quarterback Daniel Jones, Golladay will likely benefit. With a $21-plus million cap hit over the next three seasons before a void year in 2025, Golladay needs to get back to his Pro Bowl form quickly.

    If not, New York can cut him next offseason and save as much as $13.5 million in 2023 and $18 million in 2024 with a post-June 1 designation.

6. Bud Dupree, Edge, Tennessee Titans

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    Remaining contract: 4 years, $77.3 million, $17.25 million guaranteed

    Months after tearing his ACL in a contract year with the Pittsburgh Steelers, edge-rusher Bud Dupree netted one of the top deals in free agency with the Tennessee Titans.

    While ACL injuries may not be as feared as they once were, Tennessee bet the farm that Dupree was its missing defensive piece to a deeper playoff run. Unfortunately, injuries to several key players across the roster made it impossible for him to prove himself as such.

    Nevertheless, his deal remains one of the league's most fascinating. The Titans structured his contract so his cap number was only $5.1 million in Year 1 but will jump to $19.2 million this season. Only two other edge-rushers have a higher cap number in 2022.

    There are some encouraging pass-rush splits with and without Dupree in the lineup, courtesy of Pro Football Focus, but splits are noisy because he didn't influence every pressure logged even if he was active for the game. He played more than 63 percent of snaps just twice all season.

    His impact goes beyond the raw stats, which show just 17 tackles and three sacks. He's a quality run defender and can drop into coverage with comfort. Dupree has just one season with more than eight sacks, though, so it's not as if he's a threat to be more than a complementary pass-rusher despite his high compensation.

    A full year-and-a-half removed from injury, he has to show he can be the Robin to Harold Landry's Batman. If he doesn't, Tennessee could save more than $15 million from 2023 through 2025 by moving on from a player who will turn 30 next offseason with a post-June 1 cut.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

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    Remaining contract: 5 years, $83 million, $12.4 million guaranteed

    The most famously overpaid player in the NFL is Ezekiel Elliott because of the cap constraints his massive six-year, $90 million extension put on the Dallas Cowboys.

    It's Dallas' fault for inking Elliott to a pact that would inhibit its ability to keep more important talent in future years. He is a solid player, but it's hard to justify paying him more than all but two backs in the NFL.

    Elliott will turn 27 later this month, and his best traits are durability and consistency. Those have value. But over the last two years, he has averaged just 4.1 yards per carry and 990.5 rushing yards.

    He ranked 16th in rushing yards per game in 2021 with 58.9 and 14th in 2020 with 65.3.

    Elliott brings value as a receiver and pass-blocker, but his massive salary and unspectacular production are issues. Dallas can escape his contract next year, but even with a post-June 1 designation, the team would still be hit with a significant dead-cap charge in 2023 ($5.8 million) and 2024 ($4.3 million). A June 1 designation means Dallas wouldn't get the $10.9 million in cap savings off Elliott's contract until after that date.

    It might be impossible for him to do anything this season to remain on his current deal. His lack of explosiveness stands out compared to backup Tony Pollard in an undeniable way. Dallas should reallocate the money owed to Elliott as soon as possible.

4. Carson Wentz, QB, Washington Commanders

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    Remaining contract: 3 years, $81.7 million, $22 million guaranteed

    On his third team in as many years, Carson Wentz has not lived up to his four-year, $128 million extension from 2019. The Philadelphia Eagles traded him to Indianapolis in March 2021, and then the Colts dealt him to Washington this offseason.

    With just one more guaranteed season on his deal, Wentz is fighting to find a long-term home in 2022.

    At times, he can be an average quarterback who offers impressive play-creation potential with good athleticism and deep-passing prowess. His raw numbers bounced back in Indianapolis last year, as he notably cut his interception rate from 3.4 percent in 2020 to 1.4 percent. Wentz's touchdown rate also rose dramatically to tie his second-best career mark of 5.2.

    It wasn't enough to save his job in Indianapolis.

    Even though the Colts had just traded a first-round pick for Wentz the previous year and the team lacked a replacement, the franchise couldn't trade him fast enough.

    It's hard to blame Washington for giving up 2022 second- and third-round picks and a conditional 2023 third-round pick considering the turbulence the franchise has experienced at quarterback over the last several years. But it's also fair to say Wentz has not lived up to a contract that has the 11th-highest average annual salary at the position.

    Wentz has always struggled with his accuracy, ranking 26th in on-target percentage in 2021 despite ranking 17th in intended air yards. He was also disastrous in the final month for the Colts when their playoff hopes were on the line. Football is not a one-man sport, but it's impossible to look at the Colts' final two losses and not blame Wentz for their missed playoff berth.

    He completed under 60 percent of his passes and totaled only 333 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and seven sacks against Las Vegas and Jacksonville to close out 2021.

    Washington should not believe Wentz will be its franchise quarterback for years to come. He's not a good value even with average play. However, he can simultaneously be an overpaid quarterback and the best option the Commanders have had at the position in several years.

    With his guaranteed money gone after 2022, Wentz will either be playing in Washington on a year-to-year basis or be looking for a new home again in 2023.

3. Jonnu Smith, TE, New England Patriots

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    Remaining contract: 3 years, $44.2 million, $15.25 million guaranteed

    The New England Patriots will carry the top two cap numbers at tight end in 2022. But Bill Belichick's heavy investment in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith in the 2021 offseason made little sense considering the Patriots would either start Cam Newton or a rookie (who turned out to be Mac Jones) in a run-oriented offense.

    One of the tight ends was bound to be the clear second option. Smith took a back seat to Henry, finishing with just 294 yards and one score compared to Henry's 603 yards and nine touchdowns.

    A great open-field athlete who can move into the slot if asked, Smith can be a valuable chesspiece if given the opportunity to be more than a decoy. If not, New England's return on investment will become a much bigger issue.

    Not only does his cap number grow to $13.69 million in 2022, $14.75 million in 2023 and $15.75 million in 2024, but the structure of Smith's contract is also not even slightly team-friendly.

    The soonest New England could sensibly cut him is next offseason after June 1, and it would still face a $10 million dead-cap hit in 2023 and $3.75 million dead cap in 2024. The team would free up only $4.75 million in 2023, though.

    Because of his usage, the structure of his contract and fact that he's second on the tight end depth chart, Smith has an albatross deal that will be difficult to make much better.

2. Jared Goff, QB, Detroit Lions

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    Remaining contract: 3 years, $93.5 million, $15.5 million guaranteed

    As the top two picks of the 2016 class, Jared Goff and Wentz will forever be linked. Both enjoyed early success before peaking, receiving a huge contract and then being traded. Both are overpaid relative to their on-field impact.

    Ahead of last year, Wentz had the worse pact between the two, but the margin was thin. Entering 2022, though, Goff is the more overpaid of the two. The only area where Goff was statistically better was his completion percentage, but his average depth of target ranked last in 2021.

    Goff's success also seems more tied to his surrounding cast than Wentz's, which is not a compliment at quarterback. Goff doesn't create big plays while under pressure and is incapable of transcending the scheme.

    Detroit surrounded him with a young cast that blossomed late in the season, but its 2022 offense should help him more thanks to the additions of DJ Chark and Jameson Williams.

    Goff has the fourth-highest 2022 QB salary and is still owed more than $30 million in each of the next three years. Detroit can cut him after 2022, but it'll cost $10 million of dead-cap money in 2023 and $5 million in dead cap in 2024. At least Wentz's deal can be voided after 2022 without a dead-cap hit.

    Goff turns just 28 this fall, but he's an uninspiring stopgap. Seeing Sean McVay win a Super Bowl in his first year after the team traded Goff for Matthew Stafford was the worst case for Goff.

    No serious Super Bowl contender would consider Goff for their starting job, especially at his salary.

1. Taysom Hill, TE, New Orleans Saints

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    Remaining contract: 5 years, $48.9 million, $11 million guaranteed

    Taysom Hill is a tremendous talent thanks to his fantastic athleticism and versatility but is not a master of any position. The New Orleans Saints' strange obsession with Hill led to arguably the most rare contract in NFL history.

    Hill signed a four-year, $40 million extension that could have been worth as much as $94 million had he become the heir to Drew Brees at quarterback.

    With Sean Payton stepping aside, new head coach Dennis Allen pivoted away from the idea that the 31-year-old would be their signal-caller of the future, telling reporters Hill will be a tight end. This was the right call considering Hill's lack of arm talent and experience at quarterback.

    Still, he's overpaid as a tight end. His $10 million average ranks 11th in the NFL at the position, notably ahead of Logan Thomas and Darren Waller.

    New Orleans can't reasonably escape his deal until at least 2024, when he'll be 34 years old and carry a cap hit of $14 million. The Saints have been masters of contract manipulation for years, but they completely missed the mark on Hill's contract structure and valuation. He has just 388 receiving yards and seven touchdowns throughout his career.

    It's hard to imagine another team giving Hill even half the money he's owed from the Saints, thus making him our most overpaid NFL player entering 2022.


    All contract information provided by Over the Cap. All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.

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