Ranking the Worst Contracts in the NFL Today

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyContributor IJune 27, 2016

Ranking the Worst Contracts in the NFL Today

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The NFL continues to produce massive profits as television deals and corporate sponsorships fuel their business, leading to yearly increases for teams to spend on the talent that drives the league. Impact players have earned their fair share of the money and landed major contracts upon hitting free agency. With so many big deals being thrown around, it’s inevitable that some won’t work out as planned.

    Contracts can bust due to injuries, misevaluation or even a decline in talent. There are worse deals than others, though, especially as the margin for error shrinks with nine-figure contracts becoming more prevalent. We’ve scoured the league to find the 10 worst contracts in the NFL today.

    Whether it's due to guaranteed money left, poor performance or just overpayment, these 10 individuals haven’t quite provided the value that was expected of them.

10. Brandon Carr, CB, Dallas Cowboys

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    2015 statistics: 76 tackles, zero interceptions in 16 games

    Remaining contract: two years, $12.9 million, $10.2 cap number in 2016

    Even in this era of huge contracts being doled out around the NFL every offseason, some deals are more eye-popping than others. One such deal that was ahead of its time, considering the player and previous contracts at the time, was cornerback Brandon Carr’s five-year, $50 million deal. Carr, a decent player for the Dallas Cowboys, was immediately among the highest-paid players at his position.

    For two years, it caused stagnation for most cornerbacks as teams didn’t know how to react to a player of Carr’s caliber receiving such a contract. Half of the total figure was guaranteed upon signing, and even three years into the deal, he’s still the ninth-highest-paid corner in the NFL. It’s hard to understate how poorly this deal has worked out for the Cowboys.

    Yet, it’s quite likely Carr will see out his entire contract, as 2016 is the last year of the original deal. His restructure in 2013 added a voidable year for 2017, in which he’ll count for just $2.7 million against the cap with no guaranteed salary.

    The Cowboys need the secondary help so badly they’ll stomach his $10.2 million cap charge in 2016, and even if they wanted to cut him, the contract is currently structured so his release would only free up $2.78 million this year.

9. Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    2014 statistics: 23 receptions, 337 yards, one touchdown in six games

    Remaining contract: three years, $22.3 million, $4.4 million cap number in 2016

    Coming off an explosive two seasons in which he produced 168 receptions, 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns, the New York Giants signed wide receiver Victor Cruz to a six-year, $45.8 million deal. The deal made perfect sense at the time, as Cruz had developed from undrafted free agent to superstar. The future looked extremely bright for Cruz, who was turning 27 in 2013.

    Even in 2013, Cruz was effective, albeit in just 14 games played. The injury bug caught Cruz as hard as any player over a multiyear cycle. Since the start of the 2013 season, Cruz has played in just 20 games, including zero last year.

    This prompted the Giants and Cruz to completely renegotiate his deal, giving him a three-year, $21.5 million contract with only $2.4 million guaranteed. The deal reduced his cap number by $5.5 million in 2016, though he can earn $3 million back in weekly roster bonuses. His cap hit of $4.4 million is manageable this season, and the team can escape in 2017 for $1.9 million in dead cap if need be.

    Cruz still earns a place on this list because of his injury history and high cost. He’s a high-risk player with unknown upside at this point after several leg ailments that could flare up at any point.

8. Nick Foles, QB, Los Angeles Rams

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    2015 statistics: 56.4 completion percentage, 2,052 yards, seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions in 11 games

    Remaining contract: two years, $22 million, $8.75 cap number in 2016

    As soon as the Rams traded for quarterback Nick Foles, the move was met with skepticism because Foles had been the product of his surrounding cast with the Philadelphia Eagles. The 2016 second-round pick the Rams received made the deal easier to stomach, but the biggest negative came when the Rams prematurely handed Foles a two-year extension worth $24.5 million.

    Fast-forward past his awful 2015 season, and now he’s stuck as the third quarterback on the depth chart. The only way he’ll play is if rookie quarterback Jared Goff and veteran Case Keenum get hurt, and there’s a chance the Rams will just swallow their mistake and cut him before the season comes. His 2016 season is essentially the last year of his deal because all but $1 million is guaranteed for 2017.

    It speaks to how bad Foles and his contract are that he made this list on a one-year deal. The Rams would be stuck with an $8 million dead cap hit this year and $1 million hit next year if they cut him now, and would only save $750,000 with the move. That may be worth it since he’s a non-factor on the field anyway.

7. Julius Thomas, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    2015 statistics: 46 receptions, 455 yards, five touchdowns in 12 games

    Remaining contract: four years, $35.7 million, $7.3 million cap number in 2016

    After years of rebuilding a roster barren of NFL-caliber talent, the Jacksonville Jaguars started to take advantage of massive open cap space last offseason. One of their first big signings to start their revival was tight end Julius Thomas. The 6’5”, 260-pound tight end had a breakout two seasons with the Denver Broncos before signing a five-year, $46 million deal in 2015.

    It took just one season for the deal to look exorbitant and become one of the NFL's worst. While it’s understandable the Jaguars would have to pay a premium price to secure a free agent, much of his production with the Broncos was due to his surrounding cast rather than his own talent. Plus his injury history foretold what unfolded in 2015, when Thomas missed four games due to various ailments.

    The Jaguars expect him to bounce back and benefit from having receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns to open space for him to operate. He’ll need to be stellar, as the Jaguars can part with him next offseason for a $3.6 million dead-cap charge that declines by $1.2 million in the following two years. That’s palatable if Thomas can’t show improvement in 2016.

6. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Miami Dolphins

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    2015 statistics: 61 tackles, six sacks in 16 games

    Remaining contract: five years, $108 million, $12.6 million cap number in 2016

    Unlike many of his peers on this list, Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is coming off another terrific season. Although he didn’t set a career high in sacks in 2016, his overall play was as dominant as ever. According to Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, Suh finished his inaugural season with the Dolphins with the best grade of his career.

    The Dolphins weren’t in the wrong to sign Suh, even if it’ll be difficult to fully justify the deal because of the exorbitant price tag. But they exacerbated the situation just one year into the contract when they converted $20 million of base salary to a signing bonus to open $16 million in cap space this offseason.

    This was an aggressive move to help benefit the team in the short term, but the Dolphins failed to utilize that space effectively. They currently sit $17.6 million under the cap, meaning they could have waited to act on Suh’s deal and still executed their transactions.

    In the long term, the conversion added $4 million to the remaining years on Suh’s deal. They’ll be paying him through at least 2019, when he’s owed $28.1 million at 32 years old. Their first escape hatch is in his contract year in 2020.

    If Suh continues to play as well as he has throughout his career, the Dolphins won’t be too upset. But the margin for error with other contracts and draft picks is much smaller since he’s impossible to move for the foreseeable future.

5. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2015 statistics: 66.3 completion percentage, 4,591 yards, 21 touchdowns, 16 interceptions in 16 games

    Remaining contract: three years, $69.15 million, $23.75 cap number in 2016

    When the Atlanta Falcons originally signed quarterback Matt Ryan to a five-year, $103.75 million deal in 2013, the contract was a no-brainer. Ryan, 28 at the time, had helped guide the franchise to five winning seasons, including two 13-3 records in the previous three years. Unfortunately for the Falcons, Ryan has proved to be more dependent on his supporting cast than almost any quarterback in the NFL.

    Without elite playmakers all around him and a great defense, Ryan hasn’t been able to be the lynchpin he’s being paid to be. Even as wide receiver Julio Jones emerged as a top-three playmaker at the position and running back Devonta Freeman broke out in 2015, it still wasn’t enough for Ryan. He struggled to take care of the ball and execute on anything beyond basic throws.

    He’s locked in as the Falcons' quarterback for the next two seasons before the team can make a decision on him. At 31 years old, Ryan’s not going to suddenly get better. But his $23.75 million cap hit this and next season will hang over the team if he continues to be average.

4. DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee Titans

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    2015 statistics: 193 carries, 702 yards, six touchdowns in 15 games

    Remaining contract: four years, $25.5 million, $6 million cap number in 2016

    When the Philadelphia Eagles looked to rid themselves of every reminder of their disastrous 2015 offseason, dumping running back DeMarco Murray was one of the most challenging tasks.

    Luckily for the Eagles, the Tennessee Titans swooped in and relieved them of Murray’s awful contract by swapping fourth-round picks. To help facilitate the deal, Murray renegotiated to a new four-year, $25.5 million pact with $12 million guaranteed.

    The structure of the contract is baffling for a player who was ineffective in 2015. The Titans bought low on a player who may prove to be a better fit in the their running scheme, but they essentially guaranteed his roster spot until 2018. Their first chance at gaining significant cap space by releasing him is after 2017.

    The move wouldn’t look so bad if the team hadn’t invested heavily at the position in previous offseasons and then drafted Derrick Henry in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft. The Titans depth chart is now overloaded at one of the deepest positions in the league. If Henry proves to be worth his draft status and fulfills the potential he showed at Alabama, Murray will be an expensive benchwarmer.

3. Jairus Byrd, FS, New Orleans Saints

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    George Bridges/Associated Press

    2015 statistics: 53 tackles, one interception in 13 games

    Remaining contract: four years, $45 million, $10.9 million cap number in 2016

    The New Orleans Saints have one of the NFL's most unfortunate contracts on their books. Signing free-agent safety Jairus Byrd from the Buffalo Bills in 2014 was supposed to be an identity-changing move for the Saints defense. Byrd was once a rare free safety capable of playing single high as well as anyone in the league.

    However, injuries quickly derailed him in New Orleans. The 29-year-old is now advancing past his prime and trying to rebound from back and knee surgery from the past two years. It’s almost impossible for him to live up to the six-year, $54 million deal he inked in 2014.

    The Saints are paying a top-of-the-market price for Byrd over the rest of his remaining four-year deal, having structured his contract with cheap cap hits in the first two seasons. They can release him after 2017 if they’re willing to swallow an $8 million cap hit to create $3.7 million in cap space.

    The cap hit the Saints would take if they released Byrd declines in each remaining year of his contract, and the savings spike. But the opportunity cost to replace Byrd for more production is extremely high.

2. Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

    2015 statistics: 59 completion percentage, 1,615 yards, six touchdowns, five interceptions in nine games

    Remaining contract: five years, $95.7 million, $15.9 million cap number in 2016

    The second-worst contract in the NFL belongs to the San Francisco 49ers. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is at a crucial crossroads in his career as he embarks on the second season of a massive six-year, $114 million contract he signed in 2014. Now united with head coach Chip Kelly, it’s up to Kaepernick to prove he can be a viable starting quarterback with less-than-stellar surrounding pieces.

    The early returns of the Kelly-Kaepernick pairing haven’t been as fruitful as some had hoped. The 49ers couldn’t complete a trade featuring Kaepernick to Denver because the Broncos refused to absorb his full salary, and now they’re stuck with the dual-threat QB for 2016. Even worse is they may see no return on his $15.89 million cap number as he may not be able to claim the starting job.

    Per Mike Silver of NFL.com, Blaine Gabbert is the “heavy favorite” to win the 49ers' starting quarterback job. That would all but guarantee the team parting ways with Kaepernick next offseason, when his salary jumps to $19.3 million. Doing so would still cost San Francisco $4.93 million in 2017 and another $2.46 million in 2018.

    His massive extension has been an utter disaster for the team, but the structure of the deal does allow an early out, which saves this deal from being the worst in the league.

1. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    2015 statistics: 64.4 completion percentage, 2,791 yards, 14 touchdowns, 12 interceptions in 10 games

    Remaining contract: six years, $150 million, $22.5 million cap number

    The worst contract in the NFL belongs to the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback Joe Flacco was signed to a three-year extension this past offseason to help stretch the cap hit he was originally due in his previous deal, which freed up $6 million in 2016 and 2017. But the tradeoff for the Ravens is steep, as his contract is now likely immovable until at least 2020.

    Baltimore was in a difficult position after Flacco had the run of his career en route to a Super Bowl victory in 2012. His elite play in the postseason forced the team to hand him a massive contract as free agency loomed. Since then, Flacco’s regressed back into mediocrity and his contract is an unbearable albatross.

    The franchise knows that if his supporting cast is among the very best in the NFL, there’s a chance Flacco can reach a higher level of play. This helps justify their commitment to him, but it’s at an extremely high cost. Per Over The Cap, the Ravens owe him at least $22.5 million every season through 2021, and their first realistic chance to escape comes in 2020, when his dead-cap money would be just $8 million.

    Worse yet is his injury status. Coming off a torn ACL, there’s a chance Flacco may never fully recover and elevate his performance to the point where he can carry the Ravens' limited roster to the playoffs. With his contract, achieving anything less is a major disappointment.  

    All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com. All contract information was provided by Over The Cap.

    Ian Wharton is an NFL featured columnist for Bleacher Report.

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