NFL1000's All-Overpaid Free Agency Team
Value is subjective.
Merriam-Webster defines value as "a fair return or equivalent in goods, services or money for something exchanged." Value in the NFL is measured on a sliding scale. There's positional value (quarterbacks are more important than long snappers), value against the salary cap (the percentage of cap dollars used on each position) and projected value against past—and estimated future—performance.
In free agency, the third definition is the most important one. When teams gauge the value of a player to their particular franchise, it's a multifaceted process. Organizations try to get the best players for their schemes, guys who best fit their locker room and culture, and they're desperately trying to unearth a few bargains along the way.
Of course, that doesn't always happen. Merriam-Webster's third definition of value is "relative worth, utility or importance."
Teams make mistakes when evaluating potential every year, and though those players can still be good, their values can be judged in some interesting ways. When the Houston Texans signed former Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler to a four-year, $72 million contract with $37 million guaranteed in March 2016, it set Osweiler up as the presumptive franchise savior—a title he was, of course, completely unprepared to handle. After one disastrous season, he was traded to the Cleveland Browns just so the Texans could offload his onerous contract.
Here's an important question, though: Would Osweiler, as unprepared as he was for the big time, been as massive a free-agent bust if he'd signed a four-year deal with $20 million guaranteed? Of course not. The pressure would have been far less on both player and team, and Houston wouldn't have had to eat major dollars just to get rid of the proverbial albatross around its neck.
When we look at the most overpaid 2017 free agents, it's not so much that they're bad players; it's as much or more about how they've been compensated—that is, in ways that aren't commensurate with their past performances or future projections. In these cases, it seems like the teams went out on various limbs, hoping they saw something other teams didn't.
They may be right, but the numbers don't yet show it. And in the NFL, the numbers rarely lie.
QB: Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears
After the Chicago Bears finally broke free from Jay Cutler in March, the franchise turned around and gave serious quarterback money to a guy who has thrown a total of 11 passes in the last two seasons.
As Jameis Winston's backup, Mike Glennon completed 10 of those 11 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown last season. His career numbers are pretty good (374 completions in 630 attempts for 4,100 yards and 30 touchdowns with 15 interceptions), too, but Glennon hasn't started a game since 2014, which makes his three-year, $45 million contract with $18.5 million in guaranteed money quite a risk.
In truth, it's a one-year deal—Glennon carries a $14 million cap number in 2017 and a $16 million hit in 2018, but the Bears would only take a $4.5 million cap loss next season if they make the choice to cut bait.
Glennon has long been a favorite of some in the know because he's a big pocket quarterback with a good arm, but he also exhibits mechanical issues when under pressure, and in his fifth NFL season, he'll be expected to have everything on point. This is starter money, and Glennon hasn't felt that kind of pressure yet.
RB: Latavius Murray, Minnesota Vikings
You might not call Latavius Murray overpaid.
He signed a three-year, $15 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings that can essentially be voided after one season, with only $1.2 million in dead cap money on the books for 2018. And Murray has had two good seasons in a row—he rushed for 1,066 yards in 2015 and scored 12 rushing touchdowns in 2016.
The question, though, is whether giving Murray a deal with a $3 million cap hit in 2016 is the best thing to do since he hasn't established himself as a franchise back yet.
Murray is a good straight-ahead runner who can catch the ball, but he's not always on point with his field vision, and he benefitted from the Oakland Raiders' improving offensive line over the last two seasons. He didn't rank highly among backs who forced missed tackles (20 in 195 carries last season), and he had only eight runs of 15 yards or more.
Those numbers are somewhat disconcerting when you consider Murray is going from one of the league's best offensive lines to one of its worst—in that situation, you'd want a back who has a proven ability to create yardage outside of structure, and in Murray's case, that's not happened. Without that skill, he could get lost in his new system.
WR: Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams
Two things are true: The Los Angeles Rams know they have to get more playmakers around quarterback Jared Goff, and because they had the worst offense anyone's seen in a decade in 2016, they're most likely going to have to pay players more than they're worth to get said players to align themselves with what looked like a disaster last season.
The hiring of head coach Sean McVay, formerly the Washington Redskins' ace offensive designer, should mitigate that to a degree, but the NFL is a "prove it" league, and all the Rams have proved recently is that they have a stunted offense with a quarterback who's in need of plenty of development.
In that capacity, the move to sign Robert Woods to a five-year, $34 million deal with $10 million guaranteed isn't too outrageous. But Woods has never put up even a 700-yard season in any of his four NFL years, and while he's a decent possession receiver with some deep route-running ability, he's not been transcendent in a system with a better quarterback in Tyrod Taylor.
Given Goff's tendency to balk under pressure and his failure to be consistently accurate to any level of the field, it'd be wise to expect regression by any new receiver. With that in mind, Woods' statistical output won't be anywhere near spectacular, and his new contract is the 25th heftiest among 268 receivers.
TE: Jermaine Gresham, Arizona Cardinals
This was a bit of a head-scratcher. The Arizona Cardinals re-signed Jermaine Gresham to a four-year, $28 million deal with $13 million guaranteed at signing and a total of $16.5 million guaranteed if he's on the roster on the third day of the league year in 2018. So the Cards can't get out of this deal without taking a pretty big cap hit until the 2019 season.
That's a lot of cabbage for a player who has gained 614 yards on 55 catches through his two seasons in Arizona and wasn't really a world-beater through his five seasons in Cincinnati, either.
Gresham is a big-bodied possession receiver, but for all his size (6'5", 260 lbs), he's not an exceptional blocker, and he doesn't present the deep speed threat you want from a tight end who doesn't block consistently.
If your starting tight end allows more sacks than he has deep receptions, and he's the 13th-highest paid tight end in the league, that's a problem.
OT: Russell Okung, Los Angeles Chargers
When I talked with coaches and general managers at the 2017 scouting combine, one thing that was apparent was that the divide between college and pro blocking schemes has never been greater, and those in charge of drafting and signing talent are concerned about players who have to make the transition.
That's led to a ton of over-signing of offensive linemen in free agency—the thought process seems to be that even if average players are overpaid, at least they have some semblance of familiarity with the blocking concepts required in the NFL. And it's hard to argue against the Russell Okung deal as the most obvious example of this.
The Los Angeles Chargers signed the former Seattle Seahawks and Broncos left tackle to a four-year, $53 million contract with $25 million guaranteed. It's the richest contract among left tackles, and only Nate Solder of the New England Patriots has a higher average annual guarantee.
That would be fine if Okung was still the player who made the Pro Bowl in 2012, but he isn't. Because of injuries, his play has regressed over the last few seasons, and he allowed four sacks, four quarterback hits and an astonishing 49 quarterback hurries in 2016—more than twice the number of hurries he allowed the year before.
OG: Kevin Zeitler, Cleveland Browns
Kevin Zeitler's place on this list doesn't mean he isn't a good player—he very clearly is. Through his time in Cincinnati, he developed into one of the stronger and more physically powerful run-blockers in the NFL, and his pass-blocking has generally been above average.
But to give a right guard a five-year, $60 million contract with $23 million guaranteed up front and more than $31.5 million guaranteed if he's still on the roster in 2018? That's a big deal. Yes, the Browns have a ton of cap space and they're looking to overcome the mistakes they made in 2016, when they let center Alex Mack and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz leave in free agency. But this could be an over-adjustment.
The Browns are on the hook for a $12.4 million cap number for Zeitler in each of 2018, 2019 and 2020, and they can't get out of the deal without a serious cap penalty until 2020.
Comparing this deal to the shorter and more team-friendly one the Detroit Lions gave former Green Bay Packers guard T.J. Lang puts it in sharp relief, especially given the fact that when Lang is healthy, he's in Zeitler's range as a player.
C: JC Tretter, Cleveland Browns
JC Tretter is Part 2 in Cleveland's potential overpayment of the new pieces on its offensive line.
And as is the case with Kevin Zeitler, the idea that Tretter may be overpaid doesn't mean he's a bad player. When he's healthy, Tretter is one of the NFL's best centers when it comes to using his agility in zone combos and getting to the second level to accurately hit his targets. He's also a massive improvement over Cameron Erving, whom the Browns unsuccessfully tried to shoehorn into the center spot after they let Alex Mack go to the Atlanta Falcons.
Cleveland signed Tretter to a three-year, $16.75 million deal with $6.5 million guaranteed at signing and another $3.5 million guaranteed for injury. That last part is important, because Tretter missed more than half the 2016 season with a sprained MCL. Moreover, having played fewer than 500 snaps in each of his last two seasons, Tretter required a team to go a bit on faith when it came to his ability to play a full season.
If he comes back fully healthy and performs to the level he's showed before, it won't be a bad deal. But that's a big enough "if" to cause some concern.
DE: Terrell McClain, Washington Redskins
Terrell McClain was a decent reserve player for the Dallas Cowboys last year, amassing three sacks, four quarterback hits, seven quarterback hurries and 23 stops in 500 snaps. But he's never played more than 500 snaps in a season, and Washington is paying him as it would a fringe starter: four years, $21 million and $10.5 million in guarantees.
What makes this more curious is that as they were signing McClain and former Raiders lineman Stacy McGee, the Redskins let Chris Baker, one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league, walk to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Baker had six sacks, six hits, 30 hurries and 24 stops in 782 snaps last season—and his contract with the Bucs calls for only $6 million guaranteed upon signing.
On its face, it appears Washington let a key cog walk out the door and was eager to sign another player who has not proved as much.
DT: Brandon Williams, Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens re-signed Brandon Williams to a five-year, $52.5 million deal with $24.5 million guaranteed upon signing, believing (rightly) that he's been one of the better run-stopping defensive tackles in the NFL in recent years.
However, players are usually paid on future potential as opposed to past performance, and that's where this gets a bit tricky. Williams turned 28 in February, and in 2016, he didn't stand out as much as he had in the previous two seasons—though his play was still of a high quality. Williams' downturn included fewer snaps, sacks, hits, hurries and stops in 2016 than he had in 2015.
Whether that mild regression was a one-year phenomenon remains to be seen, but the Ravens' decision to make Williams the league's highest-paid nose tackle could be based a bit too much on what he's done as opposed to what he will do over the next few seasons.
OLB: A.J. Klein, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints are trying to do whatever they can to rehabilitate their horrible defense, and signing A.J. Klein—a veteran who can play multiple roles at linebacker—was a smart move if you understand the player's limitations. Klein is best known as the guy who subbed for Luke Kuechly in Carolina when Kuechly went down with a concussion, and Klein struggled to fill all of Kuechly's assignments.
That's hardly a damning indictment—there are few linebackers in the league who can do everything Kuechly can. But the extent to which Klein appeared to be a step slow, especially in coverage, should be worrisome to any team looking to play him as a starter over the next few years. As an inside thumper and outside short to intermediate player, Klein is a good Band-Aid for a bad defense.
But when New Orleans signed Klein to a three-year, $15 million contract with $9.4 million guaranteed, it gave him fringe starter money and cap liability, and he might be a better rotational player than a full-time starter. Certainly, with his issues in coverage on tape (he allowed a 119.6 opponent passer rating in 2016), he'll find himself heavily targeted, and the Saints already have their share of heavily targeted linebackers.
ILB: Lawrence Timmons, Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins had a lot of moves to make with their linebacker rotation, but it remains to be seen if giving Lawrence Timmons, the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers star, a two-year, $12 million deal with $11 million guaranteed was the best way to go.
The question with Timmons and the Dolphins is how he'll be used. Over the last two seasons, the veteran showed he didn't have the speed up the seam to always deal with slot receivers and tight ends. He was still pretty good as a run-stopper and in short areas, and he'll need to be better defined in short areas.
In the Miami defense, which is more of a 4-3, Timmons may be asked to hold the point as the middle linebacker, which—depending on the scheme—could have him running up the seam in coverage again. That could be a problem.
Timmons will turn 31 in May, and if it doesn't work out, the Dolphins would be on the hook for a $7.25 million cap hit if they release him in 2018. The combination of his age and the scheme switch makes this situation precarious.
CB: Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots
Over the years, Bill Belichick has earned the benefit of the doubt. Especially with defensive players, Belichick has proved he has a rare acumen to determine how players will fit in his schemes.
So, when the Patriots signed former Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million deal with a whopping $40 million guaranteed, including $31 million at signing, the immediate assumption was that Belichick had seen something others didn't and that Gilmore was a hidden asset who will benefit enormously from a change in scenery.
I don't disagree with that idea. The Bills had Gilmore playing too much off coverage in 2016, which was not the best fit—Gilmore needs to be right up on his receiver and follow his target throughout the route. So, I would place some of the blame for his down 2016 season on that. But Gilmore also struggles with short-area recovery, especially when he faces receivers who run shorter angular routes.
With 41 catches allowed on 68 targets for 638 yards and two touchdowns with five interceptions and a 70.6 opponent passer rating, Gilmore still had a good year in 2016, and he's got a lot of potential. But unless he can ascend to the next level in a definitive fashion, giving him more guaranteed money than any other cornerback not named Josh Norman is a big overpayment—especially since New England appears to be moving on from Malcolm Butler and has already let Logan Ryan walk.
FS: Tony Jefferson, Baltimore Ravens
When a team is desperate to improve a position group, it'll sometimes take calculated risks on players who've had just one year of success in a career that otherwise looks average. It's possible the Ravens did that with Tony Jefferson, who was undeniably great for the Cardinals in 2016. Baltimore gave Jefferson a four-year, $37 million deal with $19 million in guarantees.
That's pretty good for a guy who had two sacks, two quarterback hits, six quarterback hurries and allowed a 78.9 opponent passer rating last year. But how much of that had to do with the ways in which Arizona defensive coordinator James Bettcher distributed his charges?
Jefferson is the kind of player who excels in an aggressive defense in which he can blitz, jump routes and take charge of plays. If he's tasked to hang back as a more traditional safety in certain zone concepts, he might not be as successful, and it's that scheme fit that could be a problem here.
It's also possible Jefferson's 2016 season was an indicator of better things to come, but the Ravens are on the hook for a lot if they're wrong.
SS: Barry Church, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars have spent a ton of money in the last two years on their defense, and this might be the season it all pans out. Then again, many of us were saying that last year.
In any case, the acquisition of Barry Church—an underrated player in Dallas' underrated safety group in 2016—demonstrates what can happen when a franchise is desperate to add marquee talent and might pay for more than it actually gets out of the deal.
The Jaguars signed Church to a four-year, $26 million deal with $12 million guaranteed. Those are not outlandish numbers for a versatile safety, and Church was a versatile safety in 2016. He was a force against the run and improved his coverage vastly compared to 2015, allowing 24 receptions on 30 targets for 189 yards and zero touchdowns with two interceptions and an opponent passer rating of 65.1. He benefited from a safety rotation that allowed him to patrol underneath.
Church must be used the right way in Jacksonville—as a short to intermediate defender with someone else in deep coverage over the top; Byron Jones performed that service adequately for the Cowboys in 2016. When Church was tested deep more often, as he was in 2015, he allowed 44 receptions on 46 targets (that's a 95.7 percent catch rate) for 429 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions and an opponent passer rating of 134.5.
Both the catch rate and opponent passer rating were the worst of any safety who played 50 percent of his team's snaps in 2015. There's nothing wrong with being a scheme-specific player, but when you're pulling in the 12th-highest average annual guaranteed salary among safeties, more might be expected.