Every NFL Team's Best and Worst Contract
Every NFL team has a few things in common. They all have 53 players on the active roster, and $167 million to spend on those 53 contracts.
And one other thing: On each squad, those 53 contracts are most assuredly not created equal.
Some players—mainly those still on their new CBA rookie deals, are inked on the cheap—underpaid stars who free up cap resources to be used on other players.
The problem is that sometimes those resources aren't used wisely. They are allocated to a big free-agent deal that seemed like a good idea at the time but now appears a massive waste of cash.
Hindsight being what it is and all.
So, whether it's a bargain or a bust, here's a look at both ends of the salary spectrum—the best and worst return on investment for every team in the National Football League.
Best Contract: Running Back David Johnson—4 years, $2.9 million (through 2018)
In his second NFL season, David Johnson emerged as one of the most talented tailbacks in the NFL and as a focal point for the Arizona Cardinals offense.
In addition to topping 1,200 yards on the ground, Johnson pitched in another 879 yards on 80 catches. Johnson found the end zone a staggering 20 times, and in each of his first 15 games of 2016, the 25-year-old topped 100 total yards.
That’s an NFL record.
Not bad for a player just entering the prime of his career who will make less than $710,000 a year over the next two seasons.
Worst Contract: Tight End Jermaine Gresham—4 years, $28 million (through 2020)
Steve Keim is regarded as one of the better general managers in the NFL. But even the best GMs occasionally misjudge the market.
That appears to have been the case when the Cardinals re-upped tight end Jermaine Gresham on a four-year, $28 million deal that included $16.5 million in guarantees a few months ago.
Mind you, Gresham isn’t a bad player. He’s topped 60 catches and 700 receiving yards in a season, and in four of the last five games of 2016, he went over 40 receiving yards.
But his big season came all the way back in 2012, and Gresham has only 55 catches for 614 yards and three scores in two seasons in the desert.
Best Contract: Linebacker Deion Jones—4 Years, $4.5 million (through 2019)
Linebackers like Deion Jones are the future in the National Football League.
At 6’1” and just 222 pounds, Jones would have been labeled too small to man the middle in the NFL a decade ago. But in today’s league, teams aren’t worried about size. They want speed—and Jones has no shortage of that.
He had some struggles early in the 2016 season, but as the year progressed, he settled in as a steady playmaker for the NFC champs and paced the team with 106 total tackles and chipped in three interceptions—two of which he returned for touchdowns.
Worst Contract: Cornerback Robert Alford—4 Years, $38 million (through 2020)
Robert Alford isn’t a bad player. The 28-year-old started all 16 games for the Falcons last year and notched 59 total stops, made two interceptions and scored 19 batted passes.
Alford is a capable veteran starter at one of the NFL's premium positions.
But he also not a world-beater. He graded out 34th at his position last year, per Pro Football Focus, and with nine interceptions in four NFL seasons, he isn’t exactly a ballhawk either.
There aren’t any terrible contracts on the Atlanta roster. But $9.5 million a season is rather pricy for a cornerback who is just good.
Best Contract: Wide Receiver Jeremy Maclin—2 years, $11 million (through 2018)
Linebacker C.J. Mosley could be here, as his fifth-year option was picked up. But that also brought with it a nice fat raise for next year.
So, it’s Ozzie Newsome’s latest coup that gets the nod.
Yes, Jeremy Maclin struggled through an injury-marred mess of a season in 2016. But he has never missed more than four games in a season, and at 29, he’s hardly over the hill. In both 2014 and 2015, he topped 1,000 receiving yards.
Newsome got a proven veteran receiver (something the Ravens desperately needed) at a substantial discount.
Worst Contract: Quarterback Joe Flacco—3 years, $66.4 million (through 2021)
Back when Flacco signed his $120.6 million mega-deal in 2013, it was rather hard to argue the logic. After all, Flacco had just finished one of the great postseason runs in NFL history—one that culminated in a Super Bowl XLVII win.
The problems with that deal are already evident, though.
Flacco’s cap number for 2016 was so high that Newsome and the Ravens were left little recourse but to sign Flacco to another extension last year so they could spread the damage out more. By 2019, that cap hit will surpass $25 million again.
Meanwhile, the Flacco-led Ravens have failed to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, and he’s topping lists of the NFL’s most overpaid players.
Best Contract: Cornerback Ronald Darby—4 years, $4.6 million (through 2018)
Admittedly, Ronald Darby struggled for the Buffalo Bills in 2016—at least relative to his outstanding rookie season. Two years ago, Darby was a top-10 coverage corner, per Pro Football Focus, and was named that site’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Last year, Darby failed to intercept a pass, was victimized with alarming regularity in coverage and dropped from PFF’s top-60 at his position.
Still, the Bills had enough confidence in a rebound to let Stephon Gilmore depart in free agency, and Darby’s shown that he has the talent to take over.
Just $1.15 million a season for a No. 1 corner is a smoking deal.
Worst Contract: Defensive Tackle Marcell Dareus—6 years, $96.6 million (through 2021)
If there was any question the Buffalo Bills were committed to defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, the team answered last September by handing the 27-year-old $60 million in guaranteed coin despite the fact he opened the year on the suspended list.
And it’s entirely possible that Dareus will recapture the 2014 form that saw him pile up 10 sacks—especially with the Bills moving back to a four-man front under Sean McDermott.
But Buffalo has committed a staggering amount of money to a player with multiple suspensions on his resume, who has managed just 5.5 sacks over the last two seasons combined.
At best, it’s risky. At worst, it’s foolish. And given the now-departed Doug Whaley’s record as general manager, the smart money is on the latter.
Best Contract: Cornerback Daryl Worley—4 years, $3.2 million (through 2019)
Daryl Worley admitted to Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer that his trial by fire as a rookie starter last year was a bit dizzying.
“It was a whirlwind last year,” Worley said. “Everything was spinning, just trying to do everything all at once. Trying not to mess up. It’s the second year. Things are definitely starting to slow down.”
Worley wasn’t great, but he wasn’t terrible either—his 87 tackles stand as both a testament to his toughness and an indictment of his coverage skills.
Assuming the youngster continues to improve though, having even an average starter at corner under contract for three more years at under $1 million a season is a nice problem to have.
Worst Contract: Offensive Tackle Matt Kalil—5 years, $55.5 million (through 2021)
You’re going to notice a trend in this piece—many of this year’s big free-agent winners on the offensive line (including Kalil) are included.
Because while they may have won personally, the teams that overpaid to sign them didn’t.
Yes, the 6’6”, 306-pounder was once a top-five draft pick, but since that day and an OK rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings, it’s been a steady downhill descent for Kalil—one that culminated with him missing 14 games last year.
There is absolutely nothing that Kalil has shown as a pro that indicates he’s worth $11 million a season.
Best Contract: Running Back Jordan Howard—4 years, $2.6 million (through 2019)
After finishing second in the NFL with 1,313 rushing yards in 2016, Howard told Terrin Waack of the Chicago Tribune his goals are simple in his second NFL season.
"I'm definitely trying to be the No. 1 rusher in the league this year," Howard said. "There's still room to improve, but I definitely feel like I've made a big step up from last year."
It isn’t especially likely that Howard will lead the NFL in rushing. But as the best offensive player on a terrible team, he’s going to see stacked boxes constantly. Just matching last year’s output would be an achievement.
Worst Contract: Quarterback Mike Glennon—3 years, $45 million (through 2019)
Yes, I understand that Mike Glennon’s contract isn’t as bad as it looks—that after one year and $18 million, the Bears can get out from under it.
But that doesn’t mean the deal suddenly makes sense.
The Bears told Glennon he’d have the opportunity to be their answer at the quarterback position, paid him like he already was—and then moved up in the 2017 NFL draft to select his successor before Glennon ever played a down for the team.
If it turns out he can’t play, the Bears set $18 million on fire.
If he can, that will be an entirely different (but equally disheartening) mess, given that they’ve already effectively told him he isn’t wanted after 2017.
Best Contract: Offensive Tackle Jake Fisher—4 years, $4.3 million (through 2018)
After a number of departures from the Bengals along the o-line in free agency, young offensive tackles Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi have reached a crossroads in their careers. Learning needs to be replaced by doing, as both are being counted on to start.
Offensive coordinator Ken Zampese told Geoff Hobson of the team’s website that it's so far, so good.
“They're in good shape and they've got good attitudes,” Zampese said. “And that's the best thing we can have from them right now because we have a chance to accelerate the learning curve."
Fisher, who was taken in the second round of the 2015 draft, has fared a bit better to date than Ogbuehi. With bosh youngsters on their rookie deals still, either would be a bargain if they can become even adequate starters.
Worst Contract: Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick—5 years $52.5 million (through 2021)
Speaking of adequate starters—that’s a pretty good description for sixth-year veteran Dre Kirkpatrick.
On a good day.
The big-bodied cover man was a first-round pick of the team back in 2012. The Bengals already have a substantial investment in Kirkpatrick, and fitting his new deal under the salary cap wasn’t an issue.
But that doesn’t change the fact Mike Brown just threw over $10 million a season at a player who ranked outside the top 50 at his position last year per PFF.
At least only $12 million of the deal was guaranteed.
Best Contract: Quarterback DeShone Kizer—4 years, $4.9 million (through 2020)
Per Patrick Maks of the team’s website, Kizer is the first to admit he still has a lot to learn about playing quarterback in the NFL.
“I think I’m still learning what it takes to be an NFL quarterback,” Kizer said. “I can’t really put my hand around everything, but I know that I’ve learned so far that it takes a lot of responsibility. You have to understand who you are, where your team is, how that club is moving forward.”
However, Kizer has impressed enough that talk has turned from if he’ll start games at quarterback in 2017 to when.
And with four years of cheap sailing ahead for the Browns if Kizer turns out to be even OK, he could be a game-changer for the long-suffering Browns.
Worst Contract: Quarterback Brock Osweiler—4 years, $72 million (through 2019)
This abomination of a contract isn’t the Browns’ fault. The Houston Texans built that Frankendeal—and then were so desperate to get out from under it they traded both Osweiler and a second-rounder in 2018 to Cleveland.
That just doesn’t happen in the NFL.
The gist is simple enough. Osweiler will make $16 million in 2017—whether he’s starting, holding a clipboard or watching the games from home.
It isn’t anyone in Cleveland’s fault that this albatross of a deal is in town—the Browns essentially ate the money to acquire a pick.
But it’s there all the same. And good lord is it ugly.
Best Contract: Offensive Guard Zack Martin—5 years, $18.3 million (through 2018)
Zack Martin has been one of the best guards in the National Football League since the moment he stepped on the field—arguably the best. He’s been a Pro Bowler all three years and a first-team All-Pro twice.
As such, there wasn’t an easier no-brainer fifth-year option pickup in the NFL this year than Dallas keeping Martin in town at least through the end of the 2018 season. Over half of the total amount of Martin’s rookie deal ($9.3 million) will be earned in that option season in 2018.
That is, assuming the Cowboys don’t give Martin a deal that makes him the NFL’s richest guard before then.
He’s earned it.
Worst Contract: Defensive Tackle Tyrone Crawford—5 years, $45 million (through 2020)
Back in 2015, the Cowboys gambled on Crawford, who had come on at the end of the previous season. The rationale was easy enough to understand. If Crawford continued to improve and became an elite interior lineman, his average annual salary of $9 million would be a bargain.
Um, yeah. About that.
Crawford hasn’t been bad the past two seasons, but he hasn’t been especially good, either. Partly that’s because he’s playing out of position at times. But the breakout just hasn’t broken out.
On a Dallas d-line that’s loaded with good, not great players, having this much money tied up in Crawford is one of the reasons the Cowboys are in a cap mess.
Best Contract: Quarterback Trevor Siemian—4 years, $2.3 million (through 2018)
By most indications, second-year pro Paxton Lynch has closed the gap with Siemian in the battle to be the Denver Broncos starting quarterback in 2017. Any number of pundits have predicted already that it will be Lynch on the field against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 1.
Even so, Siemian’s deal remains the best contract on Denver’s roster.
Siemian wasn’t a star last year, but he wasn’t awful either. He threw for 3,401 yards with a plus-eight touchdown-to-interception ratio and a passer rating of 84.6.
The Rams would kill for that from Jared Goff in 2017.
And whether it’s as the starter or an experienced backup, at half a million and change a year, the Broncos are lucky to have it.
Worst Contract: Linebacker Brandon Marshall—4 years, $32 million (through 2020)
It’s understandable why the Denver Broncos re-upped Brandon Marshall last summer. At the time, the 27-year-old was coming off back-to-back 100-tackle seasons and was developing a reputation as a sneaky-good young inside linebacker.
Last year, however, was a mess. Marshall missed five games, was hampered in any number of others and his numbers fell off a cliff. As in 52 tackles in 11 starts fell off a cliff.
Marshall graded out as a top-15 linebacker last season per Pro Football Focus, so there’s still hope for a rebound.
But if Marshall has another down year in 2017, this deal’s turkey status will be just about sealed, especially since well over half the pact is guaranteed.
Best Contract: Offensive Tackle Taylor Decker—4 years, $11 million (through 2019)
The 2017 campaign already looks doomed second-year tackle Taylor Decker. His early-season availability is in doubt after tearing his labrum in OTAs.
Decker had his missteps in 2016 as well. Per Pro Football Focus, Decker ranked outside the top 20 tackles overall and in pass protection, and he allowed five sacks.
But Decker was also one of fewer than 20 players in the entire NFL who was on the field for every offensive snap his team played in 2016—at left tackle—as a rookie.
Under three million per season for a guy like that is a deal any team in the league would take—even if you figure in his likely for an option-year raise in 2020.
Worst Contract: Wide Receiver Marvin Jones—5 years, $40 million (through 2020)
The value of this contract is directly proportional to which Marvin Jones shows up in Motown in 2017.
If it’s the Marvin Jones who piled up a league-leading 408 receiving yards with two scores over the first three games of last season, then $8 million a year is a bargain.
If it’s the Marvin Jones who had only 522 yards in 13 games after and didn’t find the end zone after Week 6, then not so much.
Hopefully they’ll get the former early in the season, but they might also get the latter afterward.
Green Bay Packers
Best Contract: Running Back Ty Montgomery—4 years, $2.9 million (through 2018)
It’s official—the days of Ty Montgomery the wide receiver are done. After averaging 5.9 yards per carry for the Green Bay Packers last year, the third-year pro is now a full-time tailback.
Green Bay running backs coach Edgar Bennett told Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he thinks Montgomery can be even better in 2017.
“When you turn his tape on, you saw him breaking a lot of tackles,” he said. “You saw the versatility that he brings to the table as a receiver out of the backfield, so he can do a number of different things.”
The Packers hedged their bet by adding some rookies in the backfield, but right now, Montgomery is the unquestioned lead dog in Titletown.
Worst Contract: Linebacker Clay Matthews—5 years, $66 million (through 2018)
From the “it seemed like a good idea at the time” files.
Back when the Packers signed outside linebacker Clay Matthews to this whopper of an extension, Matthews was coming off a 13-sack season. He had averaged double-digit sacks over the first four years of his career and was entering his prime.
In the four years since, Matthews has topped 10 sacks just once, owns 30 sacks total and has missed nine games.
Matthews remains a fan favorite and one of the league’s most high-profile non-quarterbacks.
The hair helps.
But over the last four years, Matthews was a good player paid like a great one.
Best Contract: Linebacker Benardrick McKinney—4 years, $5.3 million (through 2018)
When it comes to stamps of approval for defensive players, it doesn’t get any better than J.J. Watt’s.
And the three-time Defensive Player of the Year told Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle that inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney has his.
"I think he's a great player," Watt said. "I think he's very underrated. I think B-Mac, he's a guy who in our locker room we fully understand and appreciate everything that he does for our team, and I think that you're only going to see him continue to get better. He's a very smart player, but he's also extremely physical."
After a 129-tackle, five-sack 2016, McKinney and rookie Zach Cunningham are the future on the inside in Houston.
Worst Contact: Linebacker Brian Cushing—6 years, $52.5 million (through 2019)
Brian Cushing is the past.
Before signing that six-year deal, Cushing had piled up over 100 stops in two of his first four years. But even then, there were the injury issues that have since defined Cushing’s career. He tore his ACL the year before inking the deal, and broke his leg the year after—missing 20 of 32 games in the process.
Add in an MCL tear, and all those lower-body injuries have taken a toll. Cushing’s 30 but sometimes runs like he’s 40—in an age where speed at linebacker is more important than ever.
Only two players on the team make more money a season on average than Cushing. And while technically his deal doesn’t expire for two years, he’s a likely release candidate next spring.
Best Contract: Offensive Tackle Le'Raven Clark—4 years, $3.1 million (through 2019)
As Stephen Holder reported for the Indianapolis Star, left tackle Anthony Castonzo thinks battery-mate Le’Raven Clark has grown a great deal entering his second NFL season.
“At this point (for Clark), it’s not ‘Which way am I going?’” Castonzo said. "...In terms of the playbook, he’s got that. Now it’s perfecting the technique, which is a good place to be at.”
By no stretch is Clark an elite tackle, but in three starts on the right side at the end of last season, he held his own.
Starting tackles don’t come this cheaply very often.
Worst Contract: Linebacker Jabaal Sheard—3 years, $25.5 million (through 2019)
Frankly, there aren’t that many bad deals on the Colts roster. Even the massive $87 million in guarantees the Colts gave quarterback Andrew Luck is…
Well it’s what one has to pay Andrew Luck in today’s NFL.
In that respect, it feels nit-picky to go after the $8.5 million annually that the Colts gave edge-rusher Jabaal Sheard. They badly needed an upgrade and had the cap space to burn.
That’s not an outrageous sum of money for a second-tier pass-rusher.
However, the second-tier may be Sheard’s ceiling, as he’s never amassed even nine sacks in a season.
The floor is either disappearing, as he did for stretches early last season for the Patriots, or riding the pine—as he did after the disappearance.
Bill Belichick doesn’t like magic tricks.
Best Contract: Linebacker Myles Jack—4 years, 6.3 million (through 2019)
Jaguars linebackers coach Mark Collins told Mike Kaye of First Coast News that Myles Jack is going learn by doing as the starting middle linebacker in Jacksonville this year.
“I think from OTA 1 to OTA 10, he’s made great strides from a communications standpoint,” Collins said of Jack. “In recognition, pre- and post-snap communication, but he’s still got a long way to go. He’ll learn from the burn a little bit.”
It cost the Jaguars a redshirt year of sorts, and getting Jack in Round 2 of the 2016 draft means no fifth-year option.
But if his surgically repaired knee is 100 percent, Jack’s a top-10 draft talent.
Worst Contract: Wide Receiver Allen Hurns—4 years, $40.7 million (through 2020)
This is another good-idea-at-the-time deal.
When the Jacksonville Jaguars re-upped Hurns, he was coming off the first 1,000-yard season of his short career. Quarterback Blake Bortles had just finished second in the NFL in touchdown passes. The Allens (Hurns and Robinson) were going to dominate the AFC South for years.
Instead, Bortles’ play fell off a cliff, Robinson’s production tanked and Hurns got injured and leap-frogged by Marquise Lee in the receiver pecking order.
If Hurns has another 35-catch, 477-yard season, he’s going to be cut and this deal will look even worse.
Kansas City Chiefs
Best Contract: Cornerback Marcus Peters—4 years, $9.6 million (through 2018)
Actually, for all intents and purposes, Marcus Peters is under contract through 2020. If, of course, you believe that the Chiefs will pick up the option on the 2015 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
That's probably a “yes,” given that Peters has more interceptions (14) over the past two years than any player in the National Football League.
Peters isn’t the NFL’s best cornerback—yet. But as the NFL’s best ballhawk, the 24-year-old is on the short list.
And when the time comes—provided he stays heathy—Peters is going to break the bank.
Worst Contract: Linebacker Justin Houston—6 years, $101 million (through 2020)
When 2020 comes, the Chiefs are going to face a difficult decision with edge-rusher Justin Houston.
Or maybe not. It wasn’t a difficult decision to hand Houston a massive contract in 2015. The 28-year-old was fresh off a season in which he came half a sack from the single-season record.
That’s 22. In one season. That’s a lot.
However, since inking that deal, Houston hasn’t been able to stay on the field. A balky knee has cost him half of the last two years, and he has a pedestrian 11.5 sacks over that span.
When you’re as tight against the cap as the Chiefs, $17 million is a lot to pay for a half-dozen sacks, and they’ve already restructured once to free up money.
Los Angeles Chargers
Best Contract: Guard Forrest Lamp—4 years, 6.7 million (through 2020)
The offensive line was an area badly in need of improvement for the Chargers in 2017.
They got arguably the best value in all of the 2017 NFL draft to help.
Western Kentucky's Forrest Lamp wasn't the first lineman drafted in 2017. He didn't go in the first round.
But the 6'4", 309-pounder might just be the best lineman prospect overall—a tough-nosed, technically proficient youngster who fell only because he'll play guard in the pros.
More than one draftnik compared Lamp to Zach Martin this spring.
A Martin clone? At this price? Yes, please.
Worst Contract: Offensive Tackle Russell Okung—4 years, $53 million (through 2020)
The offensive line was an area badly in need of improvement for the Chargers in 2017.
They got arguably the worst value in all of 2017 free agency to "help."
There was a time when Russell Okung was considered one of the better left tackles in the NFL. That time was not 2016, when Okung graded 38th among tackles per Pro Football Focus.
I get that as the salary cap increases, teams have more money to throw around. The Bolts needed the line help, and free-agent tackles don't come cheaply.
But the 29-year-old is now the highest-paid tackle in the NFL in terms of average annual salary and the third-highest-paid player on the team.
That's a little bonkers.
Los Angeles Rams
Best Contract: Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald—5 years, $17.1 million (through 2018)
Ah, the good old days. As in the good old days when the Rams could look at $17.1 million as Donald's total contract and not his average annual salary—and then some.
The rumbling has already started regarding Donald's new deal, and the 26-year-old told SiriusXM (via Marc Sessler of NFL.com) that he'll stay out of the financial end.
"I'm just letting my agents handle that side of the thing," Donald said. "And all I have to do is, you know, keep working, keep myself in top shape. Like I said, my agent is going to handle that side of the thing."
The Rams don't technically have to do anything, but they aren't likely to risk angering their best player and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate any more than necessary.
Soon enough Donald will be able to find $17 million in his couch cushions.
Worst Contract: Wide Receiver Tavon Austin—4 years, $42 million (through 2021)
The Los Angeles Rams hit the jackpot when they drafted Aaron Donald.
Tavon Austin, on the other hand, was the equivalent of a whammy.
It wasn't bad enough when Austin was a disappointment—an eighth overall pick that had done little to justify the selection.
But when the Rams handed Austin over $10 million a season last year despite that lack of production (his career high in receiving yards is 509), Austin became so much more…
He became an expensive disappointment.
Best Contract: Running Back Jay Ajayi—4 years, $2.5 million (through 2018)
When the Dolphins rolled the dice on Jay Ajayi two years ago, he was a fifth-round pick with loads of talent but bad knees.
By the end of his second NFL season, Ajayi had rumbled for almost 1,300 yards and gained over 200 yards in a game three times—including twice in a row against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills.
Heading into Year 3, Ajayi is a young focal point for a Dolphins offense with aspirations of making the playoffs again in 2017.
It's a perfect scenario for an NFL team but a rotten one for young tailbacks: four years of inexpensive control (and potentially heavy workloads) and then a very uncertain fifth year.
Worst Contract: Safety Reshad Jones—5 years, $60 million (through 2022)
Reshad Jones was a force for the Dolphins two years ago. Not only did Jones tally a team-leading 135 total tackles, but he led the entire NFL with 106 solo stops.
Throw in five interceptions and a pair of defensive touchdowns, and Jones played as well as any safety in the NFL.
The Dolphins rewarded that huge season, inking Jones to a contract that makes him the third-highest paid safety in the NFL—despite 10 missed games in 2016.
If healthy and playing at his 2015 level, Jones is worth that kind of scratch. But that's the problem with handing players like Jones and Ndamukong Suh huge contracts.
If they don't play at that sky-high level for whatever reason, the deals can look really bad really quickly.
Best Contract: Defensive End Danielle Hunter—4 years, $3.0 million (through 2018)
There may not be a more underpaid player on all of this list than Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter, who piled up 54 total tackles and 12.5 sacks in a breakout 2016 season.
Hunter told Craig Peters of the team's website that he hopes for even bigger and better things in his third season.
"The thing that's improved the most is understanding the game and the plays, snaps in my head now," Hunter said. "We practice our technique every day and then just getting in the groove of things. You have the right mindset of knowing when to get in the groove of things."
If Hunter hits double digits in sacks again, getting him a new deal will become a pressing topic in the Twin Cities.
That deal will likely pay more than $3 million a month.
Worst Contract: Offensive Tackle Riley Reiff—5 years, $58.8 million (through 2021)
Oh look! Another huge free-agent deal for a mediocre offensive tackle who was signed in free agency in 2017!
Yes, the Minnesota Vikings needed offensive line help this year. Actually, that's a lulu of an understatement. And to the team's credit, the Vikings were aggressive about attempting to do just that.
But the left side of the Vikings line isn't substantially better with Reiff on the left side than it would have been with Matt "Also Being Wildly Overpaid" Kalil.
Reiff was so good at left tackle in Detroit that the team moved him to right tackle at its first opportunity. He ranked 48th among tackles last year at PFF.
New England Patriots
Best Contract: Edge-Rusher Derek Rivers—4 years, $3.3 million (through 2020)
Just after the 2017 NFL draft, Bleacher Report's Doug Farrar made a bold prediction—that Derek Rivers would become the biggest steal.
"In Rivers, the Patriots have a raw weapon with a lot of potential," Farrar wrote. "They'll have to round out his game, but given their emphasis on fundamentals, there's little doubt Rivers' potential will come to fruition over time."
Farrar isn't Rivers' only fan. It's hard not to be if you've seen film of the 6'4", 248-pounder terrorizing quarterbacks at Youngstown State.
If I had to pick a "Danielle Hunter of 2017" (a wildly athletic but raw youngster who's going to be a star), Rivers would be the guy—and it's not close.
Worst Contract: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore—5 years, $65 million (through 2021)
The New England Patriots have a reputation for free-agent success, but it's rare to see them break the bank for a player.
The $40 million in guarantees the Patriots gave cornerback Stephon Gilmore is the most the team has ever paid.
Given that massive deal and the impending free agency of backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, it's looking more and more likely that 2017 will be Malcolm Butler's last in Beantown. They can't afford them all.
By weight of comparison, last year Butler ranked seventh among all cornerbacks per the graders at Pro Football Focus.
Gilmore was 60th.
New Orleans Saints
Best Contact: Wide Receiver Michael Thomas—4 years, $5.1 million (through 2019)
The Saints have more than a few salary-cap issues—many tied to the future of quarterback Drew Brees in the Big Easy.
Brees' top wideout isn't one of them.
The Saints thought enough of Thomas' rookie year to trade Brandin Cooks to New England. It would appear that franchise rookie records for receptions (92), receptions (1,137) and touchdowns (nine) will do that.
As the unquestioned No. 1 receiver for the Saints, Thomas is in line for an even bigger second season in the NFL.
A second season that will bring him closer to a huge payday of his own.
Worst Contract: Tight End Coby Fleener—5 years, $36 million (through 2020)
Some of those salary-cap issues in New Orleans are self-inflicted.
Like, say, this dog of a deal the Saints gave tight end Coby Fleener one year ago.
It's not as if the deal was blasted at the time. Quite the opposite—in fantasy football circles Fleener was a trendy pick for a breakout season catching passes from Brees.
Instead, Fleener was invisible for parts of the season and pedestrian most of the rest, making just 50 catches for 631 yards and finding the end zone only three times.
That last number is awfully low given that Brees threw 37 scoring strikes in 2016.
The honeymoon is over for Fleener in the Big Easy.
New York Giants
Best Contract: Safety Landon Collins—4 years, $6.1 million (through 2018)
The clock is officially ticking on the contract that will reset the safety market.
It started as soon as Landon Collins put a bow on his second NFL season.
Last year, Collins piled up 125 total tackles. His 100 solos led all defensive backs and ranked second in the NFL. He added four sacks, five interceptions and 13 passes defensed.
It was the first such stat line by a safety in NFL history.
In players like Olivier Vernon, Jason Pierre-Paul and Damon Harrison, the Giants already have a ton of cap space wrapped up on defense.
They're going to need to free up a lot more.
Worst Contract: Tight End Rhett Ellison—4 years, $18 million (through 2020)
I could easily have named one of those defensive linemen here. It's not a matter of the players. It's a simple matter of economics. There's only so much to go around, and given what the Giants have allocated on defense, their margin for error at other positions are razor-thin.
That's where tight end Rhett Ellison comes in.
Well, in reality Ellison isn't so much a tight end as an H-back—in five NFL seasons he's caught all of nine passes.
That's the problem. Ellison's no threat on offense. He's a lead blocker—no more, no less.
And $4.5 million annually is a lot to invest in one of those.
New York Jets
Best Contract: Defensive End Leonard Williams—4 years, $18.6 million (through 2018)
Things to be happy about are in short supply right now for fans of the New York Jets.
But defensive lineman Leonard Williams is one of those rare exceptions.
Williams took a big step toward becoming the dominant force the Jets expected in his second season. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft amassed 68 total tackles and seven sacks while ranking fifth in run defense among all interior linemen per Pro Football Focus.
With the Jets at the beginning of what looks like a ground-up rebuild, it's young stars like Williams who are the foundation for a better future.
The Jets need to add cheap, young talent around him before they have to pay Williams approximately all the money ever in 2020.
Worst Contract: Defensive End Muhammad Wilkerson—5 years, $86 million (through 2020)
Of course, by then it's also possible they'll have cut bait on Muhammad Wilkerson.
Not too long ago, that thought would have been blasphemous. Wilkerson put up a career-high 12 sacks in 2015, cementing both his place as one of the NFL's best 3-4 ends and getting a massive contract from the Jets.
Then, because it's the Jets, the bottom dropped out.
Despite playing in 15 games in 2016, Wilkerson put up just 4.5 sacks—the fewest since his rookie season.
Now, Wilkerson broke his leg late in the 2015 campaign, and that injury has been blamed for his lost 2016.
But if Wilkerson falls flat again this year, the Jets are going to have to ask if he's part of their future—or part of the past.
Best Contract: Safety Karl Joseph—4 years, $11.9 million (through 2019)
I gave serious thought to Khalil Mack here. But much like with Aaron Donald, Oakland's day of reckoning is coming soon with the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Award—especially now that quarterback Derek Carr has been extended.
However, they won't have to worry about another defensive stalwart for a while longer.
If the Raiders choose to exercise their fifth-year option on safety Karl Joseph, that time won't come until 2021. And if the 23-year-old continues to grow after a 60-tackle rookie season (in 12 games), it's a good bet general manager Reggie McKenzie will do just that.
Until then, there are three blissful seasons of Joseph holding down the back end at less than $3 million a season.
Worst Contract: Cornerback David Amerson—4 years, $33.9 million (through 2020)
When the Oakland Raiders originally acquired David Amerson, it was as a cast-off from the Washington Redskins. By the end of that 2015 season Amerson was the team's best cornerback. The Raiders paid him as such, inking Amerson to a four-year extension.
However, since then much has changed. The Raiders added a veteran cornerback last year in Sean Smith and a first-round rookie this season in Gareon Conley.
Never mind a potential hybrid defensive back in second-rounder Obi Melifonwu.
Amerson has gone from top dog to just another cog in a now-crowded secondary. His starting spot is by no means secure.
Almost $8.5 million a season would be a lot to pay a reserve.
Best Contract: Linebacker Jordan Hicks—4 years, $3 million (through 2018)
Per Aaron Kasinitz of Penn Live, Hicks made it clear that treading water isn’t good enough for he or his teammates in 2017.
"If we're equal to or less than what we were last year, we've failed," Hicks said. "Plain and simple."
Hicks is setting an awfully high bar for himself. Sure, his 86 stops lost season wouldn't be a herculean feat to top, but Hicks also added five interceptions last season.
That's a lot for a linebacker.
In two years Hicks has gone from third-round afterthought to surprise star as a rookie to one of the better young Mike linebackers in the NFL.
Worst Contract: Defensive End Vinny Curry—5 years, $47.3 million (through 2020)
When the time comes for Hicks' deal in a couple of years, it might wind up looking a lot like Curry's.
Hopefully it will have better results than Curry's deal, which dropped jaws around the NFL last year.
In four years before that contract, Curry had all of 16.5 career sacks. Nine of those came in 2014 alone.
In his first year after signing the contract, Curry had a whopping 2.5—and found himself relegated to the same bench he'll probably see a lot of in 2017.
The worst part? Of the $47 million, about half was guaranteed, and if the Eagles cut bait after the upcoming season, they'll eat $6 million in dead money.
Best Contract: Safety Sean Davis—4 years, $4.1 million (through 2019)
Davis piled up 69 tackles and an interception playing all over the defense for the Steelers—both safety spots and at slot corner. That he did so for much of the year with a torn labrum in his shoulder is impressive.
This year, Davis is healthy, and in OTAs he was focused on one spot and one spot alone—strong safety.
The 23-year-old's versatility is what makes him so dangerous in the secondary. He has the coverage skills of a cornerback and the toughness of a box safety.
By the end of just his second season, Smith could easily wind up being the best defensive back on a team making a deep playoff run.
Worst Contract: Safety Mike Mitchell—5 years, $25 million (through 2018)
If you've followed the Pittsburgh Steelers for any amount of time, then this next bit won’t surprise you.
Pittsburgh's roster is short on bad contracts.
Teams loaded down with them aren't the type to contend every season as the Steelers do.
I've gotta pick someone, though, and while Mike Mitchell's deal isn't terrible, it isn't great either.
Mitchell, who joined the Steelers back in 2014, was OK for Pittsburgh last year. He racked up 77 tackles and ranked 31st among NFL safeties at Pro Football Focus.
But Mitchell is the eighth-highest-paid player on the team, so it's fair to expect a bit more than OK.
San Francisco 49ers
Best Contract: Linebacker Reuben Foster—4 years, $9 million (through 2020)
The following snippet sums up Reuben Foster's value to the 49ers over the next several years.
John Lynch considered Foster at No. 2 overall in the 2017 NFL draft—and got him 29 picks later.
That Foster dropped had nothing to do with his talent. Early in draft season he was considered a probable top-10 pick after a standout career at Alabama.
But teams grew more and more concerned about Foster's surgically repaired shoulder, and by the time the big day rolled around he nearly fell from the first round altogether.
The team expects Foster will be fully cleared in time for training camp. If he can remain healthy, the Niners may have their next great inside linebacker.
Worst Contract: Linebacker NaVorro Bowman—7 years, $77 million (through 2022)
This could present a problem since the 49ers are still paying their last great inside linebacker quite a bit of money.
Please don't misunderstand me. It wasn't a bad idea to extend Bowman last year. Not after a 2015 season where Bowman led the NFL with 154 tackles and appeared fully recovered from a nasty knee injury that cost him all of 2014.
But then Bowman tore his Achilles tendon in 2016, and another season ended in devastating fashion.
I don't doubt NaVorro Bowman's talent. Or his work ethic or desire.
But after turning 29 this year, it is fair to question whether his body will continue to break down.
Best Contract: Defensive End Frank Clark—3 years, $3.7 million (through 2018)
With veterans Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, the Seattle Seahawks possessed one of the better one-two defensive line punches in the NFL.
You can make that a three-punch super-combo finishing move now.
Frank Clark didn't just become a complementary weapon in 2016. He was very much a weapon in his own right, exploding for 10 sacks in his second NFL season.
It's a double bonus for the Seahawks. Bennett and Avril are both the wrong side of 30 and make a combined average annual salary of over $8 million each.
The Seahawks don't have to do it this year, but if the team needs cap space in 2018, it's there for the taking by getting younger (and cheaper) up front.
Until it's time to pay Clark, of course.
Worst Contract: Cornerback Jeremy Lane—4 years, $23 million (through 2019)
John Schneider is one of the NFL's more successful general managers. You don't have a run of success like the Seahawks have the past half-dozen seasons without both good drafting and a measure of frugality.
As such, there aren't many "bad" deals on the roster. There are some whoppers, but no one questions the value of Russell Wilson or Earl Thomas in Seattle. Sure, I don't get why they refuse to spend money on the O-line, but you have to cut corners somewhere.
Some more wiggle room might be available if the Seahawks weren't giving Jeremy Lane almost $6 million per season to be hopefully adequate.
Lane's ranking of 94th among NFL cornerbacks last year at Pro Football Focus is why I had to add the "hopefully" qualifier.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best Contract: Quarterback Jameis Winston—4 years, $25.4 million (through 2018)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft the same thing every team wants from the No. 1 overall pick:
A franchise quarterback.
Jameis Winston took major strides in his second NFL season, completing 61 percent of his passes, topping 4,000 passing yards for the year and leading the Buccaneers to nine wins.
This year, the Buccaneers' primary offseason focus was adding pieces around Winston, whether it was veterans like DeSean Jackson or rookies like O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin.
Not only are the Buccaneers a trendy pick as a dark-horse playoff contender, but there's MVP talk around the 23-year-old.
In a few years (2020, to be precise, assuming a fifth-year option), Winston will be set for a deal that could redefine the NFL's most important position…
Worst Contract: Defensive End Robert Ayers—3 years, $19.5 million (through 2018)
I feel like I'm splitting hairs (again). When the Buccaneers signed Robert Ayers in free agency a year ago, it was a moderately priced acquisition of a veteran pass-rusher who was coming off career highs in tackles and sacks with the New York Giants.
Since that career year came in Ayers' seventh season (and on his second team), it likely suppressed his market. Sure enough, his play slipped in 2016, especially against the run. For the third straight year Ayers missed a quarter of the season, and his numbers fell in every category.
Now, with youngsters Noah Spence and William Gholston potentially set for a bigger role, Ayers' snaps could be scaled back even more in 2017.
The Buccaneers have the cap space for a high-priced reserve. But that doesn't make it a good deal.
Best Contract: Quarterback Marcus Mariota—4 years, $24.2 million (through 2018)
After mentioning Jameis Winston for the Buccaneers, this couldn't be anyone but Marcus Mariota.
As good as Winston was in 2016, a compelling argument can be made that Mariota was even better. He didn't pass for 4,000 yards (or even 3,500), but Mariota was sterling in posting 17 more touchdowns than interceptions and a passer rating of over 95. He also rushed for almost 350 yards.
Most importantly, Mariota kept a Titans team no one expected anything of in 2016 a playoff contender until breaking his leg late in the season.
If he's healthy, Mariota has an array of new weapons at his disposal in the passing game this year.
No one will be sleeping on the Titans in 2017.
Worst Contract: Cornerback Logan Ryan—3 years, $30 million (through 2019)
It wasn't a surprise to see the Tennessee Titans address the secondary in free agency—especially after they parted ways with veteran Jason McCourty.
The problem with their plan is they released Jason McCourty and then replaced him with essentially the same guy.
Like McCourty, Ryan posted a high tackle total last year. The highest among all cornerbacks, in fact—92.
But just like McCourty, many of those tackles are a product of passes that are completed in front of him.
Logan Ryan, like so many of the bad contracts on here, is a good player being compensated like a great one.
Best Contract: Wide Receiver Jamison Crowder—4 years, $2.8 million (through 2018)
As a fourth-round pick in 2015, not a lot was expected of Jamison Crowder, but expectations have grown each season.
Crowder has gone from a Day 3 pick to a trusted member of the offense and No. 2 receiver. Crowder has averaged over 60 catches over his first two years, and he’s coming off a solid 847-yard sophomore campaign.
The Redskins had enough confidence in Crowder that despite becoming the first team in NFL history to lose a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in the same season, Washington didn't reach for a receiver in the 2017 draft.
Terrelle Pryor might technically be the Redskins' No. 1 wideout, but given Crowder's familiarity with the offense and steady improvement, a 1,000-yard campaign is well within his reach.
In fact, it's expected.
Worst Contract: Quarterback Kirk Cousins—1 year, $23.9 million (through 2017)
This is the only expiring contract on this list. For good reason.
It's not the money. $24 million is a lot of dough, but after setting franchise passing records each of the last two years, that's what a quarterback of Cousins' stature costs. He's a franchise guy.
And yet the Redskins keep hemming and hawing about that fact.
By franchise-tagging Cousins in two straight years, the Redskins have absorbed maximum costs (the neighborhood of $45 million) with none of the security that comes with a long-term deal.
Unless the Redskins tag Cousins again in 2018 (at well over $30 million for one year), the only thing stopping him from hitting the open market is the long-term deal they should have signed him to over a year ago.
A deal that keeps getting more expensive.