Every NFL Team's Most Overpaid Player
- They receive massive contracts following breakout seasons that turn out to be outliers.
- They are overpaid pursuant to positional value. In other words, they're making penthouse money at a position with middle-floor value
- They are paid on potential they haven't reached, and they never do.
When we say that a player is overpaid, that's not necessarily a sweeping value judgment on his talent. Sure, there are times when teams radically overreach financially for a player who has no business in that tax bracket, but most of the time, overpaid players find themselves in one of three situations:
Personnel evaluation is complicated. Teams have to make bets that the players they sign are going to stay good and/or get better.
Sometimes, these things work out. But when they don't, teams wind up with underachievers on great-player contracts, or even good players with deals that make your eyes pop.
Arizona Cardinals: TE Jermaine Gresham
Contract: Four years, $28 million
Arizona's decision to re-sign Gresham to a four-year, $28 million contract with $16.5 million guaranteed in March of 2017 was certainly an interesting one.
In his two previous seasons with the Cardinals, the former Bengals star caught a grand total of 55 passes on 93 targets for 614 yards and three touchdowns. That would be a half-decent season for any tight end, but when you split it in two, it makes you wonder what the team was thinking to re-up an unproductive target in what had been a highly dynamic offense under head coach Bruce Arians.
That offense went south in 2017, and Gresham's production wasn't much better, though he was slightly more efficient. He had a 71.7 percent catch rate, the best of his Cardinals career, but he still caught just 33 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns. His per-catch yardage average of 9.8 indicated that there weren't many big plays happening, and the improved catch rate was more a function of outlet passes than a different level of play.
Gresham's relative lack of productivity could be mitigated if he were a better blocker, but that's not his game. At this point in his career, Gresham is a big (6'5", 260 lbs) target with minimal movement skills and limited explosiveness to the second and third levels of the route tree. You want more than that from the seventh-highest-paid player at his position, but this is what the Cardinals have chosen.
Atlanta Falcons: QB Matt Schaub
Contract: Two years, $9 million
It's not just that Schaub is overpaid for what he's done for the Falcons—he completed one pass in three attempts for 16 yards in 2017 in the first year of a two-year, $9 million deal. Schaub's salary and cap hit relative to some of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL are an indictment of the rookie wage scale.
Of course, the reason Schaub hasn't done more is that Matt Ryan has been on the field. But even if he had played more, he would have a case to be listed here. Last on the field regularly, he was known mostly for the pick-sixes he gave up.
The Falcons are on the hook for $4.5 million in cap space for a quarterback who would present major problems were he pressed into a starting situation for any serious length of time. And he's a bigger cap hit than either Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson. Yikes.
The continuation of Schaub's career as a highly paid backup makes little sense from a football perspective and less sense from a financial one.
Baltimore Ravens: QB Joe Flacco
Contract: Six years, $120.6 million
If you were told that an NFL team paid $61 million over the last three years for a quarterback who averaged 3,413 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions per season over that time, you'd be clear that was an awful decision.
That's the position in which the Baltimore Ravens have put themselves, and it started when Flacco began to regress a few years back. But the team took a big chance anyway and signed Flacco to a six-year, $120.6 million extension with $44 million guaranteed in March of 2016. To say that Flacco hasn't lived up to that deal would be an understatement. With injuries, mechanical issues and a generally underwhelming group of receivers, Flacco has struggled to maintain league-average play, much less transcend his surroundings as you'd expect a franchise quarterback to do.
The Ravens selected Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson with the last pick in the first round of the 2018 draft, but they're not getting rid of Flacco anytime soon. Per Spotrac, they're on the hook for $28.8 million for him in 2018, and even if they made him a post-June 1 cut in 2019, they'd still have to pay him $8 million.
The Ravens haven't made the playoffs since 2014, and with this version of Flacco under center, that isn't going to change. At this point, it's hard not to see him as a sunk cost.
Buffalo Bills: WR Kelvin Benjamin
Contract: One year, $8.5 million
When the Buffalo Bills traded for Carolina Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin last October, the financial obligation was minimal, as the Florida State alum was in the fourth year of his rookie contract. Benjamin cost the Bills just $529,412 in 2017. But as they're also on the hook for his fifth-year option, they'll be paying a lot more in 2018, and Benjamin's value is yet to be determined.
Buffalo will pay him $8.5 million this season. That's a lot for a receiver who's failed to gain $1,000 yards in a season since his rookie campaign of 2014. Last year, Benjamin caught 48 passes for 692 yards and three touchdowns, but only 16 catches for 217 yards and one touchdown came on the Bills' dime after the trade.
When a receiver has a higher 2018 cap hit than Odell Beckham, Jr. and Antonio Brown, and he's a relatively slow-footed possession receiver with limited breakaway ability, that's a decent definition of "overpaid."
Carolina Panthers: LT Matt Kalil
Contract: Five years, $55.5 million
Carolina's decision to sign Kalil to a five-year, $55.5 million contract with $31 million guaranteed before the 2017 season was one of the more questionable free-agency moves of the last few years.
Dave Gettleman was the man in charge of that choice, and he was also behind the 2018 signing of Nate Solder for the Giants, which puts Gettleman on our list as a GM twice. Perhaps he should consider that the next time he makes fun of analytics.
The fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Kalil spent his first five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Outside of his rookie year, he posted a series of below-league-average performances in which he struggled to handle power from run-stopping ends, and he looked even worse facing up against edge rushers. Kalil should have been on a short prove-it contract, but the Panthers evidently thought he had proved all he needed to.
In his first season with the Panthers, Kalil worked through injuries and showed little improvement. His tendency to set high off the snap gives him a leverage disadvantage when run-blocking, he needs guard help when pass-blocking because his footwork is choppy and inconsistent and he has a hard time keeping up with pass-rushers looking to bend the edge.
The mechanics of the contract keep the Panthers beholden to Kalil through at least the 2019 season, unless they want to designate him as a post-June 1 cut or take on a massive amount in dead cap space. The hallmark of a bad signing is when the money lost may be more appealing that leaving a player on the field.
Chicago Bears: WR Kevin White
Contract: Four years, $16.6 million
Sometimes, it's a player when he can't provide the value to match his team's investment. Other times, injuries get in the way and simply never leave. White has been a victim of the latter.
The seventh pick in 2015 out of West Virginia has taken the field for a grand total of five games in his NFL career, catching 21 passes on 40 targets for 193 yards and no touchdowns. He missed his entire rookie campaign with shin injuries, played just four games in 2016 before a fractured fibula shut him down for the season and he lasted only part of one game in 2017 before suffering a shoulder fracture in the season opener.
For those five games, the Bears have paid White nearly $14 million of the $16.6 million deal he signed after he was drafted, and they'll be on the hook for the full amount. This season, Chicago has a cap responsibility of $5.3 for their oft-injured receiver, and unless he's able to somehow turn his unfortunate injury history around, his deal can only be seen as sunk cost.
The Bears wisely declined to pick up White's fifth-year option as he tries to resuscitate his career in a prove-it year that will decide his NFL future.
Cincinnati Bengals: OT Cordy Glenn
Contract: Five years, $65 million
There's no question that Glenn is a good offensive tackle when healthy. That's why the Bills signed him to a five-year, $65 million deal with $36 million guaranteed in 2016.
But the decision to trade him to Cincinnati in March was a reflection of a recent injury history that limited the veteran to just 17 total games over the last two seasons.
And the Bengals were desperate. Their 2015 first- and second-round draft picks, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, have struggled to meet expectations. So it made some sense to take on the Glenn's contract in the hopes that he could return to form.
But what if he doesn't? In that case, they're on the hook for $11.3 million in cap this season with a penalty of $10 million if they jettison him. The good news is that the Bengals can get out of the last two years of Glenn's current deal with no additional financial penalty. Given the potential $9.3 million in cap savings in 2019 and 2020 were that to happen, Glenn might be playing for his career in 2018.
Cleveland Browns: LB Jamie Collins
Contract: Four years, $50 million
When the Browns signed Collins to a four-year, $50 million contract in January of 2017, it seemed to make sense. Through his first three seasons with the Patriots, Collins developed into one of the most effective and versatile linebackers in the league, able to do everything from short and intermediate pass coverage to quarterback pressure to run-stopping.
But the Patriots' decision to trade Collins to Cleveland in October of the previous year should have been a red flag. According to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, Bill Belichick and his coaching staff had balked at the money Collins was said to want when he became a free agent, and the team wasn't convinced he was an every-down linebacker. Collins had also developed a reputation for freelancing on the field, which is a great way to land in and Belichick's doghouse.
Collins' first two seasons with the Browns have played to that perception. He's dealt with injuries, and nobody will mistake Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for Belichick, but Collins' drop in overall effectiveness has been pretty drastic. He's played 14 games with Cleveland over two seasons with just one interception, three passes defensed, two forced fumbles, three sacks and 69 solo tackles.
Those aren't horrible numbers, given Collins' limited availability, but when you have a player costing $12.2 million in cap space in 2018, and you can't dump the contract until 2019 because the cap hit would be too great, that's a problem.
Dallas Cowboys: LB Sean Lee
Contract: Seven years, $42.6 million
Lee may be the most controversial player on this list, and for good reason. When he's healthy, there are few better linebackers in the NFL. Lee combines supreme athleticism with an uncanny ability to read the field and diagnose an offense's intentions. Dallas' defense is far better when Lee is on the field, and were he on the field all the time, there'd be no question about the value of the six-year, $42 million deal he signed in 2013.
The problem, of course, is that Lee isn't always on the field. He missed the entire 2014 season due to injury, he's never played a full 16-game season and he managed just 11 games in 2017 with a hamstring issue. The Cowboys' decision to select Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the 2018 draft is instructive. Vander Esch an athletic marvel who fits the Lee prototype pretty well from a physical perspective, and the pick seems like a franchise admission that at the age of 31, Lee isn't likely to turn his injury history around.
The Cowboys have enjoyed relative bargains year-to-year from a cap perspective in return for Lee's work, but his current contract bumped up to an $11 million salary cap obligation for 2018 and a $10 million hit in 2019. Dallas would have to deal with $7.1 million in dead cap if it released Lee this season, so there's no sense in doing that. But in 2019, the hit is just $3.1 million, so it's safe to say that 2018 will be Lee's defining season with his only NFL team.
Denver Broncos: OT Menelik Watson
Contract: Three years, $18.4 million
Through three seasons with the Oakland Raiders, 2013 second-round pick Menelik Watson presented two issues on a regular basis: He struggled to stay healthy, and when he was on the field, his performances were often subpar. Watson is an athletic blocker, but that doesn't make up for his frequent lapses in technique.
The Broncos saw something in him, as they signed him to a three-year, $18.4 million contract with $5.5 million guaranteed in March of 2017. That doesn't sound like a lot for a tackle, but when you consider Watson's 2017 performance versus the corresponding salary cap hits, the deal starts to look disastrous. Watson has a cap number over $7 million in both 2018 and 2019, and if the Broncos were to cut him in 2018, they'd still be on the hook for more than $8 million in salary cap responsibility.
All this for a player who made it though just seven games last season and, per Pro Football Focus, allowed a league-leading nine sacks through that time.
Detroit Lions: OG T.J. Lang
Contract: Three years, $28.5 million
When the Lions signed Lang to a three-year, $28.5 million contract with $19 million guaranteed last March, it was the culmination of Lang's free-agent tour that had him thinking about re-signing with the Packers or possibly landing in Seattle. In the end, Detroit won the battle, but their short-term financial burden might now be a problem.
Lang is one of the best pass-blocking guards in the league when he's healthy, but he hasn't been healthy in either of the last two seasons. His eight-year tenure with the Packers ended with foot and hip injuries that forced offseason surgery, and he missed three games with the Lions last season as he struggled to play through back and foot injuries as well as concussion issues.
2018 is the important season for both sides. Lang carries a cap responsibility of $10.9 million this season, and the dead money for any potential release is prohibitive until 2019. Lang turned 30 last September, and if he's not able to turn around this injury streak, his value to the Lions could be minimal.
Green Bay Packers: WR Randall Cobb
Contract: Four years, $40 million
The 2017 season was disappointing for just about everyone involved in Green Bay's offense. That's what happens when Aaron Rodgers misses more than half the season with a broken collarbone and backup Brett Hundley isn't quite ready for prime time.
But for Randall Cobb, it's been a series of relative disappointments over the last few years. The Packers rewarded him with a four-year, $40 million contract with $17 million guaranteed in 2015 after a 91-catch, 1,287-yard season in 2014. But injuries and relative ineffectiveness have marked Cobb's career since then. He did manage 79 catches for 829 yards in the first season of his new contract, but has just 1,263 yards total in 2016 and 2017.
Cobb found himself behind Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams in Green Bay's receiver corps, and the final year of his contract presents the Packers with a serious value problem. Cobb is due $8.6 million in base salary, and his cap number is $12.7 million. The team would incur a dead cap charge of just $3.5 million by releasing him, so it's pretty clear that the Packers hope Cobb can turn it around.
Houston Texans: OL Zach Fulton
Contract: Four years, $28 million
After four years in the Chiefs' offensive line, where he played both guard and center, the former sixth-rounder from Tennessee signed a four-year, $28 million contract with the Texans that includes $13 million guaranteed and contains $7 million cap hits for the team in each of those four seasons.
It's not a bad deal for an upper-level interior offensive lineman, and Fulton showed both strength and agility when playing center for Kansas City last season. The Texans have certainly had their share of self-inflicted offensive line issues over the last few years, and getting a reliable pro in the middle of that line would be of great benefit to quarterback Deshaun Watson and the rest of Houston's skill players.
But the deal is based on a bit of projection—Fulton hasn't been a 16-game starter since his rookie campaign, and he'd better work out at center for the Texans, because his tape shows some vulnerability to power when he's on an island as a guard. This isn't a massive overpayment, more an indication of how much the Texans need to get something right along their line.
Indianapolis Colts: QB Andrew Luck
Contract: Five years, $123 million
This is a tough one, and it's not Andrew Luck's fault.
When he was selected with the first pick in the 2012 draft, Luck looked like the most NFL-ready college quarterback many had ever seen, and he lived up to that ideal when healthy, carrying a subpar roster to three straight 11-5 seasons in his first three years.
But Luck's injuries started to catch up to him, as did former GM Ryan Grigson's terrible personnel decisions. Luck played with shoulder issues in the 2015 and 2016 seasons and lost the entire 2017 season to surgery and recovery. At this time, there's no clear sense of when—or if—he'll get back on the field and look like the quarterback he once was.
Despite these issues, the Colts signed Luck to a five-year, $123 million contract extension in June 2016. It was a generous move for the franchise quarterback, but given the way the team had its primary star playing through injury at the same time it was throwing major money at him, the construction of the deal leaves a lot of heads shaking. Luck cost the team nearly $20 million in salary cap in 2017 without ever taking the field, and he'll be on the books for $24.4 million in cap in 2018 regardless of his status.
Meanwhile, as of this May, Luck still isn't throwing the football/
Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Blake Bortles
Contract: Three years, $54 million
The Jacksonville Jaguars may have the NFL's most talented team. They have an above-average offensive line, which they bolstered by signing guard Andrew Norwell in the offseason. Their running game is effective no matter who's in the backfield, and though the receiver corps took hits in free agency, it's still decent enough to win because Jacksonville's defense is loaded with outstanding personnel playing in ideal schemes.
That's why they competed with the Patriots throughout the AFC Championship Game and were one good half away from the franchise's first Super Bowl appearance. In that contest, Blake Bortles completed 23 of 36 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown, and if the Jags' coaching staff had stuck with the creative use of run-pass options it unleashed in the first half, that may have been enough.
But when you look at Bortles' overall postseason performance, and the whole of his career, there are more questions than you'd like in the face of a three-year, $54 million contract extension. That's what the team gave Bortles in February, and they're stuck with him as the starter through at least the 2019 season based on the deal's cap responsibility.
Clearly, the Jaguars have seen enough to believe they can ascend to the NFL's ultimate heights with Bortles. And maybe they're right. But even a cursory look at his tape shows a player who, four years into his career, shows frustrating stretches of radical inconsistency you can't have from a franchise QB. If that doesn't change, the team may be in the position of mortgaging Super Bowl potential because of one risky gamble.
Kansas City Chiefs: OLB Justin Houston
Contract: Six years, $101 million
It's true in general, and it's even more true in the NFL: Life comes at you fast.
In 2014, Houston put himself on the pass-rushing vanguard with a 22-sack season in which he looked unblockable with an amazing combination of speed off the snap, power in the bull-rush and serious speed around the edge. In July 2015, the Chiefs gave Houston a six-year, $101 million deal with $52.5 million guaranteed.
Sadly, in the three subsequent seasons combined, Houston failed to match that 2014 sack total with just 21. Injuries have been a factor—he played in five games in 2015—and he did rebound with a nice 9.5-sack season in 2017.
But when you consider the financial ramifications of Houston's deal, the Chiefs would like to see double-digit sacks sooner than later. Kansas City took a $22.1 million cap hit for Houston's services in 2017, and it's going to carry $20.6 million for him in 2018. The Chiefs would've gotten relief by releasing him, but that ship has sailed. That's more likely in 2019, when the cap hit is $21.1 million and the dead money upon release is just $7.1 million.
Los Angeles Chargers: LT Russell Okung
Contract: Four years, $53 million
Okung's presence here doesn't imply he's a horrible player—he gave up just 24 total pressures in 15 games last season, per Pro Football Focus. And though he's lost a bit in his run blocking over the years, he's still a smart, technically sound pass-blocker for the most part. However, he will experience lapses in technique from time to time.
The four-year, $53 million contract the Chargers signed him to in March 2017 was going to be an albatross around the franchise's neck at some point. At the time, the deal made Okung the game's highest-paid tackle. Though an even more curious pact—the one the Giants gave Nate Solder in 2018—exceeded that, it's still a major hit for a player who's good but not great.
The Chargers have a salary-cap obligation of nearly $15 million for Okung in 2018, and the dead-cap number of $19.5 million makes his release impossible. Not that the team would want to do that given the uncertain status of its offensive line, but we'll see what happens in 2019 when Okung's cap hit rises to an even $16 million and the penalty for his release drops to $5 million.
Los Angeles Rams: DL Ndamukong Suh
Contract: One year, $14 million
At Ndamukong Suh's peak with the Detroit Lions in the early part of this decade, it could be argued he was the game's most dominant defensive player and certainly one of the most impactful defensive tackles of his generation. He was one of the rare players who dominated in college and then made his professional opponents look like so many college kids.
But when the Miami Dolphins signed him to a six-year, $114 million contract in 2015, they unfortunately replicated Washington's disastrous Albert Haynesworth signing in 2009 by making Suh the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history and moving him from an attack 1-gap player to a more reactive 2-gap lineman. That didn't last a season, but Suh's production has decreased in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hits over the last three years.
Miami cut ties with Suh on March 12, and the Rams swooped in and signed him to a one-year, $14 million guaranteed contract. In Wade Phillips' defense, Suh will most likely play a hybrid role on base downs and tackle when the Rams move to their nickel and dime units.
Pairing Suh with Aaron Donald will give the former a ton of one-on-one opportunities and align him with the defensive tackle who took his title as Best in the Business. But though Suh is still a prime run defender, doling out this much cash even over one season will look like an overpayment if he can't re-create his production from the early 2010s. Because if he can't do it in this scenario, it's hard to argue he'll be able to do it anywhere.
Miami Dolphins: LB Kiko Alonso
Contract: Four years, $28.9 million
When the Buffalo Bills selected Kiko Alonso in the second round of the 2013 draft, he appeared to be as sure a thing as you'll see. In his rookie season, the Oregon alum amassed four interceptions, two sacks and 87 solo tackles, doing everything you could expect of a linebacker with outstanding open-field speed and change-of-direction skills.
Then, in July 2014, he suffered a torn ACL, was out for all but one game in 2015, and he hasn't been the same since. Traded to the Eagles for LeSean McCoy in March 2015, he played decently in 11 games in his comeback season but suffered another knee injury. The Dolphins acquired Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell in March 2016 in a trade that also swapped first-round picks. Through two seasons with Miami, he's struggled to match the athleticism he showed before his injuries took him down.
Alonso has been a frequent target in coverage, and he's not always exact with his run fits, but the Dolphins banked on his potential with a four-year, $28.91 million contract in 2017—a deal that leaves the team with a near-$10 million cap hit in 2018 and no way to release him without incurring an even larger penalty until the 2019 campaign. It's unfortunate that injuries derailed Alonso's tremendous athletic potential, and it seems the Dolphins thought the guy they were getting was the 2013 version.
Minnesota Vikings: LB Anthony Barr
Contract: One year, $12.3 million
From front to back, it's hard to think of a better defense than the one that resides in the Twin Cities. Mike Zimmer's defense was the primary reason the Minnesota Vikings came within one game of their first Super Bowl appearance since the 1976 season, and with the addition of free-agent tackle Sheldon Richardson and first-round cornerback Mike Hughes, that aggressive unit could be even better.
If there's one straggler on that starting 11, though, it's linebacker Anthony Barr, the ninth player selected in the 2014 draft. At UCLA, Barr showed the ability to rush the passer at the line of scrimmage and work against the run and pass at linebacker depth. But as a pro, Barr has managed just 10.5 sacks through four seasons—admittedly in limited blitzing situations—and one interception. Not that he's been bad, but it's hard to imagine the Vikings didn't expect more.
Barr will play out the final year of his rookie deal for a guaranteed $12.3 million. That makes him the biggest cap burden among 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL. Barr is also talking about his desire for a long-term deal, but given Zimmer's statement last December that Barr tended "to coast a little bit," per Chris Tomasson of TwinCities.com, Barr shouldn't expect a big offer. His best bet, obviously, would be to play up to his current salary and let the chips fall where they may.
New England Patriots: CB Stephon Gilmore
Contract: Five years, $65 million
Stephon Gilmore was one of New England's better defensive players down the stretch in 2017, and his excellent game in Super Bowl LII was eclipsed by the controversy surrounding Bill Belichick's decision to leave cornerback Malcolm Butler on the bench. But when he did give up big plays, it was usually under the same circumstances as when he was in Buffalo: When Gilmore plays off-coverage, smaller, shiftier receivers who run quick, angular routes can beat him.
That's not unusual among top cornerbacks—one could say the same thing of prime Richard Sherman or Jalen Ramsey now. But when you sign a cornerback to a five-year, $65 million deal with $31 million guaranteed, as the Patriots did with Gilmore in March 2017, you want the kind of performance he showed in the season's second half all the time.
Perhaps it just took Gilmore awhile to adapt to New England's defensive schemes, and he did miss three games with a concussion early in the season. If he manages to be the player he was throughout the postseason for the rest of his Patriots career, he'll be a relative bargain at an important position—but it's too early to know for sure.
New Orleans Saints: LB A.J. Klein
Contract: Three years, $15 million
A.J. Klein had a few nice moments as an injury substitute for Luke Kuechly during the 2015 and 2016 seasons with the Carolina Panthers. Though he didn't have anything approaching Kuechly's range and play-reading ability, he also didn't embarrass himself as a stationary inside linebacker who could make a few plays in the passing game and close down on the run. Klein got the most out of his potential with the Panthers and was a valuable backup.
So, when the Saints signed him to a three-year, $15 million contract with $9.4 million guaranteed in March 2017, it seemed like a bit of a high guarantee for a player of Klein's capabilities, but not too out of the ordinary.
The problem was, when he was expected to provide starting-level play on a snap-to-snap basis, Klein found it tough to measure up. He looked lost in coverage in a defense that required him to cover more ground. Klein isn't fluid enough to cover from the middle out, and receivers who run angular routes in short areas easily put him out of place. And as a run-stopper, he isn't fast enough to flare out and deal with backs out of the backfield when closer to the line of scrimmage.
Now, the Saints are stuck with a $5.2 million cap hit for Klein's services in 2018, and they can't get out of the contract until 2019 without a larger financial penalty. This is an example of how a seemingly small, innocuous contract can come back to bite the team giving it.
New York Giants: OT Nate Solder
Contract: Four years, $62 million
Just because you have a desperate need at left tackle doesn't mean you should let that desperation show when it's time to spend money. That's what the New York Giants did when new general manager Dave Gettleman gave former Patriots tackle Nate Solder a four-year, $62 million deal with $35 million guaranteed, making him the NFL's highest-paid tackle by any measure.
Solder benefited from an uncertain tackle class in the 2018 draft and his own status as by far the best at his position in a thin group of free agents. But when you watch the tape, there's no question the Giants overpaid. Per PFF, Solder allowed 51 total pressures in 2017, and that's consistent with his career—the former tight end from Colorado is a fine run-blocker, but when asked to pass block from snap to snap, he tends to lunge out of place and lose leverage and position to speed rushers.
The Giants let their own inefficiencies and the market play them. When it selected Miami tackle Ereck Flowers with the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft, the organization's thought under former GM Jerry Reese was that Flowers would define Big Blue's offense with his powerful run blocking, and that his pass blocking would come along as his footwork improved. That hasn't happened, and now, the G-Men are stuck with Flowers as a potential right tackle and Solder as an overpaid mid-level blindside blocker for Eli Manning in the twilight of his career.
Hardly an ideal scenario.
New York Jets: CB Trumaine Johnson
Contract: Five years, $72.5 million
Sometimes, you're at an advantage when you negotiate with free agents because you already have a glut of talent at a position and you're just looking to expand on it. Other times, you have a desperate need for talent and you're inclined to overpay. The New York Jets haven't needed much encouragement to overspend in the last decade—it's why they've undergone more than one salary dump over the last few seasons.
When it came time to reinforce their cornerback rotation this offseason, the Jets made former Rams defender Trumaine Johnson their primary target, giving him a five-year, $72.5 million contract with $34 million guaranteed. Johnson had some good seasons with the Rams but also showed limitations. He's best as a press-man, aggressive cornerback, and like most bigger defenders who make their bones with that kind of aggressive coverage, the 6'2", 213-pound Johnson can easily be juked out of position by smaller, shiftier receivers.
If you're going to make your free-agent cornerback the second-highest-paid at his position (only Washington's Josh Norman has a higher total contract than Johnson's), you'd better be clear that he can take care of every kind of receiver. Johnson hasn't shown that ability, which will make this deal problematic as it provides larger cap hits and little wiggle room until the 2020 season.
Oakland Raiders: QB Derek Carr
Contract: Five years, $125 million
Paying a franchise quarterback is an interesting exercise in team economics. If you pull the trigger too soon on a league-defining deal after a good season or two, you run the risk of drastically overpaying a guy who sinks to league average, which is the Joe Flacco problem. You can also wind up with an all-timer for below what the market will bear, which is the good fortune the Patriots have had with Tom Brady for years, and what the Packers have in Aaron Rodgers until Aaron Rodgers' next contract. If you have the former situation, you will miss the playoffs a lot. If it's the latter, you can win championships.
The Oakland Raiders signed Derek Carr to a five-year, $125.025 million contract extension last June. The deal guarantees $70 million to Carr, and through the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the 36th overall pick in the 2014 draft looked like he was on the kind of roll that would validate such a deal. Carr threw 60 touchdowns to just 19 interceptions in those two seasons, and if he hadn't been out late in the 2016 season due to injury, there's no telling how far the Raiders might have gone in the postseason.
Fast-forward to 2017, and things looked a bit different. Offensive coordinator Todd Downing put schemes on the field that wouldn't look out of place at your average high school. Carr worked his way through a back injury. Receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree underperformed, and Carr's season—with just 22 touchdowns to 13 interceptions—wasn't at all what was expected.
It's a crossroad for Carr, and he'll have to rebound with a new head coach in Jon Gruden. Gruden is known to be very hard on quarterbacks, especially young quarterbacks, and while there's no indication that Carr can't take tough coaching, one wonders how it'll all work out with a receiver corps that has two new question marks in Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant, with Cooper's consistency still up in the air.
If Carr is able to define his offense, that's a clear indication of a brighter future. If not, the questions will come as hard and fast as an overload blitz.
Philadelphia Eagles: DT Fletcher Cox
Contract: Six years, $102.6 million
There are several reasons the Eagles stand as defending Super Bowl champions. Talent and coaching are two, but general manager Howie Roseman and his staff have put together a roster that doesn't have an obviously overpaid player. Fletcher Cox's $102.6 million contract extension, signed in 2016, is a possible exception.
There's absolutely no question about Cox's value to the team—he's the water-carrier for Philly's dynamic defensive line, and he is able to create stops and pressures consistently despite the fact that he's the primary focus of every offensive line he faces.
Still, that contract, with over $63 million guaranteed, is pretty steep for any defensive tackle, no matter how good, and it takes a big chunk out of the Eagles' cap in 2018 and beyond. Cox is on the books for $17.9 million in cap space in 2018 and $22 million in 2019, and the team really can't get out of the deal without a lot of finagling until 2020.
It's entirely possible that Cox will play at his current level through that time, and it's obviously beneficial to the Eagles if he does. But any slip in play quality will bring a new focus to those contract numbers.
Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Joe Haden
Contract: Three years, $27 million
The Browns released Haden last August after two seasons in which he struggled with injuries, and the Steelers snapped the veteran up with a three-year, $27 million contract. Haden validated the deal in 2017 with above-average play, though he occasionally lost speed battles downfield and looked lost once in a while when transitioning between receivers in zone coverage. Haden had just one interception in 11 games, and would have had more opportunities were it not for a late-season leg injury.
Now, the Steelers have Haden for the second straight year in a secondary that has a very uncertain future from a talent perspective, but the price is steep. Haden carries a salary cap charge of nearly $12 million in each of the next two seasons, and though it's pretty easy to get out of the deal in each year, Haden's presence may be worth the cost, even if his play isn't what it was in his prime with the Browns.
San Francisco 49ers: QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Contract: Five years, $137.5 million
The 49ers had been looking for a franchise quarterback since 2014, when things started to go south with Coin Kaepernick for all kinds of reasons. In 2017, that led to such silliness as new head coach Kyle Shanahan touting veteran backup Brian Hoyer and third-round rookie C.J. Beathard as the possible future at that position. Neither solution provided any relief, so on November 1, the team traded a 2018 second-round pick to the Patriots for the services of Jimmy Garoppolo, who had looked pretty good in occasional relief of Tom Brady.
Once Garoppolo got the hang of Shanahan's offensive concepts, the 49ers got him on the field for five starts, in which he completed 120 of 178 passes for 1,560 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. After the season, the team then signed him to a five-year, $137.5 million contract with $48.7 million guaranteed, and a salary cap charge of $37 million in 2018—clearly the choice was to front-load the deal.
That's all well and good if Garoppolo lives up to his promise. He's a mobile, smart quarterback with an above-average arm and an impressive ability to connect with his receivers on multiple route concepts. But there are also things he needs to clean up. While a couple of his interceptions were the result of receivers being where they shouldn't or simply falling down in their routes, he also displayed a worrisome habit of throwing into coverage more often than one would like.
Only Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins average more in total money per year among quarterbacks than Garoppolo does at this point, and that's OK if he becomes the player the 49ers want him to be. Anything less than that can only be seen as a major miscalculation by the franchise.
Seattle Seahawks: S Kam Chancellor
Contract: Three years, $36 million
Chancellor's status as a Seahawk could be academic by the time the season starts. His kamikaze playing style has led to multiple injuries over the years, and though the 2010 fifth-round pick from Virginia Tech became a mainstay of Seattle's defense over the years, he's now facing his own professional mortality, as well as the departure of several other franchise-defining defenders—Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett as the main names among them.
USA Today's Liz Mathews recently reported that Chancellor, who hasn't played a full season since Seattle's Super Bowl season of 2013, will undergo a neck scan in late June or early July to determine the viability of his NFL future.
No matter what happens with his medical future, Chancellor has already been guaranteed his 2018 salary as part of the three-year, $36 million contract extension he signed in 2017. The deal was seen as risky at the time given Chancellor's injury history, and if the team needs to incur a cap hit of over $9 million for a player who isn't able to play in 2018 (and possibly beyond), there's a lot to that theory.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: C Ryan Jensen
Contract: Four years, $42 million
Jensen played just 704 snaps in his first three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, but that number kicked up to 1,052 in 2017, as the former sixth-rounder from Colorado State-Pueblo became one of the few bright spots in a dysfunctional offense. For that, Jensen was rewarded by the Buccaneers with a four-year, $42 million deal with $22 million guaranteed.
Nice money if you can get it, but the Bucs are banking on a player who's essentially a one-year starter, and they gave him the most guaranteed money any NFL center has at this point. Moreover, Jensen has a 2018 cap hit of $12 million and a cap hit of $10 million in each of the following three seasons, and there's no sensible way for the team to get out of the deal if need be until the 2020 season.
That's a great deal of money for a player who's shown improvement over his NFL career but hasn't really shown a standout level of play commensurate with the best at his position. There are times when you have to pay on potential, but unless Jensen makes a major jump in effectiveness, this looks like a serious overpayment.
Tennessee Titans: CB Logan Ryan
Contract: Three years, $30 million
When the Titans signed Ryan to a three-year, $30 million contract before the 2017 season, they hoped they'd get the player Ryan was in New England—a decent outside corner with a lot of potential in the slot. But outside of New England's structure, Ryan found himself out of position too often and failed to produce an interception for the first time in his career.
Ryan is capable enough athletically—he can fire out from the slot quickly to any part of the field—but he's not always a defined and disciplined player in coverage, and he struggles at times to keep up with receivers who are trying to shake him loose with advanced route concepts. He needs safety help more than you'd like from a starting cornerback, whether outside or in the slot, and that's a problem unless you have the kind of scheme that provides that kind of help on a regular basis.
Ryan may improve next season, but whether he does or not, the Titans have a salary cap obligation of $10,666,666 with Ryan in 2018, and so far, this appears to be yet another example of an NFL team believing that it would get the same kind of player seen on the Patriots' roster after that player changed teams. Generally speaking, such deals are mistakes waiting to happen.
Washington Redskins: TE Jordan Reed
Contract: Five years, $46.8 million
If Reed could stay healthy, he wouldn't be on this list—he'd be one of the most efficient and effective tight ends in the league if we're basing future production on past efforts. Reid maxed out in 2015, his third season, with 87 catches on 114 targets for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns, and the former third-rounder from Florida looked to be among the best of the new wave of "big receiver" tight ends who could challenge slot defenders up the seam and use his size to beat defenders in the red zone.
Sadly, it hasn't turned out that way because Reed can't seem to stay healthy. He missed four games in 2016 and still made his first Pro Bowl, but he managed to find the field in just six games in 2017 with toe, hamstring, shoulder and chest injuries. He's never played a full 16-game season, and if he's able to in the future, the Redskins will have to see it as an unexpected benefit to their offense.
After his breakout season, the team gave him a five-year, $46.75 million contract extension with $22 million in...wait for it...injury guarantees. Reed's cap hit of $10,143,750 in 2018 isn't offset by a favorable dead cap situation were he to be released—that doesn't happen until next year, when his cap hit is nearly $10 million, but just $3.6 million would go to dead cap.
Reed is the kind of player you want to see beat the injury curse, but it's hard to say when—or if—that's ever going to happen.