Every NFL Team's Worst Contract in 2020November 10, 2020
Every NFL Team's Worst Contract in 2020
In terms of bad contracts, the NFL has come a long way since Washington gave defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth $100 million over seven years in 2009.
Collective bargaining has aided teams in signing fiscally responsible contracts, but they can never be completely protected. Even the most shrewd front offices will sometimes give a player more than he's worth.
For this exercise, we'll look at the worst contract on each roster with the following considerations.
- Money owed: Special consideration is given to salary-cap ramifications beyond 2020. We are talking about players who make more than $5 million annually.
- Performance relative to cost: What's the return on investment given the player's performance on the field?
- Player mobility: Can the franchise move on from the player via trade or release him without incurring too much dead money?
As some teams are already starting to look toward the offseason, here are the contracts each squad probably wishes it could take back.
The player: Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips
The contract: Three years, $30 million with $18.5 million guaranteed. Expires in 2022.
General manager Steve Keim pulled off a minor miracle when he got the Houston Texans to take on David Johnson's contract this offseason, but using some of that money to sign Jordan Phillips was a mistake.
Phillips recorded a career-high 9.5 sacks with the Buffalo Bills before signing with Arizona in free agency. In four previous seasons, he had just 5.5 sacks. That's not a terrible number for a defensive tackle but not one that would fetch a big payday.
Thus far, Phillips has not looked like the disruptive force he was in Buffalo. He has compiled just two sacks through eight games and carries a 56.2 grade from Pro Football Focus.
This is a player who will have the fourth-biggest cap hit for the Cardinals in 2021.
The player: Wide receiver Julio Jones
The contract: Three years, $66 million with $64 million guaranteed. Signed as an extension in 2019, expires in 2023.
Calling Julio Jones' contract the worst feels like sacrilege, but this is mostly the product of where the Atlanta Falcons are as a franchise. After the dismissal of head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff and with the team third in the NFC South with a 3-6 record, it's time to rebuild.
With Calvin Ridley taking over the No. 1 role, it no longer makes sense for Jones to be paid as the top wideout.
Jones, 31, would have been a great trade chip at the deadline Nov. 3, but his massive contract made him unmovable. He carries a dead-cap number of nearly $59 million this season and $38.6 million in 2021. The Falcons have a potential out following the 2022 campaign, but even then they would be charged $7.8 million to trade or release him.
The franchise is basically stuck with him until his age-34 season, and it could use the money elsewhere on a roster filled with holes.
The player: Defensive lineman Brandon Williams
The contract: Five years, $52.5 million with $33.8 million guaranteed. Restructured in 2020, expires in 2022.
It's hard to pick a bad contract on the Baltimore Ravens. General manager Eric DeCosta has done a phenomenal job of managing the cap and putting together a good roster. However, the team isn't getting what it is paying for out of Brandon Williams.
Williams' deal was restructured prior to the team's Week 1 game to give Baltimore more financial flexibility. Field Yates of ESPN reported at the time that Williams took less money overall ($19 million to $15.8 million) for more in guarantees (from none to $8.3 million).
Getting the guaranteed money was a prudent decision. Williams' play has not warranted the kind of money he's getting.
He'll be the third-most expensive player on the team in 2021 with a cap hit of $14.4 million. Yet he's played more than 50 percent of the team's defensive snaps in just one game this season and has a PFF grade of 60.7.
That's not a lot of bang for the buck for a defensive lineman on the wrong side of 30.
The player: Center Mitch Morse
The contract: Four years, $44.5 million with $26.2 million guaranteed. Expires in 2023.
This is a testament to how wise general manager Brandon Beane has been in his spending. Morse's contract isn't awful. If his play were bad enough, the Buffalo Bills could move on from the 28-year-old next season and only incur $5.5 million in dead cap.
This deal makes the list because Morse isn't playing up to the money he's earning. He has the second-highest cap hit at his position this season and is scheduled to be sixth next year.
Yet his PFF grade is just 65.6, and he's the second-most penalized center in the league this year. Again, his contract isn't a team-killer, but Morse is one of the few players on the Bills making big money right now.
The player: Defensive tackle Kawann Short
The contract: Five years, $80.5 million with $35 million guaranteed. Expires in 2022.
The Carolina Panthers handed a massive deal to Kawann Short in 2017, and it has been a disaster for the franchise. Not all of it has been Short's fault. He only played two games in 2019 because of a partially torn rotator cuff. He made three appearances in 2020 before suffering a season-ending injury to his other shoulder.
Even before his injuries, Short was struggling to produce. In 2018, when Short was last healthy for the majority of the year, he had just three sacks, his lowest total since his rookie season in 2013.
The only redeeming quality for the deal is the fact that the Panthers can part ways with Short after the 2021 campaign. If they release him after this season, they will be spared the $20.8 million cap hit next year but will be left with $11 million in dead-cap charges.
Given his shoulder issues, it may still be tempting to cut ties.
The player: Edge defender Robert Quinn
The contract: Five years, $70 million with $30 million guaranteed. Expires in 2025.
Robert Quinn was the Chicago Bears' biggest acquisition in the offseason other than Nick Foles. The pass-rusher was supposed to be everything Leonard Floyd was not, giving Khalil Mack a running mate to cause havoc on the other side of the defense.
So far, the return on Chicago's investment isn't great. The team also signed Barkevious Mingo to a one-year, $1.2 million deal this offseason. Here's how the two have compared so far:
There aren't a lot of reasons for Quinn to be unproductive opposite Mack. He did begin the season with an ankle sprain that kept him out of the season opener, so there's hope that his lack of production is related to his recovery.
Still, with that kind of money invested in him, the Bears' patience for Quinn to return to form should be running thin.
The player: Defensive tackle Geno Atkins
The contract: Four years, $65.2 million with $25 million guaranteed. Signed as an extension in 2018, expires in 2023.
Even when Atkins is healthy, his contract is cumbersome, and the 32-year-old doesn't fit in with the youth movement on the Cincinnati Bengals roster. But Atkins missed the first four games with a shoulder injury and has been sparsely used since coming back to the lineup.
He's played 19 snaps or fewer in each of his four appearances, and in Week 8, he was the least used defensive lineman in the rotation. This makes his $14.2 million cap hit this season and similar cap hits over the next two years hard to stomach.
The good news is that this deal is much easier to get out of than most on this list. The team can part ways with him next year and only take on $5.2 million in dead cap. That number goes down to $2.6 million in 2022 for his age-34 season.
Given the investment in D.J. Reader (four years, $53 million) over the offseason, it's likely that Atkins will be a cap casualty next year after 11 seasons in Cincinnati.
The player: Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
The contract: Five years, $90 million with $65 million guaranteed. Expires in 2024.
The Browns made a splashy move when they traded for Odell Beckham Jr. in 2019, but they paid a hefty price. Not only did they send safety Jabrill Peppers, right guard Kevin Zeitler, a first-round pick (which became Dexter Lawrence) and a third-rounder (which became Oshane Ximines) to the New York Giants, but they also became responsible for Beckham's massive contract.
Beckham has the league's 11th-highest cap hit in 2020. Next year, he's set to have the eighth-highest at $15.8 million. However, his numbers have declined in Cleveland. He posted a career-low 64.7 yards per game in 2019 and 45.6 this season before tearing his ACL.
Now the Browns are stuck with him for one more year. He carries a dead cap number of $12.8 million in 2021 but has no guaranteed money after that.
The player: Running back Ezekiel Elliott
The contract: Six years, $90 million with $50.1 million guaranteed. Signed as an extension in 2019, expires in 2027.
Given the results of the 2020 season thus far, the Dallas Cowboys may have made a big error with Elliott's holdout-driven extension. While Dallas has yet to lock up quarterback Dak Prescott on a long-term deal, it gave the 25-year-old Elliott the most guaranteed money at his position by more than $10 million.
Not all of the Cowboys' woes this season can be attributed to Prescott's absence after the signal-caller suffered a season-ending ankle fracture, but without him, the offense has plummeted to 26th in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average).
Elliott isn't doing much to soothe the pain behind a beat-up offensive line. He's averaging 1.8 yards after contact, which is 26th in the league. Tony Pollard, playing in the same offense, is averaging 1.9 and will only cost the team $841,945 this season and just over $1 million in each of the next two years.
Elliott is a great player, but a running back has to be transcendent to earn that kind of money. Elliott hasn't proved to be that this year, and the club is going to need money to keep Prescott and fix the other holes on its roster.
The player: Offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James
The contract: Four years, $51 million with $32 million guaranteed. Signed in 2019, expires in 2023 (club option).
The Denver Broncos overpaid when they signed Ja'Wuan James to one of the richest contracts in the league for a right tackle. James missed more than half of the 2015 campaign (toe) and half of a season in 2017 (hamstring) with injuries as a member of the Miami Dolphins and has never had a Pro Bowl year.
Yet the Broncos, desperate to patch up the hole at right tackle, agreed to pay him like a perennial Pro Bowler. Only Lane Johnson and Trent Brown are scheduled to have bigger cap hits in 2021 at the position.
James opted out of the 2020 season—a decision no one could be blamed for given the circumstances amid the COVID-19 pandemic—but he missed 13 games in 2019 because of a knee injury.
Veteran Demar Dotson stepped in at right tackle this season and has earned a 75.2 grade from PFF. James has only gotten close to that mark once in his career, when he had a grade of 75.1 in 2016.
The Broncos' first opportunity to get out from under this deal will come in 2022, when they can release him with a dead cap of $6 million.
The Player: Edge defender Trey Flowers
The contract: Five years, $90 million with $56 million guaranteed. Signed in 2019, expires in 2024.
It's not like Flowers has been a disaster since the Detroit Lions signed him in 2019. Although he's now on injured reserve, he's received an 83.3 grade from PFF in 2020. But that high ranking is because of his ability to play the run, not for getting after the quarterback.
Flowers has a top-10 cap hit at his position in 2020 and 2021 and moves into the top five in 2022. His production as a pass-rusher doesn't live up to that kind of cash.
In his first year with the Lions, he tallied seven sacks (tied for 44th in the league) and 35 pressures (tied for 14th). Through seven games this season, he's recorded two sacks and seven pressures.
After Flowers recorded 21 sacks in three seasons as a starter in New England and 2.4 pressures per game in his final year in Foxborough, it made sense that former Patriots defensive coordinator and current Lions head coach Matt Patricia would want to bring him in.
At best, though, Flowers' play has leveled out. The downturn in his production this season and his subsequent injury might make this contract look even worse as time passes.
Green Bay Packers
The player: Edge defender Preston Smith
The contract: Four years, $52 million with $16 million guaranteed. Signed in 2019 and expires in 2023.
It's difficult to pick a bad contract on the Green Bay Packers roster. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and defensive end Za'Darius Smith have the biggest cap hits this year, and both have been well worth the money and play premium positions.
However, because of questionable usage and a disappointing performance, the other Smith who makes up the Packers' pass-rushing duo isn't holding up his end of the bargain. Through the midway point of the season, Smith has just half a sack and seven pressures.
In fairness, he has been asked to play in pass coverage more than probably makes sense. He's been targeted 11 times this season and is allowing an 89.6 passer rating in those instances.
Over the Cap's valuation of Smith based on his play this season is $5.2 million. That's a far cry from his $13.5 million cap hit this season or the $16 million-plus the Pack will pay in each of the next two years if they want to avoid a dead-cap charge of $8 million in 2021 and $4 million in 2022.
The player: Wide receiver Randall Cobb
The contract: Three years, $27 million with $18 million guaranteed. Signed in 2020, expires in 2023.
While the David Johnson contract is really bad, the most prohibitive portion of it is nearly over. The team can part ways with him next season and only incur $2.1 million in dead-cap charges.
Whitney Mercilus is overpaid on a four-year, $54 million deal, but the team has an out in 2022. And he is at least offering some production in a valuable role as a pass-rusher.
Veteran Randall Cobb isn't bad. He is consistent, with his catch rate of 80.5 percent higher than anyone's on the roster with at least 20 targets.
The problem is the money the Texans committed to him.
Cobb is 30 years old and has a cap hit of $10.6 million ($12.3 million dead cap) in 2021, while Brandin Cooks is scheduled to make $12 million but has no dead money remaining. The team is going to have a hard time keeping Will Fuller V, who is the most explosive and promising one of the bunch and will be a free agent after this season.
The ghost of coach/GM Bill O'Brien will haunt the team with a few bad contracts, but Cobb's leaves the Texans with too much money invested in a position they are going to need to refigure in 2021.
The player: Tight end Jack Doyle
The contract: Three years, $21.3 million with $11.8 million guaranteed. Signed as an extension in 2019, expires in 2023.
The fact that Doyle makes this list with a contract that is cheap for the Indianapolis Colts to get out of in 2021 ($1.5 million dead cap) is a testament to how fiscally responsible they've been. They overpaid for Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett, but both will be free agents after this year.
Doyle's play hasn't justified the price of his extension. The 30-year-old tight end has an $8.5 million cap hit this season followed by a $5.9 million hit in 2021 and a $6.2 million hit in 2022. His contract has $9.5 million in dead money for 2020.
Despite having the eighth-biggest cap hit among all tight ends this season, Doyle isn't even the Colts' top player at the position. In seven games, he has just nine catches. Both Mo Alie-Cox ($750,00 cap hit) and Trey Burton ($910,000) have been better investments.
The player: Linebacker Joe Schobert
The contract: Five years, $53.8 million with $21.5 million guaranteed. Signed in 2020, expires in 2025.
The Jacksonville Jaguars spent most of the 2019 season and the offseason gutting their roster, so there aren't many egregious contracts on the books. But the one player they chose to spend their cash on hasn't worked out.
The Jags made Schobert a centerpiece of their rebuild with a contract that will make him the 11th-highest-paid inside linebacker in 2021 at $9.9 million, and his cap hit increases every year of his deal. The team's potential out in 2022 still costs $7.2 million in dead cap.
This season, Schobert has just a 41.1 grade at PFF.
In today's NFL, any linebacker getting big money better be able to cover tight ends and running backs. But Schobert is giving up a 133.0 passer rating on 34 targets this season. Playing alongside Myles Jack, who has held opposing passers to a rating of 48.4, Schobert has become the man to go after in the passing game.
That's certainly not what Jacksonville was envisioning when it signed him this offseason.
Kansas City Chiefs
The player: Edge defender Frank Clark
The contract: Five years, $104 million with $62.3 million guaranteed. Signed in 2019, expires in 2024.
Frank Clark will cost the Kansas City Chiefs more than franchise quarterback Patrick Mahomes next season.
He is being paid like an elite defender, but his production leaves a lot to be desired. The 27-year-old has posted just four sacks and 17 pressures in nine games this season. To make matters worse, he's dealing with a knee injury that limited him in practice ahead of Week 9's game against Carolina.
Clark was instrumental in KC's 2019 Super Bowl run. He had five sacks in three playoff games, so he could start making this contract look better. Even if that happens, his deal makes it difficult for the Chiefs to retain quality players.
The team is already projected to be $15.7 million in the red for 2021, and there is $37.9 million in dead money on Clark's deal.
The Chiefs will be dangerous as long as Mahomes is healthy, but they'll need to continue to at least field a competent defense to be perennial Super Bowl contenders. That'll become more difficult if Clark doesn't live up to his contract.
Las Vegas Raiders
The player: Edge defender Carl Nassib
The contract: Three years, $25.3 million with $16.8 million guaranteed. Signed in 2020, expires in 2023.
Questionable spending in free agency has left the Raiders with a lot of candidates for this distinction.
Trent Brown, a 2019 signing, is making an absurd amount of money ($16.5 million AAV) for average play at right tackle. Defensive back Lamarcus Joyner hasn't played nearly as well as he did with the Rams. Tyrell Williams' $11.1 million cap hit was set to sting even before he landed on IR with a season-ending shoulder injury.
But unlike many of those questionable moves, the team would have to pay $5.8 million to part ways with Nassib after this season.
The Raiders signed Nassib after a two-year stint in Tampa Bay in which he had 12.5 sacks, but he has not been able to bring the pass rush to life, with Las Vegas recording the second-fewest sacks in 2020. Nassib isn't even seeing much time on the field. He's only played 37 percent of the defensive snaps, and he's costing the team $7.8 million and has just 1.5 sacks and four pressures to show for it.
Los Angeles Chargers
The player: Chris Harris Jr.
The contract: Two years, $17 million with $9.5 million guaranteed. Signed in 2020, expires in 2022.
Harris' inclusion on this list is a sign of how well general manager Tom Telesco has handled the cap. The Chargers are in a great position to build around Justin Herbert, who appears to be the quarterback of the future. But it's safe to say that Chris Harris Jr. won't be a big part of that future, and the franchise will be fortunate to get any value close to what they paid for the veteran cornerback.
The 31-year-old Harris has been absent for most of the season with a foot injury. Fellow veteran signee Bryan Bulaga (back) has also missed a good chunk of the year because of injury.
The difference is that the 31-year-old offensive tackle has played well when healthy and offers help in an area where it's desperately needed. Harris has given up a 117.6 passer rating when targeted in coverage, which is in line with the 104.7 rating he gave up in 2019.
This signing looked like it could be an overpay when it happened, and that notion has proved to be correct.
Fortunately, it won't be too hard for the Chargers to shed the contract next season. They'll just have to pay $3.8 million to avoid his $11.3 million cap hit in 2021.
Los Angeles Rams
The player: Quarterback Jared Goff
The contract: Four years, $134 million with $110 million guaranteed. Signed as an extension in 2019, expires in 2025.
In Goff's defense, this contract doesn't look as bad as it did last season. There's no doubt the Rams have overpaid their quarterback, but he's improved his play from last season when he threw 16 interceptions and sported a passer rating of just 86.5.
His play has improved this season, and so too has the Rams' stock in the NFC West, but Goff's numbers still just don't measure up with his Brinks truck salary. Goff is the NFL's third-highest-paid quarterback, yet he doesn't land in the top 10 in any meaningful statistical category and is on track for double-digit interceptions this season.
It was understandable when the Rams signed Goff to the extension. He was 24-7 combined in his second and third seasons with a 100.8 passer rating. Unfortunately, he hasn't come close to those numbers since, and bad contracts elsewhere on the roster have left the Rams with depleted draft capital and cap space to build a team around their quarterback.
The player: Guard Ereck Flowers
The contract: Three years, $30 million with $20 million guaranteed. Signed in 2020, expires in 2023.
The Dolphins were big spenders in free agency to kick-start their rebuild.
While many of their free-agent moves have worked out, the decision to hand Ereck Flowers a deal that has an average annual value of $10 million has not panned out. Flowers famously flamed out as a tackle for the Giants and Jaguars but showed signs of life at guard for Washington last season.
His play was worth the new contract in the Dolphins' eyes, but their eyes deceived them. Flowers has posted a 63.5 grade from PFF this season. That's not cutting it for a player who is the one of the 11 most expensive guards in the league this season by cap hit.
The player: Quarterback Kirk Cousins
The contract: Two years, $66 million with $66 million guaranteed. Signed as an extension in 2020, expires in 2023.
The Vikings set the course of their franchise with Cousins' extension. The move was a somewhat necessary evil, as it saved them $10 million on the cap this season. In fairness, Cousins is set to cost them $21 million this season, and his Over The Cap valuation based on his play is $24.3 million. So, in a sense, the Vikings are getting value in 2020.
That most assuredly won't be the case in either of the next two seasons. Cousins is set to carry a cap charge of $31 million next season with a dead cap number of $41 million associated with letting him go. His $45 million cap hit in 2020 becomes guaranteed this offseason if he isn't released.
The Vikings offense has only really been dangerous when Dalvin Cook is carrying the team on his back. Cousins is paid like an elite quarterback, but he doesn't play like one.
New England Patriots
The player: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore
The contract: Five years, $65 million with $40 million guaranteed. Signed in 2017, expires in 2022.
The Bill Belichick-Tom Brady dynasty wasn't built by shelling out big bucks to retain talent. It was a billion-dollar mansion furnished with well-constructed and well-polished IKEA furniture. The Pats have rarely opened the checkbook to pay market value for free agents. There were many more former Patriots considered for this list (see Flowers, Trey; Garoppolo, Jimmy; Brissett, Jacoby) than current Patriots.
Gilmore has been an exception to this rule as the team has paid him like a top-tier corner and committed long-term guarantees to him when the deal was signed in 2017. As he approaches 30, the production is no longer matching the cap hit that makes him the most expensive cornerback in the league this season.
Next year is a little bit better as his cap charge goes from $25.1 million this season to $17.7 million, and his dead-cap number is $7.6 million if they trade or release him in his walk year. He's allowed 15 receptions on 24 targets this season and has an uncharacteristically low 61.0 grade from PFF.
New Orleans Saints
The player: Offensive weapon/backup quarterback Taysom Hill
The contract: 1 year, $16.3 million with $16 million guaranteed. Signed as an extension in 2020, expires in 2022.
There's a case to be made for Drew Brees and his huge contract, but the quarterback and the franchise are so synonymous that it's hard to blame the team for giving Brees at least one more season to chase a ring.
What doesn't make as much sense is handing out the kind of money the Saints did to quarterback/Wildcat/receiver/all-around good guy Taysom Hill. Hill is a fun player. There's no denying that. His Swiss Army knife utility makes him unique, and Sean Payton clearly loves devising ways to get him in the game plan every week.
But when Brees went out for an extended period of time in 2019, Teddy Bridgewater started at quarterback. If Brees were to go down this season, it's hard to believe that Hill would get the nod over Jameis Winston even with Hill listed as the backup on the team's depth chart.
So the Saints are on the hook to take on a $16.2 million cap hit next season for a player who will turn 31 in August and is averaging four touches a game this season with five pass attempts. That's just not a great return on investment, and it's hard to believe they needed to pay that kind of money to keep Hill on the roster this offseason.
New York Giants
The player: Offensive tackle Nate Solder
The contract: Four years, $62 million with $34.8 million guaranteed. Signed in 2018, expires in 2023.
Solder opted out of the 2020 season, so the Giants are paying a $3.1 million cap hit for the veteran tackle, but it also pushes their worst contract into 2022. At that point they'll be paying $20.5 million for him in his age-34 season unless they are willing to take on $6.5 million in dead cap.
Chalk Solder up among the many former Patriots who didn't work out after getting big money upon leaving New England. Solder gave up 11 sacks in 2019, which was just one fewer than he gave up in his last three seasons protecting Tom Brady in New England. There isn't much reason to believe he'll be much better coming back a year older without playing a game for a year.
The Giants have already drafted his replacement in Andrew Thomas. The Georgia product has given up five sacks on the season, but there's at least reason to believe he'll continue to develop, and he isn't scheduled to be the fourth-highest-paid left tackle in the league. That's where Solder's $16.4 million cap hit has him ranked in 2021. Right between Laremy Tunsil in Houston and Terron Armstead in New Orleans. The days of him playing close to that level are long gone, and the Giants are left footing the bill.
New York Jets
The player: Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley
The contract: Five years, $85 million with $51 million guaranteed. Signed in 2019, expires in 2025.
It was always going to be a long shot for C.J. Mosley to live up to the contract he signed as a free agent with the Jets in 2019. The deal makes him the second-highest-paid player at his position behind Bobby Wagner.
Now add in bad injury luck and the impact of COVID-19, and it's become downright impossible.
Mosley played just two games for the Jets in the first year of his contract before a core injury knocked him out for the season. Then the pandemic hit, and he opted out of the season.
That leaves the Jets with another four years on his deal and two seasons before his dead-cap number would even become worth exploring other options. He'll only cost $7.5 million in 2021 but carries a $19.9 million dead-cap number. His cap charge skyrockets to $17.5 million with a dead charge of $12.5 in 2022.
Mosley will need to play at an All-Pro level for the next two seasons for this deal to be remotely worth what the Jets invested. That's a tall task for a player who has essentially missed two seasons.
The player: Quarterback Carson Wentz
The contract: Four years, $128 million with $108 million guaranteed. Signed as an extension in 2019, expires in 2025.
There's a timeline when it comes to quarterbacks in the NFL. They are underpaid throughout their rookie contracts, and their teams spend as much money as they can to give them a chance to blossom into franchise quarterbacks. Then it comes time to pay them, and they'd better be able to carry the franchise regardless of weapons because they become financially tricky to work around.
Wentz has entered that second phase with the extension he signed in 2019. By average value, he's the eighth-highest-paid quarterback in the league at $32 million a year. But on the field, he's been anything but a top quarterback, throwing the same number of interceptions as touchdowns on the season and leading the Eagles to a middling record in the worst division in football.
He hasn't had the best weapons, but by the time a quarterback hits that second contract, it's on him to make it work. Elite quarterbacks have done more with less.
The player: Center Maurkice Pouncey
The contract: Two years, $22 million with $12 million guaranteed. Signed as an extension in 2019, restructured in 2020. Expires in 2022.
The Steelers keep the purse strings relatively tight, but they've made exceptions in the past for Steelers lifers. Pouncey appears to be one of those players, as he signed a lucrative extension in 2019 that will carry a $14.5 million cap hit in 2021, making him the second-highest-paid center in the league behind the Colts' Ryan Kelly.
Pouncey has a 58.3 PFF rating this year.
It's fair to wonder if injuries will start to be an issue for the 31-year-old as well. He missed three games last season and parts of the Eagles and Browns games with a foot injury. There aren't many bad contracts on the Steelers roster, but Pouncey's is set up to be bad, especially in 2021.
San Francisco 49ers
The player: Edge defender Dee Ford
The contract: Five years, $85.5 million with $33.4 million guaranteed. Signed in 2019, expires in 2024.
Jimmy Garoppolo's deal looks cumbersome at first glance, but it will only cost the team $2.8 million to walk away from at the end of the season. Weston Richburg has not lived up to his contract with his play, and injuries have made the return on investment even worse. But Dee Ford beats them all when it comes to disappointing performance, injury woes and inflexibility.
Ford is one of just 15 defensive players who is set to cost his team $20 million or more next season, and he carries a similar cap hit in both 2022 and 2023 with dead charges of $14.3 million in 2021 and $9.6 million in 2022 before finally reaching a manageable $4.8 million in 2023.
Ford has only suited up in one game this season, and general manager John Lynch recently expressed doubt that the pass-rusher will be back in 2020 because of a back injury. Ford also had a hamstring injury in 2019 and missed five games overall. He tallied 6.5 sacks in the 11 games he did play.
Ford is commanding the money of an elite edge-rusher who should be taking over games. This contract takes him to his age-32 season, so there's no guarantee he's ever going back to being the disruptive force he was in Kansas City.
The player: Defensive tackle Jarran Reed
The contract: Two years, $23 million with $14.1 million guaranteed. Signed in 2020, expires in 2022.
The Seahawks have been so good at managing the cap that the only two players with a dead-cap number above $10 million next season are Russell Wilson (duh) and 2020 draft pick Jordyn Brooks. That's it. All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner is the only other veteran in the top five, meaning the Seahawks have avoided large commitments to anyone.
There are six players expected to carry cap hits of over $10 million next season, but every one of them could easily be let go without incurring much of a fine.
Wagner is the lone exception. His contract makes him the highest-paid inside linebacker in the league. While his play has earned him that deal, it doesn't make it team friendly. The franchise would need to take on $7.5 million in dead money to let go of the linebacker.
But Wagner has an 84.8 PFF grade and hasn't shown any signs of slowing down.
So because someone has to take this distinction, we'll go with Jarran Reed. The Seahawks can walk away from the deal scot-free in 2021, but he carries a cap hit of $13.5 million if they don't. He's still getting paid based on his pass-rushing production in 2018 when he had 10.5 sacks, but he's nowhere near that total for the second season in a row.
Time for re-negotiation if he wants to stay in Seattle.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The player: Offensive tackle Donovan Smith
The contract: Three years, $41.3 million with $27 million guaranteed. Signed in 2019, expires in 2022.
The Bucs have been all-in on building a Super Bowl contender in 2020—as well they should be—but it has surprisingly not impacted their flexibility too much for 2021. They are projected to have the 11th-most cap space next year and don't have a ton of hard decisions to make.
One of those decisions that shouldn't be hard to make is letting Donovan Smith walk away. Fortunately, this is one of the few contracts on this list that will cost nothing to abandon next season. Tampa is in the final year of the guaranteed deal but paying Smith $14.5 million this season to be the most penalized lineman in the NFL.
The Bucs have given Smith six seasons to blossom into an above-average tackle in the league. It isn't working out. 2021 will be time to either walk away or come up with a more team friendly deal if he wants to stick around.
The player: Wide receiver Adam Humphries
The contract: Four years, $36 million with $19 million guaranteed. Signed in 2019, expires in 2023.
The Titans gave Humphries this deal on the heels of a season in which he got 105 targets on a Tampa Bay team that went 5-11. Humphries turned the opportunity into 76 catches, 816 yards and five touchdowns.
Through a season-and-a-half with the Titans, the only thing he's come close to matching is the touchdown total. He's had two in each of his seasons with the team. With Ryan Tannehill at the helm, Corey Davis has been the No. 2 receiver behind A.J. Brown, while Humphries has been the third option at best.
The Titans are on the hook for a $9.9 million cap hit this season and a $9.8 million hit in 2021. That number inflates to $11.3 million in 2022, but they can avoid that by taking on a reasonable $2.5 million in dead-cap charges at that point. Given Humphries' role in the offense, it's safe to say he shouldn't be on the roster at that point.
Washington Football Team
The player: Quarterback Alex Smith
The contract: Four years, $94 million with $71 million guaranteed. Signed in 2018, expires in 2023.
Alex Smith's comeback story has been one of the most inspiring and positive of the season. His dedication to come back from a gruesome injury is admirable. Some things are bigger than cap space.
But the fact remains that Smith is eating a big chunk of Washington's cap. A projected 12.4 percent of it in 2021, to be exact. That's for a quarterback who wouldn't have even seen the field if it weren't for a Kyle Allen injury that pressed him into action against the Giants. Smith played well enough, but he's still a 36-year-old quarterback who will either cost the team a $24.4 million cap hit in 2021 or $10.8 million in dead money.
With Dwayne Haskins apparently out of favor, Smith old and expensive and Allen nothing special, Washington has a mess at the quarterback position, and Smith's contract makes bringing in new talent more difficult.