Every NFL Team's Worst Contract Heading Into the Offseason
For eight of the NFL's 32 teams, the 2020 season hasn't ended. That fortunate quarter of the league is still focused on the present and playing for a berth in Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida.
For the other 24 teams, however, the season is in the past. Most missed the postseason altogether. Half a dozen others were bounced in the wild-card round. Some still feel the sting of disappointment. A couple have been feeling it since September.
But come February 8, everyone's focus will shift to the 2021 campaign—and step No. 1 in that regard is an honest roster examination.
All NFL front offices are not created equal—and as such neither are the rosters. The league's best general managers are masters of spending wisely and making use of every cent in cap space. Others have saddled their franchises with bloated deals that can weigh down the franchise for years.
But whether highly regarded like Pittsburgh's Kevin Colbert or not so much like Dave Gettleman of the New York Giants, every GM has at least one pact on the books they wish could get a mulligan.
Overpays. Overreactions. Free-agent reaches. Big deals with millions left that drain the cap space.
Every team has a worst contract—even if some are worse than others.
Arizona Cardinals: DL Jordan Phillips
Contract Details: Three years, $30 million, $18.5 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $12 million
The writing was already on the wall regarding defensive lineman Jordan Phillips.
Over his first four seasons with the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills, Phillips totaled 5.5 sacks. But in 2019 with the Bills, Phillips posted career highs in tackles (31) and sacks (9.5).
Funny how that always seems to happen in a contract year.
That huge season landed Phillips a three-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals that averaged $10 million per season with $14.5 million guaranteed at signing and $18.5 million in total guarantees.
Since arriving in the desert, Phillips has looked a lot more like the player who tallied modest numbers those first four seasons than the guy who was all over the place for the Bills—the 6'6", 341-pounder battled injuries and managed two sacks in nine games.
The Cardinals are effectively stuck with Phillips through 2021 at least—his dead cap hit would be higher than the money the Redbirds would save by cutting him.
But if the 28-year-old has another disappointing year, the 2021 season will likely be his last in Arizona.
Atlanta Falcons: EDGE Dante Fowler Jr.
Contract Details: Three years, $45 million, $29 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $18.5 million
But Ryan, 35, and Jones, 31, have contracts that are more big than terrible. Each has earned his hefty salary.
That's not the case with edge-rusher Dante Fowler Jr.
Fowler is another cautionary tale about spending big in free agency on a pass-rusher coming off one huge season. In 2019, Fowler tallied a career-high 11.5 sacks with the Los Angeles Rams after compiling 16 sacks in his first three seasons combined.
After inking a deal that averaged $15 million over three seasons with $29 million in total guarantees, the 26-year-old responded with the worst season of his career—just three sacks in 14 games.
As with many of the players listed, the Falcons are all but stuck with Fowler for at least 2021—cutting him loose before then would mean a $10.7 million dead-cap hit.
Baltimore Ravens: CB Tavon Young
Contract Details: Three years, $25.8 million, $13 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $6 million
The "worst" contract in Baltimore is a relative concept—Ravens GM Eric DeCosta doesn't hand out many head-scratchers. Tight end Nick Boyle doesn't generate much in the way of stats to justify a cap hit of $7.8 million in 2021, but he's an excellent blocker headed into the last year of a deal the team can extricate itself from for less than $2.5 million.
It won't be that easy with slot corner Tavon Young.
Young has shown potential when healthy for the Ravens—so much so that the team reupped him for $8.6 million per season in 2019. But "when healthy" has become a major caveat with the 26-year-old.
In 2017, Young missed the entire season after tearing his ACL in OTAs. In 2019, Young again missed the season after injuring his neck on the practice field. And in 2020, Young made it just two games into the regular season before once again tearing his ACL.
That's two games played since Young signed his extension—and a hefty chunk of dead cap space if Baltimore cuts him before 2022.
Buffalo Bills: DT Star Lotulelei
Contract Details: Three years, $18.6 million, $7 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $7.6 million
Buffalo Bills GM Brandon Beane has done an excellent job of building a championship-caliber roster. But even the best-run organizations occasionally make mistakes.
The Bills have already shown some buyer's remorse with veteran defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. After inking the 31-year-old to a $50 million contract in March 2018, Buffalo reworked the deal last year.
But the contract is still an anchor on the team's resources.
It's not that Lotulelei isn't still a capable player—especially against the run. But he is on the wrong side of 30 and had a lost season after choosing to sit out the 2020 campaign over concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the salary cap shrinking in 2021, tying up over $7.5 million of the team's resources in a role player who hasn't seen the field since 2019 isn't ideal.
But the Bills can't cut him this year without eating at least $9.2 million in dead-cap space.
Also not ideal.
Carolina Panthers: LB Shaq Thompson
Contract Details: Four years, $54.4 million, $27.5 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $14.2 million
Some folks might be surprised that Christian McCaffrey's megadeal isn't included. It's true that that four-year extension worth just over $64 million doesn't look great after the running back missed most of the 2020 season because of ankle, quad and shoulder injuries. And if McCaffrey doesn't rebound in 2021, the deal will look that much worse—there's no easy out there until 2022 at the earliest.
But when he's at his best, McCaffrey is arguably the No. 1 player in the NFL at his position.
No one is going to say that about linebacker Shaq Thompson.
To be fair, Thompson isn't a bad player, either—the 26-year-old ranked second on the team with 114 total tackles in 2020 and has tallied over 100 stops in each of the past two years.
But Thompson's average annual salary of $13.6 million ranks sixth among all off-ball linebackers—ahead of players like Jaylon Smith of the Dallas Cowboys, Joe Schobert of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Blake Martinez of the New York Giants and Lavonte David of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Thompson hasn't come close to making the impact those other linebackers have.
Chicago Bears: EDGE Robert Quinn
Contract Details: Five years, $70 million, $30 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $14.7 million
Per NBC Sports Chicago, only five players received more guaranteed coin in free agency this past spring than edge-rusher Robert Quinn, who joined the Bears after an 11.5-sack 2019 campaign with the Dallas Cowboys. At the time, Bears GM Ryan Pace hailed the signing as a big get:
"We just feel like Quinn's a proven pass rusher. He's got excellent edge speed. He's got outstanding ability to bend the corner and I think we can take a position of strength on our defense and we make it even stronger and more dangerous when you add Quinn and you combine him with the players that are already up there, especially up front."
All Quinn proved in 2020 was that the Bears wasted a whole bunch of money. The 30-year-old registered a career-low two sacks in 15 games.
There's no out here for Pace, either, at least not this year. Cutting Quinn at any point before 2022 would cost at least $14.6 million in dead-cap money.
That's a prohibitively large chunk of the team's 2021 cap for an organization hoping to make another playoff run.
Cincinnati Bengals: CB Trae Waynes
Contract Details: Three years, $42 million, $15 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $16 million
You won't see Geno Atkins listed here. Yes, Atkins' contract is a massive eyesore after a miserable 2020 campaign in which he showed frustration regarding his usage, failed to log a single sack and played just 119 snaps. But the veteran defensive tackle can be released as a post-June 1 cut for just $2.6 million in dead-cap money.
He's absolutely a goner in Cincinnati.
Compared to some of the contracts listed, Trae Waynes' three-year pact really isn't that bad. It contained a relatively modest 36 percent in guarantees, and the Bengals could designate Waynes as a post-June 1 cut and eat just $5 million in dead-cap charges.
However, that doesn't change the fact that the Bengals never should have given Waynes $14 million per year—and it has nothing to do with his missing the entire 2020 season with a pectoral muscle tear.
Yes, Waynes was a 2015 first-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings. But he's never played like one—in 2019 he allowed almost three quarters of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed and had a passer rating against of 107.9.
For that, Cinci made him the ninth-highest-paid cornerback in the league in terms of average annual salary.
Cleveland Browns: WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Contract Details: Five years, $90 million, $65 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $15.8 million
This is a tough call. The Cleveland Browns are an ascending franchise in no small part because the team hasn't made a lot of poor contract decisions of late. And when he's healthy and on his game, Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the NFL's most dangerous wideouts.
But there's no denying that Beckham hasn't lived up to expectations (or his fat paycheck) since joining the Browns in a trade with the New York Giants in 2019.
In Beckham's first year in Cleveland, he topped 1,000 yards. But he scored just four touchdowns and posted the lowest catch percentage (55.6) of his career. The 2020 season was even worse—just 319 yards and three scores in seven games before a knee injury ended his season. Beckham's two worst seasons in terms of receiving yards per game have come in his two years with the Browns.
There is, however, a silver lining—and a reason we haven't heard the last of trade rumors concerning the 28-year-old.
The Browns can deal Beckham at any point from here until his contract expires after 2023 without taking on one dollar in dead-cap money.
Dallas Cowboys: EDGE DeMarcus Lawrence
Contract Details: Five years, $105 million, $65 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $25 million
The Dallas Cowboys have shelled out a ton of cabbage in the past few years to edge-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Amari Cooper.
And for the most part, those massive contracts have blown up in Jerry Jones' face.
In Jerruh's defense, when he extended Lawrence in 2019, no one batted an eye. Lawrence had been one of the most prolific pass-rushers in 2017 and 2018, piling up 25 sacks over that span and making the Pro Bowl both years. Over $20 million per season is a lot of cheese, but that's the market for elite pass-rushers.
But since he got paid, Lawrence hasn't been close to elite.
In 2019, Lawrence had the fewest sacks (five) of any 16-game season in his career. His numbers improved in 2020, but not by a lot—58 total tackles and 6.5 sacks.
The real killer with this contract is that unless Lawrence agrees to a restructure, Dallas is stuck. The minimum dead-cap hit for releasing Lawrence would be $8 million—and that's if he's designated a post-June 1 cut in 2022 or 2023.
His cap hit also increases by $2 million in each of those seasons—and that presents a real dilemma for a team trying to find the cash to pay Dak Prescott.
Denver Broncos: DE Jurrell Casey
Contract Details: Four years, $60.4 million, $40 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $12.3 million
The Denver Broncos have been short on success in recent seasons, but that largely hasn't been due to terrible contracts. With the exception of offensive tackle Garett Bolles (who played well in 2020), most of the team's heftier pacts will run out after the 2021 season.
That isn't the case with defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, who has two years left on the extension he signed while a member of the Tennessee Titans in 2017. But the Broncos can sever ties with the 31-year-old without taking on any dead cap money.
That leaves the Broncos with a tricky decision. Casey was a welcome addition and capable run-stuffer while healthy in his first year in Denver in 2019, but he's the wrong side of 30, coming off a biceps tear and carries a cap hit north of $12 million in 2021.
Detroit Lions: EDGE Trey Flowers
Contract Details: Five years, $90 million, $56 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $20 million
When the Detroit Lions handed edge-rusher Trey Flowers a massive five-year, $90 million pact in 2019, Gil Brandt of NFL.com lauded the signing as one of the year's best.
"As the highest-paid free agent of the offseason (in terms of total value of the contract), Flowers is expected to be the Lions' most impactful pass rusher since Robert Porcher, who collected a franchise-high 95.5 sacks between 1992 and 2003. Although he has yet to top 7.5 sacks in any individual campaign, Flowers led the Patriots in the category in each of the past three seasons, and he's stout against the run. Lions head coach Matt Patricia will best know how to utilize Flowers' skill set from his time as New England's defensive coordinator."
Um, yeah—about that.
Flowers' first season in Detroit looked quite a bit like his last three in New England—51 tackles and seven sacks. But the 27-year-old managed just two sacks in 2020 and missed over half the season because of a wrist injury.
It's a safe bet the Lions didn't expect to take a cap hit of $4 million per sack over the first two seasons of Flowers' megadeal—and there's no realistic way out of the contract until at least 2022.
Green Bay Packers: EDGE Preston Smith
Contract Details: Four years, $52 million, $16 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $16 million
The Green Bay Packers made a massive investment in the pass rush in 2019, signing edge-rushers Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith (no relation) to contracts in excess of $100 million combined.
In 2019, those deals looked like money well spent, as the duo combined for 25.5 sacks, and each player had at least 12.
The 2020 season was another story.
Za'Darius Smith kept right on rolling, racking up another 12.5 sacks and making the Pro Bowl for a second consecutive year. But Preston Smith's production plummeted. The 28-year-old tied a career-low with just four sacks despite playing in all 16 games.
Za'Darius Smith obviously still values his batterymate—he bought Preston a new Jeep for Christmas. But Preston's status with Green Bay could be on shakier ground. He carries a $16 million cap hit in 2021 and could be released as a post-June 1 cut and save the Packers $12 million.
This feels like a situation that may well be headed for one of two conclusions: Either Smith and the Packers will restructure his deal to free up cap space, or his days in Titletown could be numbered.
Houston Texans: EDGE Whitney Mercilus
Contract Details: Four years, $54 million, $28.5 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $12 million
For some of the teams on this list, it was relatively difficult to peg a contract as the "worst."
That's also the case for the Houston Texans, but only because there are so many bad ones.
The Texans traded the future for Laremy Tunsil, a good (but not great) offensive tackle, and then made him the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history. And they handed Bradley Roby, a mediocre cornerback, over $10 million per season with almost $20 million in guarantees.
And yet neither of those deals is the worst on the roster.
In nine NFL seasons, edge-rusher Whitney Mercilus has averaged exactly six sacks per year. The 30-year-old has had one season (2015) with double-digit sacks and has never been named to the Pro Bowl. Over the past three years, Mercilus has tallied a modest 15.5 sacks, including just four in 13 games last year.
That's not much of a return on an investment of $18 million that was fully guaranteed when Mercilus signed his four-year extension in 2019—a deal the Texans are essentially stuck with until 2022.
Indianapolis Colts: DT Grover Stewart
Contract Details: Three years, $30.75 million, $19.2 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $8.25 million
This is the most recently signed contract in this article—defensive tackle Grover Stewart just reupped in late November.
It also comes with an important caveat: The "worst" contract on a team doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad contract, especially when a general manager has done as good of a job at roster-building as Chris Ballard has in Indianapolis.
Grover Stewart, 27, is a solid nose tackle in his prime and a capable run-stuffer who just topped 50 total tackles for the first time. He's also a homegrown player, having been drafted by the Colts in the fourth round in 2017.
But the championship window for the Colts is open, and sinking this much cap space into a 1-technique tackle could prove problematic for Ballard soon, especially when you consider that two of the team's four highest-paid players (in terms of 2021 cap hit) are defensive tackles.
Jacksonville Jaguars: LB Myles Jack
Contract Details: Four years, $57 million, $33.1 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $12.2 million
Per John Oehser of the team's website, as a miserable 2020 season wound down for the Jacksonville Jaguars, defensive coordinator Todd Wash talked up the play of fifth-year linebacker Myles Jack.
"Myles is playing at a very, very high level," Wash said. "He has played well for 13 games. He has really found a home. Obviously, he's playing well. It's something to look forward to for a Jaguars fan. He's playing at that (Pro Bowl) level."
To his credit, Jack is coming off arguably his best season: a career-best 118 total tackles, one sack, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
But no one is calling Jack one of the five best off-ball linebackers in the NFL, as his average annual salary of $14.25 million would indicate. In fact, many would argue that Jack isn't even the best linebacker on his own team.
And yet, as the Jaguars most likely begin the Trevor Lawrence era, there's only one player on the team (guard Andrew Norwell) with a higher cap hit than Jack in 2021.
That is, unless the Jags designate Jack a post-June 1 cut, Jacksonville eats $9.4 million in dead money and the team moves on...which isn't likely.
Kansas City Chiefs: EDGE Frank Clark
Contract Details: Five years, $104 million, $62.3 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $25.8 million
When one player has a contract that averages $45 million per season, there's not much leeway for bad deals elsewhere on the team.
Unfortunately for the Kansas City Chiefs, who have Patrick Mahomes taking up that big chunk of cap space, there are at least a couple of bad deals on the books. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens carries a cap hit in 2021 that's north of $10 million, but the 28-year-old was on the field for over 80 percent of the team's snaps in only one game in 2020.
However, while Hitchens' contract may be an eyesore, it's not the drain on Kansas City's cap that edge-rusher Frank Clark's is.
Clark isn't a bad player by any stretch—the six-year veteran was second on the team in sacks in 2020 and has been named to the Pro Bowl following both of his seasons in Kansas City. But only three defensive ends in the NFL (Joey Bosa of the Chargers, DeMarcus Lawrence of the Cowboys and Myles Garrett of the Browns) have a higher average annual salary than Clark.
That's a lot of cash for a player who has amassed just 14 sacks over his two years with the Chiefs.
Las Vegas Raiders: OLB Cory Littleton
Contract Details: Three years, $35.3 million, $22 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $13.8 million
In both 2018 and 2019, Cory Littleton piled up at least 125 total tackles with the Los Angeles Rams. That productivity got the 27-year-old a lucrative deal with the Las Vegas Raiders, who brought Littleton in to serve as a defensive foundation.
Instead, what they got was a pedestrian 82 tackles in 14 games and multiple lapses in coverage. As Jerry McDonald wrote for the Bay Area News Group, Littleton was the first to admit his initial season in Sin City didn't go as planned.
"It came out miserably," Littleton said. "I've always said that I wanted to keep myself and keep my play as a top-five linebacker. And the two previous seasons I had. I didn't come nowhere close to it this year."
There's not much the Raiders can do with Littleton other than hope that increased familiarity with the defensive scheme and his teammates in Vegas will spur a turnaround in 2021. Cutting bait on the five-year veteran next season would incur a minimum dead-cap charge in excess of $13 million.
Los Angeles Chargers: CB Chris Harris Jr.
Contract Details: Two years, $17 million, $9.5 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $11.3 million
After a season in which Joey Bosa missed four games and registered just 7.5 sacks, an argument can be made that some of the shine has come off his megadeal. But we've piled on the edge-rushers enough—at least for now.
Outside that, there aren't many questionable contracts in Los Angeles—and most of the ones that could be labeled as such are set to expire after the 2021 season. Whoever takes over as head coach of the Chargers will inherit a roster that's in good shape.
However, if the Bolts knew Chris Harris Jr. would miss almost half the 2020 season and post a passer rating against of 113.9, the team likely wouldn't have handed the 31-year-old almost $10 million in guarantees last year.
Harris will be 32 when the 2021 campaign gets underway and is coming off the worst statistical season of his 10-year career. But if the Chargers decide one season is enough, they can release the veteran after June 1 for a relatively reasonable dead-cap hit of $3.75 million.
Los Angeles Rams: QB Jared Goff
Contract Details: Four years, $134 million, $110 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $34.6 million
The NFL carries certain realities. And one of those realities is that where young quarterbacks are concerned, eventually the bill comes due. And if a franchise keeps that quarterback, the bill can be a whopper.
After Jared Goff led the Rams to a berth in Super Bowl LIII, the team decided he had shown enough to merit an extension. It was a big one—with a $25 million signing bonus and just over $57 million guaranteed at signing.
That extension makes Goff the fifth-highest-paid quarterback in terms of average annual salary. But you won't find many folks who believe Goff is a top-five quarterback. He may not be a top-10 quarterback. Since the Super Bowl loss, he's just 18-13 as a starter.
There has been no shortage of speculation of late that the Rams could attempt to move on from Goff. But the financial realities make that nearly impossible. Cutting him in 2021 or 2022 would trigger a devastating dead-cap hit. And though a post-June 1 trade would knock the dead-cap figure down to $6.8 million, L.A would still have to convince another team to take on Goff's sizable remaining guarantees.
That won't happen.
Miami Dolphins: EDGE Shaq Lawson
Contract Details: Three years, $30 million, $20.8 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $9.3 million
The Miami Dolphins spent a ton of cash in free agency last year in an effort to turbocharge their rebuild. Given that the team peeled off 10 wins in 2020, that spending spree was at least partly successful.
But while the Dolphins struck gold with the addition of edge-rusher Emmanuel Ogbah, the three-year, $30 million deal the team gave to fellow edge-rusher Shaq Lawson looks to be more iron pyrite.
On some level, the warning signs were there. The 2016 first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills never lived up to expectations in Western New York, failing to accrue more than 6.5 sacks in any of his first four seasons. But the 2019 campaign was his best, and the Dolphins no doubt hoped that the 26-year-old's best football was ahead of him.
But while Ogbah had a career season in his first year in South Florida, Lawson was mediocre—32 total tackles and four sacks in 14 games.
With the way Lawson's contract is structured, he'll all but certainly be back with Miami in 2021—it will cost the Dolphins as much to let him go post-June 1 as it would to keep him.
But if Lawson's second season in Miami plays out like the first, it will likely be his last.
Minnesota Vikings: OLB Anthony Barr
Contract Details: Five years, $67.5 million, $33 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $15.5 million
In 2019, it looked like the Minnesota Vikings were on the verge of losing outside linebacker Anthony Barr. But after originally agreeing to terms on a contract with the New York Jets, the 28-year-old had second thoughts, backed out and reupped with the Vikings.
In retrospect, the Vikings may have been better off letting Barr leave.
In fairness, when healthy, Barr is a versatile linebacker capable of stuffing the run, rushing the passer and covering backs and tight ends. For four straight seasons from 2015 to 2018, Barr was named to the NFC Pro Bowl roster.
But Barr's big-play production took a hit after he got his big payday in 2019—just 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. He missed almost all of the 2020 season after he tore his pectoral muscle in Week 2. And while Barr is a capable linebacker, he's not a game-changer.
For a Vikings team that's already upside down against the salary cap, Barr's cap hit of $15.5 million in 2021 is more albatross than boost.
New England Patriots: OT Marcus Cannon
Contract Details: Five years, $32.5 million, $14.5 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $9.6 million
The New England Patriots have more than a few problems. But for the most part, bloated contracts aren't among them. Many of the team's higher-paid veterans like wide receiver Julian Edelman and cornerback Stephon Gilmore will hit free agency after the 2021 season.
However, as the Pats engage in rebuilding the roster, a few existing pacts won't make it any easier.
Marcus Cannon has been a fixture in New England for a decade, including several seasons as the team's starter at right tackle. But when last we saw the 32-year-old on the field, his level of play appeared to be slipping. In 2019, Cannon started 15 games for New England, allowing six sacks in just over 1,000 snaps.
The veteran tackle opted out of the 2020 season because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. And that means the Patriots will eat a cap hit of nearly $10 million for a lineman who will be 33 years old when the 2021 season begins and was mediocre when he was last on the field.
New Orleans Saints: OLB Kwon Alexander
Contract Details: Four years, $54 million, $25.5 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $13.5 million
The contract of New Orleans Saints linebacker Kwon Alexander is an outlier here, in that the Saints can cut bait on the veteran linebacker without absorbing any dead-cap money after acquiring the 26-year-old via an in-season trade with the San Francisco 49ers.
You can bet the rent that the Saints will either send Alexander packing or redo his deal in the offseason. Because his four-year, $54 million pact looks worse now than it did when he and the Niners put pen to paper.
When San Francisco brought in Alexander, it was to be the leader of its linebacker corps. But the same injury issues that plagued Alexander in Tampa Bay reared their head in the Bay Area, as he missed half the 2019 season and posted a career-low 34 total stops.
Things were a bit better in 2020, but Alexander still missed four games and was shipped to New Orleans for a fifth-round pick and linebacker Kiko Alonso.
Alexander played in at least 90 percent of the Saints' defensive snaps in two of the last three regular-season games. But a New Orleans team with cap issues can't afford to consider paying Alexander over $13 million next year.
New York Giants: OT Nate Solder
Contract Details: Four years, $62 million, $34.8 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $16.5 million
When the New York Giants came to terms with offensive tackle Nate Solder on a four-year, $62 million pact in 2018, it was supposed to signify a new era for the team up front. Solder was a two-time Super Bowl champion who would be the cornerstone of Big Blue's O-line.
In Solder's final season with the Patriots, he allowed four sacks in 1,114 snaps. In his first season with the Giants, the snap count declined slightly—but the number of sacks allowed nearly doubled. Folks hoping those struggles were simply a matter of Solder settling in with a new team were sorely disappointed in 2019, when he gave up a staggering 11 sacks.
Solder's best season with the Giants was in 2020. The fact that he opted out of that campaign over COVID-19 concerns tells you everything you need to know about Solder's three years in the Big Apple.
Per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post, the 32-year-old indicated in December that he hasn't ruled out retirement in 2021.
That would probably be the best-case scenario for the G-Men.
New York Jets: ILB C.J. Mosley
Contract Details: Five years, $85 million, $51 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $7.5 million
Exactly two people on the face of the Earth are happy with C.J. Mosley's contract after his two years in the Big Apple: Mosley and his agent.
For the New York Jets, it has been a disaster.
Mind you, this deal was a mess from the moment it was signed. Yes, Mosley is a good player—in four of his first five seasons, he topped 100 total tackles and was named to the Pro Bowl. But this contract makes Mosley the highest-paid inside linebacker in the AFC, and giving any off-ball linebacker $17 million per season isn't a sound salary-cap strategy.
Mosley played in all of two games in 2019 before his season ended with a groin injury. Then he opted out of the 2020 campaign.
In the first two years of his contract, Mosley has received just over $29 million. He has made nine total tackles.
It will get worse before it gets better too. Even if the Jets wait until 2022 to try to wriggle out of the deal, it will still carry a $9.5 million cap hit.
And there isn't a team in the league that would take on that abomination of a contract in a trade.
Philadelphia Eagles: QB Carson Wentz
Contract Details: Four years, $128 million, $108 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $34.7 million
There isn't a contract on this list an NFL team wishes it could get out from under more than Carson Wentz's deal in Philadelphia.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. After he led the Eagles to a 16-8 record in 2017 and 2018 combined (and made the Pro Bowl in 2017), the sides agreed to a four-year extension in 2019. Few questioned it.
But a lot has changed since then—and none of it is good.
Over the last two seasons, Wentz is 12-15-1 as the starter. The 2020 campaign was a disaster—Wentz threw 15 interceptions, posted easily the lowest passer rating of his career and was benched late in the season for rookie Jalen Hurts.
There's no easy way for the Eagles to extricate themselves from Wentz's contract. Releasing him in 2021 (even as a post-June 1 cut) would carry a dead-cap hit of almost $35 million. A post-June 1 trade would be less cost-prohibitive, but without a restructure, the team trading for Wentz would essentially be guaranteeing his salary for 2021 and 2022.
That's an awfully big investment in a quarterback who looked mostly awful in 2020. Unless Wentz is amenable to taking a chain saw to his contract, he probably isn't going anywhere.
Pittsburgh Steelers: DE Cameron Heyward
Contract Details: Four years, $65.6 million, $26.3 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $14.6 million
The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the NFL's best-run organizations and have been for years. Defensive end Cameron Heyward has been a cornerstone for its defense for most of the past decade, having been named to each of the past four Pro Bowls.
It's understandable that the Steelers would want to reward Heyward's productivity and value to the team. He's been an excellent lineman for a long time.
But as good as he's been, handing the 31-year-old a four-year extension this past fall was an overpay. The loyalty is admirable, but it's also paying Heyward for what he's done and not what he will do.
That can come back to bite you. And sure enough, while Heyward continued to play at a relatively high level in 2020, his sacks dropped from nine in 2019 to just four in 2020—his lowest output in that category since he missed over half the 2016 season.
This is the Steelers though, so even in an overpay, there's an out for the team. If Pittsburgh designates Heyward as a post-June 1 cut, it could move on from Heyward as soon as 2021 with a dead-cap charge of just over $4 million.
San Francisco 49ers: EDGE Dee Ford
Contract Details: Five years, $85 million, $33.4 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $20.8 million
San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch has had more than a little success rebuilding the roster in Santa Clara.
But when it comes to handing out huge contracts, that luck has soured quickly.
In Lynch's defense, edge-rusher Dee Ford was coming off a career year when the 49ers acquired him in 2019—55 total tackles, 13 sacks and a Pro Bowl nod with the Kansas City Chiefs.
But since San Francisco sent a second-round pick to Kansas City and then inked Ford to an extension worth $17 million per season, things have steadily gone downhill. His sack production was cut in half in 2019. Then he missed almost the entire 2020 season with a back injury, and as Keiana Martin reported for the team's website, Lynch admitted it's uncertain if Ford will be ready for the start of the 2021 season.
"Our sole focus right now is to help Dee in any way that we can to get him healthy. I think everybody understands that we're a better football team when Dee's out there. He's an impactful player. He's the finisher. He's pretty emblematic of a lot of the issues that plagued our team this year. The old saying, 'your best ability is availability' and we weren't available enough this year and that went for Dee. When you're dealing with that part of your body, the back, sometimes these things take more time."
That's not much of a return on investment for a contract that carries a cap hit of over $20 million next season.
Seattle Seahawks: ILB Bobby Wagner
Contract Details: Three years, $54 million, $40.3 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $17.2 million
No NFC team has experienced more success over the past decade or so than the Seattle Seahawks. And for most of that period, inside linebacker Bobby Wagner has been a defensive leader. The 30-year-old is the biggest name left from the team's Legion of Boom glory days.
But there's a reason Seattle eventually bid goodbye to guys like Richard Sherman, Frank Clark and Earl Thomas. There's a point where the hefty salary of one individual can hurt the unit as a whole.
And as great a player as Wagner is, it's fair to ask (given Seattle's defensive struggles at times in 2020) whether the Seahawks are reaching that point with the nine-year veteran.
Wagner is still playing at a high level—his 138 total tackles ranked seventh in the league in 2020. But it's not easy to build around an aging linebacker who is the NFL's highest-paid player at his position in terms of average annual salary.
There's less than a 0 percent chance that Seattle would seriously consider parting ways with Wagner—not with the team's Super Bowl window still ostensibly open.
But with less than $7 million in cap space heading into 2021, the Seahawks may ask Wagner to restructure his contract in the offseason to free up some more wiggle room.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: TE Cameron Brate
Contract Details: Six years, $40.8 million, $18 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $6.5 million
For as aggressive as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in remaking the roster this past year, said roster is relatively fat-free. The players with hefty salaries have mostly lived up to their paychecks.
Well, except for that Tom Brady guy. What a bum.
However, there's one contract that stands out as a suboptimal use of cap space.
When the Buccaneers signed veteran tight end Cameron Brate to a six-year extension in 2018, it appeared to be a reasonably priced reup for a player who had been an important part of the offense. Over the two seasons before the deal, Brate had averaged over 52.5 catches, 625.5 yards and 7.0 touchdowns.
But as first O.J. Howard and then Rob Gronkowski arrived in Tampa, Brate's role in the offense has dwindled. The 29-year-old's 282 receiving yards and two scores in 2020 were his lowest output in those categories since his rookie season.
This contract also won't likely be on the books for long—Tampa can save Brate's entire $6.5 million cap hit without incurring any dead-cap money by severing ties in the offseason.
Tennessee Titans: S Kevin Byard
Contract Details: Five years, $70.5 million, $31 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $15 million
The Tennessee Titans gave safety Kevin Byard a fat contract extension in 2019 for the same reason the 27-year-old was named a Pro Bowler in 2017.
From 2017 to 2019, there wasn't a safety (or defensive back) who was more adept at snagging errant throws than Byard. Over that span, the five-year veteran racked up an impressive 17 interceptions.
Impact plays are what get defensive backs paid.
But those impact plays all but evaporated in 2020. Byard did tally a career-high 111 total tackles last season, but he managed just one pick—and that didn't come until Week 15.
Byard's coverage numbers also took a dive. After he didn't allow more than 57.4 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed in either 2018 or 2019, Byard's completion percentage against spiked to 73.3. His passer rating against jumped to 112.6—over 43 points higher than the season before.
The Titans could release Byard post-June 1 and absorb a dead-cap hit of $8.9 million. But it's more likely the team gives Byard one more year in the hopes that he (and the Titans pass defense) rebounds in 2021.
Washington Football Team: QB Alex Smith
Contract Details: Four years, $94 million, $71 million guaranteed
2021 Cap Number: $24.4 million
This last entry stinks.
Watching Alex Smith not only return to the playing field but also lead the Washington Football Team to the NFC East title was one of the highlights of the 2020 season. Smith's recovery from the gruesome leg injury and subsequent infections that could have cost him his life was inspirational.
If Smith isn't named the 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, then something is wrong.
But while his comeback has been fun to watch, it's clear that devastating injury and all the time off has affected the 36-year-old. He's just not the player he once was—and isn't ever going to be that guy again.
While speaking to reporters ahead of Saturday's playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Smith sounded like a man who wasn't quite ready to call it a career:
"That feeling that it gives you, when you're away from it, you certainly cannot find it anywhere else. You can't duplicate it. You get away from it and you miss it quick. So, relishing it now. It just gets bigger and bigger. Certainly, you're at the end of the season into January, it just magnifies it more and more. Absolutely relishing everything about this week."
If Smith does want to continue his playing career in Washington past this year, it will all but certainly have to come with a restructured contract.
He's not carrying a cap hit of nearly $25 million into 2021.
Contract and salary-cap information courtesy of Spotrac.