The Contract Every NFL Team Wishes Could Disappear

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystFebruary 13, 2021

The Contract Every NFL Team Wishes Could Disappear

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    The 2020 NFL season has ended, and as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wrap up the celebration from their win in Super Bowl LV, the attention of all 32 NFL teams has already turned to 2021.

    With no scouting combine this year (thanks a lot, COVID…again), the next big leaguewide event will be the beginning of free agency in March. Even with the salary cap set to decline in 2021, hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent to either bring veteran players to town or keep them there.

    Some of those signings will play key roles in a successful season for their respective teams (see Brady, Tom). However, each year there are signings that teams wind up regretting—big-money deals that just don't pay off. 

    Just about every team has at least one on the roster.

    Well, in this article we're going to let those teams hop into the old wayback machine. Hitch a ride on the Hindsight Express. We're going to highlight the one deal all 32 teams wish they could wipe off their ledger.

Arizona Cardinals: DL Jordan Phillips

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    Noah K. Murray/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Three years, $30 million, $18.5 million guaranteed

    There are several players on the Arizona Cardinals roster with bigger contracts than defensive linemen Jordan Phillips. But whether it's edge-rusher Chandler Jones, linebacker Jordan Hicks and safety Budda Baker on defense or wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on offense, those players are key contributors for the team.

    That's not the case with Phillips, at least not yet.

    When the Cardinals signed Phillips in free agency last year, the 28-year-old was expected to add some pop to the pass rush up front. The six-year veteran was coming off easily the best season of his professional career—31 tackles and 9.5 sacks in 2019 with the Buffalo Bills.

    That Phillips had just 5.5 sacks in the four years preceding that breakout should have been a (Cardinals) red flag.

    It looks like that huge 2019 campaign may have been an aberration, as Phillips' numbers regressed substantially in his first year in the NFC. He had 11 tackles and just two sacks in an injury-shortened season.

    If Phillips can't turn things around in 2021, it's unlikely he'll see the final year of this extension.

Atlanta Falcons: EDGE Dante Fowler Jr.

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    Kevin Sabitus/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Three years, $45 million, $29 million guaranteed

    Given the trade rumors surrounding quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones, some might expect to see one of those veterans listed here. The cap hit for that duo in 2021 checks in at over $63 million.

    But Ryan and Jones are the best players at their respective positions in franchise history. One season into his tenure with the team, edge-rusher Dante Fowler Jr. appears to have just been a massive waste of cash.

    When the Falcons handed the 26-year-old Fowler a $14 million signing bonus last year, he was supposed to provide them with some desperately needed pass-rushing help. The six-year veteran was coming off a career-best 11.5 sacks with the Los Angeles Rams. The light bulb appeared to have finally come on for the third overall pick in the 2015 draft.

    Or not.

    After getting a big payday from the Falcons, Fowler responded with his worst season as a pro. He managed just three sacks in 14 games…a career low.

    Unfortunately, there's not much Atlanta can do in 2021 besides hope that Fowler rebounds. Releasing him as a post-June 1 cut would mean eating a dead-cap charge of $10.7 million.

Baltimore Ravens: CB Tavon Young

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Three years, $25.8 million, $13 million guaranteed

    The Baltimore Ravens aren't known for handing out bad contracts, and there are no shortage of franchises that would gladly take on a deal that averages $8.6 million a year as their "worst."

    But with the benefit of hindsight, Ravens GM Erik DeCosta likely wishes the team had passed on extending slot corner Tavon Young—a regret that is reinforced by the fact that the team has already restructured the deal once since it was agreed to in 2019.

    When the deal was signed, Young was coming off a 2018 campaign in which he played in 15 games despite battling a sports hernia, making 37 total tackles with an interception, three forced fumbles and a passer rating against of 111.8.

    The problem hasn't been performance. It has been injuries.

    In 2017, Young tore his ACL in OTAs and missed the entire season. After inking his extension in 2019, Young injured his neck in training camp and missed that entire season. Last year, Young made it two games into the season before suffering another ACL tear.

    Of 80 possible regular-season games over his five-year career, Young has played in just 33.

Buffalo Bills: EDGE Mario Addison

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    Stew Milne/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Three years, $30.5 million, $15.3 million guaranteed

    As Marcel Louis-Jacques reported for ESPN, Bills general manager Brandon Beane recently made an interesting statement regarding Buffalo's current salary-cap crunch—a crunch borne out of an anticipated decrease in the cap for 2021.

    "It's one of those things you wish we knew that a year ago," Beane said. "Maybe we wouldn't have made every move we did. Maybe we wouldn't have been as aggressive in some areas."

    When the Bills signed 33-year-old edge-rusher Mario Addison a year ago, the plan was that he would boost Buffalo's middling pass rush. Addison had been one of the more consistent edge-rushers over the past several years, notching at least nine sacks in four successive seasons from 2016 to 2019—including an 11-sack 2017 campaign.

    But whether it was due to advancing age, the switch to a new team or a combination of multiple factors, Addison's sack production dropped precipitously in 2020—his five sacks for the Bills were his lowest total in that category since 2013.

    If there's a bright side for the Bills where veteran edge-rusher Mario Addison is concerned, it's this: If they want to make his contract disappear, they can cut bait for a manageable dead-cap hit of $4 million.

Carolina Panthers: QB Teddy Bridgewater

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Three years, $63 million, $33 million guaranteed

    It's not all that hard to figure out which contract the Carolina Panthers would most like to be rid of.

    The offseason has yet to even officially begin, and the Panthers are already attempting to hit the reset button at the quarterback position. Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the team offered the eighth overall pick in the 2021 draft, a fifth-round pick and veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford.

    The Lions traded Stafford to Los Angeles, but that offer makes it clear that Carolina is looking to upgrade under center just one year after signing Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million pact.

    It's not a shocking move by the Panthers given how Bridgewater played in his first season as the team's starter. The 28-year-old threw for 3,733 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with a passer rating of 92.1 in winning four of his 15 starts.

    However, unless the Panthers can find a taker in a trade, player and team are likely stuck with one another for at least one more season. Even if Carolina designated Bridgewater a post-June 1 cut, he would still carry a dead-cap hit of $15 million.

Chicago Bears: EDGE Robert Quinn

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    David Berding/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Five years, $70 million, $30 million guaranteed

    There's a running theme developing here.

    2020 was not a good year to spend big money on free agents.

    After the Chicago Bears handed edge-rusher Robert Quinn $30 million in guarantees last year, he was supposed to pair with All-Pro Khalil Mack to form one of the best pass-rushing duos of the year. Quinn was coming off his best season in years with the Dallas Cowboys, recording 34 total tackles and 11.5 sacks.

    What the Bears got was arguably the biggest free-agent bust in a year filled with them. In 15 games (and 13 starts) Quinn managed just two sacks—the lowest total of his decade-long NFL career.

    General manager Ryan Pace told reporters that he believes Quinn can turn things around in 2021.

    "You know, as you go back Robert is a player that has had consistent pass-rush production throughout his career in our league," Pace said. "Of course we would have wanted more production this season. I know he's really hard on himself and he feels the same way."

    "I think there are a variety of reasons why maybe that didn't happen," Pace added. "He sets really high standards for himself. We expect him to rebound."

    Of course, there's not much else for Pace to say. The team's first realistic "out" with Quinn isn't until 2022.

Cincinnati Bengals: CB Trae Waynes

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Three years, $42 million, $15 million guaranteed

    Many folks likely expected to see defensive tackle Geno Atkins listed here after his disastrous 2020 season. But given that Atkins is all but certainly going to be released soon after the new league year, we'll look in a different direction.

    That direction just so happens to be last year's mess of a free-agent class.

    The Bengals were uncharacteristically generous in free agency last year, and one of the players who hit the jackpot as a result was veteran cornerback Trae Waynes. But the next time that Waynes takes the field for the Bengals will be the first time. The 28-year-old missed the 2020 season after suffering a pectoral injury in camp.

    The reality is, even if Waynes had played last season, the Bengals would still likely have buyer's remorse. Waynes hasn't lived up to the hype of being a first-round pick (in 2015)—two years ago he allowed 74 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed and surrendered a passer rating against of 107.9.

Cleveland Browns: WR Odell Beckham Jr.

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Five years, $90 million, $65 million guaranteed

    This one is a tough call.

    For starters, the Cleveland Browns didn't sign Odell Beckham Jr. to this whopper of a contract. The star wideout got $65 million in guarantees from Dave Gettleman of the New York Giants.

    Also, it's not like Beckham has been bad since joining the Browns in 2019. The 28-year-old caught 74 passes for over 1,000 yards in his lone full season with the team.

    But there are some harsh realities present here. The first is that as phenomenal as Beckham was over his first three years in the league, the last four haven't been especially impressive. Beckham hasn't hit 1,100 receiving yards since 2016. After finding the end zone 35 times over those first three seasons, Beckham has 16 scores over the last four. He has also missed over half the season twice over that span, including nine games in 2020 with an ACL tear.

    The harshest reality of all is this: In 2020 at least, the Browns played better offensively after Beckham got hurt. When Beckham has been on the field for the Browns, Baker Mayfield has seemingly felt an impetus to force passes in his direction rather than take what opposing defenses give him.

    This isn't a knock on OBJ. But if the Browns get any kind of reasonable trade offer for him, they would be wise to seriously consider it.

    Two years in, the fit just hasn't been there.

Dallas Cowboys: RB Ezekiel Elliott

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Six years, $90 million, $50.1 million guaranteed

    Emmitt Smith knows a few things about running the football, and while speaking with the Dallas Morning News, he said that it's premature to start throwing dirt on Elliott after his disappointing 2020 season:

    "I think with Ezekiel Elliott, many people forget that Zeke had COVID-19 before the season even got started. And no one knows what COVID-19 will do to your body until you go through it. If you look at his body and play through the first five-six weeks of the season, his body structure, his weight looked a little bit different than the latter part of the season. Physically you just look at him, he looks a lot leaner in the latter part of the season than he did in the first part of the season."

    Elliott's career stats point toward last year being an aberration, as prior to averaging 65.3 rushing yards per game, his previous career low was nearly 20 yards per game better.

    But that second-lowest total (84.8) came in 2019. In fact, Elliott's rushing yards per game have dropped every year he's been in the league.

    He has already carried the ball over 1,400 times in the NFL—a lot of wear and tear for a 25-year-old tailback. He was also outplayed last year by Tony Pollard, who makes a fraction of what he does.

    There's a reason why so many NFL teams are wary of giving massive long-term extensions to running backs. Elliott can't be faulted for getting paid, but if Jerry Jones could get a redo, Elliott isn't getting a six-year pact with $50 million in guarantees.

Denver Broncos: OT Ja'Wuan James

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Four years, $51 million, $32 million guaranteed

    It seemed like a good idea at the time.

    When the Denver Broncos signed tackle Ja'Wuan James back in 2019, it wasn't a deal that was widely criticized. Over five years in Miami, James had become one of the better right tackles in the NFL. And at 26 years old, James was just entering the prime of his career.

    Fast forward a little less than two years, and Broncos beat reporter Mike Klis told 104.3 The Fan in Denver (via Chad Jensen of Mile High Huddle) that he believes there's a real possibility that James will be cut in the offseason. That's despite the fact that it will mean John Elway and the Broncos essentially set $27 million on fire.

    "If I'm the Broncos, I'm not sure you bring Ja'Wuan James back. I know you'd have to eat another $10 million," Klis said. "But you already had to eat $17 million, so that would be eating $27 million for nothing. How good is he going to be after two years off?"

    James' career in Denver has been a disappointment. Two years ago, he made it all of 63 snaps into the season before a knee injury ended it. In 2020, he didn't play at all, opting out because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Detroit Lions: EDGE Trey Flowers

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Five years, $90 million, $56 million guaranteed

    In a perfect world, the Detroit Lions would probably like to clear Jared Goff's four-year, $134 million contract off the books. The Los Angeles Rams were so eager to do so that they threw an extra first-round pick into the deal that landed Matthew Stafford in L.A.

    But since Goff just got to Motown a few weeks ago, we'll give the Lions a little more time for buyer's remorse to really kick in.

    Just like it has with edge-rusher Trey Flowers.

    More than a few eyebrows went up when the Lions signed the 27-year-old Flowers to a five-year deal that included $40 million in guarantees at signing. Detroit was paying Flowers like an elite edge-rusher despite the fact that he's never had even eight sacks in a season.

    But Flowers had at least been fairly consistent, notching at least 6.5 sacks in four straight seasons with the New England Patriots from 2016 to 2019.

    Tasked with anchoring the Detroit pass rush in 2020, Flowers' numbers dropped off a cliff: just 22 total tackles and two sacks in seven games.

Green Bay Packers: EDGE Preston Smith

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Four years, $52 million, $16 million guaranteed

    The Green Bay Packers have some difficult decisions to make this offseason. The team is in the fifth-worst position relative to the projected salary cap in the NFL ($28.2 million in the red). Significant contributors such as running back Aaron Jones and center Corey Linsley are set to hit free agency.

    And given those factors, there has been speculation that Preston Smith's days with the Packers could be numbered.

    Smith's first season with the Packers in 2019 was outstanding, as the 28-year-old set career bests in both total tackles (56) and sacks (12). But while batterymate Za'Darius Smith was able to back up his 2019 numbers this past season, Preston Smith's production plummeted to 42 total stops and a career-low four sacks.

    If the Packers do move on from Smith in 2021, it won't come cheaply. Green Bay would absorb a dead cap hit of $4 million each of the next two years if they designate him a post-June 1 release.

    But the Packers would also free up $12 million in desperately needed wiggle room against the cap.

Houston Texans: EDGE Whitney Mercilus

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Four years, $54 million, $28.5 million guaranteed

    Frankly, it's hard to pinpoint just one bad contract in Houston—the Bill O'Brien era was littered with them.

    Things are looking pretty ugly, and it's going to get uglier.

    In fairness to edge-rusher Whitney Mercilus, he isn't a bad player. Over his nine years with the Texans, he has amassed 54 sacks, including a 12-sack season back in 2015.

    But outside that one big year, Mercilus hasn't done anything to deserve a contract that averages over $13 million per season. That 2015 campaign was the only time that he has ever had more than 7.5 sacks in a season. Mercilus has never been named to a Pro Bowl, and over the last four seasons combined, he has managed just 16.5 sacks (including just four a year ago).

    Unfortunately, in 2021 at least, there isn't a lot the Texans can do. The dead cap hit for releasing him this offseason would check in at a cool $12.1 million.

    At least.

Indianapolis Colts: TE Jack Doyle

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Three years, $21.3 million, $7.5 million guaranteed

    The Indianapolis Colts were one of the harder teams to slot in this article. General manager Chris Ballard has done an excellent job of building a competitive roster without overpaying players. For the most part, the guys who make the big bucks deserve them, whether it's defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart or offensive linemen Ryan Kelly and Quenton Nelson.

    However, among the team's five highest-paid players in terms of average annual salary, veteran tight end Jack Doyle stands out a little.

    He is a serviceable receiver and an excellent blocker, and back in 2017 he posted 80 receptions for almost 700 yards and four scores. But Doyle has just 92 receptions total in the three seasons since that mini-breakout, in two of the past three seasons he hasn't hit 260 receiving yards, and the 30-year-old has missed time in three of the last four campaigns.

    If there's a veteran cap casualty candidate for the Colts this offseason, it's probably Doyle. The team could move on for a modest dead cap hit of $1.5 million.

Jacksonville Jaguars: OLB Myles Jack

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Four years, $57 million, $33.1 million guaranteed

    Back in 2019, the Jacksonville Jaguars handed outside linebacker Myles Jack a four-year contract extension that averaged over $14 million per season. The deal included a $12 million signing bonus and made Jack one of the highest-paid off-ball linebackers in the league.

    The problem is that while Jack is coming off a 2020 season in which he amassed a career-high 118 total tackles, he is most assuredly not one of the best off-ball linebackers in the NFL. He's not even the best off-ball linebacker on his own team.

    Jack makes more in terms of average annual salary than Blake Martinez of the New York Giants, Lavonte David of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Demario Davis of the New Orleans Saints. But you won't find many folks outside of Duval County who would roster Jack over any of those veteran linebackers.

    He isn't necessarily a bad linebacker. But he's also not a great one, and that's what he's being paid like.

    If new Jaguars GM Trent Baalke had a magic eraser, Jack's $12.2 million cap number for 2021 would probably be coming off the books.

Kansas City Chiefs: ILB Anthony Hitchens

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Five years, $45 million, $21.3 million guaranteed

    The Kansas City Chiefs have no shortage of highly paid players. But whether it's the highest-paid player in the NFL in quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce or defensive tackle Chris Jones, most of the stars who command the big bucks in KC also played a large role in the team making it to back-to-back Super Bowls.

    Then there's inside linebacker Anthony Hitchens.

    When Hitchens joined the Chiefs as a free agent back in 2018 on a five-year pact that averaged $9 million per season, the hope was that the 28-year-old would anchor the middle of the Chiefs defense for years.

    Instead, the reverse has happened. With each successive season, Hitchens' playing time and production have decreased. In his first season with the team, he piled up a career-high 135 total tackles. By 2020, that number had dropped to 78 tackles, and Hitchens was on the field for 75 percent of the Chiefs' defensive plays in just three games.

    If the Chiefs were to designate Hitchens as a post-June 1 cut, the team could trim about $6.5 million off the 2021 cap. But it would also mean dead cap hits of $4.2 million in both 2021 and 2022.

Las Vegas Raiders: OLB Cory Littleton

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Three years, $35.3 million, $22 million guaranteed

    Oh, look! It's yet another free agent signed a year ago who appears to have been a massive waste of salary-cap space.

    When the Las Vegas Raiders brought in Cory Littleton last spring, the hope was that the 27-year-old would immediately step in as a defensive anchor and the new leader of a revamped LB corps. Littleton had racked up at least 125 total tackles in each of the two previous seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, adding 7.5 sacks and five interceptions.

    Yeah...that didn't happen.

    To say that Littleton struggled in his first season with the Raiders is being kind. He was caught out of position and victimized in coverage with alarming regularity, and there were missed tackles galore.

    Per Ted Nguyen and Tashan Reed of The Athletic, Littleton was the first to admit that he didn't play well in 2020.

    "I've always said that I've always wanted to keep myself and keep my play at a top-five linebacker level. The two previous seasons I had starting, that was always my goal. I didn't come nowhere close to it this year."

    At least he's honest.

Los Angeles Chargers: OG Trai Turner

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Four years, $45 million, $20.5 million guaranteed

    Back in March 2020, the Los Angeles Chargers made a bold move to bolster their struggling offensive line, trading veteran tackle Russell Okung to the Carolina Panthers for guard Trai Turner. At the time, the move was understandable, as Turner had just been named to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl the season before.

    That streak came to an end last year. Turner's first season with the Chargers was arguably the worst of his career, as the 27-year-old missed almost half the season and didn't play especially well when he was on the field. The Chargers offensive line was again a concern, and the Bolts missed the postseason.

    There is a bright spot here, however. With Turner heading into the final year of his contract, Los Angeles could ostensibly cut bait and wipe his entire $11.3 million cap hit off the books.

    It likely won't come to that, but it wouldn't be surprising if the Chargers approach Turner in the offseason about restructuring his deal.

Los Angeles Rams: TE Tyler Higbee

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Four years, $29 million, $15.5 million guaranteed

    Despite setting career highs in both receptions and yardage in 2020, Rams tight end Gerald Everett will probably be leaving the team in the offseason. Los Angeles has all kinds of salary-cap issues, and after re-upping Tyler Higbee back in 2019, the money just isn't there to extend another tight end.

    With the benefit of hindsight, it's fair to wonder if Rams general manager Les Snead would do things the same way the second time around.

    Higbee didn't have a bad season in 2020: 44 catches (on 60 targets) for 521 yards and a career-best five touchdowns. But in part because of Everett's emergence, with the exception of those five scores Higbee's numbers were down across the board relative to 2019.

    Higbee won't be going anywhere in 2021, partly because Everett is likely a goner, partly because his dead cap hit would be $4.8 million and partly because he's a solid young tight end.

    But if you're judging Higbee solely off his 2020 production, he's an overpaid player on a team that needs every cent of cap space it can spare.

Miami Dolphins: CB Byron Jones

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    John Munson/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Five years, $82.5 million, $57 million guaranteed

    The Miami Dolphins were big spenders in free agency last year, and the centerpiece was Byron Jones. Miami gave Jones a five-year pact with over $50 million in guarantees, and his average annual salary of $16.5 million is the highest of any player on the team and the third-highest among all NFL corners, trailing only Jalen Ramsey of the Rams and Marlon Humphrey of the Ravens.

    However, for all the money the Dolphins have invested in Jones and Xavien Howard, Miami was only 23rd in the league in pass defense last year. Jones was decent but not much more than that, allowing just over 60 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed, with a passer rating against of 108.

    One can't fault Jones for making the most of his foray into free agency, and given how his contract is structured, it will be some time before the Dolphins could even consider extricating themselves from the deal.

    But one year in, dropping $16.5 million per year on Jones doesn't appear to have been the greatest idea.

Minnesota Vikings: OLB Anthony Barr

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Five years, $67.5 million, $33 million guaranteed

    Back in April 2019, Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr very nearly signed a big free-agent pact with the New York Jets. But he had second thoughts, the Vikings sweetened their offer, and he wound up staying put in the Twin Cities.

    In retrospect, the Vikings may have been better off letting Barr leave for the Big Apple.

    For most of his seven-year career, Barr has been a versatile and talented strong-side linebacker—over four straight seasons from 2015 to 2018, he was selected to the Pro Bowl. But starting in 2019 (after signing a five-year extension), injuries started to become an issue. Barr missed two games in 2019 and made it only two games into the 2020 campaign before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season.

    The splash plays that were an important part of the early portion of Barr's career have also largely dried up. Since signing the deal that included well over $30 million in guarantees, he has just 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception.

    That's not much sizzle for over $13 million per season.

New England Patriots: CB Stephon Gilmore

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Five years, $65 million, $40 million guaranteed

    Of all the contracts listed in this article, Stephon Gilmore's may be the most likely to actually come off the books in 2021. There's been no shortage of speculation that the New England Patriots could look to move on from the veteran cornerback this offseason.

    It's a remarkable fall from favor in Beantown for the 30-year-old. Two years ago, Gilmore notched 53 total tackles, 20 passes defended and half a dozen interceptions on the way to being named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. Gilmore's passer rating against that season was a minuscule 44.1.

    However, much like the Pats as a whole, Gilmore backslid in 2020. His completion percentage allowed jumped from 50.5 to 57.1, and his passer rating against jumped over 30 points.

    This isn't to say that Gilmore isn't still an excellent defender. He is. But the Patriots are heading into a rebuild, and Gilmore isn't getting any younger.

    The most value he has for New England in 2021 is as trade bait.

New Orleans Saints: WR Michael Thomas

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Five years, $96.3 million, $60.6 million guaranteed

    Prior to the 2019 season, the New Orleans Saints gave wide receiver Michael Thomas a five-year contract extension that averaged over $19 million per season. He certainly earned that bump in pay that year—in 2019, he reeled in an NFL-record 149 catches and was named the Offensive Player of the Year.

    The 2020 season, however, was another story.

    In the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Thomas suffered a high ankle sprain, an injury that would set the tone for the year. By the time Thomas was shut out on the stat sheet in a playoff loss to the Bucs, he had suffered through a campaign that saw him miss nine games and post easily the worst numbers of his five-year career.

    Now Thomas is looking at multiple offseason surgeries to repair his ankle, and a rebuilding Saints team in the worst-salary cap situation in the NFL is dedicating a large percentage of its cap space to a wideout.

    There's a reason why Thomas keeps coming up in trade speculation.

New York Giants: OT Nate Solder

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    Vera Nieuwenhuis/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Four years, $62 million, $35 million guaranteed

    For some teams, it's difficult to single out one contract that the franchise most wishes would disappear.

    Then there's the New York Giants and the abomination that is tackle Nate Solder's four-year, $62 million pact.

    When the Giants signed Solder, he was supposed to become the foundation for an improved line in New York. Instead, the Giants got a turnstile. In 1,011 snaps for the Giants in 2019, Solder surrendered a whopping 11 sacks and may have been the worst blindside protector in the league. His second season in New York in 2020 was a wash, as Solder opted out due to safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    There has been some speculation that Solder could retire, but as Cole Claybourn reported for Sports Spectrum, Solder appeared to indicate that he's leaning toward playing in 2021.

    "I feel like I'm mentally and physically in a place where I am looking forward to, if I have the opportunity to play, I'll probably take it if that's what God has for me," he said.

    Given his 2021 cap number and performance level in 2019, the Giants couldn't be blamed for hoping he reconsiders.

New York Jets: ILB CJ Mosley

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Five years, $85 million, $51 million guaranteed

    In terms of average annual salary, inside linebacker CJ Mosley is the highest-paid player on the New York Jets roster, at $17 million per season. It's not close, either.

    There's also no doubt that if the New York Jets could do it over they wouldn't have handed Mosley $51 million in guarantees.

    It was a bad idea to hand any off-ball linebacker that type of deal, even one who had over 100 tackles and/or made the Pro Bowl in four of his first five seasons.

    But Mosley's first two seasons with the Jets have been an unmitigated disaster. In 2019, Mosley made all of nine tackles in two games before suffering a season-ending groin injury. As bad as that was, it was still nine more tackles than Mosley had the following year, as the 28-year-old opted out of the 2020 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    As Randy Lange reported for the team's website, Jets GM Joe Douglas referred to Mosley recently as a "special player."

    If he shows that in 2021, it will be a first since he joined Gang Green.

Philadelphia Eagles: CB Darius Slay

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Three years, $50.1 million, $30.6 million guaranteed

    We aren't going to include Carson Wentz and his massive contract here, if only because from all indications it's only a matter of time until he's traded.

    Given the direction the Eagles appear headed in, Wentz might not be the only high-priced veteran sent packing, either.

    When the Philadelphia Eagles traded a pair of draft picks (third and fifth) to the Detroit Lions for Darius Slay, it looked like a sound move. The three-year extension Slay was given afterward was just the price of doing business.

    Then the season started, and much like everything else for the Eagles in 2020, Slay didn't meet expectations. In 2018, he allowed just 46.8 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed for 520 yards with a passer rating against of 72.1.

    By 2020, those numbers had ballooned to 76.7 percent, 851 yards and a passer rating against of 111.9.

Pittsburgh Steelers: DE Cameron Heyward

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Four years, $65 million, $20.3 million guaranteed

    Before anyone races off to the comments section to light me up, let's get something straight: Cameron Heyward is an excellent veteran defensive end.

    But the Pittsburgh Steelers are the most upside-down team in the AFC against the salary cap in 2021 ($30.6 million over the projected cap). And quite a bit of those financial issues can be traced to the big contracts handed to two aging players: Heyward and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

    After amassing at least eight sacks for the third straight season in 2019 on the way to being named a first-team All-Pro, Heyward got his most recent payday a few months after celebrating his 31st birthday. But the 2020 season that followed was disappointing from a statistical perspective, as Heyward's four sacks last season were his lowest total since 2016.

    It's going to be a couple of years before the Steelers can get out of this deal without a dead cap hit in excess of $12 million, so there's not much to be done here other than hope that Heyward can rebound next season.

San Francisco 49ers: QB Jimmy Garoppolo

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    Scott Eklund/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Five years, $137.5 million, $74.1 million guaranteed

    There has been no shortage of scuttlebutt concerning the interest of the San Francisco 49ers in an upgrade at quarterback. That's despite the fact that Jimmy Garoppolo led the team to a berth in Super Bowl LIV.

    However, NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms said that just because the Niners are kicking the tires on other options under center doesn't mean they have totally soured on the 29-year-old.

    "You're gonna be looking for other options out there, and especially when the Matthew Staffords or Aaron Rodgers of the world get thrown onto your radar," Simms said, per Alex Didion of NBC Sports Bay Area. "Listen, I like Jimmy Garoppolo, but those are clearly upgrades. They are superstar-type talents, Rodgers, other than Mahomes, is the best quarterback in football. Matthew Stafford is a top-10 talent. So they're going to be aggressive is what I'm telling you."

    The biggest thing working against Garoppolo is injuries. When he's been healthy, he has played well (22-8 as the starter for the 49ers). But he has also missed at least 10 games in two of three seasons since signing his megadeal in 2018.

    Sometimes the best ability is availability.

Seattle Seahawks: DT Jarran Reed

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    Larry Maurer/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Two years, $23 million, $14.1 million guaranteed

    We know a couple of things about the Seattle Seahawks in 2021.

    The first is that Seattle isn't in a position to be major players in free agency, as the Seahawks are only about $4.1 million under the projected cap for 2021.

    The second is that Seattle desperately needs to improve the defensive line in 2021. The in-season addition of end Carlos Dunlap last year helped, but the fact that Seattle's best pass-rusher in 2020 was safety Jamal Adams shows just how badly the unit needs an overhaul.

    There was a time when it appeared that tackle Jarran Reed was going to be an anchor on the Seattle line—he broke out with 10.5 sacks back in 2018. But Reed was suspended the first six games of the 2019 season for a personal conduct policy violation and managed just two sacks all season long.

    Reed's production increased after he signed a two-year, $23 million contract last year (38 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 16 games).

    But if the 28-year-old wants another deal in excess of $10 million per season after next season, he's going to have to turn back the clock to 2018.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: TE Cameron Brate

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    Kyle Zedaker/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Six years, $40.8 million, $18 million guaranteed

    There isn't a team in the NFL smiling more widely right now than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Blowout wins in the Super Bowl will do that for a franchise.

    The present isn't the only reason for the Buccaneers to be happy, either. General manager Jason Licht has done an excellent job constructing Tampa's roster—so much so that as the offseason dawns, there isn't a team in the NFC with more wiggle room under the salary cap than the Bucs' $28.4 million.

    However, even the best GMs occasionally strike a deal that doesn't look as good with the benefit of hindsight.

    This isn't to say that veteran tight end Cameron Brate didn't play well for the Buccaneers in 2020. His catch percentage of 82.4 last season was the highest of his career.

    But he posted just 28 catches for 282 yards and two scores in 2020, numbers that are career lows if you take away his one-catch rookie year.

    That's not great ROI for a contract that pays the 29-year-old $6.8 million per season.

Tennessee Titans: WR Adam Humphries

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Four years, $36 million, $19 million guaranteed

    The Tennessee Titans have a few eyebrow-raising contracts on the roster. Cornerback Malcolm Butler has never exactly lived up to his massive free-agent deal of five years, $61 million. Safety Kevin Byard got a deal that averaged $14 million per season, and then his big-play production nosedived in 2020.

    But if there's one deal that Titans general manager Jon Robinson wishes he could wipe off the books, it has to be the four-year, $36 million pact the team signed veteran slot receiver Adam Humphries to back in 2019.

    In 2018, Humphries caught 76 of 105 targets for 816 yards and five touchdowns. In the two years since signing the deal that pays him a cool $9 million per season, he has caught 60 of 82 targets for 602 yards and four scores.

    That's an average line of 30/301/2...for nine million bucks.

    Now, part of that drop in production is the result of the emergence of A.J. Brown and Corey Davis outside. But there's little doubt that if the team had the opportunity for a re-do, Humphries wouldn't be getting that big raise.

Washington Football Team: QB Alex Smith

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Contract Details: Four years, $94 million, $71 million guaranteed

    The return of quarterback Alex Smith to game action in 2020 was an amazing story. He went from nearly losing his leg (and perhaps his life) to helping lead Washington to an NFC East title and winning Comeback Player of the Year honors.

    The odds of Smith's story being made into a Hollywood movie are approximately 182 percent.

    As John Keim reported for ESPN, Smith sounded like a quarterback who wanted to continue his playing career.

    "I just feel like I continued to get stronger and stronger and better and better," Smith said. "I still feel like I'm kind of a kid right now headed into the offseason. I'm excited for this offseason to see what I can go do—football and everything else. ... I had such an amazing time playing. I felt so good out there. It was crazy after that first game how comfortable I felt back out on the field."

    But while Smith's return was a great story, the harsh reality is that his mobility isn't what it used to be. He missed three of Washington's last four games with a bone bruise. And in six games, Smith threw more interceptions (eight) than touchdown passes (six) and posted a passer rating under 80.

    Washington reportedly made a run at Matthew Stafford and has been linked to other veteran signal-callers. Given that and Smith's 2021 cap hit of $24.4 million in 2021, it's not a stretch to presume that the WFT would just as soon clear Smith's big deal off the ledger.