Ranking the 10 Worst Contracts Given in NFL Free Agency Last Year

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2021

Ranking the 10 Worst Contracts Given in NFL Free Agency Last Year

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    Kevin Sabitus/Associated Press

    The 2021 edition of NFL free agency is scheduled to kick off March 17. In the days that follow, teams will overpay for players with deals that will ultimately be viewed as mistakes. It happens every offseason.

    Last offseason wasn't an exception, and for proof, we'll present the 10 worst contracts of 2020 free agency by examining player performance and current roster status. These deals never had a real chance of justifying the price tag—either because of contract terms, injury risk or because teams failed to do their homework. These pacts also, in retrospect, appear even worse than they did at signing.

10. EDGE Jadeveon Clowney

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    The contract: one-year, $13 million with $11.5 million guaranteed

    We kick things off with the Tennessee Titans' decision to ink Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year deal worth $13 million, with the majority of it guaranteed. This ranks 10th because their reasoning wasn't completely flawed. Clowney was just 27 years old at the time and had three Pro Bowl berths.

    In theory, signing Clowney also helped meet Tennessee's drastic need for a pass-rusher.

    However, giving $11.5 million guaranteed to a player with a notable injury history and coming off a poor season was a mistake. Clowney produced just three sacks with the Seattle Seahawks in 2019 and had completed a 16-game campaign only once.

    For their money, the Titans got eight games, zero sacks and just 11 quarterback pressures. Paying over $1 million per pressure is not a bargain under any circumstance.

9. QB Teddy Bridgewater

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    The contract: Three years, $63 million with $33 million guaranteed

    In Teddy Bridgewater's case, $21 million per year for a starting-caliber quarterback isn't bad. The problem lies in his performance and the fact that the Carolina Panthers shelled out $33 million in guarantees to a player who hadn't started full time since 2015.

    It's not Bridgewater's fault that a severe knee injury derailed his career in 2016. However, he couldn't parlay a five-game starting stretch with New Orleans in 2019 into a secure job this past season. Bridgewater was serviceable at best with a passer rating of 92.1 and has left the Panthers looking for a new quarterback.

    According to ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., Carolina will likely address the position in the draft.

    "They are either going to move up to get Zach Wilson (or) Justin Fields, (or) Mac Jones if they sit at eight, Trey Lance," Kiper told reporters in a conference call. "They are going to get somebody of those four if they don't get Deshaun Watson."

    It's looking like Bridgewater will be nothing more than a one-year stopgap for the Panthers, and Carolina overpaid for it.

8. LB Christian Kirksey

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    Leon Halip/Associated Press

    The contract: Two years, $13 million with $4 million guaranteed

    The Green Bay Packers took a chance on linebacker Christian Kirksey last offseason. While Kirksey's deal wasn't egregious, $13 million was a lot to hand an injury-prone player who last played a full season in 2017.

    Kirksey had only appeared in nine games from 2018 to 2019 and was coming back from a significant chest injury. Unsurprisingly, he landed on injured reserve with a pectoral injury this past season and only played 11 games for the Packers.

    This contract might not look as bad if Kirksey had been a star when healthy. He wasn't, however. In 2020, he missed nine tackles and allowed a passer rating of 109.7 in coverage. While he started all 11 games in which he appeared, his playing time dwindled near the end of the season. He played less than 50 percent of the defensive snaps in his final two regular-season games.

    Green Bay released Kirksey after only one season.

7. TE Austin Hooper

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    The contract: Four years, $42 million with $23 million guaranteed

    On the surface, Austin Hooper's contract with the Cleveland Browns wasn't terrible. New head coach Kevin Stefanski's system utilized multiple tight ends, and Hooper was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl campaigns. However, Cleveland overpaid for a player whose most prolific season included 787 receiving yards.

    Cleveland briefly reset the tight end market with this deal—though George Kittle ($15 million) and Travis Kelce ($14.3 million) would sign bigger pacts in terms of annual salary later in the offseason.

    Hooper's role hasn't helped this one age well either. Stefanski's use of multiple tight ends made Hooper more of a role player alongside David Njoku and rookie Harrison Bryant. Hooper finished with just 435 yards and four touchdowns.

    This is not the sort of production a team should hope to get out of a player making $10.5 million per season. The reality is that Hooper's role in Cleveland and his salary don't match.

6. TE Jimmy Graham

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    The contract: Two years, $16 million with $9 million guaranteed

    While the Browns did overpay for Hooper, at least the then-25-year-old was still in his prime. When the Chicago Bears gave the 33-year-old Jimmy Graham $8 million per season, they were paying for a tight end well past his.

    Graham, now 34, did reward Chicago with eight touchdown receptions, but he also produced a mere 456 receiving yards. He's also become part of the Bears' cap problem, as they're projected to have less than $1 million in salary space, assuming a $185 million limit.

    In 2021, Graham is set to carry a cap hit of $10 million. Chicago can save $7 million by cutting him, but the team will still owe $3 million in dead money. That's a lot for a franchise in a cap bind—especially when Graham was never going to be a long-term piece anyway.

    Not long after signing Graham, the Bears used a second-round draft pick on tight end Cole Kmet. There's a real chance that Kmet is Chicago's starting tight end in 2021 while Graham is nothing but a cap charge.

5. OG Andrus Peat

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    The contract: Five years, $57.5 million with $33.85 million guaranteed

    It's hard to fault the New Orleans Saints for locking up a Pro Bowl guard ahead of a season that may have been the team's last shot at a Super Bowl run with quarterback Drew Brees. However, the Saints' decision to give Peat the league's third-biggest guard contract after he missed six games in 2019 and with cap purgatory looming was questionable.

    Peat had another Pro Bowl season in 2020, but he did miss three games and allowed four sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. More problematic is the fact that he's set to carry a cap hit of $11.6 million in 2021 and would represent $7.8 million in dead money should the team move on before June 1. 

    With New Orleans projected to be $66.4 million over the cap, that's a major problem.

    According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Brees is still expected to retire this offseason. This means New Orleans is likely facing a rebuild soon. Like it or not, the Saints are stuck with the injury-prone Peat as part of that rebuild because of this lucrative long-term deal.

4. WR Randall Cobb

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The contract: Three years, $27 million with $18 million guaranteed

    While perhaps not as much of a mistake as trading DeAndre Hopkins for proverbial peanuts, the Houston Texans' decision to sign Randall Cobb for $9 million per year wasn't smart. It's not that Cobb is a bad player, but he turned 30 last August, hadn't played a full season since 2015 and got two-thirds of his contract guaranteed.

    He is set to carry a cap hit of $10.5 million in 2021, which is a problem for the rebuilding Texans. Houston is projected to have $20.9 million in cap space and can save nothing by parting with Cobb. Doing so would trigger a dead-money charge of $12.25 million.

    Because of how this deal was constructed, the Texans are stuck with Cobb for at least another year. For its investment, Houston got 10 games, 441 receiving yards and three touchdowns in 2020.

    To be fair, Cobb was coming off an 828-yard season with the Dallas Cowboys, but the contract still represents some poor long-term planning.

3. EDGE Vic Beasley

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    The contract: One year, $9.5 million fully guaranteed

    While the Texans haven't gotten much from their investment in Cobb, the Tennessee Titans got next to nothing from pass-rusher Vic Beasley. The 2016 NFL sacks leader appeared in just five games and logged a mere three tackles for Tennessee before it released him in November. The Raiders then picked him up, and he only had one tackle over five games.

    To be fair to the Titans, he was coming off an eight-sack season with the Atlanta Falcons, and the fact that this was only a one-year gamble by Tennessee keeps it from being higher on this list. However, the fact that the Falcons had no interest in keeping Beasley, 28, should have been enough of a red flag to prevent a fully guaranteed gamble.

    The Titans didn't take the hint, though, and committed more than $9 million to a player who proved to be a poor fit and an unproductive temporary roster member.

2. EDGE Dante Fowler Jr.

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    The contract: Three years, $45 million with $29 million guaranteed

    Atlanta paid a hefty price to replace Beasley with Dante Fowler Jr., giving him a contract worth $15 million per season.

    The biggest issue with this contract is that while Fowler was coming off an 11.5-sack campaign, it was the only productive year of his career. Fowler shined while playing alongside Aaron Donald with the Los Angeles Rams in 2019, but plenty of players have done the same.

    In 2020, for example, Leonard Floyd had the first double-digit-sack season of his career on the edge for the Rams.

    Before his breakout 2019 campaign, Fowler had just 16 sacks in three seasons with the Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars. He returned to mediocrity with the Falcons, notching just three sacks and 23 quarterback pressures (down from 35).

    While Fowler was more productive for the Falcons than Beasley was for the Titans, this contract represents a much larger, longer financial commitment. With Atlanta rebuilding and projected to be $15.9 million over the cap, this is a worse deal.

EDGE Mario Addison

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    Brett Carlsen/Associated Press

    The contract: Three years, $30.45 million with $15.25 million guaranteed

    If there's a silver lining with Fowler's contract, it's that he's only 26 years old and may still have his best football ahead of him. The same cannot be said for the 33-year-old Mario Addison. Yet, the Buffalo Bills gave the edge-defender a three-year deal worth over $10 million per season, with more than half of it guaranteed.

    With the Bills projected to be just under the salary cap and able to save $6.2 million by cutting Addison, this may end up being a one-year deal that costs roughly $14 million. The presence of 2020 second-round pick A.J. Epenesa also does nothing to help Addison's job security.

    If Addison sticks around for 2021, it could be a two-year deal worth more than $22 million, as he'll still have $2 million in dead money remaining on his contract next offseason.

    For this investment, Buffalo got 15 games, five sacks and just 11 quarterback pressures in 2020. While Addison was coming off four straight campaigns with at least nine sacks when this pact was signed, his age and the contract structure made this a poor long-term investment.

    Based on what Buffalo has gotten in return and what it's likely to get, this is arguably the worst contract to be handed out in 2020 free agency.


    *Contract and cap information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.


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