7 NFL Contracts Teams Would Love to Erase
As NFL free agency approaches on March 17, teams have shed or restructured contracts to gain cap space, though some cuts come with a significant dead-cap hit or leave a major void on the depth chart.
In certain scenarios, clubs will keep veterans with years left on their lucrative deals because it wouldn't make sense to pay an underperforming player who's no longer on the roster unless the front office needs to make room for new signings.
Instead of cutting a player, what if teams had a chance to hit the rewind button? In hindsight, whose contract would give the front office second thoughts based on production and a team's salary-cap situation?
Let's take a look at seven recent free-agent acquisitions who missed the mark on expectations and produced at a level well below their pay grade. Every player listed has a decent amount of dead cap or multiple years left on their deals.
WR Randall Cobb, Houston Texans
As the Houston Texans' trade standoff with quarterback Deshaun Watson lingers on, the team will go into rebuild mode under new general manager Nick Caserio and head coach David Culley.
The Texans have some financial flexibility with $16.8 million in cap space, per Over the Cap, but they would probably like to adjust or shed Randall Cobb's salary.
In his age-30 campaign, Cobb hauled in just 38 passes for 441 yards and three touchdowns, low-end production for a wideout who signed a three-year, $27 million deal last offseason.
After Week 11, Cobb landed on injured reserve with a toe injury. He's missed 14 games over the last three seasons.
According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans won't franchise-tag wide receiver Will Fuller, so he'll likely hit the open market. Although risky because of a leftover void, the front office can cut its lead wideout Brandin Cooks and save $12 million. Cobb has $12.3 million in dead money left on the final two years of his deal, so Houston will likely keep him coming off a down season.
The Texans have $22.5 million tied to Cooks and Cobb in 2021. That's too much cap space invested in two wide receivers for a team with much bigger issues at quarterback and across a porous defense.
Edge Dee Ford, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers probably regret signing Dee Ford to a five-year, $85.5 million contract in 2019.
Based on total guaranteed money, Ford ranks 10th among defensive ends at $33.4 million in 2021.
To make matters worse, San Francisco may have to retain the oft-injured edge-rusher because of an injury protection in his deal.
"…Ford has an injury guarantee written into his contract," Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports wrote. "If he remains on the 49ers roster on April 1, $11.6 million of his base salary becomes fully guaranteed."
In 2020, Ford only played one game and landed on injured reserve with a back issue. If San Francisco releases him before April 1, he'd bank the $11.6 million because of the injury clause, but as Maiocco noted, the 29-year-old's guarantees kick in on that date while on the roster.
Unless Ford passes a physical, allowing San Francisco to cut him and recover some money, the team will continue to pay a pass-rusher who's missed 20 games over the last two seasons.
TE Jimmy Graham, Chicago Bears
Although Jimmy Graham scored eight touchdowns this past season, the Chicago Bears overpaid for a tight end who's clearly on the decline.
Graham averaged 33.8 receiving yards per contest between the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Green Bay Packers. Still, the Bears signed him to a two-year, $16 million deal with $9 million in guarantees. Among tight ends, he ranks fifth in annual salary.
Graham's contract isn't a complete waste because of his red-zone production, but he took a backseat to rookie second-rounder Cole Kmet after the Bears' Week 11 bye, playing fewer than 54 percent of the offensive snaps in the final six games.
With an unstable quarterback situation between Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky going into the 2020 campaign, the Bears' decision to ink a pass-catching tight end past his prime to a lucrative deal didn't make much sense.
The Bears would owe Graham $3 million in dead money if they cut him and saved $7 million. By the way, the 34-year-old has a no-trade clause.
S Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints must make significant roster cuts to get under the salary-cap limit. As of March 6, they're $48.9 million over the threshold, per Over the Cap.
Don't expect New Orleans to outright release Malcolm Jenkins. In 2020, the club signed him to a four-year, $32 million deal. The Saints would owe him nearly $13 million in dead money if they cut him.
Jenkins had a solid campaign with the Saints, recording 10 pass breakups and three interceptions. However, he allowed a 70.3 percent completion rate and three touchdowns in coverage.
While in their Super Bowl window, the Saints went all-in on an experienced safety to shore up the secondary. Following a divisional-round exit, the front office has to do financial gymnastics to clear cap space.
At 33 years old, coming off a decent but not great season, Jenkins may have hit the open market again. Because of the guaranteed money left on his contract, he'll likely remain on the roster as the Saints scramble to trim expenses.
S Lamarcus Joyner, Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders made a two-pronged mistake with Lamarcus Joyner.
First, they signed Joyner to a four-year, $42 million deal to play slot cornerback even though he made the most impact as a safety with the Los Angeles Rams through his first five seasons.
With the Raiders, Joyner recorded 115 tackles, nine for loss. Between 2019 and 2020, he improved as a tackler but didn't provide much in coverage, breaking up just eight passes without an interception while allowing a 66.7 percent completion rate.
Even if the Raiders cut Joyner to save $8.7 million, they are on the hook to pay him $21.3 million in guarantees as a miscast in the secondary.
Vegas could've signed Joyner to a lesser deal with the intent to use him as a safety and optimized his ability to play center field. A mid-tier salary at safety, one that ranks outside of the top 12 in annual earnings, averages about $2 million less than Joyner's salary.
The Raiders essentially spent more money for less production out of a player best suited to line up at a different position.
OT Nate Solder, New York Giants
After opting out of the 2020 campaign, Nate Solder plans to suit up in 2021, though his future with the New York Giants seems unclear. The front office has a tough decision to make as the veteran tackle goes into the third term of a four-year, $62 million deal.
Solder didn't miss a start with the Giants between the 2018 and 2019 campaigns, but he struggled through most of his time with Big Blue, allowing 18 sacks, per Pro Football Focus.
According to ESPN's Jordan Raanan, Matt Peart will compete for the starting tackle position opposite Andrew Thomas. Even if Solder can beat the former in a training camp battle for a spot on the right side, his recent performances raise concerns in pass protection.
Three years ago, the Giants made Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman, but he hasn't fulfilled the expectations attached to that contract.
OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Detroit Lions
Skeptics questioned Halapoulivaati Vaitai's contract before the ink dried on the paperwork, and rightfully so. Before signing his five-year, $45 million deal with the Detroit Lions, he served as a backup for the Philadelphia Eagles, starting 20 games through his first four seasons.
In terms of practical guarantees, Vaitai's $20 million sum ranks 23rd among all offensive tackles, which is a bit much when you count 64 starters at the position across the league. For an unproven reserve, that's a questionable investment.
This past season, Vaitai battled a foot injury and missed six outings. He only played 450 offensive snaps but allowed six sacks, per Pro Football Focus.
Assuming the Lions' trade with the Los Angeles Rams becomes official in the new league year, Vaitai will need to protect Jared Goff, who isn't the most mobile quarterback in the pocket. If Detroit doesn't see improved play out of its right tackle, the passing offense could struggle in 2021.
The Lions' new regime isn't likely to cut Vaitai because they would owe him $14.6 million in dead money.
Player salary rankings courtesy of Spotrac.