Predicting the Worst Contracts of 2021 NFL Free AgencyMarch 11, 2021
Predicting the Worst Contracts of 2021 NFL Free Agency
The 2021 edition of NFL free agency will, to some degree, be business as usual. While a decreased salary cap may limit the number of market-setting deals this offseason, teams flush with cap space will still spend big on the top players when the market opens Wednesday.
In many cases, those teams will spend too much.
Every offseason, at least a few free agents wind up overpaid. Their deals might not appear outlandish at signing, but teams quickly come to regret them. The Miami Dolphins, for example, recently released linebacker Kyle Van Noy just a year into a four-year, $51 million deal.
Oftentimes, it's because a player is inconsistent, too often injured or nearing a decline. Other times, a player benefits too greatly from his positional value or supporting cast. Running back Le'Veon Bell stands as a stark reminder that a superstar with one team won't necessarily be a game-changer on a different roster.
Here, we'll predict the worst contracts of 2021 free agency based on the aforementioned factors. We're not saying these players are bad—and we'll never fault someone for maximizing his earnings—only that teams will overpay.
Players are listed in alphabetical order.
WR Corey Davis
There's nothing bad about Tennessee Titans wideout Corey Davis, who has amassed 2,851 yards and 11 touchdowns in four pro seasons. But some team will likely pay the 26-year-old a lot of money to be "not bad."
Davis has a projected market value of $9.8 million annually.
He looks like a borderline No. 1 receiver at times, and that will entice cap-rich teams. This past season, for example, he amassed 984 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games in a run-centric Titans offense.
However, Davis practically disappears at other times. In two of his 2020 starts, he failed to record a catch. He had four other games with fewer than 40 receiving yards. That lack of consistency is a serious issue, albeit one that at least one receiver-needy team will ignore.
Contract Prediction: four years, $38 million with $22 million guaranteed
RB Kenyan Drake
With teams regularly finding quality running backs in the draft—or after it, as was the case with 2020 undrafted free agent James Robinson—one could argue that most free-agent running backs are overpriced.
There's more to consider with Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake, though. While he has logged just 695 carries as a pro, he's also 27 years old—older than "aging" runner Todd Gurley, 26. He carries the allure of a player coming off the transition tag, but he also has just one impressive stretch in his career.
Drake was fantastic during his eight games with the Cardinals in 2019, rushing for 643 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. However, his career average of 4.5 yards per carry is more pedestrian, as were his 2020 numbers: 955 yards and a 4.0 average.
Yet, Drake has a projected market value of $8.3 million per year. That's a good chunk of change to give a back who has never been elite for a full season. Younger, cheaper backs will be available in the draft, but at least one team will be unwilling to roll the dice on a rookie and overpay for Drake instead.
Contract Prediction: three years, $25 million with $16 million guaranteed
EDGE Bud Dupree
While the ability to unearth running backs in the draft makes that position overpaid, pass-rushers often earn too much for a different reason. Good ones are harder to find, and the great ones rarely hit the open market.
Pittsburgh Steelers pass-rusher Bud Dupree can get to the quarterback—albeit inconsistently. Dupree produced 19.5 sacks over the past two seasons while playing opposite T.J. Watt. He was merely average the four previous years, though, producing 20 sacks in that span.
Dupree is also coming off a torn ACL suffered late in 2020, though he insists he's recovering quickly.
"I'm ahead of schedule in rehab," Dupree told NFL Network's Good Morning Football (h/t Frank Carnevale of TribLive.com.
Dupree may not be close to 100 percent in 2021, and he might return to mediocrity without a player like Watt rushing from the other side. Yet, he still has a ridiculous projected market value of $18.2 million annually. That's too much for a player with so many question marks, but some team will probably pay it because pass-rushers are hard to find.
Contract Prediction: five years, $90 million with $40 million guaranteed
RB Leonard Fournette
We've already discussed the overpricing of veteran running backs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette will be no exception, especially now that he's a Super Bowl hero.
Fournette amassed 135 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns in Super Bowl LV, helping the Bucs to bring home a title. However, he was an average role player before the postseason and nearly found himself off the roster entirely.
"I said: 'This is your situation. It can change at the drop of a hat,'" Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. "''Either embrace it, or you say, 'Cut me.' I said, 'What do you want?'"
Fournette embraced the challenge and carries a projected market value of $8.1 million per year.
However, that fact remains that Fournette has been an average ball-carrier for most of his career—though an adept receiving back, as he's averaged 3.9 yards per carry—which is why the Jacksonville Jaguars parted with him last offseason.
Contract Prediction: four years, $32 million with $20 million guaranteed
S Anthony Harris
Minnesota Vikings safety Anthony Harris was outstanding two seasons ago, which helped him land the franchise tag in 2020. However, he wasn't the same player last season or any other season outside 2019.
In 2019, Harris amassed 11 passes defended and a league-high six interceptions to go with 60 combined tackles. But he regressed as a coverage safety this past season. He logged no interceptions and allowed an opposing passer rating of 118.1, up from just 44.2 in 2019. Harris failed to log an interception in four of his six pro seasons.
He is also set to turn 30 in October.
However, a limited safety market—Marcus Maye, Marcus Williams and Justin Simmons have each received the franchise tag—will raise Harris' price. He has a projected market value of $14 million annually, and that could be a low estimate.
Some safety-needy team will overpay the aging defender based on what he was in 2019, not what he has been the rest of his career.
Contract Prediction: three years, $43 million with $24 million guaranteed
TE Hunter Henry
Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry has been a fine pass-catcher for the past five seasons. However, he's never reached 700 receiving yards in a single year and has missed 25 games because of injuries, including several knee setbacks and a lacerated kidney.
Still, Henry will get paid handsomely because the tight end market is limited. Jonnu Smith will be available, while Zach Ertz can probably be had from Philadelphia via a trade, but that's the top of the market. Henry has a projected value of $10.9 million annually, which would make him the third-highest-paid tight end in terms of yearly value.
Some tight-end-needy team will pay Henry like a top-five player at his position. He isn't that, and if his injury history resurfaces, that team will quickly regret his pact.
Contract Prediction: four years, $44 million with $27 million guaranteed
EDGE Haason Reddick
Haason Reddick's move from being an all-around linebacker to a more dedicated pass-rusher in 2020 was successful. The Arizona Cardinals defender amassed 12.5 sacks and 34 quarterback pressures.
Some team will look to capitalize on Reddick's breakout and lock him up with a lucrative contract, as pass-rushers are always in high demand. However, that team could quickly regret paying Reddick $11.6 million annually, which is his projected market value.
The term "one-year wonder" exists for a reason. There's no guarantee the 26-year-old will continue being a double-digit-sack guy, and the worth of his contract will hinge on his ability to be one. Reddick can be a liability in pass coverage and against the run, which might be why Arizona was unwilling to exercise his fifth-year option.
Reddick allowed an opposing quarterback rating over 120 in each of the past two seasons and missed 26 tackles over the past three. The fact that the Cardinals opted for a 31-year-old J.J. Watt over a long-term deal with Reddick could be a red flag.
However, some team will be entranced by Reddick's 2020 sack numbers.
Contract Prediction: five years, $57 million with $30 million guaranteed
WR Sammy Watkins
Sammy Watkins can be a dangerous receiver. He's fast, can hit the home run and played a big role in Kansas City's Super Bowl LIV run—he had 14 catches, 288 yards and a touchdown in that postseason alone.
However, consistency and dependability are not Watkins' strong suits. He hasn't played a full 16-game season since his rookie year in 2014 and has just one 1,000-yard campaign. Yet, he's earned $42.9 million over the past three seasons.
Watkins helped deliver a Super Bowl to Kansas City, but he also delivered just 1,613 regular-season receiving yards in three years.
As the Chiefs did, some team will pay the 27-year-old receiver based on his potential and occasional bouts of greatness. Watkins has a projected market value of $10.6 million annually. That's far too much for a player who will likely deliver average results over the long term.
Contract Prediction: three years, $32 million with $24 million guaranteed
Contract and market-value information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.