Best & Worst 2015: The Worst Running Back Contracts

For the last two seasons I have done a summer “Best and Worst” contracts for each team in the NFL, but I decided this year to put that on hold since it recycles so many players and instead take a positional approach to the concept. So during the course of the summer I’ll do my choices for the top three and bottom three contracts at each position from a team perspective. As usual the rules are no rookie contracts allowed in the selection. Here are my selections for the worst contracts at the running back position.

Arian Foster3. Arian Foster, Houston Texans (5 years, $43.5 million, $20.75 million fully guaranteed)

I thought of including Shane Vereen or Toby Gerhart here, but this is one of the all time great negotiating jobs for a player who had almost not leverage at the time of signing. At the time Foster signed his deal, he was a restricted free agent who quite frankly was being driven into the ground by the Texans. Rather than using the RFA leverage they went all in on a monstrous contract that seemed to piggyback off the ludicrous DeAngelo Williams contract in Carolina.

Foster earned $20.75 million in fully guaranteed salary and a $30 million three year cash payout. He was well protected with a $12.75 million signing bonus that helped functionally guarantee that full $30 million. And if we factor in the RFA tag into the equation we are basically looking at a contract that pays $27 million in the first two “new” years of the contract.

Foster gave almost nothing up in the deal, having to take just $500,000 in per game bonuses despite the heavy use and the missing of games in the year prior to signing. Since signing the contract he’s missed 11 games.  Foster is very effective when he plays and the best player on their offense, but the Texans could have done a much better job with this one to give them far more cap flexibility.

LeSean McCoy2. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills (5 years, $40.05 million, $15.75 million fully guaranteed)

The Bills may have entered Shaun Alexander territory with this massive contract for McCoy, who they traded for this past offseason.  McCoy is a fine player and rushed for 1,300 yards last season, but he struggled with consistency and is going to be 27 years old this season. He also seemed to have little desire to play in Buffalo, which seemed to play a role in the contract giving the Bills reason to sweeten a deal they had no need to sign.

The Bills handed over an extensive guarantee package that included a $13.125 million signing bonus. The $21 million he will earn over the first two years of the contract is $5 million more than DeMarco Murray will earn as McCoy’s replacement in Philadelphia. Murray was considered the top available free agent this offseason.

The signing bonus will give the Bills more cap flexibility in 2015, but it effectively binds them to McCoy for the next two years. Even when he is 30 he is going to leave them with more than $5 million in dead money charges. Compare that with the “sweetener” the Chiefs gave Jamaal Charles which included no signing bonus and gives the Chiefs no negative impact if they need to move on. This is a contract that screams of desperation for one year of gains and four years of financial impact.

jonathan stewart1. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers (5 years, $36.5 million, $11.5 million fully guaranteed)

While the other two contracts on this list are certainly not team friendly, this contract puts them all to shame. At least McCoy and Foster were high end players to justify the contracts. Stewart’s contract was signed at the height of the insanity that was the Carolina Panthers in 2011 and 2012. Stewart was essentially a part time player on a team already fully invested in the running back position. He was never great, perhaps not even above average, when they made a deal that even made the Marion Barber contract look wonderful.

Stewart’s contract has been a minefield for the Panthers. Stewart received a $9 million signing bonus and $11.5 million in full guarantees upon signing, but the realistic guarantee in the contract was upwards of $20 million. If Stewart was on the roster after the 2012 Super Bowl, meaning just six months after signing his contract, an additional $9 million in salary would be guaranteed in 2014 and another $2.5 million would become guaranteed in 2015. There was also no offset language in the contract. After multiple restructurings to help deal with the cap charges, the team is still left with over $7 million in dead money if they were to release him in 2016. If he is on the team he will count for just over $9.5 million against the cap.  Essentially that have been completely tied down with this one.

Stewart was arguably the least productive back of his time period to receive a contract like this one. He was praised for his strong work last season, but even then gained under 850 yards. He’s missed 20 games in the last three seasons and produced a grand total of 1,325 yards while earning over $20 million. This isn’t just the worst contract a team signed with a running back, it’s one of the worst contracts a team signed with any player in the NFL.

  • Tyler Ferree

    I will never get the McCoy decision making for Buffalo, not only give him everything you did but also giving up an excellent young Linebacker in Alonso who by the way was the only player on their roster I’d feel comfortable putting on Gronkowski, despite his film being eerily reminiscent of Chris Johnson’s from 2011, almost afraid to take the 5 yards inside and instead fishing for the big play and putting the team behind the Sticks as a result.

    • McGeorge

      As a Jets fan I think Rex/Whaley pulled off a brilliant trade, and I hope they keep their jobs long enough to make similar trades for many years.

      (I’ts easier to make the playoffs in a 3 team division – keep up the good work Whaley/Rex)