NFL Free Agency in Review: The Worst Value Contracts of 2015

With free agency basically finished I thought it would be fun to do a review of the contracts that I thought were the best and worst from a value standpoint. I’ll start off with the worst contracts of 2015 and take a look at the best ones in a few days. We can come back to this later in the year and see who did and did not justify what seems to be overspending to get a player the team really wants.

10. Dwayne Harris, WR, Giants (5 years, $17.1M, $7.1M guaranteed)

Giants owner John Mara said this year’s free agent group was “mediocre” when justifying the team failing to add any impact players, but I would much rather hear his opinion as to how Harris is worth more than $7 million guaranteed. Harris caught just 33 passes, in total, not per year, in four seasons with Dallas. He does have two touchdowns returning punts, but in what universe is that worth over $4 million a season? At his peak Devin Hester earned $5.5 million a year with less fully guaranteed. While that was some time ago, Hester was a different grade of returner and had some potential as a receiver. Last year Hester played for $3 million.  Paying Harris this much is basically the low cost equivalent of some of the higher ranked bad deals on this list.

9. Dan Williams, DT, Raiders (4 years, $25M, $15.2M guaranteed)

There were a number of good defensive tackles available this season but I don’t think anyone expected Williams to be the highest paid one not named Suh. Williams is basically a 40% snap player that has had one really solid year playing the run and a number of non-descript seasons as a Cardinal. In some ways this piggy backs off the awful contracts the Falcons gave to Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson in 2013, but two wrongs don’t make a right. The whopping $15.2 million full guarantee shows some of the downside of the all cash budgeting system used by some teams. You have to over-guarantee the player to remove the protection often offered by the sunk cost of the signing bonus. While that can help with dead money down the line, it can hurt you if the player isn’t that good which is what the Buccaneers have learned using this system the last few years. Oakland has to hope things are better for them.

8. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Chiefs (5 years, $55M, $22.5M guaranteed)

Maclin is a fine receiver, but $11 million a year for Maclin is very steep. Maclin peaked at the perfect time for free agency, but when you look much closer at his numbers it was clear that they were fueled in part by an over-reliance by Nick Foles on Maclin. Once Foles was injured Maclin settled right back into his normal pace of being a 900 yard type receiver.  It is hard to see how Maclin also fits with the Chiefs who are a sideline to sideline team and Maclin’s best asset is going down the field. The team is going to need to have to find a way to get Alex Smith to trust his arm more if the team will get the expected return on investment. The contract is made worse by the structure which includes a large signing bonus due to the Chiefs cap woes.

7. LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills (5 years, $40.05M, $15.75M guaranteed)

I’m not sure I can understand the Bills logic in this trade and renegotiation. McCoy will be 27 years old this year and has amassed over 600 carries in the last two years and in two of the last three years has not been a special player. McCoy was scheduled to earn just over $10 million this year which somehow the Bills converted to over $16 million on an extension with $13 million coming in the form of a signing bonus, meaning they are going to have big cap charges on their hands when it is time to move on from McCoy. McCoy has over $26 million guaranteed in the event of injury which is quite the haul for a player the Eagles were likely going to release outright from his contract

6. Jermey Parnell, RT, Jaguars (5 years, $32M, $14.5M guaranteed)

There is nothing worse in the NFL than looking at a small sample of games and using that to justify big dollars on players, but that is the kind of nalysis that makes players dreams come true if they reach free agency. Parnell has started a grand total of 7 games in his first four years in the NFL, four of which occurred this year as he stood out as a replacement for an injured Doug Free. Whenever I see these players sign I am always reminded of former Jets right tackle Wayne Hunter who signed a relatively low cost contract as a fill in type and then became the target for every fan of the team since he was granted a full time starter role. Parnell is all that and more. He is the second highest guaranteed contract at the position and it’s not like he’s a 25 year old with high upside. He’ll be 29 this season and whatever you get this year is about as good as it will be.

5. Charles Clay, TE, Bills (5 years, $38M, $23M guaranteed)

I don’t have the full details on this one outside of Clay earning around $24 million in a two year period and that alone is enough to put him in here. Clay was a $4-5 million a year player until the Bills made it known that they were very interested in Clay’s talents. Miami played the game and put the transition tag on Clay, basically goading the Bills into signing a contract with Clay that Miami wouldn’t match. Apparently the Bills were oblivious to the fact that Miami had already signed another overpriced tight end and decided to use a ramped up version of the Andrew Hawkins frontloaded contract from last season. It took Miami all of one day to inform the NFL they wouldn’t match the offer sheet. The only reason it took that long was their hands were probably too sore from the high five celebrations for getting one over on Rex and the Bills to pick up the phone and inform the office that Clay was free to go. About a day after signing Clay and taking about how he’s impossible to cover, Ryan said he wants to run 50 times a game.

4. David Harris, LB, Jets (3 years, $21.5M, $15M guaranteed)

Harris scored his second mega-deal in four years with the Jets, benefitting again from being in the right place at the right time for a contract. Harris’ run defense is ultra-dependent on the play in front of him and he can’t cover anyone in the passing game. Harris is so slow that he once picked off a pass on the run and was chased down by a 270 pound Alge Crumpler. That was three years ago and somehow I don’t think he has gotten any faster since then. The Jets decided on a $15 million guarantee, which is 4th highest at the position and far and away the highest based on the years under contract. This is an example of a team having too much cap room and looking to give some of it to a respected locker room guy before paying a lot of people who were not members of the team the year before.

3. Julius Thomas, TE, Jaguars (5 years, $46M, $21M guaranteed)

Just when I thought the Jaguars could never do a deal worse than the Marcedes Lewis deal they went and did this. Thought it’s a new group of people running the show in Jacksonville apparently the driving factor remains to be touchdowns caught. Last season Thomas finished the year with under 500 yards and the Broncos made it no secret that they saw little benefit in bringing him back. He will earn more money in the first two years of his contract than Jimmy Graham, which is pretty absurd. Even more ludicrous is the lack of protection in the contract. Thomas has missed 28 games in 4 years. Guess how much money the Jaguars have protected for him not playing?  Zero. Yes in a league where Aaron Rodgers has money tied up in being active, Julius Thomas does not.

2Bryon Maxwell, CB, Eagles (6 years, $63M, $22M guaranteed)

The Eagles have been down this road before with the high priced secondary talent, but this one is even more of a reach than the Nnamdi Asomugha contract. In four years Maxwell has started just 17 games and has had the good fortune of playing with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor protecting him over the top, not to mention Richard Sherman on the opposite side.  I think it speak volumes that the Seahawks were willing to sign the player the Eagles cast off in Cary Williams rather than keeping Maxwell. Both are essentially equivalent players except the perception of both is dramatically different.  Free agency is often about marketing and Maxwell had very vocal support in the media. He’ll be tested very early in the season and need to prove he can do it without the great supporting cast around him.

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Dolphins (6 years, $114.375M, $59.955 guaranteed)

Quite simply this is one of the worst contracts ever given in the history of the NFL. For Suh to justify this contract he would have to play above the level of any defensive player to ever play football. Suh hasn’t even been the best defensive tackle in the NFL let alone the best defensive player. I’m not sure who even led this negotiation other than someone looking back at a bad Mario Williams contract from 2012 and applying a cap adjustment to that number to come up with the $19M+ figure the Dolphins used. This is a contract that Al Davis, Daniel Snyder and Marty Hurney all would have said was too extreme to sign. To invest this kind of money Miami is banking on this contract paying off from a marketing perspective both to the fans and to the rest of the NFL to help make Miami a football destination again. It didn’t work that way for Detroit with Suh so I’m not sure why it would be any different in Miami

Honorable mentions: DeMarco Murray, Chris Culliver, Tramon Williams, Antonio Cromartie,  Rodney Hudson, Buster Skrine, Brandon Flowers, Dan Skuta, Darrelle Revis, Shane Vereen

  • icerob

    Odrick doesn’t even get honorable mention?

    • You know he probably belongs in there. $17M guaranteed and $8.5M per year is pretty high .

  • Biebs

    I’m surprised Cromartie’s still an honorable mention.. It’s a 1 year/$7m contract with team options after that.

    • Part of it was when I wrote this I thought he had $16M guaranteed and I didnt update it. Secondly they do have additional upside for him in the contract. Im not sure why you would give him even a chance to earn more money considering the salaries to begin with.

      • McGeorge

        Doesn’t that make you wonder about Maccagnan?

        He is pissing away A LOT of money, some of which could have been rolled forward a few years. He wasn’t forced to spend as much as he did.
        Either Maccagnan isn’t that good, or Woody Johnson is meddling.
        Either way is bad news for Jets fans.

    • Jim

      Best case scenario, he’s the #2 corner. He might be the #3 or #4 corner on the team if everyone stays healthy. How many #3 CB’s get that kind of money? Even #2 CB?

      Only way this is good financial sense, is if Revis gets injured for the year, and Cromartie has to be the #1 guy and he plays very well. Which is a difficult scenario for me to be excited about…

      The Jets are slated to have $37m in cap dollars towards four CB’s in 2016. With Revis ($17m) and Skrine’s ($7.75m) cap money all guaranteed and the lowest cap charge amonst the four (Milliner), has more upside than both Skrine and Cromartie. So why on earth would you even draw up a contract with a 2016 and beyond for Cromartie, even if it has no guarantees?

  • buk

    I don’t get the inclusion of LeSean McCoy contract. McCoy is clearly an elite top 5 player at his position so a tier 1 RB. The entire contract averages out at 8 mil per year. Compare that to the other elite top 5 RBs like Lynch(12 mil this season), Murray(21 mil guaranteed), Peterson(30yrs old) and Jamaal Charles and that justifies market for elite RBs. Tier 1 RB are not expected to be elite but also dual run/pass catching threats that can be used on 1st,2nd and 3rd down.
    Tier 2 backs we saw a big drop off with like Vereen and Spiller making about 4mil per year who are situational backs with sketchy injury history.
    Again, I think when being critical of contracts you have take into account how that organization is viewed.Jets HAD to pay Revis whatever he wanted and we all know why. If McCoy and Murray were both free agents this year there is no way they go to Buffalo unless you overpay. Same with Clay, why leave warm Miami with no state income tax for cold Buffalo unless the Bills are able to structure an offer so you can’t refuse. I think what’s most important is not if teams overpay but that they sign the right player who is a right fit for the coach and organization. As a Jet fan you already know both Harris and Revis both overpaid will be a great fit for Bowles and the NY market. you must also take into account that if a team does not have an elite QB to pay it might be wise to be more aggressive paying for talent at other positions in order to compete. Jets and Bills don’t have big money tied up in a QB. The problem with Suh deal for Miami is you made Suh highest paid player with Tannehill expecting an extension or pick up a 16mil option for next year.
    Jags and Raiders also have no choice but to overpay in FA. I actually like what the Jets and Bills did by executing trades for key offensive weapons in McCoy and Marshall prior to free agency. Marshall’s contract looks very reasonable vs what Maclin and Torre Smith got in FA and the Jets needed another receiver with Decker. Bills landing McCoy gave Ryan an elite back he’s never had instead getting in a bidding war for Murray or overpaying for oft injured players like Ryan Matthews or Spiller. Bills have Clay,Watkins,McCoy and Harvin(at only 6mil for 1yr) which are some serious weapons on for a team that had 26th ranked total offense (worse than Jets) last year. On paper, I think Jets may have best defensive personnel in football.

    • Tyler Ferree

      The issue with McCoy’s is that the Bills are probably locked in for 3 years. McCoy has already started to go more East-West than North-South, not unlike CJ2K’s demise, and the udder trash pile that they call an offensive line is just going to make things worse. You get out a hear early, the bills are set up to get out a year late at best.

      Clay doesn’t work for the purposes of that point, the money is more to do with the Transition tag, and there are other ways to deal with that other than such a massive overpay.

      • buk

        New coach, new owner and 15 straight years with no playoffs coming off a 9 win season. On top of that you have a defensive front led by Mario Williams who carries a 19 mil cap hit with no elite QB in sight. While that defensive front is in intact and still in their prime along with Clay and McCoy the time to go for it is now. As a Jet fan I feel the same way because building for future with quarterbacks like Geno or EJ Manuel is fool’s gold. The Pats just want another Superbowl, lost Revis and Brady will be 38yrs old this season. If you’re a Bills or Jets fan I can’t think of a better time to make your move.
        You never know, I never thought this current Patriot dynasty would start because Bellichick would resign as Jet head coach and head to New England. Rex in Buffalo, Bowles in NY, these teams can’t wait for Pats to just get old and give back the AFC East.

        • Tyler Ferree

          Yes, in 2 years once Brady hits that point where he physically can’t keep playing. Consider the bills aren’t built to last, the roster is likely to start coming apart after this season their offseason has more the ring of the desperate than anything. For reference Kyle Williams is 32 and as such is due to start declining, Mario Williams carries a whopping 20 mil cap charge in 2016, and Marcell Dareus is a free agent after this season, meaning the strength of the defense is in danger of falling apart. Throw in as I pointed out an antrocity of an offensive line (It needs to upgrade everything to the right of Cordy Glenn who is another pending free agent), that offense is going to be hamstrung.

        • icerob

          I feel exactly the opposite. As long as you don’t have a QB, save your assets for when the day comes. If Rex thinks Clay is the last piece, he’s in for a rude awakening (isn’t he always).I love McCoy, but it’s not like RB was the Bills weakness to begin with, and the upgrade came at huge cost cap-wise.

          • McGeorge

            +1

            I’m a Jets fan and very happy that Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum (former Jets GM) are with division rivals.

          • Tyler Ferree

            It speaks volumes when i can go up to one of my friends after Shabbat services and joke “Isn’t it nice to see Mike Tannebaum screwing up someone else’s team for a change”.

            Also i recall Jason mentioned that the Suh contract was counter to what we had come to expect from Tannebaum, looking at the contract itself, that isn’t totally true. From a pure money perspective yes, especially after the Revis negotiations, however Strucurally it is classic Tannebaum, forget tommorow, build only for today. Look at the way he handled draft picks, 3 picks to move up for Shonn Greene, 2 more for Hill, a 3 and a 2 (originally a conditional 3) for what was nearly a 1 year rental of Cromartie, and throw in the veteran contract structure he frequently used.

    • I don’t believe McCoy is an elite player. I believe McCoy had an elite season two years ago, but last year he was heavily reliant on an offensive line and two years ago he never got off and was also hurt. They assumed a contract scheduled to pay $10 and they increased it to $16. Lynch got a $5 million raise and there is no comparison as to who was more important to a team.

      Even if you want to put McCoy in at that kind of money the team has to better protect themselves in the contract. If McCoy is cut in year 3 of the contract it leaves the Bills with $7.875M dead. The following year its $5.25M dead. Murray will cost $5 million and $2 million while playing under a more trade friendly contract in Philadelphia.
      Neither is a great contract, but one pays almost no attention to the future and never really needed to even get anywhere near that figure since they traded for his rights.

      I like the Jets defensive personnel, but I think the Bills is better. The Jets secondary is better but those guys up front in Buffalo are just nasty. The Jets arent slouches up front but the Bills are a different class.

  • McGeorge

    I wonder if Woody had anything to do with the David Harris signing?
    Or else the Jets were goaded by the Bills into over paying.

    This makes me nervous that the new Jets GM (Mike Maccagnan) isn’t so good.
    The jets could have signed everyone else, except Harris, and rolled that money forward.

    • I didnt like that contract, but I think there was a lot of non-on field valuation in that deal that wasnt just Woody.

  • Weston

    well you have to expect Jaguars and Raiders to have ‘bad’ contracts only because they have to spend money no ? the cap world and getting to 95% I think forces a lot of bad contracts, at least the players will stimulate the economy and buy lots of fancy things and eat at fancy places

    • I think the Jets, Jagaurs, and Raiders didnt have much of a choice when it came to spending, but that doesnt make them good contracts. I think when you pinpoint a player and have that cap space luxury you dont mind going over to grab the player.

      • buk

        Agreed but the Jets paid a premium for Harris,Revis,Cro and Skrine by most accounts. Browns have a ton of space and elected to let Skrine go so the Jets offer must have been rich. If Jets had gone after Revis and Cromartie last year and extended Harris I believe they could have saved millions. With cap going up every year the stategy of amassing cap space while continuing to lose puts teams like Jags,Raiders and Jets at a negotiating disadvantage in a year like this. Really hard to give the Jets a pass given they are a NY market while Buffalo,Jacksonville and Oakland have been in an NFL wilderness for years and have to overpay.
        Jason i’d like your view on Harvin to Bills. I was upset with Harvin trade mid season and Kerley extension. The Jets paid him 7 mil for 9 games and a 5th rd pick. They had months to renegotiate a lower deal with some guaranteed money. Instead they release Harvin first day of free agency when they could have held onto him until March 19th and he signs a 6 mil 1yr deal with Buffalo who’s in the division. I’m sorry, but paying Harvin 6mil vs 10.5 mil he was to get from Jets is steal so why didn’t/couldn’t the Jets resign him?

        • McGeorge

          >. With cap going up every year the strategy of amassing cap space while continuing to lose puts teams like Jags,Raiders and Jets at a negotiating disadvantage in a year like this.

          Except will it go up every year?
          What are the additional revenues?
          It will go up with a new TV deal, but it had been flat for a couple of years a few years ago. At that point Idziks strategy made sense.

        • Lucas Daniel Uribe

          Why, You People talking about Oakland for? They paid a guy coming from Arizona, where they were stacked with D-Line. How about giving him a chance to see if he is worth the Dollars & a starting spot. So No he did Not get Overpaid. #HatersGoneHate

  • Tyler Ferree

    Jason, it hasn’t been 3 years since Harris was embarrassed by having Crumpler chase him down from behind. Its been 50 months, just over 4 years. Also of note, that was Harris’ most recent pick (not counting the one in Green Bay that got called back).

  • Lucas Daniel Uribe

    Hit it on the nail! Oakland fan here, the fact that you mention that Dan Williams contract is kind of bad. But like you said we will have to wait until the end of the 2015 Season. But C’mon, he can’t be as bad as Pat Sims, or even Tone Smith. This is a good read I must admit. This the NFL, “Not For Long,” so players will be happy to take someone else’s money, even if they know they are not worth it.