Best & Worst Contracts: The San Diego Chargers


A few weeks ago Jason LaCanfora published a list of best and worst contracts in the NFL so I thought it might make a good idea for us to do the same here at OTC, with a team by team approach. I’ll try to be a bit more analytical in terms of why money was paid and how it fits in the market, but the general premise is the same. The one key difference is outside of restructured rookie contracts under the old CBA we will only use veteran contracts as there is a big difference between best draft picks and best contracts.  Please note that there is a difference between a bad player and a bad contract when discussing some of the selections. Clicking on a players name will take you to his salary cap page.

Danny WoodheadBest Contract: Danny Woodhead

The Chargers made a mess out of their contracts in the last few seasons with a number of bad decisions combined with high signing bonuses and low first year salary totals to create havoc down the line with the salary cap. You could make a strong argument that S Eric Weddle has a good contract simply because he is so much better than everyone else and the contract value between he and the next set of Safeties is not large. However, from a structural standpoint, his contract is a lot more player friendly than other deals and contains significant dead money protection and high backend cap charges that may force the Chargers into an extension before they should be doing so. Great player, but the deal favors the player too much to be a great deal for the team.

Woodhead was always an underrated player in New England. Woodhead is a pesky player that seems to hit a defense when they least expect it. He is terrific in the passing game and is a very capable change of pace running back. While Tom Brady always gets a majority of the credit for everything offense in New England, Woodhead was responsible for many of the yards that were picked up when the ball was in his hands. Based on statistics kept by Pro Football Focus he is one of the better players at the position when it comes to productive receptions out of the backfield. He has done the same things for the last 3 years and there is no reason to think he should fall apart due to a change of scenery.

The contract was incredibly low risk, with just $1 million in guarantees. If he becomes a fixture in the Chargers offense he can gain an extra $200,000, which is peanuts if he became a starter. Woodhead will only carry a $1.25 million dollar cap charge this year and cost $500,000 to release next season if they want to. Essentially it is a deal comprised of two $1.75 million dollar contracts, a better contract than some deals for less productive players on other teams. On a team needing to patch some things together for the next season or two, Woodhead is the perfect low-risk, low cost, safe signing that a team like San Diego needs.

Robert MeachemWorst Contract: Robert Meachem

Normally when you sign what would be considered a “B” target you look for some upside before you commit significant money and guarantees. For example Brian Hartline with a 1,000 yard season in Miami or Pierre Garcon with close to 1,000 in Indianapolis before signing their contracts. While it may not be wise to give such players large contracts there is at least a justification of sorts for doing it. But when  you take a player that has never approached what would be considered an “upside” season in five years in the league, especially one on a prolific offense, a warning light should at least go off in your head. In the case of the Chargers it clearly never did.

Meachem, a former first round draft pick, had high expectations coming out of college, but he was injured before his rookie year and ineffective in his second season. The “third year” light seemed to go off for Meachem in 2009 with 45 receptions and 722 yards and there seemed to be a chance that he would live up to all the potential. Instead 2009 proved to be a peak with Meachem going for about 620 yards a season on a team passing for over 4,500 yards in the next two years. Meachem never could break through to be a more valuable piece of the offense.

Somehow San Diego convinced themselves that Meachem’s failures were because there were just too many receiving targets in New Orleans which wouldn’t be the case in San Diego who was allowing superstar Vincent Jackson to walk away. Meachem was rewarded with a contract worth $6.375 million a year and an incredible $14 million guaranteed. A similar statistical player in former teammate Lance Moore signed for $4 million a year with $7 million guaranteed. That is the figure that a player like Meachem should sign for. If he breaks out you get a great contract and if not it’s not a major cap burden.

Meachem was a complete disaster last season posting career lows in receptions and yards. He could not crack the starting lineup and, with an inferior supporting cast, the Chargers should have anticipated less yards than what he had in New Orleans not more. The Chargers are stuck with Meachem this season because of the high costs associated with cutting him unless they can find someone willing to pay him a $5 million dollar base salary, which is so high because the Chargers wanted to defer charges to fit him in their salary structure last season. There is almost no chance a team is picking up his contract unless San Diego eats a portion of that $5 million prior to the trade. If traded or cut next year the contract structure will leave the Chargers with a $3.75 million dollar dead money charge in 2014. A wonderful parting gift for Chargers fans from AJ Smith.

Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles

AFC East: Buffalo BillsMiami DolphinsNew England PatriotsNew York Jets

AFC North: Baltimore RavensCincinnati BengalsCleveland BrownsPittsburgh Steelers

AFC South: Houston TexansIndianapolis ColtsJacksonville JaguarsTennessee Titans

AFC West: Denver BroncosKansas City ChiefsOakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers

NFC East: Dallas Cowboys (July 12)


Did the Miami Dolphins Overpay for WR Brian Hartline


With the news coming down late last night that Dolphins WR Brian Hartline was going to re-sign with the Dolphins on a contract that would pay him $30.775 million with $12.5 million guaranteed there was an immediate reaction that he was overpaid. Granted we all can agree that Hartline is probably a mid-tier wideout but lets examine if he is or is not overpaid.

Basic Stats

I think the most off the wall comparison I read this morning was that Hartline can’t be paid this much money because he isn’t as good as Jordy Nelson, who works on a contract worth only $4.2 million a year. The argument is that Nelson went off for over 1200 yards in 2011 and has caught 22 Tds in the last two years. The problem is that Nelson wasn’t signed this year. Nelson was signed after he played 3 years and a handful of games. In the 2 years prior to his $4.2 million dollar extension he averaged 451 yards and 2 touchdowns a season. He only played 3 games in 2011 prior to signing his extension and averaged around 67 yards a game. Rather than roll the dice Nelson signed a contract that was reflective of his 451 yards a year with upside potential. He probably kicks himself every day for signing the deal while the Packers are laughing their way to the bank. So lets just get him out of the equation. He has no significance.

The two players who we want to look at are Robert Meachem of the Chargers and Laurent Robinson of the Jaguars.  Neither player was regarded as a true number 1,  though maybe some people get fooled into thinking that they could be, and would represent the high water mark for number 2 players. First lets just look at the basic 2 year averages for the players (Normally I do 3 but for the sake of time Im cutting off at 2 this week):



















Just the basic stats more or less paint Hartline as the most productive of the 3 players from a yardage and catch perspective. His one negative is the fact that he does not score touchdowns. That’s clearly a big negative, but I think we can all agree he certainly belongs in this group. Now let’s go deeper into the numbers where we look at what contribution the player made to the WR corps. over the course of the two seasons prior to signing a contract.

Team Adjusted Stats

For those new to my writings one of the things I like to do is break a player down into contribution to the actual WR corps of the team he played for. I want to see what percentage of the team targets he sees and yards he accounts for. I feel these metrics help sort out who maybe benefits from a team while others are hurt by the team they play for. These are the two year stats


These numbers paint Hartline as the clear superior performer of the group. The only category that makes Robinson stand out is touchdowns where he played the role of a home run hitter, specifically in Dallas. The numbers debunk a bit of the issue with the Hartline touchdowns. Did he only score 2?  Absolutely but you have to put it in context. Miami’s passing game has been so poor that WRs have accounted for a grand total of 13 touchdowns in the last two years.  He one score did actually represent 33% of the teams total in 2012. That doesn’t justify it being good but it at least gives more reason why its not around 4 or 5 a year. Slightly more passes have been picked off that were headed Hartline’s way.

The other thing to note, which is not shown on the chart, is that Hartline’s catch rate is around the expectation for WRs in the offense he plays in. Meachem’s was also around average for the offense which eliminates his best basic stat advantage. Robinsons was worse than others on his team, but that was primarily due to his final season as a Ram where he caught less than 50% of his targets.

The Marketplace

So I think its fair that we can say Hartline certainly belongs in this category of player. I don’t really recall people going too overboard when these players signed with their new teams last year.


Total Value



Guar. Per Year

Pct Guar.






















Now we can not totally compare these contracts because we don’t know how much of Hartlines money is fully guaranteed nor do we know the payment and dead money structures to really compare what is and what is not a stronger deal , but these numbers give us a basic valuation.  For those interested Meachem’s deal is much stronger than Robinsons. Meachem will likely miss out on 45% of his contract value while Robinson will miss out on over 57%. Meachem will earn $14 million while Robinson only $13.8 million in the first two years of their deals at which point they are easily cut.  Meachem also gave himself a faster path to free agency had he been a success, which makes it a knockout even with the lower APY. Back to Hartline…

For those insinuating he got an unreasonable contract, they are simply not looking at the numbers or the market in any kind of reasonable context. If anything he gave the Dolphins a discount for his services unless you want to consider touchdowns being that important. Robinson’s contract came off one breakout year just like Hartline’s. Meachem never had one there was just an assumption that will less other targets on a team his numbers would go up. They didn’t.

So there is almost no logical reason to say the Dolphins overpaid if we are looking at market values and performance at time of signing. You can argue that players like Hartline fall back to earth like these others did but if that’s the argument you just don’t sign the player period. Its not like 200-400 yards is worth a dime in todays pass happy league. Players are almost always going to sign for around what the market will bear.  To expect Hartline to have signed for less than $4 million a season because Jordy Nelson did coming off two more or less non-descript seasons is just not realistic.

Looking closer at these two contracts for Hartline to actually get a strong deal he is going to have to make more than $14 million in cash in the first two years of the contract. I’d argue that he should make at least $15 million to be properly placed with the other two players. Considering Miami has intentions of signing a better player which puts Hartline in a clear number 2 role it will probably result in better performance than the other two players gave their teams where I think they were expected to carry more of the burden.