Last Thursday the Steelers cut tight end Ladarius Green after just one season, incurring a $3.56M dead money charge after paying Green $6 million in 2016. It was hailed as the worst contract in Steelers history (which actually says a lot for how good the Steelers have been with their contracts) since he barely played last year. It’s true that he was bad, but was he alone? Absolutely not. Was it the worst contract of 2016? Nope. In fact it’s probably not even the top 10 despite all the attention the release received.
In the NFL offseason we all overstate a ton of things about our favorite teams. We all focus on how free agent signings are changing the team for the better and how disappointing players that signed deals last year are now “in the best shape of their careers”. By the end of September all the warm and fuzzy feelings are generally gone. So as a reality check I wanted to go back and look at the what I consider the 30 worst multi-year signings of 2016 and see just how bad many decisions turn out and how taking a glass half empty approach sometimes works best.
30. Al Woods, Titans- 3 years, $10.5 million
As far as bad contracts go, this wasn’t too terrible. The Titans paid him $4 million last year and while he did miss four games I don’t know what else they really expected from him last season. Cutting him likely had more to do with a $1.25 million guarantee potentially kicking in. There may be no stingier team with money in the NFL than the Titans and this would have impacted their roster flexibility so it was one and done for Mr. Woods who landed with the Colts this offseason.
29. Ben Watson, Ravens- 2 years, $7 million
Watson came off a career season at the age of 35 in New Orleans and landed a pretty nice contract for his age. In 2017 he earned $4 million which was nearly as much as he had earned over the last three seasons combined. Unfortunately Watson tore his Achilles and never played a game for Baltimore. They will hope for a better result this year.
28. James Starks, Packers- 2 years, $6 million
The Packers brought back Starks as insurance of sorts for Eddie Lacy, but it seemed as if his higher than usual use in 2015 wiped him out. Starks would miss 7 games while battling injury and was completely ineffective, rushing for just 2.3 yards per carry the rest of the time. After paying him $3 million last year the Packers cut ties rather than investing another $3 million in him.
27. William Hayes, Rams- 3 years, $17.5 million
The Rams decided to bring back their veteran defensive end only to turn around and trade him the next season for what Hayes said were “office supplies”. Hayes wasn’t terrible for the Rams but at the end of the day the Rams paid him $7 million and traded him for almost nothing because of salary that he was still owed on the contract.
26. Robert Griffin, Browns- 2 years, $15 million
The Browns took a flier on the always injured RGIII to stay healthy and regain his rookie form under a new head coach, but things remained the same for RGIII. Griffin missed 11 games with injury and for the most part was ineffective when he did play. Griffin was released after the year and is still searching for a new home.
25. Tyvon Branch, Cardinals- 2 years, $8 million
The oft injured Branch only played in 6 games last season while clogging up $4 million of the teams salary cap. They negotiated his contract down from $4 to $2 million this year, but this was money that could have gone towards keeping Tony Jefferson had they never gone down this path in the first place.
24. Tyrod Taylor, Bills- 5 years, $90 million
The Bills jumped the gun on this big extension when they could have simply let Taylor ride the year out on a very affordable contract. This contract ended up having major ripple effects on the team. The injury protection was so high ownership wanted him benched despite an outside chance at the playoffs. Eventually this led to the firing of the head coach before the last game of the year. The team reworked his contract to lessen the cost this year, but they are in far worse shape than if they just let his original deal play out.
23. Donald Stephenson, Broncos- 3 years, $14 million
The Broncos brought in Stephenson as a moderate cost option for the right tackle position but by the end of the season they were looking in a different direction after Stephenson’s struggles. Because of a guarantee that vested early the Broncos were able to restructure his deal to prevent his full salary from becoming guaranteed, but he still has $2 million in protection in his contract.
22. Derrick Shelby, Falcons- 4 years, $18 million
The Falcons got a lot of things right last year, but this decision was not one of them. Shelby played in 6 games and recorded just 6 tackles and 0 sacks before his season was ended with an unfortunate Achilles injury. That injury was out of the Falcons control, but paying him $6 million last year looks as if it would have been wasted regardless. He still has a chance to justify the contract.
21. Shareece Wright, Ravens- 3 years, $13 million
Wright played for the Ravens in 2015 on a minimum salary contract after a quick stint with the 49ers where he quickly wore out his welcome. The Ravens rewarded Wright with a $4.76 million salary in 2016 and came to the same conclusion that the 49ers did the year before- he wasn’t worth a long term investment. The Ravens, despite issues in the secondary, cut Wright just one season into the contract.
20. Jermaine Kearse, Seahawks- 3 years, $13.5 million
The Seahawks saw something in Kearse in 2015 that prompted them to offer this contract, but the only thing they saw in 2016 from Kearse was a lot of missed connections with his quarterback. The contract isn’t as bad as some others but the Seahawks frontloaded the deal with nearly 50% of the contract being paid in the first year. They need something positive this year to help ease the pain of what looks like a bad mistake.
19. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars- 3 years, $12 million
I have never come to reasonable conclusion as to how Lewis consistently remains with the Jaguars making these salaries. Lewis is probably worth around the minimum to any other team in the NFL, but in Jacksonville he makes $4 million. Lewis missed 6 games last year and only played in 25% of the team snaps. Im convinced he’ll remain on contracts similar like this with the Jaguars until he’s 40 years old.
18. Muhammad Wilkerson, Jets- 5 years, $86 million
Somehow the Jets went from trying to trade Wilkerson to making him one of the highest paid interior lineman in the NFL. Wilkerson struggled all year, was disciplined for missing meetings, and finished with his lowest sack total since his rookie year in 2011. Unlike many on this list Wilkerson will get multiple chances to prove this wasn’t a mistake, but this will be a tough one for the Jets to swallow if he can’t regain his form from the past.
17. Matt Forte, Jets- 3 years, $12 million
Giving any 31 year old running back a contract is always a risk and the Jets didn’t make out too well here. Forte did rush for over 800 yards but never really seemed to click with the offense and had his lowest receiving output in his career. To land Forte the Jets guaranteed him his entire 2017 salary, to bring his two year guaranteed salary to $9 million. Nobody else at this age is really even close to that figure.
16. Sean Smith, Raiders- 4 years, $38 million
The Raiders brought Smith in to help a leaky secondary and expected him to provide some stability for the team. Smith struggled during most of the season giving up a large number of big plays and failing to make stops in other situations. If not for a salary guarantee this year its possible he would have been cut just one season into the contract. If he plays like he did last season he won’t make it through the year as a starter.
15. Jaye Howard, Chiefs- 2 years, $10 million
This sure seemed like a reasonable deal when the Chiefs signed it but this blew up badly. Howard only played in 8 games and didn’t show the same ability he showed the prior year when he notched 5.5 sacks. After just one season Howard was cut, but his injury allowed him to collect an additional $2.5 million, to bring the Chiefs investment to about $8.4M for those 8 useless games.
14. Patrick Robinson, Colts- 3 years, $14 million
The former first round pick was able to use a “prove it” contract with the Chargers to land this $14 million contract and help to supposedly solidify the Colts secondary. Robinson appeared in just 7 games, battling injuries every step of the way. The Colts released him after the year was over despite potentially owing him another million. Robinson’s stock dropped so much he signed for the minimum with the Eagles this year. If he fails to make the Eagles team the Colts will have paid him $6 million for those 7 games.
13. Paul Soliai, Panthers- 2 years, $6.5 million
What did Carolina see in Soliai? I couldn’t answer that one when he was signed and I certainly can’t answer it now. Soliai wouldn’t have made the team had he had a lower salary, barely played when healthy, and ended the season with just 4 tackles. The Panthers paid him $4 million of the contract up front so at the end of the day they paid about $1 million per tackle. That’s a pretty bad return on investment.
12. Ladarius Green, Steelers- 4 years, $20 million
Green only lasted one season for Pittsburgh playing in just 6 games and collecting $6 million for his efforts. Before he even suited up for Pittsburgh he was hurt and at one point it was rumored he might retire which would have benefited the Steelers since he would have had to return his signing bonus. To make matters worse my guess is he may qualify for further CBA injury protection which will add another $1.15 million to the bill.
11. Doug Martin, Buccaneers- 5 years, $37.5 million
The bad Martin returned last season, rushing for only 421 yards on a 2.9 YPC average. Martin is one of the toughest players in the NFL to figure out with two seasons rushing for over 1,400 yards but failing to crack 500 yards in his other three years. Martin stood to make $8 million last year before a suspension cost him about $250,000. The only saving grace for the Bucs is that Martin’s suspension voided his $7 million guarantee for 2017 though he will still earn that if he makes the team this season.
10. Chris Ivory, Jaguars- 5 years, $32 million
I think everyone in the NFL, except for those in the Jaguars front office, knew this one made no sense when signed. Ivory only saw action in 11 games, rushing for under 450 yards on a 3.8 yards per carry average. They now think so much of Ivory that they drafted Leonard Fournette with the 4th overall pick. Ivory may or may not make the team but will still get a $3M consolation prize if he leaves.
9. Mario Williams, Dolphins- 2 years, $17 million
For all the work that goes into scouting, analytics, etc… teams often can’t help themselves when it comes to name talent hitting the market and Miami sunk $8.5 million into a washed up player. Williams started just 5 games and had a career low 1.5 sacks. Miami cut him in the offseason and he is currently unemployed.
8. Allen Hurns, Jaguars- 4 years, $40 million
While the Jaguars never win anything it certainly isn’t for a lack of spending money as they are one of the most, if not the most, generous teams in the NFL when it comes to contracts. Hurns was in the NFL for just two years and the Jaguars had all the leverage in the world when it came to this contract but used none of it. Hurns fell off a cliff after signing the big contract with his yardage dropping from 1,031 to just 477 yards.
7. Vinny Curry, Eagles- 5 years, $46 million
The Eagles made some supersized investments in their own last offseason but none was more surprising than this huge contract for Curry. Curry was a part time player under Chip Kelley and perhaps they expected that to change with a new coach, expect it didn’t. Curry only had 2.5 sacks and failed to even pass the 40% snap mark. For a healthy player he was one of the worst investments on a per snap basis.
6. Tavon Austin, Rams- 4 years, $42 million
The Rams made a bad option decision worse by extending Austin to a massive $42 million contract. In general gimmick players are never worth big contracts and Austin’s value lies in being a bit of a gimmick. Austin produced just 508 receiving yards despite being targeted 106 times. His running ability played no role for the team, gaining just 159 yards. The Rams have no skill position players of note so he’ll get some opportunities to develop more this year.
5. Coty Sensabaugh, Rams- 3 years, $14.5 million
Sensabaugh only lasted 5 weeks with the Rams before they cut him despite his $5.5 million guaranteed salary. They got a few dollars back when he signed with the Giants and should get some relief this year on his contract with the Steelers, but I have no idea how much things can change after just a few weeks. Give the Rams credit for not wasting a roster spot because of salary, but what a terrible decision to sign him in the first place.
4. JR Sweezy, Buccaneers- 5 years, $32.5 million
Whenever I mention the escalating guard contracts with people who work with contracts the name that seems to always pop up is Sweezy getting this stunning deal from the Bucs last year. Sweezy spent the entire year on the PUP list while earning $9.5 million. They did a bunch of stuff with his contract this year, a portion of which was guaranteed, to try to get some protection but the bottom line is he will probably earn another $5 million this year.
3. Chase Daniel, Eagles- 3 years, $21 million
I think I tried to justify this at some point using the logic that Sam Bradford was an injury risk, but $7 million a year for a guy who threw two passes the prior year and had zero track record is really impossible to justify. Once the Eagles made the move for Carson Wentz this just became a waste of cap room. The Eagles cut Daniel after deciding to bring back Nick Foles. The Eagles ended up paying Daniel $12 million for 1 pass. Right now they are hoping to recover an extra $900,000 of that, which is what the Saints were willing to pay Daniel to backup Drew Brees.
2. Brock Osweiler, Texans- 4 years, $72 million
Sure quarterbacks get paid a fortune but what Houston saw in Osweiler is still a mystery. Osweiler was horrific and benched despite his $21 million salary. Luckily for the Texans there is a sucker born every day and the Browns took $16 million off the Texans hands for what will amount to a mid round draft pick. That lessens the impact somewhat, but Houston still has $9 million in dead money sitting there because of this blunder.
1. Dwayne Allen, Colts- 4 years, $29.4 million
Every few years there is a contract signed that sets a new standard for bad contracts and I firmly believe Allen is that standard in the league today. Somehow coming off a season where he gained just 109 yards in 13 games the Colts decided that paying Allen $7.4 million a year made sense. The contract got even crazier when they decided to pay him $12 million in the first year alone. Allen gained about 400 yards last season and the Colts traded him away to the Patriots to get out from paying him another $4.5 million in 2017.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.