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.
Best Contract: Jake Long
I am not a big fan of many of the contracts that the Rams have given to players in recent years, but I have found the deal for Long to be one of the more intriguing contracts in the NFL. It was not long ago that Long was the number 1 pick in the draft and was considered one of the best two tackles in the NFL. From 2008 through 2010 Long was a dominant player for the Miami Dolphins before the bottom seemingly dropped out. Long was plagued by injuries and his play slipped tremendously.
Between the market dropping for Tackles and his decline in play, Long was a very difficult player to put a price tag on. Teams were still willing to designate Left Tackles at Franchise players so the upper end was clearly $10 million, but was Jake Long still close to an upper echelon player? Injury was the biggest concern for signing Long as he finished the last two seasons on IR so the Rams needed ways to protect themselves from that while also giving Long a chance to be paid as an upper tier player.
The Rams agreed on a contract that only fully guaranteed Long’s 2013 salary, which consisted of a $5 million dollar signing bonus and $3 million dollar base salary. In 2014 his contract contains conditional guarantees where the condition is not based on February or March roster status, which is the typical manner in which a conditional guarantee vests, but instead on finishing the 2013 season on the Active roster.
If Long fails to stay healthy the Rams will have gotten Long at a $2 million dollar discount from a true Franchise tag player, which is not a bad deal by any means considering the upside. While the dead money will be $3.75 million, which is significant, it was the only contract that could fit Long into a very tight salary cap situation in 2013.
If Long remains healthy the Rams are still only obligated to pay him $16 million over a 2 year period, again a very reasonable cost for someone with the type of potential Long has. They have a second decision date the following year in which a portion of his 2015 salary becomes guaranteed if they fail to cut him by the 5th day of the League Year, giving them another out in the event injury becomes a major deterrent in his success. At that point the dead money is only $2.5 million, making it an easy decision for the Rams.
Worst Contract: Jared Cook
In the last few years the Rams have become a team of over spenders, both on their own players and outside players. To some extent I think this is a calculated risk that the Rams are taking. For years the Rams had not been considered an ideal destination for players to consider and I think in many ways this may have been a necessary evil to attract talent and begin to get people talking around the league about how the Rams could be a landing spot as free agency preparations begin.
Most of the contracts do contain some protection for the Rams in that they contain very low signing bonuses and have all the guarantees paid out by the second year, meaning at worst it’s a two year risk. So while the players are overvalued there is always a correction that can happen right around the corner. I’m not sure Cook is one of those players.
In terms of price tag it is hard to believe that the Rams paid Cook this kind of money. While I understand how the league has become more focused than ever on the TE position that doesn’t mean you overpay for a player with limited starting experience and very little stats to back up his play. Cook has started a grand total of 12 games in four seasons. His three year yardage average is around 550 yards. He has never scored more than 4 touchdowns in a season. And for this the Rams paid Cook over $7 million a season with an incredible $16 million in guarantees.
Unlike the other bad contracts on this team Cook’s guarantees extend into his third season on the club. There is really no escape from this deal at any point. This is significantly worse than the Jaguars deal years ago with Marcedes Lewis. At least in Lewis’ case he had a big year in his walk year and had the 1st round pedigree. Cook only has expectations because he can be a big play threat at times.
Some will point to the poor QB situation in Tennessee as a reason to be hopeful but is Sam Bradford that much of an upgrade over Locker/Hasselbeck? I’m not so sure and their offensive coordinator was never a big “run it through the TE” type in New York so I don’t think that will change either. The Titans who were huge overspenders this year had no desire to touch the price that was being floated by Cook. Even the Dolphins who were buying everything in sight could not justify matching this offer. Cook is going to have to see a major upgrade to his game to ever justify this contract.
Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles
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.