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: Jordy Nelson
You can take your pick on a number of contracts Green Bay has signed. This is one of the best front offices in the NFL and it shows on their cap sheets. Aaron Rodgers is the highest paid QB in the NFL and you can make a clear argument that the Packers were big winners in that contract negotiation. Clay Matthews is the highest paid OLB and you can make the same argument that they were the true big winners in the negotiation. You can go so many places, but there is no contract that has proven to be better than the extension given to Jordy Nelson in 2011.
The Packers identified the skills that Nelson had and used the leverage of a low cost rookie salary to sign Nelson to an incredibly cap friendly contract. At an APY of just $4.2 million a year, Nelson is one of the best bargains at the number 2 position in the NFL. He earns less money than players like Eddie Royal and Nate Washington who have not produced the way Nelson has.
Green Bay’s contract offered the Packers a great deal of protection, a standard in the Packers contracts. Every extension year would carry $200,000 in roster bonuses that were only earned if Nelson was active for a game. The use of this mechanism saved the Packers $50,000 last season. With no guarantees in the contract outside of the signing bonus Green Bay could have walked away after the first year if they absolutely needed to and at worst they would have been stuck with his contract thru just 2013, at which point he could have been released with $1.75 million in dead money.
Of course none of that became an issue as Nelson has averaged about 70 yards a game the last two seasons and is a terrific player that can produce big plays. Nelson’s cap number will be under $4 million in both 2013 and 2014, making him a strong extension candidate again after this season provided he is healthy and continues to play well. And the deal will again be a salary cap bargain for the Packers because of the way they are handling most of their roster management.
Worst Contract: AJ Hawk
The Packers don’t get many things wrong but if there was one mulligan that they could have it might be the contract given to Hawk in 2011. Green Bay decided to go further in with Hawk even though I think most would agree that he had been a disappointment as a draft pick. Their payment structure was a bit uncharacteristic in that they gave Hawk an $8 million dollar signing bonus which meant the cap costs of release were likely too high until at least 2014. Usually I would have expected them to use more upfront non-prorated money, but they decided otherwise in the near $7 million a year contract.
That decision would impact the Packers who needed Hawk to take a paycut in 2013 because they could no longer justify keeping at his cap figures. This time around they got a deal structure more in line with what they normally do, but even at $3.5 million a year Hawk is probably overpaid. Not overpaid like he used to be, but all things considered on this team, overpaid.
The 2011 deal is still going to haunt Green Bay with Hawk. Because of the high salary he was owed he got some favorable terms in a guarantee for this year and offseason bonuses next year to force Green Bay to either take on a $3.2 million dead money charge or use the June 1 designation on Hawk. That is not the end of the world for the Packers, who rarely are active in free agency and won’t need cap room for external free agents, but the Packers are a team that avoids these kind of mistakes and he is one of the few on the team. For other squads a contract like Hawk’s might go unnoticed, but on the Packers he stands out.
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.