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: Reggie Wayne
The Colts are a tough team to come up with a best number for and I am hesitant to put a 34 year old receiver making over $5 million a year out there as the best, but there really is no other option. Wayne was incredibly productive in 2012 and became QB Andrew Luck’s favorite target. His 1355 yards were tied for the second most receiving yards ever by a player at least 34 years of age and he clearly brought veteran leadership to the team.
In some ways the Colts lucked into keeping Wayne. Wayne expected to see more interest in free agency but with questions about age and how well he would fit without Peyton Manning the doors re-opened to return to Indianapolis.
His $5.8 million a year deal was only slightly more than Santana Moss’ with Redskins and a few million less than Steve Smith’s with the Panthers, the other two notable plus 30 players in the NFL. Wayne was arguably more productive than both leading up to the extensions they received with their respective clubs. His guarantee was only slightly more than Moss’.
Wayne will be 35 this season and would have carried a $5 million dollar dead money fee had his production dropped off significantly. Benchmarked against the Smith deal that is not as bad a number as it sounds. At 35 Smith will carry a $9 million dollar hit if released. While it is not likely that Wayne will produce the yardage he did in 2012, his value that season to the team was likely enough to justify the entire contract.
Worst Contract: Erik Walden
Really you could just take your pick here. The Colts were flush with cap space in 2012 and seemed to make a decision to use it all up even if it meant overpaying a number of players to come to the team. Out of the entire group none was luckier than Walden to land the contract that he did.
Walden produced little in his time with the Packers. He generated 8 sacks in 2 ½ seasons despite playing alongside one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. There was no market for Walden in 2012 so the Packers brought him back on a nothing contract. After a 2012 season that was about identical to his 2011 season you wouldn’t think the market changed much for Walden, except it did.
Walden received a $16 million dollar 4 year deal from the Colts with a whopping 50% of the total guaranteed. His $8 million in guarantees assures him of a roster spot until 2015. He ended up with better security than Osi Umenyiora, Dwight Freeney, and Cliff Avril, players who can actually rush the passer a little bit and be productive. Walden has potential to be the most overpaid player in the NFL a situation that should have been avoided but the Colts saw something that nobody else saw and paid him as if he had done it already.
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.