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: Antonio Cromartie
This was a difficult task because the Jets contract situation has become so muddled in recent months with numerous restructures turning what were at one time good deals into ones that don’t look so good. The problem is that the majority of players the Jets have under contract are rookies, who I wont consider for this category, or guys hoping to prove capable of playing 900 snaps. Just in terms of value I’d say Willie Colon may be the best value if healthy, but it’s a big if with him. So I went with a guy that proved to be a good bargain at the time of signing.
Back in 2011 when the Jets re-signed Cromartie the reality was the Jets had little leverage. The Jets had coveted signing a contract with Nnamdi Asomugha that would pair him up with Darrelle Revis, putting the two best corners in the NFL on the same team. Asomugha went on to sign with the Eagles leaving the Jets to go back to Cromartie. All it took was one year for the Jets to sour on Kyle Wilson as anything more than a nickel corner at least in the short term so the Jets had no other options.
Cromartie and Asomugha were both represented by the same agency so perhaps there was some discussions about parameters for both at the time, but the Jets did eventually lock up Cromartie on a contract that would pay only $8 million a season, which, at the time, was a very fair number for a player that some teams might see as a number 1 option.
Cromartie has been one of the better coverage guys in the NFL the last two years and his 8 million a year pricetag has been far more cost effective than higher priced players such as Asomugha, Revis, Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan. The Jets agreed to pay Cromartie $22.5 million over three years and in return would get to release him in the 4th year at almost no dead money charge while retaining significant trade flexibility if they needed to move him before that. Its essentially the same deal the 49ers would sign with Carlos Rogers a year later with Cromartie being the much better player.
Cromartie’s contract was restructured this year to reduce his cap charges which has made the contract now look worse than it really is- he will now cost the Jets nearly $5.5 million to release in 2014- but in a sea overpriced positional deals or significant restructuring the contract for Cromartie persists as the best value on the Jets roster. I don’t know if that is saying much, but at the end of the day they will get better value from him than anyone else on the roster.
Worst Contract: David Harris
Harris is a nice football player. He can rush the QB a bit. He’s a fundamentally sound team player. He is not Patrick Willis, but the Jets paid him as if he was. Harris’ contract was a landmine since day 1. Running only 4 years the Jets guaranteed Harris nearly 70% of his entire contract upon signing, the largest of any veteran player in the NFL at the position. His $24.9 million dollar guarantee was higher than anyone else at the ILB in the league. Harris’ percentage of total contract guaranteed only trails two first round rookies and those players have contracts that are slotted. The next closest high priced veteran has about 46% of his contract guaranteed. The guarantee per year of $6.225 million is more than $2 million more a year than Willis’ face value guarantee.
When Harris signed the 4 year contract his agent mentioned how the Jets wanted to do a longer deal but they turned it down. Of course they did. The Jets gave Harris all the perks of a long term contract without the long term giving him a wonderful opportunity to have his cake and eat it too. Harris’ contract contained no offset language giving the Jets no recourse in the event that his play dropped after signing, which it did.
Harris’ statistical performance from 2008-2010 was closer to that of former Jet Jonathan Vilma and other mid tier ILB’s. My valuation at the time indicated that Harris should be worth around $6.5 million a year to a team. The Jets gave him $9. As the team began to break apart around him all the warts that you could kind of see in his lack of output leading into the contract extension shone brightly. He wasn’t fast enough to be an impact player no strong enough to shed blockers who were no longer being occupied by another ILB as well as a Nose Tackle. He is too slow to cover down the field, a major concern with more spread offenses that feature a Tight End.
The bottom line is Harris is a nice player to have on a good defense, but he is by no means a player that you build a defense around, and the Jets did just that with their financial commitment to him. Harris’ $13 million dollar cap charge is the highest for an ILB in the NFL and his $7 million dollar cap charge in 2014 will be in the top 10. Had Harris performed well the Jets were set to reward him with an additional $5 million in 2014. I would think that ship has sailed, but without knowing the particulars of those escalators I guess the possibility still exists. Harris will likely be cut next season, when his dead money reduces to $2 million, leaving the Jets with a $31 million dollar bill for 3 seasons of pretty bland play
Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens (June 27)
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.