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: Ryan Clark
For some reason Ryan Clark just gets forgotten whenever anyone discusses the Safety position. Whether it’s because he is older or doesn’t have that one standout season where the media goes crazy over him, somehow we don’t assume much from him. The reality is that Clark has been one of the most consistent and versatile players at his position for the last 4 or 5 seasons. Clark isn’t a specialist. He can cover, he can help, he can play the run. He is just a solid, all around player.
Clark only earns $3.5 million a season and never had a cap charge over $4.75 million over the life of his contract. The Steelers could have moved on as early as 2011 from his contract had age made him less effective so the contract structure was never the issue that has been the case for so many others on the team.
Clark’s annual value ranks somewhere around 22nd in the NFL at his position. That’s a bargain for someone as consistent as Clark. His guarantees on the deal were almost nothing giving the team the ultimate flexibility. Now the question will likely be how much should the Steelers pay a 34 year old Safety whose contract is ready to expire. The Steelers probably would have been better off extending Clark this year on a short term contract for cap relief designed to allow him to finish his career in Pittsburgh than reworking some of the bigger name contracts.
Worst Contract: LaMarr Woodley
In the case of Woodley it is not so much the value that the Steelers paid for him, after all he looked like a premier pass rusher when the extension was signed, but the problems that have been created by the constant restructuring of his contract, leaving the Steelers with no outs in the near future.
Since signing his new contract in 2011 Woodley’s play has declined and in 2012 he was generally unproductive as a pass rusher. Whether the result of his injury in 2011 or something else, it was so bad that a player on his own team actually questioned Woodley’s dedication calling him “awful” and questioning his conditioning. Despite this, the Steelers restructured Woodley’s contract for the second time in two years giving Woodley job security and a roster spot regardless of how he plays.
In exchange for reducing his cap charge to $9.19 million in 2013, the Steelers increased his cap charge to $13.59 million in 2014 and $14.09 in 2015. His $14 million+ dead money charge next year makes him uncuttable which likely means the Steelers will be forced to restructure again next season for cap relief. Any restructure just makes the long term situation that much worse for Pittsburgh. Woodley already has $8.58 million in dead money on the books in 2015 and each restructure will only increase it. The Steelers treatment of this contract has put them at great risk of having a potentially unproductive player eating up double digits of cap room for the foreseeable future
Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles
AFC South: Houston Texans (July 2)
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.