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: Danny Woodhead
The Chargers made a mess out of their contracts in the last few seasons with a number of bad decisions combined with high signing bonuses and low first year salary totals to create havoc down the line with the salary cap. You could make a strong argument that S Eric Weddle has a good contract simply because he is so much better than everyone else and the contract value between he and the next set of Safeties is not large. However, from a structural standpoint, his contract is a lot more player friendly than other deals and contains significant dead money protection and high backend cap charges that may force the Chargers into an extension before they should be doing so. Great player, but the deal favors the player too much to be a great deal for the team.
Woodhead was always an underrated player in New England. Woodhead is a pesky player that seems to hit a defense when they least expect it. He is terrific in the passing game and is a very capable change of pace running back. While Tom Brady always gets a majority of the credit for everything offense in New England, Woodhead was responsible for many of the yards that were picked up when the ball was in his hands. Based on statistics kept by Pro Football Focus he is one of the better players at the position when it comes to productive receptions out of the backfield. He has done the same things for the last 3 years and there is no reason to think he should fall apart due to a change of scenery.
The contract was incredibly low risk, with just $1 million in guarantees. If he becomes a fixture in the Chargers offense he can gain an extra $200,000, which is peanuts if he became a starter. Woodhead will only carry a $1.25 million dollar cap charge this year and cost $500,000 to release next season if they want to. Essentially it is a deal comprised of two $1.75 million dollar contracts, a better contract than some deals for less productive players on other teams. On a team needing to patch some things together for the next season or two, Woodhead is the perfect low-risk, low cost, safe signing that a team like San Diego needs.
Worst Contract: Robert Meachem
Normally when you sign what would be considered a “B” target you look for some upside before you commit significant money and guarantees. For example Brian Hartline with a 1,000 yard season in Miami or Pierre Garcon with close to 1,000 in Indianapolis before signing their contracts. While it may not be wise to give such players large contracts there is at least a justification of sorts for doing it. But when you take a player that has never approached what would be considered an “upside” season in five years in the league, especially one on a prolific offense, a warning light should at least go off in your head. In the case of the Chargers it clearly never did.
Meachem, a former first round draft pick, had high expectations coming out of college, but he was injured before his rookie year and ineffective in his second season. The “third year” light seemed to go off for Meachem in 2009 with 45 receptions and 722 yards and there seemed to be a chance that he would live up to all the potential. Instead 2009 proved to be a peak with Meachem going for about 620 yards a season on a team passing for over 4,500 yards in the next two years. Meachem never could break through to be a more valuable piece of the offense.
Somehow San Diego convinced themselves that Meachem’s failures were because there were just too many receiving targets in New Orleans which wouldn’t be the case in San Diego who was allowing superstar Vincent Jackson to walk away. Meachem was rewarded with a contract worth $6.375 million a year and an incredible $14 million guaranteed. A similar statistical player in former teammate Lance Moore signed for $4 million a year with $7 million guaranteed. That is the figure that a player like Meachem should sign for. If he breaks out you get a great contract and if not it’s not a major cap burden.
Meachem was a complete disaster last season posting career lows in receptions and yards. He could not crack the starting lineup and, with an inferior supporting cast, the Chargers should have anticipated less yards than what he had in New Orleans not more. The Chargers are stuck with Meachem this season because of the high costs associated with cutting him unless they can find someone willing to pay him a $5 million dollar base salary, which is so high because the Chargers wanted to defer charges to fit him in their salary structure last season. There is almost no chance a team is picking up his contract unless San Diego eats a portion of that $5 million prior to the trade. If traded or cut next year the contract structure will leave the Chargers with a $3.75 million dollar dead money charge in 2014. A wonderful parting gift for Chargers fans from AJ Smith.
Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys (July 12)
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.