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: Michael Roos
Ross is a terrific tackle and because he plays in Tennessee and wasn’t a top tier draft choice never gets his name mentioned when we discuss the best left tackles in the NFL. Roos has only missed one game in the last five years and consistently grades as one of the better players in the NFL, peaking this past season with Pro Football Focus rating him as the 3rd best tackle in the NFL.
Somehow in an era of bloated contracts for LT’s the Titans locked Roos up for just over $7 million a season and $12.8 million in full guarantees. The highest base cap charge for Roos was just $7.5 million making him a tremendous bargain. Most players at the position and his skill level would carry at least $9 million a season in charges so the Titans are saving a great deal of cap with Roos.
The deal was structured to run a long time, from 2008-2014, giving the Titans exclusive rights to him until he will turn 33 years old. With no back end bloated salary figures or dead money charges the Titans are one of the few teams to honestly be able to say that they locked up a core player for his entire career with no worries of restructures or renegotiations due to cap concerns. A solid deal all around.
Worst Contract: Chris Johnson
The Titans have some bad deals on the books but none worse than the $13.49 million dollar extension that they gave to Johnson back in 2011. By 2011 the league had changed dramatically with their approach to the running back position and salaries accordingly were being scaled back. Outside of the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson no other back in the league even deserved consideration to be paid in the double digits, but the Titans caved in on Johnson.
Johnson burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2008 and absolutely exploded in 2009, producing over 2500 yards of total offense and 16 TD’s. History would say that almost no player who approaches those kind of numbers in a season will ever come close again, and Johnson was never considered the physical specimen than Peterson was to even give an inkling that he would buck those trends. The Titans initially resisted a true extension in 2010 and gave him a slight bump in pay for the year. As expected Johnson’s numbers shrunk, to around 1,600 yards, and he was not the same explosive dangerous threat he was the year before, his YPC falling from 5.6 to 4.3.
Unexpectedly the Titans took the approach that paying Johnson more money would get the best out of him in the future. They over committed to him setting a market standard that nobody thought would ever exist. The contract was loaded with rolling guarantees that were always going to be picked up due to the high sunk cost of $13 million paid to Johnson in 2011. While the Titans built in some protection from catastrophic decline in play there was never going to be a chance for Johnson to justify this pricetag.
With the money spent at the position so low a team could get similar performance for a fraction of the cost unless Johnson could duplicate his 2009 success. His two year average since signing his deal is 1,470 total yards a season, a far cry from the 2,500 that the Titans agreed to pay him for, and he is a complete feast or famine player and not the type of player you can count on for every down performance. Now the Titans have brought in a complementary back, Shonn Greene, finally realizing what everyone knew in 2011- you can’t rely on a player like Johnson to carry a team on his back at that salary level. He may be gone in 2014 but even then the Titans will still have a $6 million dead money charge to account for. Johnson’s deal is the definition of a bad contract.
Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles
AFC West: Denver Broncos (July 8)
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.