NFL Free Agency in Review: The Worst Value Contracts of 2015

With free agency basically finished I thought it would be fun to do a review of the contracts that I thought were the best and worst from a value standpoint. I’ll start off with the worst contracts of 2015 and take a look at the best ones in a few days. We can come back to this later in the year and see who did and did not justify what seems to be overspending to get a player the team really wants.

10. Dwayne Harris, WR, Giants (5 years, $17.1M, $7.1M guaranteed)

Giants owner John Mara said this year’s free agent group was “mediocre” when justifying the team failing to add any impact players, but I would much rather hear his opinion as to how Harris is worth more than $7 million guaranteed. Harris caught just 33 passes, in total, not per year, in four seasons with Dallas. He does have two touchdowns returning punts, but in what universe is that worth over $4 million a season? At his peak Devin Hester earned $5.5 million a year with less fully guaranteed. While that was some time ago, Hester was a different grade of returner and had some potential as a receiver. Last year Hester played for $3 million.  Paying Harris this much is basically the low cost equivalent of some of the higher ranked bad deals on this list.

9. Dan Williams, DT, Raiders (4 years, $25M, $15.2M guaranteed)

There were a number of good defensive tackles available this season but I don’t think anyone expected Williams to be the highest paid one not named Suh. Williams is basically a 40% snap player that has had one really solid year playing the run and a number of non-descript seasons as a Cardinal. In some ways this piggy backs off the awful contracts the Falcons gave to Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson in 2013, but two wrongs don’t make a right. The whopping $15.2 million full guarantee shows some of the downside of the all cash budgeting system used by some teams. You have to over-guarantee the player to remove the protection often offered by the sunk cost of the signing bonus. While that can help with dead money down the line, it can hurt you if the player isn’t that good which is what the Buccaneers have learned using this system the last few years. Oakland has to hope things are better for them.

8. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Chiefs (5 years, $55M, $22.5M guaranteed)

Maclin is a fine receiver, but $11 million a year for Maclin is very steep. Maclin peaked at the perfect time for free agency, but when you look much closer at his numbers it was clear that they were fueled in part by an over-reliance by Nick Foles on Maclin. Once Foles was injured Maclin settled right back into his normal pace of being a 900 yard type receiver.  It is hard to see how Maclin also fits with the Chiefs who are a sideline to sideline team and Maclin’s best asset is going down the field. The team is going to need to have to find a way to get Alex Smith to trust his arm more if the team will get the expected return on investment. The contract is made worse by the structure which includes a large signing bonus due to the Chiefs cap woes.

7. LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills (5 years, $40.05M, $15.75M guaranteed)

I’m not sure I can understand the Bills logic in this trade and renegotiation. McCoy will be 27 years old this year and has amassed over 600 carries in the last two years and in two of the last three years has not been a special player. McCoy was scheduled to earn just over $10 million this year which somehow the Bills converted to over $16 million on an extension with $13 million coming in the form of a signing bonus, meaning they are going to have big cap charges on their hands when it is time to move on from McCoy. McCoy has over $26 million guaranteed in the event of injury which is quite the haul for a player the Eagles were likely going to release outright from his contract

6. Jermey Parnell, RT, Jaguars (5 years, $32M, $14.5M guaranteed)

There is nothing worse in the NFL than looking at a small sample of games and using that to justify big dollars on players, but that is the kind of nalysis that makes players dreams come true if they reach free agency. Parnell has started a grand total of 7 games in his first four years in the NFL, four of which occurred this year as he stood out as a replacement for an injured Doug Free. Whenever I see these players sign I am always reminded of former Jets right tackle Wayne Hunter who signed a relatively low cost contract as a fill in type and then became the target for every fan of the team since he was granted a full time starter role. Parnell is all that and more. He is the second highest guaranteed contract at the position and it’s not like he’s a 25 year old with high upside. He’ll be 29 this season and whatever you get this year is about as good as it will be.

5. Charles Clay, TE, Bills (5 years, $38M, $23M guaranteed)

I don’t have the full details on this one outside of Clay earning around $24 million in a two year period and that alone is enough to put him in here. Clay was a $4-5 million a year player until the Bills made it known that they were very interested in Clay’s talents. Miami played the game and put the transition tag on Clay, basically goading the Bills into signing a contract with Clay that Miami wouldn’t match. Apparently the Bills were oblivious to the fact that Miami had already signed another overpriced tight end and decided to use a ramped up version of the Andrew Hawkins frontloaded contract from last season. It took Miami all of one day to inform the NFL they wouldn’t match the offer sheet. The only reason it took that long was their hands were probably too sore from the high five celebrations for getting one over on Rex and the Bills to pick up the phone and inform the office that Clay was free to go. About a day after signing Clay and taking about how he’s impossible to cover, Ryan said he wants to run 50 times a game.

4. David Harris, LB, Jets (3 years, $21.5M, $15M guaranteed)

Harris scored his second mega-deal in four years with the Jets, benefitting again from being in the right place at the right time for a contract. Harris’ run defense is ultra-dependent on the play in front of him and he can’t cover anyone in the passing game. Harris is so slow that he once picked off a pass on the run and was chased down by a 270 pound Alge Crumpler. That was three years ago and somehow I don’t think he has gotten any faster since then. The Jets decided on a $15 million guarantee, which is 4th highest at the position and far and away the highest based on the years under contract. This is an example of a team having too much cap room and looking to give some of it to a respected locker room guy before paying a lot of people who were not members of the team the year before.

3. Julius Thomas, TE, Jaguars (5 years, $46M, $21M guaranteed)

Just when I thought the Jaguars could never do a deal worse than the Marcedes Lewis deal they went and did this. Thought it’s a new group of people running the show in Jacksonville apparently the driving factor remains to be touchdowns caught. Last season Thomas finished the year with under 500 yards and the Broncos made it no secret that they saw little benefit in bringing him back. He will earn more money in the first two years of his contract than Jimmy Graham, which is pretty absurd. Even more ludicrous is the lack of protection in the contract. Thomas has missed 28 games in 4 years. Guess how much money the Jaguars have protected for him not playing?  Zero. Yes in a league where Aaron Rodgers has money tied up in being active, Julius Thomas does not.

2Bryon Maxwell, CB, Eagles (6 years, $63M, $22M guaranteed)

The Eagles have been down this road before with the high priced secondary talent, but this one is even more of a reach than the Nnamdi Asomugha contract. In four years Maxwell has started just 17 games and has had the good fortune of playing with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor protecting him over the top, not to mention Richard Sherman on the opposite side.  I think it speak volumes that the Seahawks were willing to sign the player the Eagles cast off in Cary Williams rather than keeping Maxwell. Both are essentially equivalent players except the perception of both is dramatically different.  Free agency is often about marketing and Maxwell had very vocal support in the media. He’ll be tested very early in the season and need to prove he can do it without the great supporting cast around him.

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Dolphins (6 years, $114.375M, $59.955 guaranteed)

Quite simply this is one of the worst contracts ever given in the history of the NFL. For Suh to justify this contract he would have to play above the level of any defensive player to ever play football. Suh hasn’t even been the best defensive tackle in the NFL let alone the best defensive player. I’m not sure who even led this negotiation other than someone looking back at a bad Mario Williams contract from 2012 and applying a cap adjustment to that number to come up with the $19M+ figure the Dolphins used. This is a contract that Al Davis, Daniel Snyder and Marty Hurney all would have said was too extreme to sign. To invest this kind of money Miami is banking on this contract paying off from a marketing perspective both to the fans and to the rest of the NFL to help make Miami a football destination again. It didn’t work that way for Detroit with Suh so I’m not sure why it would be any different in Miami

Honorable mentions: DeMarco Murray, Chris Culliver, Tramon Williams, Antonio Cromartie,  Rodney Hudson, Buster Skrine, Brandon Flowers, Dan Skuta, Darrelle Revis, Shane Vereen