Well it took awhile to complete but we have successfully finished our Best and Worst Contract selections for 2014 and I thought it would be good to summarize the series. For those who have not read this yet I guess it is worth pointing out a few ground rules. No rookie contracts are considered for the best or worst deal unless the team did something extraordinary in the negotiation. Why? Draft salaries are basically slotted so it’s not the benefit or fault of the team it’s simply the system. Secondly you don’t have to be a bad player to have a bad contract nor a great one to have a good contract. These are simply contracts that stand out for a number of reasons ranging from structure to price to leverage at signing. Finally this is written from the team perspective and if we wanted it from the agent perspective simply flip it around.
For this post I’ll go division by division and give a selection for best and worst deal and then quickly select the two players that I think have the best and worst contract.
Best- Cameron Wake. Wake is the runaway winner in the East. He is a superstar player now and was one at the time he signed a low priced bargain contract. It’s pretty amazing that Dolphins former GM Jeff Ireland was responsible for this contract as he left the team with a number of high priced duds which led to him being fired.
Worst- Mario Williams. Mike Wallace has a pretty terrible contract and David Harris and Logan Mankins were both grossly overpaid, but none came close to being the top paid player on the side of a ball despite never even being close to that level. This was the classic case of desperate team, with a desperate GM, seeing a former top draft pick and doing anything to get him.
Best- Andrew Whitworth. I think it was a given that the best had to come from the Bengals as they are by far the most shrewd organization in the North. This was a terrific low risk high reward type of signing that had paid off extremely well for the Bengals.
Worst- Paul Kruger. Not the easiest selection as Ray Rice’s deal looks worse and worse each day, but this was a senseless signing. You never take a part time player, see a big season in a walk year, and anoint him a high paid starter. The Ravens have some really bad contracts on the books but even they knew the Browns were doing something that there was no justification to even consider.
Best- Andre Johnson. The Texans have made a mess of his contract, but even in that mess they were able to hold Johnson’s feet to the fire this year when he wanted out or a new deal and withhold money from him due to a poor deal he negotiated years ago. This contract was one of the great heists in NFL history for a team.
Worst- Marcedes Lewis. One of the great mysteries in the NFL is how in the world Lewis is still playing on this inflated contract that he signed in 2011. This was an example of a team desperately wanting to believe a first round draft pick was a great player. He showed signs of being decent one time and got a massive pay day. This is a prime example why teams need to not let emotions and past scouting get in the way of more unbiased analysis.
Best- Jamaal Charles. Charles signed a new deal on the day I wrote his blurb but even with the slight raise he is still dramatically underpaid. Charles had done more than enough to warrant an $8 million a year contract back in 2010 and instead took a deal worth just over $5 million with almost no guarantees. He carried the Chiefs offense the last few seasons at a next to nothing price.
Worst- Sebastian Janikowski. The only reason I can even come up with for this deal is the owner wanting Janikowski on the team at a huge price as a homage to his father. There is nothing good about paying a kicker big money especially when he is not one of the best players in the NFL and the Raiders made sure to protect Janikowskis status as the top pay guy and best protected kicker in the league.
Best- Jason Kelce. If ever there were examples of insider trading in NFL front offices it was this deal. Philadelphia wisely locked up Kelce hours before it became know that the salary cap would stunningly rise to $133 million. Philadelphia did a great job in also making sure this got done before any other extensions occurred as the position got higher in price after years of a flat market.
Worst- Jason Hatcher. Tough choice as the Giants and Cowboys both had great candidates, but even without playing a down for the Redskins I am very confident that they will regret this one. You should never pay a 30 year old interior lineman like he is 26, but the Redskins did. Not just that but they don’t even run the type of defense that saw him break out last season and expecting a break out to continue at this age is nothing more than a prayer.
Best- Jordy Nelson. Nelson signed an extension after I wrote this up, but his original deal was one of the best in the NFL and even his current contract has him underpaid based on what he typically brings the Packers. This is the model example of how to handle the contracts of young promising players who exceed even their own expectations.
Worst- Ndamukong Suh. This is one of the rookie exceptions because the Lions tinkered and tinkered with this contract multiple times to basically create one of the worst contracts in the history of the NFL. The team has been stripped of their leverage and stuck with a defensive tackle counting $22 million against the cap and millions of dead money waiting to hit the cap in 2015 when his contract expires.
Best- Roddy White. Tough call between Junior Galette and White, especially since White signed a new deal that makes his old one obsolete, but White’s contract is like the anti-Lewis deal. White played well for more than just one year and the team was emotionally invested in him, but they negotiated a great contract with him. He’s been underpaid for almost his whole career.
Worst- Jonathan Stewart. Maybe the worst overall contract in the NFL should be named the Marty Hurney award because he negotiated multiple contracts for the Panthers that are worse than most of the other deals on this list. Stewart was by far the worst of them all. I don’t know what they saw in Stewart outside of one season of decent play but they decided that he was one step below Adrian Peterson. Since then Stewart has about as many yards as I have in the NFL.
Best- Anthony Davis. Another example of the great contract with multiple failsafes designed to protect the team. The Davis contract is littered with gameday active roster bonuses, weight incentives, and workout de-escalators. The Rams contract with Jake Long is very good as well and has plenty of team protections, but the Davis deal stands out even more due to the team protections.
Worst- Larry Fitzgerald. We had three big contenders for this with Percy Harvin and Jared Cook, but the Fitzgerald contract is just a death trap for the Cardinals. Maybe Arizona thought they did well when they put some late contract de-escalators in the contract but the way the deal was structured those would never come into play and the Cardinals have played right into his hands with the terrible contract restructures including one this season. This is the model contract for agents to study when trying to get one over on a team.
I’m sure I could change my mind about these selections but if I was forced to choose a best and worst overall contract I think I would opt for Cameron Wake and Jonathan Stewart. Wake is really a standout contract that is giving the Dolphins at least $3 million a year in value. There are some real bad ones to select from and last year I went with Mario Williams and Larry Fitzgerald’s restructures made him a strong candidate as well, but I can at least understand a little bit more overpaying those players. If you put Stewart out there as a free agent I’m not sure he would fetch $1 million.
Hopefully everyone enjoyed this series and as usual I got some good feedback on this. Remember to keep checking back during the season to see what we have going on during the NFL season. Each week we’ll likely do our “stock up and stock down” posts, we will start our NFL statistical Power Rankings in week 4 or 5, I should be doing weekly nfl predictions as well as continuing our fantasy outlooks, and I’ll be mixing in contract stuff whenever there is time. Feel free to send in any suggestions for topics.
But before the season starts I will have a special look at the salary cap in what I hope will bring some interesting insights.
Here are the links to all our best and worst contracts:
OTC’s Best and Worst Contracts of 2014
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.