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: Wes Welker
I get the knocks on Wes Welker. I’ve had those same debates when discussing values on him with followers of my work. Welker is considered by many to be a product of a system in New England, and to some extent they are correct. Not many teams funnel the pass attack through the slot the way the Patriots did and even fewer teams have a QB capable of pulling that off the way Tom Brady has with Welker. So yes the stats are inflated due to an incredibly high amount of targets, but even if you normalize the numbers he is still a plus 1,000 yard receiver.
I think there is a perception that Welker is an old player because they associate him with Brady and Brady has been around for so long, but Welker was never a member of those Super Bowl winning Patriots teams. He’s only 32 and WR’s can definitely be productive until 34. Denver signed him for $6 million a season plus some incentives. If they choose to walk away next year they can do so with only $2 million in dead money, a number that compares favorably to other older WR’s like Steve Smith and Santana Moss. It’s $100,000 less dead money than they already have locked into Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, another one year trial player.
The signing of Welker also fits the Broncos perfectly in that they have a short window with Peyton Manning and he fits perfectly in with that window. One thing noticeable in that playoff game against the Ravens is that Manning did not have the same zip he used to have on his passes which makes the addition of Welker very important in the short term. Welker is more talented than the 36 year old Brandon Stokley who filled that role last season and Manning’s natural abilities may force him more to Welker type routes than he would have gone to back in his prime.
There is also a long term benefit to the signing. His contract works as both leverage and insurance against WR Eric Decker, a talented young player about to hit free agency who will almost assuredly see his numbers drop. Last year he produced nearly 1,100 yards with Stokley only stealing around 550 yards. Welker will be far more productive than Stokley and give the Broncos multiple options with Decker. While Decker can be a future building block of a team it has to be at the right price and with Demaryius Thomas already well on his way to being a big money player when his deal is up in 2015 you want to keep Decker on as low cost a contract as possible. Welker gives the Broncos the best chance to see that happen.
Worst Contract: Joe Mays
Denver does not really have many truly bad contracts. They are very tough negotiators and use structures to make cutting players as painless as possible on the franchise. With most of the most overpriced players gone from the team there were a few names to consider here and I narrowed it down to two players- Mays and G Chris Kuper.
Kuper has always been overpaid, with his salary closer to the top quarter of the league while his play at best would be average, but he was always a starter and injuries have made it hard to say one way or the other on him. I could easily see choosing him as well. Likewise Mays was also always a mediocre player but with no track record as a starting player in the NFL and for some reason the Broncos seemed to fall in love with him, rewarding him with a 3 year $12 million dollar deal in 2012.
The ILB market is a pretty flat market in terms of price and the $4 million APY actually ranks in the top half of the position in the NFL. For defenses whose base package is the 43 his contract ranks around 6th. 37.5% of his deal was guaranteed, a top 10 number for veteran players at ILB. That’s a pretty hefty price to pay for a player whose true upside is really that of special teams ace.
Though Mays was also injured last year, he had been benched prior to his injury and relegated to special teams again. It really should have come as no surprise given his history with both the Eagles and Broncos. Still it’s not so bad of a deal that it is impossible to escape and it is quite possible that the Broncos will cut him during training camp, making this more of an overpriced contract rather than an outright bad one. They do still owe him $500,000 in guaranteed salary but assuming he has offsets that is money they will never really have to pay him this season as a team will sign him for the minimum to play specials and be a backup linebacker. If released his cap is only $666,666 with a $166,668 cap charge remaining in 2014.
Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles
AFC West: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs (July 9)
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.