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: Joe Thomas
There is little to choose from in this area on the Browns. The team is made up of rookie contracts and lower cost players with minimal futures on the team, so we’ll go with Thomas, the highest priced player on the team.
Often times we overrate our stars due to draft status but that is not the case for Thomas. Thomas has proven to be the best Left Tackle in the NFL and most consistent player at the position. It is more or less a given that each year nobody will be better, making him irreplaceable. Because the Browns were willing to spend so much money on Thomas the contract had the potential to be a weight around the neck of the organization, but by acting proactively the Browns received a cap friendly contract despite the high price tag.
The Browns extended Thomas with one year remaining on his contract and used large guarantees in the front end of the contract rather than a large signing bonus, making the cap hits very affordable throughout the life of the deal. While this strategy can prove risky, with Thomas’ 4 year track record he was the ideal candidate for the move.
Thomas is now under contract until the age of 34 and with no dead money from 2016-2018 the Browns could easily escape the deal in the event Thomas was ever injured or became less effective when older. In fact the deal was structured in a way where the Browns could have moved on without issue by 2013. If the market for tackles continues to deteriorate the lack of prorated money in the deal at least gives the Browns a possibility to work his figures down as well.
Worst Contract: Paul Kruger
The Browns are a team in a position where they likely have to overpay to attract players and they did just that with the signing of Kruger. Kruger had a terrific season in 2013 with a great late season push for the Ravens that saw his name becoming a common point of discussion among announcers. It is certainly easy to look at that and think that Kruger is a dominant player, but he really is not, at least not yet.
The Browns pounced quickly on Kruger before realizing that the rest of the NFL was no longer going crazy in terms of dollars for anyone who can sack a QB. Kruger only has 6 career starts and has yet to post more than 9 sacks in a given year. The Browns were willing to shell out over $40 million for Kruger of which nearly half is guaranteed.
As a point of reference Cameron Wake the prior year signed a deal worth only $8.3 million a year and far less in guarantees. Wake was a proven starter that had produced 22.5 sacks in the two years leading up to his new deal as well as multiple pressures. His former team replaced him with Elvis Dumervil, who had 20.5 sacks over the prior two seasons, for $5.2 million a year and $11 million in guaranteed salary.
Though Kruger’s deal will allow the team to escape it in 2015 and the team is so filled with young talent that their salary cap can absorb a bad deal if Kruger does not work out, the Browns could have negotiated a far better more team friendly contract with Kruger.
Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles
AFC East: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers (July 1)
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.