The Worst Contracts in the NFL

Every week I get a number of tweets about certain players who people believe have the worst contracts in the NFL so by request I figured I would do a post with my selections for the worst contracts in the NFL. Many of the selections here are pure hindsight analysis, unlike when I occasionally do best and worst selections for each team, and in many cases the contracts are fine from the standpoint of the market at the time- they have just blown up badly for the team since signing the contract.  Some of the players hit both being a bad signing before and after the contract and Ill try to point out where that is the case, but I just wanted to get it out of the way that it’s a hindsight list in the event someone wants to defend the contract simply because it wasnt that bad when signed. Im sure on a different day I may have some different names on here as well as the NFL is filled with some bad ones, but today this is the way I leaned, so without further ado…

25. Christian Kirksey, LB, Packers
$6.5M/year, $8M 2021 cap hit, $2M to cut

I get the fact that the Packers got trounced last year by the 49ers running game in the playoffs but they could have done better than this couldn’t they?  Kirksey missed 9 games in 2018 and 14 games in 2019. Should it have come as any surprise when he landed on IR after 6 games this year? This is money that could have gone to someone with much more of a chance of impacting the Packers this year. On the bright side they can get out of the deal next year at a relatively low cost.

24. Randall Cobb, WR, Texans
$9M/year, $10.6M 2021 cap hit, $12.3M to cut

Did anyone see this contract coming when Cobb signed this?  I know I certainly did not. While he had a nice bounce back year with Dallas in 2019 the facts were that Cobb had missed 11 games from 2016 to 2019 and only had one season over 600 yards. The Texans really went all in here guaranteeing Cobb the first two years of a three year contract. Those two years total about $19M which could have instead been used to find a solution to their contract dilemma with DeAndre Hopkins.

23. Golden Tate, WR, Giants
$9.4M/year, $10.8M 2021 cap hit, $4.7M to cut

Nothing about this contract made sense when the team signed it. Tate was coming off an invisible finish with the Eagles, he was over 30, and the Giants should have been looking to get younger but somehow the Giants wound up doing this deal. Tate was suspended by the NFL before the ink was even dry on the contract though he did finish the year with 676 yards. He was an afterthought for the team this year, being deactivated and sent to the scout team at one point. Tate has just 306 receiving yards on the year and it almost certain to be released next year.

22. Jadeveon Clowney, Edge, Titans
$13M/year, 2021 Free Agent

I can understand why the Titans made this signing. It was access to an elite level athlete who was once the top pick in the NFL draft, but what competition really existed? While stories were floated out there about interest those came across as agents trying to drum up interest in a client as Clowney sat on the sidelines until September trying to find a team to meet whatever salary demands he had. Clowney’s injury history was well known- he played 16 games once in a six year career- and he has never provided the type of impact that teams cherish. He had just 3 sacks with the Seahawks last year and wound up with a total of 0 sacks with the Titans this year before being shut down after 8 games. On the bright side for the Titans at least it was just a one year gamble.

21. Adam Humphries, WR, Titans
$9M/year, $9.75M 2021 cap hit, $5M to cut

Humphries career arc worked out perfect for him by peaking in his walk year in playing time (70%), receptions (76), and yards (816). He was able to parlay that success into a four year, $36 million contract with the Titans where he pretty much filed from day 1 to find a role. He’s missed 8 games in two years because of injury and wound up playing 38% of the snaps last year and is under 30% this year. Humphries has 593 yards in two years nowhere near close enough to justify the $9M a year he has cost the Titans.

20. Anthony Barr, LB, Vikings
$13.5M/year, $15M 2021 cap hit, $7.8M to cut

This was an example where both sides of a marriage agreed to a divorce but then when it came time to sign the papers decided to reconcile and give it another try only to find that divorce was the best option. Barr has been a non-factor for the Vikings amassing 54 tackles last year while missing 14 games this year with a torn pec. This is really the contract decision that started to mess up the Vikings salary cap as they would have had a cheaper and better structured deal with Barr had they just extended him in 2018. It made little sense to go back to him last year and they have to hope he is healthy next March so they can cut him before his salary becomes guaranteed.

19. AJ Green, WR, Bengals
$18.2M/year, 2021 Free Agent

This contract was a decision that was driven by the heart rather than the head. Green had a run where he may have been the best WR in the NFL, but those days were long gone when the team decided to tag Green. Green missed 6 games in 2016, 7 games in 2018, and 16 games in 2019 and to expect him to come back after all that time missed at the age of 32 was a dream. Green may wear the same number but doesn’t resemble the WR he once was. Green has 357 yards and 1 TD in 11 games this year and is one of the least efficient targets in the league.

18. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 49ers
$27.5M/year, $26.9M 2021 cap hit, $2.8M to cut

This is one of those contracts that never made any sense when it was signed. Garoppolo had a grand total of 7 starts and a bit of an injury history when the 49ers signed this contract, despite having the franchise tag at their disposal, making Jimmy G the highest paid player in the NFL. While the 49ers structured the deal wisely by taking a massive $37M cap hit in the first year of the contract and putting in late vesting dates its hard to take a victory lap for that when you didn’t utilize those dates this year to find a viable QB. In three years Garoppolo has cost the 49ers about $83.6M on the cap. He has played just 25 games in 3 seasons, averaging about 230 yards a game and handing the ball off a lot to stable of running backs. While the dead money is reasonable next year it’s only because the 49ers took so much of that hit early in the contract.

17. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers
$16M/year, $12.5M 2021 cap hit, $24.9M to cut

McCaffrey was awesome for my fantasy team in 2019 but didn’t make that kind of impact on a team that finished 5-11 and wound up firing their coach in the middle of the season. McCaffrey threatened to hold out in the offseason and you know how the story goes. Even though he had two years remaining on the contract the Panthers “had no choice” but to sign him to a contract that made him the highest priced player at the position in the NFL. McCaffrey followed it up with an injury plagued campaign which has seen him play in just 3 games and average 3.8 YPC, essentially the same stat line as journeyman Mike Davis who took over for the injured star. Had the Panthers held firm McCaffrey would be in line for an $8.4M salary in 2021 with no chance of getting a deal like he received. Instead the team will have paid him an additional $19.25M for 3 games in 2020 and whatever they get from him in 2021. If I have Panthers fans asking me about his contract midway through next year then things will have really gone off the rails.

16. Kwon Alexander, LB, Saints
$13.5M/year, $13.4M 2021 cap hit, $0 to cut

While this contract is labelled Saints it falls on the 49ers who paid Alexander nearly $24M for 13 games. Alexander had an extensive injury history prior to signing this contract with the 49ers, missing 18 games in his four year career with the Bucs, including 10 games missed in the year prior to free agency. I guess things could have been worse for San Francisco who wound up finding a trade partner to at least pass off around $3 million of the contract burden. The 49ers have had worse deals than this one but this was the one contract that had no justification when signed whereas the others just went bad over time.

15. David Johnson, RB, Texans
$13M/year, $9M 2021 cap hit, $2.1M to cut

Johnson is a member of the Texans but his contract was negotiated by the Cardinals and he only wound up with the Texans because of how inept the Texans decision making process was this offseason. Johnson’s contract is one that I understand given the expected changing contractual landscape at the position but these are the kind of contracts that drive me crazy. Johnson had exactly one year of production in Arizona and spent almost an entire year on the sidelines with injury when he looked for his new contract. The decision to enter into negotiations at that point was the big mistake and at least the Cardinals constructed a deal that they could fool a team into taking on. Since signing the contract Johnson has been relatively ineffective for two teams and has missed 7 games and counting over three years. Johnson left the Cardinals with a $6M parting gift and will likely leave the Texans with $2.1M in dead money next year too.

14. Nate Solder, LT, Giants
$15.5M/year, $16.5M 2021 cap hit, $10.5M to cut

Teams need to always be wary of players that leave the Patriots organization because so many of them fail outside of New England and Solder looked to be one of those players. Solder’s first two seasons with the Giants were poor enough that the Giants drafted a replacement for him this past year despite the big salary. Solder made the decision to opt out of the 2020 season which may have actually been good for the Giants who were probably going to pay out his full salary while finding a spot for him somewhere on the line. With a whole season of evaluating talent they will more than likely wind up cutting him and not having to pay that salary.

13. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Cardinals
$27.3M/year, $12.5M 2021 cap hit, $35.8M to cut

Hopkins is one of the best receivers in the NFL and his Hail Mary catch from a few weeks ago was one of the most amazing catches I’ve ever seen, however there is no justification for the extension the Cardinals gave Hopkins this offseason. The WR market had been relatively stagnant for years and 31 other teams were able to paint the $22M contract extension for Julio Jones as a wacky outlier that had no place in any contract discussions. The Cardinals blew past the Jones deal by $5m a year. There was no reason for Arizona not to get a deal done before trading for Hopkins and even if they didn’t do it the contract should not have come much over that Jones deal. I am pretty certain that if Hopkins did not get traded by the Texans he never would have come close to these numbers when discussing an extension with Houston so there is no reason for Arizona to have given in the way they did. This is arguably the most player friendly extension in the NFL and the only saving grace is that he is still a great player.

12. Laremy Tunsil, LT, Texans
$22M/year, $19.4M 2021 cap hit, $25.9M to cut

The last few months for the Texans were filled with questionable decisions but this contract extension ranked up there with the worst decisions. This is the fault of the Texans failing to negotiate an extension prior to a trade with the Miami Dolphins in 2019 and then feeling the pressure to sign their left tackle in the offseason rather than chance having to make a franchise tag decision between he and Deshaun Watson in 2022. Tunsil’s contract was $4 million a year more than the next closest tackle and the Texans only got 3 years of control on the extension. A few months later the Ravens wound up locking up a similar left tackle for under $20M a year on a contract that will run for five seasons.  

11. Jimmy Graham, TE, Bears
$8M/year, $10M 2021 cap hit, $3M to cut

I’m not sure how Graham keeps fooling teams into thinking he is a top tight end but he seems to do it year after year. For whatever reason teams seem to get enamored with those years with the Saints where Graham was basically a receiver masquerading a tight end and putting up over 1,000 yards a year except those teams forget that those seasons happened 8 years ago. Since then he has played with Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers and never came close to that kind of impact. Somehow the Bears thought that they had the key to unlock that talent with Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles. Graham has 334 yards and averages just 8.8 yards per catch.

10. Ja’Wuan James, RT, Broncos
$12.75M/year, $13M 2021 cap hit, $19M to cut

This contract was a bit of a surprise when the Broncos signed it as James had injury history and was a good but not great player. They wound up making him the highest paid pure right tackle in the NFL which was an odd decision to say the least. James made a brief appearance in 2019 playing in just 6% of the Broncos offensive snaps in an injury plagued year. This year he opted out due to Covid. I’m not sure if people even remember he is on the Broncos but his salary is guaranteed for next year so he will have some role on the team next year.

9. Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles
$32M/year, $34.7M 2021 cap hit, $59.2M to cut

I can’t explain the complete implosion of Wentz this year. He went from being a reasonable NFL starter to one of the bottom five in the NFL in the span of a few months. Our valuation metric puts Wentz at $23 million which for a healthy NFL QB is about as low as it gets. Wentz is one of those players where the contract was fine in relation to the market but now just looks like a catastrophe, similar to a situation that unfolded years ago with Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans. Wentz technically is only at the end of his rookie contract which ran through 2020 and there is no way to cut Wentz in 2021 without cutting him a massive check and carrying huge sums of dead money on the salary cap.  If the team fails to cut Wentz this offseason then he will also have his 2022 salary guaranteed. Wentz’ cap hitis the 5th largest in the NFL next year to boot. Basically this is the Todd Gurley contract on steroids. The only hope for the Eagles is to either trade Wentz (“only” a $33.8M charge on the cap) or to hope he magically remembers how to play QB in the last five weeks of the season.

8. CJ Mosley, LB, Jets
$17M/year, $7.5M 2021 cap hit, $20M to cut

This was a contract that came completely out of left field as the Jets signed the former Ravens linebacker to a massive five year contract with $43M fully guaranteed at signing and $51M that was virtually guaranteed from day 1. There was basically no justification for this contract within the market at the time and it’s gotten only worse since then. Mosley appeared in all of two games in 2019, missing 14 games due to a grossly mismanaged injury and then opted out of the 2020 season.  There is no problem with any player opting out but Mosley also made statements that he had to “find the flame again” to play football.  That should be a worry to anyone in the organization. Expect the Jets to try to find a trade partner to take on the remaining guarantees of this contract. If they did that it would only cost the Jets $6M on the cap, leaving the Jets with $29.15 million paid for those two games in 2019.

7. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys
$15M/year, $13.7M 2021 cap hit, $24.5M to cut

Elliott’s contract is the example of a bad decision that has just gotten worse each week of the 2020 season. As far as contracts go, once Dallas made the decision to invest in Elliott there wasn’t much more than can do with this but the decision itself is pretty much indefensible. Elliott is averaging under 65 yards a game this year, averages under 4 yards a carry, and has more fumbles than touchdowns. Dallas expected Zeke to somehow carry the offense once Dak Prescott was hurt but with the Cowboys offensive line in shambles his production hit the lowest point of his career. It will cost Dallas $24.5M to cut him next year and if they don’t walk away his entire 2022 salary becomes guaranteed. I don’t see much of a trade market here so basically Dallas is stuck until 2023 at which point they can cut him with $6.7M left on the salary cap.

6. Dee Ford, Edge, 49ers
$17M/year, $20.8M 2021 cap hit, $14.4M to cut

This is one of those contracts that I thought at the time of signing was a reasonable one. The 49ers didn’t get duped into the $20M a year contract range for a pass rusher and snuck in their usual per game bonuses and advantageous vesting dates but Ford was always an injury risk and he basically never plays football. In two years the 49ers have paid Ford nearly $35M for 12 games, 12 solo tackles and 6 sacks. Nobody forced the 49ers to restructure this contract in 2020 but they converted $12.7M to a bonus to deal with cap issues leaving them with a pretty big number to cut next year but its better than the alternative of paying him to miss football games.

5. Taysom Hill, QB(?), Saints
$10.5M/year, $16.2M 2021 cap hit, $11.2M to cut

Don’t let the annual value here fool you. The reality of this contract is that it was a one year contract worth about $16M with $12M in guarantees for someone who has mainly been a gadget player in the NFL. This contract reminds me of once talking up what I thought was a bad movie as goof to some friends to see if they would go watch it to somehow convincing myself to spend the money for me and my eventual wife to waste 90 minutes of our lives watching it. The Saints spent all offseason talking about how much they loved Hill that it seemed like a smokescreen designed to trade him until they quadrupled down on him with this deal. Hill has started two games this year for the Saints passing for 156 yards a game and no touchdowns. I don’t want to hear about the other things he brings to the game- he would basically be the highest paid running back in the NFL or the highest paid tight end in the NFL and nobody would even attempt to justify this contract if he was listed at either of those two positions.

4. Trae Waynes, CB, Bengals
$14M/year, $16M 2021 cap hit, $10M to cut

Injuries are hard luck in the NFL but Waynes isn’t ranking here simply because he has been hurt all year, he is ranking here because in what universe did the Bengals think it made sense to pay Waynes’ $20M in 2020? I think if someone ran an informal poll of 31 cap guys across the league nobody would have gone much over $10M for a one year prove it contract for Waynes. This contract was just stunning across  the board. The Bengals rarely go into free agency and in general are pretty frugal but they went all out here. Waynes probably won’t play a game this year which means he better give the Bengals an awesome 2021 season since they will be $31M in the hole by the end of 2021.

3. Jacoby Brissett, QB, Colts
$27.975M/year, 2021 Free Agent

I really didn’t want to put a contract that will expire this year this high on a list but there was no way to do a worst contracts list and not include this colossal of a mistake in the top 5. The Colts got blindsided when Andrew Luck retired but somehow their solution was to take Brissett, who went 4-11 as an injury replacement starter in 2017, and throw him a one year extension worth about $28M for the year. The team got no long term investment out of the contract and wound up paying more than it would have cost to just tag Brissett this year. Brissett went 7-8 last year which pushed the Colts to sign 39 year old Philip Rivers to a $25M contract, giving the Colts, by far, the biggest investment in the position this year. I’ve spent two years trying to make sense of this contract and simply can’t.

2. Robert Quinn, Edge, Bears
$14M/year, $14.7M 2021 cap hit, $23.9M to cut

What was Chicago thinking when they signed Quinn to this contract?  Quinn had been traded for pennies on the dollar by the Rams and then wound up on the Cowboys for a fair value of $8 million. Quinn had a terrific year for Dallas and I could see $10M or so for a veteran 30 year old rusher, even one who for the most part trended down for three of the last four years, but $14M a year and $30M guaranteed? The Bears prorated $15.5M of his salary so they were confident that he was going to be a dominant rusher for them but instead Quinn has played just 42% of the defensive snaps for the Bears and carries an OTC valuation of $2.1M. This one hits every metric there is- bad decision, bad contract, bad structure, bad performance. You don’t get much worse than this except for…

1. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Eagles
$13M/year, $18.5M 2021 cap hit, $10.5M to cut

If anyone wants to point to the contract that really started to change the dynamics for the 2nd tier receivers I think it was this contract. While you can give the Eagles some credit for getting ahead of the curve I am sure they expected more from this one. Jeffery signed this contract toward the end of the 2017 season and since then has produced, 843 yards, 490 yards, and 15 yards. Jeffery has missed 17 games in the last three seasons and just been a paperweight for the last two years. This contract would have wound up bad but ended up even worse because of a cap relief restructure in 2019 that saw the Eagles convert $10.82M of salary to a bonus. During this restructure they wound up agreeing to guarantee his 2020 salary. It was an epic failure leaving Philly with a cap charge of $15.4m this year and absolutely no production. Even next year when they walk away from him he will leave them with a $10.5M parting gift.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @Jason_OTC