Worst Contracts in the NFL: AFC North

Baltimore Ravens- Joe Flacco, 3 years $66.4M, $44M guaranteed

This one is really just a continuation on a previous disastrous contract that occurred because Flacco backed the Ravens into a corner following a Super Bowl win and Baltimore felt they had no options. The bonus structure on this contract is far and away the worst in the NFL. Since 2013 the Ravens have paid Flacco signing bonuses of $29 million, $15 million, $7 million and the latest one- a whopping $40 million off an injury. The cost of cutting or trading Flacco this year would have been $47.3 million because of all the bonus money. Next year its $28.75 million and the year after that it’s $16 million. Flacco has a total of one 4,000+ yard passing season and has never posted more than 27 touchdowns in a 9 year career. Since winning the Super Bowl and receiving the massive contracts the Ravens have made the playoffs just once in 4 years and are struggling with their salary cap. Flacco’s contract illustrates just about everything that is wrong with the way teams handle their quarterback position. There are few contracts in the league that were more mortgaged than Tony Romo’s but this one met that challenge and topped it. If Flacco’s body breaks down it will get the treated the same way as the team struggles to come out from under it.

Cincinnati Bengals- Michael Johnson, 4 years $20M, $4.5M guaranteed

The Bengals have a reputation for being cheap but they are also pretty shrewd when it comes to contracts and cap management. They have some firm systems in place and generally don’t compromise for anyone. They pretty much always have an out and don’t overpay to negotiate those outs. I had a hard time picking someone out because of that.  Their contract with AJ Green really did push the frontend money in exchange for the lack of stated guarantees, but he is so good that figured I would overlook his deal. I went with Johnson only because he is not very productive and coming off being cut in Tampa Bay, the market for a four year contract probably didn’t exist anywhere else. The max value at that point was probably 3 years around $3-3.5 million per year.  Still it is a contract that they can get out of if they wanted to, though generally the Bengals will let these contracts play out and they will likely pay a bit more than they needed to.  As far as mistakes go this is pretty minor and wouldn’t make any league wide listing.

Cleveland Browns- Jamie Collins, 4 years, $50M, $26.4M guaranteed

The Browns front office was expected to be a bit unorthodox and I’d consider this to fit in that category. Collins is a fine player, but the position he plays is not one that is of high value. His former teammate, Dont’a Hightower, signed for nearly $4 million less a season and that was after having 32 teams able to bid for him. Collins contract is about $2 million a year higher than any other 43 outside linebacker and his $26.4M full guarantee is about $8 million higher than the next closest 43 linebacker. When you consider that Browns only signed him for 4 years, the $6.6M per year guarantee is really high, tracking with the rush linebackers who are valued in a totally different way. All I can assume is that the Browns were willing to accept Luke Kuechley’s contract as some type of comp and they worked off the gross numbers on that contract. I’m not sure too many other teams would have bought that argument.

Pittsburgh Steelers- Marcus Gilbert, 5 years, $30M, $7.7M guaranteed

The Steelers pretty much dumped all their bad contracts this year which makes this one impossible to do. In general the Steelers are one of the better teams in the NFL when it comes to contracts. The only downside with their structure is that they don’t use per game roster bonuses at all, but perhaps that is because it would be difficult to push those and the lack of guarantees in a contract. Thats the one area where the Bengals do top them, but the Steelers generally have much better players to have to negotiate with. This one really wasn’t a bad contract at signing. The things that stand at as a bit negative are the 3 year pay that ranks it among the top five at the position, and the $6M APY was actually a bit high and surprising for the time.  The main reason I put this one here over any others was because Gilbert has been the Steelers’ go to guy for cap space. So rather than $7.65M in prorated money the Steelers are up to $15.495 million which is highest among right tackles. So that’s pretty much my logic in choosing this one but the reality is this team is in pretty solid shape with all their contracts and like the Bengals this isn’t a blip on any leaguewide list.

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