Is it more surprising that the vast majority of players in the NFL are appropriately valued and paid or that a select few are neither?
One the one hand, the NFL is a parity-rich league where the utility of each payroll dollar must be maximized. On the other, there seem to be few major sports where a player’s stock can rise/fall so fast, and where the risks of catastrophic injury are so high as in professional football.
This is the offensive (as in the opposite of defense) list of eight unbelievable NFL contracts. However, it is also the offensive edition, in the sense that is gives offense. It’s ridiculous that certain players are comically overpaid. Others, aren’t being appropriately compensated for their talents.
The average salary for an NFL player is around $1.9 million per year. Obviously those numbers trend higher for skill positions. Predictably, the majority of the players on this list are skill players…not that there aren’t under/overpaid linemen out there.
Let’s look at eight contracts you won’t believe, mostly because of their size in relation to the players in question (big talent, little contract, for example).
8. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams, Quarterback: 6 years, $68 million
It’s unfortunate for the St. Louis Rams that they drafted their franchise QB before the institution of the league’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement of 2011. The new agreement limits rookie pay for their first four seasons.
None of this is to say anything other than that Bradford is a passable quarterback. However, there’s no comparing pre-CBA and post-CBA rookie salaries. Still, it’s worth noting the following: Sam Bradford inked a six-year, $78 million deal with the Rams as the first pick of the 2010 draft. The first pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, Cam Newton signed a four-year deal with the Panthers worth $22 million. That’s a significant difference.
The Bradford-Newton contrast hilights the before and after of the the CBA. What’s unbelievable here is that thanks to the implementation of a new set of rules, two quality first picks are due to earn such wildly different sums.
7. Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks, Wide Reciever: 6 years, $62.5 million
Yes, we all know what Percy Harvin did in the Super Bowl. But let’s focus on what Harvin did during the regular season: play one game; catch one pass.
Obviously, the Seahawks signed Harvin hoping he we would stay healthy. He’s a ludicrous talent and a gamechanger. However, Harvin has only played 10 games in the last two seasons combined. It goes without saying that regardless of a player’s value, paying him an average of $10 million over six years to play in that many games per season is imprudent. Nearly $50 million of the $62.5 is Harvin’s base pay, and his contract is not incentivized, it’s merely base plus signing bonus.
It’s a curious contract. However, only Harvin’s $12.5 million signing bonus plus another $2.5 million is guaranteed. Still, if the Seahawks keep Harvin on the roster, they pay him a lot. He’ll be the third-highest-paid WR in the league in 2014. If he doesn’t make it on the field significantly more than he did in 2013, that’s a steep price to pay for a Porsche you keep in the garage.
6. Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tight End: 5 years, $34 million
In 2010, Marcedes Lewis caught 10 touchdowns and 58 passes overall. The Jaguars rewarded him with a five-year, $34 million contract extension.
In 2011, Lewis caught 39 passes and no touchdowns. Maybe that extension wasn’t such a good idea? At least Lewis sort of rebounded in 2012. 2013? Not so much. He caught just 25 passes and scored four touchdowns.
In 2014 Lewis will be the fourth-highest-paid TE in the league. In 2013, he was 39th in passes caught among tight ends. That math doesn’t make sense.
5. Shonn Green, Tennessee Titans, Running Back: 3 years, $10 million
Backup Shonn Green will be the 19th-highest-paid running back in the league in 2014. For a team that’s already shelling out big bucks for one running back, the decision to sign veteran Green for that price doesn’t make a great deal of sense.
Green played in 11 games for the Titans in 2013, carrying the ball 77 times and averaging 3.8 yards per carry.
That type of production isn’t worth an average of $3.33 million per year.
4. Sidney Rice, Seattle Seahawks, Wide Receiver: 5 years, $41 million
Sidney Rice had one good year (2009) with the Minnesota Vikings. On the strength of that season, the Seattle Seahawks decided to sign Rice to a five-year deal worth $41 million in 2011.
In 2014, Rice was slated to be the ninth-highest-paid receiver in the NFL. That’s ridiculous, and the Seahawks decided to cut their losses by letting him go and save themselves $7.3 million in much needed cap space. Rice will be coming off ACL surgery and likely won’t be receiving big money from whichever team decides to take a chance on him. The referendum on Rice’s 2013 won’t be that he was on track until getting hurt in October, it will be that he caught only 15 passes in the eight games before he was injured.
3. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets, Quarterback: 3 years, $40.4 million
The New York Jets are undoubtedly disappointed in the turnover machine known as Mark Sanchez. If he doesn’t get cut he can expect a healthy downgrade in salary. However, neither of these things will make Sanchez’s 2012 three-year, $40.4 million contract make any sense.
Sanchez has managed to turn the ball over 89 times since entering the league in 2009, and 52 times in 2011-2012 alone. Add to that an unimpressive 55.1% career completion percentage and Sanchez looks like what he should have been all along: a backup.
2. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers, Quarterback: 4 years, $5.1 million
Even allowing for the constraints of the new rookie pay scale, consider this: In 2011, Colin Kaepernick signed a four-year, $5.1 million contract with the 49ers. Of course, the team didn’t believe the second-round pick was going to be their quarterback of the future. However, it’s crazy to see that the No. 8 most valuable quarterback (according to Football Outsiders metrics) in the league in 2013 is slated to earn just $1.6 million in 2014. Cam Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in the same draft (and the No. 17 QB, according to Football Outsiders) will earn $7 million for his work in 2014.
More than anything else, this is an illustration of the difference between first and second round pay for quarterbacks, to be sure. Kaepernick will surely have his contract extended and the ‘Niners will pay him handsomely without question. Still, it’s difficult to think of a player who has delivered a greater ROI than Kaepernick these past two years (during which he earned a mere $2.4 million).
1. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens, Quarterback: 6 years, $120.6 million
According to Football Outsiders, Joe Flacco was the 40th most valuable quarterback in the league in 2013. In 2014, he will be the league’s 12th-highest-paid passer. That’s absurd, Super Bowl championship or not. Another season like he had in 2013, and Flacco will surely be packing his bags in B’more.
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