The pressure to win in professional sports can make teams do crazy things. The NFL makes the most money of any professional league in North America, with revenues estimated at $10 billion a year.
It’s only natural that the excess in revenues would lead to teams spending more money than they should on certain players. The league’s old collective bargaining agreement (of which the owners opted out in 2011) had no rookie wage scale, leading to teams paying exorbitant amounts of money to rookies before they even took a snap in the NFL. For example, Sam Bradford, the no.1 overall pick of the 2010 draft was given $50 million guaranteed by the St. Louis Rams. Matthew Stafford was given $41.7 million guaranteed. With the current CBA, rookies are paid much less so that teams endure less risk when drafting a player. Cam Newton was the first draft pick under the current CBA in 2011 and he signed a four-year deal worth $22 million.
Rookie salaries have gotten under control, but free agency is a different story. Teams will either overpay for free agents or overpay their own players in fear of losing them to free agency. That’s not to say they’re bad players. Calling someone overpaid is not to say that a player is bad at his job. It just means their production on the field doesn’t quite justify their paycheck.
This piece is not strictly arranged in order of numbers. There’s a certain subjectivity involved. Forbes lists Minnesota Vikings fullback Jerome Felton as the league’s most overpaid player in terms of his value to the team. However, his salary of $2.5 million isn’t significant to the team. This list of the most overpaid NFLers is open to everyone’s interpretation. You’ll see gigantic contracts, and determine whether or not they’re justified, given the player’s production and role on their respective team. Here are the NFL’s 10 most overpaid players for 2013-14.
10. Mario Williams – DE – Buffalo Bills: $96 Million Over 6 Years
The Buffalo Bills are not known as an organization to make a big splash in free agency, but it appeared they did in 2012 when they signed former no.1 overall pick Mario Williams. Williams was given a six-year deal by Buffalo worth $96 million making him the highest-paid defensive player in league history.
Much of his 2012 season saw Williams hindered by a wrist injury. He managed 10.5 sacks on the year, 17th most in the NFL. The Bills ranked 22nd in total defense and finished with a 6-10 record. Through Week 14 of this season, the Bills are 15th in total defense, with 346 yards allowed per game. Williams has 12 sacks and a forced fumble on the year. He produces, but his salary is just too high when there are more productive players earning far less.
While the addition of Williams hasn’t hurt the team, let’s just say the investment hasn’t quite paid off. The Bills are 4-9 this season. When you have the highest-paid defensive player in the league on your team, you’d hope it would make a higher impact. This one’s on the Bills though, not Williams. Only an idiot wouldn’t sign a $96 million contract.
9. Sam Bradford – QB – St.Louis Rams: $78 Million over 6 Years ($50 Million Guaranteed)
Again, you can’t blame the player here for signing the contract he did. The system was broken at the time Sam Bradford signed his rookie deal, which was at six years and $78 million with the infamous $50 million in guaranteed money. Bradford was the last top pick to benefit from the old CBA without a rookie wage scale. At the time he was drafted, the Rams hadn’t made the playoffs since 2004. That holds true today.
Granted, Bradford entered an organization devoid of talent, but we can’t say he’s lived up to the billing of a no.1 overall pick. His play will be forever tied to his contract. When a quarterback is paid that much, the results better show up in the win column. While the team has shown signs of life, finishing just under .500 last season, they still have not made the playoffs and find themselves in a tough NFC West division. Bradford is sidelined for the remainder of 2013 with a torn ACL and the Rams will likely land a top-five pick in the 2014 draft through their trade with Washington last year. They’ll have a chance to draft a replacement at quarterback, but by all accounts it seems they’re sticking with Bradford. That means they’ll land a player with elite talent and Bradford will have to do his part for the Rams to be successful.
8. Chris Long – DE – St. Louis Rams: $60 Million Over 5 Years
Chris Long was drafted 2nd overall by the Rams in 2006. While he has always produced in the sack department, including 13 in 2011 and 11.5 in 2012, his deal carries a $12 million salary, totaling $60 million over five years.
He’s not great against the run and the Rams are 19th in total defense in the 2013 season. Long has six sacks on the year so far. His play doesn’t elevate those around him. While he’s of use to his team, his salary is far higher than what it should be. The Rams simply have invested too much in certain players, considering they still aren’t a playoff team.
7. Percy Harvin – WR – Seattle Seahawks: $67 Million Over 6 Years
If he were able to stay healthy, Percy Harvin’s salary wouldn’t be seem so bad. However, Harvin has not been able to and the Seahawks are paying an awful lot for him to be sitting on the bench and spending time in the training room. Harvin was traded to Seattle this past off-season after talking his way out of Minnesota, asking for Calvin Johnson-type money. Seattle landed the talented, but often injured receiver for a first-round pick and handed him a six-year extension worth $67 million with $14.5 million guaranteed.
It may not be fair to point to injuries as a reason for Harvin being overpaid. He missed the second half of the 2012 season with an ankle injury and suffered a labrum tear in his hip this off-season. He returned in Week 11 this year, earning one catch for 17 yards against the Vikings. However, in that game Harvin aggravated his hip injury and now looks to be out until the playoffs. Seattle will certainly be in the playoffs and is seen as the favorite in the NFC. Maybe a productive playoff from Harvin would compensate for what he has been unable to provide in the regular season. Still, the Seahawks have been able to win without him, which doesn’t help his case.
6. Mike Wallace – WR – Miami Dolphins: $60 Million Over 5 Years ($30 Million Guaranteed)
The Miami Dolphins were desperate to add playmakers prior to the 2013 season, which led to them paying Mike Wallace the money the Steelers were unwilling to dish out.
Wallace signed a five-year deal worth $60 million with $30 million guaranteed. He’s the third-highest paid wide receiver in the NFL. Wallace has 58 catches on the season through Week 14, good for 34th in the NFL and 762 yards, 33rd in the league. However, he only has three touchdowns. The argument could be made that his presence forces defenders to pay more attention to him, opening up the entire offense. Miami’s offense is 24th in the league, compared to no.27 last year. The team is in the playoff hunt, and is better than they were before bringing in Wallce, but the price tag is just too high.
5. Devin Hester – WR – Chicago Bears: $40 Million Over 4 Years
Devin Hester may very well be the best returner in NFL history. His numbers will vouch for that, as he has 18 combined special teams touchdowns, the most in league history. He’s provided countless highlight reels and is still one of the most exciting players to watch in the NFL.
However, the fact is his current deal was signed at four years for over $40 million, with an average of $10.2 million a season. That’s the seventh-highest among wide receivers. Coaches have experimented with Hester on offense, his best offensive season being in 2009, where he recorded 57 catches for 757 yards and three touchdowns. He’s simply not a no.1 receiver. Hester is the best at what he does, which is return kicks, but that doesn’t warrant $10 million a season. Coach Marc Trestman has realized this, taking Hester off of the offensive unit.
Again, this is not an attack on Hester. It’s just to point out that Chicago probably could have invested the money a little better.
4. Tony Romo – QB – Dallas Cowboys: $108 Million Over 6 Years
Perhaps nobody in the NFL evokes a stronger reaction from fans than Tony Romo. Everybody has a strong opinion on him. Some will say he’s an elite quarterback, others will label him as a choker.
The fact that the Cowboys have won only one playoff game in the 21st century can and should be viewed as an organizational failure, but the quarterback will always be held somewhat accountable. Romo has amassed impressive numbers throughout his career. He will soon surpass 30,000 career passing yards, and already has over 200 touchdown passes. However, it seems Romo always falters on the big stage.
He lost his first career playoff game following his infamous bobbled snap on a winning field goal attempt against Seattle in the 2006 playoffs. The next season, the Cowboys finished as a no.1 seed but lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the divisional round. They were destroyed by the Eagles in the 2008 regular season finale 44-6 and as a result missed out on the NFC’s final wildcard spot.
In 2009, the Cowboys got their revenge on the Eagles, beating them 24-0 in the season finale to earn the NFC East crown and eliminated them in the playoffs’ opening round, 34-14. They were then shellacked 34-3 by the Vikings in the divisional round.
After a 6-10 season in 2010, the Cowboys were one win away from the NFC East title in 2011, but were defeated by the Giants in Week 17, 31-14. They found themselves in another do-or-die game in Week 17 last season, this time losing the division, and the NFC’s final playoff spot to the Washington Redskins.
Romo was given a six-year $108 million contract extension this past off-season. Considering Tom Brady (someone with three Super Bowl rings) now makes less than Romo, that number just doesn’t sound right. A Super Bowl victory in the lifespan of the contract would silence all of Romo’s critics, but until the Cowboys win it all, this contract will affect views on Romo in a negative way.
3. Paul Kruger – DE – Cleveland Browns: $40 Million Over 5 Years
Paul Kruger was part of a dominant Baltimore Ravens defense, which led them to last year’s Super Bowl. As it goes with any champion, teams picked from the Ravens’ free agents piece by piece.
Paul Kruger was one of them. He recorded nine sacks last season, and added 4.5 in the playoffs. He stood out and was rewarded handsomely in the offseason, signing with division rivals the Cleveland Browns who offered him a five-year deal worth $40 million. That number isn’t as high as others on this list, but he is making about double what a player with his production should be making. Through 14 weeks, Kruger has just 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble Cleveland’s defense has improved overall, but the Browns could have used the $40 million elsewhere.
2. Darren McFadden – RB – Oakland Raiders: $60 Million Over 6 Years
‘Run DMC’ has never been able to stay healthy for an extended period of time throughout his entire NFL career. He’s never played a full season and when he does play, he’s often nursing an injury. His best season came in 2010, where he rushed for 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns.
Darren McFadden was drafted fourth overall in 2008. He’s in the final year of his rookie deal, which pays him $10 million a year. The six-year deal is set to expire this offseason and there’s no reason the Raiders should re-sign him, barring McFadden taking a significant pay-cut.
He’s shown flashes of greatness, but never consistency. Oakland can find a replacement for McFadden through the draft or a bargain in free agency. The Raiders have too much money tied up in average players and are still in the process of a rebuild. McFadden will likely be one of the chips to fall this offseason with the Raiders having not made the playoffs in over a decade.
1. Mark Sanchez – QB – New York Jets: $40 Million Over 3 Years
Mark Sanchez is no longer the New York Jets’ starting quarterback. After a disappointing 2011 season, then GM Mike Tannebaum inexplicably gave Sanchez a three-year $40 million contract extension. Sanchez’s 2012 season was even worse. He threw just 13 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions, and had nine fumbles.
The Jets were unable to move on this season, as cutting Sanchez would’ve left them with over $15 million in dead cap money. They will surely release Sanchez this offseason as they move forward with Geno Smith.
Sanchez once led the Jets to two consecutive AFC championship appearances… Okay, the defense led the Jets to those playoff appearances. Once the defense slipped, Sanchez couldn’t take the next step as a quarterback. In fact, he took many steps back. Now all we remember him for is the butt-fumble. Once the Jets release Sanchez, he won’t be overpaid. In fact, he may not be paid at all if no team decides to sign him. For now, he is a VERY expensive inactive player.
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