Each offseason, teams attempt to make moves in free agency that will give them that final missing piece to catapult them into relevancy and the Super Bowl. Without fail, there are franchises so desperate to make moves to appease their fan base, they overpay market value for players that should have been signed to lower salaries or incentive-laced contracts. Although the Washington Redskins idiotic signing of worthless defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth set the benchmark for bad free agency moves, 2013 isn’t going to be without it’s own cast of overpaid players. Some of these players may work out for their respective teams in 2013; however, their performances over the last two years do not justify their current salary. The table under each player’s name represents data pulled from Pro Football Focus (PFF) and Spotrac. Average 2-yr PFF Rank represents where that player graded out over the last two years and the percentile placement shows where that player compares among other players at his position (minimum 25% of snaps played). The 2013 Salary Position Rank shows where that player’s salary ranks among players at his position. To calculate what the player should be making, the 2-yr grade from PFF was compared to other players’ salaries with a comparable grade. Here are Down and Distance’s Top 10 Worst NFL Salary Cap Hits for 2013.
10) Doug Free, Tackle, Dallas Cowboys
Desperation often drives teams to make poor decisions when it comes to signing free agents, and the Cowboys did just that when they signed Free to a 4-year, $32M contract in 2011. Although they have since renegotiated Free to a 2-year, $7M ($3.5M guaranteed), they still carry a $3M signing bonus cap hit from the 2011 contract. Typical of many players, Free had a banner year in 2010, when PFF graded him out as the 4th best tackle in the league, a season in which he played on 16 games at left tackle. After signing the 2011 contract, Free’s performance plummeted to 44th in 2011. The Cowboys then moved him to right tackle in 2012, but he fared even worse, grading out as the 66th tackle. Given the fact Free really only had one year in which he excelled, his 2013 salary is guaranteed, and the Cowboys really have no other options at this point, it’s safe to say Free will be around until the end of the 2014 season. When criticizing quarterback Tony Romo for his play, take a look at how Free is doing. Safe bet he isn’t helping his quarterback out much.
9) Levi Brown, Tackle, Arizona Cardinals
Before the 2012 season even started, Brown was out for the season with a torn triceps muscle and in retrospect, it may have been one of the best things that happened to him in his NFL career. Maligned and criticized for much of his career, Arizona Cardinals fans were treated to a season in which the offensive line was a revolving door on the way to the quarterback. They were so bad it set the standard of poor offensive line play that sports writers used them as a comparison point for other bad offensive lines. That being said, Brown should consider himself fortunate the Cardinals are paying him $6.4M when he has never shown the ability to protect the quarterback’s blindside with any consistency. In fact, PFF has never graded Brown higher than the 43rd best tackle in the NFL; there is nothing in his past performance that justifies paying him as the 11th highest paid tackle in 2013. The Cardinals did invest in help along the offensive line, drafting guards Jonathan Cooper and Earl Watford and signed tackle Winston Justice to anchor the right side. Will that help translate to elevated play from Brown? Only time will tell.
8) Santonio Holmes, Wide Receiver, New York Jets
The Jets are the only team with two players on this list, and in fairness to Holmes, he did have a Lisfranc injury (bone displacement in the foot) in 2012, shortening his season. However, Holmes was suspended for four games before he ever played a game for the Jets and was benched in 2011 for arguing with a teammate. If they had any misgivings about Holmes, the Jets did not show it, giving him a 5-year, $45M ($24M guaranteed) with a $6M signing bonus prior to 2011. There is no question Holmes has talent, but his $9M salary for 2013 may not be justified if he cannot return from his Lisfranc injury, one that is very difficult for receivers to recover from given the amount of planting and cutting they are required to do. Although he has not yet lived up to the money the Jets have invested in him, there is a chance he could return to his 2009 form when he had his career year, amassing 79 catches, 1,248 receiving yards, and five touchdowns. So much depends on who is throwing the ball to him…
7) Cortland Finnegan, Cornerback, St Louis Rams
Some might find Finnegan’s appearance on this list surprising, but his first year in St Louis was abysmal. He played his lights-out in Tennessee in the final year of his contract and graded out as the second best cornerback in the league in 2011. Cue a big contract (5-years, $50M, $27M guaranteed) and a new scheme, and 2012 found Finnegan rated as the 86th worst cornerback in the league out of 115. Was 2012 a fluke year for him? Going back to previous years, Finnegan ranked 15th in 2008, 51st in 2009, and 96th in 2010; it is likely Finnegan’s performance will be closer to the average-at-best range rather than elevate his play back to the elite status he attained in 2011 prior to signing his huge contract. Average cornerbacks should not be making $15M per year, which is why Finnegan ended up on this list.
6) Will Smith, Defensive End, New Orleans Saints
This won’t be breaking news for astute NFL fans, but Smith hasn’t been good since before 2008. He has consistently graded among the worst 4-3 defensive ends by PFF and it defies logic that the Saints kept him around for his entire 6-year, $61M contract. Some might ask, “Well, if Smith is so bad, why didn’t the Saints address the need in the draft and grab a defensive lineman?” The Carolina Panthers grabbed the highly touted defensive tackle in Star Lotulelei right before the Saints picked, and since the Saints safeties are among the worst in the league, grabbing safety Kenny Vicarro made sense. Smith appears typical of a player who received a big payday for past performance and then sat on it. With the expiration of his contract this year, it is safe to say that even if Smith has a banner year, no team will pay him top-10 defensive lineman money ever again, unless it is laced with incentives.
5) Jermichael Finley, Tight End, Green Bay Packers
Given the lack of production from Finley, it was surprising when the Packers gave him a 2-year $14M contract. The saving grace of that contract was that in only included $1M guaranteed, which begs the question of why the Packers are keeping his $8.75M contract on the books for 2013. He could be benefiting from a weak tight end market, but there are likely better options on the street than an overpriced player who hasn’t been ranked higher than 42 by PFF since 2009. Watching his play on the field, it is hard to understand how a receiver could play so poorly with perhaps the best quarterback in the NFL under center in Aaron Rodgers. Indeed, his 21 dropped passes over the last two seasons is the worst among tight ends. Given the fact that Finley is in a contract year, there is hope that he may play up to his lofty salary.
4) Ricky Jean-Francois, Defensive Tackle, Indianapolis Colts
Ricky who? That’s likely the reaction of Colts’ fans when they heard their team signed this defensive tackle. Jean-Francois is on this list not because he has demonstrated he is a poor player, but rather his paltry amount of playing time in San Francisco did not justify the Colts making him the 18th-highest paid tackle in the NFL. In his last two seasons with the 49ers, he did not even play 25% of the team’s total defensive snaps. Looking at his limited playing time, Francois did not perform badly at all; however, paying him as much as the Colts are is akin to drafting Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden in the first round of a fantasy draft. McFadden might have an amazing season that justifies picking him that early, but it does not negate the fact he could have been had in the third round. Future performance may justify the Colts’ decision, but Francois’ body of work to date did not.
3) Mark Sanchez, Quarterback, New York Jets
It is doubtful that any list blogging about bad NFL contracts can go without mentioning Mark “Butt Fumble” Sanchez. As with all these contracts, the player can’t be blamed for the money the management erroneously threw at them. However, playing in such a blinding media spotlight like New York, Sanchez is going to feel the ire of the fans directly when the Jets continue to fall flat. After “leading” the Jets to two AFC Championships, Sanchez hasn’t been able to live up to his paycheck. Over the last two years, he completed 55% of his passes for 6,357 yards, (6.38 yards per attempt), 39 touchdowns, 36 interceptions for a 73.0 quarterback rating to go along with 52 total turnovers in that span. Sanchez’s play has been so bad that despite a less-than-stellar receiving corps, he will not get the benefit of the doubt.
2) Antrel Rolle, Safety, New York Giants
Rolle is easily the most overpaid defensive player in the NFL; it must make him feel good to collect such an exorbitant salary for doing next to nothing on the field. The Arizona Cardinals released Rolle to avoid paying him a $4M roster bonus and the Giants pounced on him. They made Rolle one of the highest paid safeties on the league, even when he wasn’t even the best safety on the Cardinals (that honor would go to Adrian Wilson). In 2012, Rolle was the worst rated safety on the Giants’ roster and for every gamble that pays off, he makes ten brain farts that cost the Giants. It’s surprising that head coach Tom Coughlin, a notorious stickler for fundamentals, allows Rolle to freelance so much, especially when it rarely pays off. Do not be surprised if Rolle is in the unemployment line come 2014.
1) Chris Johnson, Running Back, Tennessee Titans
Many Titans fans probably remember Johnson’s boastful words that he would break the 2,000 yard rushing barrier again after hitting that mark in 2009. In truth, Johnson hasn’t performed as top-30 back, let alone a top-10 one, since the Titans signed him to a 4-year, $55M deal ($30M guaranteed) back in 2011. When the Titans drafted guard Chance Warmack, Johnson tweeted out, “THANK GOD!!!” as if his poor performance over the last three years was solely the offensive line’s fault. After this season is over, the Titans will have paid Johnson $37M. Like Rolle, it’s a good bet that if Johnson does not elevate his game to match his salary, he will be looking for a new team in 2014.