National Football League players possess only so much power as it pertains to contracts they sign with teams. Unlike in other North American sports leagues, the money offered in a NFL contract is not fully guaranteed. A player who signs a deal that is worth $90 million on paper, for example, may earn only half of that money before his team terminates that contract. Such transactions, understandably, often lead to players leaving teams on bad terms. It’s the nature of the business. The NFL is the ultimate “what have you done for me lately” league and everybody is replaceable, as soon as he is no longer able to contribute on the football field. Just ask Peyton Manning about that, who went from being a Most Valuable Player candidate to out of the league in only a couple of years.
Not every player who is seemingly destined to leave his team on bad terms as of August 2016 is an established veteran near the end of his career. One player who comes to mind entered the NFL earlier this year and he has not yet played a meaningful down for his team. He and his team could theoretically part ways on bad terms before the end of the year. World champions, recognized stars and players who have yet to hit their full potentials are also included in the list. Remember, though, that things change quickly in sports leagues such as the NFL. A team and a player on opposite sides of contract discussions and negotiations often figure things before a messy breakup.
17 Justin Gilbert
The 2014 NFL Draft class of the Cleveland Browns will always be remembered for the Browns selecting quarterback Johnny Manziel in the first round. Don’t forget that Cleveland used a top-ten pick on cornerback Justin Gilbert, a player who was more of a spectator than a contributor during his first two seasons in the league. We are not yet giving up on Gilbert as a player. There is a new front office and new coaching staff in Cleveland, one that never drafted Gilbert. They have no ties to the defensive back, nor do they have any real reason to hope that Gilbert finds his feet as a player. Perhaps Gilbert merely needs a change of scenery to figure things out in the NFL. Whatever is the problem preventing Gilbert from earning a spot in the Cleveland lineup, Gilbert seems destined to leave the Browns on bad terms, perhaps even before Week 1 of the 2016 campaign.
16 Joey Bosa
Whatever you think of the drama involving defensive end Joey Bosa and the San Diego Chargers likely comes down to a matter of opinion. Perhaps you side with the player. Maybe you think Bosa should shut up, take the millions of dollars offered to him and play for the Chargers. What is clear, as of the final full week of August, is that Bosa and the Chargers are off to a rocky start of a relationship that may never get going. Obviously, the Chargers should have thought twice before drafting Bosa. Maybe Bosa’s camp should have informed San Diego that drafting him would be a wrong move for all parties. Logic suggests Bosa will eventually sign a deal with the Chargers and play for the team for at least a season before the two part ways via a trade. Assuming that will be the case, Bosa and the Chargers parting on bad terms looks to be inevitable. The two are already distant.
15 Victor Cruz
Victor Cruz last played in a NFL regular season game in October 2014. It was then when the New York Giants wide receiver suffered a gruesome knee injury during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Cruz missed the remainder of that season and all of 2015, and there are now concerns he will never again be the play-maker he was before that setback. The Giants hold all of the power regarding Cruz’s tenure with the club past the 2016 season. While New York has millions of reasons to hope Cruz can return to the field and be even half of what he was in September 2014, those reasons decrease come next March. Cruz will need to experience an incredible and maybe even an impossible comeback in order to remain with the Giants past this year unless he re-works his contract. New York fans are rooting for Cruz, but all may need to be realistic about the matter.
13 Jason Pierre-Paul
We cannot say, for sure, what Jason Pierre-Paul will be as a NFL player following the fireworks accident of July 2015 that left Pierre-Paul with a disfigured right hand. Pierre-Paul has now had over a year to get acclimated to whatever use of that hand he has and he signed a one-year “show me” deal with the New York Giants earlier this year. That means it is on Pierre-Paul to prove he can be the dominant pass-rusher he was during his best playing days and before the accident of the summer of 2015. We obviously have our doubts about Pierre-Paul making a return to form. If nothing else, Pierre-Paul may find after the upcoming NFL season that he can make more money and sign a bigger contract if he makes a move from the Giants. Big Blue supporters out there will be hoping that Pierre-Paul proves critics and doubters wrong.
12 Mark Sanchez
You almost have to feel sorry for Mark Sanchez heading into September 2016. Sanchez was once hung out to dry during a preseason game involving the New York Jets and New York Giants. The former “Sanchize” failed to cement himself as a starting quarterback while with the Philadelphia Eagles. Sanchez then received a different opportunity to jump-start his career with the Denver Broncos. It now appears the Broncos could release Sanchez before the start of the season due to the fact that Sanchez has failed to impress over the past few months. Sanchez being a “cap causality” may not be a messy divorce for the club or the player, but it would signify the end of a relationship that was supposed to revitalize what was once a promising career. We now have to wonder if we have seen the last of Sanchez as anything other than a journeyman backup. It doesn’t seem like that long ago when Sanchez was playing in conference championship games. Life comes at you fast.
11 Blaine Gabbert
New San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly clearly does not want to start Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. The 49ers did not release or trade Colin Kaepernick earlier this year when doing so made all kinds of sense for roster and salary cap purposes. It has been widely reported that Kelly would like to utilize Kaepernick if Kaepernick is ever able to shake off whatever it is that is affecting his shoulder during the summer months. Kelly may have to start Gabbert in Week 1 of the campaign because the Niners need somebody who knows the team’s offense to line up under center. Make no mistake, though, that Kelly will likely happily move on from Gabbert unless he plays better than ever before. No disrespect meant to Gabbert, but we’ve seen him on the field. We do not have high hopes for his future in San Francisco or in the NFL, in general.
10 Reggie Bush
We have seen this movie with Reggie Bush before and we know how it ends. Bush signed with the Buffalo Bills earlier this year. The 31-year-old may excite fans and Buffalo coaches with his athleticism and how he performs during certain practice sessions. Bush will, unfortunately for him and for the Bills, likely experience some physical setback during the regular season. That injury will prevent Bush from playing and it may lead to end of his stint with the club. We will probably never know what Bush could have been had he remained completely healthy during the prime of his playing days. History tells us that a running back past his 30th birthday with a history of injuries will struggle to remain in the lineup for a lengthy period of time. Perhaps Bush will disprove this theory and enjoy a season worthy of Comeback Player of the Year considerations. We just don’t see it.
9 Von Miller
The next two players serve as reminders that a defensive star is only worth the big bucks to a team if that club has a proven franchise quarterback on the roster and if the defensive star in his prime and dominating on the field. We learned earlier this year that linebacker Von Miller was not keen on giving the Denver Broncos a hometown discount during contract negotiations. The Broncos ultimately responded by offering Miller a contract that, per Spotrac, guarantees Miller $70 million. What you may not know, however, is that the Broncos have club options for two seasons following the 2019 campaign. This means the Broncos could move on from Miller several years down the road if Miller is not earning his contract via his play or if the Broncos need to free up salary cap space to sign a quarterback. A messy divorce that ends this relationship is coming at some point down the road.
8 J.J. Watt
The situation involving the Houston Texans and J.J. Watt is similar to what was said about the Denver Broncos and Von Miller. Watt, according to Spotrac, is guaranteed slightly over $51 million of what is seemingly a contract worth $100 million. That deal contains zero dead cap value following the 2019 season, meaning that is not difficult to imagine the Texans looking to walk away from Watt and from the contract before the end of the decade. Perhaps Watt will renegotiate that deal at some point over the next several years to provide some help to a Texans team hoping Brock Osweiler will cement himself as the team’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. Unless that happens, though, Watt and the Texans parting on bad terms is not a crazy or impossible scenario. As great as Watt is when he is at his best, the Texans have yet to win anything of merit with Watt on the team’s roster.
7 Colin Kaepernick
Current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick reportedly dealt with a “dead arm” during portions of August. That’s rather concerning considering Kaepernick, who is looking to save his career while working with new San Francisco coach Chip Kelly, has not yet played a full game in 2016. What is important to remember regarding Kaepernick’s future with the 49ers is that the team, according to Spotrac and multiple reports on the subject, can cut Kaepernick before April 1 of any year without owing him additional money. Essentially, Kaepernick is on a “prove it” deal every season he is with the 49ers. The possibility exists that Kaepernick will locate magic and become the QB of old while working with Kelly and in a system that could best utilize his physical tools. Kaepernick is already a damaged product in multiple ways, however, and he may need to find a new home and a new team if he is to enjoy further success in the NFL. If we had to bet, both Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert will leave San Fran with a poor taste in their mouths.
6 Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton may need to guide the Cincinnati Bengals to a Super Bowl game if he is to play out the remainder of his contract with the club. Per the information offered by Spotrac, the dead cap value of Dalton’s deal drops dramatically to $4.8 million following this season. That value decreases to $2.4 million for 2018 and there is zero dead cap for the final two seasons of the contract. This means the Bengals can realistically explore moving on from Dalton as soon as next winter if he fails to impress. Dalton played well during the 2015 regular season, but that ended up meaning nothing for the team’s postseason hopes and dreams. Don’t forget that the Bengals have A.J. McCarron on the roster as well. McCarron provides additional cover for Cincinnati if the team begins to have doubts about Dalton being the right man to lead the offense past 2016.
5 Kirk Cousins
The Washington Redskins do not yet fully believe Kirk Cousins is the team’s quarterback of the long-term future. That is not a hot take, nor it is criticism of Cousins. When the Redskins put a franchise tag on Cousins earlier this year, the club unofficially announced that it does not trust Cousins will again play as well as he did in 2015. That has to be somewhat insulting for Cousins, even if he will not publicly admit it during the season. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Cousins once again plays well and leads the Redskins to the playoffs. Cousins, in such a scenario, has no reason to pledge any loyalty to a club that did not believe in him. This situation remains very much so up in the air heading into the fall months, and it will be interesting to track throughout the season and into next winter.
4 Tony Romo
Tony Romo does not deserve all of the criticism he receives from those who like to bash the Dallas Cowboys. Romo has been a good, and sometimes a great, starting QB during regular seasons. The worry with Romo moving forward is that injuries and also age have caught up with him. Even the most optimistic Dallas fan out there would, if he was being honest with himself, struggle to believe Romo will remain healthy for an entire season. There will eventually come a time when those running the Cowboys see the writing on the wall and realize that moving on from the Romo is what is best for the future of the club. That future may come sooner than originally thought if rookie rookie Dak Prescott continues to impress. For all we know, Romo may currently be working with the young man who will eventually replace him in the Dallas lineup.
2 Josh Gordon
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon may be the most interesting player on this list because his future is so uncertain. Gordon was last an elite play-maker during the 2013 season. Gordon played in a handful of games in 2014 and he missed all of 2015 due to multiple violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. Gordon is, by all accounts, one bad screw-up away from being out of the NFL for good. While the Browns have not yet traded Gordon, the team should not yet put its faith in him past the expiration of his current contract. Gordon, meanwhile, has no reason to be loyal to the Browns other than to be paid millions of dollars if he returns to form and stays out of trouble. The Browns don’t necessarily have to trade Gordon in 2016. Cleveland could part ways with the WR next spring if the club believes it could land solid value in a trade.
1 Ryan Fitzpatrick
Why would Ryan Fitzpatrick remain with the New York Jets past 2016? Fitzpatrick and the Jets battled in a contract standoff until late July, when the Jets gave Fitzpatrick what is, in reality, a one-year deal. Much like with the Washington Redskins and Kirk Cousins, the Jets clearly have concerns about Fitzpatrick being the team’s starting QB for longer than a year. Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, bet on himself. There will be teams other than the Jets looking for a QB next winter. If Fitzpatrick plays well, it will behoove him and his bank accounts to field offers from more than just the Jets. The Jets had to pay Fitzpatrick for the 2016 season. He’s the best option for New York at the moment. This relationship went south earlier this year and one contract isn’t fixing that. Expect Fitzpatrick to leave the Jets on bad terms next year unless Gang Green pays him a salary worthy of a top-ten QB.
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