If you can stick around in the NFL long enough, one of the days you look forward to the most is when you get to become a free agent or sign your first veteran contract. In the prime of your career, you’re likely to get millions and millions of dollars over the course of several years. There’s a phenomenon known as the contract year phenomenon where players over-perform before becoming free agents so they can get bigger deals.
Once these players sign big contracts, many of them unfortunately regress and end up being massively overpaid. Sometimes they simply don’t work as hard as they did under their previous contracts, while others just don’t fit into the right system. Whatever it is, these types of players end up ruining their careers, as well as their franchises, even if they’re helping their bank accounts.
Let’s look at some of the players that are currently in the NFL that aren’t as good as they once were before signing big contracts. Some have stuck with the teams that drafted them while others have found what they thought were going to be greener pastures. What they all have in common is a large regression from earlier in their careers.
15 Mario Williams
Back in 2006, the Houston Texans made defensive end Mario Williams the first overall draft pick. Williams had become one of the best pass rushers in the NFL during his time with Houston, and cashed in by signing a six-year $96 million contract with Buffalo prior to the 2012 season. Williams saw an increase in his production over the first three years of the contract, but then fell apart quickly.
2015 saw his sack totals drop from 14.5 the previous year to just five. Buffalo let him go after the season, and he received yet another contract, getting two years and $17 million from the Dolphins. In his first season, Williams collected just 1.5 sacks, and was released from the team prior to the 2017 season. He’s currently sitting on the free agent market.
14 Joe Flacco
In January 2013, Joe Flacco was able to tear through the playoffs and help the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl. Because of that, Flacco received a massive contract worth more than $120 million. In the first year of his new contract, Flacco slightly increased his passing yardage, but wasn’t nearly as efficient, throwing for 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. Flacco followed that up with a solid 2014 campaign, but his contract has been a hindrance on the Ravens ever since.
The Ravens haven’t reached the playoffs since 2014, and he’s still under contract with Baltimore through the 2021 season. There were talks of Flacco being an “elite” quarterback after winning his lone Super Bowl title, but now he’s not even in the discussion of being in the top half of NFL quarterbacks.
13 Muhammad Wilkerson
A former first round pick of the New York Jets in 2011, Muhammad Wilkerson would end up becoming a solid pass rusher that topped out in 2015 with 12 sacks, earning a Pro Bowl nod. In 2016, the Jets surprised many by giving Wilkerson a five-year contract worth a whopping $86 million. Wilkerson returned the favour by having his worst season since he was a rookie, reaching the quarterback just 4.5 times.
Through the first five games of the 2017 season, Wilkerson still hasn’t registered a sack, and he’s still under contract through the 2020 season. The Jets have tried to trade Wilkerson away because of his salary, but there haven’t been any takers. Cutting him now would result in a $27 million dead cap penalty, meaning he’s likely to not go anywhere for now.
12 Robert Quinn
Like Wilkerson, Robert Quinn was a first round pick in the 2011 draft as the Rams made him the 14th overall selection. By his third year in the league Quinn was dominant, collecting 19 sacks and 50 tackles. At the beginning of the 2014 season, the Rams wanted to tie Quinn up, giving him six years and $65.6 million. Quinn immediately regressed, but he still had 10.5 sacks in his first season under the new contract.
Since then, Quinn has taken a huge step back and has missed plenty of time, playing in just 17 games in 2015 and 2016. Quinn had nine sacks during that time, and doesn’t look to be anywhere close to the player he once was in 2013. The Rams also contain control of Quinn through 2019, but have an out that will leave them with a low amount of dead cap at under $1 million.
11 Mike Glennon
There were thoughts that Mike Glennon could eventually become the starting quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the franchise had other plans, drafting Jameis Winston to lead the team. Because of that, Glennon was relegated to the bench, and didn’t start in 2016 while getting zero playing time in 2015. Prior to the 2017 season, the Bears brought in Glennon to be the starter, signing him to a three-year deal worth $45 million.
That was starting quarterback money, but Glennon has already lost his starting position to rookie Mitchell Trubisky. Glennon is still signed through the 2019 season, but the Bears are able to get out of the contract in 2018 that would create a $4.5 million charge against their salary cap compared to the $16 million hit they’d take if they keep him. With that said, don’t expect Glennon to be around next year.
10 Chris Ivory
Running backs are notoriously underpaid in the NFL, but Chris Ivory is one of those players that’s getting way too much money. Ivory had his best season in 2015 with the Jets, collecting 1,070 rushing yards, 217 receiving yards and eight total touchdowns. It was the Jaguars that decided to spend big money on him, inking Ivory to a five-year and $32 million contract that goes through the 2020 season.
Ivory started just once in his first season with the Jaguars, and his production tanked to the tune of 439 rushing yards and three total touchdowns. Ivory has already been effectively replaced as the Jaguars drafted Leonard Fournette in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, giving him the starting position immediately. Through five weeks in the 2017 season, Ivory has just 159 rushing yards.
9 Eric Decker
When teaming up with Peyton Manning, Eric Decker appeared to be a premier receiver, having back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons that included a 1,288 yard and 11 touchdown campaign in 2013. The Jets would pounce on Decker when he became a free agent, offering up a massive contract that paid him $36.25 million over five seasons. Decker would only play for the Jets for three seasons, reaching 1,000 yards just once and having his worst seasons since 2011.
Decker wasn’t awful in his first two years, but definitely took a step back. In 2016, Decker would miss much of the season and was eventually released to clear more than $7 million in cap room for the Jets. Decker then received a one-year deal with the Titans for just $4 million, but he hasn’t lived up to the hype as he’s had just 138 yards and no touchdowns through the first five games.
8 Vinny Curry
Vinny Curry’s contract has been called by some as perhaps the worst for a defensive lineman in the NFL. Curry topped out in his third season with the Eagles, as the former second round pick in 2012 was able to collect nine sacks and 17 tackles. Curry took a huge step back in 2015 with just 3.5 sacks, but the Eagles still rewarded him with $47.25 million over five years.
The first year of the contract was a disaster, as Curry finished with just 2.5 sacks. Still under contract through the 2020 season, Curry hasn’t shown any improvement so far in the 2017 season. Cutting him after the 2017 season would be a big hit for the Eagles, who would have to swallow $6 million in cap room.
7 Marcell Dareus
Along with Mario Williams, the Buffalo Bills had one of the best pass-rushing defensive lines in the NFL for a little bit. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus lined up with Buffalo starting in 2011, and had his best year in 2014 when he finished with 10 sacks and 35 tackles. At the beginning of the 2015 season, the Bills didn’t want Dareus to go anywhere, so they gave him a six-year deal that was north of $96.5 million.
The Bills are now stuck with that contract, as Dareus had just 5.5 sacks over the next two seasons, and he’s gotten off to a slow start once again in 2017. The Bills have Dareus under contract through the 2021 season, and he likely won’t be cut until 2019. At that point, the Bills are able to get out of the contract while having to absorb nearly $8 million in a dead cap hit.
6 Julius Thomas
Julius Thomas is one of those players that proves Peyton Manning can make just about anybody look good. Thomas had some solid seasons in Denver, putting up two Pro Bowl seasons that included a 788 yard and 12 touchdown campaign. After the 2014 season, the Jaguars had plenty of salary cap space to work with and gave Thomas $46 million over five seasons.
Thomas would last for just two seasons in Jacksonville, putting up a total of 736 yards and nine touchdowns, which wouldn’t even be his best single season. With three years left on the deal, the Jaguars traded Thomas to the Dolphins for a seventh-round pick, and Miami hasn’t gotten much production out of him so far. He’s signed with the team through the 2018 season and has $7.5 million guaranteed.
5 Allen Hurns
Allen Hurns went undrafted out of Miami (FL) and made the Jaguars look smart in his rookie season thanks to 677 yards and six touchdowns. Hurns was even better in his second season, posting 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns. Because of that, the Jaguars expected an explosion for Hurns’s production and gave their receiver more than $40 million on a four-year contract.
Hurns would miss five games in the 2016 season, and he finished with just 477 yards and three touchdowns. Hurns has been a bit better so far in the 2017 season, but still hasn’t lived up to the contract that he was given in the summer of 2016. If his struggling ways continue, the Jaguars are likely to cut him after the 2017 season as it wouldn’t result in any dead cap for the team.
4 Ndamukong Suh
While he was with the Detroit Lions, Ndamukong Suh was considered by many to be one of, if not the, best defensive tackles in the NFL. and many Lions fans were hoping that he’d stick around once he reached free agency. He put up 8.5 sacks and 46 tackles in his final season with the Lions, leaving fans in the Motor City bummed as he signed a six-year contract with Miami, receiving more than $114 million as a result.
Suh quickly had some clashes with the coaching staff in Miami, and his numbers took a hit in the first year, only getting worse in 2016. He still had a solid season in 2016, but wasn’t the player he once was in Detroit and was considered to be playing well below his contract value. The Dolphins have Suh through the 2020 season, and it’s unlikely that they’d cut him due to massive cap hits.
3 Jay Cutler
After the 2013 season, the Chicago Bears made Jay Cutler one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL by giving him seven years and $126.7 million. Despite a losing record in his first season under the new contract, Cutler didn’t perform too poorly with 3,812 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Things would get worse, though, and Cutler struggled to help the Bears win.
In 2016, Cutler was having injury problems and struggled mightily on the field, leading the Bears to release him in March 2017 after just three seasons under his new deal, saving $14 million in cap space. Cutler retired from the league in May 2017, but was signed by the Dolphins in August for a whopping $10 million. To some it seemed like a bargain, but Cutler has had some rough times on the field in his first four games.
2 Tavon Austin
The Rams made Tavon Austin the eighth overall selection in 2013, and he showed some potential as a kick returner and receiver with 418 receiving yards and four touchdowns in his rookie season. Unfortunately for the Rams, Austin wouldn’t become the star receiver that they wanted, but they still exercised a fifth-year option worth more than $12 million. That same summer of 2016, Austin would receive a four-year and $42 million extension from the Rams.
Austin technically had his best season in the first year of his contract with 509 receiving yards, but still not anywhere close to what someone with his contract should be putting up. 2017 has been even worse for Austin, who even under a revamped offense has put up just 19 receiving yards in his first five games.
1 Brock Osweiler
Riding the bench for the first three seasons of his NFL career, Brock Osweiler showed potential when he got some starting opportunities in 2015. Osweiler went 5-2 in his seven starts, putting up a total of 1,967 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. Osweiler became a sought-after free agent, and he chose the Houston Texans, signing a four-year $72 million deal.
Osweiler couldn’t hit his stride in Houston and finished with under 3,000 passing yards and more interceptions than touchdowns. Houston immediately wanted to get rid of him, and traded him to Cleveland along with draft picks, just getting a fourth rounder in return. The Browns released Osweiler in 2017, and now he’s back as the Broncos backup with just a one-year deal worth $775,000.
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