NFL contracts are heavily scrutinized by fans, reporters, and observers largely because the league utilizes a hard salary cap. There is no luxury tax to pay if a franchise goes over the limit. Teams that are handcuffed by poor contract investments are often unable to improve rosters because of a lack of available cash underneath the cap. Fortunately, the majority of NFL contracts include only so much guaranteed money, meaning teams can part ways with players who don’t perform to the monetary values of their deals. Eventually, just about every veteran in the league can be replaced by a younger entity who costs less money against the cap; unless we’re talking about Tom Brady, that is.
One thing that should be remembered is that a contract that appears to be a decent investment, on paper, can also be a poor one over time. After all, it made all kinds of sense earlier this year for the Philadelphia Eagles to keep a high-priced backup quarterback, but it now appears that the Eagles should have traded that individual while he would have fetched a decent return in a transaction. The Houston Texans are paying the man widely believed to be the best defensive player on the planet a fortune even though he hasn’t been worth a fraction of that price over the past couple of years. Spend wisely, NFL general managers.
32 Arizona Cardinals: Sam Bradford
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the Sam Bradford experiment is not working out for the Arizona Cardinals. Truth be told, it’s likely rookie Josh Rosen will be starting under center for the Cardinals by the time you read this sentence. Give Bradford and his representatives credit for him earning $15 million in guaranteed money from the Cardinals even though there was zero reason for anybody to believe he could start 16 straight games for any team at this point of his career. We’ll see if Bradford can be a better mentor than a starter once he receives the inevitable hook. He can’t be any worse standing on the sidelines.
31 Atlanta Falcons: Mohamed Sanu
When the Atlanta Falcons selected Calvin Ridley in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, veteran Mohamed Sanu became surplus to requirements, so much so that some believed the Falcons would try to shop him if a bidder came along. The good news for the Falcons is that they can move on from Sanu following the 2018 campaign without taking too much of a financial hit. The bad news is that he is carrying a cap hit of over $6 million, and is probably going to fall down the depth chart sooner rather than later if that has not already happened. While Sanu can still contribute, the juice may not be worth the squeeze for Atlanta.
30 Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco
The only thing elite about Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco these days is his salary cap hit, one that rises to $26.5 million for the 2019 season. Of course, the Ravens had to pay Flacco after he guided the team to a Super Bowl championship. That is the nature of the business. Those running the Ravens saw the writing on the wall earlier this year when the franchise wisely spent a first-round pick on Lamar Jackson, who is the future starter with the club. It will be interesting to see what the Ravens elect to do with Flacco, largely because there may not be any suitors in for him before or after the draft unless a starter goes down to an injury between now and September 2019.
29 Buffalo Bills: Vontae Davis
As explained by Matt Warren of Buffalo Rumblings, the Buffalo Bills should be able to recover the majority of the money spent on cornerback Vontae Davis after Davis retired at halftime of the second game of the season. We now know that the Bills never should have wasted money, time or a roster spot on him in the first place. The hope, of course, is that Davis is OK physically and mentally and that there is nothing too concerning going on behind the scenes that resulted in him quitting six quarters into the season. If he’s fine and healthy, his decision to not even bother remaining on the sideline is one of the most bizarre things to ever happen during an NFL game.
28 Carolina Panthers: Greg Olsen
When healthy and on the field, Greg Olsen has the goods to be one of the top tight ends in the NFL. The Carolina Panthers starter, who turns 34-years-old next March, was sidelined with a broken bone in his right foot, and there are worries that he is not going to return to form before the end of the season. Currently, Olsen is signed to a deal that carries a cap hit of over $15 million for 2018 and over $7 million for 2019, meaning the Panthers are banking on him being in the lineup past this fall. Before he was paid, there were rumors that Olsen was considering retirement and looking at a job in the commentary booth.
27 Chicago Bears: Kevin White
Back in 2015, the Chicago Bears used a first-round pick on wide receiver Kevin White. There were reports in August that the Bears were done hoping he would prove to be worth that investment and were going to cut him after multiple physical setbacks stalled his career before it ever really began. White’s cap hit of over $5 million isn’t catastrophic, and it is almost a guarantee he won’t be in the team’s long-term plans past 2018. That doesn’t mean the Bears would not have been better off either releasing him or attempting to get any draft pick or player for him in a trade before the start of the campaign.
26 Cincinnati Bengals: Vontaze Burfict
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has proven his worth to the Cincinnati Bengals throughout his tenure with the club. Burfict has also earned himself a reputation for being a dirty player, and he’s been suspended by the NFL multiple times. In March of this year, it was learned that he was going to miss the first four games of the season for off-field issues. There were thoughts during the spring that the Bengals were ready to move on from the star who has a cap hit of over $7 million, but he is scheduled to return to the field wearing Cincinnati colors once he serves his ban.
25 Cleveland Browns: Tyrod Taylor
The Cleveland Browns having Tyrod Taylor and his $16 million salary cap hit looks worse and worse with every fourth-quarter interception that he throws. Cleveland had a ton of money to spend in the offseason, and nobody expects Taylor will be under center and ahead of Baker Mayfield on the depth chart in 2019. Looking around the league and knowing the Browns could have had Ryan Fitzpatrick or Teddy Bridgewater, among others, one can safely assume the Browns could have spent this money more wisely and improved the roster. At least Cleveland doesn’t look terrible as of the middle of September. The franchise may be headed in the right direction for once.
24 Dallas Cowboys: Tyrone Crawford
Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford can be a force up front when he is playing against putrid opposition such as the offensive line of the New York Giants. Crawford is also someone who, to date, has not averaged five sacks per season, and yet the Cowboys have him on a contract that has a cap hit of over $9 million and a dead money value of over $13 million. Unless he shows that he can evolve into a top-tier pass-rusher, which would be a surprise considering how he has performed during his career, Dallas may look to get something for him in a trade as soon as next year.
23 Denver Broncos: Demaryius Thomas
Those rumors linking the Denver Broncos with potentially trading wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in August made sense regardless of what some fans of the club thought about them at the time. Thomas turns 31-years-old before the end of the season, his cap hit is over $12 million, he and the team will likely part ways following the campaign and the team has rookie Courtland Sutton on the roster and ready to rise up the depth chart during his first year in the league. It should also be noted that the Broncos probably aren’t winning the Super Bowl with the roster as it is two weeks into the season.
22 Detroit Lions: Theo Riddick
Theo Riddick carrying a salary cap hit of a little over $4 million is not going to cost the Detroit Lions any chance of winning games, but that is somewhat of a big price to pay for a running back who can catch plenty of passes as a member of the offense but isn’t going to go anywhere but down on the depth chart unless others go down with injuries. Rookie Kerryon Johnson needs more touches and more opportunities as the season goes on. LeGarrette Blount is the short-yardage back option for the Lions. It would be a surprise if the Lions kept Riddick around past the 2018 season unless somebody goes down with a long-term problem.
21 Green Bay Packers: Clay Matthews
The next two are examples of why (some) franchises do not like to pay top-tier defensive players massive contracts. It’s possible wide receiver Randall Cobb and his salary cap hit of over $12 million will end up being a worse investment, but linebacker Clay Matthews is the leader in the clubhouse two weeks into the season. Matthews has a cap hit of over $11 million while playing the final year of his contract, and he turns 33 years old next spring. Fans of the Packers may hope that Matthews can earn himself a final payday if he enjoys a successful year, but the club has a history of being cheap regarding these types of negotiations.
20 Houston Texans: J.J. Watt
It was not all that long ago when even suggesting that the Houston Texans made a poor contract investment by paying defensive superstar J.J. Watt would have been seen as nothing more than a hot take. That’s no longer the case, at least it isn’t until he shows that he can once again be an elite force who is able to play through the final week of a season. Watt’s massive contract that includes a salary cap hit of $15 million in each of the next two seasons becomes more and more of an anchor with each year, to the point that there are whispers Houston could reconsider his future if he goes down with another injury during the 2018 campaign.
19 Indianapolis Colts: Jack Doyle
If his shoulder fails him or a different injury takes him off the field, quarterback Andrew Luck will go down as the club’s worst contract investment of the decade. That isn’t a concern as of the posting of this piece, so tight end Jack Doyle checks in here. Doyle’s cap hit of over $5.6 million is fine so long as he is catching 80 passes per season. It does not seem that is going to be the case with Luck back in the lineup and under center. This past offseason, the Indianapolis Colts upgraded at the position by signing Eric Ebron, and Ebron is quickly becoming a favorite red zone target for his QB.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles
Blake Bortles’ cap hit skyrockets to $21 million for the 2019 season. Yes, that is Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles we are talking about. When Bortles looks good and limits mistakes, as he did against the New England Patriots, it appears that he is finally figuring life in the NFL out and showing why the team used a high pick on him all the way back in 2014. The problem is that nobody, minus the most optimistic of Jacksonville fans, can trust Bortles will routinely play at an elite level for more than a few games at a given time. We need to see more from Bortles before he removes himself from such lists.
17 Kansas City Chiefs: Sammy Watkins
There were signs during the second game of the regular season that wide receiver Sammy Watkins was finally going to show the world why the Kansas City Chiefs made such an investment in him this past offseason. $30 million in guaranteed money for a target who was shown the door by two franchises and who has a worrisome injury history remains a massive amount of money unless he becomes a No. 1 receiver with his new club. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes looks like an All-Pro since being given the keys to the offense, and it’s possible he and Watkins will find some chemistry later in the year.
16 Los Angeles Chargers: Russell Okung
Those who would say that Los Angeles Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung does not belong on the list of worst contract investments may point to the fact that he was named to the 2017 Pro Bowl squad. That’s fair, but Okung holding a cap hit of close to $15 million as he nears his 31st birthday means he needs to play as arguably the best man at the position to justify the contract. He hasn’t been at that level for some time, something both the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos would agree with after seeing him up close and in-person. There are two years remaining on his contract.
15 Los Angeles Rams: Ndamukong Suh
The Los Angeles Rams are trying to win the Super Bowl this season, so you really can’t blame the team for spending as it has in building this roster. $14 million in cap space tied-up on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is still a ton of money, particularly for somebody who doesn’t have the best track record of keeping it together on the field or putting the team ahead of himself and his own interests. Suh is a game-changer when he is at his best on the field, and he will be worth every penny spent on him if the Rams meet the expectations had for them and win the title.
14 Miami Dolphins: Kenny Stills
Wide receiver Kenny Stills has the third-highest salary cap hit on the Miami Dolphins at $9.75 million, which is probably surprising for those who are familiar with his offensive stats. Stills can find the end zone, but there are also times during campaigns when he surprisingly disappears for periods. The Dolphins parting ways with Jarvis Landry could lead to Stills becoming more than just a guy in the league and on an offense that isn’t viewed as elite, but catching 58 of 106 passes thrown his way, as he did in 2017, won’t make that cap hit look any better, on paper.
13 Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins
We’re just going to say what everybody is thinking. Kirk Cousins is a fine quarterback who absolutely deserved better from the Washington Redskins. That doesn’t mean he or any other quarterback who isn’t Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers deserves $84 million in guaranteed money. The fact that this is only a three-year contract makes it less of a concern. After all, Cousins is, theoretically, just now in his prime as a signal-caller. The Vikings came close to making it to the Super Bowl last January without having Cousins on the roster. They’ll have to play in the big game to make his deal worth the money.
12 New England Patriots: Dwayne Allen
Perhaps we will all look at this contract differently if New England Patriots tight end Dwayne Allen averages one touchdown every other game up through Week 17 of the season. His cap hit is less than $4 million for the 2018 season, but the Patriots have an elite player at the position in Rob Gronkowski. Is there really no other tight end, particularly one who is younger, who could not give the New England offense all that Allen provides it, but at half the price? The truth of the matter is that most will likely assume Allen is the product of a system that benefits him if he does enjoy a successful campaign.
11 New Orleans Saints: Ted Ginn Jr.
There was some speculation that the New Orleans Saints could trade or even cut wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. after the preseason. Ginn and his salary cap hit of $4.5 million remained with the Saints, but he is nothing more than a third option, at best, in the New Orleans offense. The days of Ginn finding the end zone ten times as he did during the 2015 season are a thing of the past. New Orleans attempted to improve at wide receiver during the offseason, and it is possible that the Saints could drop him down the depth chart if those individuals begin to deliver on the field.
10 New York Giants: Ereck Flowers
If left tackle Nate Solder continues to play as poorly as he did in the first two games of the regular season, he will quickly become the main man associated with the New York Giants on this list. For now, though, it’s offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, the lineman who hasn’t flirted with being worth a first-round pick or the cap hit of over $4.5 million since the Giants selected him. That Flowers hasn’t been the worst player up front for New York over eight quarters tells you just how bad the line is, as a whole. Unless he flips the figurative switch, Flowers will go down as one of the worst picks made by the Giants.
9 New York Jets: Josh McCown
We are sure that veteran quarterback Josh McCown is a nice guy, is well-liked by those within the New York Jets and will, one day, be an excellent coach. Right now, though, Gang Green has a glorified offensive coordinator and mentor on a $10 million salary cap hit. McCown is a great person to have in the QB room to work with rookie Sam Darnold as Darnold goes through the ups and downs of his first year in the NFL. The Jets also have money to burn, meaning McCown’s contract does not negatively affect the club one bit. Financially speaking, though, this is a bad investment for someone who was supposed to begin the season as the starter.
8 Oakland Raiders: Jon Gruden
For the only time in this entire piece, a player is not spotlighted as the worst contract investment for a team. Think whatever you want about Jon Gruden as a coach or a personality. The Oakland Raiders giving him a ten-year contract worth $100 million was a mind-boggling decision at the time, and it wasn’t made any better by Gruden shipping a Defensive Player of the Year candidate to the Chicago Bears. Maybe the former Monday Night Football commentator can silence critics by winning a Super Bowl with the Raiders, but the start of his latest tenure with the Raiders has been rocky, at best.
7 Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Foles
The Philadelphia Eagles keeping Super Bowl hero Nick Foles on the roster as the team waited for Carson Wentz to return from the injury that prematurely ended what could have been an MVP season was logical earlier this year. Foles never reclaimed his form from that playoff run, though, and his $13.6 million cap hit is one that looks worse with every loss knowing what the Eagles could have gotten from a team such as the Cleveland Browns before the 2018 NFL Draft. Foles’ value to the Philadelphia team that won it all in February is priceless, and that will forever be the case. He shouldn’t be on the roster in September, though.
6 Pittsburgh Steelers: Joe Haden
The last time Joe Haden was a shutdown cornerback worth a salary cap hit of nearly $12 million, he was teammates with Josh Gordon when Gordon was actually a Pro Bowl receiver and not somebody traded from the Cleveland Browns to the New England Patriots for essentially nothing. Haden can still have solid games while featuring for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but his inability to remain healthy for an entire season at this point of his career is a problem. One wouldn’t know that he’ll turn only 30-years-old next spring. His body has been betraying him since the 2015 campaign, and he’s already dealing with a setback in September.
5 San Francisco 49ers: Jerick McKinnon
So much about the San Francisco 49ers paying running back Jerick McKinnon $18 million in guaranteed money raised eyes. McKinnon is a good ball-carrier, but he has never rushed for 600 years in any season. The future impact of his deal is a worry now that he will be coming off a torn ACL, as we can only guess what the 26-year-old will be once he is able to be on the field again. The Niners paid McKinnon to be the workhorse back for the offense, and he will need to be just that in 2019 to be worth the money. Then again, San Francisco could go in a different direction if the team is worried about his health and ability to produce.
4 Seattle Seahawks: Earl Thomas
Of course, safety Earl Thomas is worth the $10.4 million salary cap hit, but one gets the feeling the Seattle Seahawks do not feel the same way. After all, the Seahawks still haven’t paid the 29-year-old, and there continue to be rumors that Seattle could ship him to the Dallas Cowboys if those two sides could come to an agreement on the trade. Seattle is in the middle of a rebuild, and the former Legion of Boom is no more. Regardless, the Seahawks need to either get something for Thomas or give him a contract. Losing him for nothing would be a ridiculous business decision.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston
You don’t need to be a beat reporter or an NFL insider to understand that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are overjoyed about Ryan Fitzpatrick finding some “Fitzmagic” as Jameis Winston is serving a three-game suspension. It would take an injury or a collapse from the offense for Winston to find his way back into the lineup once he is available. What’s next for him and the Bucs? Can Tampa Bay find a team that would be willing to offer a high draft pick for the once-promising QB? Will the franchise choose to sit him and then make him earn the starting job in 2019? This story is only beginning as of the middle of September.
2 Tennessee Titans: Logan Ryan
The Tennessee Titans overpaying for cornerback Logan Ryan had a role in the team having to overpay Malcolm Butler. Irony is a funny thing, sometimes. Ryan’s cap hit of over $11 million suggests he should be a shutdown defensive back and somebody with a resume similar to Joe Haden's. That isn’t the case. He has largely been an average player since the start of the 2016 season, and he hasn’t recorded a single pick since that campaign (as of Week 2 of 2018). His dead cap value for 2019 is well under $1 million, meaning he has plenty of reasons to remind Tennessee why the team paid him in the first place.
1 Washington Redskins: Jordan Reed
When you are a tight end carrying a cap hit of over $10 million as is Jordan Reed of the Washington Redskins, you need to be one of the best players at the position. Reed hasn’t been that for Washington since 2015, and his cap situation doesn’t get any better up through 2021 assuming that he remains with the Redskins that long. Maybe Alex Smith, who replaced the previously mentioned Kirk Cousins after the 2017 campaign, will be able to get the most out of Reed and make this contract a positive for the club. Even if that happens, $10+ million for any TE who isn’t Gronk is a lot of money.