A brand new crop of free agents are set to hit the market in 2017 and there are plenty of players who will be grossly overpaid in free agency, which is a common occurrence each and every offseason when teams look to ad to their roster.
Teams make these types of mistakes for several reasons, with desperation being the biggest factor in teams shelling out money that players don't necessarily deserve. Where there's a need, there's a hefty price to be paid in order to fill it when a team chooses free agency to do so.
The term "overpaid" doesn't always mean it has to come via a long-term, big-money contract. Players with major red flags and question marks who take up even a small portion of the team's payroll that could go elsewhere, as well as a roster spot, can become a major bust, thus making them overpaid in their own right.
We've seen it time and time again with players getting large sums of cash with very little track record of success. Quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Brock Osweiler come to mind as some of the most blatant forms of undeserving but overpaid players in league history, and there are more certain to be added to the ranks next offseason.
Let's take a look at some of those players who will earn more money than they deserve in free agency next year, whether it be because of misleading short-term success, age and injury history, or simply being overrated because of a lack of other options at the position.
15 Ryan Fitzpatrick
After being a journeyman for most of his career, Fitzpatrick found a home with the Jets in 2015 and made the most of it. He put up career-high numbers for himself and franchise-highs for the Jets organization, revitalizing his career.
The only problem is Fitzpatrick's numbers were never this good at any point in his career. He had what is easily the best supporting cast he's ever had in 2015 with receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, along with the addition of running back Matt Forte in 2016.
Any team signing Fitzpatrick thinking he can put them over the top in any fashion is dead wrong. Even with a great supporting cast, Fitzpatrick is not a great performer in big spots as evidenced by his choke job in Week 17 of last season that knocked the Jets out of playoff contention.
Fitzpatrick, a turnover machine, should be the second-best quarterback available in 2017 and will get paid far more than the backup money he deserves after what should be two productive but misleading seasons in New York.
14 Latavius Murray
When you look at the 26-year-old Murray you see a back with a ton of potential that he just can't seem to live up to. The Oakland Raiders back burst onto the scene in 2014 after he gashed the Kansas City Chiefs for a 90-yard touchdown run that officially put him on the map.
The following season Murray was named the starter and didn't do much with his opportunity. Sure, he did rush for 1,000 yards and six touchdowns as the workhorse back, but he did so at a pedestrian four yards-per-carry clip, and his best run of the season was for 54 yards.
Teams may feel that a still young and developing Murray can hit that potential as a top back, but consider these points: Murray was unable to become an elite back on a team with a filthy air attack to help stop teams from stacking the box against him. Furthermore, the third-year player is now losing his workload to backs like DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.
Murray certainly won't be the worst option at running back that teams have in free agency; however his age makes it likely he'll score a multi-year deal when he deserves a wait-and-see one-year deal.
13 Eddie Lacy
Lacy's time with the Green Bay Packers has been a tumultuous one. In each of his first two seasons, Lacy surpassed 1,100 yards on the ground and totaled a sensational 20 rushing touchdowns.
Things went south in 2015 when Lacy was extremely disappointing and failed to break 800 yards in 15 games, as the Packers' offense struggled as a whole. There was plenty of public scrutiny on Lacy, who was grossly overweight and lacking motivation to improve. In fact, since he has entered the league it has become an annual tradition to see how overweight Lacy is coming into camp.
Lacy has cleaned up his act in 2016 and seems to be primed for at least 1,000 yards on the ground and then some, elevating him back to the status of a top back with youth. Despite this, Lacy can't be trusted. Once he gets a nice contract with some guaranteed money, you'll see the real Lacy and not the one doing his best to hold off on the snacks.
12 Willie Snead
Snead has emerged as one of quarterback Drew Brees' favorite targets on offense for the New Orleans Saints. The 23-year-old receiver just missed totaling 1,000 yards in 2015 and is off to a great start that has him looking primed to be among the league-leaders in receiving yards this season.
On the surface Snead looks like a guy who can change an offense and be a playmaker for years to come, earning him a big contract. There's a problem with that thought process, though. Snead has one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game throwing him the ball and that won't always be the case should he move on to another team.
Receivers often get exposed when leaving a team with an elite quarterback to go to a team with a lesser QB. Snead's weekly presence on the injury report throughout his career also doesn't help secure his status as a sure thing.
Of course, teams will ignore this and give him big money anyway since he's young and arguably the best receiver teams will be able to sign in the offseason.
11 Markus Wheaton
An inconsistent player with special raw ability, Wheaton is one of Ben Roethlisberger's favorite targets in the passing game behind Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown. Wheaton's biggest problem stems from the fact that he isn't aggressive enough going after the ball and he has a propensity to disappear during games.
Now that Bryant is suspended for the season, Wheaton projects to be Big Ben's no. 2 receiver on an offense that throws a ton. Even with Bryant in the lineup last season, Wheaton compiled 749 yards and five touchdowns.
Bryant's suspension should allow Wheaton to put up bigger numbers in 2016, sending his stock skyrocketing to near no. 1 receiver status given a lack of impact wideouts available in 2017.
However it can't be underestimated how much it benefits Wheaton that opposing defenses focus on his teammate, Antonio Brown, giving him more space to work with in a high-volume passing attack. Without those benefits (few teams have a talent like Brown and a high-volume passing attack), Wheaton's numbers will go down and he'll have a hard time earning the potentially big money coming his way.
10 Andre Ellington
At one time in his career, Ellington was the featured back for the Arizona Cardinals and was actually one of the up-and-coming two-way backs in the league during his first three seasons.
Now Ellington has been relegated to third-string duties on Arizona's offense, falling behind Chris Johnson and starter David Johnson on the depth chart. Once a focal point, Ellington has become an afterthought for the Cardinals.
Teams may look at this and see an unlucky player who just had too much talent in front of him to be a starter. While that might be true, Ellington's injury history makes him a huge risk. He has missed 10 games the past two seasons and is in no physical condition to be an every-down back.
With that said, Ellington's explosive ability will entice teams to pay him starter money when in reality he is nothing more than a change-of-pace and passing-down back who can't be trusted to stay healthy, even at his young age.
9 Martellus Bennett
Playing out the final year of his contract with the New England Patriots, Bennett will be the marquee pass-catching tight end on the free-agent market this offseason—that is, unless he self-destructs.
Bennett has been a productive tight end during his career, with his best season coming in 2014 with the Chicago Bears when he caught 90 balls for 916 yards and six touchdowns. This season Bennett will be paired with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski, which means his numbers will be lower than normal—especially considering the slew of options the Pats have at receiver.
Teams will be understanding of that fact and will still hold Bennett in high regard as a playmaker. The risk comes in the fact that if things go south in any way, Bennett can be a headache like he was in both Dallas and Chicago.
This season will be a good test for Bennett as he settles into the role as a support player instead of a top receiving target. Still, Bennett being on his best behavior can be taken with a grain of salt considering it's easier to behave when on a contract year with a team that is always winning.
8 LeGarrette Blount
Blount has found a nice home in New England with the Patriots and has started off the 2016 season with great numbers that have him chugging to a 1,000-plus yard season and a spot among the league leaders in rushing.
Things weren't always so great for Blount. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer was always a disappointment with his former team and was eventually replaced by Doug Martin, who had far more success with the same cast of characters in Tampa. Not to mention, Blount was suspended for one game in 2015 for violating the league's substance abuse policy while a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It appears Blount has bought into the Patriot way under Bill Belichick and is maximizing every inch of his 250-pound frame; but not all teams are successful in keeping troubled players in line like the Pats are. It also helps Blount that he's playing on a top-ranked offense with a great passing attack that often builds big leads and creates plenty of garbage time.
Blount could fly off the handle again in a different situation and his age (30 on December 5th) puts him right around the age running backs are supposed to break down. Don't be fooled by his no. 1 running back numbers; he is a free-agent bust waiting to happen.
7 Darian Stewart
Stewart has been a nice piece to the Denver Broncos' defense since he joined the team in 2015, and since then Stewart become a well-respected free safety in the NFL. If he hits the open market, Stewart will be one of the top options at the position.
Stewart's career began with the St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams, where he played four seasons as a mostly nominal player who both started and came off the bench. He certainly wasn't the player he has been given credit for with the Broncos.
That's because Stewart is on an all-time great defense with a slew of great players around him, both in the front seven and in the secondary. An elite pass rush and a ton of support coming from the cornerbacks around him has made Stewart's job much easier and in turn he looks like a better player for it.
It's hard to believe that Stewart's rise in play and stature as a top safety doesn't coincide with his joining a spectacular defensive unit. Teams will ignore this fact anyway and shell out top safety money to a player with very little to no track record of being an elite talent at his position.
6 Malcolm Butler
Behind Stephon Gilmore, Butler will be the most sought-after cornerback on the market. Butler has enjoyed success with the Patriots since joining the league in 2014 and his status as a good corner has been established.
Unfortunately for teams looking to sign secondary help, he's not nearly worth the kind of money he'll command as a free agent. That's not to say he isn't a competent corner who can make an impact; he just doesn't deserve to be paid like a no. 1.
As obvious as it is, Butler will still get paid great money even though he was ranked as the no. 22 cornerback by Pro Football Focus after last season. That put him ranked behind his own teammate, Logan Ryan, as well as several other corners teams would never dream of paying big money to.
5 Josh Gordon
Despite all of his struggles, Gordon will be looked upon as a potential star player on the market who just needs another chance. Gordon, who missed the entire 2015 season because of suspension and will likely miss 2016 after entering rehab, is in the process of getting himself together.
Gordon's talents as a pass-catcher have never been doubted; it's his inner demons of substance abuse that remain the issue. If he can clean himself up and prove he's on the right track, teams will be throwing fists full of cash at Gordon (I see you, Jerry Jones), hoping he can replicate his breakout 2013 season while staying out of trouble.
It would surely be a nice story to see Gordon turn his life around and I wish him all the best; however Gordon can't be trusted in any sense until he shows his sobriety is a long-term plan and not a temporary fix. Any team signing Gordon—even on a one-year deal—runs the risk of him falling off the wagon and never getting into a single game.
4 Kirk Cousins
Barring something unforeseen, Cousins will be the no. 1 quarterback target on the market next offseason and teams will be lining up to sign him as a result, with the quarterback position nearly impossible to fill adequately in this day and age. Even after a very good 2015 season, the Redskins were reluctant to give Cousins the long-term contract star quarterbacks seek and instead Cousins "settled" for the franchise tag at $20 million.
How great was that 2015 season for Cousins? Pretty good when looking at just the raw numbers. Cousins led the league in completion percentage (69.8), threw for nearly 4,200 yards and scored 29 passing touchdowns in a campaign that saw the Redskins make the playoffs. Good numbers, but not enough for the elite money Cousins wants.
When digging deeper, it's clear how Cousins was so successful. As it turns out 13 of the 16 regular season games Cousins played were against teams with a .500 record or worse. In the three games Washington played against teams with a record of .500 or better, Cousins didn't play well and his team lost all three contests.
Perhaps that's the reason the Redskins needed to see more to really believe in Cousins to give him star money and star length. After all, the team knows him best. Regardless, if Osweiler's contract with the Houston Texans proves anything it's that a guy like Cousins—even after showing just short-term and/or moderate success—can land a big-money contract in free agency.
3 Christine Michael
After almost being out of the league, Michael has resurfaced with his old team—the Seattle Seahawks—and has flourished to start the season.
Michael has always had the talent to succeed, but his problem was maturity and work ethic. Now that he's getting another opportunity thanks to an injury to fellow back Thomas Rawls, Michael is making the most of it and is carving out his role as a starting running back in this league.
But the dreaded trap of a contract year may be Michael's motivating factor to clean up his act. He understands he's a young back with many years left on his career lifespan, a scenario that can make a pretty dollar on the open market.
Granted, running backs have been devalued in recent years, but if Michael continues to produce as he has out of the gate, he'll get paid by the Seahawks or any other team looking for a franchise running back. While that's a guarantee, there's no telling if Michael's changed personality will maintain once he's on top and practically set for life financially.
2 Darren McFadden
The rise of 30-and-over running backs this season is defying the shelf-life logic that we all know and love to recite (heck, I've even recited it in this article). Guys like Matt Forte, DeAngelo Williams, Frank Gore and others are still playing elite football despite being senior citizens at the position.
McFadden will be a prime candidate to do the same after becoming a free agent following the 2016 season. The 29-year-old (30 in August of 2017) was thought to be finished before he notched a 1,000-yard season for the Cowboys in 2015.
Sorry, but I have to spoil this one, too. McFadden ran behind an all-world offensive line as a starter in the Cowboys' run-heavy offense. What's worse is that McFadden has dealt with injuries almost every season of his career and is doing the same this year with a fractured elbow.
When he becomes available in free agency, teams shouldn't sign him for more than a one-year veteran's minimum contract, coupled with low expectations; although history has taught us that not every team sees the light before it's too late.
1 Junior Galette
Pass-rushers come at a premium in the NFL, so when one comes along that even remotely resembles a star, teams jump all over him. Enter Galette, an elite talent who can impact a game with his ability to get to the quarterback.
After posting 22 sacks combined in his final two seasons with the Saints, Galette moved on to Washington in 2015 after New Orleans released him following off-the-field issues, including domestic violence charges.
His first two seasons in Washington have been lost, though, as he tore each Achilles in consecutive seasons and has been unable to play in a single game for the Redskins. His successful rehab will be key to his ultimate value in free agency.
If he can prove he's healthy, the 28-year-old will get calls from multiple teams hoping he can return to form even though he has likely lost a step. Still, he'll get paid better than most defensive free agents out there because of his past and potential to be great once again. That simply shouldn't be the case for a guy who has as many problems on the field as he does off it.
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