In the National Football League, franchises must adhere by a hard salary cap that restricts how much money a team can spend on a roster for any given season. Because of this, it is vital that every franchise hoping to compete for at least a playoff spot gets tremendous value from players who are on cap-friendly contracts. Specifically, younger players who are signed to rookie deals that are intentionally meant to benefit clubs are invaluable, as they allow teams to sign proven veterans via free agency and build around hoped-to-be team cornerstones as they pursue a Super Bowl championship. Because of the nature of the league, it’s not rare to see certain players get overpaid by teams hoping to bolster rosters each March when that year’s free agency period opens.
Several things affect whether or not you feel any NFL player is overpaid by his club. Age definitely plays a role. One must also attempt to determine what a player can or cannot contribute to his team for the upcoming, or current, season when embarking on such discussions. Quarterbacks are the highest-paid players in the NFL because of how important those individuals are to offenses and to teams, and, thus, it’s no surprise multiple QBs are mentioned in our list of the most overpaid players in the league heading into the summer of 2017. The man who checks in atop the list is somebody who both deserves to be paid by the team that currently employs him and also an individual who has not yet proven himself as somebody worthy of making such a massive salary.
15 DeSean Jackson: $11,166,667
Those who play weekly or season-long fantasy football competitions may be surprised to see Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson on any list of overpaid players averaging more than $10 million per year. If you take a look at his numbers you’ll see that he has not truly had an elite season since the 2013 campaign when he was playing for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Jackson failed to reel-in at least 60 passes in each of his three seasons with the Redskins, and he moved on to the Bucs this past March. He will now hope to prove the Redskins and doubters wrong while playing alongside quarterback Jameis Winston in an offense that could benefit the WR.
14 Tyrod Taylor: $15,250,000
The Buffalo Bills clearly aren’t convinced Tyrod Taylor is the team’s quarterback of the future. Those within the front office of the club essentially dragged their feet while attempting to retain Taylor on the cheap throughout the fall of 2016, and the Bills finally settled on what is a “prove-it” contract that will allow the Bills to move on from him in March 2017 without suffering much a financial burden.
Taylor is a fine QB, and he's paid so much because of the position he plays. He’s also probably the worst QB featured in this piece, and that fact is why he has to be viewed as one of the most overpaid players in the NFL as of the start of the summer months.
13 Alex Smith: $17,000,000
The Kansas City Chiefs are clearly already thinking about life after quarterback Alex Smith. Smith turned 33 years old this past spring, but the Chiefs still thought it wise to select Patrick Mahomes with a first-round pick.
Mahomes is the unnamed future QB for the Chiefs unless something changes, which makes one wonder if the club sees Smith as a signal-caller who is only good enough to guide the team to postseason berths but who cannot win a big game when it matters most. It’s up to Smith to prove such criticisms inaccurate and take the Chiefs past a one-and-done playoff appearance. If he doesn’t, he'll finish his career outside of Kansas City, although that may prove to be inevitable regardless of how he plays in 2017.
12 Tavon Austin: $10,500,000
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin is in no way a bad offensive player, but he also doesn’t deserve to be mentioned alongside the likes of Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald and other top players at the position currently averaging more than $10 million a year.
Most notably, the speedy Austin needs to continue to evolve as a pro and develop into a deep threat if he is to begin earning the money attached to his contract. In his defense, Austin turned 26 years old earlier this year, so it’s not a stretch to suggest that we have not yet seen his best during his pro career. The Rams will need Austin to become a dynamic playmaker if the club is going to climb up the standings.
11 Joe Thomas: $11,500,000
At some point next decade, Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas will deservedly be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the fact remains the 32-year-old is currently overpaid as it pertains to what the Browns can, and likely will, achieve over the next couple of years.
Thomas is one of two veterans mentioned in this list who reportedly were shopped by the Browns multiple times since 2016, but it seems as if the franchise wanted at least one first-round pick for Thomas. Whatever did or didn’t happen behind closed doors, the Browns seem destined to keep Thomas through at least the end of September, with the hope being a contender will come calling for him before the trade deadline arrives.
10 Russell Okung: $13,250,000
The Los Angeles Chargers giving offensive lineman Russell Okung such a lucrative contract earlier this year has been widely criticized as one of the worst free agency signings of 2017.
For starters, there are serious concerns Okung will be able to remain healthy and on the field for an entire season as this stage of his career. It’s also worth noting Okung has not been a top-tier tackle deserving of Pro Bowl votes for several seasons. While it’s a positive Okung started throughout the campaign for the Denver Broncos in 2016, it’s quite telling that the Broncos allowed him to leave the team and put pen to paper on a deal with the Chargers. We’ll see if analysts are wrong and Okung can turn the clock back and play as well as he did in 2012.
9 Joe Haden: $13,500,000
Life comes at you fast, so the saying goes, and that may be the case for Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden. It was only a few years ago when Haden seemed to be one of the better defensive backs in the NFL, but he played in only five games in 2015 because of injuries and then was more so of a liability than a player worthy of Pro Bowl votes last year.
Those who follow the Browns probably heard and/or read rumors that the club wanted to trade Haden before the 2017 NFL Draft, but no transaction occurred. At 28 years old, Haden is going to have to show the current Cleveland coaching staff he can still be a dynamic game-changer in the secondary and a player who deserves to earn more than $10 million a year at this stage of what was once a promising career.
8 Mike Glennon: $15,000,000
It's almost as if even the Chicago Bears realized that they maybe paid too much for the services of quarterback Mike Glennon. After giving Glennon a contract with the hope that he could become the replacement for Jay Cutler, the club curiously traded up to select Mitchell Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft.
You don’t have to be a football expert or have inside knowledge of the Bears to see the writing on the wall and realize it feels like it's only a matter of time before Trubisky is given the keys to the Chicago offense and allowed to rise above Glennon on the depth chart. Glennon has a lot of pressure on his shoulders, much of which comes from the contract he signed with the team
7 Muhammad Wilkerson: $17,200,000
Whether or not New York Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson has a “rebound season” in 2017, it probably isn’t going to matter. The Jets are currently in the middle of a rebuild that isn’t going to be finished anytime soon, and it seems just about guaranteed Wilkerson will not be calling MetLife Stadium his football home by the time the process ends.
Not-so-quiet trade rumors regarding Wilkerson’s future status have been read and heard for over a year, and it’s possible the best thing for the Jets will be that he impresses some other team during the first four weeks of the upcoming season. New York would do well to get rid of his contract as the club attempts to restructure the team’s lackluster roster.
6 Sam Bradford: $18,000,000
Odds are that even casual NFL fans are at least a little familiar with the history of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford has never lived up to high expectations many had for him before he entered the league, largely because of the injury setbacks he has encountered over the years.
He's become a journeyman who has bounced around several different teams, and the only reason he is currently with the Vikings is because of the career-threatening injury suffered by Teddy Bridgewater. Bradford may get another opportunity to lead the Minnesota offense onto fields for games this fall if Bridgewater is not ready to go come September, but he has a ways to go if he's going to play himself off of this list.
5 Brock Osweiler: $18,000,000
It was somewhat difficult to determine where to put Brock Osweiler on this list if only because the state of his current contract isn’t all that big a deal to the Cleveland Browns. The Browns decided to take a flier on Osweiler and acquired him in a trade with the Houston Texans because Cleveland had so much available cap space that it didn’t matter what the franchise would have to pay the quarterback for the 2017 season.
The possibility exists Osweiler will become a revelation playing underneath head coach Hue Jackson en route to finding a new home in Cleveland. It is, however, more realistic to assume the Browns will move on from this contract as quickly as next March, when the team is likely ready to start a younger player at the position.
4 Ryan Tannehill: $19,250,000
You’re not alone if you feel like it’s becoming an annual tradition to wonder, out loud, when Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill will take the figurative next step of his pro career.
Not only is Tannehill (still) looking to silence doubters and show he has the goods to help the Dolphins hang with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the division standings. He now has to do so while attempting to return from a serious knee injury that cost him the end of the 2016 NFL season. Miami fans have to be hoping Tannehill will play himself off of such lists as soon as the fall of 2017. Otherwise, those running the Dolphins may have to start wondering if the club needs to go in a different direction.
3 Andrew Luck: $24,594,000
No player is currently averaging more money, per NFL contracts, than Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, and that is why we have to consider him one of the most overpaid players in the league.
Despite all the hype that's surrounded him for years, Luck has yet to establish himself as one of the top QBs in the NFL and at the same level as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Drew Brees and others who have already won championships. It should be noted that the Colts have not done enough to surround Luck with talent, but the 27-year-old who could miss the start of the 2017 season because of injury woes needs to start earning his money on the field and turn the high promise he had when he entered the league into production and playoff wins.
2 Richard Sherman: $14,000,000
There sometimes comes a point in the career of an NFL veteran when he is no longer worth the money that is associated with his contract. It appears that time has arrived for cornerback Richard Sherman as it pertains to his time with the Seattle Seahawks.
Rumors about the Seahawks shopping the outspoken defensive back have been out there since even before April’s NFL Draft, and the Seahawks have done little, if anything, to silence such reports. A team with holes in the secondary such as the Dallas Cowboys may feel that it makes sense to match Seattle’s asking price, but no club has been willing to do so as of the posting of this piece. Sherman may end up attempting to prove himself to the Seahawks this coming September.
1 Kirk Cousins: $23,943,600
Anybody out there curious about why Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins checks in atop the list of the most overpaid players averaging more than $10 million a year should realize even the Redskins still aren’t ready to install Cousins as the team's QB of the future. Cousins remains a member of the Redskins because the team used the franchise tag, seemingly begrudgingly, to keep him on the roster and away from free agency, but it’s clear to any and all outside observers the club would prefer to acquire assets for him in a trade rather than award him with a long-term deal.
That's understandable, in that Cousins has not yet done anything of merit outside of take the Redskins to a playoff game at a time when the rest of the NFC East wasn’t any good. As of right now, he may be the third-best QB in the division.