Like most competitive sports, NFL franchises are constantly trying to get the one up on opposing teams. As most teams build through the draft, free agency also plays a pivotal role in building a winner and finding those few missing pieces needed to make a championship run. It’s incredible to see people receive millions upon millions just to play a sport. But then again, there are so many fans – and winning is in high demand. So money at this point rarely becomes an obstacle for these owners looking to put themselves atop the hill.
Like with everything though there are pros and cons to dishing out huge multi-million dollar deals to professional athletes. The best case scenario is that the player plays up to, or exceeds expectation, while a risk involved in giving away so much money is that the player doesn’t pan out. What happens then? Well most of the time the player either gets traded or cut. But during the time that they were on the team, they cost their respective franchises a boatload of money. It doesn’t seem like that bad a deal if you think about it. There’s so much guaranteed money in these contracts that players literally get paid to fail.
But what happens when a team can’t simply release a player due to a steep penalty or large amount of dead cap space? Well then they’re pretty much forced to keep them on the team. It does give the players a chance to “develop” so the longer they can latch on to a team the longer they’ve got to make a good impression. But most of the time, theses guy just end up costing a whole lot of money without getting any results.
These are the 15 highest paid bums in the NFL.
15 Sean Lee – 2015 Cap Hit: $5.45 Million
Since entering the NFL in 2010, Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee has not once played a full season. Though talented, the Cowboys player has had a hard time staying on the field and is probably one of the most injury prone athletes in the league. You’ve got to feel for the guy but you’ve also got to wonder how much longer Dallas can handle paying a potential superstar to sit on the sidelines and rehab his various injuries throughout the course of the season. The last time Lee saw the field was in 2013 when he put up some great numbers. But he’s now been kicked outside and if all goes to plan, can hopefully play the entirety of the 2015 season. If not, it’ll be another season cut short for Lee.
14 Donald Brown – 2015 Cap Hit: $4.083 Million
It’s hard to imagine that Donald Brown was a first found pick only five years ago. The San Diego Chargers rusher was drafted 27th overall by the Indianapolis Colts who’d hoped he could contribute to their struggling running game, but he only started 20 games as a Colt. Last year, he headed over to San Diego but pretty much failed to make much of an impact as a rusher, averaging a substandard 2.6 yards per carry. Now set to make north of $4 million as a glorified back-up, it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see him get cut sometime around training camp. While he does offer a somewhat reliable veteran presence – the Chargers are set with rookie Melvin Gordon and versatile veterans Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver ahead of him. So it wouldn’t be too surprising to see a younger, and cheaper player, take his roster spot.
13 Ryan Fitzpatrick – 2015 Cap Hit: $3.25 Million
The starting quarterback job in New York is Geno Smith’s to lose. Behind him are rookie Bryce Petty and veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick. Now you’d think that if anyone had the shot at Smith’s job it’d be Fitzpatrick, who went 6-6 as a starter in Houston last year, along with completing 63.1% of his passes. While the situation in New York could get ugly at any minute, none of the QBs on the roster are necessarily the answer for the Jets. Especially one that’s in his early 30s. Chances are Fitzpatrick doesn’t see the field this year and even if he does, history tells us that he’ll probably throw more interceptions than touchdowns. As it stands, he’s just a very expensive plan B.
12 Donald Thomas – 2015 Cap Hit: $3.75 Million
When it comes to young quarterbacks, there are two things a franchise can do to help them succeed in the league. Give them weapons and build a stout offensive line capable of keeping them upright. Andrew Luck has been one of the best young players at his position but one key piece of his offensive line has continuously failed to get on the field. Donald Thomas – a former Dolphin and Patriot – signed a four year, $14 million dollar deal two years ago but has yet to make an impact as a Colt. He’s only played in two games in just as many years. The 29 year old guard tore his right quadriceps twice the last two years. While he is optimistic to get on the field this time around, his injury history has to be a concern for the Colts. Will he spend another year on IR costing Indy a decent chunk of dead cap space? Hopefully not, but as of now, he hasn’t really done much on the field to justify his almost $4 million salary.
11 Ziggy Hood – 2015 Cap Hit: $3.975 Million
Ziggy Hood is another first round pick that never lived up to expectations. In five years as a Steeler, Hood registered 11.5 sacks and 140 tackles. While you’d expect a first round draft choice to get the nod at one point, Hood started a little more than half his games in Pittsburgh. Last year, he hit the open market and joined the Jacksonville Jaguars, on a pretty large contract for an unproven player. Hood worked his way into the rotation last year, but his numbers were nothing more than pedestrian. With only one sack to his name, it’s no surprise he once again finds himself as a backup this season. He’ll set Jacksonville back almost $4 million member of their defensive line rotation.
10 Riley Cooper – 2015 Cap Hit: $4.8 Million
After one decent year, the Philadelphia Eagles gave receiver Riley Cooper a new five year, $22.5 million deal last year. But Cooper has done little in his career to inspire such confidence. Penciled in as the Eagles number two receiver last year, Cooper failed to match his totals from the previous season, despite a career high in receptions. He’s a good blocking receiver, but with at least three younger and more efficient receivers on the roster (Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor) it’s easy to second guess the Eagles’ decision to give this much money to a guy who will be fighting for reps come July.
9 Matt Cassel – 2015 Cap Hit: $4.75 Million
Initially brought in to be competition for youngster EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel is no longer even considered to be a lock to make the Buffalo Bills’ roster. While it’s still early on in the offseason, Cassel has struggled during OTAs. After spending some time in New England as a back-up to Tom Brady, Cassel went to Kansas City where he struggled with inconsistency. If he does somehow manage to make the Bills’ roster, he’ll probably be the week 1 starter. If he continues to struggle finding a rhythm during that time, he could very easily lose his spot on the roster to Tyrod Taylor.
8 Jonathan Stewart – 2015 Cap Hit: $8.3 Million
For years now, Jonathan Stewart has had to split time with DeAngelo Williams in the Carolina Panthers backfield. His lone thousand yard season came back in 2009 but with Williams in Pittsburgh, it seems that Stewart is finally the clear cut starter in Carolina. But while he may be the starter now, there’s one key stat on Stewart that should scare Panthers fans. He’s never started more than eight games in a season. He showed the league the type of skill he possess towards the end of last season when he finished 1st in the NFL in rushing throughout the final four games. However, can he keep that level of high play for sixteen games? As it stands, his cap number seems a little steep for an aging runner creeping closer to thirty. It’ll only get worse next year when he’s set to make $9.55 million.
7 Lamarr Houston – 2015 Cap Hit: $6.99 Million
Lamarr Houston failed to make much of an impact in his first year as a Bear. After having spent four years as a Raider, Houston signed a 5 year, $35 million deal with Chicago. While he put up 16.5 sacks as a Raider, his first season in a Bears uniform saw him get only one sack. Ironically, it was on that sack of Pats back-up Jimmy Garopolo that Houston tore his ACL while celebrating, effectively ending his season. Now he’s healthy and looking for a bigger role with a brand new coaching staff. Hopefully he gets his chance and puts last year behind him, but fans will just have to wait and see if his production matches his paycheck.
6 Andy Levitre – 2015 Cap Hit: $8.6 Million
This is most likely a make or break year for Titans Guard Andy Levitre. The former Buffalo Bill was considered to be the best available at his position during the 2013 free agency period. Yet, his time in Tennessee has still left much to be desired. Levitre has had his share of struggles and so far, hasn’t lived up to his contract of $46.8 million over six years. Now with a young potential franchise quarterback in need of protection, Levitre will have all the more pressure added onto a 2015 season that could either see him play out the rest of his contract as a Titan or severely damage his NFL career.
5 Jared Cook – 2015 Cap Hit: $8.3 Million
Though he was second on the Rams in receiving yards last year with 634 yards, Jared Cook’s impact in St. Louis hasn’t been as strong as it could’ve been. The Rams aren’t known for having a strong supporting cast of receivers and Cook's struggles are further proof of that. Cook is a big, strong athletic tight end in the vein of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, but he’s failed to make the same impact as those two on the field. What’s worse is his penchant for dropping the football, which he’s actually done in the end zone on multiple occasions.
4 Pierre Garcon – 2015 Cap Hit: $9.7 Million
Only two years removed from catching a career high 113 passes, Pierre Garcon seems to be slowly fading into obscurity in the Redskins offense. The QB situation in Washington might not be the best, but you’d expect a receiver that’s getting paid close to $10 million this year to bring out the best in his struggling young signal caller. Instead, Garcon hasn’t dealt with the inconsistent play at quarterback well and seems to have hit his peak. At this point, Garcon doesn’t seem like a legitimate number 1 receiver and could continue to struggle as a number 2.
3 Mike Wallace – 2015 Cap Hit: $9.9 Million
If there’s one thing Mike Wallace can do well, it’s outrun opposing players. The speedy receiver was labeled as a one trick pony early on in his career. His route running left something to be desired and Wallace has made a decent living simply running past zone coverages and outrunning his man. However, speed does not necessarily equal to big play ability in the NFL. In the last two seasons as a Dolphin, Wallace has caught only fifteen touchdowns and totaled only seven receptions of 40+ yards. Now in Minnesota, Wallace will again be tasked with being the number 1 receiver. But his unpolished route running and sometimes questionable hands will create the same problems that were there in Miami. The Vikings might’ve given up little in order to receive Wallace in their trade with the Dolphins, but in turn they inherited his monster contract.
2 Sam Bradford – 2015 Cap Hit: $12.985 Million
A former first overall pick, Sam Bradford will have to fight with Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley and maybe even Tim Tebow for the Eagles starting QB job. Bradford isn’t a bad quarterback – at least he hasn’t played like one. But his injury history creates multiple questions regarding his ability to stay healthy as well as his ability to lead an NFL offense. In four years, Bradford has only stayed healthy the full 16 games twice. Now coming off an ACL injury, he could be seen as an upgrade over former QB Nick Foles. But his play isn’t what’s in question, it’s whether or not he can stay on the field.
1 Jay Cutler – 2015 Cap Hit: 16.5 Million
To say that Jay Cutler has been a disappointment in Chicago is a bit of an understatement. He was brought in in 2009 and was expected to be the franchise savior. But during his tenure as a Bear, Cutler has only led the team to the playoffs once. What’s more, his 1-11 record against the Green Bay Packers shows just where the team stands in the division. His play is average at best, yet despite this he’s getting paid like a top five quarterback. Funny enough, he signed a massive seven year, $126.7 million extension with the club a year ago when he posted a 5-6 record and put up a QB rating of 89.2. His time in Chicago is probably close to being over but until then, he’ll just continue to drain their salary cap.