With offseason moves mostly settled, I figured I would sit down and look at every team’s contracts and determine which deals are the best and worst value on each team.
In doing so, I only focused on players who have signed long-term contracts beyond their rookie deals. That means players still under rookie deals or who are playing under various tags were not included.
In measuring which deals are the best and worst value, it’s important to remember that, when you are listing contracts in terms of value, that somebody has to be at the top and somebody has to be at the bottom. That means teams who tend to be careful with contract structure may have a player under contract that, for ranking purposes, isn’t good value, but in the overall picture really isn’t a bad deal. On the other hand, some teams might not have a contract that really stands out as great value overall, but happens to be the best value for players on that team.
In fact, you will find that, in most cases, the “worst value” deals aren’t exactly bad, but they are often ones that weren’t structured well. In a few cases, though, there are deals in which a team definitely overpaid for a talent.
Remember that this isn’t a case of best and worst deals in the NFL, but the best and worst for each team. So one team’s best deal may not be among the best in the NFL and another’s worst deal wouldn’t be among the worst overall in the NFL.
I’m starting this series with the AFC and listing them by division. I will go over the NFC sometime in the next few days.
Best value contract: Tyrod Taylor, QB
When the Bills signed Taylor, they were no doubt thinking that he would compete for the starting job and, if he didn’t win it, he would be a solid backup. Taylor not only won the job but played well in his first season. He’ll make $2M in base salary and carry just a $3.1M cap charge this year. If he plays well again this year, though, he’ll certainly push harder for an extension and may get it, considering he would get just a $1.2M base salary in 2017.
Worst value contract: Charles Clay, TE
Last season, the Miami Dolphins placed the transition tag on Clay, no doubt to dissuade the Bills from signing him. But that didn’t stop the Bills, who didn’t have to give up any compensation to sign the tight end. In doing so, though, the Bills put a $10M roster bonus in 2016 to prevent Miami from matching the contract. That has thrust the Bills into a bad situation, as they had to convert that roster bonus into a signing bonus to gain cap space. The result is the Bills are stuck with Clay through 2018, no matter how well he performs. Clay was strictly average in 2015 and there’s no signs he’s going to justify the $9M cap charge he will command in 2017 and 2018.
Best value contact: Mario Williams, DE
While it’s true that Williams is coming off a down season, the Dolphins were wise not to overpay for his services. They signed him to just a two-year deal at just $8M in full guarantees, but it kept his cap number for the first year down to $6.5M and allows the Dolphins to get out of the deal in 2017 with just a $2M dead money hit if it doesn’t work out. Some may have thought Williams should only get a one-year, “prove it” deal, but this contract is fine for a player with a proven track record.
Worst value contract: Ndamukong Suh, DT
Suh is one of those players who benefitted from the previous CBA and how rookie contracts were often large. Additionally, the Dolphins signed him when their cap space was limited and it forced them to punt a large sum of money down the road. This year, the Dolphins could have rode out the massive cap charge and probably still built a decent roster, but they instead chose to restructure the deal. This means the Dolphins are effectively stuck with Suh through 2018, and that year, his cap charge will rise to $26.1M, which is way too high for a defensive player, even one as talented as Suh.
Best value contract: Rob Gronkowski, TE
Yes, there is Tom Brady, but the cap charges for the final two years of his current deal will start to climb. That isn’t as much of an issue with Gronkowski, who commands a $6.6M cap charge this season, which will climb to $7M next season, then go to $11M and $12M for the final two years. Keep in mind that Gronkowski will be 30 years old by the time he enters the final year, so there’s a good chance he’ll still prove to be a top-three tight end, if not the best tight end, in the NFL at that point. That still makes him worth that cap charge and the Patriots will get him at an even better value for the next two seasons.
Worst value contract: Nate Solder, OT
The Patriots don’t really have a bad contract for any of their players, but Solder is coming off another year with a season-ending injury and it remains to be seen if he can stay healthy. This would make the $10.3M cap charge a problem if he struggles. Again, this is not a bad contract by any means and the Patriots can reasonably get out of the deal in 2017. But given that Solder might not be considered top five at his position, his cap charge this year may be difficult for some to justify.
New York Jets
Best value contract: Ryan Clady, OT
After the Jets acquired Clady from the Broncos, they signed him to a new two-year contract that reduced his cap charge to $5.5M. That’s fair for an offensive tackle who has a proven track record but has been set back by injuries two of the past three seasons. And the Jets can reasonably get out of the deal next year if Clady doesn’t play well. Per Over the Cap, Clady would take up $10.5M in cap space if he stays on the roster, but if he is cut, he would count for just a $500,000 dead money charge. The Jets did well protecting themselves here.
Worst value contract: Darrelle Revis, CB
We’ve talked several times about how Revis has been smart to maximize his value and earnings, but there is still the matter of contract structure to consider when examining deals. The real issue with Revis’ deal is that it doesn’t give the Jets a lot of cap flexibility for the next two seasons. They did not give him a signing bonus and instead opted to put $16M in full guarantees into the first year. That was fine when the Jets had cap space to accommodate that. But this year, he has a $17M cap charge, all from his fully guaranteed base salary. Had the Jets put at least part of that into a signing bonus last year, they would have some more wiggle room this year. And next year, Revis is fully guaranteed $6M, money the Jets would have to pay unless they trade him or cut him and there is offset language. As it stands, Revis’ contract is one of the reasons the Jets are having cap issues this season and, if his play declines, they may be stuck with him at a $15.3M cap charge.
Best value contract: Eric Weddle, S
I was a little surprised that the Ravens signed Weddle, considering how tight their cap space was going into 2016. But they actually did a good job of structuring the deal so it would be a “two years then we’ll see” contract, while keeping cap charges relatively low. His $3.75M charge for 2016 is fine and the charge only goes up to $5.75M in 2017, still reasonable for a safety of his talents. The Ravens will have a decision to make after 2017, when his cap charge increases to $8.25M, but they can get out of the deal at that point if his play declines.
Worst value contract: Joe Flacco, QB
None of this criticism has to do with Flacco’s talents; it has everything to do with the cap charge he commands. His deal takes up $22.5M this season and will go up to more than $24M for the next two years, before the Ravens reach a point when they can get out of the deal. Flacco has done good things but it’s difficult to argue that any quarterback, regardless of his talents, should take up a cap charge of more than $22M. The Ravens are continuing to pay a hefty price for having to extend him in a year in which their cap space was tight.
Best value contract: Carlos Dunlap, DE
When you look at the numbers that some defensive ends are commanding these days, the Bengals are getting a bargain in Dunlap. He’s coming off a season with 13.5 sacks and he’ll have just a $6.25M cap charge in 2016. It will rise to $7.25M next year, but that’s still very reasonable even if his sack tally drops to the levels in 2013 (7.5) and 2014 (8). This was one of several shrewd moves by the Bengals to find good value in a player.
Worst value contract: Michael Johnson, DE
The Bengals are a team that doesn’t have any contracts that are truly bad, but one might argue Johnson isn’t quite worth the cap numbers he commands. Of course, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers overpaid for his services a couple years ago, only to cut him after one season. He returned to Cincinnati and produced well, but he’s clearly a complementary player and some might argue he shouldn’t take up a $6.125M cap charge in that role. Again, Johnson doesn’t have a bad contract, but some might view him as slightly overvalued.
Best value contract: Gary Barnidge, TE
Barnidge came out of nowhere last season and could have been in line to argue for a large contract based off that. But the previous Browns regime made one of their few smart moves and signed Barnidge to a short-term deal that gave him just a $3.25M signing bonus. He’ll only account for $2.5M in cap charges this year and $3.8M next year. That’s acceptable for a player of his talents. If necessary, the Browns could cut him after this season without taking too much dead money.
Worst value contract: Joe Haden, CB
Haden certainly looked like a top-five cornerback when he signed his extension in 2014, but not many would argue that any longer, and not just because of his injuries. Other cornerbacks have surpassed him and now Haden is taking up $13.4M in cap space this year. His cap number will rise to $14.4M next year and he has to not only stay healthy, but prove he belongs in the argument about who are the best five cornerbacks in the NFL to justify that cap charge.
Best value contract: DeAngelo Williams, RB
Williams appeared to be in decline when the Panthers released him, so the Steelers were wise to give him just a two-year deal with only $1.13M fully guaranteed. And after the Steelers lost Le’Veon Bell for the season to injuries, Williams not only prove capable of filling in, he played at a much higher level than expected. Going into this season, he will count for $2.5M against the cap, but that’s fine for somebody who would be considered a rotational back going into this season.
Worst value contract: Lawrence Timmons, ILB
Timmons is entering the final year of his contract, so he’ll come off the books after this season. However, Timmons’ play was declining last season and some may have argued that he should have been released, particularly because of the $15.1M cap charge he carries for 2016. That cap charge came about because the Steelers needed cap space last year, so he converted $6.63M of base salary into a signing bonus. Although the Steelers only carry him under contract for one more year, that cap charge is too high considering where he is at.
Best value contract: JJ Watt, DE
The Texans were wise to extend Watt before he could hit the open market. By extending him when they did, they were able to keep his deal cap friendly and not reach a point in which Watt could command even more money after the deals that have been given to players who would be considered good, but not elite. And considering that Watt is the hands-down best defensive end in the NFL, getting him at a cap charge of $14.5M is a great deal. The only year in which his cap charge will exceed $16M is 2021, at which point there would be no dead money if the Texans decided to part ways with him.
Worst value contract: Brock Osweiler, QB
Osweiler won’t have a large cap charge this season — $12M is a reasonable cap charge for him. But if he doesn’t live up to expectations, he’ll carry a $19M cap charge in 2017 with no way for the Texans to get out of the deal. On top of that, his cap charge rises to $21M in 2018. The jury is still out as to whether or not Osweiler will be a good starting QB, but the Texans took a huge risk by giving Osweiler the contract they did.
Best value contract: Mike Adams, S
Adams played well in his two seasons with the Broncos, but when they decided not to retain him, he joined the Colts in 2014. He has continued to play well for them, which makes that two-year, $4.5M contract a bargain. That’s particularly true because he will enter the season with just a $1.9M cap charge. Getting a quality starting safety at that price is excellent. While he does have incentives that could earn him more money, it still represents a smart job by the Colts in how they structured his deal.
Worst value contract: Frank Gore, RB
Gore is clearly in decline but the Colts are stuck with him, thanks to keeping him on the roster at the start of the league year and paying him a $3M roster bonus. He’s no longer the player he once was and he does not justify a $4M cap charge. In the grand scheme of things, his contract isn’t hampering the Colts’ ability to manage the roster, but it doesn’t represent good value.
Best value contract: Kelvin Beachum, OT
The Jaguars did a good job of protecting themselves when they signed Beachum, who missed time with injuries in 2016. They only guaranteed him a $1.5M roster bonus this season and have an option for 2017 that, if they decline it, he will become a free agent and the Jaguars won’t take much of a cap hit. It was a good way for the Jaguars to see if Beachum can be the long-term option at left tackle while minimizing the risk that comes with a talented player coming off injuries.
Worst value contract: Malik Jackson, DE
I don’t blame Jackson for taking a contract that will pay him well for the coming seasons. However, it’s a risky deal for the Jaguars because Jackson, while a talented player, hasn’t demonstrated he’s a player that can transform a defense, while taking cap hits in coming years that would be in line with such a player. If Jackson plays at a high level and notches double-digit sacks, he could change that. But for the time being, the future cap charges of more than $15M after the 2016 season don’t look like good value.
Best value contract: Jason McCourty, CB
McCourty hasn’t been as strong as he used to be, but the smart thing the Titans did was not pay too much for his services at the time he signed his deal. When you look at some of the deals being handed out to other cornerbacks, the $8.8M cap charge and $7M salary McCourty will receive look pretty good. Again, McCourty may not be one of the top players at his position, but he has at least played well enough to warrant the cap charge.
Worst value contract: DeMarco Murray, RB
When the Titans renegotiated the contract for Murray after that trade with the Eagles, they gave him $12M in full guarantees in exchange for taking less total money. That still doesn’t make it a good contract, though. Murray is coming off a poor season and will need to play at a fairly high level to even justify the $6M-plus cap hits he’ll command for the next three years. The Titans could cut him after 2017, but they would be committed to pay him $3M unless the contract has offset language.
Best value contract: Chris Harris, CB
The Broncos have done a good job maximizing value in most of their contracts, but they will be keeping a cornerback who is arguably top five at his position for a cap charge of under $10M for each of the next two seasons. That’s great value for Harris. His cap charge will climb above $10M in 2018, but as long as he remains one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, it’s still worth that cap charge.
Worst value contract: Demaryius Thomas, WR
Again, the Broncos have done well for themselves in maximizing value in their contracts. And to be fair, Thomas wasn’t terrible at all in 2015. But he may not have performed at a level last year that people expected. His numbers were comparable to Emmanuel Sanders, whose contract remains a bargain, but Thomas’ level of play may not suggest to some as worth the $15.2M cap charge he’ll have this season. We will find out if he can play at a higher level – as in, a level that isn’t just “good” but truly qualifies as “great.”
Best value contract: Jamaal Charles, RB
It’s true that Charles is coming off a season that ended early thanks to injuries and that he has had some ball security issues. But when healthy, he’s highly productive. And given that he takes up a cap charge of just $5.3M in 2016, it’s easy to see why the Chiefs kept him around. If he can still play at a high level this season, the Chiefs will likely keep him for 2017, even when his cap charge rises to $7M. If his production drops, though, they can safely cut him without any dead money hit.
Worst value contract: Alex Smith, QB
Smith has been an average-to-good quarterback for most of his career. However, such a quarterback really isn’t worth a $17.8M cap charge. Yet the Chiefs have no choice but to go with Smith for another season. Next season, his cap charge will drop by $1M but it still won’t be a desirable hit for a quarterback of his talents. And then comes the 2018 season, in which it’s not likely the Chiefs will keep him at a $20.6M cap charge. But this is another contract that illustrates the problems with giving a player a new deal when cap space is tight.
Best value contract: Reggie Nelson, S
Nelson is 32 years old but is coming off a quality season. The Raiders were wise, though, to front load the two-year deal that they gave him. While his cap number will be $6M, that’s fine for a quality safety for one year. What makes the deal good is that if Nelson can continue his quality play, the Raiders will be able to keep him at just a $4.25M cap hit in 2017. And if his play drops off, they can cut him with no dead money. It’s a low-risk, high-reward deal for a player with a good track record.
Worst value contract: Kelechi Osemele, OG
Osemele played guard for several seasons in Baltimore, but moved to offensive tackle last season and played well. Had the Raiders given him the contract they did to play tackle, I could understand why they would pay him what they did. But they are intending for him to play guard and he’ll come at a $13.2M cap hit. That’s just too much to be paying for a guard. The Raiders were wise to take advantage of the cap space they had available to front load the deal and make it a “two years then we’ll see” contract. But even if Osemele plays at a high level, it will be hard to justify two years of cap hits at $13.2M each year for his position.
Best value contract: Travis Benjamin, WR
Benjamin emerged as the No. 1 wide receiver in Cleveland this past season and some may have thought he would get overpaid, but the Chargers were wise to not go too high for his services. True, he did receive $13M in fully guaranteed money over two seasons, but that’s fine for a player who has shown signs that he can be a No. 1 wide receiver. If he does settle in as a No. 2 WR, it’s still a good deal. He’ll have just a $4M cap hit this season and $6.5M the next and the Chargers can get out of the deal after two seasons. If he can exceed his numbers in Cleveland, he will definitely be a bargain player.
Worst value contract: Brandon Flowers, CB
At the time the Chargers first signed Flowers, they gave him a one-year deal and he played very well. That prompted the Chargers to give him an extension, but his play started declining. Now he enters the 2016 season with a $9.75M cap charge. It’s not a number that puts a bind on the Chargers’ cap situation, but it may be difficult to justify that number for a player who is declining. He may become a cap casualty next season with his cap number rising to $11M at that point.