Most Overpaid NFL Players in the Salary-Cap Era
Are NFL players overpaid?
That’s the $2.57 billion question. Or how much the average franchise is worth, according to the latest Forbes valuations.
Some players have done better than others in the salary-cap era (which started in 1994), especially in comparison to others at their positions. In fact, a few have done quite well. OK, even really, really well.
If we’ve learned anything about the last 25 seasons, there’s no magic formula to the salary cap. Don’t grossly overpay your best players. Don’t splurge on health risks or at lesser positions. Otherwise, you’ll be up to your neck in dead money, i.e., the amount paid to those no longer on the roster.
Yet even though the NFL salary cap has a greater impact on wins and losses than any cap in pro team sports, studies show, many franchises handle it like a live grenade.
In honor of the 25th anniversary of the salary cap, it's time to recognize the players who have gotten ridiculously rich as a result, position by position. Meet the All-Overpaid NFL Team.
Note: All salary figures are from Spotrac.
Brandon Linder, Center
Teams: Jacksonville Jaguars
Career earnings: $22.4
Bottom line: Can't blame the Jaguars if they wanted to build their offensive line around Linder for years to come. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the fifth-best center in the 2017 season, an elite pass protector and above-average run blocker.
But did team management have to make Linder the highest-paid center ever? His $9 million salary was more than three times the league average.
Worse yet, Linder blew out his right knee nine games into the 2018 season, which made the five-year, $51.7-million deal ($24 million guaranteed) even more suspect.
Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle
Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers
Career earnings: $56.5 million
Bottom line: The USC product maxed out as a Vikings rookie, when he was a Pro Bowl selection. Since then, his production has gone down, down, down while his salary shot up, up, up — the absolute worst scenario for any franchise in the salary-cap era.
Really, how bad can an o-lineman be when Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan calls him "Roadbump McGee"?
The Panthers mindlessly handed Kalil a five-year, $55 million gift ($31 million guaranteed) in 2017, even though hip surgery limited him to two games in the 2016 season. The backloaded deal was reworked prior to the 2018 campaign, when he played zero games because of a right knee injury, but it’s still way too much for a broken-down, mistake-prone left tackle who has 32 penalties and one fumble recovery to show for 82 career games.
Nate Solder, Offensive Tackle
Teams: New England Patriots, New York Giants
Career earnings: $58 million
Bottom line: It’s difficult to include an accomplished player on this list, harder yet when he plays the left tackle position. But when a 30-year-old who has never played in a Pro Bowl game is rewarded like a modern-day Anthony Munoz, he can’t be ignored.
The Giants were wise to pursue Nate Solder as a free agent after the 2017 season, except that the ginormous four-year, $62 million offer ($34.8 million guaranteed) made no sense, none whatsoever, especially for a team with urgent needs at other positions. His average salary is nearly $2 million more than any o-lineman in the league.
Just asking: Who did the G-Men bid against exactly?
By almost every metric, Solder was fairly ordinary in his first season with the team. In fairness, it would take a moat to protect quarterback Eli Manning in the pocket, but $15.5 million should get you great, not average or even good.
Gabe Jackson, Offensive Guard
Teams: Oakland Raiders
Career earnings: $23.5 million
Bottom line: What happens when an organization overreacts to a small sample size? Gabe Jackson happens. That’s what.
On the heels of a solid-but-not-Pro Bowl-caliber 2016 season, Jackson was offered a monstrous five-year, $55 million contract extension, half of it guaranteed. He allowed 22 pressures and committed a team-high five penalties the next season.
Jackson was no better in 2018, when his team ranked near the bottom in yards per rush attempt and sack percentage. In December, he was placed on injured reserve with an elbow injury.
Brian Winters, Offensive Guard
Teams: New York Jets
Career earnings: $19.1 million
Bottom line: Loyal Jets fans have come to know Brian Winters quite well at Met Life Stadium over the years.
"Holding, No. 67, offense, repeat (pick a down)."
Winters never has been on a Pro Bowl team, never been as much as an above-average player. Still, the Jets were moved to offer him a four-year, $29 million contract ($15 million guaranteed) after the 2016 season, only weeks after he underwent rotator cuff surgery.
Career stats through the 2018 season: 80 games, 32 penalties, one tackle, zero fumble recoveries. And three stints on the injury reserve list.
Dwayne Allen, Tight End
Teams: Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots
Career earnings: 24.6 million
Bottom line: Andrew Luck likes tight ends, and tight ends should love the Colts quarterback even more.
In his first four seasons with the Colts, Allen caught 13 touchdown passes. The result was a front-loaded, four-year, $29.4 million contract extension in 2016 that made him the highest-paid player at the position, Rob Gronkowski included.
One year later, Allen split time with undrafted Jack Doyle before he was dealt with a sixth-round draft pick to the Patriots in return for a fourth-rounder and $2.9 million in salary-cap relief. He caught only 10 balls in his first season with the Patriots and was limited by a knee injury in the second.
Oh, to be a fly inside Gronk’s brain.
Javon Walker, Wide Receiver
Teams: Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders
Career earnings: $32.9 million
Bottom line: In 2008, only months after the Raiders signed him to a six-year, $55 million contract, he claimed that someone tried to pull the diamond earrings off his head while he was skunk drunk in Las Vegas.
"I remember saying, 'Hold on, I’ll give you everything. I just don't want you to rip my ear apart,' " Walker testified in court.
Strange, but Walker should have been ordered to wear a ski mask after he stole $14 million to catch 15 balls over the next two seasons before retirement.
Tavon Austin, Wide Receiver/Kick Returner
Teams: St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, Dallas Cowboys
Career earnings: $38.5 million
Bottom line: Stop me if you've heard his before.
"We've got big plans for Tavon this season. He’ll add another dimension to our offense."
Yeah, then four games into the season, it takes a search party to find him.
But teams such as the Rams are blinded by his 4.34 speed. In 2016, they signed Austin to a $42 million contract extension to ... to ... uh, what does he do exactly?
Austin has shaky hands and doesn't run precise routes, so he can't be trusted at wide receiver. At 5-foot-8, he's not a running back. The former first-round draft pick in the 2013 draft does his best work as a kick returner and hopes to jump-start his career in Dallas after being traded for a sixth-round pick before the 2018 season.
Sam Bradford, Quarterback
Teams: St. Louis Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals
Career earnings: $130 million
Bottom line: Predictably, it's the most important position in pro sports that has the most candidates. JaMarcus Russell? Matt Schaub? Joe Flacco? Matt Stafford? Mike Glennon? Alex Smith? Kirk Cousins? Do we hear Jimmy Garoppolo?
Forget 'em. Sam the Scam wins hands down.
Bradford wore a helmet that looked too big for his head, but that wasn't the only grossly oversized thing about him. Pro Bowl? The guy never won as many as eight games in a season, let alone carried a team to the playoffs. Still, his career bottom line blows away that of Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, both Super Bowl quarterbacks.
But don't take my word for it.
Tweeted veteran Eric Weddle, the Pro Bowl safety: "So dumb. Bradford has been paid more for nothing than anyone in history of nfl."
The Cardinals released Bradford in November 2018 after signing him to a one-year, $20 million deal. He ended up playing three games for $13.5 million. Good work if you can get it.
Jerick McKinnon, Running Back
Teams: Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers
Career earnings: $15.4 million
Bottom line: Jerick McKinnon started 14 games in his first four seasons. He never totaled as many as 1,000 yards in any of them. Concussed Niners general manager John Lynch offered him a four-year, $30 million ($18 million guaranteed), anyway.
When Le'Veon Bell decided to sit out the 2018 season, that left McKinnon with the highest salary-cap hit at the position. McKinnon didn't play a down in the regular season, either — he tore his right ACL before it began.
Yo, John, sever ties and take the $1.5 million hit.
Kyle Juszczyk, Fullback
Teams: Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers
Career earnings: $13.4 million
Bottom line: These aren't your grandfather's fullbacks any more. They're pseudo linemen who seldom touch the ball. So why in the hell did John Lynch overpay for this guy then?
At $21 million over four years, Kyle Juszczyk is the highest-paid fullback in the league. His $4.4 million salary cap hit was nearly two times more than the next highest-paid player at the position. The number will swell to $6.8 million in two years.
Since signing with the 49ers in 2017, Juszczyk has twice as many fumbles (four) as touchdowns (two). Hey, who says a Harvard education isn't worth it?
Mike Vanderjagt, Placekicker
Teams: Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys
Career earnings: $12 million (estimated)
Bottom line: The Cowboys signed the 36-year-old has-been before the 2006 season for more than twice the going rate. He was cut months later but was $4 million richer for it.
Worse yet, Vanderjagt didn’t understand that kickers were to be seen, not heard.
As Colts teammate Peyton Manning said, "We’re talking about our idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off. ... He has ruined kickers for life."
Ezekiel Ansah, Defensive End
Team: Detroit Lions
Career earnings: $48.5 million
Bottom line: Ezekiel Ansah was a bargain in the first three seasons of his rookie contract. Thirty sacks, nine forced fumbles. When his body began to break down in the 2016 season, that ceased to be the case.
After the 2017 season, in which Ansah bounced back with a dozen sacks in 14 games, the Lions had doubts about his durability. They offered a one-year, $17.1 million tender rather than roll the dice on a long-term deal. Sure enough, the big guy sat out six of the first seven games.
Given Ansah's health problems, advanced age (soon to be 30) and exorbitant price tag, it may be time to say goodbye.
William Gholston, Defensive End
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Career earnings: $17.2 million
Bottom line: In 2017, the first season of a five-year, $27.5 million deal, William Gholston had as many sacks as a mannequin. That would be zero.
He was banished to the bench one year later, but the Buccaneers remained on the hook for $6.5 million for salary-cap purposes.
Marcell Dareus, Defensive Tackle
Teams: Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars
Career earnings: $79 million
Bottom line: Franchises that lack star quality beg to be robbed, and Marcell Dareus has taken advantage of it better than most defensive players in recent years.
Early in his career, Dareus rolled up 28.5 sacks in a four-year period. Only months after he was flagged for a substance abuse violation, the desperate Bills locked him up for six years. The $96.6 million deal was the 15th richest at any position ever, and the $60 million in guaranteed money was the most for any non-quarterback.
In the next three seasons, Dareus recorded only 6.5 sacks and sat out 20 games, four because of another suspension. Unloaded for a sixth-round draft pick, he has morphed into a high-priced run-stopper.
Albert Haynesworth, Defensive Tackle
Teams: Tennesse Titans, Washington Redskins, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Career earnings: $55 million
Bottom line: He is the consensus choice as the worst free-agent deal in NFL history. And hoo boy, that says a lot.
Already known for his bad attitude and cheap shots — ain’t that right, Maurice Jones-Drew? — Haynesworth snookered the Redskins into a $100-million, seven-year contract, $41 million of which was guaranteed. Two years and 6.5 sacks later, his lazy butt was released.
Chris Cooley later called his ex-teammate an "awful human being" whose "goal was to come here, make a large signing bonus and then get released and not have to do any of the work."
Make that an awfully rich awful human being.
Mark Barron, Linebacker
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams
Career earnings: $41 million
Bottom line: Quick, name the 14th highest-paid linebacker in league history among active players. If you said Mark Barron, you would be correct. The converted strong safety does his best work in coverage. Problem is, there's less need for his kind in this age of dime and quarter coverages.
The guy has been paid more like an edge rusher in recent years, even though he has never recorded more than three sacks in a season. (Pssst, don't tell Dick Butkus and Jack Lambert about this, OK?)
Vontaze Burfict, Linebacker
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Career earnings: $32.1 million
Bottom line: As we know, Vontaze Burfict has lots of athletic talent, but he's infinitely trouble than he's salary. Which is roughly $10.8 million.
Burfict is a badass with more baggage than an LAX carousel. The Bengals should know this better than anyone. After all, they watched Burfict self-destruct in the 2015 playoffs, when the dirtbag tried to decapitate Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown late in the game and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
That means he has lost more playoff games for the Bengals than they have won in his career.
But the Bengals saw fit to sign Burfict to a three-year, $32.5 million extension barely two years later. Mind you, this was done while he was in the midst of a three-game suspension.Bungles, indeed.
Jamie Collins, Linebacker
Teams: New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns
Career earnings: $30.7 million
Bottom line: Here's another ex-Patriot who made a killing off his former team.
Halfway through the 2016 season, the Browns invested a third-round pick in Collins via trade. Well aware that the higher-ups would overpay to re-sign him, Collins fleeced them for a four-year, $50 million deal. The Browns can cut the cord after the 2018 season, but it will have been two years and $26.75 million too late for someone who peaked years ago.
Moral: Never ever trade for a player whom coach Bill Belichik doesn't trust.
DeAngelo Hall, Cornerback
Teams: Atlanta Falcons, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins
Career earnings: $76.5 million
Bottom line: DeAngelo Hall was as an All-Pro with the Falcons for two seasons before he was traded to the Raiders, a move that was completed after he agreed to a seven-year, $70 million deal. What?! Cornerbacks almost always peak in their late 20s with few exceptions, but Hall would be 35 by time the deal expired.
Hall couldn’t adapt to Silver and Black and lasted all of eight games, for which he was paid $8 million, or $1 million per game.
Wait — there’s more.
Hall landed in Washington for the rest of the 2009 season, and the Redskins liked him so much, they signed him to a six-year, $55 million contract ($23 million guaranteed) as an unrestricted free agent.
Later, the injury-prone backup had the deal restructured to stay with the team, but not before he became the second-highest-paid cornerback ever.
Jason Sehorn, Cornerback
Teams: New York Giants, St. Louis Rams
Career earnings: $26.75 million (estimated)
Bottom line: Josh Norman and his career $54 million are worthy of consideration, but let’s give the a salary-cap original some love.
At 29, Sehorn was on the decline, but the Giants felt compelled to resign the local heartthrob for six years and $36 million mere hours after he became a free agent. The offer included a $10 million signing bonus. Remember, this was 2001.
Not long after an "embarrassing" 2001 season, as Sehorn called it, his career was in free fall. He finished it with the Rams as a backup safety.
Not bad for a guy who had two solid seasons, never received a Pro Bowl invitation and was married to Angie Harmon in his prime.
Morgan Burnett, Safety
Teams: Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers
Career earnings: $33.3 million
Bottom line: Burnett is nothing if not consistent. For every good play, he'll make a bad one. And he’s certain to sit out a few games because of an abdomen/calf/groin/hamstring/hand injury.
There’s always a team in search of an experienced player, though, as the Steelers were before the 2018 season, when they signed Burnett to a generous three-year, $14.35 million contract. Sure enough, it took him less than a month to land on the inactive list again.
Meanwhile, only three safeties have been paid more than Burnett in NFL history.
Mike Mitchell, Safety
Teams: Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts
Career earnings: $25.6 million
Bottom line: In 2014, the Steelers (yeah, them again) signed the lunkhead to a four-year, $20.07 million contract even though he had been a starter for one season. What they got in return was a bunch of cheap shots, fines and dumb mistakes.
Mitchell was the third-highest-paid safety in the league when team management finally came to its senses and cut the cord.
The Colquitt Fam, Punters
Experience: 1978-87, 2005-present
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts (Craig), Seattle Seahawks (Jimmy), Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns (Britton), Kansas City Chiefs (Dustin)
Career earnings: $50.4 (estimated)
Bottom line: Mamas, let your sons grow up to be punters. Look what it has done for Britton and Dustin, cousin Jimmy and dad Craig the last five decades.
The foursome have booted a football around 2,200 times in their careers. That's comes out to roughly $22,000 per kick. Only Dustin has been to a Pro Bowl, twice in 14 seasons.
Is this a great country or what?
Steve Spurrier, Head Coach
Team: Washington Redskins
Career earnings: $10 million
Bottom line: The one-time Heisman Trophy winner was as lousy an NFL coach (record: 12-20) as he was an NFL quarterback (13-24-1).
When ol' Mr. Fun 'N' Gun resigned two years into a five-year, $25-million agreement — he tried to un-resign without success hours later — the organization received a $15 million refund for their troubles.