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June 19, 2024

The 10 worst contracts in the NFC East

Two starting quarterbacks for Eagles rivals find themselves atop the list of the NFC East's 10 worst contracts.

Eagles NFL
061824DanielJones Tariq Zehawi/USA TODAY Sports

Giants QB Daniel Jones

There are usually a lot of bad contracts in the NFC East, so it's fun ranking the top 10 each year and watching fans get all riled up about it. It was hard getting to 10 this year, but whatever, let's still do this.

10) Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys: Elliott signed a one-year deal this offseason worth $2 million, with incentives that could raise it to $3 million. That's not that bad, even if he's washed. However, Zeke still has a $6 million dead money charge on the Cowboys' 2024 cap from when the team released him last year, which is just funny to me.

9 and 8) Jason Kelce / Fletcher Cox, Eagles: Kelce and Cox retired this offseason, and will combine for $39,416,000 in dead money in 2024 and 2025. Again, I had a hard time getting to 10.

7) Brian Burns, EDGE, Giants: When the Giants traded a high second-round pick (39th overall) and a fifth-round pick (141st overall) to the Panthers for Burns this offseason, it was regarded as a steal, perhaps partly because the Panthers are such a joke of an organization: 

If the Panthers hadn't gotten a far better offer for Burns previously, I'm not so sure the Burns trade would be viewed quite as favorably. In addition to trading the two picks, the Giants then gave Burns a five-year contract worth $141 million (over $28 million per season), making him (at the time) the second-highest paid edge rusher in the NFL behind only Nick Bosa. (He has since been passed by the Jags' Josh Allen, by like $50K per season.)

Trade cost: Reasonable.
Contract cost: Very high.

Burns has 46 career sacks and eight forced fumbles in five seasons. His best year was 2022, when he had 12.5 sacks, the lone double-digit sack season of his career. He is a very good edge rusher, but one whose numbers don't really match the hype. He has a more lucrative contract than guys like T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett, and Maxx Crosby, to name a few.

6) Daron Payne, iDL, Commanders: Payne had 11.5 sacks in a contract year in 2022, and subsequently scored a four-year, $90 million contract. In 2023, Payne had a career low in tackles and just 4 sacks.

5) Terence Steele, OT, Cowboys: Steele signed a five-year deal worth $82.5 million during the 2023 offseason. He then had a bad season, ranking 69th out of 81 offensive tackles by PFF. 

He also had one particularly brutal evening against the Eagles. On the Cowboys' second-to-last drive in the first Cowboys-Eagles matchup, Brandon Graham had sacks on consecutive plays. The first was on an inside move against Steele:

Graham then beat Steele again inside and shared a sack with Jalen Carter.

On the Cowboys' final drive, with the Eagles' clinging to a five-point lead, and roughly 99.9 percent of Eagles fans expecting the game to end in a loss, Josh Sweat all but ended the game with a sack.

Once again, Steele was the victim, as Sweat dusted him around the edge for a third sack in two drives. Oof.

4) James Bradberry, CB, Eagles: After a stellar 2022 season during which Bradberry was named All-Pro, the Eagles gave him a new three-year deal worth $38 million. He then proceeded to have an abysmal 2023 season. From Week 7 on, PFF had Bradberry down for 40 completions on 65 targets for 518 yards, 7 TDs, and 1 INT. He was particularly bad in the Eagles' devastating loss to the Seahawks, when he allowed 6 receptions on all 6 targets that came his way, for 112 yards and the game-winning TD. He also tackled poorly down the stretch. If the Eagles move on from Bradberry this season, they'll take a dead money hit of $15,238,000, per OverTheCap, which they can spread over 2024 and 2025.

3) DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Cowboys: In the five years since signing a five-year deal worth $105 million, Lawrence has 24.5 sacks, fewer than 5 per season. There are 51 other players with at least 25 sacks over that five-year span. Over the last three seasons, Lawrence has 13 sacks. There are 94 (!) players with at least 13 sacks over that three-year span.

2) Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys: This is less an indictment on Prescott, and more on the Cowboys' botching of his contract situation over the last six years.

If you'll recall, when Prescott was eligible for a contract extension after the 2018 season, nothing got done and the Cowboys had the benefit of having a starting quarterback continuing to play on his crappy rookie deal for a fourth season in 2019. They franchised tagged him in 2020, before finalizing a four-year deal worth $160 million, with $126 million in guarantees, including a $66 million signing bonus in 2021.

Prescott was having an outstanding season in 2020, the year prior to his deal, when he suffered a serious leg injury and was lost for the year. The Cowboys' season subsequently went into the toilet, hammering home his value. Because the Cowboys had already tagged Prescott, a second tag would have been extremely cost prohibitive, which gave Prescott all the leverage in negotiations. There was reason to believe that he might get more than the $40 million per year he received, so in that sense, that was something of a minor win for the Cowboys to at least keep it at that number.

However, the benefits of that deal to Prescott were in the details, and they were significant. To begin, it was only a four-year deal, which meant that as the salary cap increased and quarterbacks pushed the market even higher over the next few years, the Cowboys and Prescott would be right back at the negotiation table in no time, when Prescott would be in a position to score yet another top-of-the-market quarterback contract.

His deal also included a clause in which the Cowboys can't franchise tag him when his contract expires next offseason. He is scheduled to count for a little over $55 million on the 2024 cap, and if he walks in free agency next March, he'll count for a little over $40 million on the Cowboys' 2025 cap in dead money. 

The Cowboys have three star players ripe for contract extensions in Prescott, Micah Parsons, and CeeDee Lamb. None have gotten done. During a press conference in April, Jerry Jones said that he wanted to "see more cards played," via ProFootballTalk

“We’d like to see more leaves fall,” Jones said. “We’d like to see more action. It’s called option quarterback. I’ve spent my life [playing] option quarterback. I want to see some more cards played.”

What were those cards? Well...

• The Lions' Jared Goff got a new deal worth $53 million (!) per season.

• The Jaguars' Trevor Lawrence got a new deal worth $55 million (!) per season.

Oops! Prescott is inarguably a better player than Goff or Lawrence, and there's a thinking that he could command more than $60 million per season on his next deal.

To be determined if that's in Dallas or somewhere else.

1) Daniel Jones, QB, Giants: After a 2022 season during which Jones dinked-and-dunked his way to an improbable playoff berth, the Giants were faced with three unappealing decisions on his future in during the 2023 offseason:

  1. Let him walk in free agency, thus starting over at quarterback after making the playoffs in 2022 for the first time since the 2016 season.
  2. Franchise-tag him, paying him roughly $32.4 million for one year and punting on a decision on his long-term standing with the team until the following offseason.
  3. Hitch their wagon to Jones, long-term.

They chose option No. 3, signing Jones to a four-year deal worth $160 million, tying him (at the time) for seventh among NFL quarterbacks at an average annual value of $40 million per season. (He has since been passed by five other quarterbacks.) 

In my opinion, option No. 3 was the least appealing of the three, as the Giants gave big money to Jones after one serviceable season. Sure enough, in 2023, he went 1-5 in 6 games with 2 TDs vs. 6 INTs before a ACL tear ended his season.


When the Giants were on clock at pick No. 6 in the 2024 draft, there were three quarterbacks available who ultimately got drafted within the first 12 picks. They were Michael Penix (8th overall), J.J. McCarthy (10th overall), and Bo Nix (12th overall). The Giants obviously didn't think enough of Penix, McCarthy, or Nix to make any of them their their new franchise quarterback. It will be interesting to see what becomes of their professional careers. Was their decision to pass on those quarterbacks at least partly guided by Jones' albatross contract? 🤷‍♂️

The Giants ultimately added a bunch of athletic players in the 2024 draft, which is fine and good, but their fans will have to endure another season with Jones as the starter, which feels especially unfair given their season was over in 2023 before it ever really got started. And guess what... 2024 will be over before it starts, too.

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