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May 20, 2021

The 10 worst contracts in the NFC East

Eagles NFL
052021CarsonWentz Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Carson Wentz's contract turned out to be a disaster.

In 2019, when we published this exercise, there were no Philadelphia Eagles on the list. In 2020, only two Eagles made it, though Alshon Jeffery came in at No. 1. In 2021, three Eagles make the list.

10) Dak Prescott, Cowboys

Prescott is probably the most valuable player in the NFC East, seeing as he is the only quarterback definitively worth having as a starter. But he makes the list because the Cowboys put off his contract extension for years, ultimately giving Prescott's side all the leverage in the world to work out an incredibly player-friendly deal.

On the surface, Prescott's contract doesn't seem that bad. It's four years, $160 million with $126 million in guarantees, including a $66 million signing bonus. He will reportedly receive $75 million the first year of the deal.

After playing on the franchise tag in 2020, Prescott was having an outstanding season when he suffered a serious leg injury and was lost for the year. The Cowboys' season subsequently went into the toilet. Because Prescott held 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, this was something of a minor win for the Cowboys to at least keep it at that number.

However, the benefits of this deal to Prescott are in the details, and they are significant. It's only a four-year deal, which means that as the salary cap increases and quarterbacks push the market even higher over the next few years, the Cowboys and Prescott will be right back at the negotiation table three years from now, when Prescott can score yet another top-of-the-market quarterback contract, since this deal reportedly will not allow the Cowboys to franchise tag him again.

Prescott was a good quarterback from Day 1 in the NFL, earning NFL Rookie of the Year honors in 2016. The Cowboys had an extremely cheap player on a four-year rookie contract at the most expensive position, by far, in the sport. They squandered that major advantage, winning just one playoff game during that span. Now they'll have to find a way to build a roster around Prescott, who will have one of the most expensive contracts in the NFL for the foreseeable future.

9) Kyle Rudolph, Giants

Rudolph is now 31 years old, and clearly on the downside of his career. Over the last four years, he has averaged 47 catches for 467 yards (9.9 YPC) and five TDs. In 2020, in 12 games, he had just 28 catches for 334 yards and one TD. Somehow, he got a two-year deal worth $12 million. There were better TE bargains out there.

But beyond that, in between when the Giants agreed upon the financials of the deal with Rudolph and when he actually signed with them, it was revealed that he would need surgery on his foot.

Lol. Yes, "class," like when they knew Josh Brown abused his wife but kept him on their roster anyway because he was a good kicker.

8) Joe Flacco, Eagles

Yeah, we're going to do this again.

As we pointed out after the Eagles signed Flacco back in March, paying a veteran backup quarterback anything more than the league minimum (or something close it) was absolutely baffling for a team that has already essentially admitted that they will not be serious contenders in 2021. 

Giving Flacco $3.5 million in guaranteed money (with the chance to make as much as $7.5 million) felt like an especially egregious overpay, given that Flacco earned just $1,562,500 on a one-year deal with the New York Jets in 2020, meaning that the Eagles gave him a 224 percent increase in pay after a season in which Flacco went 0-4 as a starter.

The two most common rebuttals to criticism of the Flacco signing were as follows:

  1. He'll be a great veteran mentor for Jalen Hurts.
  2. He got an increase in pay from the Eagles because he was coming off of surgery for a herniated disc when the Jets signed him, whereas there are no concerns that he'll be able to play in 2021 after making four starts in 2020.

In his initial press conference with Philly media, Flacco was asked several different ways about a possible mentorship relationship with Hurts. While Flacco made sure to say that he would support Hurts, he also made it clear to point out that he was there to compete. Can't blame him. Including the playoffs, the guy has started 190 games over his career. Making the transition to anything else can't be easy. But certainly, Flacco doesn't seem to be about that mentorship life in the same way that, say, Josh McCown was.

As for the logic behind the pay increase, sure, we now know he's healthy, but who cares when he was bad in his four starts last year.

Some know-nothing, know-it-all wannabe salary cap experts have pointed out that Flacco will only count for $1,560,000 on the cap in 2021, not the $3.5 million that was originally reported. Well, sure, he'll only count for roughly $1.5 million in 2021, but it's not like the remaining $2 million just doesn't exist. That'll count toward the 2022 salary cap, when he'll very likely no longer be on the team.

Is a $3.5 million guaranteed contract going to cripple the Eagles' salary cap? No, certainly it will not. However, because many took extreme issue with the initial criticism of this wholly illogical contract, you have to continue to hear about it. Argue about it again here, and I'll keep cramming it down your throats until I become unreadable. 😍

7) Adoree Jackson, Giants

Prior to the start of the new league year, the Tennessee Titans cut Jackson because they didn't want to pay him $10.2 million for one year on his fifth year option. The Giants subsequently signed him to a three-year deal worth $39 million, which is significantly more money, and for a longer period of time. Had they simply thrown the Titans a seventh-round pick before Tennessee cut him, the Giants could have had him on a less expensive deal with a shorter commitment.

The Giants hit on James Bradberry in free agency last offseason, but more often than not lucrative free agent corner deals go badly.

But it's also the long-term commitment that would scare me as much as the AAV of the contract if I were a Giants fan. After three good years to start his career in Tennessee, Jackson had a weird 2020 season, in which he missed the first 13 games with something of a mysterious knee injury. There were hints that the Titans were expecting him to return sooner.

When he did return for the final three regular season games, plus a playoff game against the Ravens, Jackson did not play as well as he had his first three seasons in the NFL. The Giants were evidently satisfied with Jackson's explanation for his 2020 season, and his medicals, because again, holy crap that is a big contract for a player with some potential red flags.

6) Brandon Brooks, Eagles

Brooks was arguably the best guard in the NFL the last time he played, in 2019. But he has racked up a trio of serious injuries in a short span of time, including two Achilles tears, and he is the second-highest paid RG in the NFL (at a little over $14 million per year) behind only Brandon Scherff, who received the double franchise tag this offseason.

The Eagles restructured Brooks' contract this offseason to help get under the cap prior to the start of the new league year, so his 2021 cap number is relatively low, at $7,014,235. However, it'll be $19,439,235 in 2022, $18,047,237 in 2023, and $19,065,000 in 2024.

If/when the Eagles trade or release Brooks, which feels inevitable in the next year or two, they are going to take on a big dead money hit. There's probably a decent argument for Lane Johnson's contract to make this list as well, for similar reasons.

5) Landon Collins, WFT

Collins is a box safety and Washington gave him $14 million/year, lol. He has one INT since his signing, and after he was lost for the season with a torn Achilles in 2020, he was replaced by seventh-round rookie Kamren Curl, who clearly outplayed him. Collins will count for $16,918,750 against the cap in 2021.

To Washington's credit, Collins is their only player on this list.

4) Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys

It was dumb for the Cowboys to select a running back at fourth overall in the draft, and it was perhaps even dumber to give that running back a six-year contract extension worth $90 million, especially after having the benefit of watching Todd Gurley, David Johnson, and Le'Veon Bell immediately regress after getting their top-of-the-market second contracts. And the dumbest part of it was that they got that running back's deal done before their quarterback's.

Elliott has been steadily in decline the last few seasons, and there's an argument that he was downright bad in 2020, when he had career lows in yards per carry (4.0), rushing yards per game (65.3), TDs (8 combined, rushing and receiving), and yards per target (4.8). He tied his career high in fumbles, with six.

Meanwhile, the odometer continues to rise. Elliott has only been in the league for five years, he's still only 25 years old, and there is only one RB (Mark Ingram) currently on an NFL roster with more career touches than him.

Elliott is tied with Alvin Kamara for the second-biggest running back contract in the NFL, with an average annual value of $15 million. He is no longer anything close to the second best running back in the league. In reality, he was probably only the second-best running back on his own team in 2020.

3) DeMarcus Lawrence, Cowboys

Lawrence finished the 2017 season with 14.5 sacks, which was tied for second in the NFL. He also had four forced fumbles. The Cowboys then used their franchise tag on him, which he played under in 2018 at $17,143,000. His production dipped that season, as he had 10.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

The following offseason, in 2019, the Cowboys tagged him again, which would have cost them $20,571,600 for the 2019 season. Lawrence was not happy about getting the tag two straight seasons, and he used his injured shoulder, which required surgery, as leverage. What does that mean? Well, he refused to have shoulder surgery, thus delaying his return to the field, until he and the team agreed to a long-term deal.

Jerry Jones and Co. caved, and Lawrence was rewarded with a five-year contract worth $105 million, making him the second-highest paid edge rusher in the NFL (on an "average per year" basis), behind only Khalil Mack. His cap numbers will be as follows the next three seasons:

• 2021: $25,000,000

• 2022: $27,000,000

• 2023: $29,000,000

😬

In the two seasons since he signed his deal, Lawrence has 11.5 sacks. There are 50 other players with at least 11.5 sacks over that span:

  1. T.J. Watt: 29.5
  2. Shaquil Barrett: 27.5
  3. Aaron Donald: 26
  4. Za'Darius Smith: 26
  5. Cameron Jordan: 23
  6. Myles Garrett: 22
  7. Chandler Jones: 20
  8. Bud Dupree: 19.5
  9. Joey Bosa: 19
  10. Justin Houston: 19
  11. Trey Hendrickson:  18
  12. Jason Pierre-Paul: 18
  13. Khalil Mack: 17.5
  14. DeForest Buckner: 17
  15. Maxx Crosby: 17
  16. Brian Burns: 16.5
  17. Brandon Graham: 16.5
  18. Chris Jones: 16.5
  19. Jamal Adams: 16
  20. Yannick Ngakoue: 16
  21. Preston Smith: 16
  22. Montez Sweat: 16
  23. Matt Judon: 15.5
  24. Carlos Dunlap: 15
  25. Mario Addison: 14.5
  26. Dante Fowler: 14.5
  27. Markus Golden: 14.5
  28. Danielle Hunter: 14.5
  29. Harold Landry: 14.5
  30. Emmanuel Ogbah: 14.5
  31. Stephon Tuitt: 14.5
  32. Frank Clark: 14
  33. Everson Griffen: 14
  34. Arik Armstead: 13.5
  35. Leonard Floyd: 13.5
  36. Robert Quinn: 13.5
  37. Haason Reddick: 13.5
  38. Josh Allen: 13
  39. Cameron Heyward: 13
  40. Benson Mayowa: 13
  41. Kyle Van Noy: 12.5
  42. Olivier Vernon: 12.5
  43. Derek Barnett: 12
  44. Leonard Williams: 12
  45. Grady Jarrett: 11.5
  46. Whitney Mercilus: 11.5
  47. Romeo Okwara: 11.5
  48. Jordan Phillips: 11.5
  49. Dawuane Smoot: 11.5
  50. Devin White: 11.5

If you're getting paid Khalil Mack-type money, you can't average six sacks per season.

On a side note, Giants fans, the new Leonard Williams deal reminds me a lot of the Lawrence deal.

2) Nate Solder, Giants

In 2018, the Giants made Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL. He was fine for one year, but in 2019 he was at least partly culpable, by my count, for at least 19 sacks last season, and seven (!) forced fumbles, shown here. I feel bad for including him on this list, because his play was no doubt affected by his young son's struggle with kidney tumors. In 2020, he made the easy decision to opt out to tend to his home life.

Solder is back on the roster again, and he will count for $9,500,000 on the Giants' cap to (likely) be a backup in 2021, with an additional $4 million in a 2022 dummy year, meaning that he'll essentially count for $13,500,000 for one year of backup play, spread over two seasons.

1) Carson Wentz, Eagles/Colts

Wentz is counting for $33,820,612 against the Eagles' cap in 2021 — 18.5 percent of their available cap space — to play for another team. It's the largest dead money cap hit in NFL history, and by a wide margin (Jared Goff's dead money hit of $24,700,000 is second).

At the time Wentz re-upped with the Eagles on his new four-year deal worth $128 million in 2019, there was little criticism, at least locally, so his inclusion here is to some degree of the hindsight variety. And really, nobody could have foreseen him becoming the worst starter in the NFL in 2020. But holy crap, what a disaster that contract extension — and the final days of the Wentz era — turned out to be.

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