The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
There are 32 teams in the NFL, with 8 divisions. In a top-25 list, one would expect to see about three players per division listed. When you’re talking about projected All-Pro players, more is better, but when the list is the worst contracts in the NFL, more is definitely worse.
Over The Cap’s list of the 25 worst contracts in the NFL covers 5 players in the NFC East, which means that the division seems to well and truly have gone above and beyond in the bad contract sweepstakes.
Let’s see what OTC had to say about the worst contracts in the NFC East.
23. Golden Tate, WR, Giants
$9.4M/year, $10.8M 2021 cap hit, $4.7M to cut
Nothing about this contract made sense when the team signed it. Tate was coming off an invisible finish with the Eagles, he was over 30, and the Giants should have been looking to get younger but somehow the Giants wound up doing this deal. Tate was suspended by the NFL before the ink was even dry on the contract though he did finish the year with 676 yards. He was an afterthought for the team this year, being deactivated and sent to the scout team at one point. Tate has just 306 receiving yards on the year and it almost certain to be released next year.
14. Nate Solder, LT, Giants
$15.5M/year, $16.5M 2021 cap hit, $10.5M to cut
Teams need to always be wary of players that leave the Patriots organization because so many of them fail outside of New England and Solder looked to be one of those players. Solder’s first two seasons with the Giants were poor enough that the Giants drafted a replacement for him this past year despite the big salary. Solder made the decision to opt out of the 2020 season which may have actually been good for the Giants who were probably going to pay out his full salary while finding a spot for him somewhere on the line. With a whole season of evaluating talent they will more than likely wind up cutting him and not having to pay that salary.
9. Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles
$32M/year, $34.7M 2021 cap hit, $59.2M to cut
I can’t explain the complete implosion of Wentz this year. He went from being a reasonable NFL starter to one of the bottom five in the NFL in the span of a few months. Our valuation metric puts Wentz at $23 million which for a healthy NFL QB is about as low as it gets. Wentz is one of those players where the contract was fine in relation to the market but now just looks like a catastrophe, similar to a situation that unfolded years ago with Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans. Wentz technically is only at the end of his rookie contract which ran through 2020 and there is no way to cut Wentz in 2021 without cutting him a massive check and carrying huge sums of dead money on the salary cap. If the team fails to cut Wentz this offseason then he will also have his 2022 salary guaranteed. Wentz’ cap hitis the 5th largest in the NFL next year to boot. Basically this is the Todd Gurley contract on steroids. The only hope for the Eagles is to either trade Wentz (“only” a $33.8M charge on the cap) or to hope he magically remembers how to play QB in the last five weeks of the season.
7. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys
$15M/year, $13.7M 2021 cap hit, $24.5M to cut
Elliott’s contract is the example of a bad decision that has just gotten worse each week of the 2020 season. As far as contracts go, once Dallas made the decision to invest in Elliott there wasn’t much more than can do with this but the decision itself is pretty much indefensible. Elliott is averaging under 65 yards a game this year, averages under 4 yards a carry, and has more fumbles than touchdowns. Dallas expected Zeke to somehow carry the offense once Dak Prescott was hurt but with the Cowboys offensive line in shambles his production hit the lowest point of his career. It will cost Dallas $24.5M to cut him next year and if they don’t walk away his entire 2022 salary becomes guaranteed. I don’t see much of a trade market here so basically Dallas is stuck until 2023 at which point they can cut him with $6.7M left on the salary cap.
1. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Eagles
$13M/year, $18.5M 2021 cap hit, $10.5M to cut
If anyone wants to point to the contract that really started to change the dynamics for the 2nd tier receivers I think it was this contract. While you can give the Eagles some credit for getting ahead of the curve I am sure they expected more from this one. Jeffery signed this contract toward the end of the 2017 season and since then has produced, 843 yards, 490 yards, and 15 yards. Jeffery has missed 17 games in the last three seasons and just been a paperweight for the last two years. This contract would have wound up bad but ended up even worse because of a cap relief restructure in 2019 that saw the Eagles convert $10.82M of salary to a bonus. During this restructure they wound up agreeing to guarantee his 2020 salary. It was an epic failure leaving Philly with a cap charge of $15.4m this year and absolutely no production. Even next year when they walk away from him he will leave them with a $10.5M parting gift.
For those keeping score at home, that’s two for the Giants, one for the Cowboys, and two for the Eagles, including the absolute worst contract in the league.
None for the Washington Football Team, however.
Raise your hand if you were expecting to see Alex Smith on this list.
The issue with Smith’s contract was never really the structure, which was pretty typical of that given to an NFL starter; the issue was that he got injured. There’s no getting back the games and salary cap lost to Smith’s gruesome injury, but if we remove that (both the real cost of the contract and the opportunity cost of not being able to use that money for a different player) and simply look at where we are at the moment, I think you’ll see why the Smith contract isn’t on OTC’s list.
In 2020, Smith seems to be leading the team effectively. He’s 3-1 as a starter and has the team on a 3-game winning streak and in contention for a playoff spot with 4 regular season starts remaining. He’s known to be a hard worker and an effective leader both on and off the field. His return from injury is also an inspiration. Smith’s comeback and Ron Rivera’s battle against cancer form a powerful combination that must be hugely inspiring to Washington players.
Alex Smith’s base salary is $16m and his cap hit for 2020 is $20.3m.
Washington effectively holds two “option” years on his contract; that is, he has two years remaining on his contract but no guaranteed money. The Washington Football Team can retain his services if they wish:
2021 = $19m salary / $23.3m cap hit
2022 = $21m salary / $25.3m cap hit
Alternately, they can release him and absorb a modest dead cap hit, which can be spread across two seasons with a post-June 1 designation.
That’s not such a bad situation for Washington. Consider some other teams whose QBs have cap hits of $30m or more this year.
- Texans are 4-8 and out of the playoff hunt; Deshaun Watson’s 2020 cap hit is $39m
- Vikings are 6-6 and on the bubble for the last wild-card spot; Cousins’ 2020 cap hit is $33m
- Eagles (as noted by the OTC article) have 3 wins; Wentz’s 2020 cap hit is $32m and the contract structure all but precludes cutting or trading him at the end of the season
- Cowboys have 3 wins; Prescott was a healthy starter for 5 games; cap hit is $32.4m and he’s not under contract for 2021
- Falcons are 4-8 and out of playoff hunt; Ryan’s 2020 cap hit is $30m
Starting veteran NFL quarterbacks get paid a lot of money. That is no guarantee of successful seasons for the team that signs one, and it’s not unusual for teams to eat huge cap hits while their franchise quarterback is sidelined by injury. Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger, for example, both missed most of the ‘19 season while costing their respective teams huge cap dollars. Neither team was able to overcome the injury; neither had a winning season.
Alex Smith’s contract was pretty standard for an NFL starter when it was signed in 2018. That contract looks pretty economical in 2020. The issue with Smith was the injury, not the contract.
As things stand right now, per OTC, Alex has the 19th highest cap hit among NFL quarterbacks, which is pretty thrifty. Among starting quarterbacks who weren’t forced into the role by injury and who aren’t on their rookie deals, I believe only Teddy Bridgewater and Cam Newton are on cheaper deals. If the WFT keeps winning with him behind center, it will look like perhaps the best value veteran quarterback contract in the league.
Projected effective 2021 cap space (per OTC) for NFC East teams
Here are the current projections from OTC:
Dallas $22.981m (this does not include Dak Prescott)
New York $12.289m
What will happen to Alex Smith in 2021?
This poll is closed
Starting QB for WFT
Backup QB for WFT
Released (signed by another team)
Released (remains unsigned)
Retires as a player