Worst NFL Contracts: Where Do Deshaun Watson, Daniel Jones, and Russell Wilson’s Deals Rank?

The worst NFL contracts may have looked acceptable on paper when they were first signed. Instead, these deals have become albatrosses.

While NFL front offices know some extensions and free agent deals will inevitably fail, no decision-maker wants one of his team’s agreements to rank among the worst NFL contracts. But with the benefit of hindsight, it’s obvious some pacts have proven to be wastes of money, while others have become total impediments to a club’s salary cap.

The NFL’s Worst Contracts

To be clear, we support NFL players making every dollar they possibly can. Professional football careers are short — given the physical risks players take, they deserve all the cash. These contracts are the “worst” from the team’s perspective.

Let’s go around the league and identify the 10 worst contracts in the NFL. We’ll start in Los Angeles, where a veteran quarterback extension isn’t working out.

10) Matthew Stafford, QB, Los Angeles Rams

After going all-in and walking away with a Super Bowl trophy in February, the Rams began handing out extensions like candy. LA’s leadership group — head coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead — received new contracts, as did future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald.

Of course, the Rams couldn’t leave out Matthew Stafford, who they’d acquired from the Lions in exchange for two first-round picks and more the year prior. Los Angeles gave Stafford a four-year, $160 million extension that contained $63 million guaranteed and runs through the 2026 campaign.

But the Rams disintegrated in 2022 and are just 3-6 to begin this season. Stafford has missed one game and part of another, and while he could return in Week 11, Los Angeles has little chance of rebounding to make the postseason.

The Rams were approached by teams interested in acquiring Stafford over the offseason but reached a “unanimous agreement” to retain the veteran passer. They could trade Stafford in 2024, but they’d take on $55 million in dead money; a post-June 1 release would result in $49.5 million dead and no cap savings.

9) Jamal Adams, S, Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks didn’t have much choice other than to make Jamal Adams the NFL’s highest-paid safety after sending a package that included two first-round picks to acquire him from the New York Jets.

MORE: 2024 NFL Free Agents by Position

Seattle waited a year before extending Adams, but his $18 million annual average value vaulted him to the top of the safety salary leaderboard in 2021. More than two years later, only two safeties — Derwin James and Minkah Fitzpatrick — have surpassed Adams’ salary.

Adams has struggled to stay healthy. He hasn’t completed a full slate since 2018, appeared in just one game last season, and has already missed time this year. Adams also plays a box-safety role that isn’t difficult to find on the open market at a price far less than $18 million.

8) Khalil Mack, EDGE, Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers didn’t sign Khalil Mack to his existing six-year, $141 million contract — that was the Chicago Bears back in 2018. But Los Angeles has restructured Mack’s deal in each of the past two offseasons, making it all the more difficult to part ways with the veteran pass rusher.

Mack is only signed through 2024, but he has a $38.5 million cap charge next season. The Chargers will have to account for $15.25 million in dead money to release him next spring, which could be an issue given that LA is already corrected to be nearly $30 million over the 2024 salary cap.

7) Von Miller, EDGE, Buffalo Bills

For years, the Bills methodically built their roster via modest free agent additions — until they decided to take a big swing on future Hall of Famer Von Miller during the 2022 offseason. With a Super Bowl run top of mind, Buffalo gave Miller a six-year, $120 million with $45 million guaranteed.

While the Bills were searching for the final piece of their Lombardi puzzle, it was always risky to take a chance on a then-33-year-old. Miller put up eight sacks before tearing his ACL on Thanksgiving Day in 2022, then started this season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

6) Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

It remains unclear how the Colts went from telling Jonathan Taylor he’d need to finish out his rookie contract before receiving a new deal to making him the NFL’s third-highest-paid running back in the span of a few months.

Indianapolis held nearly all the leverage in negotiations. Taylor could have threatened to sit out the season, but he would have tarnished his chances of reaching free agency in 2024. The Colts could have easily given Taylor the same three-year, $42 million contract they eventually agreed to next offseason.

Backup Indy RB Zack Moss was second in the league in rushing when Taylor signed his extension. Why did the Colts feel they had to get Taylor under contract?

5) Derek Carr, QB, New Orleans Saints

The Saints thought they were getting a significant quarterback upgrade when they signed ex-Raider Derek Carr to a four-year, $150 million deal with $60 million guaranteed this offseason.

MORE: Highest-Paid QBs in the NFL 2023

Instead, Carr has been banged up and ineffective. He’s managed just a 50.8 QBR in 2023, 20th-best in the NFL this season and worse than what Andy Dalton gave New Orleans last year for $3 million.

The Saints’ offense had much more juice when Jameis Winston replaced an injured Carr in Week 10, but Carr will be the club’s starting quarterback — not just for the rest of this season, but through 2024. New Orleans can’t get out of his contract until after next season unless it’s willing to cut bait and absorb a massive dead money hit.

4) Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders cut ties with Carr over the offseason, only to turn around and sign Jimmy Garoppolo to a three-year, $72.75 million contract that included $33.75 million in fully guaranteed money. Las Vegas converted $20+ of Garoppolo’s 2023 salary into a signing bonus in September, increasing his dead money totals in future years.

But cut him next offseason, they will. The Raiders have already fired head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler. Interim HC Antonio Pierce’s first move was to bench Garoppolo in favor of fourth-round rookie Aidan O’Connell.

No matter who’s running the Raiders in 2024, Garoppolo won’t be around. Las Vegas can only hope another club signs Jimmy G next year, allowing the Raiders to recoup some cash via offset language.

3) Russell Wilson, QB, Denver Broncos

While Russell Wilson has rebounded under Sean Payton in 2023, the Broncos’ acquisition of the former Seahawks QB remains one of the worst trades in NFL history. Denver gave up a haul — two firsts, two seconds, and change — for Wilson, then extended him on a five-year, $245 million deal.

Wilson is currently tied for second in the NFL with 18 touchdowns. Maybe there’s a chance Payton will keep him around in 2024, but the odds are that the Broncos will move on in the offseason.

Denver can use a post-June 1 designation when they release Wilson next spring. The club would absorb $35.4 million in dead money in 2024 and nearly $50 million in 2025. A trade wouldn’t be possible unless Wilson gave up some of his future guarantees in exchange for going to a team with a chance to start.

2) Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants

At least Wilson still looked like a top-10 quarterback when the Broncos extended him. Daniel Jones posted a moderately successful 2023 campaign, but that was his only record of production at the NFL level. Somehow, that was enough to convince the Giants to give him a four-year, $160 million deal.

Jones’ contract already looks like a disaster. He only made six starts this season, tossing two touchdowns against six interceptions while ranking second-to-last in EPA per play — only Zach Wilson was worse. Jones missed three games with a neck injury, then suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his return.

The Giants are 2-8 and tracking toward a top-three selection in next year’s draft, which will include quarterback options like USC’s Caleb Williams, North Carolina’s Drake Maye, and a host of others. New York will almost certainly draft another signal-caller and start the clock on Jones’ time in the Big Apple.

Big Blue is locked into Jones’ contract through 2024. But they’ll almost surely release him in 2025 before a portion of his base salary for that year kicks in on the fifth day of the league year.

1) Deshaun Watson, QB, Cleveland Browns

The Browns’ decision to trade for Deshaun Watson while he was facing 24 allegations of sexual assault is an extremely sensitive subject. Cleveland’s decision-makers — including owner Jimmy Haslam and general manager Andrew Berry — haven’t offered any satisfactory answers as to why they felt comfortable acquiring Watson despite the two-dozen accusations, and it’s a choice they’ll have to live with.

MORE: All-Time Highest-Paid Players in the NFL 

Not only did the Browns give up three first-round picks and change for Watson, but they also signed him to a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract upon acquiring him. Watson, who served an 11-game suspension in 2022, had a no-trade clause with the Texans and thus was essentially able to choose his next destination.

Watson had four years and $136 million remaining on his deal with Houston, so the Browns basically gave him an extra $96 million to convince him to come to Cleveland. Remember, the Browns were initially told they were out of the Watson sweepstakes. That probably changed when Cleveland upped the financial stakes.

That no other team was willing to match Watson’s contract offer from the Browns is telling. Clearly, other clubs like the Panthers, Falcons, and Saints were willing to overlook any moral questions about acquiring Watson — but they weren’t open to handing him a fully guaranteed deal.

There may be some contract language that would allow the Browns to escape in the event of further allegations or lawsuits, but they’re otherwise locked in. It’s an astounding contract for any player, let alone one with Watson’s off-field history.

Watson’s deal has turned into a complete albatross this season. He missed three games and parts of another with a shoulder injury, then suffered a second shoulder injury and a high ankle sprain in Week 11. After undergoing surgery in November, Watson will miss the remainder of the 2024 campaign.

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