Success for NFL teams depends heavily on being able to manage the salary cap. Being able to maximize the amount of talent on your team for as few dollars as possible is absolutely critical to fielding a contending team. Not all cap space was used efficiently around the league, and these 10 players were a waste of money. When you go and select your fantasy team or make Draftkings picks the same rules apply. Here’s hoping you can do better than some of these NFL GM’s when deciding which players are worth the big bucks.
(Spotrac was used for salary cap data.)
No. 10: Muhammad Wilkerson
2016 cap hit: $10 million
Muhammad Wilkerson was one of many members of Gang Green who were getting too much green throughout a 5-11 season. The defensive end signed a six-year, $85 million contract with the Jets in July after a 12-sack season. With just 4.5 sacks, he didn’t play up to that contract.
Wilkerson fractured his fibula in Week 17 last season and spent the offseason rehabbing. It was risky for the Jets to sign him to a big contract, and in 2016 he was bothered by various injuries even though he played in 14 games.
Injuries aren’t the only reason that Wilkerson is overpaid. He doesn’t always get to work on time. He was benched for the first quarter of the Jets’ Week 7 game against the Ravens because he missed a team meeting. He also missed a walkthrough and a defensive meeting where there was a birthday cake waiting for him.
Even if Wilkerson plays closer to his pay grade in 2017, it would be surprising if his teammates spring for a cake again.
No. 9: Alshon Jeffery
2016 cap hit: $11.16 million
Alshon Jeffery was overpaid in 2016 because he played under the franchise tag, which meant he had to be paid the average of the top five wide receiver salaries.
Jeffery wasn’t anything close to a top-five receiver.
He caught 52 passes for 821 yards and a career-low two touchdowns as the Bears tumbled to 3-13. It was their first 13-loss season since 1969.
It didn’t help that Jeffery was suspended for four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
It’s a long way from the 89 passes Jeffery caught in 2013, a Pro Bowl season, and the 85 he caught in 2014. But a market correction for his sagging production isn’t likely to happen. The soon-to-be 27-year old is set to hit free agency, and he won’t come cheap.
No. 8: Jeremy Maclin
2016 cap hit: $12.4 million
The Chiefs did get some bang for their wide receiver buck in 2016, just not from Jeremy Maclin.
Rookie Tyreek Hill caught 61 passes and scored touchdowns as a receiver, rusher, kick returner and punt returner while Maclin caught 44 passes for 536 yards and two touchdowns, all career lows.
Maclin also played in a career-low 12 games. He sat out four games with a groin injury. He also suffered a high-ankle sprain in the 2015 playoffs, and going into his age 29 season durability concerns are starting to creep in.
Since catching seven passes for 146 yards and a touchdown for the Eagles in his first playoff game as a rookie in 2009, Maclin hasn’t caught more than three passes in any of his four postseason games since then.
In the Chiefs’ 18-16 divisional-round loss to the Steelers, Maclin caught just two passes for 28 yards. He could have had a third catch, and it would have been a big one. He had Steelers rookie cornerback Artie Burns beat in the fourth quarter with the Chiefs down 18-10, but Alex Smith’s pass somehow dropped right through Maclin’s outstretched arms. The Chiefs would have at least had a first-and-goal.
You have to catch that ball if you’re taking up more cap room on your team than Antonio Brown and Jordy Nelson are on their teams.
No. 7: Kirk Cousins
2016 cap hit: $19.95
The Redskins paid a lot more for Kirk Cousins in 2016 and got a little bit less.
Cousins’ franchise-tag figure was a huge leap from the $660,000 he made in 2015, but he couldn’t lead the Redskins to a second straight playoff berth because he played one of his worst games of the season in Week 17. He threw two interceptions in a 19-10 home loss to the Giants. Needing a win to get into the playoffs, Cousins and the Redskins couldn’t beat a team that already was in the playoffs and didn’t need the victory.
Not only did Cousins fall short of the playoffs, he slipped from last season in other categories. Cousins went from a league-leading 69.8 percent completion rate to 67 percent. He went from 29 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions to 25 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions, although he did increase his passing yards from 4,166 to 4,917.
The debate rages on regarding whether or not Cousins is a franchise quarterback, and if the Redskins want to take another year to wait and see, a second franchise tag would run them $23.94 million.
It’s the cost of doing business.
No. 6: Colin Kaepernick
2016 cap hit: $16.8 million
Four years after playing in a Super Bowl, Colin Kaepernick in 2016 was reduced to proving he’s a better quarterback than Blaine Gabbert.
Kaepernick went 1-10 as a starter. He threw 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions, compared to five touchdowns and six interceptions in Gabbert’s five games. Kaepernick’s 186.8 passing yards per game, however, were 34th in the league. In the 49ers’ 26-6 loss at Chicago in Week 13, Kaepernick was benched after completing one of five passes for four yards in three quarters.
Julio Jones, Larry Fitzgerald and Tom Brady were among those who took up less salary cap space than Kaepernick in 2016. The 49ers fired head coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke, replacing them with Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. Kaepernick is expected to execute the next wave of that housecleaning by voiding his contract in March and becoming a free agent.
No. 5: Eli Manning
2016 cap hit: $24.2 million
Eli Manning’s salary cap burden was more than any other player in the NFL. He occupied more than 15 percent of the Giants’ cap. That’ll happen when you’ve won two Super Bowls.
The problem is that the Giants haven’t won a playoff game since their last championship in 2011. They broke a five-year playoff drought in 2016, but lost 38-13 in a wild-card game at Green Bay.
The Giants almost blew their playoff berth when Manning threw three interceptions in a 24-19 Thursday-night loss at Philadelphia in Week 16. They needed a Saints win over the Buccaneers two days later to get them into the playoffs.
Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady all were cheaper in terms of cap space than Manning this season, and they all won playoff games.
Manning’s numbers this year were nothing special. He threw 26 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. Giants general manager Jerry Reese can see the end of Manning’s career on the horizon.
The good news is that the 36-year-old Manning won’t take up quite as much cap space in any of the remaining three years of his contract.
No. 4: Cam Newton
2016 cap hit: $19.5 million
For the second straight year, an NFC South quarterback brought his team to the Super Bowl and was named MVP of the league.
Matt Ryan better hope the similarities end there, because he doesn’t want to follow up his MVP season the way Cam Newton did his.
Newton threw 19 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. His touchdown percentage dropped from a league-leading 7.1 in 2015 to a career-low 3.7 last season. Four of Newton’s touchdown passes came against the woeful 49ers in Week 2. He didn’t throw for more than two in any other game.
In five of the last seven games, Newton completed less than half of his passes and he finished the season with a 52.9 completion percentage, the lowest among regular starting quarterbacks.
Newton’s worst game in terms of passer rating came at the worst time. He threw for just 198 yards with one touchdown pass and two interceptions in a 33-16 home loss to the Falcons in Week 16. That loss eliminated the Panthers from playoff contention.
No. 3: Joe Flacco
2016 cap hit: $22.55 million
Since winning Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens have missed the playoffs three out of the last four years.
Joe Flacco never threw more than 12 interceptions in the first five years of his career, but he hasn’t thrown less than 12 in any of his last four seasons. That includes the 12 he threw in 2015 despite playing just 10 games. Flacco was picked off 15 times in 2016, throwing 20 touchdown passes. His 6.4 yards per attempt were less than Ryan Fitzpatrick and Colin Kaepernick, among others, yet his salary cap hit was the fourth-largest in the league in 2016.
That investment might have seemed a little more sound if Antonio Brown hadn’t muscled the ball across the goal line and eliminated the Ravens on Christmas Day in Pittsburgh, but the Ravens’ offense was so underwhelming this season that they replaced offensive coordinator Marc Trestman with Marty Mornhinweg after five games.
The Ravens’ offense finished the season ranked 17th in yards and 21st in points. It’s believed that Mornhinweg will return as offensive coordinator next season because Flacco wants it that way, but he better show the Ravens why he went to bat for Mornhinweg because his cap number increases by $2 million next season.
No. 2: Brock Osweiler
2016 cap hit: $12 million
Brock Osweiler’s $12 million cap hit was only the 20th biggest among quarterbacks in 2016. But his four-year, $72 million contract puts him a stone’s throw from the $20 million neighborhood, and he doesn’t belong anywhere near it.
The Texans’ quarterback threw 15 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. His passer rating was a 72.2. Of course, it doesn’t take much of an arm to lead a team to the AFC South title. The Texans’ 9-7 record won the division and earned them a playoff spot. The Texans beat a Raiders team that was without Derek Carr in the wild-card round, but Osweiler looked like his overpaid self when he threw three interceptions at New England in the Texans’ 34-16 divisional-round loss.
Osweiler’s serviceable half-season in 2015 was enough to convince the Texans to fork over the big bucks, even though Osweiler lost his job to a rickety Peyton Manning.
If Osweiler doesn’t improve, his deal will look even worse next season when his cap charge rises to $19 million.
No. 1: Darrelle Revis
2016 cap hit: $17 million
Darrelle Revis took up more salary cap space in 2016 than any non-quarterback in the NFL.
Gang Green’s 31-year-old cornerback actually looked like a charter member of Gang Gray, because the four-time All-Pro started to show his age. He intercepted just one pass and broke up five in 15 games. Revis’ interception was one of just eight by the Jets all season. Only the Jaguars had less.
Going into 2016, Revis allowed a passer rating of 60.4, according to Pro Football Focus, but that number spiked to 104.2 in 2016.
According to ESPN.com, Revis won’t be overpaid next season, because he’ll be released if he doesn’t accept a pay cut.