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The most overpaid players in the NFL

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May 20th, 2020

Each offseason, a few franchises overreach, through free agency, for players they deem essential. The 2020 offseason is no exception, as a handful of athletes commanded some incredibly inflated salaries.

With that in mind, let’s look at the current landscape of the NFL and examine five of its most overpaid players.  

Austin Hooper, TE, Cleveland Browns

In his fourth pro season, Hooper enjoyed his best season. He caught 75 passes for 787 yards and six touchdowns through 13 games. His performance earned him his second Pro Bowl nomination as a replacement, just before he hit free agency in March.

With light competition at his position in both the free-agent market and the 2020 NFL Draft class, Hooper was able to lure an enormous contract from the Browns, who offered him a four-year deal worth $44 million, with a $10 million signing bonus. That makes Hooper the NFL’s highest-paid tight end, ahead of George Kittle and Travis Kelce.

Kittle played in 14 games and led Super Bowl runner-up San Francisco in receiving (1,053 yards), while Kelce, of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, ranked fourth in the league in receiving yards (1,229).

Hooper's talent isn’t in the same tier as those two, but he is getting paid like it on a team that should have spent its money on greater positions of need.  

Trae Waynes, CB, Cincinnati Bengals

Waynes is another player who reaped a massive payday in free agency. The 2015 first-round draft pick out of Michigan State spent five seasons in Minnesota, before Cincinnati handed him a three-year, $42 million contract in the offseason.

In 2019, the 27-year-old was targeted 96 times and let opposing passers complete 74% of their attempts, plus he surrendered five scores. According to Pro Football Focus, Waynes’ performance in 2019 graded out at a 67, the highest mark of any cornerback on the Vikings, but 47th at his position across the league.

Still, the Bengals wanted to turn Waynes into the sixth-highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, based on average yearly salary.

David Johnson, RB, Houston Texans

Johnson makes an average of $13 million per year, more than any other running back not named Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, or Le’Veon Bell.

That may seem warranted, if you look at his production from his second year in the league. In 2016, Johnson burst onto the scene, with 1,239 yards rushing, 879 yards receiving, and 20 total touchdowns.

It’s been downhill since. He sat out all but one game in 2017, after he dislocated his wrist in the season opener. Still, the Cardinals signed him to a three-year, $39 million contract extension in 2018, with $30 million guaranteed.

Last year, Johnson dealt with back and ankle injuries and accumulated just 345 yards on the ground on 94 attempts. In late October, the Cardinals added Kenyan Drake via trade and promoted him to the lead-back role, which he shined in immediately.  

It looked like Arizona was in a difficult spot with Johnson’s contract, and finding a trade partner seemed unlikely. Then Texans head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien swooped in and offered up star receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals in exchange for Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2021 fourth-round pick.

Johnson will earn a base salary of $10.2 million, and a roster bonus of $956,250.

Amari Cooper, WR, Dallas Cowboys

In 2018, Cooper landed in Dallas through a trade with the Oakland Raiders, who drafted him with the fourth-overall pick in 2015.

The highly touted receiver out of Alabama quickly excelled as a rookie, when he pulled down 72 catches for 1,070 yards and six scores. The next year, he again topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark, but in his third season, injuries hampered his play.

In the middle of 2018, the Cowboys traded for Cooper, and the young stud racked up 725 yards receiving and six touchdowns through nine games. He achieved a career-high 1,189 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019, but in some of the biggest games, he disappeared.

His worst outing occurred at New England in November, when he was targeted only twice and failed to record a reception. In a crucial road loss against Philadelphia in December, he tallied just 24 yards on four catches. He was targeted 12 times that day and faced one of the league's weaker secondaries.

Despite that, Jerry Jones drew up a five-year contract extension worth $100 million, with $60 million guaranteed, in the offseason. Cooper’s average annual salary is the second highest of all NFL wide receivers, behind the Falcons’ Julio Jones.

Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams

One year after the Rams lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, the team looked like a shell of itself and stumbled to a 9-7 record. Running back Todd Gurley, who became the highest-paid running back in 2018, was released by Los Angeles this offseason, which helped free some cap space, but not nearly enough.

Part of the problem is Goff’s contract. In 2019, the Rams signed him to a $134 million, four-year extension, with an NFL record $110 million in guaranteed money.

Last season, Goff attempted a league-high 626 passes (65 more than his 2018 total) and saw his completion rate drop from 64.9% to 62.9%, while he threw 10 fewer touchdown passes (22), and his interceptions increased from 12 to 16.

In the offseason, the Rams restructured Goff’s contract to free up $7 million against the salary cap. It might help the team some, but it doesn’t change the fact that Goff is making way too much in guaranteed money. His average yearly salary is also outrageous, considering only Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger make more.  


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