With each passing year, the salary cap gets a boost. Teams are given more money to spend every offseason, which allows them to pay players increasingly large contracts. It’s simply the nature of the NFL – and professional sports as a whole – and it’s led many to be paid more than they deserve.
It happens every year, and it will for many more to come. This offseason will continue that trend with several free agents lining up to be overpaid. It’s the result of the ballooning cap and underwhelming class of available players, similar to the way teams overdraft quarterbacks in the first round.
These seven players will be overpaid in free agency, and not because they’re bad players, but because teams will overvalue them and pay them more than they’re worth.
Martellus Bennett, TE, Patriots
Bennett said it himself: “They overpay Super Bowl champions.” Bennett had a resurgent 2016 season in which he caught 55 passes for 701 yards and seven touchdowns despite not being the starter all season. He was a good teammate and played a significant role in the Patriots’ Super Bowl run, but does he deserve to be paid like Greg Olsen? Probably not.
Anything in the range of Olsen’s $7.5 million per year would be too much considering Bennett will be 30 years old in a few weeks. Some team is going to see how well he played this season and prioritize him on the open market.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Redskins
Garcon is hitting free agency in what’s a mediocre class at receiver. Alshon Jeffery heads the group, followed by DeSean Jackson and Terrelle Pryor. Where does Garcon fit in that group? Probably fourth, but he’ll likely get more money than Pryor and Jackson.
At 30 years old, Garcon is still an effective receiver, but he’s not a No. 1 threat. He has just two 1,000-yard seasons – one of which came in 2016 – and never has caught more than six touchdowns in a season. He can be a good No. 2 option, but he’ll be overpaid like a go-to receiver when free agency begins.
Trumaine Johnson, CB, Rams
Trumaine Johnson is a player who has the size, speed and length teams covet at cornerback. He put all those tools together in 2015 by picking off seven passes, appearing to be the next top-tier corner. Unfortunately, he took a step back this past season and struggled without running mate Janoris Jenkins, recording just one interception.
There’s no question he’s a good defensive back, but he’s going to be paid like a lockdown guy based on his 2015 season and his physical traits. After Jenkins got $12.5 million per year last offseason, Johnson figures to see similar money, if not more. That’s too much for a cornerback who’s had one great season in the NFL and has somewhat of an injury history, missing 11 games the past three years.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, Bills
Gilmore was one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL two seasons ago, pairing nicely with then-rookie Ronald Darby. His play has taken a step back since then, struggling at times in 2016. He has all the traits a team looks for in a No. 1 cornerback, but his inconsistency is concerning.
He needs to go to a team that plays press-man, allowing him to be physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage. That’s the only way he’ll be worth the money he’s about to receive, which likely will be north of $13 million annually.
USA TODAY SporTimothy T. Ludwig
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears
Teams love wide receivers in free agency. The elite don’t usually hit the open market, but Jeffery is on the edge of being a top-tier receiver. Unfortunately, that’s when all goes to plan, which almost never happens with him. He’s battled injuries in recent years and served a four-game suspension in 2016 for PEDs, bringing into question both health concerns and character issues.
That won’t matter come March.
A team will see the potential he possesses and pay him like an elite receiver. If he can keep himself clean on and off the field, he can be. That’s just a huge question mark for a franchise about to take a gamble on a player with several concerns and just two good seasons in the NFL.
USA TODAY SporDennis Wierzbicki
Dontari Poe, DT, Chiefs
Poe is a good player. He’s a big-bodied nose tackle who’s best suited to play in a 3-4 defense, while also possessing the ability to generate pressure up the middle. He’s not an elite defensive tackle like Aaron Donald or Kawann Short. Yet, despite that fact, he’s probably going to be paid like one. Based on potential and physical traits alone, Poe is going to fetch at least $11 million to $12 million per year, which is a big price tag for a player coming off a disappointing season. Buyer beware when it comes to signing Poe – especially to a lucrative, long-term deal.
Troy TaorminaUSA TODAY Sports
Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins
Some would say there’s no price too high for a franchise quarterback. That’s a fair argument if you’re the QB-starved Browns or Jaguars, but not for most franchises. Cousins is going to prove that this offseason when he becomes the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. That’s right, it’ll happen if the Redskins don’t franchise tag him.
Cousins is a good quarterback. His numbers are eye-popping, he racks up big yardage and already has taken the Redskins to the playoffs. He’s still not a top-five quarterback, or even one of the 10 best. His paycheck next season will say otherwise.
The Redskins are simply in a position where they either have to pay him almost $24 million on the franchise tag, $22 million per year long-term, or let him walk. It won’t be an easy decision, but expect them to keep Cousins in Washington for years to come.