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Player performance grades from Pro Football Focus; salary information from Spotrac.com; contract quality is the number of standard deviations a player’s performance is above/below the average, minus the number of standard deviations his average annual salary is above/below the average; all rankings are positional; Michael Johnson is a 4-3 defensive end.

Numbers

Age: 27 (28 on February 7th, 2015)
Old Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Old Contract: 1 year/$11.175 million, $11.175 million average (5th highest paid of 62)
2013 PFF Grade: 25.9 (4th)
2013 Contract Quality: -0.53 (39th)
New Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Contract: 5 years/$43.75 million, $8.75 million average (projected 7th highest paid)

* indicates a franchise tag contract

Notes

Yesterday I wrote how the Carolina Panthers will likely regret using the franchise tag on Greg Hardy (who is also a 4-3 defensive end) this season. Michael Johnson shows exactly why. Unable to lock Johnson down long-term, the Bengals seemingly overpaid him by $2 million last year to keep him for one season.1 Cincinnati could not workout a long-term deal again this year, and unable to franchise Johnson again he took his talent to Tampa Bay. Ta-da!

But hey, last season the salary cap was $123 million. What could an additional $2 million (or $11 million if they had let Johnson walk) have bought the Bengals anyway? In 2013, average NFL tight ends, fullbacks, and guards (who played 75% or more of their teams’ snaps) earned average annual salaries of less than $2.5 million. The average starting NFL offensive line last season cost a team $14.691 million. True, good, even average players are not necessarily available for the signing, in which case seemingly overspending to keep a player that is attainable is less harmful. Nonetheless, the Bengals likely could have put the money spent on Johnson last year to better use.

But that is all in the past. How do things look from the perspective of Johnson’s new team? Tampa Bay fans should like this signing. Last season Johnson’s approximate worth was $9.206 million; the Bucs will pay him a little less than that for five years, most of which will come before Johnson turns 30. There may be an adjustment period with a new team, but he seems well in his prime.

Though Johnson will no longer have Geno Atkins to assist him along the line, the equally freakish Gerald McCoy will be with him in Tampa through 2015. The Bucs defensive front looks set. If they get a deal or two of Johnson’s quality on the offensive side, just maybe they can challenge in the NFC South.


  1. Johnson did earn the fourth-highest PFF grade while making the fifth-most money at his position, which seems like a steal. But based on the performances and salaries of all 4-3 defensive ends last year, only Robert Quinn’s outlying expertise is worthy of $10 million-plus annually; Johnson was not the only player overpaid last season. And while there are factors to consider besides on-field performance, Johnson likely would not win an NFL fan popularity contest. 
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Last Week: 8-8. My Entire Life: 53-49-3.

Hallelujah, all rejoice, for the 2013-14 NFL Playoffs have arrived at last! A quick note: I will be writing another bonus post, featuring all of my thoughts, emotions, and spiritual beliefs about the 49rs-Packers game on Sunday (which I will be attending, thanks to the profound kindness of some Packers fans friends). This game is just too much everything for me right now, and there’s no way I could not devote an entire post to it. The over-under on the word length for my entire experience is about 4,000 words right now; let me know if you’d like to place bets.

Anyway, here are the rest of my predictions (against the spread, naturally) for the upcoming Wildcard Round. As always, lines from Sportsbook.com; home team in CAPS.

The Kansas City Football Team (+1.5) over COLTS

I actually think Indy might be a little better, and have a higher ceiling. They did beat the Seahawks, Broncos, 49ers, and… oh, right, Kansas City! In Kansas City, no less. At that point, Kansas City didn’t have a whole lot to play for, but still. But then there’s the Kansas City defense.

Saints (+2.5) over EAGLES

I dunno…. taking another road team? I just… yeah. The Eagles defense is bad. The Saints defense is better. Drew Brees… Sean Peyton… greater than Nick Foles, Chip Kelly, right? Maybe? The Eagles do have a good offensive line… I’m going to be pretty upset if the Saints lose this game by three points, is what I’m saying.

BENGALS (-7) over Chargers

They’ve won big a few times… Philip Rivers is having a great season… Time for Andy Dalton to show off on national television? San Diego’s defense is the defense to do it against? I would feel a lot better if Geno Atkins and Leon Hall hadn’t gone out for the season. But the Bengals are due for a postseason win right? Maybe? Or they’re just good, not elite, and Marvin Lewis will be another good coach that gets fired because his team keeps losing in the playoffs?

Alright, that’s how I’m feeling right now, so far as the first three games. As I said, I’ll be back tomorrow with most likely a mega-post (perhaps a meta-post?) detailing all the things I’ve already gone through regarding this 49ers-Packers game, including a picture of me holding all twelve hand-warmers I bought today! Stay tuned.

Did you say Super Bowl odds? Like how did we get to Super Bowl odds all of a sudden? Well, we’re heading into Week 17, and 20 of the NFL’s 32 teams will see their seasons end this Sunday. (tear, sniffle) At the moment though, 18 may still cling to their dreams of winning the Super Bowl this February. As they were months ago, Seattle and Denver seem to be the heavyweights, but then, so did the 2007 Patriots six years ago. Seattle and Denver are in fact the favorites in Las Vegas, at +220 (2.2 to 1) and +300 (3 to 1)1 respectively to come out on top in the Big Apple,2 while the Steelers, who need to win and three other teams to lose just to get into the playoffs,3 are currently +20,000 to win it all on Sportsbook.com. Whoo! Football Outsiders has also posted their updated playoff odds report, which factors DVOA (weighted to favor more recent games) and likely home field advantage into a simulation run 50,000 times. They posit that Seattle has a 24.3% chance of winning the Super Bowl, and Denver a 20.3% chance. (Pittsburgh 0.1%.) What’s it all mean?

When gambling, I like to take the same approach I take to poker: I get a little drunk and after losing a while look for ways to steal my opponents’ chips, cheat, or childishly point out their other shortcomings which is to say for every hand (or money line, or spread), I examine the payout and determine how often I’ll have to win for a bet to be profitable in the long run. By doing this correctly, I’m not really gambling anymore, I’m just making money/playing a sound strategy/etc, because in the long run, there is no risk. If my odds of winning are better than the odds of how much money I have to risk relative to the reward, this is a good bet in the long run! (Whoo!)

There are differences between poker and, say, betting on a Super Bowl champion before Week 17. This season is only played once, these games are only played once. It’s not an infinite game, it’s more like a one-shot game. But, if you had complete faith that Football Outsiders’ playoff probabilities were 100% correct,4 and perfectly reflected the true odds, what would that mean?

So you want to bet on the Broncos. They’re +300, or 3 to 1. To break even, this bet needs to come through 25% of the time.5 But Football Outsiders has them winning Super Bowl [Inserting Roman Numeral…] XLVIII only 20.3% of the time. The expected payout of this gamble is negative (-4.7%, in fact). Bummer. Here’s that same breakdown for all 18 teams still currently in the race, sorted high to low by expected payout (aka best bets):

Team Odds To One Chance to Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
NE 10 9.09% 14.20% 5.11% 1
CAR 8.5 10.53% 15.20% 4.67% 2
PHI 30 3.23% 4.00% 0.77% 3
CIN 18 5.26% 5.90% 0.64% 4
NO 25 3.85% 4.00% 0.15% 5
KC 35 2.78% 2.90% 0.12% 6
PIT 200 0.50% 0.10% -0.40% 7
ARI 90 1.10% 0.60% -0.50% 8
DAL 100 0.99% 0.20% -0.79% 9
MIA 90 1.10% 0.30% -0.80% 10
BAL 100 0.99% 0.10% -0.89% 11
SD 100 0.99% 0.10% -0.89% 12
CHI 60 1.64% 0.70% -0.94% 13
IND 35 2.78% 1.10% -1.68% 14
GB 40 2.44% 0.20% -2.24% 15
DEN 3 25.00% 20.30% -4.70% 16
SF 7.5 11.76% 5.70% -6.06% 17
SEA 2.2 31.25% 24.30% -6.95% 18

Even the briefest of glances reveals that Football Outsiders’ odds are not perfect; they are not adjusted for injures. The Patriots’ projection is weighted towards the recent past, but still includes data from when Rob Gronkowski (and Wilfork, and Vollmer, and the 600 other players the Patriots had go on IR this season) were on the field. It’s possible their true odds are still better than Vegas thinks. I probably wouldn’t bet on them, even at 10 to 1. Green Bay, meanwhile, looks like a terrible bet, but almost half of the data is without Aaron Rodgers. Though his collarbone’s status is still unknown, I would at least consider throwing a little money on Green Bay right now. Or maybe I would, if Clay Matthews weren’t injured as well. But then, there’s the Carolina Panthers. Mm-mm! That’s a leap I find most intriguing. I might be similarly intrigued by Cincinnati if Geno Atkins hadn’t gone out for the year, and I also am of the purely speculative opinion that New Orleans is too low, although Brees would have to bail out his offensive line for that to happen. Back to the Panthers, though.

The last reason I like the Panthers on these odds is because, despite beating the 49ers and their last-second, home win against the Saints last week, I just kinda feel they still may be a little underappreciated. There’s been a lot of coverage on the Panthers’ inability to close out games, how Cam Newton often choked his first two years, etc. Surely people will doubt his ability to “win the big one”. We love to apply narratives to outcomes, to explain things (in fact, I’m doing that right now to supplant my justification of Carolina), but many times it may not depend on Newton’s mental psyche so much as, well, sh*t happens.

Consider elite quarterbacks John Elway and Tom Brady. Elway lost his first four (!) Super Bowls, before winning consecutive championships his final two seasons. Brady won hist first three (starting when he was 24!), before losing two to the Giants. Elway constantly heard about how he couldn’t win “the big one”, but no one said that about Brady after his losses, what with his three rings and all. It’s nonsense. Football, more so than any other professional sport, is a team effort.6 The quarterback is the most important position, not the only important position. There are 11 guys on offense, 11 guys on defense, and still others on sub-packages and special teams. Ironically, in close contests when a quarterback “chokes”, the quality of his teammates matters even more, as the margin between defeat and victory shrinks.

The numbers suggest the Panthers’ odds in Vegas are too long. The above is why I think that might be. Newton’s Panthers have never made the playoffs, and have known only losing seasons. Newton just isn’t a winner yet. Well, no quarterback is, until he wins. Forget the narratives. Elway was a great quarterback for many seasons; that he won championships in his final two might have a little to due with additional experience and wisdom, but more to do with having Terrell Davis, or more favorable match-ups, the technological advancements in scouting your opponents, etc. If a quarterback is good enough to get to the Super Bowl, he’s good enough to win it. Many factors beyond a quarterback’s control come into play, and that we may overlook them does not make such factors any less significant. And hey, sometimes… sh*t happens.


  1. For +###(##) American odds, just divide by 100 to get the fractional odds. The + means how much you win (profit, net, etc) on a $100 bet. 
  2. Well, New Jersey, technically… lame. 
  3. The Steelers need to beat Cleveland at home, have New York (Jets, duh) win in Miami, have Baltimore lose in Cincinnati, and have Kansas City win in San Diego. 
  4. I do not endorse such faith. But they are “probably” pretty close. (Heyyy-eyyyy!) 
  5. 1/(1+3); Every time you win you triple your money, so you can lose three times for every time you win (betting the same amount), so that’s 0.25 = 25%. 
  6. I haven’t looked at this scientifically, but you’ve got around 25-30 guys who see significant time on a football team (47-man active roster). Hockey’s at 19-20 (20), baseball 18-22 or so (but pitchers make it weird, anyway 25 guys on the active roster), soccer 11-13 (18), and basketball’s down about 7-10 (13). 

First of all, this evaluation uses player performance through Week 10, and doesn’t include what happened over the weekend. With at least 15 more positions to get through (depending on what I decide to do with blocking and coverage units on special teams), I wanted to move along. But Monday Night Football happens tonight. As I’ll be going back at the end of the season to hand out the official awards for best and worst contract anyway, there’s no point to rush ahead and leave behind the Patriots’ and Panthers’ running backs playing tonight.1

Another note, regarding position: a player’s position may not match what he’s perceived as, or even what’s on his team’s official depth chart. In addition to providing grades on every player on every snap, Pro Football Focus details where each player lines up in relation to each other, and records them in the corresponding position for that snap. So if San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore lines up wide left, for that play PFF lists his position as Left Wide Receiver. Gore’s PFF grade includes such plays; he is listed as a running back because he has played 25% or more of his team’s snaps at “Halfback”, as defined by PFF.2

So, running backs! There have been 55 running backs (using PFF’s classification) seeing significant time this season. Da’Rel Scott, formerly of the New York Giants, was released earlier this year, leaving 54. Here are the Top 10 performers (PFF Grade in parentheses):

  • 1. LeSean McCoy, PHI (17.2)
  • 2. Marshawn Lynch, SEA (14.9)
  • 3. Adrian Peterson, MIN (13.1)
  • 4. Giovani Bernard, CIN (13)
  • 5. Danny Woodhead, SD (11.2)
  • 6. Darren Sproles, NO (11)
  • 7. Frank Gore, SF (10.3)
  • 8. Eddie Lacy, GB (9.3)
  • 9. Pierre Thomas, NO (8.9)
  • 10. Joique Bell, DET (7.9)

A pretty sound group, with rookies Bernard and Lacy getting in alongside superstars like Peterson and some solid play from less famous veterans like Danny Woodhead. Here are the Bottom 10 (grades in parentheses):

  • 45. Chris Ogbonnaya, CLE (-4.8)
  • 46. Chris Ivory, NYJ & Rashard Mendenhall, AZ (-5.3)
  • 48. Chris Johnson, TEN (-5.4)
  • 49. Trent Richardson, IND (-5.7)
  • 50. Bilal Powell, NYJ (-5.9)
  • 51. Doug Martin, TB (-7.8)
  • 52. Darren McFadden, OAK (-7.9)
  • 53. C.J. Spiller, BUF (-9.1)
  • 54. Ray Rice, BAL (-12.8)

Oh dear. The bottom of that list shouldn’t surprise anyone who has played fantasy football this season, especially if you drafted one of them.3 Also, and I hope to write more about this soon, the rest of the NFL must be excited if the Colts would truly trade for Trent Richardson again. The Saints had two players in the Top 10, while the Jets have two players in the Bottom (and the Browns were close, with Ogbonnaya’s teammate Willis McGahee just beating him out with a -4.6). The average running back grade is a 2.23, with a standard deviation of 6.52, reflecting a rather substantial amount of variation in player performance, though not as much as among quarterbacks. As for their compensation, here are the Top 10 best paid running backs, using data from Spotrac.com (average annual salary in parentheses, in millions of dollars):

  • 1. Adrian Peterson, MIN ($13.714 million)
  • 2. Darren McFadden, OAK ($10.002m)
  • 3. Chris Johnson, TEN ($8.996m)
  • 4. Arian Foster, HOU ($8.7m)
  • 5. DeAngelo Williams, CAR ($8.6m)
  • 6. LeSean McCoy, PHI ($7.603m)
  • 7. Matt Forte, CHI ($7.6m)
  • 8. Marshawn Lynch, SEA ($7.5m)
  • 9. Ray Rice, BAL ($7m)
  • 10. Frank Gore, SF ($6.475m)

Once again, players worst in performance make the best paid list! It hasn’t failed yet, with Rice, Johnson, and McFadden joining in. Here are the Bottom 10 paid running backs:

  • 45. Rashad Jennings, OAK ($0.63m)
  • 46. Roy Helu, WAS ($0.628m)
  • 47. Bilal Powell, NYJ ($0.61m)
  • 48. Zac Stacy, STL ($0.584m)
  • 49. Andre Ellington, AZ ($0.565966m)
  • 50. Mike James, TB ($0.565788m)
  • 51. Jacquizz Rodgers, ATL ($0.558m)
  • 52. Alfred Morris, WAS ($0.556m)
  • 53. Daryl Richardson, STL ($0.536m)
  • 54. Brandon Bolden, NE ($0.485m)

Alfred Morris is certainly the most noteworthy, with Stacy and Ellington putting together promising rookie campaigns as well. The average NFL running back makes $3.043 million a year, with a standard deviation of $3.134 actually being lower, if only slightly. Relative to how well they play, there is much less variation among how well running backs are paid. Which teams got the best deals?

The ESPM award for best running back contract (so far) goes to… Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals. Congratulations Bengals General Manager Mike Brown! To calculate a player’s contract quality, we determine the number of standard deviations his performance grade is above/below the average, and subtract the number of standard deviations his average annual salary is above/below the average. Here are the Best 10 contracts among NFL running backs (contract quality in parentheses):

  • 1. Giovani Bernard, CIN (2.2)
  • 2. Danny Woodhead,SD (1.79)
  • 3. Eddie Lacy, GB (1.78)
  • 4. Joique Bell, DET (1.64)
  • 5. Andre Elleington, AZ (1.63)
  • 6. Mike James, TB (1.52)
  • 7. DeMarco Murray, DAL (1.5)
  • 8. Jacquizz Rodgers, ATL (1.4)
  • 9. Roy Helu, WAS (1.21)
  • 10. Darren Sproles, NO (1.2)

It’s an interesting list. Bernard is a rookie, but he didn’t come as cheap, being more than twice as expensive as most others at $1.313 million a year. Eddie Lacy, chosen 24 picks later in the second round of last year’s draft, makes $0.848 million, while the others are closer to a half million than a full. Danny Woodhead and Darren Sproles represent the rare free agent signing success. Still, only three of the top ten most paid running backs have quality contracts (McCoy, Lynch, & Gore). With Alfred Morris at #11 (1.14), Washington seems to have been the best at getting the most out of their money, at this position at least. Here are the 10 Worst contracts:

  • 45. Doug Martin, TB (-1.11)
  • 46. Arian Foster, HOU (-1.29)
  • 47. Matt Forte, CHI (-1.41)
  • 48. Adrian Peterson, MIN (-1.74)
  • 49. Trent Richardson, IND (-1.88)
  • 50. C.J. Spiller, BUF (-1.91)
  • 51. DeAngelo Williams, CAR (-1.92)
  • 52. Chris Johnson, TEN (-3.07)
  • 53. Ray Rice, BAL (-3.57)
  • 54. Darren McFadden, OAK (-3.78)

So while generally using draft picks is better than signing free agents, as players on their first contract generally provide more for the money, there are exceptions. Doug Martin and Trent Richardson were drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft and are still on their rookie deals. But usually, the worst results come from enormous free agent signings, though that is not to say that all enormous free agent signings are the worst. Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, and Darren McFadden are in a world of their own at the bottom, each with, well, an enormous gap between where they stand among their peers in performance (low) and pay (high).

In all, 30 of 54 (55.6%) have “good” contracts, in that their teams are getting as much or more than they pay for. Those numbers for wide receivers were 59 of 109 (54.1%); quarterbacks, 19 of 37 (51.4%). Those numbers are my first glimpse of how efficient (or inefficient) the NFL may be. Even with good players and bad players, rich ones and poor ones, greedy owners and greedy agents, all contracts could (ought to) still be better priced. One should’t expect teams to get the performance they paid for (or better) from every one of their players. But only just over half? Among quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs, NFL teams are overpaying nearly 50% of their players. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done.


  1. Though also, not all players have played the same number of games anyway, as some teams are still waiting for their bye week. But as the Patriots and Panthers did have theirs, they would be two games short of some teams. ANYway, this is not the ultimate assessment, just an intermediate one. 
  2. PFF records a player as a Halfback if they are the only back (besides the quarterback) in the backfield OR if there are multiple backs in the backfield and they are as far back (or farther) from the line of scrimmage than all other backs. 
  3. Chris Johnson did have a sound night on Thursday Night Football, with a +1.8. I think Rice played well yesterday too, but his PFF grade isn’t up yet. (They’re still busy having a few different people watch and grade every snap of that game.) 

Following up my evaluation of quarterback contracts yesterday, today I examine the performance and pay of NFL wide receivers. There are 110 wide receivers who have played 25% or more of their team’s snaps this season. 109 of them are still under contract; as Kyle Williams was released by the San Francisco 49ers earlier this week, I dropped him from the calculations.1 While hovering on the subject of releases, I wanted to mention Matt Flynn. Seahawks General Manager John Schneider is worthy of praise for finding Russell Wilson, but equally responsible for Flynn, to whom he gave $10 million in guaranteed money that same year before tiring of him after one season. He was able to maneuver out $6 million with a trade to the Raiders, but Seattle still has $4 million in dead money this season as a result of signing Flynn.2

Before looking at the numbers, here are a few more notes about contract quality. If players don’t play, Pro Football Focus has no performance to evaluate. That could mean a variety of things concerning the contract. A backups is like any other insurance; you hope you don’t have to use it, but you’re willing to pay for it. Speaking of injuries, if a player misses a season for one, does that mean his contract was wasteful? Are NFL front offices accountable for avoiding injuries? Perhaps to some extent, but it’s difficult to quantify. Even so, teams may pay players for other things besides on-field performance. Popularity to the fans, the ability to sell tickets and jerseys, intangibles like “he’s a good locker room guy”, having worked well previously with members of the team and/or coaching staff, etc. Such qualities, while beyond the scope of this analysis, should not be forgot.

With that, here are PFF’s Top 10 wide receivers who’ve played 25% or more of their teams’ snaps so far this season (grades in parentheses)3:

  • 1. Brandon Marshall, CHI (20)
  • 2. Andre Johnson, HOU & Calvin Johnson, DET (16.8)
  • 4. Jordy Nelson, GB (14.9)
  • 5. Antonio Brown, PIT (14.7)
  • 6. Pierre Garcon, WAS (14.4)
  • 7. Demaryius Thomas, DEN (13.4)
  • 8. Wes Welker, DEN (10.6)
  • 9. Doug Baldwin, SEA (10.5)
  • 10. Marvin Jones, CIN (10.4)

Wouldn’t it be great if Andre and Calvin were brothers? And it’s Marvin Jones, not A.J. Green, of the Cincinnati Bengals rounding out the Top 10, although a substantial chunk comes from a dominating four touchdown performance against the New York Jets in Week 8. (Green himself grades at a 6.3 at the moment, good for 23rd in the league.) Here are the Bottom 10:

  • 100. Aaron Dobson, NE (-4.4)
  • 101. Mike Williams, TB (-4.5)
  • 102. Ryan Broyles, DET (-4.8)
  • 103. Dexter McCluster, KC (-4.9)
  • 104. Donnie Avery, KC (-5)
  • 105. Mike Wallace, MIA (-5.8)
  • 106. Mohamed Sanu, CIN & Greg Little, CLE (-6.7)
  • 108. T.J. Graham, BUF (-6.9)
  • 109. Kenny Britt, TEN (-9.7)

The last undefeated team in the NFL at 9-0, the Kansas City Chiefs could apparently still use an upgrade in the wide receiver department. (Dwayne Bowe will appear in a bit.) Note the effective scale, at this point in the season, ranges from a -9.7 at the bottom to a firm 20 at the top. The average PFF wide receiver grade is a 2.2, and the standard deviation is a 5.6. Brandon Marshall up in first is a full standard deviation in performance ahead of 6th best Pierre Garcon. No wonder Bears fans love him. Marshall also finds himself among the most paid wide receivers, 11th in the league at $8.956 million a year. Here are the Top 10 average annual salaries under contract this season4 (millions of dollars in parentheses):

  • 1. Calvin Johnson, DET ($18.813 million)
  • 2. Larry Fitzgerald, AZ ($15.75m)
  • 3. Mike Wallace, MIA ($12m)
  • 4. Dwayne Bowe, KC ($11.2m)
  • 5. Vincent Jackson, TB ($11.111m)
  • 6. Andre Johnson, HOU ($9.686m)
  • 7. Steve Smith, CAR ($9.438m)
  • 8. DeSean Jackson, PHI ($9.4m)
  • 9. Santonio Holmes, NYJ & Greg Jennings, MIN ($9m)

The two Johnsons are the only wide receivers tops of the league in both performance (so far) and pay. And yes, Mike Wallace is the Joe Flacco of wide receivers, the 3rd highest paid with the 4th worst performance. (Actually, this is more impressive than Flacco, since there are more than three times as many wide receivers as quarterbacks.) Unsurprisingly we see no teams doubling up here. Even in the NFL, you can’t afford to. Only 7 teams spend more than $20 million on all their wide receivers5, with 24 spending less than the Lions spend on Johnson alone.  And here are the least paid wide receivers, who’ve played at least 25% of their teams’ snaps this season:

  • 100. Kenbrell Thompkins, NE (0.496m)
  • 101. Marlon Brown, BAL (0.495m)
  • 102. Riley Cooper, PHI (0.49m)
  • 103. Rod Streater, OAK (0.483m)
  • 104. Cole Beaseley, DAL (0.481m)
  • 105. Jarrett Boykin, GB & Jermaine Kearse, SEA (0.48m)
  • 107. Doug Baldwin, SEA (0.47m)
  • 108. Drew Davis, ATL (0.435m)
  • 109. Mike Brown, JAX (0.398m)

Doug Baldwin? Really? Yup, it’s looking like another top contract will belong to the Seahawks. (SPOILER ALERT: It does.) 106 wide receivers make more than Baldwin, but only 8 have done more on the field this season. Goodness. Not bad for a kid who went undrafted out of Stanford. Looking at the whole field, the average annual salary of all these wide receivers is $3.258 million, with a slightly larger standard deviation of $3.61 million. Calvin Johnson makes nearly a full SD more than #2 Larry Fitzgerald, who in turn makes more than a full SD more than #3 Mike Wallace. Obviously, it’s not nearly so spread out at the bottom.

Again, for contract quality, we look at where the player ranks in pay and performance relative to the average among his peers, using standard deviations. CQ = #SDs above/below the average grade – #SDs above/below the average salary. Positive is good for the front office. Negative is bad. Zero suggests a player’s performance is worth exactly how well he’s played (theoretically). Without further adieu, here are the 10 best wide receiver contract so far this season (contract quality in parentheses):

  • 1. Doug Baldwin, SEA (2.26)
  • 2. Marvin Jones, CIN (2.21)
  • 3. Jordy Nelson, GB (2.2)
  • 4. Demaryius Thomas, DEN (2.12)
  • 5. Golden Tate, SEA (1.87)
  • 6. Keenan Allen, SD (1.85)
  • 7. Alshon Jeffery, CHI (1.74)
  • 8. Jerricho Cotchery, PIT (1.65)
  • 9. Brandon Marshall, CHI (1.59)
  • 10. Randall Cobb, GB (1.47)

Another obligatory ESPM congratulations to Seattle Seahawks General Manager John Schneider! Two in the top five for Seattle, to go with quarterback contract quality leader Russell Wilson, puts together a sound passing attack for a very good price. Interesting that while no team has two Top 10 most expensive contracts on its roster, and only Denver has two Top 10 performing wide receivers on their roster, Seattle, Chicago, and Green Bay each have two of the best wide receiver contracts in the NFL. (And Green Bay has a third wide receiver, Jarrett Boykin, at 15th in the league with a 1.10 contract quality. Wow.) Now, the Bottom 10:

  • 100. Calvin Johnson, DET (-1.7)
  • 101. Kenny Britt, TEN (-1.71)
  • 102. Greg Jennings, MIN (-1.92)
  • 103. Miles Austin, DAL (-1.94)
  • 104. Roddy White, ATL (-1.98)
  • 105. Mike Williams, TB (-2.14)
  • 106. Dwayne Bowe, KC (-2.35)
  • 107. Vincent Jackson, TB (-2.49)
  • 108. Larry Fitzgerald, ARZ (-2.81)
  • 109. Mike Wallace, MIA (-3.83)

Oh dear. Ohhhhh dear. Turns out, the five highest paid wide receivers in the league are some of the ten worst contracts. And Greg Jennings makes it a solid six of the ten highest paid to make the ugly contract list. Incidentally, this is Jennings first season with the Vikings, after seven with the… who was it? Oh right, the Green Bay Packers! The same Green Bay Packers with three of the best wide receiver contracts in the league. Hmmmm. Lots of times we hear about how a team just “can’t afford” to lose a player in free agency. But, maybe sometimes, someone ought to ask: “Can they afford not to?” The Packers said no to Jennings, and they’re certainly not regretting it.

That said, there is a lesson here. A pretty common one in life, and as in life, as in football: there is no simple “magic rule” that guarantees success. While many of the richest contracts are poor quality, some are worthwhile. Brandon Marshall is earning his 11th highest salary with the best play in the league. Antonio Brown, 15th in performance, 18th in pay, is good for the 14th best contract among all 109 wide receivers. Andre Johnson (3rd, 6th, and 22nd), Julio Jones (19th, 32nd, 23rd), Wes Welker (8th, 23rd, 29th), and Pierre Garcon (6th, 12th, 32nd) all enjoy lucrative contracts in the upper tier of the league, and have more than earned them with their play. And, while perhaps more difficult, teams can buy cheap and still not get their money’s worth. Ace Sanders (94th, 84th, 69th), Nick Toon (97th, 89th, 73rd), Brice Butler (93rd, 94th, 66th), Kenbrell Thompkins (89th, 100th, 60th), and Marlon Brown (99th, 101st, 71st) are all paid less than $0.7 million a year, yet have managed to under-perform their salaries. They haven’t “lost” their teams nearly as much money, but a loss is still a loss. The competitive nature of the NFL makes me think that if you asked a general manager “Would you care to save a few extra hundred thousand dollars this season?”, he would say “Yes.”


  1. His performance and pay were both below average, so his contract quality would probably have been middling to poor, but not terrible. 
  2. In a test of the “Greater Fool” theory, Flynn went to Oakland, was subsequently released, signed with the Bills, again released, and is currently back with the Green Bay Packers after injuries to Aaron Rodgers and Seneca Wallace, though presumably still behind other backup Scott Tolzien. 
  3. More than three times as many wide receivers than quarterbacks means longer lists. 
  4. With many thanks to Spotrac.com
  5. DET spends $27.262 million on WRs; CHI $25.987; MIA $22.998; AZ $21.725; WAS $21.313; SEA $21.236; and TB $20.809 
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