Tag Archives: Mike Brown

With Texans-Jaguars, or “The Rabid Feces in a Deep Fryer Bowl” as dubbed by Cousin Sal on this week’s B.S. Report, beginning the final quarter of the NFL season tonight on Thursday Night Football, it is time to move on with my continuing series, Economics and Sports Management Presents: The Search for the Best (& Worst) Contract in Football. Today I will investigate linebackers, grouping them (per Pro Football Focus) into three groups: outside linebackers in a 3-4, outside linebackers in a 4-3, and inside linebackers.

These are the Top 5 performing 3-4 outside linebackers through Week 13, who’ve played 25% or more of their teams’ snaps (PFF grade in parentheses):

  • 1. Justin Houston, KC (31.8)
  • 2. Elvis Dumervil, BAL (23.1)
  • 3. Robert Mathis, IND (23)
  • 4. Brian Orakpo, WAS & Trent Cole, PHI (16.2)

Also of note, despite missing six games in the middle of the season when he voluntarily entered a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers is tenth with a 10.3 grade. And these are the Bottom 5:

  • 37. Andy Mulumba, GB & Barkevious Mingo, CLE (-7.2)
  • 39. Quinton Coples, NYJ (-7.3)
  • 40. Mike Neal, GB (-8.6)
  • 41. Brooks Reed, HOU (-17.6)

Houston is firmly alone at the top, Reed is firmly alone at the bottom, and the average grade is a 4.2, with a standard deviation of 10.35. Here are the Top 5 paid 3-4 outside linebackers (average annual salary from, in millions of dollars, in parentheses):

  • 1. Mario Williams, BUF ($16 million)
  • 2. Clay Matthews, GB ($11.628m)
  • 3. Tamba Hali, KC ($11.5m)
  • 4. Terrell Suggs, BAL ($10.417)
  • 5. Lamarr Woodley, PIT ($10.25)

None of these guys show up as worst performers, but none of them made the Top 5 either. As for the Bottom 5:

  • 37. Justin Houston, KC ($0.697m)
  • 38. Corey Lemonier, SF ($0.676m)
  • 39. Thomas Keiser, SD ($0.555m)
  • 40. Pernell McPhee, BAL ($0.546m)
  • 41. Andy Mulumba, GB ($0.497)

Houston, a third round pick in the 2011 draft, is one of the least paid outside linebackers among the league’s 3-4 defenses, yet has actually played the best this season. A good investment by the Chiefs. The average salary is $4 million, with a standard deviation of $3.845 million. Note that the $4 million average is about the same as the 4-3 defensive ends covered on Tuesday, who averaged $4.084 million, while 3-4 defensive ends averaged (“only”) $2.583 million.

You should not be surprised to see that as quarterbacks are the most expensive players, the most expensive defenders are those whose job it is to get to the quarterback. 3-4 linebackers, though they start the play standing up, have more in common with 4-3 defensive ends than with 4-3 outside linebackers. And among 3-4 linebackers, these are the Top 5 contracts (contract quality in parentheses):

  • 1. Justin Houston, KC (3.53)
  • 2. Brian Orakpo, WAS (1.68)
  • 3. Elvis Dumervil, BAL (1.51)
  • 4. Jerry Hughes, BUF (1.35)
  • 5. Jabaal Sheard, CLE (1.07)

And Houston leads by a mile! A second congratulations to Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey, who also has gotten the best fullback value this season out of Anthony Sherman. Brian Orakpo, on the last year of his rookie contract, also makes an appearance. The following are the Worst 5 contracts (so far):

  • 37. Barkevious Mingo, CLE (-1.12)
  • 38. Brooks Reed, HOU (-1.37)
  • 39. Paul Kruger, CLE (-1.52)
  • 40. Clay Matthews, GB (-2.35)
  • 41. Mario Williams, BUF (-2.49)

Mingo is a rookie, so he may improve, but he also comes pretty cheap, so it is discouraging to see him so far down. Most likely Clay Matthews would not be there if he had not missed four games in the middle of the season, but then in the eight games he has played he has only earned a 0.4 grade. Perhaps the injury is lingering. Mario Williams makes an average of $16 million a year. He does have the ninth best grade (10.7). Rams’ 4-3 defensive end Robert Quinn, excelling at a similar role, is worth approximately $19.5 million, based on his play this season. That is what you get when you outperform your position’s average grade by an incredible 52.56 units, and Williams needs to (out)perform at a similar level. A good, even a great performance just is not worth that much.

Moving onto the other defenses in the league, here are the Top 5 performing 4-3 outside linebackers:

  • 1. Von Miller, DEN (30.9)
  • 2. Lavonte David, TB (16.6)
  • 3. Vontaze Burfict, CIN (15.8)
  • 4. Malcolm Smith, SEA (10.9)
  • 5. James Harrison, CIN (10.2)

Von Miller missed six games with a suspension. In half the games, he has put up twice the numbers of second-best Lavonte David. Offensive tackles beware! But for that suspension, he might have challenged J.J. Watt for Mr. Being-So-Much-Better-Than-Everyone-Else. As it is, still an impressive season, with games remaining. Here are the Bottom 5 performing 4-3 outside linebackers:

  • 29. Bruce Carter, DAL (-8.6)
  • 30. JoLonn Dunbar, STL (-9.1)
  • 31. Philip Wheeler, MIA (-9.5)
  • 32. James Anderson, CHI (-12.1)
  • 33. Chad Greenway, MIN (-18.3)

The average grade is 0.8, with a standard deviation of 9.66. All positions have varied more in performance than pay, but that is some serious variation. Also, note Chad Greenway, who is comfortably the worst in the league. Just hang on to that for a moment, as we see the Top 5 paid 4-3 outside linebackers:

  • 1. Chad Greenway, MIN ($8.12m)
  • 2. Thomas Davis, CAR ($7.3m)
  • 3. Jerod Mayo, NE ($7.121m)
  • 4. Lance Briggs, CHI ($5.833m)
  • 5. Von Miller, DEN ($5.25m)

Yup, Greenway is right at the top, by a cushy $1 million (almost). Oh dear. Greenway is pretty interesting. His third year in the league, 2008, he was PFF’s fourth-ranked out of 55 4-3 outside linebackers. In 2009, he was ninth of 54; in 2010, fifth of 41; in 2011, 32nd of 45 and went to the Pro Bowl (I am not making this up); and before last season signed his current contract, the most expensive among all 4-3 outside linebackers, before ranking 21st of 43 and going to the Pro Bowl again AND making the All-Pro second team. (Seriously, not making this up. Look it up.) The Vikings surely got a great deal on his rookie contract before making him the top paid man at his position and seeing his play slip. There could be a lot of reasons for this, including the possibility that the Vikings are not overpaying him but are rather reaping other benefits (he must be popular after making a name for himself, still going to the Pro Bowl and all) from having him on their roster. But for now, only pay and performance matter.1 Here are the Bottom 5 paid 4-3 outside linebackers:

  • 29. Jacquian Williams, NYG ($0.53m)
  • 30. Malcolm Smith, SEA ($0.521m)
  • 31. Joplo Bartu, ATL & Paul Worrilow, ATL ($0.495m)
  • 33. Vontaze Burfict, CIN ($0.48m)

The average salary is $2.242 million, with a standard deviation of $2.201 million. That is about half their 3-4 counterparts, as 4-3 guys are usually not responsible for generating a pass rush. And here are the Top 5 contracts:

  • 1. Vontaze Burfict, CIN (2.35)
  • 2. Lavonte David, TB (2.26)
  • 3. Malcolm Smith, SEA (1.83)
  • 4. Von Miller, DEN (1.75)
  • 5. K.J. Wright, SEA (1.3)

Congratulations to Bengals General Manager Mike Brown! He, too, has two players in the running for best value at their position, second-year man Burfict being alongside rookie running back Giovani Bernard. Note that despite his fifth highest salary, and despite missing six games, Miller’s contract is still a steal for the Broncos. Here are the Bottom 5 contracts:

  • 29. Lance Briggs, CHI (-1.46)
  • 30. Thomas Davis, CAR (-1.61)
  • 31. Philip Wheeler, MIA (-2.41)
  • 32. Jerod Mayo, NE (-2.89)
  • 33. Chad Greenway, MIN (-4.65)

Obviously, after pulling a Flacco, Greenway was destined for the bottom. In fact, Greenway is only the second player to pull a “Full Flacco” by being the absolute most paid and the absolute worst player on the field, among his position. Enough of that, onto inside linebackers!

Top 5 performing inside linebackers:

  • 1. Patrick Willis, SF (14.6)
  • 2. Stephen Tulloch, DET (13.3)
  • 3. Derrick Johnson, KC (12.5)
  • 4. Brandon Spikes, NE (11.1)
  • 5. NaVorro Bowman, SF (8.3)

As a 49er fan, I know Willis is our most expensive player, and Bowman is not far behind after signing an extension last season. I definitely recall a pundit or too wondering why the 49ers were spending so much at inside linebacker when, with the passing game still becoming more and more featured, rushing the quarterback from the edge seemed the way to adapt. Still, with the 49ers getting good value from their outside guys, if they are going to spend a lot on their inside guys, at least Willis and Bowman are the best in the league. Here are the Bottom 5:

  • 48. DeMeco Ryans, PHI (-15)
  • 49. Mychal Kendricks, PHI (-15.7)
  • 50. Moise Fokou, TEN (-15.8)
  • 51. Craig Robertson, CLE (-16.2)
  • 52. London Fletcher, WAS (-21.4)

The average grade is a -3.31, with a standard deviation of 8.03. That is the lowest average grade of any position so far. Apparently it has been a rough year for inside linebackers. Well, at least on the field. As for the negotiating room, here are the Top 5 paid inside linebackers:

  • 1. David Harris, NYJ ($9m)
  • 2. Jon Beason, NYG ($8.822m)
  • 3. D’Qwell Jackson, CLE ($8.5m)
  • 4. Lawrence Timmons, PIT ($8.333m)
  • 5. James Laurinaitis, STL ($8.3m)

So while the 49ers pay Willis and Bowman a lot (about $7 and $6 million, respectively), they somehow escaped making them the most paid, I suspect by resigning them in the middle of the season, well before their current contracts were up.2 Here are the Bottom 5 paid inside linebackers:

  • 48. Vince Williams, PIT ($0.56m)
  • 49. Jerrell Freeman, IND ($0.493m)
  • 50. Josh Bynes, BAL ($0.48m)
  • 51. Spencer Paysinger, NYG ($0.466m)
  • 52. Craig Robertson, CLE ($0.435m)

The average salary is $3.218 million, with a standard deviation $2.996 million. How strange, that is right in between the two types of outside linebackers. And who is getting the most value?

The Top 5 inside linebacker contracts (so far):

  • 1. Brandon Spikes, NE (2.6)
  • 2. Sean Lee, DAL (2.14)
  • 3. Josh Bynes, BAL (1.91)
  • 4. Daryl Smith, BAL (1.77)
  • 5. Kiko Alonso, BUF (1.76)

Congratulations to Bill Belichick, General Manager (and coach) of the New England Patriots. Spikes, Lee, and the rookie Alonso are all still on their rookie deals, while Bynes and Smith are veterans. And here are the Bottom 5 contracts:

  • 48. Jon Beason, NYG (-1.97)
  • 49. Paul Posluszny, JAC (-2.14)
  • 50. A.J. Hawk, GB (-2.59)
  • 51. London Fletcher, WAS (-2.97)
  • 52. DeMeco Ryans, PHI (-3.05)

And that is it for linebackers! The remaining defensive positions (cornerbacks and safeties) will be up next week.

  1. Measuring things like “popularity” and being “a good guy in the locker room” is really difficult. Not all players have a Twitter account for people to follow; mentions in the newspaper can be bad or good; players are paid separately for any commercials they appear in. I have tried to acquire jersey sales and pro bowl vote tallies for every player in the league before (not just the Top 5 or Top 10 you see in the news), and while surely somewhere they exist, it may be impossible. If anyone knows how to obtain those figures, I would LOVE to have them. 
  2. SPOILER, while not making the top five, Willis and Bowman do in fact both have positive contract qualities, with a 0.75 and 0.31, respectively. 

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 (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
  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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