It's no surprise that NFL players are paid well. Even the league's lowest-paid players make around $400,000 per year, and nearly 260 NFLers make $5 million or more per season on average. But some players who are paid millions don't always justify the exorbitant pay with their on-field production, at least relative to their peers:
To find the NFL's most overpaid players, we relied on Approximate Value (AV), a statistic that Pro-Football-Reference.com has been developing since 2008. The statistic is an attempt to quantify each player's on-field contributions to his team's success, and it ultimately provides a means of comparing players across positions. The full methodology for how AV is calculated can be found here.
We adjusted each player's approximate value, an aggregate figure, over the last three seasons to a per-game number, so that players weren't penalized for games they didn't play in. We then grossed that per-game value up to a full 16-game season. For context, the average 16-game AV of players making $2 million or more per season was 7.5 over the last three years. We then compared that performance figure to each player's current average salary, via Spotrac.com, to find which NFL players have most underperformed their contracts.
Per our calculations, the NFL's most overpaid player is Vikings fullback Jerome Felton. Felton, who is entering his sixth year in the league, signed a three-year, $7.5 million deal with Minnesota in March. The fullback played his first three seasons with the Detroit Lions, who drafted him in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL draft, and has since bounced around the league, making stops in Carolina, Indianapolis and now Minnesota. Last year he was an All-Pro and made his first Pro Browl appearance, but his AV for the season was still zero.
Another Viking ranks second on the list: tight end John Carlson. Like Felton, Carlson was drafted in 2008, but he went in the second round to Seattle, where he played until signing a five-year, $25 million deal with Minnesota last year. Carlson led the Seahawks in receptions and receiving yards his rookie season, and he put up at least 570 receiving yards and five touchdowns in each of his first two years. But he had a down year in 2010 (318 yards, one TD), missed all of 2011 to a shoulder injury and last year had just eight receptions for 43 yards in 14 games.
Given the team nature of football, an appearance on our list isn't necessarily the player's fault. Take Larry Fitzgerald, for instance, who ranks seventh among the NFL's most overpaid players. Fitzgerald is signed to an eight-year, $126 million contract that makes him the league's tenth-highest paid player in terms of average salary, yet he's averaged an AV of just 7.3 over the last three seasons. To put that into focus, Calvin Johnson, the league's top-paid wideout, has averaged an AV of 13.3 in that time. Of the next four highest-paid receivers after Fitzgerald - Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, Percy Harvin and Vincent Jackson - none averaged below an 8.5.
But none of those guys had to deal with the quarterback situation in Arizona. Over the last three seasons the Cards have started five different quarterbacks, and last year alone they trotted out the likes of John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer for a combined 11 starts. Those three completed a woeful 54% of their passes and threw three touchdowns to 18 interceptions, making it hard to blame Fitzgerald for his lack of production.
Just behind Fitzgerald is Mario Williams, who made headlines last year when he went from Houston to Buffalo on a six-year, $96 million deal. He's the NFL's eighth-highest paid player in terms of average salary. Over the last three years Williams has had to deal with scheme changes - Houston's defense switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in 2011 - and has played through multiple injuries. He had something of a resurgence for the Bills, posting 10.5 sacks and 37 tackles after combining for 13.5 sacks and 32 tackles over the two previous seasons, but he's still averaged an AV-per-16-games of 7.5 over the last three years, second-lowest to Fitzgerald among the league's 20 highest-paid players.
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