New York Jets linebacker David Harris is a very good player. Playing alongside the noisy and hard-hitting Bart Scott, Harris, a sixth-year man out of Michigan, quietly led the Jets with 65 tackles last season. His five quarterback sacks were second on the club.
But there’s a difference between very good and elite. Harris is known as a run stopper who sometimes has trouble in pass coverage. He’s made All-Pro just once, when he was a second-team selection in 2009. Solid as he is, you don’t expect to see him making more than every other linebacker in the NFL.
And yet, that where Harris’ $12 million in salary and bonus this season puts him. And so there’s little choice but to include him on our list of the NFL’s most overpaid players. He’s got company from the Jets: wide receiver Santonio Holmes (one 1,000-yard season; $9.25 million) and cornerback Antonio Cromartie (one Pro Bowl five years ago; $8.25 million) also make the cut.
We came up with our list of overpaid players not through sheer stats – that makes little sense in football, where team systems and game plans drive many of the numbers -but by using basic common sense. We looked at all NFL players making at least $5 million in 2012 (there are 169 of them) and determined which have given back the least performance-wise over the past few years. Who’s getting All-Pro money without making All-Pro? Who’s been having trouble staying on the field consistently?
In addition to the Jets’ trio, other members of the top 10 include Oakland running back Darren McFadden ($7.8 million), who’s had one 1,000-plus rushing season since being drafted in 2008, and Jacksonville receiver Marcedes Lewis ($9.6 million), who had 10 touchdown catches in his lone Pro Bowl season of 2009, and a total of eight TDs in his other five seasons combined.
We’ll admit that compared to other sports, the NFL All-Overpaid list isn’t easy to put together. All the players on it are good. In fact, the thing that catches your eye about NFL salaries is the relative paucity of players who are blatantly overpaid. The NBA is sprinkled with big-money bench warmers averaging five points a game. Baseball has its unproductive, aging stars collecting mega millions on the back ends of long-term contracts (the Yankees are locked into 37-year-old Alex Rodriguez for five more years and $114 million, plus possible bonuses connected to his pursuit of Barry Bonds’ career home run record - managing partner Hal Steinbrenner practically locked big brother Hank in the attic after that one).
The NFL has a knack for controlling such things -- one of the reasons the league stands as the most well-oiled business machine in American sports. Rarely are player contracts fully guaranteed. That headline number of $96 million that Peyton Manning signed for to join the Denver Broncos for five years? Only the first $18 million is guaranteed. If the Broncos were to cut Manning during next year’s training camp, they save a boatload of money. The Yankees can only dream of doing that with A-Rod.
The result of all that salary flexibility is that for the most part, big money goes to the guys that produce. Traditionally, the one big exception was rookie contracts, where top picks got enormous bonuses based on potential. But even that annoyance was taken care of in the latest collective bargaining agreement The two latest No. 1 picks, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton, got about a quarter of the $86 million that Sam Bradford got from the St. Louis Rams, who drafted him first in 2010 (incidentally, we stayed away from young high draft pick like Bradford and Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy on the all-overpaid list, figuring they deserve a bit more time to live up to their rookie deals).
Still, within the framework of responsible spending, there will always be players who are relatively overpaid (or underpaid) for what they produce. David Harris can clearly play. But at $12 million, he’s one of them.
- American Football
- Sports & Recreation
- David Harris
- New York Jets