Posted December 13, 2013

Eight in the Box: 2014 NFL free agents who will likely get overpaid

Eight in the Box, NFL Free Agency
Jay Cutler could join the six quarterbacks who currently make more than $18 million per year.

Jay Cutler could join the six quarterbacks who currently make more than $18 million per year. (John Biever/SI)

Each Friday, Eight in the Box will highlight a list of eight players, teams or moments and their impact on the 2013 season and beyond …

Inevitably, teams misfire on free-agent signings from time to time. So who are the players that could draw problematic deals if they hit the market this coming offseason?

Jay Cutler, Quarterback, Bears: At this point, that the 30-year-old Cuter will be paid more than his remaining value as an NFL quarterback is almost inevitable. Either the Bears will slap a franchise tag of between $16 million and $17 million on him, or he’ll hit the open market and find a gaggle of teams willing to pony up dough for a proven No. 1 quarterback.

Under the latter scenario, Cutler might be able to push up and over that projected tag money, which could put him in rarefied air — only six quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tony Romo) played through 2013 at $18 million or more.

Is Cutler worth that kind of cash? Is he worth $16 million or so under the tag? He’s arguably been outplayed by Josh McCown this season and was only a fringe top-10 QB in things like QB rating and completion percentage … despite being on pace for one of his best statistical seasons ever.

FARRAR: Will the Bears rue Trestman’s call to stay the course with Cutler?

The 2014 season will be Cutler’s ninth in the league and he’ll turn 31 four months before it opens. Expecting him to be even better than he’s been thus far is unrealistic based on his history; paying him upwards of $16-$17 million would be setting the bar too high.

Eric Decker, WR, Broncos: Decker continues to emerge as a star in this league — he had 85 catches and 13 touchdowns last season, and he’s sitting on 73 and eight in those categories, respectively, this season. At just 26, the 6-foot-3 receiver could make the case that he’s a No. 1 WR this offseason.

And therein lies the problem for Decker and the Broncos. Decker and Mike Wallace are not the same receiver, but allow us to look at Wallace as an example. He caught just 58 passes last season, but flashed enough potential to garner a five-year deal at $12 million per this past offseason.

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Decker’s production has lapped that, and WR is one spot where production is often handsomely rewarded. So, for the Broncos to retain Decker, they’d either be looking at a franchise tag (projected around $10.5 million for WRs) or a lucrative, long-term deal. Can they afford to ink Decker for a contract in that Wallace neighborhood with both Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker up for new deals after 2014?

On the flip side, if Decker hits the market, is it possible that he’ll match the production expected of a new contract? There’s certainly an argument to be made that playing in the Denver system with Peyton Manning at quarterback has made him what he is. In 2011, with Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton tossing passes, Decker finished at 44 catches and just 612 yards.

Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions: The thought of finding an athletic, 6-5 tight end in his prime in free agency would have at least a few teams drooling. The performance has never really matched the potential.

Pettigrew’s actually in the midst of his worst season since he was a rookie — 39 catches for 393 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games, with undrafted Joseph Fauria stealing red-zone chances. And that’s in Detroit’s pass-heavy attack.

His five seasons in the Motor City have been filled with flashes of potential and dropped passes. Some team will gamble that he’ll flip the switch permanently.

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Anquan Boldin, WR, 49ers: This all comes down to one thing — age. Boldin was irreplaceable in Baltimore’s Super Bowl run last season and then again so far this season for San Francisco, which only now is starting to get healthy at wide receiver.

There are few more reliable offensive threats in the game, let alone guys who can bail out their quarterbacks as Boldin can. But he’ll be 34 in October. He’s already lasted longer than the mean stay for WRs in this league, and, naturally, a decline should follow.

If a club forks over a three- or four-year deal, it might be difficult to get full value in return.

Branden Albert, OT, Chiefs: Rumors flew around this past offseason that the Chiefs were trying to trade Albert after hitting him with the franchise tag. Now, they face the possibility of having to use that tag again, at a price of approximately $12 million.

Otherwise, Albert figures to walk — and if there’s one thing we’ve seen repeatedly in NFL free agency, it’s that experienced left tackles will find massive contracts somewhere.

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Michael Johnson, DE, Bengals: The Bengals apparently have made their choices along the D-line, spending money in places other than Johnson’s contract. That means the soon-to-be 27-year-old edge-rusher will be free to play the market this offseason.

He has slumped in 2013, with just 3.0 sacks. He still should be able to persuade some team to sign him based off his 2012 production (11.0 sacks) and the possibility that he’s only scratching the surface. Still, buyer beware: Johnson has been inconsistent throughout his career, and he won’t have the benefit of playing alongside Geno Atkins if he bolts Cincinnati.

Shaun Phillips, DE/OLB, Broncos: Give credit to Denver for snatching up Phillips on a cheap, one-year deal this offseason with Von Miller facing suspension. And a pat on the back for Phillips as well — he’s at 10.0 sacks, on pace to challenge his career high of 11.5.

Phillips has gone above and beyond on his current prove-your-worth contract. He should be able to parlay his 2013 effort into one last score in free agency. The team that signs him, though, will be adding a player who will turn 33 before next season and who will likely not match his 2013 output.

Donte Whitner, S, 49ers: The magic of a contract year — Whitner is playing probably the best football of his career in 2013, as he primes to hit free agency. The question is if he can maintain this current level of play beyond 2013, once he’s loaded up with a new deal, or if he’ll regress to the guy who struggled in last season’s playoffs.

Whitner should have enough seasons left in the tank for a team to give him a multi-year deal comfortably. He’s setting the bar rather high, however, with his play right now.

COVER-TWO: Buy the 49ers’ Super Bowl chances

37 comments
mikenolting
mikenolting

Boldin is staying in SF ... he is happy with 49ers and providing for him and his family will not be a problem for the team.

RS1022
RS1022

Cutler has one of the top two or three best arms in the league. Problem is that he's incredibly inconsistent and prone to make awful decisions.

Cutlers problem is that he has underachieved when considering his potential.

RonaldRupert
RonaldRupert

IMO, Cutler is about a #3 QB, he sure isn't a # 1, he only has flashes of being a #1.

JimCody
JimCody

Heil Hitner! I wouldn't overpay for Donte. He's been inconsistent over the years.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

Like to see the Eagles get Boldin for 1 year

Veejh
Veejh

Cutler not the answer for any team.  He just can't get it done.  Average at best.

FLAdomer
FLAdomer

Can we get rid of RGme and take Cutler for Christmas Mr Snyder?

dinotrac
dinotrac

Easy to diss Cutler for his personality, but also easy to forget that he's been through a string of offensive coordinators and different offensive schemes. And the there is the little matter of never playing behind a good offensive line.  I absolutely would take Cutler over Tony Romo.


The real question of worth comes down the question of whether he can take your ballclub to a new level or not.  Cutler can win games.  He's shown that over and over, even when running for his life from opposing defenders.  His biggest knock is injuries, but, frankly, it's amazing he still has his limbs attached with all the protection he's gotten over the years.

RobertSmith
RobertSmith

No one is going to pay the often-concussed Wes Welker massive money.  Playing with Manning and Brady has maximized his stats, and he is highly unlikely to match that output elsewhere.


Cutler is Cutler.  Anyone who pays franchise QB money for him is dooming themselves to irrelevancy

Ericfollowedbyanumber
Ericfollowedbyanumber

Pettigrew is going to be a free agent? Please please please...let him drop passes and fumble away those he catches for another team next season.

geoygolf
geoygolf

A big one I think you missed is Julian Edelman

radioactivez0r
radioactivez0r

Seems pretty ridiculous to compare Manning to Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow.  I mean, I know that's the data available, but surely there is another example of a WR who either did or didn't see a big change in production going from amazing QB to "just OK"?

metalhead65
metalhead65

you may not like Cutler personally but it is not his fault the bears traded for him when he was one of the up and coming young QB's in NFL then provided him with no one but Matt Forte as a supporting cast on offense. it's like the bears coaches looked at what he did with the broncos and said sorry we don't do that here. then because lovie had no clue about offense he kept hiring guys who knew even less. ron turner? mike tice? martz who still thought it was still 1999 and he was running the greatest show on turf? nobody could have done more than what he did with the tools he was given. you say he should have made them better? look at their record without him in the lineup and tell me he didn't. he got them to the NFC championship game didn't he? as for being over paid if romo is worth a 100 million then Cutler is to. when was the last time he won a game that mattered? as for McCown playing better than Cutler look at the teams he beat,some of the worst defenses in the league.

Bearsclone
Bearsclone

" Is he worth $16 million or so under the tag? He’s arguably been outplayed by Josh McCown this season "


If you go by raw stats and the limited sample size, every QB in the NFL except Peyton Manning has been outplayed by Josh McCown this year.  Does any one really think McCown is an elite NFL QB?

Michael39
Michael39

Cutler is a better QB than Flacco or Romo.  And given this season, maybe than Ryan.

John4
John4

@Veejh I like the comment about Cutler being outplayer by McCown (which is true) then the fact that Cutler will still get $16 to $17 Million OR MORE next season.  Interesting.  Cutler is Romo 2.0.

riley8
riley8

@Veejh I tend to agree.  The problem is that there are plenty of below average QB's starting in the NFL.  That is why Cutler will get chance after chance.

Veejh
Veejh

@FLAdomerare you a fooking idiot?  You realize we have Cousins on the bench, right?

el80ne
el80ne

@RobertSmith Welker has always oozed with potential, even when he played for Miami with a guy named Joey Harrington throwing to him, he still managed close to 700 yards on the season. It's what made NE trade for him. I agree that his concussions make him questionable for a big payday, but taking that out he's still the premier slot receiver in the league with or without Brady/Manning. 

pvs
pvs

@RobertSmith Is Welker going to be a FA.....or did he sign a two year deal with Denver?

Mike26
Mike26

@geoygolf That's true.  Many of Brady's top targets have gone on to huge deals and successes....oh wait.

Mike26
Mike26

@radioactivez0r Wake up dude.  Decker has played 3 seasons - 2 with Manning and 1 with Tebow.  To what other QB should he be compared.

dchiu2013
dchiu2013

@metalhead65 only fan geeks whine about player's salaries. Sports is a business and each player is a business, man.  Lemme see you turn down money if your employer or business offers you a lucrative salary. 

Mike26
Mike26

@Bearsclone Cutler has elite PHYSICAL tools; his mental tools are average to occasionally brilliant.  

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@Bearsclone Forget the part about McCown outplaying him and focus on the part that said Cutler was having one of his best seasons ever and he's barely on the fringe of being a top ten QB in most of the important categories for QB's...


No, McCown is not an elite QB but neither is Cutler.  Cutler is good, above average even but not elite.


Elite QB's right now are Manning, Brady, Rodgers and Brees.


I said right now.  Russel Wilson has a chance to get there.  He's played well both last yr and this season too, well above a 100 QB rating this yr.  


Elite means doing it over and over for several yrs, not just one or two great seasons.  I'm not putting Russel down, but it's only his 2nd season and all the signs are pointing in the right direction.


Rivers in up there but not equal to the four I mentioned.  Ryan, very good but not elite.  Flacco?  Again, good but not elite, just like Eli.  Stafford, getting better finally and very good, just not elite yet either.


In another 3 yrs or so, only Rodgers should be elite out of the four I mentioned due to Father Time finally catching up to Manning and Brady and most likely Brees too by then.

daveh1
daveh1

@Michael39lay off the sauce, son. that is a ridiculous statement, even cutler agrees that is crazy talk...

Plainview
Plainview

@Michael39 I'm not sure about better than Flacco.  I am thinking comparable .  Cutler has his good and bad days just like Flacco.  They match up pretty close in statistical categories, with the exception of passing yards but Cutler throws more.  So Cutler wins in that regard. 

However, Cutler has never done anything in the playoffs, good or bad.  Who knows what kind of playoff QB he is. 

Flacco, on the other hand, has 5 years of playoff experience under his belt and has gotten better in the playoffs every year.  

Mike26
Mike26

@Veejh @FLAdomer The more Cousins plays the less love he'll get and the less value he'll hold.

RobertSmith
RobertSmith

@pvs @RobertSmith The story mentions Welker being a FA after 2014 as a reason the Broncos might not be able to sign Decker now.  My point is -- don't let the future possibility of Welker interfere with signing Decker now.  That would not be a smart trade-off.  

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@pvs I think RobertSmith was thinking of Decker and not Welker

RobertSmith
RobertSmith

@PhillyPenn @pvs No, I was thinking about Welker and the part about where they couldn't pay Decker because Welker would be demanding a new contract after 2014.  My point is Welker will not be worth a huge contract given his age and medical experience.  If you want to retain one or the other, pick Decker.

RobertSmith
RobertSmith

@riley8 @pvs @RobertSmith The question is what I would pay Welker after 2014 when his contract ends.  I don't think he will be worth $6M per year when that happens.  He will be 34 when the 2015 season starts with a history of concussions that makes him a questionable receiver to count on going over the middle.  Sign Decker now.  Don't save the money for Welker.  He may be out of football by 2015.