Worst free-agency deals: Case Keenum, Jordy Nelson overpriced

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After nearly a week of free agency spending, it's time to take stock of what's happened. Gregg Rosenthal examines the worst contracts handed out thus far -- from the team's perspective. All contract figures are from Over the Cap or from numbers filed to the NFL Players Association and the NFL.

Case Keenum, Broncos quarterback: The Vikings bought low on Keenum last year at $2 million when quarterback-needy teams like the Broncos ignored him. The Broncos bought exceedingly high this offseason with a two-year, $36 million contract.

The money is an incredible achievement for a likable player who has gone through a lot in his career, as NFL Films documented in the Rams' underrated "All or Nothing" season. But it was very surprising to see the Broncos fully guarantee $7 million of Keenum's 2019 salary, along with his entire $18 million salary guaranteed for injury. The Broncos will be literally paying for this move for two years, and they could be figuratively paying for it longer, unless Broncos executive John Elway finally solves the team's offensive line and run-game issues. So much of the support that made Keenum money in Minnesota won't be traveling west with him.

Jordy Nelson, Raiders wide receiver: It's rare to find many free-agency wins throughout history in which a team pays an aging receiver coming off a disastrous season starting-caliber money. NFL Network's James Jones was quoted last week saying that the Packers "really, really low-balled" Nelson in a half-hearted bid to keep him, which indicates the team that knew Nelson best believes he's all but done.

Oakland, on the other hand, guaranteed Nelson $13 million on a two-year, $15 million contract. It's the guaranteed money into the second year of the deal that puts Nelson's contract on this list. If the Raiders made a mistake here, it's going to hurt them in 2019, too.

Jimmy Graham, Packers tight end: The Saints signed Graham to a four-year, $40 million contract to make him the highest paid tight end in football back in 2014. Four years later, he somehow signed for the same average salary on a three-year deal with Green Bay to make him the NFL's highest-paid tight end again at age 31. (NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reports Graham will make $13 million in 2018, a full $4 million more in cash than any tight end will earn this year.) Graham once overwhelmed opponents with his athleticism, but that's no longer the case. He's a strong role player at this stage of his career who is still getting paid like a superstar. After years of treating free agency like a contagious virus, Packers fans could wind up pining for the good old peaceful days under former GM Ted Thompson.

Practically every big-ticket offensive line signing: Supply and demand was a problem for teams in need of offensive linemen. The market forced the Giants to pay Nate Solder starting quarterback money despite Solder never having made a Pro Bowl. It forced the Browns to give Chris Hubbard, a super sub in Pittsburgh, quality starter money.

The Bucs made Ryan Jensen the highest-paid center in football despite him making all of 16 starts at center in his career, all in 2017. (The Ravens never viewed Jensen as more than a backup in his five seasons, elevating him to a starter only because of injuries.) Former Giants Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh were both paid like stars despite serious injury concerns.

Some of these moves will work out, but history says that most will not. Offensive lines are mysterious beasts, with coaching, cohesion and continuity often playing a bigger role than talent. Teams are essentially paying a premium in free agency for failing to draft and develop linemen, ponying up exorbitant prices for players that previous teams believed were expendable.

Trent Murphy and Star Lotulelei, Bills defensive linemen: Murphy missed the entire 2017 season due to a torn ACL and MCL, which helped cover up the PED suspension he received from the league. He was a compelling boom-or-bust free agent, but I never expected him to get a $22.5 million contract after such a disastrous contract year.

Lotulelei is following former Panthers GM Brandon Beane to Buffalo. While Lotulelei was probably more helpful against the run than his ranking on Pro Football Focus indicates -- he hasn't cracked PFF's top-50 defensive tackles since 2014 -- it's still surprising to see a one-dimensional player inspire a team to fork over $17 million in the first year of his contract and $25 million over the first two years. It's especially surprising when a superior version of the same player, Marcell Dareus, was just shipped out of Buffalo.

Anthony Hitchens, Chiefs linebacker: Free agency so often comes down to timing and connections. Hitchens happened to time his trip into the open market to coincide in the same season that his old position coach with the Cowboys, Matt Eberflus, was named the defensive coordinator with the Colts. That led to a bidding war and a contract that raised eyebrows around the league.

It's rare to see any inside linebacker get a $14 million signing bonus and $21.5 million fully guaranteed over the first two years of a contract, much less one who has never come close to a Pro Bowl berth. The Chiefs believe Hitchens can add some pass-rush ability from the position, but something doesn't add up when Hitchens' contract is in the ballpark of Luke Kuechly's and Bobby Wagner's last deals. Even limiting the comparison to this year's free-agent market, more productive players like Avery Williamson and Zach Brown received vastly inferior contracts.

That's worrisome news for the Chiefs, but great news for Hitchens and his agent. Every "worst contract" on this list could easily be flipped and called a "best contract" for the player involved, rare cases where the teams lose in a system stacked heavily in their favor.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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