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2019 NFL free agency's worst contracts: Broncos raise eyebrows

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Good players often get paid like superstars in free agency. That's just how it works. The regrettable deals -- from a team perspective -- detailed below often go further than that, creating inflexible contract terms with big risks.

NOTE: All contract figures are from Over The Cap or from numbers filed to the NFL Players Association and the NFL.

Ja'Wuan James, OT, Denver Broncos: I'm always wary of monster free-agent contracts given out to cover the sins of previous free agency mistakes. The Broncos have attempted to solve their right tackle problem since Peyton Manning was still part of the GOAT conversation, going from Ryan Harris to Michael Schofield to Menelik Watson to Jared Veldheer. None of them worked. James is a better player than anyone in that group, but the Broncos paid a huge tax for John Elway's previous misfires, giving James $13 million per season. That's a Pro Bowl-level contract, when James has been closer to a league-average starter in Miami. The MMQB had a piece last week that said the Dolphins spent a lot of energy each game to hide James and were "already laughing" about this contract.

Kareem Jackson, CB, Denver Broncos: Jackson was excellent in 2018, but it's difficult to expect another career year from a player turning 31 years old and changing teams. The Texans didn't even offer Jackson a contract, probably because they based his value more on the previous three seasons rather than just one year. (Perhaps it was one game for the Denver brass, because Jackson destroyed the Broncos in Week 9 of the 2018 season.) Even with all that said, Jackson is only on this list because he's fully guaranteed $23 million over the next two seasons. In this era of teams prizing flexibility, it's that second year of guaranteed money that got Elway into trouble with Case Keenum -- and could get him in trouble with Jackson.

Kwon Alexander, LB, San Francisco 49ers: I've read analysis about Alexander's surprisingly generous four-year, $54 million deal with the 49ers, pointing out that "only" $14.25 million is fully guaranteed and it all comes in Year 1. That's viewed as a positive. In theory, the 49ers could get out of the deal after one year with only $3 million in dead money on the cap next year. In this scenario, however, the 49ers would have paid $14.25 million for one year of work to an inside linebacker coming off a torn ACL who underperforms. And they'd be back to the drawing board at the same position where they burned a first-round pick on Reuben Foster. It's a market-moving contract in which the 49ers are projecting Alexander will be better, post-surgery, than he was in Tampa. In a best-case scenario, there's not much value here.

Mitch Morse, C, Buffalo Bills: Plenty of the Bills' contracts (John Brown, Cole Beasley, Jordan Phillips) were relative bargains, but Morse's deal is the rare example of one that's better for the player when examining the details. Morse is due more than $28 million in the first two years of his contract, and only $16 million in the last two. So it's a front-loaded pact where any flexibility for Buffalo to leave the deal after two years will only come after paying Morse as the best center in football. To put it another way: Teams that can't develop their own linemen often pay double for it. The recent stretch of ex-Chiefs starters who have struggled away from Kansas City -- guys like Jeff Allen and Zach Fulton -- doesn't help Morse's case.

Jesse James, TE, Detroit Lions: General manager Bob Quinn was not shy about spending money. Defensive end Trey Flowers received $28 million just to sign. Justin Coleman went from an afterthought in a trade from New England to Seattle in 2017 to one of the highest-paid slot cornerbacks in football. But at least coach Matt Patricia knows what he's getting in both defenders. James has never gained more than 423 yards in a season or scored more than three touchdowns and he still will get $8 million in 2019 pay and a fully guaranteed 2020 contract. The lack of options at tight end pushed the market up, including Tyler Kroft's deal in Buffalo.

Za'Darius Smith, DE/OLB, Green Bay Packers: Smith is another good player whose contract projects him to be more than what he's shown throughout his career. With the 26-year-old due more than $34 million over the next two seasons, the Packers better hope he's not a one-year wonder. Smith's first three seasons in Baltimore were relatively quiet. There also has to be a concern that playing on the edge for the Ravens juices pass-rushing stats because the team so often wins before the snap with play calls.

James Carpenter and Jamon Brown, OG, Atlanta Falcons: Paying a premium in the first days of free agency for mid-tier guards who didn't impress in previous spots is a sign of a position group gone wrong.

Almost everything the Cincinnati Bengals did: Bringing back some familiar veterans is fine, but the numbers behind Cincinnati's moves to re-up struggling tackle Bobby Hart and linebacker Preston Brown were surprising, with both guys signing three-year pacts that could end up paying out more than $20 million. Other moves, like signing guard John Miller (three years, $16.5 million) and cornerback B.W. Webb (three years, worth up to $13 million), made bargain shopping look expensive.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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