Even the dodgy contracts in this market limited guarantees to the first two years, for the most part. Risk was calculated and short-term. What happened at the offensive tackle position was the biggest exception to the growing awareness of how not to spend, but general managers still didn't lose their minds with the overabundance of salary-cap space.
That trend makes it a little harder to complete the "worst contracts" part of this exercise evaluating the best and worst deals from agency, but it's far from impossible. Below are the nine most questionable deals -- from the teams' perspective, that is -- thus far.
NOTE: All contract figures cited in this piece are according to numbers filed to the NFL Players Association and the NFL.
Kyle Juszczyk, fullback and Malcolm Smith, linebacker, San Francisco 49ers: Successful teams set a price for a player and stick to it. The 49ers appeared to lock in a list of players they planned to obtain and only accepted signing them right away. That's how Juszczyk, a great fullback, came to be paid as one of the top-10 running backs in football at $5 million per year. He's earning double the amount of the previous highest-paid fullback in salary and guaranteed money. Linebacker Malcolm Smith, a bust in Oakland at $3.5 million per season, received $12 million fully guaranteed over the next two seasons.
The 49ers' large swath of signings wasn't all bad. The numbers just stood out. It looks like agents smelled blood in the water with new general manager John Lynch and knocked him around at the negotiating table.
Markus Wheaton, Chicago Bears receiver: As Chris Wesseling sagely noted on the "Around the NFL" podcast Monday, corporations sometimes allocate money to be spent, and that money gets spent, no matter what. That's what appeared to happen in Chicago after the Bears struck out on cornerback Stephon Gilmore (who signed in New England) and let receiver Alshon Jeffery get away.
How else can they explain giving Wheaton, a role player who missed most of 2016 with the Steelers, nearly the same contract that six-time Pro Bowler Brandon Marshallreceived with the Giants? Wheaton will get the same amount of money in 2017 as Terrelle Pryor. The Bears also had to overpay to get blocking tight end Dion Sims to leave Miami on a three-year, $18 million contract.
Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams receiver: It's not great when the tweet breaking the news of a receiver's signing mentions his blocking ability first. Woods is a role player who has never topped 700 yards in a season, and yet, he was given $15 million guaranteed by the Rams. Perhaps the only receiver who was given more money and had less production is Woods' new Rams teammate Tavon Austin. The Rams have had a nasty habit in recent years of paying solid contributors (Mark Barron, Michael Brockers, Trumaine Johnson) superstar prices, and their handling of Woods was a continuation of the theme.
Matt Kalil, Kelvin Beachum and Luke Joeckel: This section could easily be called "every tackle contract signed this offseason." That theory I proposed above about NFL teams getting smarter doesn't hold up at offensive tackle, where desperation and a paucity of options combined to create some deals destined to be regretted.
Matt Kalil was considered a problem in Minnesota. In Carolina, he became a solution to the team's empty left tackle job -- at the price of $25 million guaranteed. It's a crazy figure, considering he's coming off hip surgery and back-to-back disappointing seasons before that. The deal had repercussions throughout free agency, with Russell Okung and Riley Reiff earning similar contracts after Kalil. (My imagined agent pitch for them: "Well, he's better than Kalil, and look what Kalil got!")
Beachum makes the list because the Jets guaranteed so much money into his second season with the team. He signed a "prove it" deal with Jacksonville and proved to be one of the worst starters in football, according to Pro Football Focus. Jacksonville didn't even wait until free agency this season to move on replacing him. Yet, Beachum received a better deal in free agency this year and is very likely to earn $16 million over the next two seasons.
Strangely, making the mistake of paying ex-Jaguars personnel has been a trend. Former No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel inspired the Seahawks to give him $8 million for the 2017 season, presumably based on his college game tape. He struggled to keep his job in Jacksonville or provide average starter play before tearing his ACL last season.
Andre Branch and Lawrence Timmons, Miami Dolphins: Signing veteran leaders that the Steelers allow to leave is rarely good business. Timmons' $12 million contract over two years could look bad in 2018 because nearly all of the money is guaranteed, and linebackers who can't cover rarely age well (Timmons is 30). Branch's contract -- three years for $24 million, with $17 million guaranteed -- wasn't too crazy in a market starved for pass rushers. But you win in free agency by looking for the nextAndre Branch, an afterthought in 2016 who came to the Dolphins at a discount rate.