5 worst NFL edge defender contracts

Analyst John Breitenbach identifies the five least team-friendly contracts in the NFL, including Julius Peppers' deal with the Packers.

| 12 months ago
(Andrew Weber/Getty Images)

(Andrew Weber/Getty Images)

5 worst NFL edge defender contracts

We continue our series on the best and worst contracts at each position, this time with the most overpaid veteran edge defenders. For each player named, we give the years remaining on his contract, the average cap hit he has against the team for the remaining years of his deal, and the season in which the team can cut him and have more cap savings than dead money (if applicable).

[Editor’s note: All cap numbers are from Over the Cap. To see the best five edge defender contracts, click here.]

1. Mario Williams, Miami Dolphins

Years remaining: Two

Average remaining cap hit (per season): $8.5 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2017

The Dolphins could have retained Olivier Vernon on the franchise tag for only a little more than they gave Mario Williams over two years. Williams suffered a dreadful season in Buffalo, recording the worst pass-rush grade of all edge defenders. He managed only 37 combined pressures in 507 rushes, ranking fourth from bottom in pass-rushing productivity. Williams’ 42.5 pass-rush grade helped him to 93rd in our overall edge defender rankings.

The Bills’ wisely noticed the decline in Williams’ performance, cutting ties with him at the right time. The fact Miami decided to hand him $17 million over two years is baffling. Their bookend pass-rushers consist of a 34-year-old coming off an ACL surgery and a 31-year-old coming off the worst season of his career. In the likely case of another disappointing season, Williams’ will cost $2 million in dead money to cut. It would be a surprise if he played well enough to make the $10.5 million he’s set to earn.

2. Ahmad Brooks, San Francisco 49ers

Years remaining: Two

Average remaining cap hit (per season): $8.32 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2017

Brooks was playing well when he first signed his six-year, $37 million contract, but he hasn’t made the sort of impact required since 2012. Not since 2013 has he graded positively as a pass-rusher. Brooks managed only 35 combined pressures in 399 snaps a year ago, finishing with a 47.6 pass-rush grade.

Cap hits tend to increase in long-term contracts. That’s the case with Brooks’ deal, which paid him an average of only around $5 million in the first four years. San Francisco isn’t short of cap space, but they lack talent throughout the roster. At the age of 32, the 49ers need to find a contingency plan for an underperforming veteran.

3. Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals

Years remaining: Three

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $5.8 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2017

Johnson is not set to make a ton from the Bengals in the remaining years of his contract, but will surely have been expected to contribute more than the 50 combined pressures he managed a year ago. Returning to the team where he made his name after a disastrous season in Tampa, he failed to induce the form of previous years. Johnson managed only a 45.9 pass-rush grade, even if he set the edge well against the run.

Johnson’s contract is not obscene, but he cannot be cut this year or he would incur $5.4 million in dead money. Even after this year, he has a total of $3.4 million in guarantees remaining in his contract. Run-defending defensive ends are a dime a dozen, and probably not worth around $6 million per season.

4. Julius Peppers, Green Bay Packers

Years remaining: One

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $10.5 million

The Packers are loathe to sign free agents. They made an exception for division-rival Julius Peppers, handing him close to $9 million over three years back in 2014. He earned $12 million a year ago, and is set to earn $10.5 million this season. Peppers remains productive, but a player of his quality and pay-grade is expected to make more of an impact.

Peppers is paid to rush the passer, reducing the importance of his production in coverage and against the run. Just as well, because he graded negatively in those facets of play. He was simply not consistent enough collapsing the pocket, managing only 54 combined pressures from 413 snaps. Peppers 80.0 pass-rush grade was 27th amongst edge defenders last season, while his $10.5 million cap hit was seventh. A traditionally frugal franchise, it’s somewhat surprising Peppers remains on the deal he signed two years ago.

5. Paul Kruger, Cleveland Browns

Years remaining: Two

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $7.95 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2017

Kruger has not been a terrible free-agent signing, but he’s never replicated the form he showed in Baltimore with Cleveland. The deal may not look particularly excessive now, but he received serious change in the 2013 offseason, signing up for $40 million over five years with $13 million guaranteed. His contract has counted $8 million against the cap in each of his three seasons, making it more palatable now that the overall cap has increased.

Kruger performed adequately as a pass-rusher in 2015, finishing with a 78.3 overall grade. He recorded a high number of pressures (43), but managed only 11 knockdowns only three of which were sacks. The big plays have not carried over from his early-career performances. He also posted a measly 48.3 run-defense grade a year ago. Kruger has not been a bust in Cleveland, but he has failed to develop into the dominant pass-rusher the Browns had likely hoped for.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • gllmiaspr

    “The Dolphins could have retained Olivier Vernon on the franchise tag for only a little more than they gave Mario Williams over two years”
    The franchise tag for DE this year was listed at 15.7 for one year. The actual contract that OV signed had 40 million guaranteed with a 20 million signing bonus.
    Mario Williams had 8.5 million guaranteed for one year. The Dolphins can walk away after one year and do not owe him a penny next year. And they are hoping that Mario Williams who could not play as 3-4 DE would return to form as a 4-3 DE. They may be wrong on that one but they saved about half of OV’s price with the franchise tag.
    I was hoping that OV could be retained but to call the numbers comparable is baffling.

    • Jack

      Have to agree with you on this one. Williams had one bad year playing in a scheme he was not suited for. PFF is over reacting for one bad season. It really doesn’t matter though. Once the season starts PFF is going to toss these articles to the wind and act like they were never written.

      • shaunhan murray

        Mario has always been overrated

        • Jack

          Sure, overrated, but who cares? What really matters is if he is overpaid. We will know that once we are a few games into the season.

    • debbiddfff

      If I’m not mistaken, OV had about 50 yards worth of sacks last season and about 45 yards worth of penalties. He’s an average player.

  • GM

    Again PFF, a “bad contract” should be determined by dead money if player was cut and how dead money and the player’s cap space affects a team’s ability to maneuver over the next two seasons.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Well, I’d like to say we Bear fans are heartbroken that Peppers has struggled with Green Bay….but who are we kidding!

    • Justmy2cents

      Kinda the same way Packer fans feel when we see how poorly run a franchise the Bears have become, but I guess we just have to settle it in the playoffs….wait you actually have to be in them first whoops

  • gary grimes

    And if the Patriots had signed Williams to the exact same contract, it would have been reported as a great deal and genius move signing a proven veteran to a short term deal they could get out of. Whatever.

    • shaunhan murray


  • debbiddfff

    Olivier Vernon is not that good. I’ve seen just about all his pro games. He’s crazy overpaid.

    • Mike Andrus

      OV gets QB hits but not sacks. I would take Mario over OV 100% of the time. Giving OV the transition tag money would have been over paying him. They say how bad a year Mario had but he only had 2 & 1/2 sacks less than OV. Wake had a 1/2 sack less than OV & Wake only played 7 games. I have watched every Dolphins game for years & I would like to know how in the world people think OV is worth anywhere near what he is getting paid. He is not worth more than maybe 8 million a year & that’s probably stretching it. He had his chance last year to show what he is made of with Wake out & he failed miserably. Getting hits on the QB is what made his PFF grade so high but those hits didn’t do anything to win games. Plus OV gets a lot of low hit penalties & it wouldn’t surprise me to see him pay some more fines & possibly get suspended for his low hits on QBs

  • Gerry

    It turns to be that if NE had hired Mario that would have been genius instead. Fortunately most of the times these comments are rarely accurate

  • Trevor A Fahrenbruck

    I’m sorry but this article is ridiculous, how can any one year contract for a future hall of famer, who yes maybe struggles in some areas but kicks ass at accomplishing his main purpose (rushing the passer) be a bad contract? He stinks we cut him; and lose out on money that isn’t being used for this current season. Julius Peppers contract in my mind may not be a ‘steal’ but by no means is a bad contract. I really cannot read articles by John anymore without thinking he doesn’t know what he is talking about.