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5 worst NFL cornerback contracts

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 11: Brandon Carr #39 of the Dallas Cowboys in action against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 11, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Cowboys 26-21. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

As the NFL continues its evolution towards a passing league, finding numerous players that can cover on the outside is of ultimate importance. Of the top five teams in terms of pass-coverage grades last season (Carolina, New England, Denver, Kansas City, and Arizona), four made their conference’s championship game. Given the importance of the cornerback position, many teams have broken the bank for players. In 2016, at least 10 cornerbacks will have contracts that pay them $10 million or more per season. Not all of these big-money deals are met with comparable production, however, which can severely hamstring teams with respect to building a team under the salary cap. Here we give the bottom five cornerback contracts (with rookie deals excluded).

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

1. Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns

Years remaining on current deal: Four

Average remaining cap hit: $13.28 million

Year he could realistically be cut: 2018

Even before 2015, Haden’s play had always been a rung or two below his reputation. In 2015, this dynamic magnified, with Haden finishing with a 32.2 overall grade before his season ended prematurely with a concussion. He allowed a near-perfect 158.2 passer rating into his coverage last season, surrendering an average of 4.8 receptions, 77.4 yards, and 0.8 touchdowns per game in his five outings. He missed more tackles (five) in 290 snaps last season than he did in 1,044 snaps in 2014.

Even if we erase from our memory his disastrous 2015 season, one would assume that Haden’s past production would come close to warranting his current deal. The 29th-, 12th-, 20th-, ninth-, and sixth-highest graded cornerback going back from 2014 to 2010, respectively, Haden’s deal is easily among the top five at the position going into the 2016 season. With $20.1 million in dead money left on the contract, the now analytically-minded Browns need to hope for a return to at least his 2013 form to obtain commensurate value from Haden, an outcome made even less likely by the fact that his offseason ankle surgery leaves his availability for opening day in doubt.

2. Brandon Carr, Dallas Cowboys

Years remaining on current deal: Two

Average remaining cap hit: $6.47 million

Year he could realistically be cut: 2017

After some productive years in Brandon Flowers’ shadow in Kansas City, Carr signed a big-money deal to join the Dallas Cowboys in the 2012 offseason. While he graded positively in 2012 and 2013, he’s never lived up to his contract, which still remains in the top-12 among cornerbacks in the NFL. Last season, Carr finished as the 73rd-highest-graded cornerback in the league, surrendering a 117.6 passer rating into his coverage and allowing six touchdowns (no interceptions). He allowed a 114.0 passer rating into his coverage in 2014, also surrendering a 6:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Carr’s high salary and struggles have been magnified in an environment where 2012 top-six pick Morris Claiborne has both struggled and been injured during the course of his career. Additionally, standout cornerback Orlando Scandrick missed all of 2015 with injury, forcing the shaky duo to play 1,744 snaps last season—causing the Cowboys to rank 24th in overall defensive grade. Carr’s contract, which calls for a $10.22 cap number in 2016, should be voided before the 2017 season, ending one of the more disappointing deals in franchise history.

3. Brandon Flowers, San Diego Chargers

Years remaining on current deal: Three

Average remaining cap hit: $10.72 million

Year he could realistically be cut: 2017

One of the better cornerbacks in the league at one time, the former Chief was one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL last year, finishing with the 109th overall grade at the position. He gave up the seventh-most yards per coverage snap last year among cornerbacks (1.71), with the passer rating of 123.4 into his coverage being 11th-worst. This performance was in stark contrast to his 2014 production, where in his first season in San Diego, he gave up just 1.36 yards per coverage snap and a passer rating of just 84.2. This career re-birth gave rise to the four-year, $36.4-million-dollar deal he signed in the 2015 offseason.

In the 2016 offseason, the Chargers replaced slot cornerback Patrick Robinson with an economical signing in Casey Hayward, and appear set to team him with the emerging Jason Verrett at cornerback. With the signing of Hayward, Flowers appears set to compete for a nickelback spot on the San Diego defense. While the nickel defense is the base defense of today’s NFL, an average salary of more than $9 million to a third cornerback is a lot, especially given that third cornerback’s performance in two of the last three years. Flowers will need to return to his pre-2013 form—or at least to that of 2014—to come anywhere close to justifying the Chargers’ investment in him moving forward.

4. Darrelle Revis, New York Jets

Years remaining on current deal: Four

Average remaining cap hit: $13.53 million

Year he could realistically be cut: 2018

Revis’ inclusion in this list has a lot more to do with his age (30) and cap number ($17 million in 2016) than with his ability as a player. Be that as it may, Revis showed signs of slowing down in 2015, finishing 30th among cornerbacks with a 79.4 overall grade. Possessing the second-highest contract at the position on a per-year basis, Revis’ 1.04 yards per coverage snap allowed, while good, was tied with Prince Amukamara ($6.90 million salary in 2015), Jimmie Ward ($1.62 million), and Kyle Wilson ($0.67 million) for 17th among cornerbacks last season. His tackling efficiency (14.3) was 18th among cornerbacks last year.

Revis remains one of the premier cornerbacks in the league, but the Jets pay a premium for his services—to the determent of the rest of the roster. With Muhammad Wilkerson’s situation up in the air, questions at the quarterback position, and just over $3 million in cap space, New York has little flexibility cap-wise, in many ways because the franchise has invested so much to bring Revis back into the fold. In order to justify his current deal, Revis will have to play at the age of 31 like he played at the age of 26 (the last time he led cornerbacks in total coverage grades)—likely a difficult feat.

5. Jason McCourty, Tennessee Titans

Years remaining on current deal: Two

Average remaining cap hit: $7.9 million

Year he could realistically be cut: 2016

After six seasons as a positively-graded player, McCourty struggled last year, finishing with a 41.5 overall grade. His season was hampered by groin injury that saw him play in just 218 snaps. Even before last season, he was starting to show signs of decline, posting a negative coverage grade in 2014 (65th-best among cornerbacks), while allowing a 67.2 completion percentage and over 1,000 yards into his coverage.

As the Titans continue to build a team that has been near the bottom of the NFL for half a decade, McCourty’s contract may not be something they are willing to accommodate moving forward. With Tennessee’s acquisition of cheaper options like Brice McCain and Antwon Blake, and just $1.8 million in dead money left on McCourty’s deal, it will be interesting to see if McCourty makes it out of training camp this season. If he does, he’ll need to produce more like he did in 2013—when he was the 20th-highest-graded coverage corner in the league—to come anywhere close to justifying being the Titan’s highest-paid player.

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