(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS) — Pro athletes are overpaid.
In the context of what they contribute to society compared to teachers, police officers, firemen and the like, who’s going to argue? Yet who should complain given the perspective of professional sports market forces that easily support nine-figure, multi-year contracts?
Still, it’s amazing to learn that an NFL receiver who doesn’t even average a first down per reception can pull down $47 million in guarantees and more than $15 million annually — but that’s exactly what the Cleveland Browns decided Jarvis Landry was worth Thursday.
Good for Landry. Get paid while you can, especially in a league that chews up players with brutal efficiency. Still, when trying to align production with value, he sticks out among a group of the NFL’s most, well — for lack of a better term — overpaid.
Our top five:
1. 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Wow. Five years, $137.5 million … for a player with just seven NFL starts. Granted, “Jimmy GQ” filled the seats and the stat sheet while leading the once-woebegone Niners to a 5-0 surge to end the 2017 season. But GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan better pray that past performance (67.3% career completion rate, 99.7 QB rating) is at least indicative of future returns. Meanwhile, paupers like Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan can gleefully ponder their own future returns after Garoppolo help reset the quarterback pay scale.
2. Jaguars DT Marcell Dareus: He’s in the middle of a six-year, $96.6 million pact. Nice player … when he’s giving requisite effort on the field and staying out of trouble off of it. But you can’t blame Buffalo for unloading him last season, and it’s worth wondering how long the Jags will pay this kind of freight for a guy who only cracked the starting lineup of their talented defensive front once after his Oct. 27 trade and has averaged a meager 2½ sacks over the past three seasons.
3. Vikings QB Kirk Cousins: He’ll make $84 million guaranteed over the next three seasons and, by averaging $28M, he’s become the league’s new top earner on an annual basis. Like Garoppolo and Landry, he cashed in when his value was peaking and the salary cap expanding. And it always helps to play the most prominent position in the American sporting landscape — fellow QBs Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford and Garoppolo have all taken turns as the NFL’s most-minted passers in the last year. Yet like Cousins, none of those guys has won a playoff game. Cousins himself has some nice numbers — 81 TD passes over the last three years and at least 4,000 yards in all of them — but his record is only 24-23-1 in that period. But apparently being average in the win-loss column still allows you to be an all-pro in the funds available column.
4. Browns WR Jarvis Landry: Excluding quarterbacks, only five offensive players are earning more on a yearly basis than Landry ($15.1M average), who’s played in one postseason game and averaged 8.8 yards per catch last season — meaning he didn’t surpass 1,000 overall despite a league-high 112 receptions. Yes, he’s a nice player with magnificent hands who can be deployed in a variety of ways. But he’s not a gamebreaker who costs defensive coordinators sleep … unlike, say, Le’Veon Bell, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Keenan Allen et al. And if a Landry is among the league’s top 10 receivers … he’s no better than 10th. Sorry.
5. Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict: This will be a fascinating case study. Despite a litany of suspensions, injuries and dumb penalties — who will ever forget that 2015 wild-card loss to the Steelers which Burfict had such a big hand in? — Cincinnati brass somehow decided it was a good idea to reward him with a three-year, $32.5 million contract. However, after Burfict’s latest four-game suspension was upheld Thursday (he’ll begin serving to start the 2018 season), his $11.3 million in guarantees will void. The question now becomes whether the Bengals will have the good sense to walk away from a bad deal.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis