NFL owners have navigated through years of labor battles and escaped without having to fully guarantee contracts. Instead, teams offer huge signing bonuses and partial base salary guarantees to compete.
To appease fan bases and promote ticket sales, teams will venture into bad contracts. Many will rush to judgment on the Buffalo Bills signing Mario Williams to a six-year, $96 million contract. Through seven games, Williams has 3.5 sacks and 16 tackles.
But seven games don't define a signing. Julius Peppers had two sacks and 16 tackles in the first seven games of his six-year, $84 million contract with the Bears, and no one is questioning that deal in Chicago.
Here is my list of the 10 worst current NFL contracts:
1. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans (six years, $80.96 million): This might be tough to justify after Johnson's 195-yard effort against Buffalo, but the Bills' defense has been making a lot of money for opposing players. Before Sunday's game, Johnson averaged 50.2 yards over the first six weeks. But in the first year of Johnson's contract, CJ2K was CJ1K, rushing for 1,047 yards and averaging a modest 4.0 yards per carry. Johnson's salary goes from $8 million to $10 million next year. The Titans view the contract as a four-year, $56 million extension, but in a quarterback-driven league, it's tough to pay a running back like a quarterback unless he's among the league leaders.
2. Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles (six years, $100 million): The Eagles are coming off a bye week in which Andy Reid fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, and he is evaluating every position. Vick is the quarterback for now, but after the so-called "Dream Team" didn't make the playoffs last season, the 3-3 start has everything under review. Reid could be in trouble if the Eagles don't make the playoffs, and that would affect Vick. He has $47.5 million coming to him in 2013-15, but the Eagles might try to get out of the deal if Reid is gone.
3. Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets (three years, $40.4 million): The Jets aren't "Tebowing" about this contract. Four years into his career, Sanchez is at a career-low 53.2 completion percentage and Rex Ryan has to explain weekly why he doesn't replace Sanchez with Tim Tebow. Though he was part of an AFC Championship Game participant his first two seasons, Sanchez's performance has declined with the shrinking offensive talent around him. The problem is twofold. The Jets are more than $7 million over next year's cap, and Sanchez has a $10 million guarantee in 2013. It would be hard to get rid of him.
4. Kevin Kolb, QB, Arizona Cardinals (six years, $62.1 million): The Cardinals felt so good about this deal that they stalked Peyton Manning with the idea of upgrading at quarterback. Kolb has looked no better than a backup. He's battled enough injuries that players question his toughness. John Skelton beat out Kolb for the starting job, and even though Kolb was 3-2 filling in for him, Skelton seems to be the better option for the Cardinals.
5. Matt Cassel, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (six years, $58 million): A good portion of the Kansas City crowd cheered when Cassel suffered a concussion. Cassel has recovered, but he has lost his job to Brady Quinn. This is Cassel's fourth and, most likely, last season in Kansas City. His salaries go to $7.5 million and $9 million in the final two years of his contract, but he's never completed better than 59.5 percent of his passes for better than 6.9 yards an attempt.
6. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers (five years, $43 million): The coaching staff thought so much of the $8.6 million-a-year running back that he was on the field for five plays Sunday against Dallas even though he's healthy. He has 50 carries for 177 yards, which puts him on pace for a 472-yard season. The Panthers have sizable investments in two other running backs, Jonathan Stewart at $36.5 million for five years and Mike Tolbert at $10 million for four years. Oh, and by the way, Williams turns 30 next April, making him a target for release.
7. Tyson Jackson, DE, Kansas City Chiefs (five years, $56.2 million): Scott Pioli drafted Jackson with the third pick of the 2009 draft to be a mainstay in the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense. The problem is that Jackson and Glenn Dorsey come off the field when opponents go to three- and four-receiver sets. In only one game this season has Jackson been on the field for more than 40 plays. He has two sacks and 139 tackles in four seasons and his salary goes to $14.72 million next year, the final year of his contract.
8. Will Smith, DE, New Orleans Saints (six years, $60.8 million): Smith had 13 sacks in 2009, one year after signing this extension, but he's had only 14 since. The Saints struggle to pressure the quarterback. Smith is 31. He might have to restructure his deal after the season because the Saints are close to $17 million over the 2013 cap.
9. Doug Free, RT, Dallas Cowboys (six years, $48 million): Jerry Jones thought he got a steal when the Cowboys signed Free, then a left tackle, to this contract last year. The coaching staff moved him to right tackle this season, and he's struggled in the transition. Free and left tackle Tyron Smith have been among the league leaders in penalties this season, making things tough on quarterback Tony Romo.
10. Carson Palmer, QB, Oakland Raiders (four years, $43 million): The problem isn’t necessarily the salary. Starting quarterbacks make $10 million-plus. The problem is trading away first- and second-round picks to get him. Palmer has been average at best. He has 20 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions for the Raiders. Former coach Hue Jackson thought Palmer would put the Raiders over the top after some 8-8 seasons. He's been 6-10 as Oakland's starter.