NFL’s costliest players: Who earned the most for the fewest snaps?
Every year, there are some well-paid NFL players who don’t exactly earn their high salaries. Teams give them every chance to succeed, since benching them would signal their contract as a massive misstep by the front office. Sometimes, however, highly-paid players just can’t stay on the field, whether that’s due to injuries, a decline in performance or both.
PointAfter set out to find the 10 players who cost their teams the most money per snap in 2015, dividing a player’s cap hit by the amount of snaps he took part in last season.
To filter out those who were overly unlucky with injuries last season, players had to appear in a minimum of eight games to qualify for this ranking. PointAfter also excluded kickers and punters, who otherwise would have occupied six of the top 10 spots due to their specialized roles.
Though all of these players experienced disappointing seasons for one reason or another, some of them still possess enough talent to bounce back in 2016. For others, though, the end of the road seems to be near. At least they have millions of dollars to fall back on once their NFL careers conclude.
10. Vincent Jackson, WR, Buccaneers
2015 Cap Hit: $12.2 million
2015 Cost per Snap: $22,822
Jackson has been remarkably reliable over the past eight seasons, reaching the 1,000-yard plateau in every year he managed to stay healthy. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, 2015 wasn’t one of those years: He missed six games due to knee issues and played about half of the team’s offensive snaps.
Still, even if you extrapolate Jackson’s production to a full 16-game season, he would’ve fallen short of expectations with just 869 yards. His 6.9 targets per game was his lowest mark since 2010, reflecting Mike Evans’s rise as Tampa Bay’s unquestioned No. 1 receiver.
With Jackson poised to eat up $12.2 million of the Bucs’ payroll during the final year of a five-year, $55M contract, he seemed like a prime candidate to be cut this spring to save the team nearly $10 million of cap space. But the Bucs will reportedly keep Jackson at his full salary, seemingly coveting his veteran leadership and relative reliability.
9. Donald Brown, RB, Chargers
2015 Cap Hit: $4.1 million
2015 Cost per Snap: $23,879
A former first-round pick of the Colts, Brown signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract with San Diego before the 2014 season. After Brown averaged a meager 2.6 yards per carry in his first year there, some Chargers fans were actively pleading for his release by the time training camp rolled around last year.
It’s certainly not ideal to pay your No. 4 running back more than $4 million. Brown ended up getting some carries after Brendan Oliver went down for the season with a toe injury, but he ultimately lined up for just 10% of San Diego’s snaps.
Aside from a 53-yard scamper helped along by some horrific tackling from the Dolphins, Brown averaged just 3.0 yards on 58 carries. It’d be ill-advised for the Chargers to pay any more money to someone coming off that sort of production again, especially since they could cut Brown this instant with no cap-related fallout.
8. Chris Long, DE, Rams
2015 Cap Hit: $12.5 million
2015 Cost per Snap: $24,704
Long was one of a trio of Rams veterans released on Feb. 19. Though the former No. 2 pick racked up 54.5 sacks in eight seasons with the franchise, it wasn’t a surprising move considering his recent injury problems and bloated contract.
The veteran struggled to stay on the field over the past two years, missing 16 games, and was set to count $14.3 million against the cap next season. Long had just 14 QB hurries and 10 tackles in 2015, so the Rams were probably right to cut ties with the soon-to-be 31-year-old as they transition to a new city.
7. DeSean Jackson, WR, Redskins
2015 Cost per Snap: $25,412
2015 Cap Hit: $9.3 million
Kirk Cousins’s rise to prominence was made all the more impressive by the fact that his most prolific (and expensive) wideout, DeSean Jackson, only suited up for nine games due to a hamstring injury. Jackson recorded career lows in receptions (30) and yards (528) while playing in just 33% of Washington’s snaps.
The Skins could save nearly $7 million on the cap by cutting Jackson, but they’ll want to surround Cousins with legit weapons in 2016. The 29-year-old Jackson still qualifies as such, as an inspiring five-game run late in the season (429 yards, four touchdowns) ably demonstrated.
6. Jermon Bushrod, OT, Bears
2015 Cost per Snap: $28,246
2015 Cap Hit: $8.1 million
A Super Bowl champion with New Orleans in 2009, Jermon Bushrod has seen better days. He was signed to a five-year, $35M by the Bears in 2013 when he was fresh off consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, but was graded negatively by Pro Football Focus in each of his first two seasons in Chicago.
Bushrod actually acquitted himself well enough in 2015, but suffered a concussion in Week 3 and was relegated to backup duty upon his return. The Bears elected to release Bushrod earlier this month, and his future in the league is unclear.
5. Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
2015 Cost per Snap: $29,511
2015 Cap Hit: $17.5 million
You won’t hear Broncos executive John Elway complaining about the lucrative paychecks that Denver has written to Peyton Manning during his tenure in the Mile High City. The five-year, $96 million bet Elway placed on Manning (and his neck) in 2012 finally paid off in Super Bowl 50, bringing Denver its first Super Bowl since Elway was the veteran under center.
That being said, Elway certainly wouldn’t prevent Manning from walking away from football this offseason, as Elway did himself after winning Super Bowl XXXIII with the franchise. The Broncos, who are currently in contract negotiations with Brock Osweiler, would have to pay Manning $19 million in 2016 if he did elect to return for one last rodeo.
4. Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers
2015 Cost per Snap: $30,289
2015 Cap Hit: $15.3 million
Not only was Colin Kaepernick the highest-paid quarterback per snap in 2015—he was ranked dead last by Pro Football Focus among the 37 QBs who took at least 25% of their team’s snaps. Kaepernick’s fortunes have coincided with the 49ers’ rapid descent from Super Bowl contenders to the cellar of the NFC West, and his promising breakout campaign in 2012 seems like a decade ago.
The 28-year-old possesses too much talent—and is paid too much—to ride the bench and risk appearing on this list again next year. The six-year, $114 million deal he signed in 2014 realistically won’t be cut short this offseason due to salary cap implications, so Kelly and GM Trent Baalke have a colossal decision to make in the coming months.
Kaepernick being benched for Blaine Gabbert would have been unthinkable even 18 months ago, but the switch actually proved to be the correct choice for San Francisco in 2015. Now the 49ers’ brain trust must determine is if it’s the right move for the team going forward.
3. Robert Quinn, DE, Rams
2015 Cost per Snap: $45,132
2015 Cap Hit: $16.7 million
When Robert Quinn signed a six-year, $65.6 million extension with the Rams before the 2014 season, it made sense for both sides. Fresh off an All-Pro nod and 19-sack output during his age-23 season, Quinn capitalized on his sky-high market value. The team locked up a young, homegrown pass rusher—a valuable commodity in today’s NFL.
Though Quinn justified the deal with a second straight Pro Bowl appearance in 2014, a back injury derailed a strong start to ’15. The North Carolina product had five sacks in his first seven games, but was active for just one more contest over the next month before finally heading to injured reserve in December. Overall, he appeared in 29% of St. Louis’ defensive snaps.
This contract still has the potential to pan out for the Rams, especially since the cap hits will be more flexible going forward. But they didn’t get their money’s worth in 2015.
2. Charles Johnson, DE, Panthers
2015 Cost per Snap: $50,941
2015 Cap Hit: $20 million
After years of solid production in Carolina’s pass rush, Charles Johnson mustered just one sack and 12 tackles in nine games while soaking up a whopping $20 million on the Panthers’ salary cap.
The good news for Carolina is that Johnson’s cap figure will reduce to a slightly more manageable $15 million in 2016, the last year of his contract. The bad news is that Johnson will be on the wrong side of 30 next season, and it seems unlikely they’ll recoup appropriate value for what they’ll pay the 10-year veteran.
Then again, you could argue anything Johnson contributes in 2016 will be gravy. After all, the Panthers boasted one of the league’s strongest defenses en route to a Super Bowl run last season while Johnson floundered.
1. Dwayne Bowe, WR, Browns
2015 Cost per Snap: $61,644
2015 Cap Hit: $4.5 million
A rule was bent to include Bowe, who only played in seven games in 2015, one below the cutoff for this article. However, that rule was established to prevent injured players from being penalized. Bowe was sidelined due to ineffectiveness rather than injuries in ’15, so he wholly earned the title of most expensive player per snap last season. The 31-year-old couldn’t distinguish himself amid an uninspiring Browns receiving corps, logging five receptions for 53 yards on the season, playing in just 7% of their snaps.
In true Cleveland fashion, the Browns are on the hook for $8 million in 2016 for Bowe, whose productive days in the NFL seem to be gone for good. If they decide the cost of cutting Bowe ($4.6 million in dead money) would be too much to swallow, there’s a good chance he’ll be among the highest-paid players per snap once again next season.
PointAfter is part of the Graphiq network, a data aggregation and visualization website that’s collected all the information about Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos and put it all in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it.