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Most overpaid players of NFL free agency 2024: D’Andre Swift, Brian Burns lead list of risky contracts | Sporting News

NFL free agency’s first wave came and went quickly in 2024. After a quiet start to the so-called legal tampering period, top players began flying off the board rapidly.

And once they started, they didn’t stop.

Kirk Cousins, Saquon Barkley, Christian Wilkins, and Danielle Hunter are among the players who will be suiting up for new squads in 2024. Their departures shook things up across the NFL and forced some teams to shift to Plan B when their top targets were off the board.

The end result? Some of the NFL’s top free agents got overpaid as the league year began.

MORE: Best bargain contracts signing in 2024 NFL free agency

It’s easy to spot overpayments in the immediate aftermath of free agency. There are always a handful of players who get more than expected, as issues from their previous season are ignored. Often, these players have injury concerns or are transitioning into larger roles and being signed based on what they’re projected to be rather than what they are.

This isn’t an exact science, though. Overpaid players sometimes produce and live up to their contracts. Some even exceed expectations and justify larger paydays upon the expiration of their deals.

Here’s a look at some of the NFL’s most overpaid free agents of 2024 and what to expect from them with their new teams.

NFL FREE AGENCY 2024: Live grades | Top 75 rankings | Winners & Losers

Most overpaid players of NFL free agency 2024

D’Andre Swift

  • Team: Bears
  • Contract: Three years, $24 million

The Bears moved quickly to sign Swift after the NFL’s legal negotiating window opened Monday, giving him a contract worth $8 million in average annual value (AAV). That deal carries risk, as Swift has never played a full, 17-game NFL season and has averaged just 148.25 carries per season.

Swift had 1,049 rushing yards on 229 carries with the Eagles, but that was his only season as a full-time starter. He should be favored to win the role for Chicago, but it isn’t clear whether he will stay healthy enough to be a 250-touch back. It’s also worth wondering whether his success will be replicable behind a weaker Bears offensive line.

The Bears also didn’t necessarily need a running back given that Khalil Herbert and Roschon Johnson combined for 963 rushing yards and four scores last season. That was with D’Onta Foreman having 109 carries, so Chicago could have gotten production similar to Swift without paying the seventh-highest running back salary league-wide. 

Brian Burns

  • Team: Giants
  • Contract: Five years, $141 million

The Giants swung a big-time deal to acquire Burns from the Panthers via trade. New York paid a relatively low price of one second-round pick and one fifth-round pick to land the talented edge rusher and gave him an extension that makes him one of the highest-paid edge players in the league.

Burns is a dynamic pass rusher who has elite burst, quickness, and bend around the corner. He also has 46 sacks in 80 career games and has never recorded fewer than 7.5 sacks in a season.

That said, Burns only has 250 pounds on his frame, so he can be moved more frequently as a run defender. That makes it a bit harder to justify the $28.2 million AAV that makes him the fourth-highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, especially with his fellow 2019 draftee Montez Sweat making $24.5 million in AAV.

MORE: Grading the Giants and Panthers in the Brian Burns trade

Calvin Ridley

  • Team: Titans
  • Contract: Four years, $92 million

Ridley waited until just after the new league year began before signing which led many to believe he was set to rejoin the Jaguars. Instead, he inked a big-money deal with the Titans, one that is fair to question.

Ridley enjoyed a strong season in 2023. He played in all 17 games and caught 76 passes for 1,016 yards and eight touchdowns while establishing himself as Trevor Lawrence’s top target.

The issue is that Ridley played just five games over the previous two seasons, as he stepped away from the Falcons in 2021 and was later suspended the entire 2022 season for violating the NFL’s gambling policy. That makes it hard to trust Ridley on a long-term deal, let alone one that will pay him nearly $100 million.

Ridley should give the Titans a rock-solid partner for DeAndre Hopkins, so there’s a chance this trade could work out. Either way, acquiring another top target for Will Levis should aid in his development.

Still, signing a 29-year-old receiver who comes with some baggage is a risky move. And while it’s a new front office calling the shots in Tennessee, it’s fair to wonder why the team was comfortable paying Ridley when they weren’t comfortable paying the more proven, younger player A.J. Brown a four-year, $100 million contract just a couple of years ago.

Darnell-Mooney-091121-GETTY-FTR

Darnell Mooney

  • Team: Falcons
  • Contract: Three years, $39 million

Mooney enjoyed an 81-catch, 1,055-yard season with the Bears in 2021, and many presumed his breakout was beginning. Instead, Mooney failed to record 1,000 yards combined over the next two years and gradually fell out of favor in Chicago.

The Falcons liked Mooney’s speed and field-stretching abilities enough to give him a $13 million AAV. Still, this is a lot to give an inconsistent deep threat whose ceiling is as a solid No. 2 receiver. Perhaps working with QB Kirk Cousins and OC Zac Robinson will unlock Mooney’s potential, but if he deals with more injury issues or can’t get on the same page as Cousins, this may not be money well spent for Atlanta.

Gabe Davis

  • Team: Jaguars
  • Contract: Three years, $39 million

On the surface, Davis getting the same amount as Mooney makes the former Bills receiver seem like a good value. In reality, though, they have pretty similar career stats.

Stat Gabe Davis Darnell Mooney
Catches 163 213
Receiving yards 2,730 2,593
Receiving TDs 27 11
Yards per catch 16.7 12.2

Davis showed more consistency from season to season. He totaled at least 549 yards and six touchdowns in each of his four seasons with the Bills. However, from game to game, he was erratic, something he will need to smooth out in Jacksonville to live up to this contract.

The strange part of the Davis deal is that the Jaguars already have Christian Kirk and appear to be negotiating a Calvin Ridley return in 2024. Davis could thrive as a No. 3 receiver, but paying him $13 million in AAV — and up to $50 million total — seems like a steep price if that’s his role.

IYER: Breaking down the winners & losers of NFL free agency in 2024

Colby Parkinson

  • Team: Rams
  • Contract: Three years, $22.5 million

It’s hard to understand why the Rams felt the need to give Parkinson a $7.5 million AAV. He has just four career starts under his belt and caught 25-of-34 targets with two TDs in each of his past two seasons. The only difference? He had 322 yards in 2022 and 247 yards in ’23.

Parkinson is a good blocker, so his skill set is well-rounded. Still, he’s merely average, as Pro Football Focus’ graded him as the 45th tight end in the NFL last season among 72 qualified players. That is the definition of a middle-of-the-pack player.

Despite this, Parkinson ranks 16th in AAV league-wide. The 25-year-old might fit better in Sean McVay’s offense than he did Seattle’s, but there still wasn’t a reason to compensate him at such a high rate.

Noah Fant

  • Team: Seahawks
  • Contract: Two years, $21 million

Noah Fant provides more as a receiver than Parkinson, but seeing the Seahawks give him more than $10 million per season is a surprise.

Fant played all 17 games in 2024 but failed to find the end zone, averaging 1.9 catches and 24.4 yards per game. He’s capable of doing more, but as long as DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba are members of the Seahawks, Fant won’t be a featured part of Seattle’s offense.

Fant provides value as a blocker, but he’s being paid as a top-12 tight end in the NFL, which he isn’t. Perhaps he can grow into this short-term deal — he’s just 26 and still has upside — but more likely, he’ll continue to be a solid-but-unspectacular starter.

Robert Hunt

Robert Hunt

  • Team: Panthers
  • Contract: Five years, $100 million

NFL teams are paying guards a lot in 2024, and it’s easy to understand why. Quarterbacks tend to be bothered by interior pass rush pressure more than anything else, so having a strong interior offensive line is becoming a bigger priority for teams.

Despite this, Hunt is probably making more than he should from the Panthers. He got a $20 million AAV and is the second guard in NFL history to make a $100 million salary behind only Chris Lindstrom. Add in that Hunt is getting a whopping $63 million in guarantees, and this deal will prove costly to the Panthers.

Hunt is a rock-solid blocker who allowed just one sack in 2023 and committed two penalties, so Carolina’s investment could pay off, but breaking the market for an offensive guard is a risky move that deserves a bit of scrutiny.

Xavier McKinney

  • Team: Packers
  • Contract: Four years, $68 million

When healthy, McKinney is a very good starting safety and a true downhill playmaker. The issue is that he hasn’t been able to do that consistently in the NFL.

McKinney has missed 18 of a possible 67 games during his NFL career. Thus, making McKinney the NFL’s fourth-highest-paid safety may not be the shrewdest move, especially in what looks like a deep free-agent safety class.

McKinney is only turning 25 in August, so there’s a chance he could grow out of those injury issues. Still, that isn’t guaranteed, so it’s hard to love this signing despite McKinney’s 116-tackle, three-pick season in 2023.

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A’Shawn Robinson

  • Team: Panthers
  • Contract: Three years, $22.5 million

Robinson has experience playing in Ejiro Evero’s defense from their time together with the Rams. From that standpoint, Robinson should be a plug-and-play option along a defensive front that lost Burns and Yetur Gross-Matos to free agency.

In reality, Robinson will be 29 before March ends and is coming off a season during which he recorded just two sacks. He’s still a good run stuffer, as evidenced by his 62 tackles last season, but he won’t do much as a pass rusher. The Panthers would have been better off targeting a young player with upside instead of signing Robinson.

Bryce Huff

  • Team: Eagles
  • Contract: Three years, $51.1 million

Huff was one of the best pass rushers in the NFL in 2023, generating pressure on 20.3 percent of his snaps and totaling 10 sacks. Only Micah Parsons (20.4 percent) was better than him in that area.

Why is Huff among the most overpaid free agents? He only played 42.2 percent of the Jets’ snaps and is now being paid like a high-end, every-down edge player. Huff may become that in a larger role with the Eagles, but at 6-3, 255 pounds, it’s worth wondering whether he will be consistent enough against the run to justify this major payday.

It’s also notable that Andrew Van Ginkel — a similarly sized edge player who ranked third in pressure rate at 18.9 percent — got just a two-year, $20 million deal from the Vikings in free agency. His value relative to Huff makes this seem like a slight overpay for the Eagles.

But in the NFL, you have to pay a premium for pass-rushing talent, so among this year’s overpays, this one is the most understandable.

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