Is two games a sufficient sample size to determine whether a major free-agent signing is a bust? Should players who receive a lucrative contract extension be under the same scrutiny as free agent signees?
Many may feel that 12.5 percent of a season is not enough time to cast judgments. But several teams shelled out hundreds of millions to players and expect an immediate return on their investment, and many players have fallen flat on their end of the bargain.
NFL teams actually spent more than $1.3 billion in the first three days of free agency back in March, according to the NFL Players Association. It’s a gargantuan figure that doesn’t even include all the deals worked out before the start of training camp. In some ways, it seems completely unrealistic to expect a player to live up to his deal.
But that isn’t to say every big-ticket signing’s fallen short. There are actually far more early examples of money well spent than squandered. Cornerback Darrelle Revis (5 years, $70 million, $39 million guaranteed) has the Jets secondary in line to dominate the league, while Chargers guard Orlando Franklin (5 years, $36.5 million, $16.5 million guaranteed) is a big reason San Diego’s rushing offense has climbed from No. 30 last year to No. 15 after two games with rookie Melvin Gordon. Falcons receiver Julio Jones (5 years, $71.25 million, $47.5 million guaranteed) and his 22 receptions for 276 yards and two touchdowns have Atlanta at 2-0 and potentially ready to own the NFC South.
Alas, despite the excellent production of a number of top players, several stand out for the early designation as a "bust," but do have 14 more games to turn things around.
Here are five players who have underachieved after the first two weeks of the season. Many you’ll notice haven’t lived up to their pay grades because they don’t have the same personnel around them like on their former squads.
The contracts figures below, all courtesy of Spotrac.com, are laid out by number of years, total value of the contract, and the total amount of guaranteed money.
Ndamukong Suh, DT, Miami Dolphins (6 years, $114.4 million, $59.9 million guaranteed)
The former Lion has to top the list because of the bulk of his deal, and his glaring lack of production. Suh has spread the wealth nicely, buying recliners for his defensive line teammates. But he’s tallied three combined tackles and no sacks through two games and the Dolphins defense has played average at best. There even appears to be dissension among Suh and the coaching staff with the Miami Herald reporting after Sunday’s loss to Jacksonville that Suh was “freelancing” during plays rather than following the play calls.
Miami paid for a defensive tackle who could wreak havoc on opposing lines. With Suh making about $6.1 million this season, he essentially averaging over $250,000 per tackle.
More than likely, Suh is still adjusting to his new teammates and life without Nick Fairley or Ezekiel Ansah on his line. He should eventually raise his production and put any bust talk to rest.
Byron Maxwell, CB, Philadelphia Eagles (6 years, $63 million, $25.5 million)
Eagles fans have justifiably thrown fits over Maxwell’s awful coverage. Scout’s Connor Hughes pointed out that the former Seahawk has allowed 15 completions for 240 yards and two touchdowns off 19 passes sent his way with opposing passers earning a perfect 158.3 rating. Much of that came from Julio Jones’ big opening night against Maxwell and the Eagles, but Maxwell didn’t help his cause with Eagles’ fans, and probably teammates, by laughing off how much Jones torched him.
Like Suh, Maxwell doesn’t have the likes of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, or Kam Chancellor to help him out and if there’s no improvement the Eagles’ third-highest paid player could be on the bench soon if things don't get better.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (5 years, $40 million, $21 million)
Maxwell and the struggles of Philly’s secondary are also stunting Murray’s numbers. The ex-Cowboy’s gained 11 yards off 21 attempts in two games, but his rushes have been limited with the Eagles facing a 17-point halftime deficit against Atlanta and a 13-point hole heading into the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to his old squad.
Of the Eagles 129 plays from scrimmage so far, Murray’s seen 31 total balls (21 rush, 9 receptions off 10 targets) for 75 total yards. His new offensive line, head coach Chip Kelly, and the secondary shoulder much of the blame, but Murray needs to find new ways to impact the game or 0-2 Philly will continue to spiral. There was probably little chance that Murray would repeat his excellent 2014 season in Dallas, but this is a particularly poor start for a player who joined a new club with pretty high expectations.
Pernell McPhee, LB, Chicago Bears (5 years, $38.7 million, $15.5 million)
Amongst free agent linebackers to switch teams, McPhee got the biggest payday, but the Bears are one of only two teams without a sack through two games and are No. 22 against the run. McPhee was third on the Ravens last season with 7.5 sacks, but without Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil clearing lanes he’s been largely ineffective in a Chicago pass rush that was No. 16 in the league with 39 sacks a year ago.
To be perfectly fair, McPhee and the Bears have faced two of the NFL’s best offensive lines to start the year, with Arizona yet to give up a sack and Green Bay only two. Of the players on this list, McPhee and Suh appear to be the ones most capable of turning things around in the near future. In fact, advanced analytics from Pro Football Focus indicate McPhee was actually the highest graded edge pass rusher in Week 2, an excellent sign for Bears fans.
Andre Johnson, WR, Indianapolis Colts (3 years, $21 million, $10 million)
Johnson played against new quarterback Andrew Luck five times while he was with Houston the last three years, and yet after two games it looks like they never shared the AFC South. The Colts didn’t fork over the farm for Johnson, but he was supposed to fit in seamlessly as Reggie Wayne’s replacement and his deal was the third highest among free agent receivers this year. Instead, the 34-year-old’s caught only seven of his 17 targets for 51 yards, with several avoidable drops.
Luck and Indy’s offensive line took a beating in Monday night’s loss to the Jets, and the offensive line does deserve a lot of the blame for the Colts’ 0-2 start. However, like the Bears and McPhee, they matched up against two of the league’s top secondarys in Buffalo and New York to start the year and could quickly close this sorry early chapter by next week. Johnson will likely see improvement when the offensive line steps up and with T.Y. Hilton at full strength.