Looking back: 10 best and worst contracts from 2022

Tony Pollard

“Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” so said some great man. “Hindsight is 20/20,” said another. “What the heck were people thinking?” says … um, me.

With the 2022 season in our rearview mirror, we can take a look back at some of the hits and misses of player personnel evaluations. Here’s a look at the Top 10 best and worst contracts from 2022.

The Best

10. Evan Engram, TE/JAX (South Africa Ballstrikers) — $1.1 (TE5)

Engram entered the league as one of the most athletically gifted tight ends, but just couldn’t get anything going whether it be because of injuries or subpar quarterback play. As a result, he signed a very cheap $1.1 million contract with the Ballstrikers and wound up finishing as TE5. Interestingly, the Ballstrikers also had the sixth-best tight end, Tyler Higbee, who signed a league-minimum deal with the team.

9. James Conner, RB/ARI (Papua New Guinea) — $4.0 (RB19/FLEX45)

After a terrific 2021 season in which he finished as the RB5, owners still didn’t want to pay Conner for his services this past offseason. That led to a very affordable $4 million contract for Conner. Indeed, as I’m sure many owners were expecting — hence the lukewarm market for his services — Conner got injured and took a step back in 2022. But he still finished as RB19, well worth the deal he received from the Pigs.

8. Ken Walker, RB/SEA (Bolivia Llamas) — $3.6 (RB18/FLEX42)

The rookie running back received an offer for $14.4 million less than fellow classmate Breece Hall, and thanks to a torn ACL for Hall, Walker finished better than his contemporary as a solid RB2. The Llamas are fortunate to have Walker for another year at this price tag, but unfortunately for them they only signed him to a two-year deal.

7. Miles Sanders, RB/PHI (Papua New Guinea) — $3.0 (RB15/FLEX35)

One of the running backs from the 2019 draft class whose career was basically left for dead, Sanders came on strong this past season and finished as the RB15. He was signed to a very cheap $3 million salary after many owners were scared off by his previous inconsistency and struggles in a crowded backfield. The Pigs’ trust in Sanders paid off big for them.

6. Brandon Aiyuk, WR/SF (Sint Maarten Savages) — $2.6 (WR15/FLEX27)

Aiyuk found himself in the doghouse and had a major sophomore slump after coaches complained about his work ethic. That, paired with an unbelievable season from Deebo Samuel, left Aiyuk searching for pennies last offseason. The Savages gave him a $2.6 million deal and Aiyuk found himself in good graces in 2022. He finished as the WR15, much higher than Samuel and for a heckuva lot cheaper.

5. Geno Smith, QB/SEA (Kazakhstan’s Very Nice Team) — $1.0 (QB5)

Smith was a player that wasn’t even signed via the auction this past offseason. The Very Nice Team, in desperate need of better quarterback play, signed Smith to an in-season contract for the league minimum and he wound up putting up QB5 numbers. The signing helped Kazakhstan to an East Division title and a spot in the playoffs.

4. Josh Jacobs, RB/LV (South Africa Ballstrikers) — $7.0 (RB3/FLEX6)

Jacobs, like Sanders, was another running back from the 2019 draft class who was falling off many owners’ radars. Unlike Sanders, though, Jacobs has perennially been a strong RB2 throughout his career and was paid as such by the Ballstrikers. Fortunately for them, Jacobs put up his best season as a pro, finishing as the RB3 overall. The only thing keeping him from being No. 1 on this list was his salary was just a tad high.

3. Jamaal Williams, RB/DET (Bolivia Llamas) — $1.5 (RB13/FLEX30)

What a story Williams was this year, going from a backup, rotational player to a focal point on his team and the RB13 overall. The Llamas got him at a very cheap price because, of course, nobody wanted Williams, nor were they expecting him to score 17 rushing touchdowns while leading the league in that category.

2. Rhamondre Stevenson, RB/NE (Ireland Shamrocks) — $3.6 (RB7/FLEX17) 

Stevenson was a player who was mired in a muddled backfield, a situation that severely turns off owners every year. The Shamrocks, however, showed great confidence in him, signing him to a 4-year deal for what originally was $3 million before they restructured his contract. Stevenson seized the starting job and performed excellently, snagging the RB7 spot and paying major dividends for the Shamrocks on their way to the championship game.

1. Tony Pollard, RB/DAL (Colombia Capybaras) — $2.5 (RB8/FLEX18)

One of the many players and many reasons the Capybaras won the 2022 DFL title was Tony Pollard. Signed as the team’s No. 3 running back behind Joe Mixon and Saquon Barkley, Pollard finally emerged from the shadow of Ezekiel Elliott and put up RB8 numbers while earning a paltry, $2.5 million salary.

The Worst

10. David Montgomery, RB/CHI (Sint Maarten Savages) — $13.5 (RB24/FLEX59)

Montgomery has always been a fairly strong RB2 running back, even finishing as the fourth overall back just two seasons ago. His steady play is what earned him a $13.5 million contract from the Savages. That salary, however, made him the 13th-highest paid running back and Montgomery finished a disappointing 24th at the position this past season.

9. Courtland Sutton, WR/DEN (South Africa Ballstrikers) — $10.0 (WR43/FLEX77)

A one-time Pro Bowler, Sutton was expected to take major strides this year with the addition of Russell Wilson, a supposed major upgrade at the quarterback position. Unfortunately for him, and the Ballstrikers, the offense was terrible. Sutton earned a $10 million deal, making him the 17th-highest paid wide receiver, but he finished as the WR43 overall.

8. Cam Akers, RB/LAR (South Africa Ballstrikers) — $12.0 (RB35/FLEX95)

The Ballstrikers landed another player on this list in running back Cam Akers. The once-promising playmaker was returning from an Achilles injury, he received a $12 million salary based on his potential, fell out of favor with the ballclub, and wound up being a major bust in 2022. If it weren’t for a statistical tear in five of the final six games of the year, he would have fallen even further than RB35.

7. Deebo Samuel, WR/SF (Kazakhstan’s Very Nice Team) — $18.0 (WR38/FLEX67)

A year after finishing as the WR3 overall, Samuel got paid handsomely this past offseason, an $18 million deal that made him the 7th-highest paid player at his position. Unfortunately for the Very Nice Team, Samuel missed four games, put up four other duds, and had far less production running the football than he did the previous season. He dropped to WR38 overall, a major disappointment for the salary he was paid.

6. Justin Herbert, QB/LAC (Bolivia Llamas) — $14.1 (QB10)

Herbert still possesses the talent to be a perennial Top 5 quarterback in the league, but the circumstances surrounding him were absolutely atrocious. The Llamas made him the second-highest paid quarterback in the league and he finished a disappointing 10th overall. To make matters worse, Herbert was on the bench for most of the season while he watched Jalen Hurts lead the team to the postseason. 

5. D’Andre Swift, RB/DET (Papua New Guinea Pigs) — $19.6 (RB21/FLEX50)

Swift is one of those talented players who just hasn’t been able to reach his potential. He was the media’s darling player this offseason, expected to make the leap into RB1 territory. The talent and hype is what led the Pigs to give him a $19.6 million salary, making him the sixth-highest paid player at his position. Unfortunately for him, he lost touches (including touchdowns) to Jamaal Williams and tumbled all the way down to RB21.

4. Najee Harris, RB/PIT (Greece Trojans) — $25.0 (RB14/FLEX32)

Najee Harris had a strong rookie season in 2021, finishing as RB3 overall. The promising young prospect looked like the next big thing. The trouble is, he literally became the next “big” thing. His weight ballooned, his quarterback stunk, and his offensive line was terrible. The Trojans gave him a $25 million contract, third-most among all running backs. Harris fell all the way down to RB14 and offered a poor return on investment.

3. Hunter Renfrow, WR/LV (Greece Trojans) — $11.0 (WR92/FLEX179)

Unfortunately for Greece, they landed another player on this list. While the Trojans paid Najee Harris more than twice what they paid Renfrow, they at least got some production out of the running back. Renfrow, meanwhile, missed five contests and scored double digits in only three games this year. He was paid as the WR12 but finished as the WR92.

2. Kyle Pitts, TE/ATL (Italy Emperors) — $15.0 (TE33/184)

Teams recognize the need for a strong tight end at a position that experiences a lot of turnover. Hence the reason why players like Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and Kyle Pitts received mega offers. At least Kelce and Andrews finished as Top 4 tight ends. Pitts wound up in a run-heavy offense with a terrible quarterback and dropped all the way down to TE33.

1. Jonathan Taylor, RB/IND (Australia Blue Heelers) — $31.0 (RB33/FLEX89)

It’s difficult to rank anyone but Taylor at this spot, even though there are some worthy contenders. When you’re the highest-paid player in the league and yet finish 33rd at your position and 89th at the FLEX, it’s kind of a given. There’s a good possibility that Taylor holds the distinction of being the highest-paid player in DFL history for quite some time because I’m pretty sure franchises will be gun-shy about handing out contracts of such immense value for the foreseeable future. It didn’t work out well for many teams; it was especially bad for Taylor and the Blue Heelers.